NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part I)
Paul spent ten years from 47 to 57 AD in intensive evangelization of the territories east and west of the Aegean Sea. During those years he concentrated in succession on the Roman provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Along the main roads of these provinces and in their principal cities the gospel had been preached and churches had been planted. Paul took with proper seriousness his commission as Christ’s apostle among the Gentiles, and now he might well contemplate with grateful praise not (he would have said) what he had done, but what Christ had done through him. His first great plan of campaign was concluded. The churches he had planted in Iconium, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus and many other cities in those four provinces would be left to the care of their spiritual leaders, under the overruling direction of the Holy Spirit.
But Paul’s task was by no means finished. During the winter of 56–57 AD, which he spent at Corinth in the home of his friend and convert Gaius, he looked forward (with some misgivings) to a visit which had to be paid to Jerusalem in the immediate future – for he had to see to the handing over to the elders of the church there of a gift of money which he had been organizing for some time past among his Gentile converts, a gift which he hoped would strengthen the bond of Christian love between the mother church in Judea and the churches of the Gentiles. During the early days of 57 AD, therefore, he dictated to his friend Tertius – a Christian secretary possibly placed at his disposal by his host Gaius – a letter destined for the Roman Christians. This letter was to prepare them for his visit to their city and to explain the purpose of his visit; and he considered it wise while writing it to set before them a full statement of the gospel as he understood and proclaimed it.1
The Epistle to the Romans is undoubtedly the most scientific statement of the divine plan for the redemption of mankind that God has been pleased to give us. Apart altogether from the question of inspiration we may think of it as a treatise of transcendent, intellectual power, putting to shame the most brilliant philosophies ever conceived by the minds of men. It is noteworthy that the Holy Spirit did not inspire an uneducated fisherman or provincial Galilean to unfold His redemption plan in all its majesty and grandeur. He selected a man of international outlook: a Roman citizen, yet a Hebrew of the Hebrews; a man whose education combined familiarity with Greek and Roman writings, including history, religion, philosophy, poetry, science and music, together with closest acquaintance with Judaism both as a divine revelation and as a body of rabbinical traditions and additions to the sacred deposit of the LAW, the PROPHETS, and the PSALMS. This man, born in the proud educational center, Tarsus of Cilicia, and brought up at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem, was the chosen vessel to make known to all nations for the obedience of faith, the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, as so marvelously set forth in this immortal letter.2
It is important to make note that this letter, written before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, has been commented on as early as St. Ignatius (c. 35–108 AD), also known as Theophorus, bishop of Antioch, the church that sent Paul and Barnabas out on the mission field, who no doubt knew Paul since he was a disciple of the apostle John. It was Ignatius who coined the phrase, “Catholic Church.” He even wrote his own Epistle to the Romans in which he describes himself as a prisoner in Christ Jesus. In Chapter 4 he writes: “I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments to you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him.”
Early church preacher Chrysostom said: “Romans is unquestionably the fullest, deepest compendium of all sacred foundation truths.” But over time, the theology of the church and it’s doctrinal foundation based on the Scriptures underwent a grievous evolution. A creed was developed that can be described as: Salvation by sacrament, ritual, and good works, rather than being Christ-centered. It evolved into creating a hierarchy that became an obsessed, self-centered organism.
It wasn’t until the early writings of John Huss, a Bohemian reformer, who was eventually condemned as a heretic, that the seeds of change began to be sown. In fact, we are told that early in his monastic career, Martin Luther, rummaging through the stacks of a library, happened upon a volume of sermons by John Huss. Luther said: “I was overwhelmed with astonishment, I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.” From this sea-change in Luther’s thinking, basing doctrine upon Scripture and the understanding of salvation began to emerge was one of: Salvation through grace, faith, and election.
Martin Luther went on to say in the Preface to the Epistle to the Romans written in 1522: “This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”
Fellow reformer John Calvin also gives us some insights that he came across that make this letter even more interesting. He tells us that the first introduction of the Gospel into Rome is involved in uncertainty. The probability is, that some of the “strangers of Rome,” present on the day of Pentecost, were converted, and at their return promoted the spread of the Gospel. Paul mentions two, “Andronicus and Junia,” as having professed the faith before him, and as having been noted among the Apostles. He makes mention, too, of another eminent Christian, “Rufus” whose father, as it is supposed, carried our Savior’s cross (Mark 15:21). It is not improbable, that these were afterwards assisted by those converted under the ministry of Paul; for he speaks of some of those whom he salutes at Rome as being “beloved,” and as having been his “fellow-workers.”
Calvin continues by pointing out that it appears next to a certainty that Peter was not at Rome when Paul wrote his Epistle in 57 or 58, for he sends no salutation to Peter: — And also that he had not been there previous to that time; for it is wholly unreasonable to suppose, that, had he been there, Paul would have made no reference to his labors. It further amounts almost to a certainty, that Peter was not at Rome when Paul was for two years a prisoner there, from 61 to 63; for he makes no mention of him in any way, not even in the four or five Epistles which he wrote during that time: And that Peter was not at Rome during Paul’s last imprisonment in 65 and 66, is evident from the second Epistle to Timothy; for he makes no mention of Peter, and what he says of Christians there, that they “all forsook him,” would have been highly discreditable to Peter, if he was there. So that we have the strongest reasons to conclude, that Peter had no part in forming and establishing a Church in Rome during Paul’s life, whatever share in the work he might have had afterwards. But the first tradition, or the first account, given by Irenœus and Tertullian, refers only to a co-operation: and yet this co-operation is wholly inconsistent with what has been stated, the force of which no reasonable man can resist.3
And William Tyndale (1494-1536), English scholar and translator of the Bible into English wrote this: “This epistle is the principal and most excellent part of the New Testament, and most pure evangelion, that is to say glad tidings and what we call the gospel, and also a light and a way in unto the whole scripture … The sum and whole cause of the writings of this epistle, is, to prove that a man is justified by faith only: which proposition, to him who denies it not only in this epistle and all that Paul writes, but also the whole scripture, so locked up that he shall never understand it to his soul’s health. And to bring a man to the understanding and feeling that faith only justifies, Paul proves that the whole nature of mankind is so poisoned and so corrupt, yea and so dead concerning godly living or godly thinking, that it is impossible for to them to keep the law in the sight of God.”
Some 200 years later, the revival period of the church was ignited by the teaching and preaching of John Wesley. He focused on the importance of sanctification as an important factor in Christian living and service to God. Then at the beginning of the 20th century, the smoldering coals of Pentecostalism burst into flame and brought a new energy to the soul-saving ministry of the Church. By this time there were several doctrinal teachings that became prominent in various branches of the Protestant and Pentecostal movements. There were:
Predestination – Salvation is based on God’s choice not man’s choice.
Free will – Salvation is not imposed on anyone. Each person will be responsible for their own choice to accept salvation.
Salvation by water baptism – Salvation is granted upon being baptized in water, either as an infant or later as an adult.
Eternal Security – Salvation, once given, cannot be canceled. In other words, once saved always saved.
Eternal Insecurity – Salvation can be easily lost when one sins. Such backsliders must come back to God in order to be reinstated. If they do not, they will forever be lost.
Sanctification – A second work of grace apart from the new birth – One can be saved, but they must seek to be sanctified in order to meet God’s expectations and receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
Philip Schaff, author of the History of the Christian Church (1910), stated: “It is the most remarkable production of the most remarkable man. It is his heart. It contains his theology, theoretical and practical, for which he lived and died. It gives the clearest and fullest exposition of the doctrines of sin and grace and the best possible solution of the universal dominion of sin and death in the universal redemption by the second Adam.” There are many others, but these are key to understanding Paul’s theology in this epistle. It is best to read and study everything Paul has to say on these subjects before making up one’s mind. It is also important to be open-minded to fully grasp what Paul is saying.
1 F. F. Bruce: Romans: an introduction and commentary Vol. 6, pp. 20–21, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998
2 Ironside, Harry A.. Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans (Ironside’s commentaries), Solid Christian Books, Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 70-79).
3 John Calvin: Commentary on Romans – Enhanced Version (Calvin’s Commentaries) (Kindle Locations 222-225). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.