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Author Biography: Everett F. Harrison was professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. He is the author of numerous books, including Introduction to the New Testament.
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 As in all his letters, Paul uses his Roman name. The shift from "Saul" occurs in the biblical context where he came in contact with a Roman official (Acts 13:6-12). Paul's relation to Christ is primary, so to express his attachment to his Lord he uses the term "servant." Some prefer the rendering "slave," but this could suggest an unwilling attachment. In Israel the citizenry regarded themselves as servants of their king, even though they were free men. Since this word doulos is used of Christ in relation to the Father (Phil 2:7), where "slave" would be inappropriate, the translation "servant" is altogether fitting here. By beginning in this fashion, the writer is putting himself on the same plane as his readers. He does not seek to dominate them. If "servant" expresses Paul's commitment to Christ, "apostle" sets forth his authority as Christ's appointee-his right not only to preach the gospel (believers in general could do that) but to found and supervise churches and if necessary discipline them. But this authority carries with it responsibility, for he must give account of the conduct of his mission (1 Cor 4:1-4).
Paul has been "set apart" for the gospel of God. As a Pharisee he had been set apart to a life of strict observance of Jewish law and custom. Now his life work is to further the gospel, the good news that God has for man. It is most natural to locate the time of this setting apart at Paul's conversion and commission (Acts 9:15; Gal 1:12).
2 Before the historic events providing the basis for the gospel message unfolded, God "promised" the good news in the prophetic Scriptures. Promise means more than prophecy, because it commits the Almighty to make good his word, whereas a prophecy could be just an advance announcement of something that would happen. The concept permeates this Epistle (4:13-25; 9:4; 15:8). God did not invent the gospel to cover up disappointment over Israel's failure to receive the Lord Jesus. Nor did Paul create the gospel, which was "his" (2:16; 16:25) in an entirely different sense. The reference to Scripture prepares the reader for rather copious use of the OT, beginning with 1:17.
3,4 The gospel centers in God's Son, who had this status before he took "human nature" and who, in becoming man, became not only an Israelite (9:5) but a son of David (Matt 1:1; Luke 1:32; Acts 13:22, 23; 2 Tim 2:8), a qualification he needed as Messiah (Isa 11:1). By beginning with the sonship, Paul guards his whole statement from doing service for a heretical adoptionist Christology. The period of Christ's earthly life and ministry was followed by another phase-that which resulted from his resurrection. "With power" may belong with "declared," but may with greater warrant be joined with "Son of God," indicating the new quality of life Jesus had after his resurrection (Phil 3:10; Col 1:29).
"Spirit of holiness" is a unique expression generally regarded as a Semitism conveying the same concept as "Holy Spirit." There may be a suggestion here that Jesus, anointed and sustained by the Holy Spirit in the days of his flesh, was acknowledged by the fact of resurrection to have successfully endured the tests and trials of his earthly life, having been obedient even to death. By resurrection he has become a life-giving spirit (1 Cor 15:45). His rising was indeed "from the dead." But Paul says more, namely, "of the dead," suggesting that Christ is the forerunner of others in this transformation (cf. 1 Cor 15:20, 21).
Another approach emphasizes the balanced construction of kata pneuma placed over against kata sarka, suggesting that the person of the Son is in view throughout (cf. 1 Tim 3:16). This could yield the conclusion that the human nature of Jesus was so holy, so absolutely free of sin, that death could not hold him (cf. Acts 2:24). On this. view, there is no mention of the Holy Spirit.
Appropriately, Jesus Christ is now described as "our Lord." Though the title was fitting during his earthly ministry, it attained more frequent use and greater meaning following the resurrection (Acts 2:36; 10:36). Notable is the fact that in this initial statement about the gospel nothing is said concerning the redeeming work of Christ, which is reserved for later consideration (3:21-26; 4:25; 5:6-21). It was the infinite worth of the Son that made his saving work possible.
5-7 Now the apostle returns to his responsibility to proclaim the good news (cf. v.1). Two problems present themselves here, and they are somewhat related. Who is indicated by "we," and how should one understand the phrase "all the Gentiles"? Clearly, in using "we," Paul cannot be including his readers, because they did not possess apostleship. Could he be referring to other apostles, of whom the Roman believers must have heard? This is a possibility, though it is an unexpected development and is not amplified. The problem is complicated by the mention of the intended sphere of labor-"among all the Gentiles." This wording makes the limitation of the "we" to Paul (as a literary plural) natural, since the Gentiles constituted his special field of labor (cf. 15:16, 18, where the word "obey" corresponds to the word "obedience" in this passage). On the other hand, "all the Gentiles" can equally well be rendered, "all the nations" or "all peoples" (cf. Matt 28:19). This would favor the wider reference of "we" to all the apostles, since Israel would be included as one of the peoples. It is difficult to decide this question.
The desired response to the gospel message is "obedience that comes from faith." (For obedience, see 15:18; 16:26 and for faith,1:16, 17; 10:17.) Paul's readers were not called, as he was, to apostleship; they were called "to belong to Jesus Christ" and to be "saints," the common term designating believers. This term has almost the same force as the expression Paul uses for himself-"set apart" (v.1). While it does not indicate actual condition (as opposed to position), it carries the aroma of holiness to which every child of God is called (6:19, 22).
At length the apostle is ready to extend a greeting to his readers-"grace and peace." Ordinary letters of that period usually contained a single word meaning "greeting" (as in James 1:1). Paul, however, is partial to terms with theological import. He desires for his readers a continuing and deepening experience of spiritual blessing that only God can bestow. Father and Son are the joint benefactors. While the NT contains several explicit statements of the deity of our Lord, in addition it has many that imply his godhood, as in this case. People may long for grace and peace, but only God can grant such gifts. The rich meaning of these terms will emerge as Paul uses them in the body of his work.
B. Paul and the Church at Rome
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong-12 that is, that you and I maybe mutually encouraged by each other's faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.
8-10 The salutation has been unusually long and now, instead of moving to his theme at once the apostle still lingers over introductory matters. Doubtless he felt the need of getting acquainted, so to speak, by unburdening his own heart about what his readers mean to him. It is a shining example of his pastoral concern mingled with gracious sensitivity in dealing with the saints.
First of all, Paul must express his thanks to God for his readers. This was customary, and he omitted an expression of thanks only in writing the Galatians. His thanksgiving for the Roman believers is based on their faith (cf. Eph 1:15,16; Col 1:3, 4; and 1 Thess 1:3).
Not without reason Paul has become known in Christendom as the apostle of faith. To him, faith was the basic Christian virtue, and he was eager to commend it. Here the commendation is exceedingly generous, even hyperbolic. The whole world has heard of their faith (cf. 1 Thess 1:8). It was Paul's habit to praise believers when this was in order. If rebuke had to be given, it would find a more ready reception if the way was prepared by heartfelt appreciation. Paul's statement about his thanksgiving is followed by a statement concerning his prayer-both intercession for them and a special plea that his hope of coming to be with them, providing it is God's will, shall be realized.
But why should Paul find it necessary to summon God as his witness that he had been faithful in praying for the Roman believers? There are two reasons. For one thing, he had been praying "constantly." The Greek word denotes "repeatedly," meaning that there is no great length of time between prayers. This seems almost too much to expect of a man who did not know most of these people. Furthermore, as he will tell his readers later (15:25), he is about to leave for Jerusalem, and this could give the appearance of his not putting the Roman believers first in his plans. Here, as elsewhere, when Paul calls God as his witness, it is because the thing he is claiming seems difficult to believe.
11-13 The apostle confesses to a great desire to see his readers, not simply that he might come to know them personally, but that he might minister to them. By "spiritual gift" we are probably not to understand something charismatic (the purpose, "to make you strong," is not favorable to such a view), since Paul does not specify any particular gift and avoids the plural (cf. 1 Cor 12:1). Moreover, his own prominence in the contemplated bestowal hardly makes room for the specialized gifts of the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 1:7). But no sooner has this sentiment been expressed than it is halfway recalled, being revised because it seems to suggest that blessing will flow only one way, from Paul to the church. So he alters his language to make room for mutual encouragement and upbuilding. Faith is basically one, but to see it at work in one individual after another, in various ways, adds zest to Christian fellowship. Paul himself needed this.
As he had prayed constantly for the Romans, so he had planned many times to visit them, but again and again the plan had to be set aside. There is no intimation of Satanic opposition as in the case of the Thessalonian church (1 Thess 2:18), so we are left with the supposition that his work in the East had involved him so completely that he did not see his way clear to break away for the projected trip to Rome.
His hope to have "a harvest" among his readers should not be interpreted narrowly, as though he is hinting that some in their ranks are not genuinely saved. His use of the word "Gentiles" instead of "churches" may be a pointer for us, hinting that "among you" is a reference to the community rather than to the church specifically, and that the fruit he envisions is the reaching of the unsaved. This would not exclude fruit-bearing in the sense of the development of the saints in character (Gal 5:22, 23), but the other meaning seems the more obvious.
14,15 Paul looks forward to his visit, but he also considers it an obligation. On what is this based? He has already laid the groundwork for such a statement by acknowledging that he is Christ's servant (v.l) and that he has been given a charge to take the gospel to all peoples (v.5). In mentioning "Greeks and non-Greeks" he seems to have in mind all non-Jewish members of the human race. He is carrying forward the term he has just used at the end of the previous verse-Gentiles.
The Hellenistic writers Philo and Josephus tended to think of the Jews as a third group. Philo in particular had the concept that the Jews, with their special religious advantages,
Excerpted from Romans by Everett F. Harrison Copyright © 1996 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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