Study the entire Book of Romans, beginning with an introduction to Paul and following through his life and his call. Some of the major ideas explored are: his purpose and situation, righteousness and wrath, being set free from sin, new life in the Spirit, and a tolerant ethic.
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This revision of the Abingdon classic Genesis to Revelation Series is a comprehensive, verse-by-verse, book-by-book study of the Bible based on the NIV. These studies help readers strengthen their understanding and appreciation of the Bible by enabling them to engage the Scripture on three levels:
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The meaning of the selected passages are made clear by considering such aspects as ancient customs, locations of places, and the meanings of words. The simple format makes the study easy to use. Includes maps and glossary with key pronunciation helps.Updates will include:
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PAUL INTRODUCES HIMSELF
DIMENSION ONE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Answer these questions by reading Romans 1:1-15
1. Identify the three expressions of Paul's self-identity in verses 1 and 5.
2. Locate the description of the audience of the letter, the so-called "address." (1:7)
3. Read the opening verses of the other Pauline letters (First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, Titus). Which openings contain a reference to the "gospel of God" promised through Scripture (1:1-2) or the creed concerning Jesus? (1:3-4)
4. What does Paul mention as the content of his prayers in the "thanksgiving section"? (1:8-12)
5. In the "narration section" (1:13-15) Paul explains both his motivation in visiting Rome and the reason he has not visited earlier. Identify both points.
DIMENSION TWO: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN?
Romans is the only Pauline letter addressed to a church that Paul did not found. So Paul has to introduce himself in a way that is different from his other letters. The first fifteen verses of Romans 1 represent this self-introduction. Paul needs to explain why he is writing and to identify who he is.
The Situation in Rome
Although Paul has never been to Rome, he clearly has a firm grasp of the situation there. He mentions in 1:8 that their faith "is being reported all over the world." He also mentions in 1:13 that he has "planned many times to come to you," which indicates that Paul has studied and thought about the Roman church situation for a long time. We know that he was a missionary partner for a number of years with Roman refugees, Priscilla and Aquila, mentioned in Acts 18:1-3, 18, 26, and in other places. That Priscilla (also called Prisca) and Aquila were back in Rome when Paul wrote this letter is indicated by Romans 16:3-5. So we have every reason to believe that Paul has heard frequent reports about the situation in Rome.
The Roman churches probably were founded sometime in the decade of the thirties or early forties by now-anonymous Christian missionaries who traveled to Rome. The most likely centers for the earliest congregations were the small Greek-speaking Jewish synagogues whose presence in Rome has been proved by archaeology and other historical research. One of the peculiarities of these synagogues was that they were not only quite small but were also quite local in their background. The synagogues attracted people who had immigrated to Rome from a particular part of the Roman Empire. Most of the inscriptions found in these synagogues are in Greek, which indicates that the language used by the Jewish community in Rome was primarily Greek, not Hebrew.
Another peculiarity of these small synagogues was the lack of a centralized organization. This lack of organization had a serious consequence for the development of Judaism and Christianity in Rome. For when conflicts began to emerge between Christian missionaries and their zealous Jewish opponents in the late forties, the Roman authorities had no organization to consult. Concerned about public disorder, the government simply closed all the synagogues and expelled the agitators. This event, the so-called "Edict of Claudius," probably occurred in AD 49, which correlates closely with Priscilla and Aquila's arrival in Corinth as refugees when they first met Paul. The result was that the early Christian communities were now forced to discover new leaders and new locations for their common life.
The impression of recent scholars is that the Christian groups in Rome formed themselves into house churches, at least five in number, with new leaders who had not been affected by the expulsion of the Jewish-Christian missionaries.
In the years between 49 and 54 (when Claudius died), the Roman house churches seem to have developed in distinctive and independent ways, in some instances departing quite drastically from their roots in the synagogues where they had been founded. Charismatic leaders came to the fore in some of these churches and, in several instances at least, well-to-do patrons and patronesses who had means to provide a house became prominent leaders.
After the death of the emperor Claudius, apparently the Jewish Christians were allowed to return to Rome and the synagogues were allowed to reopen. When the Jewish Christian leaders like Priscilla, Aquila, and many others began to return, they found that the churches in which they earlier had been members were drastically altered because of new leaders and the new settings of the house churches. In all probability the conservative order of worship based on the Jewish prayer book was no longer in effect. New charismatic forms of worship and new hymns that came from different branches of early Christianity were being used. Conflicts over leadership began to surface when the Gentile Christian leaders of house churches resisted the resumption of leadership roles by Jewish Christian missionaries who were returning. Conflicts involved conservative versus liberal theology, charismatic versus traditional orders of service, Jewish versus Gentile patterns of ethics.
In this situation, Paul used the terms weak and strong, probably to indicate the outlook of groups that we would today identify roughly as conservative and liberal. Strong was evidently used by the majority of Gentile Christians who felt strong enough to break free from the Jewish law and calendar. They used the derogatory term weak for the conservatives who did not feel free to break with the traditional patterns of worship and belief they had inherited from their Jewish tradition. But the way these terms are used in Romans 14–15 indicates that the conflicts were not simply between Jewish Christian conservatives and Gentile Christian liberals. We have evidence that there were conservative and liberal Jewish Christians and conservative and liberal Gentile Christians. The situation was quite tangled; and the conflicts at the time Paul wrote the letter, in the winter of AD 56–57, appear to have been quite intense.
This situation of church conflict helps explain the level of tact with which Paul addresses the Roman house churches and also the peculiar "address" of the letter. When you look at Romans 1:6-7, you will observe that Paul addresses the Christians "in Rome" but does not refer to them as a "church." In fact, verses 6 and 7 have three fairly distinct identifications of the Christians, which probably reflects Paul's knowledge of how the Christians identified themselves. Probably the liberals, or the "strong," identified themselves as "called to belong to Jesus Christ," stressing their election and thus their superior status. The conservatives, or the "weak," probably identified themselves as the ones "called to be his holy people." This phrase would indicate the high priority given to moral standards, in some instances based on the Old Testament law. I think the middle address in the beginning of verse 7 is Paul's effort to find a unification formula: "To all in Rome who are loved by God." Paul's effort is to find an inclusive basis for the church, a motivation for mutual acceptance. He stresses at this point and throughout the letter that each Christian is unconditionally loved by God, that both conservatives and liberals receive God's grace. In this and in many other ways Paul seeks to find a common ground that will unite the competing house churches and the various leaders now present in Rome. This effort at unification is one of the keys to understanding the first fifteen verses and, indeed, the whole letter to the Romans.
Paul's Goal in Writing
The introduction of a Pauline letter is a primary place to discover the purpose of the writing. While many elaborate theories have been put forth to explain Paul's purpose, we can best take into account what Paul actually says in these opening verses. In 1:11 he says he wants to see the Romans in order to impart a spiritual gift to strengthen them. Verse 15 further explains Paul's desire as wanting to "preach the gospel also to you." Clearly, however, Paul does not wish to give the impression that the Roman house churches lack a legitimate gospel. He says in verse 12 that he wishes "that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." That he does not consider their faith deficient is also indicated by verse 8, in which he expresses gratitude that "your faith is being reported all over the world."
Why then does Paul wish to preach in Rome? The puzzle is deepened by the fact that Paul mentions his standard missionary procedure in 15:20 — not to preach in an area where someone else has missionized, "so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation."
The introduction gives several clues to solve this puzzle. Paul places both his work and the faith of the Roman house churches in a global context. He refers to his apostolic task to "call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith" (1:5). This theme is expressed again in verse 13, in which the work in Rome is set in the context of "the other Gentiles." In verses 14-15, Paul states the worldwide horizon of his missionary obligation.
Therefore we see that Paul's preaching in Rome has a purpose that is directly related to world mission. He tells of his plan to establish a Christian mission in Spain, which was then perceived to be the end of the civilized world. Paul hopes to involve the Roman Christians in the planning and support of this mission, which means that Paul's letter to the Romans needs to be understood as a missionary letter. Paul's letter sets forth the gospel that he wishes to preach and also aims at finding common ground among the splintered factions of the Roman house churches so that they will stop fighting with one another and cooperate in this common mission.
The Uniqueness of Romans
As we saw in answering Question 3 in Dimension One, Romans is far more elaborate in its introduction than any of the other letters that Paul wrote. The typical address would begin with the sender ("Paul") and perhaps a brief description of his current circumstances. Then he would mention the recipient ("to all in Rome"), perhaps with another brief description. Finally, the typical letter opening has a greeting, which might be something like "Grace and peace to you."
An important clue for understanding Romans is how Paul expands these typical elements of the address. Between the "sender" and the "recipient" Paul develops the themes of "apostle" and "gospel," both of which are mentioned in the opening verse. Gospel is taken up first in verses 2-4 with a reference to its scriptural foundation and its creedal development. In verses 3-4, Paul uses one of the composite creeds of early Christianity, reflecting the viewpoint of conservatives as well as liberals in the Roman house churches. He then goes on in verse 5 to expand on the theme of apostle, stressing its relation to grace and its ultimate purpose of bringing the world into subjection to Christ through "the obedience that comes from faith." By opening the letter in this way, Paul establishes a dialogue with the Roman Christians involving the relevance of Paul's gospel for world mission. Most of the themes developed later in the letter are mentioned in these opening verses.
The thanksgiving in verses 8-12 is also unique in that Paul only mentions one thing for which he actually gives thanks: that "your faith is being reported all over the world." Paul goes on in the spirit of prayer to refer to his earnest desire to visit Rome and there to pursue his missionary purpose. The background of this forthcoming visit is then set forth in verses 13-15. The scope of his evangelistic work is stated broadly, including both those who speak Greek and those who cannot, the "non-Greeks" (which would include much of the population of Spain). Paul also says that his obligation includes "the wise and the foolish," which probably refers to the educated and the uneducated.
Many of the lines that divide the Roman house churches are included here, and in verse 16 Paul explicitly includes Jews as well as Gentiles. Paul hopes to overcome the divisions within the house churches in Rome and thereby to enlist them in the task of world unification through the gospel.
DIMENSION THREE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN TO ME?
Today's local churches share several parallels to the Roman house churches.
Mutual Encouragement and Exhortation
Romans 1:1-15 leads us to think about the relation between the gospel and tact. Paul's understanding of the gospel makes him sensitive to the problems that the Roman house churches are facing. He does not try to impose an alien faith on them. In verses 3 and 4 he uses the confession that was probably being used in Rome, modifying it only slightly. Paul refers in a positive way to the faith of the Roman churches. He expresses a willingness to learn from them as well as to share something of his spiritual gifts with them. The tactful presentation of himself and his gospel indicates Paul's sensitivity to the feelings of the congregation and awareness of the combination of pride and vulnerability.
Paul's approach is an intriguing model for the way we should interact with one another in the church. Although he is obviously quite concerned about some of the tensions within the congregations and provides an elaborate theological rationale for how the gospel should beunderstood, Paul nevertheless respects their achievements and their viewpoint. Such tact is directly related to the gospel as Paul sets it forth in Romans.
The essence of the gospel relates to the grace of God shown in Jesus Christ. When people accept God's love, they are capable of accepting one another and respecting one another more fully. Rather than seeking to impose their views on others, they learn to respect people with whom they disagree. This kind of tact is as crucial for the life of modern congregations as it was in Paul's time.
The opening verses of Romans call us to reflect on the relationship between diversity and inclusiveness. Paul mentions in verse 13 that he has been repeatedly "prevented" from visiting Rome. Both he and the Romans had faced adversity. When we think about the life of our local churches of all denominations, we can see conflict, division over theological viewpoints, and growing hostility toward people of other faiths. In addition, we see diverse groups of people coming together to overcome those divisions, conflicts, and adversities that plague our human community. As in most endeavors, there are those who want to conserve, or tear down, and those who want to build up; those whose guiding principles are fear-based, and those whose are trust-based, and this creates conflict and, at times, hostility.
From the opening lines of Romans, Paul makes a case for an inclusive gospel. He seeks to include "all" those in Rome and believes that his gospel is relevant for "all the Gentiles." Paul includes people of different educational levels and different language backgrounds. Paul believes that the grace of God holds persons in adversity firmly in the hollow of God's hand. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. The gospel of Christ reveals that God's love stands behind us even in the worst of adversities. Paul speaks of himself as "obligated" (1:14) because the gospel compels him to seek the unity of the church and the unification of the human race. The gospel sets no boundaries, then or now.
Romans is a splendid resource for us to use to cope with the conflicts between groups and individuals today.
PAUL'S PURPOSE AND SITUATION
DIMENSION ONE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
EDITOR'S NOTE: This study of Paul's Letter to the Romans does not run straight through the letter from beginning to end. In order to bring greater clarity to the material, Dr. Jewett has chosen to deal with material from the end of the letter out of sequence and earlier in the study.
Answer these questions by reading Romans 15:14–16:2
1. What are the references to the Spanish mission in this passage? (15:24, 28)
2. What details in our previous lesson on Romans 1:1-15 are similar to Romans 15:14, where Paul compliments the Romans for being "full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another"?
3. What is the geographic scope of Paul's previous mission? (15:19)
4. How long does Paul plan to spend in Rome? (15:24)
5. Does Paul plan to deliver the Jerusalem offering before or after he arrives in Rome? (15:25, 28) 6. What does Paul request that the Romans do for Phoebe? (16:2)
DIMENSION TWO: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN?
Two excellent places to discover the purpose of Paul's argument in Romans are the introduction that we studied in the last lesson and the conclusion that begins with 15:14 and continues through 16:27. In a carefully crafted letter like Romans, the conclusion restates the purpose of writing and appeals for the practical application of the argument. We can see from the content of this conclusion that Paul is writing to promote his mission. The appeal is for cooperation in the missionary activities in which Paul is involved — in Jerusalem, Rome, and Spain.
Excerpted from "Genesis to Revelation: Romans Participant Book"
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Table of Contents
1. Paul Introduces Himself (Romans 1:1-15),
2. Paul's Purpose and Situation (Romans 15:14–16:2),
3. The Weak and the Strong in Rome (Romans 14:1–15:13; 16:3-27),
4. Righteousness and Wrath (Romans 1:16–2:16),
5. Religion Perverted (Romans 2:17–3:20),
6. Faith and Abraham's Children (Romans 3:21–4:25),
7. God's Peace and Adam's Realm (Romans 5),
8. Set Free From Sin (Romans 6),
9. Set Free From the Law (Romans 7),
10. New Life in the Spirit (Romans 8),
11. Unbelief and World Conversion (Romans 9–11),
12. The Love Ethic as Response (Romans 12),
13. A Tolerant Ethic in a New Era (Romans 13:1–15:7),