NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part VIII)
A good question to ask is: Was Paul making some claim here about God being a Father that was not already known to his readers? Jesus certainly made no secret about God being a heavenly Father. He told His followers: “Live so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.”1 And when the disciples asked for Him to give them instructions on how to pray, He said: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. So this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven.‘”2 Then, after His resurrection Mary went to the tomb and Jesus greeted her, but when she tried to touch Him He said: “You don’t need to hold on to me! I have not yet gone back up to the Father.”3 So for Paul to say that grace and peace comes from God the Father, it would be as natural as any Jewish father’s greeting sent to his children.
Therefore, Paul’s claim about God being their heavenly Father was not shocking to the Jewish converts in the church at Rome. In their own Torah, they could read: “You foolish people, so lacking in wisdom, is this how you repay Adonai? He is your Father, who made you his! It was He who formed and prepared you!” Also, in the Jewish Talmud, we find a prayer that became a common liturgical phrase in Jewish prayers. We read: “It is further related of Rabbi Eliezer that once he stepped down before the Ark and recited the twenty-four benedictions [for fast days] and his prayer was not answered. Rabbi Akiba stepped down after him and exclaimed: ‘Our Father, our King, we have no King but You; our Father, our King, for Your sake have mercy upon us’; and rain fell.”4
But Paul joins the Father’s greeting with that of His Son Jesus the Messiah. That echoes what we read in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “Jesus gave Himself for our sins to free us from this evil world we live in. This is what God our Father wanted.”5 And to the Philippians Paul wrote: “God will use His glorious riches to give you everything you need. He will do this through Christ Jesus. Now unto God our Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. ”6 And to the Thessalonians Paul writes: “Every time we pray to God our Father, we thank Him for all that you have done because of your faith… And we thank Him that you continue to be strong because of your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”7 This prompted Paul to call them: “The assembly who are in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”8 So you cannot have the one without the other. The Father cannot extend His grace and peace and the Son withhold it. They are one.
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster gives his interpretation from a doctrinal perspective: “Paul says that grace and peace are with those who believe rightly. It is grace by which sinners have been cleansed and peace by which former enemies have been reconciled to the Creator, as the Lord says: ‘Whatever house you enter and they receive you, say: Peace be to this house.’9 And so as to teach that without Christ there is no peace or hope, Paul added that grace and peace are not only from God the Father but also from the Lord Jesus Christ. He says that God is our Father because of our origin since all things are from Him and that Christ is Lord because we have been redeemed by His blood and made children of God.”10
Martin Luther has an insightful comment on what Paul says here: “From this verse, we learn that love precedes the calling, just as the calling precedes their sanctification. Paul’s hearers were to realize that they were saints, not because of any merit on their part, but because of God’s love and call, so that he ascribes all things to God. No one indeed becomes a believer, or a saint, unless he is called by God. But: ‘Many are called, but few chosen.‘11”12
Reformer John Calvin sees this from a practical view: “Nothing is more desirable than to have God favorable to us, and this is signified by grace; and then to have prosperity and success in all things flowing from him, and this is intimated by peace; for however things may seem to smile on us, if God be angry, even blessing itself is turned to a curse. The very foundation then of our felicity is the favor of God, by which we enjoy true and solid prosperity, and by which also our salvation is promoted even when we are in adversities. And then as he prays to God for peace, we must understand, that whatever good comes to us, it is the fruit of divine benevolence. Nor must we omit to notice, that he prays at the same time to the Lord Jesus Christ for these blessings. Worthily indeed is this honor rendered to him, who is not only the administrator and dispenser of his Father’s bounty to us but also works all things in connection with him. It was, however, the special object of the Apostle to show, that through him all God’s blessings come to us. There are those who prefer to regard the word peace as signifying quietness of conscience; and that this meaning belongs to it sometimes, I do not deny: but since it is certain that the Apostle wished to give us here a summary of God’s blessings, the former meaning, which is adduced by Bucer,13 is much the most suitable. Anxiously wishing then to the godly what makes up real happiness, he betakes himself, as he did before, to the very fountain itself, even the favor of God, which not only alone brings to us eternal happiness but is also the source of all blessings in this life.”14
Adam Clarke points out several things he believes we all should know about “Grace.” 1) It signifies favor loaded with benefits.15 2) Is used for the blessing it dispenses.16 3) As being the grandest possible display of God’s favor to the lost, ruined world.17 4) It signifies all the blessings and benefits which Christ has purchased and which He gives to true believers.18 5) It signifies the apostolic and ministerial office to transmit the Christian faith and the unction by which that office is executed.19 6) It signifies a gift, salary, or money collected for the poor.20 7) It signifies both thanks and thanksgiving.21 8) It signifies remuneration, wages, or reward.22 9) It signifies whatever is the means of procuring the favor or kindness of another.23 10) It signifies joy, pleasure, and gratification.24 11) It signifies the performance of an act which is pleasing or grateful to others.25 12) It signifies whatever has the power or influence to procure favor26.27 I don’t believe it is too difficult to think of what Clarke is saying here as applicable to our lives, especially when we ask ourselves: Would I be what I am now, and would I have what I have now, if it wasn’t for God’s grace?
On the involvement the Father and Son, Charles Hodge writes: “This association of the Father and Christ as equally the object of prayer, and the source of spiritual blessings, is a conclusive proof that Paul regarded Christ as truly God. God is called our Father, not merely as the author of our existence, and the source of every blessing, but especially as reconciled towards us through Jesus Christ. The term expresses the peculiar relation in which he stands to those who are his sons, who have the spirit of adoption, and are the heirs or recipients of the heavenly inheritance. Jesus Christ is our Lord, as our supreme Ruler, under whose care and protection we are placed, and through whose ministration all good is actually bestowed.”28
Charles Spurgeon adds this point: “What contrasts we have in the seventh verse! ‘In Rome, beloved of God.’ ‘In Rome called to be saints.’ God has beloved ones in the darkest parts of the earth. There is all the more reason for them to be saints because they are surrounded by sinners. They must have had true faith, or they could not have confessed Christ between the jaws of a lion, for they lived in Rome, with Nero hunting after Christians, as if they had been wild beasts, and yet they were not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”29 Here Spurgeon makes a good point. How can anyone be designated as a saint unless they live among sinners? Most of all, not only that they serve as a light in the darkness; a voice of wisdom amidst chaos; but also a willing martyr when it becomes a choice between sin and evil, truth and lie, honesty and dishonesty, obeying God or man.
Douglas Moo reiterates Paul’s emphasis on the importance of Christology in all of this. He comments: “Paul shares with his Roman audience the conviction that Jesus is the heart of the gospel. He is the promised Messiah of Israel (‘seed of David’), the Son of God, the Lord. Confessing the gospel in our own day requires that we subscribe to Paul’s exalted view of Jesus; it is a failure to do so that spawns many heresies. But Paul’s attention, as we have also seen, is especially on the activity of this Jesus: His coming to earth as the Messiah; His exaltation through resurrection to Lord of all; His dispensing power as the Son of God. It is what Jesus has done, not just who He is, that makes the gospel the ‘good news’ that it is. But make no mistake: what Jesus has done cannot be severed from who He is. Ours is an age not too much interested in theology; but correct theology — in this case, the person of Jesus — is vital to salvation and to Christian living.”30
John Stott puts this verse in the context by viewing this letter to believers living in the most cosmopolitan city of that day. He reckons that it would be hard for us to imagine the sensations which the mere mention of the word ‘Rome’ would arouse in first-century people who lived far away in one of the provinces. For ‘she was the eternal city which had given them peace,’ wrote Bishop Stephen Neill,31 ‘the fount of law, the center of civilization, the Mecca of poets and orators and artists’, while being at the same time ‘a home of every kind of idolatrous worship.’ Yet God had his people there, whom the apostle describes in three ways: “loved by God,” “called to be saints,” and “recipients of God’s grace and peace.32
1 Matthew 5:16
2 Ibid. 6:8-9
3 John 20:17
4 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Tan’anith, folio 25b
5 Galatians 1:4
6 Philippians 4:19-20
7 1 Thessalonians 1:3
8 2 Thessalonians 1:1
9 Luke 10:5
10 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Matthew 20:16
12 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 37
13 Martin Bucer (1491-1551) played a part in the Reformation and his impact was in the city of Strasburg. Martin Bucer is not as well known as Martin Luther and John Calvin but he did make an impact on Strasburg until he was forced to flee the city.
14 John Calvin: op. cit., loc. cit.
15 See Luke 2:40; 1:52; Acts of the Apostles 2:47; 4:33
16 See John 1:14, 16; Acts of the Apostles 11:23; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 9:8
17 See John 1:17; Acts of the Apostles 13:43; Romans 6:14-15; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 6:1; Galatians 1:6; Colossians 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:1; Titus 2:11
18 See Romans 5:15, 17; 1 Corinthians 16:23; Galatians 5:4
19 See Romans 13:3, 6
20 See 1 Corinthians 16:1, 3; 2 Corinthians 8:4
21 See Luke 17:9; Romans 6:17; 1 Corinthians 10:30
22 See Luke 6:32-34; Matthew 5:46
23 See 1 Peter 2:19, 20
24 See Philemon 1:7; 2 Corinthians 1:15
25 See Acts of the Apostles 24:27
26 See Luke 4:18, 22; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6
27 Adam Clarke: op. cit., loc, cit.,
28 Charles Hodge: op. cit., loc. cit., p. 36
29 Charles Spurgeon: op. cit., loc. cit.
30 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 55
31 Bishop Stephen Neill was a Scottish Anglican missionary, bishop, and scholar. He was proficient in a number of languages, including Greek, Latin, and Tamil. He attended Trinity College, Cambridge and fellow there before going as a missionary to Tamil Nadu, in British India, and became bishop of Tirunelveli 1939.
32 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.