Romans Bible Study
This Romans Bible study page provides insights into how the Church developed from its Jewish roots as well as addressing key issues of faith for believers in every generation. This early Christian letter is a masterpiece of clear logical thinking. Many scholars feel that it is the finest of St. Paul’s writings.
The material on this page as well as the free Romans Bible study are from lecture notes for my Pauline Literature class that I taught for many years to graduate university and seminary students.
About 14,000 letters have been discovered by archaeologists from the Ancient Near East. Romans is by far the longest that we have surviving from this period.
Ancient letters typically range from 20 to 200 words. Longer letters were rare. The longest letter by Cicero’s is 2,500 words. Seneca’s longest has 4,000 words. The average Pauline letter has 1,300 words, while the Letter to the Romans has a staggering 7,000 words. Any Romans Bible study must address a critical question:
Why did Paul write the longest letter to survive from antiquity to the church at Rome, a church that he had not founded?
This free Romans Bible study unlocks the theology of St. Paul and unfolds the central truths of the Gospel:
Romans Study: Teacher's Guide.
Romans Study: Student Outline.
Why did Paul write to the Roman church?
Romans Bible study must attempt to explain Paul's reason for writing the letter. Scholars address this by asking three basic questions:
1. Is the reason for writing to be found in Paul alone?
2. Is it to be found in both the writer and the readers and the relationship between them?
3. Is the reason for writing is to be found in the readers only?
Is the purpose of Romans in the writer?
Some scholars argue that Romans is a statement of the gospel Paul had preached. It would be his theological legacy. The apostle did not know how much longer he would be able to travel and teach. He had been warned already that persecution and prison would come. This view sees Romans as a circular letter summarizing Paul’s teaching. The key statement is “I am not ashamed of the gospel" (1:16).
Others view the letter as an argument. The apostle is putting in written form the answers to the FAQs and objections to the gospel that he had encountered. From this perspective Romans Bible study must focus on the apologetic aspects of the letter.
Is the purpose of Romans in the relationship between writer and readers?
Rome was the capital of the Empire. As such the city would be a natural place for Paul to want to minister as well as be a strategic place for the gospel. Some scholars argue that the apostle is writing his own introduction to the Roman church; rather than relying on someone else to write to them on his behalf, to show that he is not a controversial preacher but preaches the gospel they had already heard. The city of Rome was also the gateway to the west. The argument is that now that Paul has evangelized the eastern half of the Mediterranean, he wants to go west to Spain. He needs a new base that is nearer his intended mission field as well as financial support.
There are two problems with these hypotheses. First, both of these theories assume that Paul is trying to get something from his readers. However, the tone of the letter is the exact opposite. The apostle actually says he wants to minister (give) to them. Second, neither approach to Romans Bible study explains chapters 9-11. Why does Paul mention Israel so much if his purpose is to motivate the Roman church to support for his missionary work in Spain?
Is the purpose of Romans in the readers?
Romans Bible study will identify external political and social factors in the city that affected and influenced the church as well as internal factors. Paul affirms the value of government which, he insists, God has placed in civil matters in authority over the church. In chapter 13 he tells the believers to respect the political leaders and to pay their taxes. He argues that if they are to be persecuted as a church, they must make sure that it is not because they have done wrong and deserve it.
The social mores and behavior of the people in the city comes through in the letter. Chapter 1 reads likes a tabloid newspaper published in Rome. The letter refers to antisocial behavior, sexual promiscuity children being disobedient to parents, a general disregard of law and order, uncontrollable violence and crime, and widespread tax evasion. The apostle is especially concerned that the church does not become corrupted by the society around. We know very little concerning the internal affairs of the church in Rome. We do know that Peter and Paul visited the city, but these visits came long after the church was founded. We also know there were people from Rome in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, and no doubt some of them were converted that day. Some may have carried the gospel back to Rome, because there was a colony of 40,000 Jews in Rome at that time. Thus the earliest Roman church would have been Jewish and began in the ghetto with Hebrew believers in Jesus who were filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Roman Emperor Claudius (41-54 CE) expelled the 40,000 Jewish residents from the city. Acts 18 tells of a couple named Priscilla and Aquila who met Paul in Corinth following their expulsion from Rome. What was left of the church would have been a small number of Gentile coverts.
For the next 12 years Jews were unable to live in the city. During this time the church in Rome would have become predominantly Gentile.
In 54 CE Claudius died and the Jews began to return to Rome. The new emperor, Nero, recognizing that the Jews were good for business, welcomed them back. The Jewish believers returned to find Gentile believers running "their" church. The returning Jewish members were not made especially welcome and there was tension between the Jewish and Gentile camps within the church. In addition, they found that the Gentile believers had adopted a “replacement theology” insisting that God had rejected the Jews. After all, had they not been expelled from the very capital of the Empire?
As a Jew who was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was uniquely equipped to bring reconciliation to the church at Rome. Any Romans Bible study that fails to recognize this Sitz-im-Leben (seat-in-life) of Romans will not adequately do justice to the unifying theme of the theological message of the letter.
Paul’s message to the Roman church
In the prologue Paul addresses his message to from a Jewish believer to Gentile believers.Chapters 1-8 argue that they are both saved in the same way. Righteousness come from God alone. He juxtaposes judgment for the sinner under wrath with justification for the saint through faith. Reconciliation is through Christ in two respects. First, death is sin’s penalty, but Jesus died for sinners. Second, in Christ believers have died to sin, thus the dominion of sin’s power is destroyed. This makes possible renewal in the Holy Spirit. Here Paul contrasts the bondage of law in the flesh, which leads to to defeat and despair with the freedom of life in the Spirit, which results in conquest and confidence.
The key to understanding the letter is chapters 9-11. Here Paul insists that Jewish and Gentile believers belong to the same God. He affirms Hebrew tradition that in the past Israel was selected. He agrees with her critics that in the present Israel is stubborn. But he rejects replacement theology by affirming that in the future Israel will be saved.
In chapters 12-14 he reminds both groups of believers that they live in the same world. He addresses their personal bearing in service and suffering, their public behavior in state and society, and their practical brotherhood in scruples and song. In the epilogue (chapter 15), the apostle reveals his method of ministry: word, sign, and deed. Chapter 16 concludes with individual greetings.
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