If stranded on a deserted island, many people would choose the book of Romans to take along. Its importance to Christianity has been compared to the Constitution and democracy. It’s Paul’s concise outline of the Christian faith. It has been called the Cathedral of the Christian faith. Thorough, it’s the longest of the thirteen epistles attributed by Paul and the first letter in the long-established canonical order. Romans 15:23-29 gives us the date for this letter and the place. Paul was writing from Corinth in Greece during his third missionary journey (56-57 AD) to the Christian church in Rome, which was struggling with Jewish-Gentile relations. Paul was on his way to Jerusalem to drop off some money from the Gentiles to the Jews in Judea. He was then going to visit Rome on his way to Spain. The structure of this letter is built around Paul’s travel plans.
Paul’s purpose for this letter: As the apostle of the Gentiles and Rome being the capital of the Gentile world, it’s easy to see why Paul would want to visit it. There was friction and misunderstanding between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the New Testament church. Clarification was needed by Paul: Grace belongs to the Gentiles as well despite what the Judaizers said. He also addressed doctrine and practical problems facing the Roman church.
The theme of the letter is why Paul is coming to visit them. Yes, the greatest theological theme is justification by faith, but this again is a practical letter to the people of the time for living. And those practicalities extend to us today.
Outline of Book of Romans:
Chapters 1-3 present the need for the Good News and God’s righteousness in the face of both the Gentiles’ and the Jews’ sin.
The end of chapter 3 is the central theological passage in the entire Bible.
Chapters 4-5 continue with the theology as Paul expounds and defends his message of justification by faith.
Chapters 6-8 show how the gospel works in a Christian’s life through sanctification.
Chapters 9-11 Paul backtracks to link the Gospel with the Old Testament Jews and the current problem of Israel’s unbelief in Jesus as the Son of God. God has not forgotten His people.
Chapters 12-16 (the rest of the Book) is practical advice on specific problems involving the Christian life.
Things of Note in Paul’s Epistle:
- The most systematic of Paul’s letters. It reads more like an elaborate theological essay than a letter.
- Emphasis on Christian doctrine. The number and importance of the theological themes touched upon are impressive: sin and death, salvation, grace, faith, righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption, resurrection and glorification.
- Widespread use of OT quotations. Although Paul regularly quotes from the OT in his letters, in Romans the argument is sometimes carried along by such quotations such as in chapters 9-11.
- Deep concern for Israel. Paul writes about her present status, her relationship to the Gentiles and her final salvation.