Intro to the Epistle to the Romans
Whether you've studied the book of Romans before, or not at all, you might have heard one or more of its verses quoted or referenced. Verses that are frequently and commonly known, speak into the nature and the purpose of this letter. A letter (otherwise known as an epistle) to the body of Christ located in 1st century Rome. The political centre of the world at that time and the hot seat of earthly views. Over the next few months, possibly a year or more, we're going to dive into this book of the Bible that is often quoted, but not often studied in its entirety. We're going to study how these verses are timely in their original context and understand the timeless truths held within. We're going to see what they mean for us today and how we can apply them to our everyday life.
Think of a verse that you may know from the book of Romans and think of why it resonates with you.
Here is a list of popular and well-known verses from Romans. Take a few moments to look them up and read them. Think about what each verse might mean and prepare your heart for the study ahead of us:
Who wrote the book of Romans?
Paul (under the power of the Holy Spirit) wrote the letter, and while some debate some of the letters attributed by Paul, most scholars agree there is little doubt that Paul is the writer. We also know that he used a scribe (a secretary) called Tertius (16:22), which was a common practice.
Where was Paul when he wrote it?
16:1 references Cenchreae, which is a coastal town near Corinth, and in 15:19 he references his journey from Jeruselum to Illyricum. This identifies as being his third missionary trip. He mentions his plans to go to Spain (15:23-24) once he has been back to Jeruselum to deliver the offering he has been collecting from the Gentile churches for the church of Jeruselum, that had fallen on hard times, (15:25). This places the letter around 57AD, approximately 1-2 years after his first letter to the Corinthians. This is important context due to that letter responding to specific issues found within that church. By comparison, Paul had not been to the Roman church and therefore it doesn't appear to address specifics. It does however seem to outline an issue or perhaps an issue that Paul foresees based on his experience of the church in Corinth.
Who is the audience?
To help uncover what this underlying issue might be, it's important to look at the make-up of the church in Rome and a little bit about its origins. Roman Catholic tradition has the apostle Peter as the founder, however, this would be from the 4th century and there is no evidence that Peter (who was pivotal to the church in Jerusalem) ever made it to Rome. It is more likely that the early church was born out of the many Synagogues found in Rome. An environment where Jews and Christian Jews debated and fought through the early issues described in the book of Acts. The debates led to riots which actually saw Emporer Claudius throw all the Jews out of Rome in 49AD, obviously being unable to distinguish between Jews and Christian Jews. Two early church figures, Priscilla and Aquila (husband and wife) are examples of this (see Acts 18:2 and Romans 16:2).
So, what impact would this history have on the dynamic and the demographic of the church in Rome?
If before 49AD Jews were the majority in the church, but were then removed physically from the city in 49AD, this meant that the Gentiles became the majority. And even when the Jews were able to return shortly afterward, they were then the minority and the dynamic had shifted. This imbalance is similar to what was seen in Corinth, but instead of Jew and Gentile devices, Corinth had a wealth imbalance. Paul, writing to the churches of Rome just 8 years after the Jewish expulsion, may not have wanted this divide or shift in power, to come between the children of God. This imbalance is seen in 11:13, 18-23,25 as well as the reference to the strong and the weak in 14:1-15:13. Clearly, Paul writes with this view in mind, and to help unite these two groups, he writes to level the playing field, to ground both groups in what it means against the knowledge of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
There is also the tussal we have with reading scripture. The timeliness of the original context and the timelessness of the Biblical truths that we are to apply into our everyday lives.
Major themes of the book of Romans
Let's start with what the book of Romans doesn't really include. We don't see much detail on the person of Jesus (Christology), we don't see much to help us answer questions we have around End Times (Eschatology) and we don't see much around the structure or purpose of the church (Ecclesiology).
What the letter does focus on is the theme of salvation, such words as justification and sanctification. But if we step back from the detail of the book, we see that the major theme of the book or the umbrella focus is "The Gospel".
What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Why did Jesus come and why do people need to hear about the Good News of Christ?
How the Gospel is to be lived, that is, how can we experience it and what does it have to do with our everyday lives?
The structure of the book of Romans
Finally, as we wrap up our first session, we need to acknowledge there is not just one way to break up or structure the book. It's worth reading the book from start to finish in one sitting. WIthout deviating into the individual verses and depth, first experience its breath!
One structure, (and this is not the best or the only way), but rather just a way to look at the journey that is this letter, is through the following five block structure;
Chapter 1-3: Mankind is condemned
Chapters 4-5: Our position as justified through Christ
Chapters 6-8: Our journey through sanctification as we don't always live up to our new position
Chapters 9-11: The promises to Isreal, (past, present, and future).
Chapter 12-16: Application and our life as a living sacrifice
Take the time this week to read through the Epistle to the Romans and enjoy the breath of this amazing book.