Background and Setting

The Epistle to the Romans was written to Christians residing in the city of Rome (1:7, 15). Rome was the center of the Empire and was ethnically diverse. In the first century AD it had a population of around one million people [1] in an area less than ten square miles. [2] Of this large population, it is estimated that there was between 40,000 and 50,000 Jews in the city. [3] The Jewish population dates back to the second century BC as part of the Diaspora. In AD 64 there was a large fire in Rome that led Nero to expulse the Jews. [4] This also resulted in the first major persecution of the Church.

It is unclear how the church in Rome originally began. The best explanation is that the Romans who were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:10-11) eventually made their way back to Rome and started a church in one of the synagogues. However, there are also other explanations. "All roads lead to Rome" was the popular saying that demonstrated the city's importance and accessibility. It should not be surprising that there was already an established church before Paul's arrival. People who may have heard the gospel in Asia, Greece, or elsewhere could have traveled to Rome. In Romans 16 Paul greets several people, with the most notable of these being Priscilla and Aquila. Both Aquila and Priscilla were in Rome until about AD 49 when Claudius expelled all the Jews from the city (Acts 18:2). Paul met the couple when he came to Corinth (ca. AD 51). They did further ministry in Ephesus (Acts 18:19) around ca. AD 53. From there they went to Rome. It is likely that they were not the first ones to bring the gospel to Rome. A church was probably already established as it is noted that Paul greets the church that met in the their house (16:5).

Of course the city of Rome was predominately populated by Gentiles and so it is expected that the church was comprised of both Jewish and Gentile believers (cf. 1:6, 7:1). Paul addresses both groups in this epistle.


The letter itself claims Pauline authorship (1:1) and there has not been much controversy over this. Early church tradition affirms Pauline authorship. According to Geisler and Nix, it was either cited or alluded to by Clement of Rome (ca. AD 95-97), Polycarp (ca. 110-150), the Didache (ca. 120-150), Justin Martyr (ca. 150-155), Tertullian (ca. 150-220), and Origen (ca. 185-254). [5] It has been named as authentic by Irenaeus (ca. 130-202), Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215), Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 315-386), Eusebius (ca. 325-340), Jerome (ca. 340-420), and Augustine (ca. 400). And it was included in the canons of Marcion (ca. 140), Muratorian (ca. 170), Barococcio (ca. 206), Apostolic (ca. 300), Cheltenham (ca. 360), and Athanasius (367). [6]

Paul, the author of thirteen New Testament Epistles, was born as an Israelite in Tarsus of Cilicia (Acts 22:3; Phil 3:5). The name that he went by was Saul. He studied under Gamaliel in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3) and became a Pharisee (Phil 3:5). He was present at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58; 8:1) and became a persecuter of the church (Acts 8:1-3; Phil 3:6). While seeking to have Christians bound, he was converted on the road to Damascus as Christ appeared to him (Acts 9:1-9). He went into Damascus (Acts 9:10-19) then went to Arabia for some time (Gal 1:17) before returning to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-29; Gal 1:18). He met up with Barnabas and ministered with him in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). Then he began to go on various missionary journeys to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. He was imprisoned in Rome on two occasions and was martyred under Caesar Nero.

In 1 Cor 12:7 Paul refers to a "thorn in the flesh" which seems to be a reference to a physical ailment of some kind. The direct or indirect result of this ailment appears to have affected Paul's eyesight. Gal 4:15 states that the Galatian Christians would have given their own eyes to Paul if it were possible. Paul even experienced difficulty recognizing the high priest in Acts 23. As a result of these vision problems, Paul needed assistance in composing his letters, which necessitated the need for an amanuensis (i.e., a scribe). Paul had multiple amanuenses who wrote for him-the one he utilized for this letter was Tertius (16:22).

Date and Location of Composition

Paul wrote the letter to the Romans from the city of Corinth, while he was on his third missionary journey. At the time he was gathering an offering from the Gentile Christians for the church in Jerusalem (15:25; Acts 24:17). This would place the letter's composition date at ca. AD 56.

Paul mentions three people that help to identify the letter's composition with Corinth: Phoebe (16:1), Gaius (16:23), and Erastus (16:23). He sent Phoebe of Cenchrea to the church in Rome as the bearer of the epistle. With her being from Cenchrea, she would have had ties to Corinth because Cenchrea is the port city for Corinth. There was a Gaius referenced in 1 Cor 1:14 as one who lived in Corinth and many have identified him as the Titius Justus in Acts 18:7. Erastus was the city's treasurer (or director of public works) and in Corinth an inscription was discovered that refers to an Erastus as the city aedile (i.e., an official in charge of public works, etc.), which some have corresponded to Paul's reference to him. [7]


The apostle identifies his recipients in 1:7 by saying: To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints. His intent was for the Christians in all of Rome to read the epistle. It also seems that there were multiple churches in the Empire's capital because there is made mention of an additional church in the home of Priscilla and Aquila (Rom 16:5).


Paul was writing to a church that he had never visited and a casual reading of the epistle does not convey the idea that he was dealing with situational issues (cf. the epistles to the Corinthians). Here Paul wrote with regards to the big picture-laying down the doctrine of soteriology. He wrote that they would know the gospel of Christ. He also wanted to inform the church regarding his future plans because those plans would involve them. At the time of writing the epistle, Paul was about to take the offering that he had collected from various churches to the poverty stricken church in Jerusalem. After that, he intended on going to visit the Roman church for a time to preach the Gospel to them. His subsequent plans were then to go westward to preach the gospel in Spain.

Gunter Klein argued that the letter was written in order to address the need of an apostolic foundation. Paul declares that he would not build on another man's foundation, yet at the same time he informs the Romans that he is going to preach the gospel to them. In trying to reconcile these two verses, Klein states that the lack of an apostolic foundation opens the door for Paul to preach the gospel to the Romans while still being true to his own convictions. [8]

It was thought that Romans was a "carefully planned, doctrinal presentation of the Christian faith," yet Kümmel notes that such a view is untenable because the epistle is lacking in such key elements of Pauline doctrine like eschatology, Christology, the Lord's Supper and, church order. [9] Walt Russell contented that Romans was a letter of exhortation that treated the issue of Jewish/Gentile relationships and that Paul was urging them to "participate fully in God's present harvest of all peoples." [10] Still others have theorized that Romans was an encyclical or general epistle.

Themes and Theology

The greatest and most evident theme in the epistle is the subject of the gospel. Paul begins his letter by stating that he was called to be an apostle for the gospel's sake (1:1). Paul's dedication belonged to Christ and his gospel as he preached it with his whole heart (1:9). The gospel is also portrayed as the power of God unto salvation-that is able to save those who believe (1:16). This same gospel was not accepted by all the Israelites (10:16), yet graciously (and fortunately) includes the gentiles as well (15:16).

God's righteousness is being revealed in this gospel from faith to faith (1:17). The only way this righteousness may be accessed is through faith. Sola Fide-it is by faith alone. Man can never make himself righteous, nor will a single ounce of merit do anything in regards to salvation (Eph 2:8, 9). Paul adds to this and says that the one who is righteous by faith shall live (1:17). And this is his gospel which he develops throughout Romans. In this letter Paul shows why it is necessary to be justified by faith. Because of man's sin, man needs to be justified, and therefore, as a result, (eternal) life will come. Matthew Black rendered it as follows: "'The just-by-faith (in Christ) shall live (now and for ever)'-and the words, of course, mean enjoy fullness of life, now and fore ever." [11] It has an eternal consequence-everlasting life: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (6:23).

Anders Nygren took note of Paul's systematic approach to the gospel in Romans and wrote the following in his commentary: "Step by step, persistently and consistently, he hews his way through the flood of thoughts which present themselves to him as he undertakes to explain the meaning of God's work in Christ." [12]

Ultimately, the Epistle to the Romans is undoubtedly Pauline in its very essence. It is the theologically richest of all his letters and has played an instrumental role in many great movements of the Christian church.

[1] R. B. Edwards et al. "Rome: Overview" in Dictionary of New Testament Background. Ed by Craig A. Evans & Stanley E Porter. IVP, 2000. page 1013.

[2] Charles Ludwig. Ludwig's Handbook of New Testament Rulers and Cities. Denver: Accent Books, 1983. p. 112.

[3] J. D. G. Dunn. "Romans, Letter to the" in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Ed by Gerald F. Hawthorne. IVP, 1992. page 838.

[4] According to Suetonius (Claudius 25.4) the blame has been fixed on "Chrestus" whom many have taken to be Christ: Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit.

[5] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986). p. 294.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Douglas J. Moo. The Epistle to the Romans. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996). pp. 935 f.

[8] Günter Klein. "Paul's Purpose in Writing the Epistle to the Romans." In Karl Donfried. The Romans Debate, Revised. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991). pp. 29-43.

[9] Werner Georg Kümmel. Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, English Translation of the 17th Edition, 1975) p. 312.

[10] Walter B. Russell III. "An Alternative Suggestion for the Purpose of Romans." Bibliotheca Sacra 145 (1980) 180.

[11] Matthew Black. Romans. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973). p. 47.

[12] Anders Nygren. Commentary on Romans. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1952). p. 27

"The Epistle to the Romans,"New Testament Introductions. The Blue Letter Bible. 1 Aug 2002. 10 Jan 2004.

The Road to Real Life


Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established--that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." (Romans 1:1-17 NKJV)


Notes from Ray Stedman: (

To this letter we owe some of the greatest leaders of the church of all time: St. Augustine, whose shadow has loomed large over the church since the fourth century, was converted by reading just a few verses of the 13th chapter of the book of Romans.

Martin Luther, studying the writings of Augustine, came to an understanding of faith. The 16th verse of the very first chapter of the letter spoke volumes to Luther's heart as he thought and meditated on the great phrase, "The righteous shall live by faith." This book's effect on Luther ushered in the great Protestant Reformation, the greatest awakening that our world has seen since the days of the apostles.

John Bunyan, studying Romans in the Bedford jail, was so caught up by the themes of this great letter that out of it he penned Pilgrim's Progress, which has taught many people how a Christian relates to the world in which he lives.

As you know, John Wesley, listening one day to Luther's preface to the commentary on Romans, found his own heart strangely warmed and out of that came the great evangelical awakening of the eighteenth century.

In our own day, Karl Barth has been associated with studies in Romans that have shaken the theological world. We may not always agree with everything Barth writes, but one thing is clear -- his arguments on the book of Romans absolutely demolished liberal Christianity about two or three decades ago.

Paul's letter to the Romans was written about 56-58 A.D., somewhere around the middle of the 1st century, when the apostle was in Corinth on his third missionary journey.

As you read this letter, you can catch glimpses of the conditions in the Greek city of Corinth. Those of you who have visited the site of Corinth know this city was located at the crossroads of trade in the empire. It was one of the notoriously wicked cities in the Roman world and much of that atmosphere is characterized here in the letter to the Romans.

This letter was written only about 30 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Today is December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, and many of us realize that it was 34 years ago today that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The events of that day are etched unforgettably in the memory of many of us who lived through that time. Anyone of us who was over 10 years old then knows what he was doing when the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor came. Such was the impact of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The memory of it still was sharply etched in the minds of Christians all over the Roman Empire.

This letter was sent to them to teach them and instruct them and bring to their remembrance the meaning of these fantastic events that had so startled and amazed men in that 1st century.

The first seventeen verses of this letter constitute an introduction. In this introduction are the great themes of this epistle, the things that Paul is going to return to again and again as he boldly puts forth these tremendous concepts that have so fantastically altered and changed the lives of men. There is both a literary and a logical order to these themes. The literary order, of course, follows the pattern in which they appear here in the epistle to the Romans. The logical order is not quite the same, but I am going to combine the two orders. The progression forms a kind of target. The bull's-eye, the heart of the target, is the theme: Jesus is Lord. We can see this theme in the first seven verses of the introduction.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God -- the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7 NIV)

 At the heart of Paul's argument is this central personage: Jesus Christ, our Lord. That, certainly, is the theme of the epistle to the Romans, as it is the theme of all Paul's writings and all of the New Testament. Union in Christ is the central truth that God wants us to see. As Paul himself wrote in the letter to the Colossians, "Christ in you, the hope of glory," {Col 1:27b NIV}. That is the great truth from which all others flow.

Now, sometimes commentators and Bible teachers identify certain of the great emphases that come from that truth as being the central truth. For instance, they emphasize justification by faith, or sanctification, that is, solving the problems of sin. But these themes all stem from the great central theme -- union with Christ. That is why the person of the Lord Jesus is central in all of the apostle's thinking, just as it is central in God's program for mankind everywhere.

We are not simply followers of a philosophy, or even of a philosopher, but of a savior, a redeemer, a person -- and he must be central in all things. From this central point, Paul builds a logical progression of concentric circles, like a target. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the next theme flowing out from the central personage of Jesus. Next, the gospel is brought to us through the apostle, so Paul will speak of himself as the great apostle to the Gentiles, through whom the gospel is spread. Then, the recipients of that gospel are the Christians, the Roman Christians to whom this letter was written, and to ourselves as well, the 20th century recipients of the letter to the Romans. Then, as the final out thrust of this tremendous involvement which begins with the Lord himself and flows through the apostle and the Christians, the gospel reaches out to the nations of the world -- Jew and Gentile alike.

We'll see this logical order as we go through the introductory paragraph of this letter. In his introduction, Paul points out that the Lord was promised to us; he came as predicted in the Old Testament. The gospel was promised beforehand through the "prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son." One of the most important things that we can learn about our faith is that it comes to us through the anticipation and prediction of centuries of teaching and preaching. We are familiar with the predictive passages in the Old Testament. We remember that when Jesus walked with the two men on the road to Emmaus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he taught them "the things concerning himself," {Luke 24:27 RSV}. Jesus saw himself predicted in the Old Testament. We can see clearly the great messianic passages in the Old Testament that point unerringly to Jesus. When you read the Old Testament, you are gripped by the feeling that someone is coming! All the prophets speak of him, all the sacrifices point toward him, all the longings and dreams and yearnings of men are hoping for someone to come who will solve the problems of man. When you close the Old Testament, he has not arrived yet. But the first thing the New Testament tells us is that the angels appeared to the shepherds abiding in the fields at Bethlehem and sang a great song of hope to them: "Unto you are great tidings of joy, for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord," {cf, Luke 2:10-11}. The promised one appears on the scene. Paul reminds us, in his introduction, that Jesus is the one who was promised beforehand.

When he comes, he is presented to us in two unique ways: First, concerning his human nature, the apostle says he was a descendant of David. Now the actual Greek here is much more blunt and earthy than that. It says he comes of the very sperm of David, emphasizing his intense humanity. We all came that way. We came by the union of sperm and ovum in the miracle of conception, and Jesus came in the same way, through the sperm of David. Thus, his humanity is emphasized and underscored.

But secondly, linked with that, is the deity of him who "through the spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God." And there Paul begins with that phrase, "the Son of God," that unmistakably declares the deity of our Lord. He was God. Paul will emphasize this many times throughout his letter. But he also stresses the fact that in the uniqueness of his personality he combined together all that was human and all that was divine. And yet, as we will learn in this letter and in other passages of Scripture, he laid aside the exercise of his deity. He didn't come to act as God; he came to act as a man filled with God.

This is what is hopeful and helpful to us. If we are called on to act like God, we might as well give up right now. We can't make it. But if we are called on to be men possessed by God, then that is the level on which Christ lived and the level on which we too can live.

That is the heart of the gospel. This is what God has made it possible for us to do. We can live as he lived and follow his example in that way. Paul will develop these thoughts much more thoroughly in this epistle.

There were three things, Paul says, that marked the deity of Jesus: First, there was power; he came by power. This is a reference to the miracles that he did, the displays of remarkable power that he manifested among men. These miracles were a sign that he was the man of God, the man fully indwelt and possessed by God.

Second, he came by the spirit of holiness. I've always been concerned about this word holiness because I find people misunderstand it so. We don't like the word holy. We think of it as something that is bad -- good, but bad. We don't like to be called holy ourselves. When we say somebody is a "holy Joe" we are using a term of disparagement. And yet it is a great word. I think its meaning can be recaptured for us if we will use a similar term that comes from the same root, the word wholeness. Paul is saying that when Jesus came, he was a whole person. He demonstrated whole humanity -- humanity as it was intended to be, exactly. And that is how we are called to live. We are called to be whole persons. The glory of the good news is that God's goal for us is to make us whole, so that we are capable, able to cope, able to handle life, to walk through the midst of the pressures and the turmoils and the tragedies of this world and be able to handle them -- whole persons -- holy persons. That wholeness is what Jesus demonstrated.

The third great mark of Jesus' deity was the resurrection; his deity was authenticated "by his resurrection from the dead." That is where our faith ultimately rests. We can have confidence that God has told us the truth by the unshakable fact that he raised Jesus from the dead. No one can remove that fact from the annals of history. It happened, our faith rests on it, and whenever anybody pursues you and tries to shake your faith, ask them to explain the resurrection. Ask them what they do with it -- because it cannot be explained away. It is the unshakable fact through which God has broken into our time, and he rests the whole story upon that great fact. This, too, will be explored further in this letter.

Now, in the literal order of this letter, the apostle says much about the Roman Christians. And what he says about them also applies to us. In Verses 6-7, he says,

And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:6-7 NIV)

First, Paul says the Roman Christians, the saints, are called. This word called is an adjective, not a verb. We are not self-made saints, we are not man-made saints; we are called saints. God called us.

Now, every one of us can tell a different story of how it happened -- how God's voice was heard, how you felt the drawing, the pulling of God's spirit in your life. You were called that way. This is true of every Christian. It reveals a remarkable thing: God sought us! We really didn't seek him -- we thought we did, but he sought us. That is why Jesus said to his disciples, "All that the Father has given me will come unto me, and him who comes unto me I will never cast out," {cf, John 6:37}. And thus we came, called of God, sought of God.

The remarkable thing about that calling is underscored here by these words of Paul's: We "are loved by God." Paul always starts out on the basis of God's love for us. He may have to scold these saints he is writing to, he may have to correct them, he may have to speak very sharply to some of them; but he always starts out by reminding them they are loved by God.

Paul understands that this is the fundamental relationship we have with God: He loves us. That is a fact we ought to remind ourselves of every day, as I am sure these Roman Christians did. The grace and peace God gives to his saints is proof of his love for them. The word grace stands for all the empowerment and enrichment that God can give; all that he is able to pour into human life, We don't earn grace, but it is given to us in terms of our daily needs. All those moments when strength and courage are infused into our lives, when we are discouraged and God's word comforts and heals us -- that is God's grace. And the result is peace, rest! Grace and peace are our inheritance as Christians. These two things ought to characterize Christians everywhere, all the time, so that we live differently before the world. That is the inheritance we can draw upon and reckon on.

Paul points out a second characteristic about the Roman Christians in Verse 8:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. (Romans 1:8 NIV)

Notice that it was the faith of the Roman Christians that was being talked about -- not the number of buses that they operated or the size or cost of the organ, or the size or cost of the building in which they met. It was the faith of these Christians that startled the Roman world. These were vital Christians. Now a clue as to why that was true is given in the next thing Paul says.

God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you. (Romans 1:9-10 NIV)

Their faith was reported all over the world because the apostle and other Christians were praying for them. Now Paul had never been to Rome, had never met these people. He had met some of them elsewhere, but he had never known many of them. He prayed for them, he prayed for them constantly! "How constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times." That is why this church flourished. If there is one thing that I would say we need more than anything else today, it is to recover again this sense of concern and prayer for one another. I am as guilty as the rest of you in not doing this. But I think it would make all the difference in the world if we began to uphold each other in prayer regularly. The third characteristic about the Roman saints that Paul points out is that they were strengthened by gifts (Verses 11-12):

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong -- that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. (Romans 1:11-12 NIV)

That is what makes a congregation strong, the exercise of spiritual gifts in its midst. When Paul says, "I want to impart to you some spiritual gift," he doesn't mean that he has all the gifts in a bag and he goes around like an ecclesiastical Santa Claus doling them out to people wherever he goes. He doesn't mean that. Impart really means "share with you." It isn't something Paul gives to them; only the Holy Spirit can give spiritual gifts. Paul wants to share with them the gifts God has given. He wants to minister to them, as they are expected to minister to him with the spiritual gifts that they have; thus they will be mutually strengthened by one another's faith. That is how God wants a church to function -- the saints ministering to each other, building up one another by their faith and sharing and exercising the gifts God has given them.

Next in this logical outline is Paul himself as the great apostle to the Gentiles. God is building a structure with Jesus at the center, then the gospel, then the apostle. It is through the apostle that the Christians are being reached. What does Paul say about himself as an apostle?

In Verse 1, he says he is called and set apart as an apostle. Called is used as an adjective again here. Paul is not "called to be an apostle" -- he is a called apostle. God did the calling. This happened, Paul tells us in Galatians, before he was born. That is when God calls us -- before we are born.

This is the wonder of the God we serve. He doesn't have to wait until we appear in human history. He calls us long before we are even conceived, long before our family tree ever began to take shape; then he sets us apart. Now that is the process of history, and that is what happened to Paul.

All the events of Paul's young life, including his training under Gamaliel and his rising up in the group of the Pharisees and his antipathy against the gospel, all this was part of God's process of setting him apart to be an apostle. And when the time came, God pulled the trap door and Paul fell through. He was caught. That is what happens to us all; that is the way God works in our lives.

What is an apostle? Paul tells us in Verse 5: "Through him and for his name's sake we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith," or, more literally, "the obedience of faith." An apostle is to call people out. As Paul himself tells us in Verse 14,

I am obligated both to the Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and foolish. (Romans 1:14 NIV)

Paul had a deep sense of an imperative to tell people the gospel because he knew they desperately needed it. If you were the sole possessor of a remedy for cancer, would you be quiet about it or would you feel an imperative to share with others the secret? That's what Paul says urged him on -- this constant consciousness that he had the secret of release that people desperately needed. As an apostle, he journeyed out to carry that secret to them. He tells us how he does this in Verse 9,

God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, (Romans 1:9a NIV)

Here is a whole-hearted man, single-minded, with his spirit fully engaged in this work. Then he tells us the final step in the process in Verse 15:

That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. (Romans 1:15 NIV)

If Paul is going to reach the nations, why does he preach the gospel to the Christians at Rome? It is by means of the Christians that the nations are to hear. It is the changes God works in the lives of his people that cause others to begin to take note. That is how evangelism occurs. Paul says, "that is why I want to preach the gospel to you at Rome." Now, by the gospel, Paul does not mean simply explaining how to become a Christian. That is what we often think it means, but that isn't what Paul means here, because these Romans were already Christians. The gospel is all the great facts about humanity and about God that God wants to impart to us and that will enable us to be whole persons.

That, therefore, brings us to the message itself -- the gospel which the apostle will preach to the Christians, and thus reach all the nations. This is what Paul says of the gospel in Verses 16 and 17:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:16-17 NIV)

This quotation from Habakkuk that Paul uses is the Scripture that gripped Martin Luther's heart. Paul says that this is the great fact that he is expounding in the gospel. He is not ashamed of it, he says, and that is a way of saying that he is proud of it. He can't wait to get to Rome.

Paul especially is not ashamed of the gospel in Rome because the Romans appreciated power, just as Americans do. The Romans prided themselves on their power. They had military power that could conquer all the nations that stood in their path; they had a tremendous program of road-building; they had some of the greatest law-makers of history; they had the power to write literature and create art. But Paul knew that the Romans also were powerless when it came to changing hearts. They were powerless to eliminate slavery; half of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves. They were powerless to change the stubborn, hostile, hateful hearts of men and eliminate violence; the Roman Empire was full of violence and corruption and the suicide rate was extremely high. The Romans could do nothing about these things. And Paul says that is why he is so proud of the gospel -- because it is the power of God to do those very things that men cannot do. We never need to apologize for the gospel. It is absolutely without rival...

Second, Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because it reveals a righteousness from God. Righteousness is an old word that we don't understand very much. I would like to substitute for it the word worth, a worth before God. A sense of acceptance before God is given to you. You can't earn it, you certainly don't deserve it, but it is given. God really accepts you because of the gospel, because of the good news of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Therefore, it is something that you, or I, or anybody else can have, and it is complete, perfect. That is what Paul is going to be talking about throughout the book of Romans -- the gospel of God.

The last thing Paul says is that this righteousness is received by faith. It is not something we can ever earn; it is something we can take anytime we need it, and that is good news. Our worth before God is not something we receive once, by faith, at the beginning of our Christian lives. It is something we remind ourselves of every time we feel depressed, despairing, discouraged, defeated, etc. God has loved us, restored us, and we have perfect standing in his sight. He already accepts us and loves us as much as he possibly can; nothing more can be added to it. That is the righteousness that is revealed in the gospel, by faith, to all who believe, no matter what their background or training may be.

These are the great themes of Romans. As we go through this book together, I hope these themes will have their effect upon our hearts as they had an effect upon the hearts of many in the 1st century church. (Ray C. Stedman,

You are invited to sign up and contribute to our Christianese Word Lexicon,

What is the gospel?

The term "gospel" is widely used in Christian circles. It has also lost its meaning for modern-modern man--as have many other older, classic Bible words. Words like gospel desperately need to be understood and explained both within the Christian community and--even more so--when talking to non-Christians about our faith. The following notes are a short study-guide for recovering the deep meaning of the great New Testament word "gospel."

Dictionary: 1. OE: Godspel, good talk or news, from "gd"=good + "speil." Spell is from speil = talk, tale: a spoken word or form of words believed to have magic power. 2. The "glad tidings." 3. Euangelion from Greek eu = good, well and angelia, message. Eu is the opposite of kakos, evilly. (From eu: eulogize, eucharist, eugenics, euphemism, euphoria, euthanasia).

Usage: "Gospel" is used 93 times in the NT: Matt. 4:23, Matt. 9:35, Matt. 24:14, Matt. 26:13, Mark 1:1, Mark 1:14, Mark 1:15, Mark 10:29, Mark 13:10, Mark 14:9, Mark 16:15, Luke 9:6, Luke 20:1, Acts 8:25, Acts 8:40, Acts 14:7, Acts 14:21, Acts 15:7, Acts 16:10, Acts 20:24, Rom. 1:1, Rom. 1:3, Rom. 1:9, Rom. 1:15, Rom. 1:16, Rom. 2:16, Rom. 10:16, Rom. 11:28, Rom. 15:16, Rom. 15:19, Rom. 15:20, Rom. 16:25, 1Cor. 1:17, 1Cor. 4:15, 1Cor. 9:12, 1Cor. 9:14, 1Cor. 9:16, 1Cor. 9:18, 1Cor. 9:23, 1Cor. 15:1, 2Cor. 2:12, 2Cor. 4:3, 2Cor. 4:4, 2Cor. 8:18, 2Cor. 9:13, 2Cor. 10:14, 2Cor. 10:16, 2Cor. 11:4, 2Cor. 11:7, Gal. 1:6, Gal. 1:7, Gal. 1:8, Gal. 1:9, Gal. 1:11, Gal. 2:2, Gal. 2:5, Gal. 2:7, Gal. 2:14, Gal. 3:8, Gal. 4:13, Eph. 1:13, Eph. 3:6, Eph. 3:7, Eph. 6:15, Eph. 6:19, Phil. 1:5, Phil. 1:7, Phil. 1:12, Phil. 1:16, Phil. 1:27, Phil. 2:22, Phil. 4:3, Phil. 4:15, Col. 1:5, Col. 1:23, 1Ths. 1:5, 1Ths. 2:2, 1Ths. 2:4, 1Ths. 2:8, 1Ths. 2:9, 1Ths. 3:2, 2Ths. 1:8, 2Ths. 2:14, 1Tim. 1:11, 2Tim. 1:8, 2Tim. 1:10, 2Tim. 1:11, 2Tim. 2:8, 2Tim. 2:9, Phlm. 13, 1Pet. 4:6, 1Pet. 4:17, Rev. 14:6.

The Power of the Message: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." (Romans 1:16-17)

The Main Points of the Message: "Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Corinthians 15:1-9)

The Heart of the Message: "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men; but what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to be proud of us, so that you may be able to answer those who pride themselves on a man's position and not on his heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

The Specific Content of the Gospel is not to be messed with: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel--not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:6-12)

The Message Illustrated: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified. Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it. But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down) or 'Who will descend into the abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. The scripture says, 'No one who believes in him will be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, 'every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.' But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?' So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for 'Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.' Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, 'I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.' Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, 'I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.' But of Israel he says, 'All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.'" (Romans 10)

Bible Encyclopedia: GOSPEL - gos'-pel (to euaggelion):

The word gospel is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word which meant "the story concerning God." In the New Testament the Greek word euaggelion, means "good news." It proclaims tidings of deliverance. The word sometimes stands for the record of the life of our Lord (Mark 1:1), embracing all His teachings, as in Acts 20:24. But the word "gospel" now has a peculiar use, and describes primarily the message which Christianity announces. "Good news" is its significance. It means a gift from God. It is the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins and sonship with God restored through Christ. It means remission of sins and reconciliation with God. The gospel is not only a message of salvation, but also the instrument through which the Holy Spirit works (Romans 1:16).

The gospel differs from the law in being known entirely from revelation. It is proclaimed in all its fullness in the revelation given in the New Testament. It is also found, although obscurely, in the Old Testament. It begins with the prophecy concerning the `seed of the woman' (Genesis 3:15), and the promise concerning Abraham, in whom all the nations should be blessed (Genesis 12:3; 15:5) and is also indicated in Acts 10:43 and in the argument in Romans 4.

In the New Testament the gospel never means simply a book, but rather the message which Christ and His apostles announced. In some places it is called "the gospel of God," as, for example, Romans 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:2,9; 1 Timothy 1:11. In others it is called "the gospel of Christ" (Mark 1:1; Romans 1:16; 15:19; 1 Corinthians 9:12,18; Galatians 1:7). In another it is called "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24); in another "the gospel of peace" (Ephesians 6:15); in another "the gospel of your salvation" (Ephesians 1:13); and in yet another "the glorious gospel" (2 Corinthians 4:4 the King James Version). The gospel is Christ:

He is the subject of it, the object of it, and the life of it. It was preached by Him (Matthew 4:23; 11:5; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:18 margin), by the apostles (Acts 16:10; Romans 1:15; 2:16; 1 Corinthians 9:16) and by the evangelists (Acts 8:25).

We must note the clear antithesis between the law and the gospel. The distinction between the two is important because, as Luther indicates, it contains the substance of all Christian doctrine. "By the law," says he, "nothing else is meant than God's word and command, directing what to do and what to leave undone, and requiring of us obedience of works. But the gospel is such doctrine of the word of God that neither requires our works nor commands us to do anything, but announces the offered grace of the forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation. Here we do nothing, but only receive what is offered through the word." The gospel, then, is the message of God, the teaching of Christianity, the redemption in and by Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, offered to all mankind. And as the gospel is bound up in the life of Christ, His biography and the record of His works, and the proclamation of what He has to offer, are all gathered into this single word, of which no better definition can be given than that of Melanchthon:

"The gospel is the gratuitous promise of the remission of sins for Christ's sake." To hold tenaciously that in this gospel we have a supernatural revelation is in perfect consistency with the spirit of scientific inquiry. The gospel, as the whole message and doctrine of salvation, and as chiefly efficacious for contrition, faith, justification, renewal and sanctification, deals with facts of revelation and experience. --David H. Bauslin (ISBE,

What is Righteousness?

Imputed Righteousness: "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:21:-26)

Jesus is the standard of Righteousness: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged." (John 16:7-11)

Righteous: Gen. 6:9, Gen. 7:1, Gen. 18:23, Gen. 18:24, Gen. 18:25, Gen. 18:26, Gen. 18:28, Gen. 38:26, Exod. 23:7, Num. 23:10, Deut. 4:8, Deut. 16:18, Deut. 16:19, 1Sam. 24:17, 2Sam. 4:11, 1Kgs. 2:32, 1Kgs. 8:32, 2Chr. 6:23, 2Chr. 12:6, Neh. 9:8, Job 4:17, Job 10:15, Job 15:14, Job 17:9, Job 22:3, Job 22:19, Job 25:4, Job 32:1, Job 34:17, Job 35:7, Job 36:7, Ps. 1:5, Ps. 1:6, Ps. 5:12, Ps. 7:9, Ps. 7:11, Ps. 9:4, Ps. 11:3, Ps. 11:5, Ps. 11:7, Ps. 14:5, Ps. 19:9, Ps. 31:18, Ps. 32:11, Ps. 33:1, Ps. 34:15, Ps. 34:17, Ps. 34:19, Ps. 34:21, Ps. 37:12, Ps. 37:16, Ps. 37:17, Ps. 37:21, Ps. 37:25, Ps. 37:28, Ps. 37:29, Ps. 37:30, Ps. 37:32, Ps. 37:39, Ps. 52:6, Ps. 55:22, Ps. 58:10, Ps. 58:11, Ps. 64:10, Ps. 68:3, Ps. 69:28, Ps. 71:15, Ps. 71:24, Ps. 75:10, Ps. 92:12, Ps. 94:15, Ps. 94:21, Ps. 97:11, Ps. 97:12, Ps. 112:4, Ps. 112:6, Ps. 116:5, Ps. 118:15, Ps. 118:20, Ps. 119:7, Ps. 119:62, Ps. 119:106, Ps. 119:123, Ps. 119:137, Ps. 119:142, Ps. 119:144, Ps. 119:160, Ps. 119:164, Ps. 125:3, Ps. 129:4, Ps. 140:13, Ps. 142:7, Ps. 143:2, Ps. 146:8, Prov. 2:20, Prov. 3:33, Prov. 4:18, Prov. 8:8, Prov. 9:9, Prov. 10:3.

Righteousness: Gen. 15:6, Gen. 18:19, Lev. 19:15, Deut. 6:25, Deut. 9:4, Deut. 9:5, Deut. 9:6, Deut. 24:13, 1Sam. 26:23, 2Sam. 22:21, 2Sam. 22:25, 1Kgs. 3:6, 1Kgs. 8:32, 1Kgs. 10:9, 2Chr. 6:23, 2Chr. 9:8, Job 27:6, Job 29:14, Job 35:8, Job 36:3, Job 37:23, Ps. 5:8, Ps. 7:8, Ps. 7:17, Ps. 9:8, Ps. 17:15, Ps. 18:20, Ps. 18:24, Ps. 23:3, Ps. 31:1, Ps. 33:5, Ps. 35:24, Ps. 35:28, Ps. 36:6, Ps. 45:7, Ps. 50:6, Ps. 71:2, Ps. 71:16, Ps. 71:19, Ps. 72:1, Ps. 72:2, Ps. 72:3, Ps. 72:7, Ps. 85:10, Ps. 85:11, Ps. 85:13, Ps. 89:14, Ps. 89:16, Ps. 96:13, Ps. 97:2, Ps. 97:6, Ps. 98:9, Ps. 99:4, Ps. 103:17, Ps. 106:3, Ps. 106:31, Ps. 111:3, Ps. 112:3, Ps. 112:9, Ps. 118:19, Ps. 119:40, Ps. 119:138, Ps. 119:142, Ps. 132:9, Ps. 143:1, Ps. 143:11, Ps. 145:7, Prov. 1:3, Prov. 2:9, Prov. 8:20, Prov. 10:2, Prov. 11:4, Prov. 11:5, Prov. 11:6, Prov. 11:18, Prov. 11:19, Prov. 12:28, Prov. 13:6, Prov. 14:34, Prov. 15:9, Prov. 16:8, Prov. 16:12, Prov. 20:28, Prov. 21:3, Prov. 21:21, Prov. 25:5, Eccl. 3:16, Eccl. 7:15, Isa. 1:21, Isa. 1:26, Isa. 1:27, Isa. 5:7, Isa. 5:16, Isa. 9:7, Isa. 10:22, Isa. 11:4, Isa. 11:5, Isa. 16:5, Isa. 26:9, Isa. 26:10.

RIGHTEOUSNESS - ri'-chus-nes (tsaddiq, adjective, "righteous," or occasionally "just" tsedheq, noun, occasionally = "riahteousness," occasionally = "justice"; dikaios, adjective, dikaiosune, noun, from dike, whose first meaning seems to have been "custom"; the general use suggested conformity to a standard:

righteousness, "the state of him who is such as he ought to be" (Thayer). (ISBE)

Dikaiosune dik-ah-yos-oo'-nay Noun Feminine
1. in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God
a. the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God
b. integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting
2. in a narrower sense, justice or the virtue which gives each his due.

Justification by Faith


"I will stand my watch, And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am corrected." Then the LORD answered me and said: 'Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry. Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith." (Habakkuk 2:1-4)

Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted three times in the new Testament:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.' (Romans1:16-17)

Emphasis in Romans: Righteousness is obtained by placing one's faith in Jesus Christ. (That is, God declares such persons to be righteous).

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.' But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for 'the just shall live by faith.' Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them.' (Galatians 3:10-12)

Emphasis in the letter to the Galatians: The man who has been made righteous by faith shall live. (Therefore, those who are not righteous will not live).

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 'For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.' But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

Emphasis in the letter to the Hebrews: The righteous man shall live by his faith. (Faith is an ongoing daily way of living, not a one time experience).


What is the setting of Habukkuk and the meaning of 2:4 in its original context?

What is the Biblical meaning of "justified?"

What is the meaning on the old-fashioned word "righteous" (Hebrews tsedeq, Greek, dikaiosune)?

What is faith as described in the New Testament? What must be the content, or object of our faith and why?

Why would a human being need to be justified in the Biblical sense?

What is salvation (Greek: soteria)? How about past, present and future salvation?

What has changed between the Old Testament and the New, the Old Covenant and the New?

What is the meaning of the Biblical term "works" and what does this have to do with faith?

James M. Boice, Expositional Commentary on Romans, 4 Vols. Baker Books 1992. $18.50 per volume (plus S&H) from PBC Bookroom.

Romans Class Notes:   Index  |  1  | 2  |  3  |  4  | 5  |  6  |   |  8  |  9  | 10  |  11  | 12  | 13  |  14  |  15  |  16  |  17  |  18

You may order cassette tapes from the PBC bookstore, $3.00 each, plus postage.
MP3 files will be on Lambert's web site,

Lambert Dolphin | | | 08/21/03