Introduction to the Study of Paul’s Letter to the Romans

The letter written by the apostle Paul to the Romans is a rich treatise on the grace and goodness of God towards men. As the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul had not met those to whom this letter was sent. He begins by identifying himself and his intended audience, and clarifying the nature and purpose of his ministry, that of a servant under His Master, Jesus Christ, sent out as Christ’s ambassador with the proclamation of God’s good news pertaining to Christ.

The primary concerns addressed in Paul’s  letter to the Romans were: the fact of salvation being an award of grace rather than the reward of works; the inability of the Law of Moses to justify sinful men to a holy God; the equal condition of both Jews and Gentiles before God, due to the universality of the sin-guiltiness of all men from both groups, and the identical mechanism of justification before God for both groups, namely the grace of God to extend mercy to sinners on the basis of their faith in Christ and His atoning death on the cross for their sins; and the eternal condition of every person who receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (ch 8). He advises them on diverse behavioural expectations, warns them of false teachers and to reject those who teach other doctrines than those taught by the apostles, and commends them to both the love of God in Christ, and to his own love. (summary: nature & means of salvation; universality of both among all men of all backgrounds, particularly Jew as contrasted with Gentile; inability of the Law to save men)

Paul employs the tool of contrasts throughout his letter. His purpose being to reconcile the conflicts in some minds of how men are saved and how it affects each of Jew and Gentile, Paul brings attention to focus on several important points using contrasts of various concepts or emphases. His original audience would have been completely aware of the conflicts – cultural and ideological – with which his readers would be struggling and for which the resolutions would be necessary in order to improve the peace both within and among the believers in that place. The modern student is encouraged to pay particular attention to the instances of these contrasts, to identify them when found, and take note of how Paul is using them to communicate some element of truth essential to the resolution of the conflicts that were bothering the congregation in Rome at that time.

Some Contrasts In the Letter to the Romans:

  1. sonship of Christ: of God by spirit; of David by humanity/flesh
  2. intended recipients of the good news: Greeks <-> ‘barbarians; wise <-> unwise -> it is to all who are of high esteem and all who are otherwise.
  3. Jew first, then Greek (essentially non-Jew)
  4. revelation of the righteousness of God vs revelation of the wrath of God
  5. revelation of the righteousness of God ‘from faith’; revelation of the wrath of God ‘from heaven’.