NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson XXIII)
Adam Clarke speaks about the intended effect of Paul’s call for donations. No doubt he hoped for a generous contribution sent by each congregation in the much poorer areas around Greece, most of whom were populated by Gentile believers. This might certainly engage the affections of the Jewish Christians back in Judea who were initially very reluctant to accept Gentiles into the Church without first submitting themselves to Jewish ceremonial laws. By doing so, he might be able to establish a coalition between converted Jews and Gentiles that translated into ministries spreading the Gospel even further. And this shows why he so earnestly requests the prayers of the Christians in Rome for his trip to Jerusalem to be successful so that they joined him in thanking God for what they were able to contribute.1
Robert Haldane touches on what he feels is the true motivation of Paul’s insistence that he first go to Jerusalem before heading out for Rome and Spain. It involved more than just delivering the offerings he collected so far. Paul thought about visiting Rome, the capital of the world, earlier in his ministry and then going on to carry the Gospel into Spain where no one ever heard it preached. More than once conditions prevented him from visiting the Roman Christians, and yet, in spite of feeling so strongly about going there he’s headed instead for Jerusalem carrying money for the relief of the poor. But someone might ask, isn’t preaching the Gospel greater than serving tables? Weren’t there others to give this responsibility to without burdening Paul? Obviously, those who ask such questions are forgetting that God’s plans for Paul to be in Jerusalem were bigger than just delivering an offering.
In fact, Paul felt that preaching the Gospel proved more important than taking time to baptize believers,2 so why did he decide to spend so much time carrying a love offering from Gentile Christians to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem? No one questioned the need and how much help it gave those struggling in that city to hold on even longer. Also, what a golden opportunity to improve the attitude of the Jewish believers in Judea toward their Gentiles brothers and sisters scattered abroad. No one questioned the news about a scarcity of food and clothing for believers in Jerusalem.3
According to historical records, in the year 66 AD, the Jews of Judea rebelled against their Roman masters. This occurred the same year the Jews martyred James, the brother of John, in Jerusalem. In response to the rebellion, Emperor Nero dispatched an army under the generalship of Vespasian to restore order. By the year 68 AD, they eradicated the resistance in the northern part of the province and the Romans turned their full attention to the conquest of Jerusalem. That same year on June 9th, Emperor Nero committed suicide creating a power vacuum in Rome. In the resulting chaos, the Romans declared Vespasian the new Emperor so he returned to the Imperial City. It then fell to his son Titus to lead the army stationed in Israel in an assault on the holiest city in Israel.
The Roman legions surrounded Jerusalem and began to slowly squeeze the life out of the Jewish stronghold. By the year 70 AD, the attackers breached Jerusalem’s outer walls and began a systematic ransacking of the city. The assault culminated in the burning and destruction of the Temple that served as the center of Judaism. In victory, the Romans slaughtered thousands. Besides those spared from death, thousands more were enslaved and sent to toil in the mines of Egypt, others were dispersed to arenas throughout the Empire to be butchered for the amusement of the public. The Temple’s sacred relics were taken to Rome where they were displayed in celebration of the victory. The rebellion sputtered on for another three years and finally died out in 73 AD with the fall of the various pockets of resistance, including the stronghold at Masada. Since many scholars believe that Paul wrote this letter to the Romans around 58 AD before he went to Jerusalem where he was arrested, that means the fires of revolt already smoldered in Galilee and Judea. First, between the Jews and the Christians, and then between the Jews, Christians and the Romans.
F. F. Bruce shares what he sees in Paul’s extending the opportunity for the Roman believers to share in helping out the saints in Jerusalem. His concern extended not only toward his Gentile converts’ recognition of their spiritual indebtedness to Jerusalem and the need to establish a bond of fellowship and brotherly love between them, but it also came at the climax of Paul’s third missionary journey before he set out on another expedition to a new field of ministry in the west, including Spain. It also proved to be the opportune time for him to do something for the believers back in Jerusalem where it all started. What a great possibility for him to present offerings and gifts to Jerusalem from Gentiles out west to show their love and appreciation for the earliest saints of God and followers of Jesus Christ. It showed that Paul’s apostleship to the Gentiles counted for the good of the Church. This stood as a sign not only to the Jerusalem church but in the sight of God. Perhaps Paul planned to consummate his thanksgiving for the past and his dedication for the future by an act of worship at that very place in the Temple where the Lord once appeared to him and sent him away to the Gentiles everywhere4.5
15:27 They were happy to do this. And it was like paying something they owed them because as non-Jews they were blessed spiritually by the Jews. So now they should use the material blessings they possess to help the believing Jews.
Paul explains what motivated the Gentiles won to the Lord to give of their material means to help struggling churches in Judea. With the destruction of the Temple and razing of Jerusalem by the Roman army being only years away, we see how the church formed in the Upper Room which added thousands of converts on the Day of Pentecost now faced a long period of persecution and poverty. But there existed a good reason why God forced them out of Jerusalem. If the church didn’t spread to Syria, Phoenicia, and on to Asia and Europe, it might die there as a sect in the City of David.
When it came to sharing both spiritual and material blessings, Ambrosiaster feels that in this way the believers among the Jews were given a choice to rejoice in God’s willingness to save the Gentiles through their ministry. For these Gentiles, by giving themselves completely to the service of God and not caring at all about the things of this world, offered an example of good behavior to all believers. Then too, the Apostle wants everyone to keep an open and maintain a compassionate heart so they feel burdened to give and to do good works with a willing heart because whoever hopes for mercy from God must be merciful to others. For if mankind is merciful, how much more is God merciful? For this is the standard: those who receive mercy should be merciful. As the Lord said: “Blessed are the merciful, for God will be merciful to them.6”7
On Paul’s collecting of funds to help believers in Jerusalem and Judea to cope with the economic situation, Jewish scholar David Stern notes that years earlier the leaders of the Jerusalem Messianic community urged Paul to “remember the poor.”8 He wrote about the present collection on their behalf.9 So well did he succeed in making the Gentiles tzedakah (charitable) toward the Jewish poor a part of his Gospel that this project, initiated by the believers in Macedonia and Achaia, turned out much bigger than he hoped.10
15:28-29: I am going to Jerusalem to make sure the poor get this money that has been given for them. After I have sealed the fruit of this effort, then I will leave for Spain and stop to visit you on the way. And I know that when I visit you, I will bring you Christ’s full blessing.
As we see, Paul lays out plans for future travels, but first, he must take care of some urgent business of delivering the offerings given by the fellowships he visited in Greece and Macedonia. As he wrote the Colossians: “The Good News came to you the same as it is now going out to all the world. Lives are being changed, just as your life was changed the day you heard the Good News.”11 Paul wanted this outreach to continue into Spain. There is no record of any churches being in Spain in Paul’s day, nor did any Jewish settlements exist there. However, we are told that Rome did a thorough job of establishing itself in Spain by the time Paul planned to go there. And yet it is unlikely that his motivation included getting to know the Roman administrators and businessmen who managed the affairs of that province. The opportunity to hear about Christianity in the major cities of the Empire will come. Paul aimed his mission statement to those who populated the countryside and who, for so many centuries was influenced by these Romans and other foreigners.12
On the subject of Paul’s promise that when he arrived in Rome he’d be coming in the fullness of Christ’s blessing, early church theologian Origen asks: “What does Paul mean by this?” In Origen’s mind, he feels that Paul is talking here about not wanting anything to distract him from his mission to provide help for the believer’s in Jerusalem for which he feels responsible to God. He harbors no interest in doing it to impress people. He simply offers all he did for God as a labor of love. Then he plans to turn to the next chapter in his life.13
Martin Luther is impressed with Paul’s motivation for wanting to visit Rome. For the Apostle, this is all about the blessing that comes from sharing the Gospel so that Christians may grow and mature in the knowledge of the Lord. This same desire is echoed in Peter’s second letter: “Grow in the loving-favor that Christ gives you. Learn to know our Lord Jesus Christ better. He is the One Who saves. May He have all the shining-greatness now and forever. Let it be so.”14 The Apostle Paul does not promise to bring prosperity to the Romans, but the riches contained in the Gospel.15
1 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 287
2 1 Corinthians 1:17
3 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 625-626
4 Acts of the Apostles 22:21
5 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 264
6 Matthew 5:7
7 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Galatians 2:10
9 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 8:1– 9:15
10 Acts of the Apostles 24:17
11 Colossians 1:6
12 Paul’s Intention to Go to Spain: by Frank W. Hardy, Ph.D., 2010
13 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 2 Peter 3:18
15 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 220