The Book of Romans follows the standard structure of a Greek letter. The prologue contains
the greetings and thanksgiving. Unusually, Paul expands the naming of the author for six verses to
proclaim his calling to be an apostle to bring the Gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles. These few verses
contain a great declaration of the theological truths of who Jesus is, and of God’s plans, which are
fulfilled in the Gospel. In the thanksgiving, he expresses his long-held desire to come to Rome for mutual encouragement, and to proclaim the Gospel among them.
Paul set apart for the Gospel (1:1-7)
In the first six verses, the standard naming and description of the author of the letter is greatly expanded, as Paul introduces himself to a church he has not yet visited, and declares his divine call to
be an apostle, the content of the Gospel he proclaims, and his task of bringing that Gospel to the Gentiles.
Firstly, before anything else, he is a servant (or slave) of Jesus Christ. Paul is under the lordship
of Christ, ready to obey and serve his master. His ministry comes out of that servant relationship with
Jesus and his calling from God. Secondly, he is called to be an apostle, sent with the authority of Jesus, as his messenger. Thirdly, he is set apart for the Gospel of God. It was on the road to Damascus, that Paul received his
divine calling to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 26:17-18, Gal 1:16, Rom 11:13-14).
After introducing himself, he introduces the Gospel which he proclaims (v2-4), which becomes
the main theme of the Book of Romans. The Gospel was promised beforehand through the prophets in
the holy scriptures, the Hebrew Scriptures, which is our Old Testament. Paul is making the point that this Gospel is not a completely new idea, but one which had been promised by the prophets of old, showing
the continuity through the OT into the NT. The Gospel was not an afterthought, but the culmination of
God's plan of salvation, which began in the mind of God before the beginning of time, and was put into
action following the fall of man (Gen 3). A major step was the calling of Abraham to be the father of the
nation of the Jews, from whom the Messiah would be born, and to be a blessing to the Gentiles (Gen
12:1-3). This theme is developed in chapter four. Jesus also showed this continuity when speaking to the
two on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:44).
This Gospel is concerning his son, Jesus, traced by human descent from King David, as the Son
of David (Mt 1:1), fulfilling the promise God made to David of an eternal kingdom (2 Sam 7:13-14). He
was declared to be the divine Son of God with power through the cross and resurrection, after which he
was given all authority (Mt 28:18).
Finally, Paul explains his divine call and ministry as God’s apostle to the Gentiles (v5-6). His goal is for all nations to be obeying the universal Gospel. He describes his ministry as bringing about "the obedience of faith", a phrase he repeats later (15:18, 16:26). The message is to bring people to complete commitment to Jesus as Lord, as his servants (v1), for the sake of his name, in order that Jesus is glorified. Paul’s ministry is particularly to the Gentiles (Gal 2:8), but also includes his readers in Rome (v6).
The letter is addressed to "God's beloved in Rome", rather than to the church in Rome. As noted
in the introduction, this may suggest that instead of meeting as a unified church, the believers were
meeting in smaller house-groups. The believers are addressed as saints, those who belong to God and are
set apart for him, as a holy people. In the NT, all believers are saints. It is not a term which is ever used to describe some particularly special individuals.
Paul’s eagerness to preach the Gospel in Rome (1:8-15)
This paragraph contains the standard thanksgiving and prayer found in Paul’s letters. In this, he
gives thanks to God for his readers, prays for them, and expresses his long-standing desire to come to
them in Rome.
He begins with a thanksgiving for the quality of their faith which is reported around the world
(v8). It is good news for Paul and other believers that there was an established fellowship of believers
in the capital of the Roman Empire.
In his prayer, he makes an oath declaring that he continually prays for the Roman believers, particularly praying that he will finally be able to come to them (v9-10). Maybe some people were
questioning why Paul had never come to them in Rome. Twice Paul states that he has been desiring to
come to Rome for a considerable time (v10,13), but had continually been prevented. It is easy to see that
on his missionary journeys he had Rome in his sight. One time was on the second journey, when he
travelled from Philippi to Thessalonica (Acts 17) along the Egnatian Way, the main route from the east
to Rome. When he eventually did come to Rome, it was not as he would have expected. He was hoping
to come as a free man to establish a base there for further evangelistic work to Spain, but he came here
as a prisoner (Acts 28), and several years later than he would have hoped. He expands on his plans to
come to Rome in chapter 15.
Paul's main reason for coming to the church in Rome was to be a blessing to them (v11). His greatest desire is to be giving to them, rather than receiving, but sees the need for mutual encouragement.
Paul also needs their encouragement, expecting to receive a blessing as he gave of himself and his
ministry to the church in Rome.
Paul's overriding desire was to see men and women won for Jesus, so he also wanted to come to Rome to a reap a harvest among them. He sees that he has been entrusted with the message of the Gospel, so he owes it to everyone in the world, both to the educated Greeks and to the despised nonGreek barbarians, to proclaim that Gospel, including those in Rome.
The Statement of Paul’s Theme (1:16 - 17)
Before starting the main content of the book, Paul states his main theme, the revelation of God's
righteousness through the Gospel. The Gospel is the answer to the question: How can sinful human
beings come into a right relationship with a holy God? Another way of stating the question is: How can
a holy God declare sinful people righteous and yet remain righteous himself?
Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. This is an understatement, or litotes, meaning that he is very
proud about it! There is a common tendency to feel ashamed of the Gospel. Compared with human
wisdom, the Gospel can seem foolish, but "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom" (1 Cor
1:23;25). In today’s society it is not fashionable to be a Christian. Christianity is often despised as being weak, as well as being offensive to other religions in a pluralistic society, particularly because
Jesus claimed to be the only way to God. Christianity, both then, and now in many places, also often carries a social stigma because socially insignificant people respond.
The Gospel is described as the power of God for salvation. This should be seen in the context of the military and political power of the Roman Empire, especially when expressed in a letter to the
capital of the Empire. The gospel is a demonstration of God's power to save people from eternal
judgement, deliverance from sin and death, to eternal life in relationship with himself. The Gospel has
power to change people from the inside, nothing else has that power.
The Gospel is for everyone who has faith. Throughout the book, Paul uses inclusive language, using words such as, 'all', and 'everyone', which emphasises one of the major themes of the book, that
there is now no longer any distinction between Jew and Greek, which was the greatest religious barrier
of the first century. This would also be effective in addressing the disunity between Jewish and Gentile
believers in the Roman church.
To receive salvation, all people need to respond to the gospel by faith, trusting that the death of
Jesus was sufficient to take the wrath of God that they rightfully deserved. Salvation came to the Jew
first, because Jesus came first as Messiah to the Jews. They had been called by God to be his own people,
and to be a light to the Gentiles, showing the nature and character of the one true God to the Gentiles.
Through the Gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed (v17). This righteousness of God should be seen as having several aspects. Firstly, it is an attribute of God: He is righteous, holy, and
completely without sin or uncleanness. Secondly it is an activity of God: He took the initiative to save
us. And thirdly, it is an achievement of God: He gave believers the free gift of grace, to be declared as
being without guilt, and able to stand before Him, in a loving relationship with Him. This is only possible because Jesus took our guilt and the penalty for our sin, by his death on the cross. He took our guilt, and we took his righteousness. This is what theologians call substitutionary atonement. In this
way, justice has been done, without compromising God's purity and holiness.
The only way to receive God's righteousness is through faith alone. This is not just a single step
of faith, but a whole life of faith. There is no place for good works in salvation, or any idea of being able to earn justification from God. Sinful people can only be forgiven by trusting their lives to the
saving effect of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Good works should be the fruit of faith,
once people have already been forgiven and been made acceptable to God. Paul concludes his letter with a
whole section on Christian lifestyle (ch 12 - 14).
Paul bases his doctrine of justification by faith on a quotation from the prophet Habakkuk, "The one who is righteous will live by faith" (Hab 2:4). This shows that the true nature of the gospel was
rooted in Old Testament revelation (1:2). Paul gives greater meaning to the original concept as expressed
by Habakkuk, when the Lord told him that the righteous people would be preserved through the Babylonian invasion of Judah by having faith (trust) in God. In the Gospel, people are declared righteous
before God and receive eternal life through faith.
Some thoughts about the righteousness of God
The righteousness of God is one of the dominating themes of the letter. As noted above, the revelation of the righteousness of God in the Book of Romans gives the solution of the problem of how sinful people can come into a relationship with a holy God, without him compromising his holiness and purity. It is a theme which runs all through the book, in each of the main sections.
The righteousness of God has been revealed in the gospel of salvation, so people can come into
a right relationship with God through faith alone (1:16-17). Both Jews and Gentiles fail to reach the
standards of God's righteousness, and therefore deserve his judgement. No one can be made righteous
before God through their own efforts, so everyone is in need of a saviour (1:18 - 3:20). God has provided
the means of obtaining this righteousness through the death of Christ, who took the penalty for our sin,
and which is given to all who have faith, whether Jew or Gentile (3:21 - 4:25). Once the believer has been made righteous before God, he is now dead to sin (Gentiles) and dead to the law (Jews), and made alive in the Spirit. This Spirit now works in the believer through the process of sanctification to
make him more like the character of God (5:1 - 8:39). Paul wrestles with the problem of his own people,
the Jews, because they had rejected the provision of God's righteousness through their unbelief, even
though they were God's chosen people (9:1 - 11:36). In practical application, the righteousness of God
should be demonstrated in the lifestyle of the believers, in their relationships with other people, whether within the body of Christ, or to the civil authorities, or to the weaker brother (12:1ff).