Lesson 65: Introduction to ROMANS
Romans 1:1-17; 15:25-16:3
Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles. Welcome to lesson #65. Please turn to the book of Romans. This is the last book we will cover in this series of lessons. We have covered I & II Thess., I & II Cor., Galatians and now we come to Romans. All six of these books were written by Paul during his second and third missionary journeys. Galatians and Romans were undoubtedly written very near the close of Paul's third missionary journey. After Paul wrote II Cor. And sent it to Corinth by Titus; he then, a little later, you will remember, went to Corinth himself. We have assumed very near the end of AD 57 or possibly very early in AD 58. Paul spent 3 months in Greece according to Acts 20:3 and left there before the Jewish Passover (Acts 20:6) which was about the beginning of spring. We have assumed that Paul wrote the Galatian letter AND the Roman letter during his three months in Greece. According to Romans 16:23; it was written from the household of Gaius. The same Gaius, we have assumed, who was one of the first converts at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:14). In Rom. 15:25 thru the end of that chapter, Paul reveals to the Romans plans for an immediate trip to Jerusalem for the purpose of taking or at least in assisting with a certain contribution from Macedonia and Achaia for the poor saints in Jerusalem. This correlates with Luke's account in Acts ch. 20, immediately following the three months in Greece mentioned there.
You may need to go back to lesson # 53 and go over the introduction to Galatians again. We covered these facts at that time. As a matter of feet, we said there, that there is a strong similarity between Galatians and Romans in terms of theology and doctrine. However, there are many great differences also. The book of Galatians is practically consumed by a refutation of the Judiazing doctrine. Second Corinthians, same thing! First Corinthians, problems, problems .problems! Paul wrote those books and others to help correct problems in these congregations; congregations that Paul himself had started. This is not true with the book of Romans. Paul had never been to Rome, the capital city of the Roman empire and apparently had no part in starting the congregation that existed in the city of Rome. As a matter of feet, we don't know who started that congregation. There are several theories. First, it may have been started by pentecostians (Acts 2:10 who were in Jerusalem on the birthday of the church. Or, it may have been started later by Christians forced from Jerusalem after the dispersion of the church in Jerusalem at the time of the Stephen persecution. Or, another possibility is that it may have been established at even a later time by Christians from some other part of the empire. We simply don't know. The Catholic tradition says Peter established the church in Rome. Nothing in the N.T. would substantiate that Peter was ever in Rome; let along, that Peter established a church there. Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, on page 80 of the copy I have, quoted Dionysius assaying Peter AND Paul planted the church in Rome. We can be quite sure it was not planted by Paul and if that part of Eusebius' quote is incorrect; why should we accept Peter's part of that quote? All evidence in the N.T. points to the Roman church as having been established and a strong on going congregation for many years when Paul wrote this letter to that congregation. In v.8 of the fist chapter; Paul said to the Roman Christians: "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world." So, it is quite evident: that congregation was well known over the brotherhood at that time.
Paul sent this letter from Corinth to the Roman church by a sister, named Phoebe, who was a member of the church at Cenchreae (that's Rom 16:1). You'll probably need to take another peep at your old ACTS map. Take a moment to review the geography. We talked before about the narrow strip of land called the Isthmus of Corinth, between the two seas, the Aegean Sea on the east and the Gulf of Corinth on the west. Corinth, the city from whence we believe Paul wrote the book of Romans, i.e. where Gaius lived, was near the seaport on the west side of the isthmus. We're talking about the narrow strip of land that connects Greece (also called Achaia) with the Peloponnesian peninsula to the south. Cenchreae is city #32 on your old map-worksheet; that's the place where Paul tarried a while and shaved his head, (Acts 18:18; near the end of his second missionary journey). Here in Romans 16:1, we find THERE WAS a church at Cenchreae. That verse says Phoebe was a servant of the church at Cenchreae. Some have tried to interpret that to make Phoebe a deaconess, i.e. a formal officer at the Cenchrean church. But, that's missing the point. The word servant there simply means an active member of the congregation. In departing for Rome, she would most likely have embarked from the seaport on the western side, i.e. the seaport in the Gulf of Corinth. That seaport leading to Rome and the west was called Lechaeum. Phoebe's business in Rome is not stated. Paul in this letter commends her to the congregation at Rome and encourages the Roman Christians to "assist here in whatsoever business she hath need of you..."
In v.9-10 of Romans ch. 1, Paul said he prayed for the Roman Christians without ceasing. Then, as part of that same thought, he dropped in the news that he was making plans to visit the Roman church. He said, that he was at that time making request by prayer that "if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come junto you," i.e. unto the Roman brethren. The words "at length" (v. 10) also rather implies Paul was coming the long way around; or in other words, by way of Jerusalem as we have said already. Then, in v.l 1-12; the apostle gave some reasons for his coming. (#1) He longed to see them, I.e. it had been his ambition for sometime to visit them. And this is consistent with what we learned back in Acts 19:21; if you remember. Near the end of Paul's long stay at Ephesus, Luke said: "After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome." So, it is evident, that Paul had planned this trip to Rome for some time and we learn from Luke a rough itinerary as to when Paul planned to make this trip. Number two reason, Paul gave in v.l 1, "that I may impart unto you some spiritual gifts, to the end that ye may be established..." Spiritual gifts, you will remember, we talked abut back in I Cor. Ch. 12-13-14, i.e. teaching, preaching, prophesying, speaking in tongues, etc. by miraculous means. The fact that they were in need of such spiritual gifts, rather implies to me that no other apostle like Peter had ever been there. It is evident that only apostles could impart spiritual gifts. We talked about this when we covered the church in the city of Samaria, back in the first half of Acts ch. 8. (v.l 2), Paul's third reason was simply that "I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." If you are a Christian, you can easily identify with this one; I think. A fourth reason is given in v. 13, 'that I might have some fruit among you also", i.e. that Paul might preach, teach and convert some at Rome also. When he added, "even as among other Gentiles", he gives us a clue as to the nature of the people that made up the Roman congregation. At least some were Gentiles. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, you will recall. However, we have evidence also that some Roman Christians were Jews. As to the percentage of Jews and Gentiles, I have no idea. Then finally, another reason for Paul's writing becomes evident down in 15: 23-24 when he said: "But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company." So, the four reasons we discovered in chapter one were only part of Paul's plans. He had plans that extended even beyond Rome. Spain was in the western part of the Roman empire and I suppose even farther west of Rome than the distance from Corinth to Rome. Paul thought big! As to what intelligence he had with reference to conditions in Spain at that time, I have no idea.
Now, Paul gave some of the reasons why he was writing. But, let me ask you: if you were staying in the household of Gaius at Corinth and it was YOU writing this letter; what would you say to the church at Rome? Of course, I recognize you are not an inspired person as Paul was and we will both concede, right up front, that all N.T. books were authored by the Holy Spirit, including the book of Romans. Whether Paul recognized that fact at the moment he dictated this letter to Tertius the scribe, or not; I am not sure. I would tend to think not; but, that is simply my guess. However, let me repeat my question; before, I take you too far afield. The question is WHAT? W-H-A-T? What would you write? Paul had just come from Macedonia where he had written Second Corinthians; a letter, which as you know, was just one big long refutation of the Judiazing doctrine and the Judiazing influence upon the Corinthians. Then after writing and sending Second Corinthians; Paul came to Corinth, the very place where he had sent that letter. At Corinth, when he arrived there, he sat down and wrote another book on the very same theme, refuting a very similar problem and sent that letter to several congregations located in the region of Galatia. Congregations that Paul and his co-workers had established some years before. Keep in mind now, Paul has never been to Rome. He apparently had no part in establishing the Roman congregation; although, Paul did know a lot of people in the church at Rome. This is evident from the 16th chapter of Romans where Paul sent personal greetings to more than 20 people. The reason for Paul's acquaintance with so many Christians in Rome (even before he went to Rome) can probably be attributed, very naturally, to him teaching so many people in Asia, Greece and Macedonia over a span of several years. If you think about it, many people (such as Phoebe) probably had business of some kind or another in Rome; whether state business or private business, it was only natural that a lot of people gravitated to the capital city of the empire from tune to time. Some may have been temporary and some may have moved there on a more permanent basis. For example, do you remember Paul's Jewish friends Aquila and Priscilla, the ten makers at Corinth that the emperor Claudius had driven from Rome (Acts 18:2)? Aquila and Priscilla left Corinth with Paul and went on to Ephesus to help in the work there (Acts 18:19). Paul returned to Ephesus and stayed about three years. However, in Rom. 16:3, Aquila and Priscilla were back in Rome again, when Paul wrote this letter. Some years later, Aquila and Priscilla were back at ephesus again (we find this in II Tun. 4:19). Obviously, there was a good bit of travel and mobility in the Roman empire at that tune. Now, I still want you to answer my question. What would YOU WRITE to Roman Christians? i.e. given Paul's circumstances? It seems only natural to me; considering Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, that he would want to write a sort of gospel, if you will. The natural thing would have been for Paul to write a general treatise on Christianity, i.e. the right way to do it and the thing(s) that all Christians should know and would want to know. Also, it would be very natural to incorporate into that writing some of the things that would eliminate
future problems for that congregation if possible; like the Judiazing problem at Corinth and the Judiazing problem in the churches of Galatia. Whether any Judiazers were working on the Roman congregation, or not; we do not know; we have no evidence of that. If they hadn't arrived there; they probably would, sooner or later. In this writing; one must realize, of course, the people reading the letter were already baptized believers (both Jews and Gentile) in the Roman congregation. So, it was not Paul's purpose in this letter to correct then- congregational problems; whatever their problem may have been.
Alright, enough of what YOU would have written! Let me tell you; Paul did pretty much what we have said. In the Galatian letter; you will remember; Paul covered justification by faith, i.e. heirs according to the promise. This was in contrast to circumcision and the keeping of the law as the Judiazers were teaching. We have liberty in Jesus Christ (Gal. 5:1). Walk hi the Spirit, Paul told the Galatians. Well, in the Roman letter after a brief and cordial introduction; Paul stated the theme of his writing in what we call v. 17: "The just shall live by faith." Or, I like the ASV translation better. It says: "He through faith is righteous shall live." Paul carried this them through the entire book. He explained and discussed the theme in relation to both Jews and Gentiles in the first four chapters. In chapters 5,6,7 and 8; he shows how Christians through faith shall live and how through faith we are free from God's wrath, how we are free from sin, how we are free from the law and how we are free from death. Inch. 9-1011, three chapters usually considered some of the hardest in the N.T. to interpret; Paul applied his theme to the Jews, his own people and shows how they had rejected God's grace. Then, ch. 12-13-14 is a more practical discussion of the theme as it applies to the everyday life of a Christian. Most of chapter 15 and the rest of the book is devoted to Paul's plans, personal greeting, etc. Remember, it does not deal with problems of the local church.
Perhaps, we should take a moment here to say and I trust you already know this: Paul's plans did not work out as he anticipated. Very shortly after writing this letter, he did to go Jerusalem and helped deliver the contribution from Macedonia and Achaia for the poor saints in Jerusalem. And he did eventually made it to Rome; but, not as he had hoped. After spending two years as a prisoner in Caesarea; he finally had to assert his rights as a citizen of the Roman empire and appeal to the Roman emperor for justice. He was then moved from Caesarea to Rome to wait for a hearing before Nero, the Emperor. On his trip to Rome in chains as a prisoner, the ship got lost in a great winter storm and finally wrecked and broke up on the rocks off of an island named Melita or Malta; which is marked as # 48 on your map-worksheet. After three months at Malta the Roman centurion in charge put Paul on a ship from Alexandria bound for tome. Like I said; he arrived in Roma, a prisoner. Some of the Christians at Rome got word of Paul's arrival a head of time (Acts 28:15) and went to meet him in two or three small towns before he got to the big city of Rome. I would assume, some of the recipients of this letter we call Romans and possibly some of those very people mentioned in Romans chapter sixteen. Romans is a fantastic book. It's hard; but, it's worth it! We'll get back to chapter one in our next lesson. Have a good day.