NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part XI)
Verses 11-12: I want very much to see you and share some spiritual gift to make your faith stronger. By that I mean, that we both can take comfort from the fact that we share a mutual faith in each other.
Now Paul shares his personal desire about coming to Rome to visit the community of believers there. It is not possible to give all the facts concerning how the Christian message spread to Rome, but we can look at some information that will give us a capsule view. Greek-Roman historian Cassius Dio (155-235 AD) reports the following action taken by Claudius against Roman Jews: “As for the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the city, he did not drive them out, but ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of life, not to hold meetings.”1 Most scholars agree that Dio places this event at the beginning of Emperor Claudius’ reign (41 AD). The text states clearly that Jews, while restricted from congregating, were not removed from Rome.
However, things did not get any better. In Roman historian Gaius Suetonius’ record of the life of the Caesars, we read: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus,2 he expelled them from Rome.”3 So when we read Luke’s passing comment: “Paul left Athens and went to the city of Corinth. There he met a Jewish man named Aquila, who was born in the country of Pontus. But he and his wife, Priscilla, had recently moved to Corinth from Italy. They left Italy because Claudius had given an order for all Jews to leave Rome,”4 that it aligns with the expulsion of the Jews from Rome. Paul’s first encounter with Aquila and Priscilla and can be dated to around AD 49. It is believed that this couple returned some time after the banishment was canceled. This certainly would account for why Paul felt such a personal connection with the believers in Rome.
Paul also shares the driving force behind his desire to visit the community of believers in Rome. He wants to add his faith to their faith so that they both grow stronger in Christ and in God’s Word. It was more than wishing for a casual visit, Paul saw this as a vital part of the mission given to him by God through Christ. It may be that Paul saw what the apostles saw in their first visit to Samaria after they were told that many there had heard the Gospel and accepted Jesus as their Savior. Luke tells us: “These people had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but the Holy Spirit had not yet come down on any of them.”5 Paul encountered the same circumstance on his visit to Ephesus.6
Early church scholar Origen has some thoughts on the subject of spiritual gifts: “First of all we must learn that it is an apostolic duty to seek fellowship with our brothers for no reason other than to share some spiritual gift with them if we can, or if we cannot, to receive some spiritual gift from them. Otherwise, a desire to visit the beloved is hardly commendable. When Paul says ‘that I might impart to you some spiritual gift’ he seems to imply that there is something which may be called a gift but which is not spiritual. For the gift of faith is undoubtedly spiritual, as is the gift of wisdom, of knowledge, of virginity. But when he speaks of marriage and of virginity, saying: ‘But each one has his own gift from God, some this one, some that,’7 he says that marriage is a gift, since it is written: ‘The woman was given to the man by God,’8 but this gift is not, strictly speaking, a spiritual gift. Many other things may also be called gifts of God, e.g., riches and bodily strength, physical beauty and earthly power. These things are also given by God.”9
For Paul, the Holy Spirit was necessary in order for the Gifts of the Spirit to operate.10 But he also felt that they needed further instruction. Paul was used to doing this, as Luke tells us: “Paul and those with him traveled through other cities. They gave the believers the rules and decisions from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. They told them to obey these rules. So the churches were becoming stronger in their faith, and the number of believers was growing every day.”11 So Paul’s message for them was no doubt similar to the one he gave the Corinthians: “God is the one who makes you and us strong in Christ. God is also the one who chose us for His work. He put His mark on us to show that we are His. Yes, he put His Spirit in our hearts as the first payment that guarantees all that He will give us.”12
Reformer Martin Luther sees some connection between what Paul said and pastoral ministry. He writes: “Sinful curiosity seeks to satisfy its own cravings by seeing others [respond], but he who is spiritual desires the happiness of others, even when he is acting in his own occupation. Here the Apostle teaches very graphically by his own example for what purpose a pastor must visit his parishioners, or why one Christian should visit another.”13 So, since Pastors and parishioners visit each other to offer spiritual support, Luther sees this same thing in Paul’s reason for visiting Rome so that he could impart some spiritual gift to the believers there.
British scholar Charles Hodge sees it this way: “By spiritual gift is not to be understood a gift pertaining to the soul in distinction from the body, but one derived from the Spirit. The gifts of which the Holy Spirit is the author, include not only those miraculous endowments of which such frequent mention is made in the Epistle to the Corinthians, and the ordinary gifts of teaching, exhortation, and prophesying,14 but also those graces which are the fruit of the Spirit. The extraordinary gifts were communicated by the imposition of the apostles’ hands,15 and therefore abounded in churches founded by the apostles.16 As the church at Rome was not of this number, it has been supposed that Paul was desirous of conferring on the Roman Christians some of those miraculous powers by which the gospel was in other places attended and confirmed.”17
Wesleyan scholar Adam Clarke speaks of his understanding of the spiritual gifts Paul desires to share with the Roman believers: “This probably means some of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, which, being given to them, might tend greatly to establish their faith in the Gospel of Christ; and it is very likely that such gifts were only conferred by means of apostles; and as the apostle had not yet been at Rome, consequently the Roman Christians had not yet received any of these miraculous gifts, and thus they differed widely from all the other Churches which had been raised by the apostle‘s ministry.”18 We might add to this that Paul knew that they were acquainted with being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, but had not yet been taught how to properly use the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
For the apostle Paul, nothing was more important than teaching the truth. He told the Thessalonians: “Pray that the Lord’s teaching will continue to spread quickly. And pray that people will give honor to that teaching, the same as happened with you. And pray that we will be protected from crooked and evil people.”19 This was the same message given to the Hebrews: “Don’t let all kinds of strange teachings lead you into the wrong way. Depend only on God’s grace for spiritual strength, not on rules about foods. Obeying those rules doesn’t help anyone.”20 Could it be that Paul became aware that the Jewish synagogues rulers in Rome were trying to influence their Roman citizens who converted to Christianity?
Ambrosiaster gives this insight: “Paul says that he will be comforted with them insofar as they come to understand spiritual things. Even while he may rejoice in their faith, he nevertheless grieves insofar as they have not received the faith rightly. The apostle was the type to grieve for the faults of others as if they were his own. ‘And we are both comforted by this,’ he says, ‘we share the same faith.’ In this way the act of comforting is seamless. For it is by the unity of faith that they are brought to maturity in Christ. By this means the ministry of spiritual grace is given through the apostle’s preaching of the gospel and produces its own fruit.”21
Paul had the same goal in mind for the Roman believers that he expressed to the Ephesians. He wanted all the communities of believers to hold these truths to be self-evident: “There is one body and one Spirit, and God chose you to have one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. There is one God and Father of us all, who rules over everyone. He works through all of us and in all of us. Christ gave each one of us a special gift so that everyone could have what He wanted to give them.”22 This view was not unique to Paul.
The apostle Peter expressed the same sentiment: “To all of you who share the same valuable faith that we have. This faith was given to us because our God and Savior Jesus Christ always does what is good and right.”23 And Jude in his letter writes: “I want to encourage you to fight hard for the faith that God gave His holy people. God gave this faith once, and it is good for all time.”24
Early church scholar Theodoret adds this: “These words are full of humility.… Paul only wants to share what he has himself received. And because the great Peter was the first to have taught them, Paul adds that he merely wants to confirm them in the teaching which has already been given to them and to water the trees which have already been planted. Once again, his speech is full of modesty.”25
Reformist John Calvin speaks of spiritual gifts: “Paul calls those which he possessed, being either those of doctrine, or of exhortation, or of prophecy which he knew had come to him through God’s favor. He has here strikingly pointed out the use of gifts by the word, imparting: for different gifts are distributed to each individual, that all may in kindness mutually assist one another, and transfer to others what each one possesses.”26
Calvin goes on to comment: “See to what degree of modesty Paul’s pious heart submitted itself, so that he disdained not to seek confirmation from inexperienced beginners: nor did he speak in a misleading way, for there is no one so void of gifts in the Church of Christ, who is not able to contribute something to our benefit: but we are hindered by our envy and by our pride from gathering such fruit from one another. Such is our high-mindedness, such is the drunkenness produced by vain reputation, that despising and disregarding others, everyone thinks that he possesses what is abundantly sufficient for himself.”27
1 Pagan Rome and the Early Christians: by Stephen Benko, Indiana University Press, Indianapolis, 1984, p. 18
2 Another form of Christus. It is uncertain whether Suetonius is guilty of an error in chronology or is referring to some Jew by that name. The former seems probable because of the absence of the term “a certain” Jew. He uses the correct form, Christus, and states that He was executed in the reign of Tiberius. (See Tactius Annals 15.44.3)
3 Suetonius: The Lives of the Caesars, The Life of Claudius, Published by Loeb Classical Library, 1914, Ch. 25, p.53
4 Acts of the Apostles 18:1-2
5 Acts of the Apostles 8:16
6 Ibid. 19:1-6
7 1 Corinthians 7:7
8 Proverbs 19:14
9 Origen: On Romans, loc, cit.
10 See 1 Corinthians 12:1–11
11 Acts of the Apostles 16:4-5
12 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
13 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 38-39
14 See 1 Corinthians 12
15 Acts of the Apostles 8:17; 19:6
16 1 Corinthians 1:7; Galatians 3:5
17 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
18 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
19 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2
20 Hebrews 13:9
21 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
22 Ephesians 4:4-7
23 2 Peter 1:1
24 Jude 1:3
25 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, loc, cit.
26 Calvin. Ibid. Verse 11 See Romans 12:3 & 1 Corinthians 12:11
27 Ibid. Verse 12