Romans Epistle to the
Romans, Epistle to the.
1. The date of this epistle is fixed at the time of the visit recorded in Acts 20:3, during the winter and spring following the apostle’s long residence at Ephesus, a.d. 58. On this visit he remained in Greece three months. 2. The place of writing was Corinth. 3. The occasion which prompted it, and the circumstances attending its writing, were as follows:—St. Paul had long purposed visiting Rome, and still retained this purpose, wishing also to extend his journey to Spain. Rom. 1:9-13; 15:22-29. For the time, however, he was prevented from carrying out his design, as he was bound for Jerusalem with the alms of the Gentile Christians, and meanwhile he addressed this letter to the Romans, to supply the lack of his personal teaching. Phœbe, a deaconess of the neighboring church of Cenchreæ, was on the point of starting for Rome, ch. 16:1, 2, and probably conveyed the letter. The body of the epistle was written at the apostle’s dictation by Tertius, ch. 16:22; but perhaps we may infer, from the abruptness of the final doxology, that it was added by the apostle himself. 4. The origin of the Roman church is involved in obscurity. If it had been founded by St. Peter, according to a later tradition, the absence of any allusion to him both in this epistle and in the letters written by St. Paul from Rome would admit of no explanation. It is equally clear that no other apostle was the founder. The statement in the Clementines that the first tidings of the gospel reached Rome during the lifetime of our Lord is evidently a fiction for the purposes of the romance. On the other hand, it is clear that the foundation of this church dates very far back. It may be that some of these Romans, “both Jews and proselytes,” present on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:10, carried back the earliest tidings of the new doctrine; or the gospel may have first reached the imperial city through those who were scattered abroad to escape the persecution which followed on the death of Stephen. Acts 8:4; 11:19. At first we may suppose that the gospel was preached there in a confused and imperfect form, scarcely more than a phase of Judaism, as in the case of Apollos at Corinth, Acts 18:25, or the disciples at Ephesus. Acts 19:1-3. As time advanced and better-instructed teachers arrived, the clouds would gradually clear away, till at length the presence of the great apostle himself at Rome dispersed the mists of Judaism which still hung about the Roman church. 5. A question next arises as to the composition of the Roman church at the time when St. Paul wrote. It is more probable that St. Paul addressed a mixed church of Jews and Gentiles, the latter perhaps being the more numerous. These Gentile converts, however, were not for the most part native Romans. Strange as the paradox appears, nothing is more certain than that the church of Rome was at this time a Greek and not a Latin church. All the literature of the early Roman church was written in the Greek tongue. 6. The heterogeneous composition of this church explains the general character of the Epistle to the Romans. In an assemblage so various we should expect to find, not the exclusive predominance of a single form of error, but the coincidence of different and opposing forms. It was therefore the business of the Christian teacher to reconcile the opposing difficulties and to hold out a meeting-point in the gospel. This is exactly what St. Paul does in the Epistle to the Romans. 7. In describing the purport of this epistle we may start from St. Paul’s own words, which, standing at the beginning of the doctrinal portion, may be taken as giving a summary of the contents. ch. 1:16, 17. Accordingly the epistle has been described as comprising “the religious philosophy of the world’s history.” The atonement of Christ is the center of religious history. The epistle, from its general character, lends itself more readily to an analysis than is often the case with St. Paul’s epistles. While this epistle contains the fullest and most systematic exposition of the apostle’s teaching, it is at the same time a very striking expression of his character. Nowhere do his earnest and affectionate nature and his tact and delicacy in handling unwelcome topics appear more strongly than when he is dealing with the rejection of his fellow countrymen the Jews. 8. Internal evidence is so strongly in favor of the genuineness of the Epistle to the Romans that it has never been seriously questioned.