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I. Date.

The Epistle to the Romans was written by Paul while at Corinth, a few weeks before his fifth and last visit to Jerusalem since his conversion. The date assigned to it, by Michaelis, Lardner, Macknight, Alford, Conybeare, and scholars generally who have treated the subject, is A.D. 58. Compare Rom. xv. 25, 26 with Acts XX. 1-3. For the place at which it was written compare Rom. xvi. 23 with i Cor. i. 14. The Epistle to the Romans was the fifth which Paul wrote. All of his epistles should be read in connection with and in the order of his history as given in the Acts. So far as it can be ascertained the order is as follows: I Thessalonians, A.D. 51, or about seven years after he left Antioch with Barnabas on his first journey ; 2 Thessalonians, A.D. 53 ; Galatians, A.D. 55 ; i and 2 Corinthians, A.D. 57; Romans, A.D. 58; Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians, A.D. 63, during his imprisonment at Rome ; i Timothy and Titus, A.D. 67, from Macedonia; 2 Timothy, A.D. 68, from Rome. These epistles present various doctrines and practical admonitions generally, according to the circumstances of the Churches to which they were addressed.

II. Authenticity.

That Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans has always been admitted by the Church and by all Individual critics whether conservative or radical, ancient or modern. Even such critics as Baur, who rejected the Pauline authorship of most of the epistles ascribed to Paul, admits that he wrote the one to the Romans. Some critics have doubted, however, -whether the last chapter was addressed to the Church at Rome, thinking that the first fifteen chapters may have been addressed to the Romans, and that the whole epistle, including the added sixteenth chapter, was also sent to the Ephesians. The objections to the last chapter as a part of the original epistle as sent to the Christians at Rome are by no means unanswerable, though the question is not one of sufficient practical importance to justify us in devoting space to it here. The first quotation made from the epistle by any writer was the passage, chapter i. 29-32, quoted by Clemens Romanus, A.D. 96. Subsequently verses from it were cited or quoted word for word by Ignatius (A.D. 115), Polycarp (A.D. 118), and various other early Christian writers.

III. The Church at Rome.

At the time when Paul addressed his epistle to the Christians in Rome, Jews had been there for more than one hundred and fifty years, and constituted no inconsiderable element of its million and a half of population. Great numbers of them had been transported there by Pompey, B.C. 63 ; and Josephus tells us that an embassy sent to Rome shortly after the death of Herod the Great, were met my eight hundred thousand Jewish residents of the mighty city. And at the time when Paul was writing this epistle, their influence was so strong, says Seneca, that " the conquered race gave laws to the conquerors." The Romans hated them as it has always been the lot of the Jew to be hated. Tiberius tried in vain to get rid of them ; Claudius sought in vain to banish them.

How did Christianity reach Rome ? Most probably as everything else reached it ; for not only did all the roads in Italy lead there, but all the roads in the then known world. People from Rome went to all quarters of the earth, and people from all quarters of the earth went to Rome. It is probable that a Christian element had been in the great city since the day of Pentecost when there may have been many Jew and Gentile proselytes from Rome at Jerusalem attending the annual feasts ; and converts from Ephesus, and Corinth, Philippi, and other cities of Asia Minor and Greece had doubtless gone there from time to time in great numbers. In his letter Paul presents his greetings to old friends by name whom he had known at Ephesus, while on the contrary some well-known ones as Pudens, and Claudia, whose names are elsewhere identified (2 Tim. iv. 21) with the Roman Church were not there when the letter was written. They were coming and going, and Paul seems to have kept very well posted as to the movements of those who were his aids in his work. Tacitus, writing of the Neronian persecution which occurred about six years after Paul wrote this epistle, tells us that Christian martyrs (to say nothing of the number not slain) were a great multitude.

But it does not seem that the large Christian community at Rome, thus formed by accretions from all parts of the Church, possessed at this time any regular organization, though it is probable that the members met each other at frequent assemblies of some sort, at which the epistle was doubtless read again and again. No allusion is contained in it to elders or other officers of an organized Church. The Church was composed of both Jewish and Gentile Christians, as the epistle itself indicates in several places. But the great critics are about equally divided on the question as to which element was the majority; it is useless to discuss it, for the data is inadequate, and it can never be determined with certainty. The epistle is addressed to both.

IV. The Occasion and Design.

As it is quite probable that the Church at Rome really had no apostolic founder; as it is also quite probable that while Paul was at Corinth the Christians at Rome were a numerous flock having no shepherd ; as it would be no infringement, therefore, of the courtesies of the apostolate, or the pastoral functions of another, for Paul to write to them ; and as a good many of them were doubtless his own converts and personal friends who had gone there from other parts of the empire ; it was quite natural that Paul should desire to write to them, especially as he could not for the present accomplish his longing to make them a personal visit. Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea, a few miles out from Corinth, was going to Rome; and, in the absence of regular postal facilities for others than officers of the empire, Paul takes advantage of this opportunity to send the Christians at Rome a letter. Such was the occasion.

In order to see, without going into details here, the design which Paul had in view in writing such an epistle as he did, we must recall the fact that the great Imperial city was the meeting place of Gentiles and Jews from all parts of the world. A letter from Paul, on the fundamental question in issue between the Christians and their opponents, if read over and over again for months or years in the assemblies at Rome, would be heard by more people than could in that day be reached by a single epistle directed to any other city in the world. It was a golden opportunity to set forth, defend, and advertise his gospel, which Paul could not suffer to escape him. When he writes to the Thessalonians, the Corinthians, Galatians, and others, he must for the most part write such letters as are demanded by the circumstances of these Churches respectively. But to write, not to the organized Church at Rome, but " to all them that be at Rome," was very much the same as writing a Catholic epistle, a letter to Christians of whatever locality ; and there was no better way to have it scattered over the whole empire than to send it first to Rome where it would doubtless be copied a great many times by the Christians who were constantly coming and going. So Paul designs to write such an epistolary treatise as would meet the wants of Christians generally, at that time and thereafter, and such a one as he would wish to have thus scattered abroad. And such a one he did write. The Epistle to the Romans is addressed to the Church in all the world and in all the ages. The Church may, as some may think, already have reached the point where it no longer needs a special inspired epistle to advise it against the evil of drinking wine to excess at the Lord's-supper, and other such practices ; but it never will reach that point in its progress where it can cease to reiterate with the utmost emphasis the truth that Christ, and Christ alone, is the power of God to salvation to every one that believes,, whether Jew or Gentile.


It is impossible to adequately appreciate the Epistle to the Romans, either in its separate arguments or as a whole, apart from what we may call an adequate valuation of its style. The epistle was written, in the first place, in the Greek language, a heathen language put to the very usual service of expressing thought which was wholly foreign to it. It was not only putting heavenly contents into an earthen vessel, but into an earthen vessel which was already filled with something more or less different, and which therefore had to be displaced to as great an extent as possible by the new. And after the thought is once put into the Greek vessels by inspired hands it has to be transferred by human hands to English vessels for the benefit of ourselves. This of course may greatly increase whatever original difficulty there may have been in clearly apprehending the thought.

But apart from this infirmity of the Greek, or any other language, when thus called to an unusual service, the subject itself which Paul treats is one to which neither the Jewish nor Gentile mind of that age was accustomed. The view which Paul presents was a difficult one to grasp because it was a most radical innovation upon the current doctrine of human salvation -- doing, though strange to say, perhaps even more violence to the preconceived views of his brother Jews, than it did to those of his Gentile readers. The plan of salvation by grace through faith is not the depraved human heart's favorite one in any age, especially if it be further informed that the faith is to be reposed in him who was once known as Jesus of Nazareth.

But Paul himself, though an inspired writer, was an earthen vessel. Or, to change the figure: When the light from the sun has passed through the lens, it is still the pure light of the sun ; but it has not the same color on this side of the lens as it had on the other. There it was immaculate white, here it is blue, or green, or orange. Nor is it so easy to see with the lens as it would be to see without it; but refracted light is the best we can have in this world. Truth clothed in the colors of the rainbow ; after a while we may see it in unsullied white. Paul, Peter, John, and the rest, are for the present our lenses, for through them the Sun's light comes to us.

Dwelling for a moment on such considerations as these, we may easily see that it was quite natural even for Peter to say that there are some things " in brother Paul hard to be understood." And the very fact that Paul could be used by the Holy Spirit as the medium for conveying such truths is of itself a proof that he was in point of intellect beyond the average even of the inspired writers.

One of the necessities, therefore, under which one or more of these various disadvantages, under which Paul wrote, place him, was the necessity of employing many figures of speech, or the same figure many times. These figures abound in the Epistle to the Romans; and one of the great temptations under which he unconsciously labors who pauses in his reading to seek after the apostle's meaning, is to exact too much of the figure, or, to make it illustrate four things when it was only intended to illustrate one. Figures are indispensable, and yet hardly anything may be more easily abused, whether by being ignored or by being perverted. Take as one illustration the word " law," which occurs so often in this epistle. What is Paul's doctrine concerning the law? This is a fundamental question, and the answer must be obtained chiefly from this epistle and that to the Galatians. But it can not be done unless we observe the figures in connection with which it occurs and the various senses in which it has been necessary to use it. At one time he calls the law a slave whose duty it is to lead us to Christ, as the Greek slave was required to conduct the children safely to school. At another time he speaks of the law as our Master who lords it over us in no gentle manner. Again, he speaks of the law as being holy, righteous, and good. And of the law of sin ; and he says that we are free from the law ; and that we are not free, but still under obligation to obey it, and again, that the law is a kind of weapon with which sin slays us ; and so, a great many figures, affirmations, denials, etc., all concerning law and all in the same epistle. They are not contradictory ; but if the casual reader -- and most readers of the epistle are only too casual -- did not forget one statement before he has reached the next, they might seem to be contradictory. As Paul speaks of law in several senses, or of the same law from several points of view, so also does he in the same manner speak of some other things ; and it is quite necessary to be mindful of this when we would know his meaning in this place or that.

But such mild personifications, metaphors, and the use of the same word in different senses, are not the only figures which we find in this epistle. He speaks of invisible things as being seen -- a form of speech which the rhetoricians call oxymoron; and also of Abraham's hoping though he had no hope (iv. 18) ; when I am weak then I am strong. Nor should one fail to notice the frequent antitheses which characterize the epistle, between such words as " flesh" and "spirit,!' "law," or ''works of the law," and "faith," " bondage " and " freedom," " bondmen " and " freemen," "foolishness" and "wisdom," etc. In chapter X. 13-15, Paul employs what the logicians call a regular sorites, and in various other passages logical arguments in the strictly technical sense.

In chapter vii. i , and following verses, his argument is from analogy ; in chapter vii. 9-25, from personal experience, while in various parts of the epistle he draws his arguments from the Old Testament Scriptures, using for this purpose the Greek version which was the one most accessible to his Gentile readers. His citations, however, are not made invariably for logical or argumentative purposes, but here and there for what we may call purposes of rhetoric. His style is adorned with expressions and fragments of expressions from the Old Testament, just as any writer's style may be most influenced by the book which he reads most. Thus is to be explained his apparently free and illogical use of passages from the Scriptures, and particularly his so-called rabbinical allegorizing, of which the well-known passage. Gal. iv. 22-31, is said by some to be an instance. Paul did not mean to be understood as using the story of Sarah and Hagar as an argument in the strict sense, but simply as a familiar concrete or illustrative way of stating a truth which he should otherwise have had to state in unadorned abstract terms.

It may be truly said of the style of this epistle, as of all Paul's epistles, that it is in harmony with the character and temperament of the author, with whom we have already become acquainted in the Acts. It is just such an epistle as we would expect Paul to write. It is characterized by the inward disposition, the abundant heart, the moral earnestness, of this ^reat apostle. Its argumentative character and its warmth and rush of thought are eminently Pauline. And to these traits are due, for the most part, the digressions, parentheses, and what the grammarians call anacalutha, so frequent in his writings. We shall have occasion to notice these in the course of the commentary, meanwhile it is necessary only to ask the reader of the epistle to remember that as originally written it contained none of the helps to its understanding such as are employed by modern writers of treatises. It had no title page ; no section headings ; no indicated divisions of any sort ; no intimations to the reader as to where the line of thought changes, or as to where a new phase of the subject is taken up. Such helpful acts of the book-makers were not employed by the book-makers of Paul's day. The reader was left to do his own analyzing, to detect the argument, the transitions of thought, and the aim of the whole, without the aid of previous notice, or "table of contents," furnished by the writer. As for our chapter and verse divisions of the epistle, Paul is not responsible for them, of course. They are helpful chiefly for purposes of convenient reference ; but if one would understand the epistle as thoroughly as possible he should often read it at one sitting and without any notice whatever of the chapter and verse divisions.

VI. Leading Thoughts, Words, Texts.

1. The subject of the doctrinal part of the epistle is, " The Way of Human Salvation." But the discussion of this subject is introduced by an elaborate statement of the universal sinfulness and guilt of both Jew and Gentile. The epistle is, therefore, anthropological in the first place in order that it may be the more powerfully sotereological. If a universal guilt is not admitted there can be no need to prove that a universal salvation is provided. The four main thoughts of this part of the epistle may, therefore, be briefly stated as follows:

(i) All men are guilty before God. (Chapter iii. page 19.)

(2) All, therefore, need a Savior. If the Jews who have the law are in the same condition before God as the Gentiles, it would seem evident that, whatever else the law may do, it can not serve as a Savior. Therefore

(3) Christ died for all, thus providing salvation for all. Therefore, again

(4) All Christians are one body in him, there being no distinction in him between Jew and Gentile, etc.

2. Some of the leading words in the epistle are

(i) Sin; in its more general sense represented by kamartia, in its more specific forms represented by various words.

(2) Righteousness justification ; represented by the same word in the Greek, with varying shades of meaning necessary to be noticed in reading the epistle whether in the Greek or English. Sometimes the gospel plan of salvation, as distinguished from salvation by works, is called God's righteousness, or rather a manifestation of God's inherent righteousness to us. Sometimes it is called the righteousness of Christ, because it was manifested in Christ. To say then that we are saved by the righteousness of Christ, is not to say that we are saved independently of a subjective change ; it is to say simply that we are saved by the gospel plan and not by our special works or " deeds of the law." The subjective state into which our personal appropriation of this righteousness of Christ -- or, in other words, our personal appropriation of the salvation provided through Christ -- is called justification. The act of God in admitting us to terms of harmony with him because of our acceptance of the provided salvation is also called justification; it is justification as a divine act, as distinguished from justification as a human state. In this last sense justification is the same as righteousness -- the state otherwise called regeneration, a term which Paul does not use, though the thing meant is not to be regarded as absent from his teaching.

(3) Imputing or reckoning. By this Paul does not mean that God's righteousness or Christ-righteousness as above defined, or indeed in any sense, is imputed to us in the sense that we are really not righteous but that God only makes believe that we are. He simply means that God chooses to regard our acceptance of the offered salvation through Christ as perfectly satisfactory to him ; and that we are in this case just as well-pleasing to him as if we had never been either sinful or sinners. Nor does Paul mean that God imputes Adam's sin to us whereas we are not guilty of Adam's specific sin. He simply means that God reckons or regards all men, both Jews and Gentiles, as guilty because they really are guilty, not of Adam's sin but because of Adam's sin. It would have been the greatest of misfortunes to some men if God had not imputed guilt to these "some men," or in other words, if he had not thought of them as being guilty; for if he had not thought of them as being guilty he could not have thought of them as needing a Savior. This word "impute" occurs in one or more forms ten times in the fourth chapter alone.

(4) Faith. This also is pre-eminently a Pauline word. As a noun and verb it occurs about fifty times in the Epistle to the Romans. Paul is eminently the Apostle of Faith as contrasted with John the Apostle of Love, or Peter the Apostle of Hope, or James the Apostle of Works. It is not necessary, however, to suppose that anyone of these undervalues the teachings of the others. They present different phases of the gospel. The word faith is used in various senses, the right understanding of which is essential to the right understanding of Paul. Sometimes it denotes (a) a mere act of the mind, as first, a simple acknowledgment of the truth of anything irrespective of any allusion to evidence, or second, an acknowledgment of the truth as based on evidence ; or third, an act of self-surrender to Christ and of appropriation of him as our Savior. Sometimes it denotes {b) a state or condition, as first, trust, confidence, repose in Christ, or second, fellowship and union with Christ. Sometimes it is used {c) as antithetical to works in the technical sense -- that is, the ceremonial works in particular as practiced by the Jews of Paul's day. Or {d) as including works, not ceremonial, but works as including the whole sphere of the Christian life and activity ; as the stream may be regarded as a part of the fountain from which it flows. Sometimes it is used also to denote the gospel plan of salvation, as when the adherents of " the faith " are spoken of.

(5) Law Nomos ; a word already referred to on page 32, and which will be noticed further in the commentary on passages in which it occurs.

(6) Flesh ; in a figurative sense, not the body. The words flesh and fleshly or carnal stand in antithesis to spirit and spiritual; but when the word "spiritual" stands thus in contrast with the word " carnal," or fleshly, it should not be confounded with the word " spiritual " in contrast with the word " material ; " as, a "spiritual nature," a "carnal nature," or, a "spiritual body," a " material body."

(7) For, the preposition ; represented in the New Testament by several Greek words as peri, huper, dia, anti, etc. Christ "suffered for us," died "for us," " for our sins, " for the ungodly," the just for the unjust; in behalf of us, on account of our sins, in another's place, in the interest of another, etc. The word used here or there is determined by the aspect of the subject presented, or the person or thing spoken of. Paul uses huper in Romans. Prepositions and conjunctions, are small words, but they are important ones and often require the greatest care and attention.

(8) All. Salvation offered to all, because all need salvation.

3. Leading texts. Chapter iii. 9 ; all under sin, iii. 20; through the law comes the knowledge of sin,, iii. 28 ; justification by faith apart from the works of the law, v. i ; being justified by faith, etc., v. 12 and 18; wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin ; and so death passed upon all men, for that all sinned .... even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men to justification of life, v. 20, 21 ; grace abounding more exceedingly than sin, vi. 11 ; dead to sin, alive to God in Christ Jesus, viii. ; no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, viii. 28 ; all things work together for good to them that love God, viii. 29, 30; foreknowledge, foreordination, calling, justification, glorification, viii. 31 ; if God be for us who is against us? xi. 25; Israel's partial hardening, etc., xi. 32 ; all regarded as disobedient, that mercy might be offered to all, xi. 36 ; of him, through him, to him, are all things, xii. i ; our bodies to be presented to God a living sacrifice, etc.

VII. Testimonies Concerning the Epistile.

It stands at the head of the Pauline epistles, not merely in length, but especially as a comprehensive, systematic, and profound discussion of the plan of human salvation. The following are the judgments of some of the greatest biblical scholars of the ages in regard to this epistle:

" It is the grandest, the boldest, and in all its depths and heights the most complete composition of the greatest apostle." -- Meyer.

"It is the most remarkable production of the most remarkable man It is the heart of the doctrinal portion of the New Testament. It presents in systematic order the fundamental truths of Christianity in their primitive purity, inexhaustible depth, all conquering force, and never-failing comfort. It is the bulwark of the evangelical doctrines of sin and grace." -- Schaff.

"It is the cathedral of the Christian faith. The true understanding of this masterpiece of the apostolic mind is reserved for those who approach it with the heart described by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount -- the heart hungering and thirsting after righteousness. For what is the Epistle to the Romans ? The offer of the righteousness of God to the man who finds himself stripped by the law of his own righteousness (i. 17). To understand such a book we must yield ourselves to the current of the intention under which it was dictated." -- Godet.

" It is the chief part of the New Testament and the purest gospel, well worthy to be committed to memory word for word by every Christian man, and to be pondered daily and employed as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be too often nor too well read and considered, and the more it is understood the better it tastes." - Luther.

" It is the most profound work in existence." -- Cole

"Throughout the discussion, constant reference is made to law and justice; and this is characteristic of the epistle Rome was the city of imperial law, and the great seat of jurisprudence and government. It was therefore fitting that to Jews and Gentiles residing there should be addressed this demonstration of the position of mankind, as transgressors condemned by divine law and justice, and unable by deeds to justify themselves. The world centered at ancient Rome ; and in a letter sent to Rome was the whole world proved and pronounced to have been guilty before God The question which presses is that of justification, and no one can interpret the epistle who does not keep this before his mind." -- Eraser.

Canon Farrar calls attention to the fact that the phrase " in Christ " occurs thirty-three times in this epistle, and the phrase "justification by faith" only three or four times, and thinks the former much better expresses the essence of Paul's evangelical theology than the latter. "A grand summary of the doctrine and practice of Christianity. " -- Conybeare.

" It must not, however, be considered that the whole of the Christian faith, or even of the Pauline conception of Christianity, is developed in this epistle. This is only treated as it bears on the relation of God to man -- the fall of man and his redemption through Christ." -- Gloag.

Other topics, as the nature of God, the person and dignity of Christ, the Church, etc., are discussed in other epistles.

The ancient Chrysostom was accustomed to have this epistle read through to him twice every week. ' Melanchthon copied it twice with his own hand word for word in order that he might the more thoroughly imbibe its spirit and teaching. Dr. James Morrison says, in speaking of his own experience, that going from the din, and strife, and worry of the outer world to the study of Paul is like entering a spiritual university -- a home for the heart -- Paul is both inspired and inspiring.

inspiring. " O Christianity, had your one work been to produce a St. Paul, that alone should have rendered you dear to the coldest reason." -- Sailer. And Godet, in quoting these words, adds : "And you, O St. Paul, had your one work been to compose an Epistle to the Romans, that alone should have rendered you dear ta every sound reason." "Quid est enim Paulo rarius. What is rarer than Paul? " -- Melanchthon.

From The Epistle to the Romans by Dr. R. V. Foster. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012. The update is not complete.