AN EXEGESIS OF THE LETTER TO ROMANS PART I

Introduction

It is generally said that there is no more interesting body of documents in the New Testament than the letters of Paul. One of the ancient Greek literary critics has pointed out that, “Everyone reveals his own soul in his letters. In every other form of composition it is possible to discern the writer’s character, but in none so clearly as the epistolary.1 As compared to his other letters, there is a stark difference in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The main reason being that while writing to the Romans, he was writing to a church he had not founded.2 So this letters seems to be more impersonal as compared to the other letters. The Roman church was not set up by Paul and is believed to have existed by the early 40 CE. He felt that by proclaiming the gospel in Rome he would be able to spread the message of Christ all across the globe.

In this paper we shall discuss about the origin, authorship, literary style and major themes of Paul’s letters to the Romans.

Authorship

In 1:1 Paul names himself as the one who writes this letter to the Roman Christians.NT scholars generally accept the Pauline authorship of Romans and believed that the letter at least in major part, is from Paul’s hand. The style and Vocabulary of the letter are similar to the letters to Galatians and I and II Corinthians. Another argument which proves the authorship of Paul is that the letter covers the issues of Christian doctrines which was severely disturbing the early church. Also certain external evidences like the use of this letter during the early second century by church writers like, Clement of Rome (AD 95), Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna etc proves that this letter of Paul by that time was well known.3

Date, Time and Place

It is generally believed that the letter was written during Paul’s stay in Greece, probably at Corinth as mentioned in Acts 20:2.4 Though the date of the letter cannot be confirmed, it is believed that the letter might have been compiled during winter between late 54 and early 59 CE. At that time Pau was writing this letter.

Theological Purpose of the Book

The letter to the Romans is addressed to the Christians of the capital if the Roman Empire.Paul states in 1:8, 15:19 that he has finished his work in Asia Minor and Greece and wanted to plant churches farther to West. Since the message of Christ had been spread in parts of Italy, pauls states his plan of visiting Spain and spreading the gospel there. Some argue that the purpose of the letter is to state Paul’s plan of visiting the Roman church on his way to Spain. The counter point to this argument is that why do we need such a theologically sound and long epistle just to state one’s arrival. To this some point out that the intention of Paul might have been to gain sufficient financial aid for his Spanish mission. It might be for this purpose that he stated the importance of the universal need of salvation through Christ and not being ashamed of the Gospel etc. he thus urges the Romans to support his effort to take the gospel to the ‘barbarians’ in the western parts of the empire.5

By including the complicated themes of Justification of faith to a community which he had not founded, the question of such a purpose arises. For such a reason some comment that it was basically written as a general letter not specifically intended to be sent to Rome.6

Also some are of the opinion that he wrote this letter seeking prayer and support from the Roman church on his journey to Jerusalem. It is believed that the journey to Jerusalem was full of dangers. Also Paul is said to have enemies there. The verse in Romans 15: 30 supports this point.

Paul was a great strategist. He might have thought of establishing Rome as his base to work in the new western terrains.7


1 William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible (Bangalore: Theological Publication In India, 2010), xxiii

2 Ibid 1

3 George Arthur Buttrick, John Knox, Interpreters Bible, (USA: Parthenon Press: 1954), 359

4 T W Manson, Black M Peake’s Commentary on the Bible() 940

5 George Arthur Buttrick, John Knox, Interpreteres Bible, (USA: Parthenon press: 1954) 359

6 Joseph Fitzmyer, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 71

7 William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible. The Letter to the Romans. (Bengaluru: Theological Publication in India, 2010) 5

Written By: 
Rev. Thomas Rinu Varghese

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