NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part XII)
Bible scholar Charles Hodge looks at the grammatical structure of Paul’s desire to visit Rome in order to share a spiritual blessing with them: “He had desired to see them, in order that he might do them good; but this was not his whole object, he hoped to receive benefit himself… The sense would then be, ‘That you may be strengthened, that I may be comforted.’ Or, ‘That I may impart some spiritual gift to you, in order that you may be strengthened; that is, that I may be comforted together with you.’”1 Theologian Adam Clarke is convinced that Paul assumes nothing is dependent solely on him; for he suggests that it will require the conjoint action of their faith as well as his own, to be the means of receiving those blessings from God to which he refers.2 How important this is when we feel led by the Spirit to impart some blessing to another be it wisdom, assistance, prayer, or guidance. It should not be a one-way street. Both should have a sense of growing in the Lord and His Word.
Charles Spurgeon points out how one person’s faith joined with another person’s faith helps both of their faiths to be strengthened, and how it was lacking in his day: “Paul wanted his faith to establish theirs, and their faith to establish his. Christians grow rich by and exchange of spiritual commodities, and I am afraid some Christians are very poor because they do not engage in the spiritual bartering with one another. You know how it was in the old time, ‘They that feared the Lord spake often one to another.’ Shall I tell you how it is now? They that fear not the Lord speak often one against another. That is a very sad difference. Oh, for more Christian communion; for when we blend our ‘mutual faith’: we are ‘comforted together’; each believer grows stronger as he cheers his brother in the Lord!”3
Too often, this attempted exchange of faith experienced between believers ends up being an argument because one cannot accept that what happened to them did not happen to the other. It would be like the man who Jesus healed by putting spit mixed with dirt in his eyes, talking with the man that Jesus merely spoke to and he received his sight, while also talking with the man who needed a second touch to see clearly, and challenging their healings because neither of them had mud put in their eyes.
John Stott sees Paul advocating a mutual benefit resulting from his visit to Rome: “He knows about the reciprocal blessings of Christian fellowship and, although he is an apostle, he is not too proud to acknowledge his need of it. Happy is the modern missionary who goes to another country and culture in the same spirit of receptivity, anxious to receive as well as give, to learn as well as teach, to be encouraged as well as to encourage! And happy is the congregation who have a pastor of the same humble mind!”4
Then Douglas Moo sees Paul using diplomacy in wanting to endear himself to a church he did not start and many of whose members he did not know: “Paul’s wish that his visit would bring spiritual encouragement to him as well as to the Roman Christians is no mere literary convention or ‘pious fraud’ (as Erasmus called it) but is sincerely meant (and he returns to it in the letter closing: see 15:32). But the fact that he mentions it here — in contrast to his habit elsewhere — signals Paul’s diplomacy. For he is dealing with a church that, while certainly within the scope of his authority,5 is built on another person’s foundation.6 If Paul is to gain a sympathetic ear for ‘his’ gospel from the Roman Christians and enlist their support for his Spanish mission,7 he must exercise tact in asserting his authority.”8
Verse 13: Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that I have planned many times to come to you, (but I was prevented from doing so) because I wanted to see the same good result among you that I have had from my work among non-Jewish people elsewhere.
The Complete Jewish Bible translates the opening of this verse this way: “Brothers, I want you to know that although I have been prevented from visiting you until now, I have often planned to do so…” They use the passive tone and forego the use of the active phrase, “but I was prevented” as it is rendered in the KJV. This is significant since it makes the reason he could not visit a second thought, and also removes it as a reference to any interference by way of divine intervention. Many scholars feel that Paul was either pointing to his health, lack of time, or insufficient funds as the reason he was unable to visit Rome, not that God actually stopped him in his tracks and said, “Don’t go!”
We also see that it was not for fame or fortune that Paul wanted so desperately to visit these brothers and sisters, it was so that fruit might be produced for the kingdom of God. Paul explained how it worked among the Corinthians: “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it. But God is the one who made the seed grow. So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God is important because He is the one who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have the same purpose. And each one will be rewarded for his own work. We are workers together for God, and you are like a vineyard that belongs to God.”9
This certainly echoed what Jesus told His disciples: “I tell you, open your eyes, and look at the fields. They are ready for harvesting now. Even now, the people who harvest the crop are being paid. They are gathering crops for eternal life. So now the people who plant can be happy together with those who harvest.”10 So, no doubt Paul took these words of Jesus to heart: “You did not choose me. I chose you. And I gave you this work: to go and produce fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.”11 So he was able to write the Colossians: “Throughout the world, this Good News is spreading and bearing fruit.”12
Yet, Paul’s attention was focused on the non-Jews. This was his mission from the beginning. After Paul and Barnabas went around preaching and teaching in Asia, they returned to the body of believers in Antioch, Syria. Luke then tells us: “They gathered the believers together. They told them everything God had used them to do. They said, ‘God opened a door for the non-Jewish people to believe!‘”13 Later, when Paul visited the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, Luke explains: “They listened while Paul and Barnabas told about all the miraculous signs and wonders that God had done through them among the non-Jewish people.”14
It is important to note that Paul refers to his reading audience as being the same as, “other non-Jewish people.” It would, therefore, appear that many of the converts in Rome were from pagan Greeks and Romans. In so doing he left no doubt as to his desire to visit them. This is what motivated him since he left Ephesus.15 It seems that Paul planned all of his trips based on what he had to share with the people he would be visiting.16 But this was not the first time Paul had been hindered in visiting a community of believers he longed to teach and minister to.17 When he couldn’t visit Thessalonica, he blamed it on the devil.18
But not all was well with Paul’s missionary efforts among the non-Jews. While he was in Jerusalem, he visited with the apostle James. One of the leaders present at the meeting said to Paul: “Brother, you can see that thousands of Jews have become believers, but they think it is very important to obey the Law of Moses. However, they have been told that you teach the Jews who live in non-Jewish regions to stop following the Law of Moses. They have heard that you tell them not to circumcise their sons or follow our other customs. What do you have to say?”19 Paul had an answer: “We will not boast about anything outside the work that was given us to do. We will limit our boasting to the work God gave us20.” It was clear, that Paul would not be dissuaded from carrying out the mission given to him by his heavenly Father and Messiah Jesus of Nazareth. And it is also apparent that had the Gospel not been taken outside the confines of Jerusalem and Israel, the Christian church today would be nothing more than another branch of Judaism along with the Orthodox Jews, Reformed Jews, and Conservative Jews.
Several early church scholars speak about Paul’s reasons for why he had until now not been able to visit the Romans. For instance, Chrysostom makes this point about yielding to God’s providence: “For it is the master’s place to command and the servant’s to obey. This is why he says that he was prevented without giving the reason because he did not know it himself.… So if you do not know why something has happened, do not be discouraged, for this is a main feature of faith, to receive what is told to us of God’s providence even when we are ignorant of the way in which it is being dispensed.”21 Then another scholar says: “The Romans would have learned of Paul’s plans through the brothers who were constantly coming and going. Prevented here means “busy,” because he was busy preaching in other provinces.”22 Also, Bishop Theodoret talks about how God sometimes overrules our will in favor of His will: “Paul declares both his own plan and God’s overruling. For God’s grace was fully in control of his life.”23 And finally, early church scholar Gennadius points out the benefits of the gospel: “Paul tells the Romans that it will benefit him to come to them, saying that the nations which received the gospel through him had clearly added to his own riches.”24
Martin Luther sees a possible conflict of interest as the reason for Paul’s expressed desire to come and visit the believers in Rome: “Paul here meets two objections which secretly might be raised against him. In the first place, he might be charged with arrogance for extending his apostolic ministry beyond the Greek areas into those where Latin was used, and indeed even beyond these. Others might accuse him of presumption for attempting to instruct those who already were wise and instructed in the faith, and to these belonged the Christians at Rome. In the same way, he might be criticized for his boldness in forcing his teachings upon the wise of this world. To these objections he replies: I do this not be chance, but to pay a debt that I owe.”25 It does appear that Luther’s feelings of contempt for the Roman Catholic leaders in Rome and their bias against his reformation effort influenced this satirical commentary as a replication of Paul’s feelings of contempt for the Jewish leaders in the church at Rome and their bias against Gentiles.
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
2 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
3 Charles Spurgeon: op. cit., loc. cit.
4 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Cf. Romans 1:5-6; 15:15
6 Cf. Romans 15:20
7 See Romans 15:24
8 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit, p. 60
9 1 Corinthians 3:6-9
10 John 4:35-36
11 Ibid. 15:16
12 Colossians 1:6
13 Acts of the Apostles 14:27
14 Ibid. 15:12
15 Acts of the Apostles 19:21
16 2 Corinthians 1:13-22
17 Acts of the Apostles 16:6-7
18 1 Thessalonians 2:18
19 Ibid. 21:20-21
20 2 Corinthians 10:13
21 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 2, loc. cit.
22 Pelagius: On Romans, loc. cit.
23 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, loc. cit.
24 Gennadius of Constantinople: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
25 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 39