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For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp 304-311; R.H.Gundry, pp.375-389. Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An Introduction to the New Testament, pp.239-257.


Date and place of writing
F.F.Bruce comments:

"Romans was the last epistle written by Paul before his prolonged period of detention, first at Caesarea and then in Rome.  It is thus later than his letters to the Thessalonians, Corinthians and Galatians (and probably to the Philippians); earlier than those to the Colossians and Ephesians (not to speak of the Pastoral Epistles)". [1]

Paul probably wrote at the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 20:2-3), while he was contemplating a visit to Jerusalem (Rom.15:25).  He despatched the letter from Corinth by way of Phoebe, a deaconess of the church of Cenchrea, who was travelling that way (Rom.16:1).  M.C.Tenney indicates an alternative view - that Paul may have written from Philippi, just before sailing for Troas.  He dates the epistle as early A.D. 57.

The church at Rome
No-one knows how the church at Rome came into existence.  Roman Jews were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10), and converts may have returned to the capital and founded a church.  Another possibility is that some of Paul's converts from places like Corinth and Ephesus had something to do with the work.  Aquila and Priscilla came from Rome (Rom.16:3) and had returned there.  Paul certainly establishes a contact with the church through the many people he lists in chapter 16.  The NT does not connect the founding of the church with Peter.

Paul's purpose in writing
Why did Paul write to a church he did not found? Several reasons may be suggested:

  1. He desired to preach the gospel in Rome

  2. He sought to bring teaching and instruction to the church in Rome

  3. He was concerned to forestall any activity of Judaisers

  4. He sought the church's support for a planned missionary thrust into Spain - and, for this reason, he needs to make his gospel known.

Consider Rom.15:24-32. According to W.G.Kümmel, Romans is the theological self- confession of Paul, which arose out of a concrete necessity of his missionary work. [2]


Most of Paul's epistles are controversial or corrective in nature; Romans is chiefly didactic. It is sometimes referred to as the first systematic doctrinal work to be written. The righteousness of God is central to the epistle (1:17).  M.C.Tenney says:

"The central theme of Romans is the revelation of the righteousness of God to man, and its application to his spiritual need. its theme is thus basic to all Christian experience, for man cannot do business with God until a proper approach has been established.  The epistle is directed particularly to Gentiles.  Paul stated that he was an apostle to the Gentiles(1:5); he sketched the religious history of the Gentile world as the prelude to revelation (1:18-32); he asserted that God's salvation is for 'Gentiles also' (3:29) and that there is 'no distinction' between Jew and Greek in the way of faith.  Romans avers that salvation is universal in its scope." [3]


Romans easily divides into two with a doctrinal section (1-11) and a practical section (12-16); or into four. [4] Note:

  1. The epistolary introduction: the prologue (1:1-17)

  2. The doctrinal exposition: the gospel according to Paul (1:18-11:36)

  3. The practical application: the Christian Way of life (12:1-15:13)

  4. The epistolary conclusion: epilogue (15:14-16:27).

M.C.Tenney's outline of the epistle has Rom.1:17 very much in mind: "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'".

  • Romans: The Gospel of God's Righteousness

  • Introduction (1:1-17)

  • The need of divine righteousness (1:8-3:20)

  • The manifestation of divine righteousness (3:21-8:39)

  • The relation of righteousness to the Jew (9:1-11:36)

  • The application of righteousness to the church (12:1-15:13)

  • Conclusion (15:14-33)

  • Postscript (16:1-27).


The religious importance and theological significance of this Pauline epistle is universally recognised.  It has been referred to as the first major Christian theological work - the Magna Charta of the Christian faith.  Its presence has been felt in church history in the lives of people like Augustine, Martin Luther and John Wesley.  S.T.Coleridge called it 'the most profound work ever written'. [5] M.C.Tenney's evaluation reads:

"Romans has long been the mainstay of Christian theology.  Most of its technical terms such as justification, imputation, adoption, and sanctification, are drawn from the vocabulary of this epistle, and the structure of its argument provides the backbone of Christian thought. Its logical method is obvious.  First, the theme is announced: '...the the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth' (1:16).  If, then, all are helpless and condemned, relief must come from without by providing for them both a legal and a personal righteousness.  This is found in Christ, 'whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime' (3:25).  Since the sinner cannot earn his salvation, this righteousness must be accepted by faith.  Individually and racially man is restored to his right position before God through the grace manifested in Christ. [6]

Main ideas in the epistle
Here is a list for reference and research:

  1. The righteousness of God (1:17-18; 3:21-26. Rom.1:17 is the epistle's key verse: cf., Isa.51:5)

  2. The universality of sin (1:19-3:23)

  3. The justification of man (3:19-31)

  4. The death of Christ (3:24-25; 4:25; 5:15; 6:6; 8:3,34)

  5. Faith and works (3:27-5:21)

    Grace and law (7:7-16)

    Gentile and Jew (10:4-13)

  6. Grace and freedom (3:5-8)

    Sanctification (6:1-7:4)

    The new life (8:1-17, 26-39; 9:14-10:21; 11:7-23)

  7. Ethical psychology (7:5-8:17: flesh and spirit)

  8. The Redeemer (8:3; 9:5)

  9. Baptism (6:1-11)

    The church (11:16-24)

    Love of the brethren (12:3-8)

  10. Predestination (8:20,28)

    Election (9:6-33)

    The remnant (10:14-21)

  11. God's ultimate purposes (8:18-25; 13:11-14).

The gospel's practical application In Romans God's righteousness cannot be obtained by human merit, either by Jew or Gentile.  Righteousness is not of the law.  The law reveals sin.  The only hope for sinful man is found in believing in what Christ has done through his death and resurrection. Through Christ man has peace with God.  The Christian life is life in the Spirit.  God has dealt with the Jews and Gentiles in election.  But this stress on God's grace requires Paul to mitigate against antinomianism.  Justification by faith does not rule out works of righteousness, indeed Christian freedom enables the believer to be a slave of righteousness.  Christian doctrine is to be believed - and lived out.


1. F.F.Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, TNTC, London, Tyndale, 1963, p.31.

2. W.G.Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, ET, London, SCM, 1975. p.312f.

3. M.C.Tenney, p.305.

4. The Century Bible and The Tyndale New Testament Commentary on Romans divide the epistle into four sections.

5. The phrase 'justification by faith alone' comes from the pen of Martin Luther.

6. M.C.Tenney, pp.306-307.

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