Romans

A verse-by-verse exegetical commentary on the New Testament Greek text

Introduction

The thesis of Paul's letter to the Romans may be summed up with the words "Christ supplemented is Christ supplanted", Hendriksen. This letter is an exposition of the gospel set against law-bound believers (mainly Jewish believers - judaizers, members of the circumcision party, "the weak") who regard submission to the law (primarily the law of Moses) as the means of moving forward in their Christian life for the appropriation of God's promised blessings. For Paul, this heresy (nomism / pietism) not only undermines the substance of the gospel, but actually undermines a believer's standing before God. As far as Paul is concerned, a believer, having been set right with God on the basis of Christ's faithfulness, fully appropriates the fullness of new life in Christ (the gift of the Holy Spirit, etc.), and this apart from law obedience.

 
The Structure of Romans

 
Introduction

Introductory comments, 1:1-15

i] Statement and greetings, 1:1-7

ii] Thanksgiving and personal explanation, 1:8-15

Proposition

Paul's thesis, 1:16-17

The righteous reign of God, out of faith, apart from the law, facilitates the fullness of new life in Christ, 1:16-17

Argument Proper
 

Arguments in support of the proposition, 1:18-5:21

1. The impartial nature of God's righteous condemnation of universal sin, 1:18-3:20

i] All humanity stands under the judgment of God due to universal human sin, 1:18-23

ii] The human condition of universal human sin has been condemned by God to even greater sin, 1:24-32

iii] God's righteous judgment upon sin is complete and impartial, such that even the morally superior stand condemned, 2:1-11

iv] The possession of the law does not protect a person from the impartial judgment of God, 2:12-16

v] The law is powerless to shape the qualities in a person that would make them worthy of God's praise, 2:17-29

vi] The law is not devalued, nor is sin promoted, by setting aside the law as a means of appropriating God's favor, 3:1-8

vii] Given the human condition of universal sin, the law is unable to purify, it only condemns, 3:9-20

2. The impartial nature of God's righteous vindication of the just in Christ, 3:21-4:25

i] The righteous reign of God, irrespective of a person's standing under the law of Moses, justifies a person on the basis of the faithful sacrifice of Christ appropriated through faith., 3:21-31

ii] The example of Abraham:

    a) Righteous by faith alone, 4:1-12

    b) God's promised blessings flow to the righteous by faith and this apart from law obedience, 4:13-25

3. The consequential blessing that flows to the righteous in Christ, 5:1-21

The realization of the promised blessings of the covenant - full participation in the dominion of grace / the righteous reign of God and exclusion from the dominion of sin and death:

i] Peace with God, 5:1-5

ii] Reconciliation, 5:6-11

iii] Life eternal, 5:12-21

 

Rebuttal of the nomist critique, 6:1-11:36

In a series of arguments Paul now rebuts the nomist's contention that grace, without law, promotes sin, undermining the fullness of new life in Christ. For the nomists, grace + law restrains sin, promoting holiness for the fullness of new life in Christ. For Paul, grace of itself promotes holiness for the fullness of new life in Christ.

1. Consecrated to God, 6:1-14.

Raised to new life, 6:1-14

2. Freedom from slavery, 6:15-23

Set free from the slavery of sin, 6:15-23

3. Freedom from the law, 7:1-25.

Dead to the law, alive in the Spirit, 7:1-6

    a) The moral status of the law, 7:7-13

    b) The effects of the law, 7:14-25

4. Freedom in the Spirit, 8:1-39.

New life in the Spirit, 8:1-17

    a) The hope of future glory, 8:18-30

    b) Bound by God's love, 8:31-39

5. The vindication of grace, 9:1-11:36

Introduction and proposition: The tragic riddle of Israel's unbelief, 9:1-6a

i] Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 9:6b-29

    a) The children of promise are the children of God, 9:6b-13

    b) The true Israel consists of the a remnant according to grace, 9:14-29

ii] Israel's condemnation is its own doing, 9:30-10:21:

    a) Israel's unbelief stems from nomism, 9:30-10:4

    b) It is only those who trust in the Lord who will not be put to shame, 10:5-13

    c) A gospel proclaimed, but rejected by Israel, 10:14-21

iii] The final shape of God's true Israel, 11:1-32:

    a) God has not cast off Israel, 11:1-10

    b) The ingrafted Gentile branches, 11:11-24

    c) God's inclusive people, 11:25-32

Conclusion: The majesty of God displayed in global salvation, 11:33-36

Application

Exhortations 12:1-15:13

Theme: Present your lives as a living sacrifice to God, 12:1-2.

i] The marks of a Christian community, 12:3-13:14

    a) The exercise mutual ministry, 12:3-8

    b) Let love be genuine, 12:9-21

    c) Be subject to government authorities, 13:1-7

    d) Let love be practical, 13:8-10

    e) Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, 13:11-14

ii] The weak and the strong, 14:1-15:13

    a) Let there be mutual respect between "the weak" and "the strong", 14:1-12

    b) Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding, 14:13-23

    c) Live in harmony with one another, 15:1-13

Conclusion

Personal Matters and Doxology, 15:14-16:27

i] Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, 15:14-22

ii] Paul's plan to visit Rome, 15:23-33

iii] Commendation and Greetings, 16:1-16

iv] A personal warning and team greetings, 16:17-24

v] Doxology, 16:25-27

 

These notes proceed on the assumption that Paul's letter to the Romans adopts the rhetorical format of a diatribe. This was first suggested by Bultmann in an essay in 1910, cf., cf. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism. Romans is certainly not a full-blown diatribe in that Paul did not personally know the recipients of his letter / lecture. In epideictic rhetoric where the aim is to persuade people to hold a particular point of view, the author / lecturer opens with an introduction, an exhortation, an exordium, often with a narrative piece, a narratio. Then, as in Romans, the partitio, proposition or thesis, 1:16-17, followed by an exposition of the thesis in a series of proofs, probatio, 1:18-5:21. The author / lecturer then moves on to a refutation of objections, a refutio, 6:1-11:36. Often there are digressions when the subject matter is dealt with in more detail, a digressio, eg., 7:7-25 and 8:18-39 serve to develop a particular thought raised in the refutation of objections. The author / lecturer will then conclude with a peroratio, a recapitulation of proofs and an exhortatio. This format is observable in Romans.

 
Thesis

God's righteous rule, his setting everything right, is made manifest/realized in the gospel. A person who is set right with God (justified) on the basis of faith (Christ's faith/faithfulness [his atoning sacrifice] and the faith-response of the believer) is fully gifted with the promised blessings of God (the fullness of new life in Christ) and this apart from law-obedience. cf. 1:16-17.

 
Thesis overview

Text: "The righteous out of faith will live", Habakkuk 2:4.

The righteous reign of God (his setting all things right)

in justification (in judging right / setting right a people before him),

out of FAITH (based on Christ's faithfulness + our faith response),

establishes the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God's children (covenant compliance),

facilitating God's promised covenant BLESSINGS (the full appropriation of his promised new life through the Spirit),

and its fruit, the WORKS of the law (a striving to keep God's law).

cf. Rom.1:16-17

 

The Pauline synthesis:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS.

Paul is not a libertine in stressing "apart from works" for he accepts that those in Christ naturally seek to live as Christ and to this end he exhorts believers to be what they are. He stresses "apart from works" in response to the nomist heresy of his opponents who taught that:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS + WORKS = BLESSINGS.

 

James' synthesis:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS.

James is not giving undue weight to works of the law, as Luther thought, but is seeking to counter the argument of libertine believers who taught that:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS - WORKS .

 

Luther's synthesis:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS.

Luther is Pauline in his view of justification, but his perspective is somewhat different to Paul because his opponents are not nomists, but legalists who taught that:

FAITH + WORKS = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS.

Luther focuses on how a person can be saved, but Paul focuses on how a person may fully appropriate the promised Abrahamic blessings / new life in Christ.

 

The New Perspective synthesis:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS - LAW = GENTILE INCLUSION.

This flawed synthesis proposes that Paul is not dealing with the issue of how a person appropriates the full blessings of the covenant, but rather how a Gentile can be included in God's covenant community, namely, by the removal of Jewish exclusivism, ie. works of the LAW.

 

Terms defined:

FAITH: ek pistewV eiV pistin, "from the faith/faithfulness of Christ toward our faith response." Faith entails the linkage of i] eiV Criston Ihsoun episteusamen, "we have come to believe in Jesus Christ", our faith/reliance upon the grace of God, and this operative ii] dia pistewV Ihsou Cristou, "through the faith of Christ", by means of the faith/faithfulness of Christ, Gal.2:16. So, FAITH = Christ's faith/faithfulness [his atoning sacrifice on our behalf] and our faith-response.

RIGHTEOUSNESS: Right standing before God, "covenant compliance", Dumbrell, "uprightness", Fitzmyer; "(the state of) rectification", Martyn. Gaining the condition of righteousness is expressed by the verb "justified", just-if-I'd never sinned, which word takes one or all of the following shades of meaning: i] "confer a righteous status on", Cranfield; ii] judge as covenant compliant, "judged in the right with God", Dumbrell, "count/treat as right/righteous", Barrett; iii] "set right before God", Bruce, "rectify", Martyn. (NP = a divine declaration of covenant membership).

BLESSINGS: The promised blessings of the covenant / the fullness of new life in Christ.

WORKS: Paul, following Jesus' lead, uses the term of submission to the law of Moses, extending to God's law in general (NP = Jewish badges of covenant membership, eg. Sabbath law, circumcision), which law serves the following ends:

i] to expose sin and so reinforce a reliance on divine grace expedited through faith;

ii] to guide the life of a child of God.

 

Key words

The righteousness of God - God's righteous reign - his setting all things right; "the saving activity of God", Talbert.

Righteousness - right-standing before God; "uprightness", Fitzmyer; "covenant compliance", Dumbrell.

Justification - being set right with God; a recognition of covenant inclusion/acceptance; "counted as righteous", Barrett.

Faith - Often used of a person's reliance on the faithfulness of Christ (his act of atonement on our behalf), ie. "belief"; often inclusive of Christ's faithfulness, of the faithfulness of Christ and our belief in his faithfulness; sometimes referring particularly to Christ's faith/faithfulness, see "faith of Christ".

Works of the law - strict observance of the law of Moses.

Salvation - "Being in a right relationship with God", Dumbrell.

Grace - God's covenant mercy.

 
Author and readers

The writer of the letter is Paul the apostle and his authorship has hardly ever been disputed. The recipients of the letter is the church in Rome. This church was probably founded by Jewish believers. We know that there was trouble in the Roman synagogues over a "Chrestus", obviously driven by disputes over the messiahship of Jesus. It is likely that these disturbances prompted the authorities to expel the Jews (along with the Christians - originally regarded as a sect of the Jews) from Rome in AD 49. Within ten years the church was again flourishing in Rome ("a huge multitude", Tacitus), so much so that Nero in AD 64 was able to blame the Christians for his own incompetence. As was the case of the early church, the congregation would initially be made up of converted Jews, but over time became increasingly Gentile.

 
Date

Paul probably composed his letter to the Roman church in 57 or 58AD during his stay in Corinth. Paul, having been forced to leave Ephesus, was intending to visit Corinth, but due to problems in the church he delayed his visit and continued his missionary work in Macedonia. During this time he wrote the letter known as 2 Corinthians to the church in Corinth. The problems in Corinth seemed to have developed around some judaizers, members of the circumcision party from the church in Jerusalem ,who had set up shop in the Corinthian congregation. Paul doesn't address their theology in 2 Corinthians, but he is certainly critical of their attempt to undermine his apostolic authority in the church. On arriving in Corinth, Paul obviously deals with the opposition party and it is during this time he writes his letter to the Romans, a letter which deals head on with the heretical theology promoted by the judaizers. In fact, it is quite possible that Romans is substantially a general treatise composed by Paul to confront the threat posed by the judaizers in his mission churches. The letter, as we have it, was sent to the church in Rome in preparation for Paul's visit there before traveling to Spain. After his stay in Corinth, Paul set off for Jerusalem with his collection for the poor in Palestine where he would ultimately to be arrested and sent to Rome as a prisoner.

 
Purpose

Paul's purpose in writing was that "I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong - that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith", 1:11,12. In particular, his intent was to remind the believers in Rome again of the substance of the gospel so that they "might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit", 15:15,16.

Although this purpose is most often understood in evangelistic terms as an exposition of the gospel of grace against those who see salvation as a reward for obedience, these notes proceed on the basis that Romans is an exposition of the gospel as it relates to the Christian "walk". Romans explains how to realize new life in Christ, that is, Paul is not explaining how a person becomes a Christian, but how we go on as a Christian, how we go forward in the Christian life. Paul sets out to explain that a believer, who is set right with God (justified), possesses in Christ a state of holiness whereby they appropriate the fullness of God's promised new-life / new-creation blessings, and this apart from obedience to the law.

 
Interpretation

The interpretation of the book of Romans is presently in a state of flux due to the work of new perspective commentators. Reformed commentators handle Romans as a treatise on how an individual is justified (declared right = acquitted / forgiven = saved) in the sight of God, whereas new perspective commentators argue that the epistle is a treatise on how both Jew and Gentile, in Christ, stand equally as members of the new covenant. This debate is far from settled.

The notes on this site take a slightly different tack by assuming that the issue which lay behind the letter is the conflict between the "weak" and the "strong", cf. chapter 14. This issue is the focus of the book of Galatians and the substance of the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15. "The weak" are most likely Jewish orientated Christians who have adopted the nomism of the "circumcision party", the "judaizers", believers who may well have identified themselves as members of the Nazarene sect of Jesus the messiah. "The weak" wanted to affirm the keeping of the Law of Moses (the moral law through to it's minutia - what to eat etc., identified by the sign of circumcision) as the proper means of appropriating the fullness of new life in Christ (the promised Abrahamic blessings - the gift of the Holy Spirit, etc.). These "weak" law-bound believers obviously accepted that they were justified (set right before God / judged covenant compliant) by faith, in the sense of forgiven, but that the business of moving forward in the Christian life for the full appropriation of the promised Abrahamic blessings required a strict application of the law of Moses. This heresy is commonly called nomism, as opposed to legalism (the idea that salvation is gained by obedience to the law). Against this stance Paul wanted to affirm that a person who is set right before God (justified), on the basis of Christ's faithful obedience on the cross, fully appropriates, as a natural consequence, God's promised blessing of new life in Christ ("life"), and this apart from obedience to the law. A believer who submits themselves again to the law, as a means of restraining sin and progressing holiness (sanctify) for the maintenance of right-standing before God (covenant compliance) and thus the appropriation of God's promised blessings (the promised blessings of the Abrahamic covenant / life / new life in Christ / the gift of the holy Spirit, etc.), serves only to trigger the curse of the law and thus the condemnation of God.

 
Law in Romans

On most occasions, when Paul uses the term "the law", he is referring to the law of Moses, the Torah, although sometimes a more general sense of God's law, however revealed, is intended.

Paul sets out to depreciate the role of the law against those who would claim that it is an essential instrument to further the Christian life. For Paul, the Law's primary purpose is to expose our state of sin and thus our need to rest in faith on the promise/grace of God. Only in a secondary sense does the law serve as a guide to the Christian life, and this in the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ - a law within. This approach to the law is not only central to Jesus' teachings, but is also evident in the Old Testament. In the sermon on the mount Jesus completes the law in its perfection, driving home the truth that "none are righteous, no not one" such that in the end it is the person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness who is filled, not the person who claims to do the law.

 
Nomism - the heresy of "the weak"

Nomism (nomistic / pietistic Christianity), the heresy promoted by the members of the circumcision party (the judaizers), is the belief that, although a person is justified (set right before God, judged covenant compliant) on the basis of Christ's faithfulness ("faith of Christ") appropriated through faith, law-obedience ("works of the law" - obedience to the law of Moses) is essential to restrain sin and shape holiness (sanctify) for a believer to move forward in the Christian life and so appropriate the fullness of new life in Christ (the promised Abrahamic blessings - the gift of the Spirit, etc.).

 
Bibliography: Commentaries - Romans

Achtemeier, Interpretation. Barrett, Blacks, 2nd ed. Barnett, FOB. Best, CBC. Black, NCB. Bruce, Tyndale, 2nd. ed. Byrne, Sacra Pagina. Calvin, Eerdmans, 1959 (1539). Cranfield, ICC. Davies, Faith and Obedience, 1:1-4:25, JNTS ss39. Dodd, Moffatt, 1932. Dumbrell, NCC, 2005. Dunn, Word. Fitzmyer, Anchor. Forman, Layman's, 1962. Godet, T & T Clark. 1888. Hanton, Phillips. Harvey, EGGNT, 2017. Hendriksen, Banner of Truth. Hunter, Torch. Jewett, Hermeneia, 2007. Kasemann, Eerdmans. Leenhardt, Lutterworth, 1961, trans. (liberal). Lenski, Wartburg Press, 1945. Longenecker, NIGTC, 2016. Moo, NICNT, 1996. Morris, Pillar. Mounce, NAC. Murray, Eerdmans, 1960. Nygren, Fortress, 1949. O'Neill, Penguin. Osborne, IVP, 2004. Pallis, Oxford University Press, 1920. Parry, CGTSC, 1912. Porter, Readings. Sandy and Headlam, ICC. 1902. Schriener, BECNT. Stott, BST. Stuhlmacher, Westminster. Talbert, Smyth & Helways Commentaries. Taylor, Epworth 1955. Thompson, Clothed with Christ, 12:1-15:3, JNTS ss59. Ziesler, TPI.

 

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