NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part III)
Paul’s mention of the “Good News,” which is often translated as “Gospel,” which comes from the old English combination of god (good) + spel (story or news), is very revealing. The word used in the original Greek is the basis for which we also get the English words “Evangel” and “Evangelism.” You will notice, the word “angel” is part of this word. An angel in Greek means “messenger.” So we could paraphrase “Gospel” as “Good news brought by an angel.” Makes us think of what the angel told Abraham; what the angel told Gideon; and what the angel told the shepherds. No wonder that Paul and the other New Testament writers saw the Gospel as not just “News”, but “angelic news”, or “news from above,” about our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
Reformation leader Martin Luther thought highly of the letter by Paul to the Romans. He begins his commentary with this preface: “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.”1 Luther was so convinced by what he believed, that he goes on to say: “Therefore, I, too, will do my best, so far as God has given me power, to open the way into it through this preface, so that it may be better understood by everyone. For heretofore it has been evilly darkened with commentaries and all kinds of idle talk, though it is, in itself, a bright light, almost enough to illumine all the Scripture.”
Then, in his general commentary on Chapter One Luther states: “The object of this Epistle is to destroy all wisdom and works of the flesh no matter how important these may appear in our eyes or those of others, and no matter how sincere and earnest we might be in their use. In its place, it implants, deepens and magnifies sin, no matter how little of it there may exist, or how much of it may be there.”2
On this opening verse, Reformist John Calvin had this to say: “He [Paul] signalizes himself with these distinctions for the purpose of securing more authority to his doctrine; and this he seeks to secure by two things — first, by asserting his call to the Apostleship; and secondly, by showing that his call was not unconnected with the Church of Rome: for it was of great importance that he should be deemed an Apostle through God’s call and that he should be known as one destined for the Roman Church. He, therefore, says that he was a servant of Christ, and called to the office of an Apostle, thereby intimating that he had not presumptuously intruded into that office. He then adds, that he was chosen, by which he more fully confirms the fact, that he was not one of the people, but a particular Apostle of the Lord. Consistently with this, he had before proceeded from what was general to what was particular, as the Apostleship was an especial service; for all who sustain the office of teaching are to be deemed Christ’s servants, but Apostles, in point of honor, far exceed all others. But the choosing for the gospel, etc., which he afterward mentions, expresses the end as well as the use of the Apostleship; for he intended briefly to show for what purpose he was called to that function. By saying then that he was servant of Christ, he declared what he had in common with other teachers; by claiming to himself the title of an Apostle, he put himself before others; but as no authority is due to him who willfully intrudes himself, he reminds us, that he was appointed by God.”3
Methodist commentator Adam Clarke makes this observation: “Set apart and appointed to this work, and to this only; as the Israelites were separate from all the people of the earth, to be the servants of God.4 St. Paul may here refer to his former state as a Pharisee, which literally signifies a separatist, or one separated. Before he was separated unto the service of his own sect; now he is separated unto the Gospel of God.”5 Later on, nineteenth-century Presbyterian scholar Charles Hodge makes this point: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called an apostle. Agreeably to the ancient mode of epistolary address, the apostle begins with the declaration of his name and office. It was his office which gave him the right to address the believers at Rome, and elsewhere, with that tone of authority which pervades all his epistles. Speaking as the messenger of Christ, he spake as he spake, as one having authority, and not as an ordinary teacher.”6
Harry A. Ironside (1876-1951), an American Bible teacher, pastor, and author of more than 60 volumes as well as many pamphlets and articles on Bible subjects, and for 18 of his 50 years of ministry was pastor of the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, had this to say: “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.”
Ironside goes on to write: “It is noteworthy that the Holy Spirit did not take up an unlettered 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 lore, 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.”7
The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon made this comment: “Paul has many titles, and he delights to mention them in writing to these Christians at Rome. He puts first his highest title: ‘A servant of Jesus Christ.’ He glories in being a servant of the crucified Christ, a servant of him who was despised and rejected of men; so do we. Paul was called out from among men, effectually ‘called’ of God ‘to be an apostle, separated’— set apart—’ unto the gospel of God.’ He believed that he was separated for that purpose at his birth; but he was specially ‘separated unto the gospel of God’ on the road to Damascus. It is a happy thing when a minister feels that he has nothing to do with anything else but the gospel; that commands all his thought, all his talent, all his time.”8
I like what John Stott says when he quotes Dr. Leon Morris: “Romans is a book about God. No topic is treated with anything like the frequency of God. Everything Paul touches in this letter he relates to God … There is nothing like it elsewhere.’ So the Christian good news is the gospel of God. The apostles did not invent it; it was revealed and entrusted to them by God. This is still the first and most basic conviction which underlies all authentic evangelism. What we have to share with others is neither a miscellany of human speculations, nor one more religion to add to the rest, nor really a religion at all. It is rather the gospel of God, God’s own good news for a lost world. Without this conviction, evangelism is evacuated of its content, purpose, and drive.”9
Verse 2: God promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures to give this Good News to His people.
Paul also wants it to be known that the Good News he is preaching did not start with him, or even with the other apostles. It was hard for many Jews to accept that their own prophets had talked about this Jesus as the Messiah and that they also spoke of salvation by grace rather than works. Paul reference to the Torah and Prophets as “Holy Scriptures” was a well-known term among Jewish writers. For instance, when copying them in a scroll, if any part of what is written must be erased: “All the Holy Scriptures will render the hands unclean.”10 However, when talking about how things can be contaminated by so much as a touch they wrote: “If the jar11 touched [unclean] foodstuffs or liquids or the Holy Scripture, it remains clean.”12 Then, in their commentary on the Mishnah, when discussing where and when the scrolls of the Torah and Prophets should be read, they are referred to as “Holy Scriptures” (“Holy Writings” in some translations).13
Early church scholar, Origen, has an interesting take on what is being said here: “You, the reader, must decide whether this is to be understood simply of the gospel which was promised by God through the prophetic Scriptures or whether this is said in order to distinguish it from another gospel, which John calls ‘eternal’ in the book of Revelation.14 This gospel will be revealed when the shadow passes and the truth comes, when death will be swallowed up and eternity restored. It seems that those eternal years of which the prophet spoke also belong to this eternal gospel: ‘I had the eternal years in mind.’15 It must be understood that what was predicted by the prophets concerning Christ was also predicted concerning the gospel, although the Evangelist Mark seems to make a distinction between Christ and the gospel when he says: ‘Whoever has left father or mother … for my sake or for the gospel.’16 But if promises referring specifically to the gospel are what is required, you will find an abundance of them in the prophets, to wit: ‘The Lord will give his word with great power to those who preach the good news,” and: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.‘17”18
Also, the idea of the prophets in the Old Testament foreseeing the passion of the Messiah was not just Paul’s interpretation. He echoes the words of Jesus who said: “The prophets said the Messiah must suffer these things before he begins His time of glory.” Jesus said this to the two men He joined on their walk to Emmaus. Luke goes on to tell us: “Then He began to explain everything that had been written about Himself in the Scriptures. He started with the books of Moses and then He talked about what the prophets had said about Him.”19 Paul was not alone in such thinking. The apostle Peter also endorsed this doctrine when he told the household of Cornelius: “Everyone who believes in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through His name. All the prophets agree that this is true.”20
1 Martin Luther: Commentary on Romans, Translated by J. Theodore Mueller, reprinted by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993, p. xiii
2 Martin Luther: ibid., p 28
3 John Calvin: Commentary on Romans, (circa 1550), loc. cit.
4 See Leviticus 20:26
5 Adam Clarke: Commentary on Romans (1826), loc. cit.
6 Charles Hodge: Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Published by Alfred Martien, Philadelphia, 1873, loc. cit., p. 18
7 Ironside, Harry A.. Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans (Ironside’s commentaries), SolidChristianBooks.com. Kindle Edition.
8 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, loc. cit.
9 John Stott: The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today Series), InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
10 Mishnah, Sixth Division: Tohoroth, Tractate Yadaim, Ch. 3:5
11 This was a reference to the jar containing the ashes of the Sin-offering
12 Mishnah: ibid., Tractate Parah, Ch.10:3
13 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Sabbath, folio 116b
14 Revelation 14:6
15 Psalm 77:5
16 Mark 10:29
17 Isaiah 52:7
18 Origen: Commentary on Romans, loc, cit.
19 Luke 24:26-27
20 Acts of the Apostles 10:43