After Paul’s third missionary journey, he wanted to go to Rome and then to Spain (Acts 19:21; 20:3-6; cf. Romans 15:24). According to the traditional view, Paul wrote the letter to Romans possibly in Corinth in AD 56-57 (Bailey & Constable 1999:249) or, according to a minority view, from Philippi (Taylor 1948:14). Phoebe was asked to take the letter to the saints in Rome (Romans 16:1-2). Unlike 1 Corinthians which deals with the correction of errors, Romans teaches the truth about the gospel of God (cf. Romans 1:1; cf. Tenney 1985:305). Paul was ministering to the spiritual needs of the Christians in Rome and prepared the way for his intended visit to them (Romans 1:10-13; 15:14-16, 22-24; Bailey & Constable 1999:250).
The believers in Rome included Jews such Aquila, Andronicus, Junias and Herodion (Acts 18:2; Romans 16:5, 7, 11). But this letter is addressed to Jew (2:17) and Gentile (11:13; cf. 1:5, 13) alike, for the gospel of Christ is to the Jew first and also to the Greek (1:16). Many Gentile believers in the capital city of a Gentile empire are therefore also noted by the apostle to the Gentiles (cf. Romans 16).
The theme of Romans is the gospel of God, for in this gospel is revealed the righteousness of God to man. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’’ (1:16-17; ESV). Paul explains in Romans what Jude wanted to do, namely to write about the ‘salvation that we share’ (Jude 3; Witmer 1983:437), highlighting salvation’s past tense (justification), its present tense (progressive sanctification) and its future tense (glorification). As Witmer (1983:437) notes, God is exulted when Paul exclaims: ‘Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!’ (11:33). The good news is that a just God is also the One who declares the person who has faith in Jesus to be righteous (3:26).
The righteousness of God is the righteousness that God Himself possesses. Having stated the theme of Romans (1:16-17), Paul shows humans’ universal need of this righteousness. Gentiles (1:18-2:16) as well as Jews (2:17-3:8) are guilty before a righteous God, a fact further stressed in Romans 3:9-20: all are under sin, none is righteous, no not even one, no one seeks God, all have sinned and all have fallen short of the glory of God. How then can Jews or Gentiles possess what is impossible for us to obtain by ourselves? The righteousness of God is manifested apart from the law…the righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (3:21-22).
Just as humans’ need for righteousness is universal, so is God’s provision of righteousness (3:21-26). A human being is justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. ‘Justification is a forensic (legal) term that means to acquit and to declare righteous. God, the Judge, sees the justified sinner in Christ (in terms of his relation to His Son) with whom the Father is well pleased’ (Bailey & Constable 1999:261). Once so justified, the born-again believer should grow in sanctification (6:1-8:17) and will eventually be glorified when conformed to the Righteous One (8:18-39).
God’s Righteousness and Israel
Romans 8 ends climactically by stating that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ. Since Israel has temporarily and partially been hardened, does this mean that the Church has permanently replaced Israel or become the ‘true (or ‘spiritual’) Israel’? If you say ‘yes’, how can you be sure nothing can separate you from the love of Messiah if this promise appears not to have worked for Israel?
Paul defends the righteousness of God in His dealings with Israel in Romans 9-11. Many Jews have zeal for God but not according to knowledge, because they remain ignorant of the righteousness of God, instead seeking to establish their own righteousness through the Mosaic Law (10:2-3). They failed to submit to the Messiah through whom God’s righteousness is imputed to all who believe (10:4-13). Since ‘this generation’ in Israel as a collective group rejected Christ at his First Coming (Fruchtenbaum 1989:617), has God rejected the nation of Israel? By no means! God forbid! Perish the thought! (11:1, 11). God is still preserving a remnant of Jewish believers in the Messiah (11:5). Israel has partially been hardened, and only temporarily, until the fullness of Gentiles has come in (11:25). But God will still fulfil all the unconditional promises that He made to Israel, one of which is that every Jew living at the end of the Tribulation Period will have come to faith in God’s righteousness, i.e. Jesus the Messiah (Romans 11:26-27; Scholtz 2016:). During the millennium, Jesus Christ will rule over all Israel and all the nations on earth, Israel being the head nation (Scholtz 2017:1-12).
The following outline can be proposed for Romans: Introduction (1:1-17); The need for God’s righteousness (1:18-3:20); Justification: The imputation of God’s righteousness (3:21-5:21); Sanctification: the impartation of God’s righteousness (6:1-8:17); Glorification: The conformation to the Righteous One (8:18-8:39); Vindication: God’s righteous relation to Israel (9:1-11:36); Application: God’s righteousness at work (12:1-15:13); Conclusion (15:14-16:27).
Every one of us is in desperate need of God’s righteousness. We need God’s power to save us. You can take God at His Word, because ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’’ (1:16-17). To God be the glory (11:33-36).
Bailey, M.L. & Constable, T.L., 1999, Nelson’s New Testament survey, Thomas Nelson, Nashville.
Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 1989, Israelology: The missing link in Systematic Theology, Ariel Ministries, Tustin.
Scholtz, J.J., 2016, ‘Vooronderstellings wat die eskatologie beïnvloed’, In die Skriflig 50(1), a2170.
Scholtz, J.J., 2017, ‘Israelologie: ’n Bybels-teologiese perspektief oor Israel se verlede, hede en toekoms’, In die Skriflig 51(1), a2231.
Taylor, T.M. 1948, ‘The place and origin of Romans’, Journal of Biblical Literature 67(4), 281-295.
Tenney, M.C., 1985, New Testament Survey, revised edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids.
Witmer, J.A., 1983, ‘Romans’, in J.F. Walvoord & R.B. Zuck (eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, pp 435-503, David C Cook, Colorado Springs.
Share with others:
[apss_share networks='facebook, twitter, pinterest']