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Introduction to the Epistle to the Romans

The depth of thought, logical reasoning, and profound comprehension of the divine government shown in this Epistle have always been recognized. Luther says, “It is the chief part of the New Testament.” Meyer, that it is “the grandest, boldest, most complete composition of Paul.” Godet terms it “the cathedral of the Christian faith.” That it should be what Coleridge says, “the most profound work in existence,” is not wonderful when we bear in mind that it was written by the greatest of the apostles, in the full vigor of his manhood, at the height of his activity, and addressed to the church of the great imperial city which was the center of influence and power for the whole world. In this mighty capital, under the shadow of the palace of the Cæsars, in some unknown way, a congregation of believers had been gathered. It is certain that long before any apostle had set foot in Italy, churches had been formed in Puteoli and in Rome (Acts 28:14, 15). Possibly the “strangers of Rome,” who listened to Peter on the day of Pentecost, had carried back the Gospel, and had formed the nucleus; but it is probable that the constant influx of strangers from all portions of the empire had carried many of the converts made around the Eastern Mediterranean to the great political center of the world. The greetings of the last chapter of this Epistle show that Paul had many acquaintances among the number, and the names seem to imply that most of them were Greeks. Indeed, while there was a Jewish element in the church, it can hardly be doubted that the majority of the believers were of Gentile origin. Various passages in the Epistles, such as 1:5–7; 11:13, 25, 28; 14:1; 15:15, 16, give indications of a Gentile preponderance.

The occasion of writing was the desire of the apostle to labor in the great city, a desire which had thus far been hindered, and the opportunity was furnished by the departure of Phoebe from Corinth to Rome. Still firm in his purpose to see and preach in Rome, a letter to the church would tend to prepare the way. As they had never been visited by an apostle, and as at that time there was no New Testament in existence to which they could go for instruction, it is not strange that there should be an imperfect comprehension, on the part of many, of great principles of Christian doctrine, and there was doubtless need that the relations of Jew and Gentile, and of the Law and the Gospel, should be set forth with all possible clearness. The great theme of the Epistle is set forth in chap. 1:16, 17: “The Gospel is the Power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” The great doctrine is that salvation is not through the Law by works of the Law, but through the Gospel accepted by Faith. The righteousness of God, the righteousness which brings justification in the sight of God, does not come from legal works, but comes from God who gives this righteousness to those who believe upon and accept his Son. This great doctrinal theme is discussed with many illustrations and in various phases through chapters 1–11, and in chapters 12–14 the apostle passes to exhortations and practical applications, while the sixteenth and last chapter is devoted to salutations of various saints in Rome known to the apostle. For a fuller analysis, I must refer the reader to the headings which accompany the Notes. 12

As to the date and place of composition, there is hardly room to doubt that it was written at Corinth, during the three months' stay in Achaia (Greece), which is mentioned in Acts 20:3. According to Rom. 15:25, at the time of writing, he was about to proceed to Jerusalem with offerings for the poor saints, made by the churches of Macedonia and Achaia. At Corinth, the largest city of Achaia, he directed such collections to be made. Phoebe, who is commended in 16:1, lived at Cenchreæ, the eastern harbor of Corinth. Four of the seven persons named in Rom. 16:21–23, as being with him, Timotheus, Sosipater, Jason and Gaius, can be shown from other sources, either to have lived at Corinth, or to have been there at that time. From these facts, and other circumstances, it seems clear that it was written at Corinth in the spring of a.d. 58.

We have only space to add that even the most radical rationalistic criticism has always admitted that this Epistle had for its author the Apostle Paul. The testimony of the ancient church is unanimous; Renan has no doubt of its genuineness, and even Dr. Baur, of the Tubingen school of critics, admits that it is one of the Epistles which must be ascribed to the authorship of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. While not the first in order of time, for the two Epistles to the Thessalonians, that to the Galatians, and the two of the Corinthians, were written before it, it probably has the precedence in importance over all the Epistles of the New Testament. 13

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