Romans: Introduction to the Epistle

“Every Christian should learn it by heart”

—Martin Luther

“If we understand this Epistle, we have a passage opened to us to the understanding of the whole of Scripture”

—John Calvin

“it appears as if in this Epistle St Paul desires to... provide an access to the whole of the Old Testament. For there is no doubt that he who carries this Epistle in his heart carries the light and power of the Old Testament with him. Every Christian ought therefore to know this Epistle and study it persistently.”

—Martin Luther

“When, on the third day of my first term in May 1925, full of curiosity, I attended Mr. Peterson’s lecture on Romans, the course of my study, and in some sense my life, was decided.
Now, as my life’s work comes to an end, I seek to show in my own commentary what the apostle says to me.”

—Ernst Käsemann

Date and Place of Writing

The Epistle was written when Paul was about to set out for Jerusalem (15.25), bringing money for the poor saints. This fits in well with Acts 24.17 and puts the time to near the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. It is highly probable that he wrote it during his three month stay at Corinth because: Paul commends Phoebe who is a diaconos of the church in Cenchrea, the port of Corinth. (She was going to Rome and so probably carried the letter). Paul is staying with Gaius (16.23)—he baptized a Gaius in Corinth (I Cor 1.14). Also Timothy and Erastus are with him when writes the letter, and Acts 19,20 tells us they were at Corinth with him.

The church at Rome seems to have been started by individual Christians who had moved there, rather than by a special missionary enterprise. It was a huge city of sheer magnificence, the capital of the empire. Some called it the glorious crowning achievement of mankind, others said it was the sewer of the universe. There were impressive and beautiful buildings, and shameful urban social problems—similar to our big cities today.

Brief Outline

  • Introduction [1:1-15]
  1. [1:18-4:25] Justification by Faith
    • We cannot gain righteousness from the law
    • Righteousness by faith
  2. [5-8] New life and New hope
    • Reconciled by Christ’s death
    • Freedom from sin through grace
    • Inability of the law to bring freedom
    • Victory in Christ through the Spirit—Nothing can separate us from the love of God
  3. [9:1-11:36] God’s Future for Israel
    • Introduction—Paul is grieved by Israel’s’ rejection of the Gospel
    • Israel has no automatic right-
    • Israel has “missed the Gospel” and is totally without excuse
    • but God has purpose for Israel that will demonstrate his kindness & mercy
  4. [12:1-15:13] The life that pleases God—how the New Covenant people should live
    • Life in the Kingdom (the body of Christ)
    • The laws of the Kingdom
    • Unity (problems concerning
    • Conclusion: unity, hope, joy and peace by the power of the Spirit
  • Closing greetings [15:14-16:27]


  • [1:16-17] The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, and reveals God’s righteousness which is by faith

Some Problems in Romans

  • This is one of the books with the most difficulties (because is wants to explain so much in such a short space)
    • [3:15] Do all unbelievers shed blood?
    • [3:19; 4:13; 5:20; 7:5] Was the purpose of the law to make us more sinful?
    • [3:25] Did God really “pass over” sin?
    • [3:27] What on earth is the “law of faith” ?
    • [4:15] Is it really true that if there is no law, then there is no sin?
    • [5:10] How does Christ’s life save us more than his death?
    • [6:6] What is our “old man”
    • [6:7,18,22] Are we really free from sin?
    • [7:13-25] Whether this is speaking about a believer or an unbeliever has been one of the biggest debates in the history of the interpretation of Romans.
    • [8:20-22] How will the whole creation be delivered?
    • [11:25] What is this “fullness of the Gentiles” ?
    • [11:26] Will every single Israelite be saved?
    • [13:1] Are all authorities appointed by God, even the most cruel?
    • [13:11] How can our salvation be nearer now than when we became Christians?
    • [16:16] Should we obey the command to “greet one another with a holy kiss” ?

Form of Romans

  • Full of Rhetorical Questions
    • [Romans 3]
      1. Therefore what advantage does the Jew have, or what is the value of circumcision?
        • Actually, there are many advantages...
      1. What then? If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God?
        • Absolutely not!
      1. But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is he?
        • Absolutely not!
      1. And why not say, “Let us do evil so that good may come of it”?
        • as some who slander us allege that we say. (Their condemnation is deserved!)
      2. What then? Are we better off?
        • Certainly not
      1. Where, then, is boasting?
        • It is excluded!
      1. By what principle? Of works?
        • No, but by the principle of faith!
      1. Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too?
        • Yes, of the Gentiles too!
      1. Do we then nullify the law through faith?
        • Absolutely not! Instead we uphold the law.
    • [Romans 4]
      1. What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh, has discovered regarding this matter?
        • For if Abraham was declared righteous by the works of the law, he has something to boast about
      1. For what does the Scripture say?
        • “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
      1. Is this blessedness then for the circumci-sion or also for the uncircumcision?
        • For we say, “faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.”
      2. How then was it credited to him? Was he circumcised at the time, or not?
        • No, he was not circumcised but uncircumcised!
    • [Romans 6]
      1. What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?
        • Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
      2. How can we who died to sin still live in it?
        • do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
      1. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?
        • Absolutely not!
      1. So what benefit did you then reap from those things that you are now ashamed of?
        • For the end of those things is death
    • [Romans 7]
      1. What shall we say then? Is the law sin?
        • Absolutely not! Certainly, I would not have known sin except through the law.
      1. Did that which is good, then, become death to me?
        • Absolutely not! But sin, so that it would be shown to be sin, produced death in me through what is good
      1. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
        • Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
    • [Romans 8]
      1. What then shall we say about these things?
        • If God is for us, who can be against us?
      1. Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?
        • It is God who justifies.
      2. Who is the one who will condemn?
        • Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.
      3. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
        • Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
    • [Romans 9]
      1. What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God?
        • Absolutely not! For he says to Moses...
      1. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who has ever resisted his will?”
        • But who indeed are you—a mere human being—to talk back to God?
      1. What shall we say then?
        • that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith
        • but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it.
      1. Why not?
        • Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works.
    • [Romans 10]
      1. How are they to call on one they have not believed in?...
        • faith comes from hearing, and hearing comes through the preached word of Christ
      1. But I ask, have they not heard?
        • Yes, they have...
      2. But again I ask, didn’t Israel understand?
        • First Moses says...
    • [Romans 11]
      1. So I ask, God has not rejected his people, has he?
        • Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin
      1. I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they?
        • Absolutely not! much more will their full restoration bring?
  • Paul is “taking us into the synagogue with him”