I. THE PREFACE.
Verses 1-15. (i. Superscription, vs. 1-7 ; 2. Introduction, vs. 8-15.)
It was the custom of ancient letter writers to sign their names at the beginning of the letter, and not at the end as we do, thus, "A. B. to C. D. ; " and then, instead of saying " Dear Friend " or " Dear Sir," the Greeks said, "A. B. to C. D. Wishes Joy;" the Romans, "A. B. to C. D. Wishes Health ; " and the Jews, "A. B. to C. D. Wishes Peace." Paul combines the classical and Jewish forms, giving a higher meaning to both, and writes, '' Wishes Grace and Peace," or, "Grace to you and Peace," often adding the further words, " From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Compare the superscription here with that of each of Paul's other epistles. He does not sign his name simply " Paul," as in the first and second Thessalonians, the first which he wrote, but usually writes it officially, " Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ," " Paul, a servant of Christ," etc. He here includes in his salutation an expression of warm personal sympathy for the Christians at Rome, many of whom were, doubtless, old personal friends whom he had drawn to him at Ephesus and other parts of the Roman world.
Chap. I., V. I : -- Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated u7ito the gospel of God.
Verse i. Paul, See on this name, Introduction, p. I. A servant. Bondman, or slave, as the word dou/os here rendered always means. The word servant is admissible, provided, we think, not of a hired servant, nor of a servant in the sense in which diakonos, or deacon, is rendered in chap. xvi. i, and elsewhere. Perhaps many or even all the Christians to whom Paul here writes were made familiar by painful experience with the meaning of this word which denoted a Roman slave. There were hundreds of thousands of them in the great city at the time when Paul was writing this epistle, and millions more in other parts of the empire. The Roman master had the power of life and death over his slave, and no matter how arbitrary and cruelly he might use this power, he was accountable neither to the slave nor to the government. That Paul, in whose veins flowed not one drop of the obsequious blood, should have uniformly applied such a term to himself, shows how absolute and intense was his allegiance to Christ. He regarded himself not as his own but as Christ's property, as truly as if he had been literally bought with a price. He was, therefore, under bounden obligation to Christ ; though it is by no means implied that he regarded his master as a hard one. Jesus Christ, This form of expression means Jesus who is the Messiah ; it identifies Jesus of Nazareth with the Christ or Messiah, and this Paul must have meant to do. The form "Christ Jesus" would have meant the Messiah who is Jesus. With us the forms are practically equivalent, though they were not originally so, for the one ascribed divinity to Jesus, while the other ascribed a lowly humanity to the Christ. The humanity of Jesus was evident, but his divinity was not. Called to be an Apostle. A man may be called 10 be a Christian and yet not actually - be one, for he may resist the Spirit's call. Paul means that he is an apostle, not by self-appointment, not by human appointment, but by the call of Christ, as were the other apostles. It is this fact that is to give his words official weight with those to whom he writes. The word " apostle " denotes the special form of service to which Paul was called by Christ. The apostles were the servants to whom it was intrusted to found the Christian Church ; the evangelists extended it by securing converts, while the pastors and teachers strengthened and otherwise contributed to its perfecting by their special labors. The man who was an apostle in this special sense might also combine in himself the function of the others; but when the evangelists are also called apostles the word must be understood in an unofficial sense. Separated. Separated by Christ from all other vocations, and set apart by him to his apostolic work. Paul does not refer here to any human consecration nor to an eternal election of himself to his office and work as an apostle, but rather regards all the circumstances of his life culminating in his conversion as a providential leading thereto; see Gal. i. 15. To the gospel of God. To the work of preaching the good tidings, not concerning God, but concerning Christ, and of which glad tidings God is the author. See verse 3.
V. 2 - Which he had promised before by his prophets in the holy Scriptures. V. 3 - Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.
V. 2. Promised. God had not merely promised and caused the promises to be recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures that there should at sometime be glad tidings, but he had also promised that these glad tidings should be preached to the Gentiles also ; and we think that it is these latter promises that Paul here has especially in mind, for he was preeminently an apostle to the Gentiles, and refers to the promises in immediate connection with his own work. Paul's Jewish critics, with whom he will have much to do before he concludes the epistle, might therefore see in this verse allusion to the well-known Jewish attitude toward the Gentiles in respect to the matter of being saved.
V. 3. Concerning his Son. That is, the preaching of the gospel concerning his Son. The Revised Version omits the words, "Jesus Christ our Lord," but inserts them in verse 4, so that in neither case is there any doubt as to who "his Son" is Made of the seed of David according to the flesh. Whether we regard Mary only or both Joseph and Mary, as descended from David, the words here rendered do not imply that Paul believed Jesus' body and human nature to be of the seed or race of David in the same sense that Joseph or Mary was -- that is. by ordinary generation. The words are quite consistent with Paul's belief, as elsewhere expressed, in the immaculate conception on the part of Mary by the Holy Ghost; and the words "was made," are in the Greek "was born" or "became" -- that is, the preexistent Son of God became human and in doing so attached himself to the race of David by being born of Mary a descendant of David.
V. 4 -. -- And declared lo be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
V. 4. Declared to be the Son of God, We must understand the word " declared " to carry with it here the additional sense of proven to be. With power. Not the Son of God endowed with power as contrasted with his weakness as the seed of the woman as mentioned in the preceding verse. He was declared and proven in a powerful manner to be the Son of God. The proof here referred to is his resurrection from the dead. According to the spirit of holiness. As he was of the seed of David in respect to the flesh, so was he declared and proven to be the Son of God in respect to the spirit of holiness. There were two sides, or parts, or natures, so to speak, to Christ's being. In the one consisted his humanity, in the other his divinity, or divine nature, here called his "spirit of holiness," because as the Son of God he was essentially spirit as God is, and also essentially holy as God is. The expression does not. therefore, we think, mean the Holy Spirit, though he did descend and rest upon Christ. Christ himself is elsewhere in the New Testament spoken of as "the Spirit," and the "eternal Spirit" (i Tim. iii. 16; Heb. ix. 14), but the Holy Spirit, or third Person of the Trinity, is never spoken of as "the spirit of holiness."
V. 5 - By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name.
V. 5. By whom. In the sense of, from whom, or through whom. Christ having risen from the dead and thereby established his oft-repeated assertion that he was the Son of God, we (that is, Paul) have received grace and apostleship. But if Jesus had not thus established himself to be the Son of God, Paul could not have received this from him, because he could not have believed him to be other than an impostor, one who had gathered about him a few disciples, attracted a momentary attention, and at last been crucified. As we learn both from the Acts and from his Epistles, Paul always regarded the resurrection of Jesus, to which he himself could personally testify, as a fact of fundamental importance. It proved that Jesus was all that he claimed to be ; and hence in Paul's estimation to admit and acquiesce in the resurrection was to admit and acquiesce in the whole gospel. "He was raised for our justification," says Paul, because if he had not been raised we would not have believed on him, and hence there could have been no justification through faith in him. See also chapter x. 9.
Grace and apostleship. By this Paul means all that he was as a converted and renewed man and all that he was officially. It is a second affirmation that he received his apostleship not from man, not from the Church, but directly from Christ.
For obedience to the faith. The end, or purpose, for which the " grace and apostleship " had been conferred was that the gospel might be preached among all the Gentiles and that they might thereby attain to that obedience which consists not merely in the single initial act of faith but also and especially in the life or habit of faith. JPor his name. In behalf of, or for the sake of his name. The gospel is preached among the Gentiles, and they are won to the obedience which consists in faith, for his name's sake, or for the promotion of the honor and glory of Christ's name.
V. 6 -- Among whom are you also the called of Jesus Christ: V. 7 - To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints : Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
V. 6. Among whom are you also. The apostle tells the Romans that they also are included among the nations, or Gentiles, to whom it was his especial apostolic privilege to publish the gospel ; as he was by call of Christ the apostle to the Gentiles, so the Romans were by call of Christ a part of his great flock. This same authority which made it his duty to address them made it their duty to hear him. The expression, however, may also include the further meaning that those to whom Paul was writing were already members of the Church of Christ.
V. 7. To all that he in Rome. This verse refers back to verse i, and concludes the superscription of the letter. ''Paul .... to all that be at Rome," etc. Compare this with the mode of address employed by Paul in his other epistles. He addressed the Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Galatians, as Churches. The population of Rome at this time was between one and two millions, and the Christians gathered there were doubtless also very numerous, and were not as yet organized into a definite church, or into a number of separate churches. Called to be saints. That is, saints by call, as Paul was an apostle by call. The word "saints" is used to designate those who are now commonly called Christians, and denotes those who are by profession set apart or consecrated to the service of Christ. Christians were first called Christians at Antioch about twelve years before Paul wrote this epistle, but the word does not seem to have come into general use at this time ; at least, it does not occur but three times in the New Testament, twice in the Acts, and once in the first Epistle of Peter. The word " saint " might apply to any earnest seeker after God, anyone longing to know the truth, and to do the truth, whether nominally a Christian or not. There might be many such at Rome who had not heard much of Christ, and to all such this epistle, which has so much of Christ in it, was addressed.
Grace to you and peace. The Greek word charis joy, is here, and often elsewhere in the New Testament, rightly rendered grace. It means that kind disposition of one person toward another which is itself a favor and which often manifests itself in the bestowment of other favors. It was the word employed by Greek and Roman letter writers in a formal sense merely, very much after the manner of our '* Dear Sir ; " but Paul uses it in a higher and more significant sense, and generally adds, as he does here, " from God the Father," etc. The grace which he feels toward us as Father, and which he also has actually manifested toward us in his provision for us and dealings with us may well produce in us joy. But Paul also says and peace. This was the word which the Jews used ; but Paul uses it in a sense far higher than the formal one ; it was with him not a mere passing salutation, as one Jew might say to another shalom Pka, peace be to you. Paul's wish was a real one, and the peace which he prayed might be to the saints at Rome was peace with their own consciences, peace with one another, and peach with Ood which comes from God the Father of them and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Rom. v. i ; John xiv. 27.
Introduction, Verses 8-15.
After the salutation Paul does not proceed at once to the statement and discussion of the fundamental theme of the epistle, but, as in his other epistles, he first writes a short introduction or preface. In verses 1-7, in addition to his usual salutation, he established, as we have seen, between himself and the Romans an official relation -- he on his part being an apostle to the Gentiles by call of Christ, they on their part being by call of Christ the members of his great parish ; hence his right to address them. But Paul was not merely an apostle and profound reasoner ; he was also a man of profound emotional nature, tender and affectionate of heart. He now proceeds, therefore, as he also did in other instances, to further win the attention of his readers by informing them of the deep and sincere interest which he feels in their welfare, and of the deep and sincere affection which he has for them. They are far from the center of the usual apostolic labors ; but he cares for them ; he prays for them ; he commends their world-famed faith ; he longs to visit them ; he thinks that he may derive strength and encouragement from the actual sight of those so faithful under such adverse circumstances ; and thus does the great and tender-hearted apostle establish between himself and them a relation of heart to heart.
V. 8: -- Firsts I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you ally that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. V. 9 : For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.
V. 8. First. In the first place, Paul expresses his thanks concerning the Christians at Rome, before proceeding with the discussion of the great subject of salvation ; the formal " in the second place," however, does not occur. My God. One's God is the God whom one serves and to whom one lives in close affectionate relation. Through Jesus Christ. "The gifts of God come to us through Christ, our thanksgivings go to God through Christ " (Bengel) ; so also do our prayers ; he is the mediator between God and man and man and God, he is as the ladder which the angels ascended and descended. For you all. On account of all of you. The whole world. Rome being the center to which and from which Christians from all parts were constantly moving, the faithfulness of those at Rome to their Christian profession would become universally known.
V. 9. For God is my witness. The strong assertion which I make is true, and since none but God can know my constant, voiceless prayers concerning you, I solemnly appeal to him as my witness. The burden, not only of all the Churches, but of each individual Church in his vast field, was on the heart of Paul, and none but God could know how intensely ; and at the very time he wrote this Epistle to the Romans he was endeavoring to establish the Corinthians, and was gathering contributions to carry to the poor Christians in far-away Judea. With my spirit. With my inmost heart and soul. In the gospel of his Son. In preaching the gospel of his Son. The fact that he thus preached the glad tidings of the Father's Son was proof that he thus served the Son's Father.
V. l0: -- Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will oj God to come to you. V. II : -- For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, to the end you may be established.
V. ID. Making request. It had long been Paul's desire and abiding prayer that he might at some time be so prospered as to visit the Christians at Rome; and this is a proof of his affection for them, and the sincerity of his thanksgiving on account of them, mentioned in verse 8. But he can not go now for he is on the eve of a long journey to Jerusalem ; " and the eagerness of desire is tempered by resignation to the will of God, who will bring all to a prosperous issue in his own way, and at his own time." Three or four years after this Paul went to Rome, his expenses being paid by the Roman government; and thus was his prayer answered. But he went as a chained prisoner.
V. II. For I long to see you. The word "I long" (epipotho), along with the expression of the desire which goes out toward them, is one of regret at not having been able to come sooner. (Godet.) See also ch. XV. 23. Spiritual gift. A gift to their spirit, through Paul's spirit, from the Holy Spirit; such as increase of strength, knowledge, love, hope, faith. May he established. Made secure against trials, especially the temptation to relapse into idolatry and other forms of heathenism, as this was the trial to which they would be most severely exposed. Paul does not say " that I may establish you ;" he regarded himself as only the means through whom the increased strength was to be imparted.
V. 12. That is, I may he comforted, etc. Paul hastens to assure the Roman Christians, whose faith he had commended in verse 8, that he does not expect the benefit to be all on their side, but that he also expects to receive needed encouragement from his association with them, and from his actual observation of their faith. This is a beautiful example both of Paul's humility and of his delicacy of feeling characteristics of the truly great man.
V. 13. Now I would not have you ignorant, etc. Paul had been an apostle about twenty years; his Roman readers might have said, If he feels so deep an interest in us and has been an apostle so long, why has he not visited us? Hence, he assures them that he has often purposed to visit them, but that he has been let, or hindered, hitherto. He does not state what the hindering cause was. Perhaps there was more than one cause, one or all of which they might not fully 'appreciate; or perhaps he does not wish to place much stress on simply an anticipated criticism of his failure to visit them. Rather than say anything that would intimate a belief on his part that the Romans earnestly desired him to come, he hastens to tell them that the reason why he wishes to visit them is a personal one, and recalls their mind by a different choice of words to the fact stated in verse 1 1 , that he wished to have some fruit of labor among them, even as among other Gentiles. The whole verse furnishes us another illustration of Paul's delicacy of feeling.
V. 14 : -- am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
V. 14. I am debtor. Note the still varying aspect in which Paul presents his desire to visit the Romans; (i) that they may receive some spiritual gift ; (2) that he may receive from them some spiritual gift; (3) that he may have some fruit in them, interest, as it were, on the gift which they had received from him ; (4) that he may pay a debt which he owes them. He was the apostle to the Gentile world, and he was under obligation, the necessity being laid upon him. He claims no credit for his zeal, and it is no unholy ambition simply to be worldwide in his ministry, for he looked also to Spain and the countries far beyond Rome; it is simply an apostolic debt, an obligation under which he has been placed, not by but to all the Gentile peoples of whatever nationality or degree of culture, and his duty is his delight. It is worthwhile to notice this ground on which Paul bases his missionary labors. It is not their condition, however pitiable on any account their condition may be, for the}^ may, after all, regard themselves as " cultured Greeks," needing no missionary. But with Paul the basis of missionary labor is simply the debt or obligation under which he has been placed by Christ to all the heathen. It is a tremendous debt, and he must endeavor with all his might to discharge it, let the heathen themselves think about as they pleased. The Church of today should take the same true, and pure, and lofty view of the matter ; and the Church which has to be aroused by painful appeals to its pity, is not in a good spiritual condition. I owe this debt and I am going to pay it, no matter whether my creditor thinks he needs the money or not -- that is all that it ought to be necessary to say about it. The fact that Christ has saved the Church is the one circumstance that makes it the Church's bounden duty to save the heathen ; and the same may be said of any Christian individually, for we are all apostles to the Gentiles, though, alas! we are not all Pauls.
V. 15: -- So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
V. 15. So, as much as in me is. The meaning of Paul's words seems to be : So far as it depends on me, or, as for my part, I am ready ; my only restriction is, not the want of a willing and ready spirit, but the want of opportunity. At Rome also, Paul was just as ready and willing to preach the gospel to the unconverted and cultured people of Rome as elsewhere. He was not ashamed of this gospel in any community or before any audience, however influential or cultured. The words, " to you that are at Rome," must not be restricted to the Christians whom Paul was addressing; the learned and the noble who knew little, or nothing, of the gospel, and who might, perhaps, care nothing for it, are especially meant, though he includes all as one population. Several years afterward when Paul did actually preach the gospel to Caesar's household he seemed to have won some of these noble ones (Phil. iv. 22).
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.
Insights of the past for the present
To the Romans - R.V. Foster
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.