ICC New Testament Commentary
A CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY
THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
THE REV.WILLIAM. SANDAY, D.D., LL.D., LITT.D., F.B.A.
Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford Chaplain in Ordinary to the King
REV. ARTHUR C. HEADLAM, D.D.
Principal of King’s College, London
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The commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans which already exist in English, unlike those on some other Books of the New Testament, are so good and so varied that to add to their number may well seem superfluous. Fortunately for the present editors the responsibility for attempting this does not rest with them. In a series of commentaries on the New Testament it was impossible that the Epistle to the Romans should not be included and should not hold a prominent place. There are few books which it is more difficult to exhaust and few in regard to which there is more to be gained from renewed interpretation by different minds working under different conditions. If it is a historical fact that the spiritual revivals of Christendom have been usually associated with closer study of the Bible, this would be true in an eminent degree of the Epistle to the Romans. The editors are under no illusion as to the value of their own special contribution, and they will be well content that it should find its proper level and be assimilated or left behind as it deserves.
Perhaps the nearest approach to anything at all distinctive in the present edition would be (1) the distribution of the subject-matter of the commentary, (2) the attempt to furnish an interpretation of the Epistle which might be described as historical.
Some experience in teaching has shown that if a difficult Epistle like the Romans is really to be understood and grasped at once as a whole and in its parts, the argument should be presented in several different ways and on several different scales at the same time. And it is an advantage when the matter of a commentary can be so broken up that by means of headlines, headings to sections, summaries, paraphrases, and large and small print notes, the reader may not either lose the main thread of the argument in the crowd of details, or slur over details in seeking to obtain a general idea. While we are upon this subject, we may explain that the principle which has guided the choice of large and small print for the notes and longer discussions is not exactly that of greater or less importance, but rather that of greater or less directness of bearing upon the exegesis of the text. This principle may not be carried out with perfect uniformity: it was an experiment the effect of which could not always be judged until the commentary was in print; but when once the type was set the possibility of improvement was hardly worth the trouble and expense of resetting.
The other main object at which we have aimed is that of making our exposition of the Epistle historical, that is of assigning to it its true position in place and time—on the one hand in relation to contemporary Jewish thought, and on the other hand in relation to the growing body of Christian teaching. We have endeavoured always to bear in mind not only the Jewish education and training of the writer, which must clearly have given him the framework of thought and language in which his ideas are cast, but also the position of the Epistle in Christian literature. It was written when a large part of the phraseology of the newly created body was still fluid, when a number of words had not yet come to have a fixed meaning, when their origin and associations—to us obscure—were still fresh and vivid. The problem which a commentator ought to propose to himself in the first instance is not what answer does the Epistle give to questions which are occupying men’s minds now, or which have occupied them in any past period of Church history, but what were the questions of the time at which the Epistle was written and what meaning did his words and thoughts convey to the writer himself.
It is in the pursuit of this original meaning that we have drawn illustrations somewhat freely from Jewish writings, both from the Apocryphal literature which is mainly the product of the period between 100 b.c. and 100 a.d., and (although less fully) from later Jewish literature. In the former direction we have been much assisted by the attention which has been bestowed in recent years on these writings, particularly by the excellent editions of the Psalms of Solomon and of the Book of Enoch. It is by a continuous and careful study of such works that any advance in the exegesis of the New Testament will be possible. For the later Jewish literature and the teaching of the Rabbis we have found ourselves in a position of greater difficulty. A first-hand acquaintance with this literature we do not possess, nor would it be easy for most students of the New Testament to acquire it. Moreover complete agreement among the specialists on the subject does not as yet exist, and a perfectly trustworthy standard of criticism seems to be wanting. We cannot therefore feel altogether confident of our ground. At the same time we have used such material as was at our disposal, and certainly to ourselves it has been of great assistance, partly as suggesting the common origin of systems of thought which have developed very differently, partly by the striking contrasts which it has afforded to Christian teaching.
Our object is historical and not dogmatic. Dogmatics are indeed excluded by the plan of this series of commentaries, but they are excluded also by the conception which we have formed for ourselves of our duty as commentators. We have sought before all things to understand St. Paul, and to understand him not only in relation to his surroundings but also to those permanent facts of human nature on which his system is based. It is possible that in so far as we may succeed in doing this, data may be supplied which at other times and in other hands may be utilized for purposes of dogmatics; but the final adjustments of Christian doctrine have not been in our thoughts
To this general aim all other features of the commentary are subordinate. It is no part of our design to be in the least degree exhaustive. If we touch upon the history of exegesis it is less for the sake of that history in itself than as helping to throw into clearer relief that interpretation which we believe to be the right one. And in like manner we have not made use of the Epistle as a means for illustrating New Testament grammar or New Testament diction, but we deal with questions of grammar and diction just so far as they contribute to the exegesis of the text before us. No doubt there will be omissions which are not to be excused in this way. The literature on the Epistle to the Romans is so vast that we cannot pretend to have really mastered it. We have tried to take account of monographs and commentaries of the most recent date, but here again when we have reached what seemed to us a satisfactory explanation we have held our hand. In regard to one book in particular, Dr. Bruce’s St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, which came out as our own work was far advanced, we thought it best to be quite independent. On the other hand we have been glad to have access to the sheets relating to Romans in Dr. Hort’s forthcoming Introductions to Romans and Ephesians, which, through the kindness of the editors, have been in our possession since December last.
The Commentary and the Introduction have been about equally divided between the two editors; but they have each been carefully over the work of the other, and they desire to accept a joint responsibility for the whole. The editors themselves are conscious of having gained much by this co-operation, and they hope that this gain may be set off against a certain amount of unevenness which was inevitable.
It only remains for them to express their obligations and thanks to those many friends who have helped them directly or indirectly in various parts of the work, and more especially to Dr. Plummer and the Rev. F. E. Brightman of the Pusey House. Dr. Plummer, as editor of the series, has read through the whole of the Commentary more than once, and to his courteous and careful criticism they owe much. To Mr. Brightman they are indebted for spending upon the proof-sheets of one half of the Commentary greater care and attention than many men have the patience to bestow on work of their own.
The reader is requested to note the table of abbreviations on p. cx ff., and the explanation there given as to the Greek text made use of in the Commentary. Some additional references are given in the Index (p. 444 ff).
A. C. HEADLAM.
Oxford, Whitsuntide, 1895.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
We are indebted to the keen sight and disinterested care of friends for many small corrections. We desire to thank especially Professor Lock, Mr. C. H. Turner, the Revs. F. E. Brightman, W. O. Burrows, and R. B. Rackham. References have been inserted, where necessary, to the edition of 4 Ezra by the late Mr. Bensly, published in Texts and Studies, iii. 2. No more extensive recasting of the commentary has been attempted.
Oxford, Lent, 1896.
PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION
The demand for a new Edition has come upon us so suddenly in the midst of other work, that we have again confined ourselves to small corrections, the knowledge of which we owe to the kindness of many friends and critics. We have especially to thank Dr. Carl Clemen of Halle, not only for a useful and helpful review in the Theologische Literaturzeitung, No. 26, Nov. 7, 1896, p. 590, but also for privately communicating to us a list of misprints. We have also to thank the Rev. H. T. Purchas of New Zealand, Mr. John Humphrey Barbour of the U.S.A., and the Rev. C. Plummer for corrections and suggestions. We should like also to refer to an article in the Expositor (Vol. IV, 1896, p. 124) by the late Rev. J. Barmby, on The Meaning of the ‘Righteousness of God’ in the Epistle to the Romans, in which he works out more fully the opinions to which we referred on p. 24. We are glad again to express our obligations to him and our sense of the loss of one who was a vigorous and original worker both in Church History and in New Testament Exegesis.
We can only now chronicle the appearance of the first volume of the elaborate Einleitung in das N. T. (Leipzig, 1897) of Dr. Zahn, which discusses the questions relating to the Epistle with the writer’s accustomed thoroughness and learning, a new ‘improved’ edition of the Einleitung of Dr. B. Weiss, and an edition of the Greek text of the Pauline Epistles with concise commentary by the same author. Both these works have appeared during the present year. The volume of essays dedicated to Dr. B. Weiss on his seventieth birthday, Theol. Studien &c. (Göttingen, 1897), contains two papers which have a bearing upon the Epistle, Zur paulinischen Théodicée by Dr. Ernst Kühl, and Beiträge zur paulin. Rhetorik by Dr. Joh. Weiss. We should hope to take account of these and other works if at some future time we are permitted to undertake a fuller revision of our commentary.
A. C. H.
Oxford, December, 1897.
PREFACE TO THE FIFTH EDITION
Once more the call for a new edition has come upon us suddenly, and at a time when it would not be possible for either of us to devote much attention to it. But apart from this, it would be equally true of both of us that our thoughts and studies have of late travelled so far from the Epistle to the Romans that to come back to it would be an effort, and would require more leisure than we are likely to have for some years to come. We are well aware that much water has flowed under the bridge since we wrote, and that many problems would have to be faced afresh if a searching revision of our work were attempted.
As we cannot undertake this at present, it may be right that we should at least suggest to the reader where he may go for further information.
A very excellent and thorough survey of the whole subject will be found in the article ‘Romans’ in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible by Dr. A. Robertson. The corresponding article in the Encyclopaedia Biblica has not yet appeared. For more detailed exegesis the most important recent event is probably the appearance (in 1899) of the ninth edition of Meyer’s Commentary by Dr. B. Weiss, who has done us the honour to include systematic reference to our own work. In any revision of this it would be our first duty to give to the points on which Dr. Weiss differs from us renewed consideration. In English the most considerable recent commentary is Dr. Denney’s in the Expositor’s Greek Testament (1900). There is also a thoughtful and useful little commentary in the Century Bible by A. E. Garvie.
Perhaps the most conspicuous of the problems raised by the Epistle, which have been or are being carried on beyond the point at which we had left them, would be (i) the question as to the meaning of the ‘righteousness of God’ in 1:17, &c. Something was said on this subject in the New Testament portion of the article ‘God’ in Hastings’ Dictionary, ii. 210-12, where reference is made to an interesting tract by Dalman, Die richterliche Gerech-tigkeit im A. T. (Berlin, 1897), and to other literature. Something also was said in the Journal of Theological Studies, i. 486 ff., ii. 198 ff. And the question is again raised by Dr. James Drummond in the first number of the Hibbert Journal, pp. 83-95. This paper is to be continued; and the subject is sure to be heard of further. (ii) Another leading problem is that as to the relation of St. Paul to the Jewish Law, on which perhaps the most important recent contributions have been those by Sieffert (‘Die Entwicklungslinie d. paulin. Gesetzeslehre nach Deu_4 Hauptbriefen d. Apost.’) in the volume of Studies in honour of B. Weiss (Göttingen, 1897) and by P. Feine (Das gesetzesfreie Evangelium d. Paulus, Leipzig, 1899). (iii) A third deeply important question is being much agitated at the present time; viz. that as to the exact nature and significance of the ‘Mystical Union’ described in Rom_6 and 8. This is even more a question of Biblical and Dogmatic Theology than of Exegesis, and it is from this side that it is being discussed in such books as Dr. Moberly’s Atonement and Personality (1901), Mr. Wilfrid Richmond’s Essay on Personality as a Philosophical Principle (1900), and more incidentally in several works by Dr. W. R. Inge. (iv) Various questions raised in the Introduction are discussed in Dr. Moffatt’s Historical New Testament (Edinburgh. 1901).
Two more general subjects are receiving special attention at the present time. One of these is the historical position and character of New Testament Greek, on which much new light is thrown by the study of inscriptions and of the mass of recently discovered papyri. We associate these studies especially with the names of G. A. Deissmann, whose Bible Studies have recently been published in English (Edinburgh, 1901), A. Thumb, K. Dieterich, and others. It is the less necessary to go into details about these, as an excellent account is given of all that has been done in a series of papers by H. A. A. Kennedy in the Expository Times, vol. xii (1901). Dr. Kennedy was himself a pioneer of the newer movement in England with his Sources of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh, 1895). We ought not however to forget the still earlier work of Dr. Hatch, Essays in Biblical Greek (Oxford, 1889), which was really at the time in advance of similar research on the Continent.
The other subject might be described as the Rhetoric of the New Testament. A comprehensive treatment of ancient rhetorical prose in general has been undertaken by Prof. E. Norden of Breslau in Die antike Kunstprosa (Leipzig, 1898). Dr. Norden devotes pp. 451-510 to an analysis of style in the New Testament, and also pays special attention to the later Christian writers, both Greek and Latin. The ‘Rhetoric of St. Paul’ in particular is the subject of a monograph by Dr. Johannes Weiss in the volume dedicated to his father. Nor should we close this survey without a special word of commendation for The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought by Mr. H. St. John Thackeray (London, 1900).
For the rest we must leave our book to take its place, such as it is, in the historical development of literature on the Epistle.
A. C. H.
§ 1. Rome in a. d. 58
It was during the winter 57-58, or early in the spring of the year 58, according to almost all calculations, that St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans, and that we thus obtain the first trust-worthy information about the Roman Church. Even if there be some slight error in the calculations, it is in any case impossible that this date can be far wrong, and the Epistle must certainly have been written during the early years of Nero’s reign. It would be unwise to attempt a full account either of the city or the empire at this date, but for the illustration of the Epistle and for the comprehension of St. Paul’s own mind, a brief reference to a few leading features in the history of each is necessary1.
For certainly St. Paul was influenced by the name of Rome. In Rome, great as it is, and to Romans, he wishes to preach the Gospel: he prays for a prosperous journey that by the will of God he may come unto them: he longs to see them: the universality of the Gospel makes him desire to preach it in the universal city2. And the impression which we gain from the Epistle to the Romans is supported by our other sources of information. The desire to visit Rome dominates the close of the Acts of the Apostles: ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.’ ‘As thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome3.’ The imagery of citizenship has impressed itself upon his language4. And this was the result both of his experience and of his birth. Wherever Christianity had been preached the Roman authorities had appeared as the power which restrained the forces of evil opposed to it1. The worst persecution of the Christians had been while Judaea was under the rule of a native prince. Everywhere the Jews had stirred up persecutions, and the imperial officials had interfered and protected the Apostle. And so both in this Epistle and throughout his life St. Paul emphasizes the duty of obedience to the civil government, and the necessity of fulfilling our obligations to it. But also St. Paul was himself a Roman citizen. This privilege, not then so common as it became later, would naturally broaden the view and impress the imagination of a provincial; and it is significant that the first clear conception of the universal character inherent in Christianity, the first bold step to carry it out, and the capacity to realize the importance of the Roman Church should come from an Apostle who was not a Galilaean peasant but a citizen of a universal empire. ‘We cannot fail to be struck with the strong hold that Roman ideas had on the mind of St. Paul,’ writes Mr. Ramsay, ‘we feel compelled to suppose that St. Paul had conceived the great idea of Christianity as the religion of the Roman world; and that he thought of the various districts and countries in which he had preached as parts of the grand unity. He had the mind of an organizer; and to him the Christians of his earliest travels were not men of Iconium and of Antioch—they were a part of the Roman world, and were addressed by him as such2.’
It was during the early years of Nero’s reign that St. Paul first came into contact with the Roman Church. And the period is significant. It was what later times called the Quinquennium of Nero, and remembered as the happiest period of the Empire since the death of Augustus3. Nor was the judgement unfounded. It is probable that even the worst excesses of Nero, like the worst cruelty of Tiberius, did little harm to the mass of the people even in Rome; and many even of the faults of the Emperors assisted in working out the new ideas which the Empire was creating. But at present we have not to do with faults. Members of court circles might have unpleasant and exaggerated stories to tell about the death of Britannicus; tales might have been circulated of hardly pardonable excesses committed by the Emperor and a noisy band of companions wandering at night in the streets; the more respectable of the Roman aristocracy would consider an illicit union with a freedwoman and a taste for music, literature, and the drama, signs of degradation, but neither in Rome nor in the provinces would the populace be offended; more far-seeing observers might be able to detect worse signs, but if any ordinary citizen, or if any one acquainted with the provinces had been questioned, he would certainly have answered that the government of the Empire was good. This was due mainly to the gradual development of the ideas on which the Empire had been founded. The structure which had been sketched by the genius of Caesar, and built up by the art of Augustus, if allowed to develop freely, guaranteed naturally certain conditions of progress and good fortune. It was due also to the wise administration of Seneca and of Burrus. It was due apparently also to flashes of genius and love of popularity on the part of the Emperor himself.
The provinces were well governed. Judaea was at this time preparing for insurrection under the rule of Felix, but he was a legacy from the reign of Claudius. The difficulties in Armenia were met at once and vigorously by the appointment of Corbulo; the rebellion in Britain was wisely dealt with; even at the end of Nero’s reign the appointment of Vespasian to Judaea, as soon as the serious character of the revolt was known, shows that the Emperor still had the wisdom to select and the courage to appoint able men. During the early years a long list is given of trials for repetundae; and the number of convictions, while it shows that provincial government was not free from corruption, proves that it was becoming more and more possible to obtain justice. It was the corruption of the last reign that was condemned by the justice of the present. In the year 56, Vipsanius Laenas, governor of Sardinia, was condemned for extortion; in 57, Capito, the ‘Cilician pirate,’ was struck down by the senate ‘with a righteous thunderbolt.’ Amongst the accusations against Suillius in 58 was the misgovernment of Asia. And not only were the favourites of Claudius condemned, better men were appointed in their place. It is recorded that freedmen were never made procurators of imperial provinces. And the Emperor was able in many cases, in that of Lyons, of Cyrene, and probably of Ephesus, to assist and pacify the provincials by acts of generosity and benevolence1.
We may easily, perhaps, lay too much stress on some of the measures attributed to Nero; but many of them show, if not the policy of his reign, at any rate the tendency of the Empire. The police regulations of the city were strict and well executed2. An attack was made on the exactions of publicans, and on the excessive power of freedmen. Law was growing in exactness owing to the influence of Jurists, and was justly administered except where the Emperor’s personal wishes intervened3. Once the Emperor—was it a mere freak or was it an act of far-seeing political insight?— proposed a measure of free trade for the whole Empire. Governors of provinces were forbidden to obtain condonation for exactions by the exhibition of games. The proclamation of freedom to Greece may have been an act of dramatic folly, but the extension of Latin rights meant that the provincials were being gradually put more and more on a level with Roman citizens. And the provinces flourished for the most part under this rule. It seemed almost as if the future career of a Roman noble might depend upon the goodwill of his provincial subjects4. And wherever trade could flourish there wealth accumulated. Laodicea was so rich that the inhabitants could rebuild the city without aid from Rome, and Lyons could contribute 4,000,000 sesterces at the time of the great fire5
When, then, St. Paul speaks of the ‘powers that be’ as being ‘ordained by God’; when he says that the ruler is a minister of God for good; when he is giving directions to pay ‘tribute’ and ‘custom’; he is thinking of a great and beneficent power which has made travel for him possible, which had often interfered to protect him against an angry mob of his own countrymen, under which he had seen the towns through which he passed enjoying peace, prosperity and civilization.
But it was not only Nero, it was Seneca1 also who was ruling in Rome when St. Paul wrote to the Church there. The attempt to find any connexions literary or otherwise between St. Paul and Seneca may be dismissed; but for the growth of Christian principles, still more perhaps for that of the principles which prepared the way for the spread of Christianity, the fact is of extreme significance. It was the first public appearance of Stoicism in Rome, as largely influencing politics, and shaping the future of the Empire. It is a strange irony that makes Stoicism the creed which inspired the noblest representatives of the old régime, for it was Stoicism which provided the philosophic basis for the new imperial system, and this was not the last time that an aristocracy perished in obedience to their own morality. What is important for our purpose is to notice that the humanitarian and universalist ideas of Stoicism were already beginning to permeate society. Seneca taught, for example, the equality in some sense of all men, even slaves; but it was the populace who a few years later (a.d. 61) protested when the slaves of the murdered Pedanius Secundus were led out to execution2. Seneca and many of the Jurists were permeated with the Stoic ideas of humanity and benevolence; and however little these principles might influence their individual conduct they gradually moulded and changed the law and the system of the Empire.
If we turn from the Empire to Rome, we shall find that just those vices which the moralist deplores in the aristocracy and the Emperor helped to prepare the Roman capital for the advent of Christianity. If there had not been large foreign colonies, there could never have been any ground in the world where Christianity could have taken root strongly enough to influence the surrounding population, and it was the passion for luxury, and the taste for philosophy and literature, even the vices of the court, which demanded Greek and Oriental assistance. The Emperor must have teachers in philosophy, and in acting, in recitation and in flute-playing, and few of these would be Romans. The statement of Chrysostom that St. Paul persuaded a concubine of Nero to accept Christianity and forsake the Emperor has probably little foundation3. the conjecture that this concubine was Acte is worthless; but it may illustrate how it was through the non-Roman element of Roman society that Christianity spread. It is not possible to estimate the exact proportion of foreign elements in a Roman household, but a study of the names in any of the Columbaria of the imperial period will illustrate how large that element was. Men and women of every race lived together in the great Roman slave world, or when they had received the gift of freedom remained attached as clients and friends to the great houses, often united by ties of the closest intimacy with their masters and proving the means by which every form of strange superstition could penetrate into the highest circles of society1.
And foreign superstition was beginning to spread. The earliest monuments of the worship of Mithras date from the time of Tiberius. Lucan in his Pharsalia celebrates the worship of Isis in Rome; Nero himself reverenced the Syrian Goddess, who was called by many names, but is known to us best as Astarte; Judaism came near to the throne with Poppaea Sabina, whose influence over Nero is first traced in this year 58; while the story of Pomponia Graecina who, in the year 57, was entrusted to her husband for trial on the charge of ‘foreign superstition’ and whose long old age was clouded with continuous sadness, has been taken as an instance of Christianity. There are not inconsiderable grounds for this view; but in any case the accusation against her is an illustration that there was a path by which a new and foreign religion like Christianity could make its way into the heart of the Roman aristocracy2.
§ 2. The Jews in Rome3
There are indications enough that when he looked towards Rome St. Paul thought of it as the seat and centre of the Empire. But he had at the same time a smaller and a narrower object. His chief interest lay in those little scattered groups of Christians of whom he had heard through Aquila and Prisca, and probably through others whom he met on his travels. And the thought of the Christian Church would at once connect itself with that larger community of which it must have been in some sense or other an offshoot, the Jewish settlement in the imperial city.
(1) History. The first relations of the Jews with Rome go back to the time of the Maccabaean princes, when the struggling patriots of Judaea had some interests in common with the great Republic and could treat with it on independent terms. Embassies were sent under Judges 1:1 (who died in 160 b.c.) and Jonathan2 (who died in 143), and at last a formal alliance was concluded by Simon Maccabaeus in 140, 1393. It was characteristic that on this last occasion the members of the embassy attempted a religious propaganda and were in consequence sent home by the praetor Hispalus4.
This was only preliminary contact. The first considerable settlement of the Jews in Rome dates from the taking of Jerusalem by Pompey in b.c. 635. A number of the prisoners were sold as slaves; but their obstinate adherence to their national customs proved troublesome to their masters and most of them were soon manumitted. These released slaves were numerous and important enough to found a synagogue of their own6 , to which they might resort when they went on pilgrimage, at Jerusalem. The policy of the early emperors favoured the Jews. They passionately bewailed the death of Julius, going by night as well as by day to his funeral pyre7 ; and under Augustus they were allowed to form a regular colony on the further side of the Tiber8 , roughly speaking opposite the site of the modern ‘Ghetto.’ The Jews’ quarter was removed to the left bank of the river in 1556, and has been finally done away with since the Italian occupation.
Here the Jews soon took root and rapidly increased in numbers. It was still under the Republic (b.c. 59) that Cicero in his defence of Flaccus pretended to drop his voice for fear of them1. And when a deputation came from Judaea to complain of the misrule of Archelaus, no less than 8000 Roman Jews attached themselves to it2. Though the main settlement was beyond the Tiber it must soon have overflowed into other parts of Rome. The Jews had a synagogue in connexion with the crowded Subura3 and another probably in the Campus Martius. There were synagogues of Αὐγουστήσιοι and Ἀγριππήσιοι (i. e. either of the household or under the patronage of Augustus4 and his minister Agrippa), the position of which is uncertain but which in any case bespeak the importance of the community. Traces of Jewish cemeteries have been found in several out-lying regions, one near the Porta Portuensis, two near the Via Appia and the catacomb of S. Callisto, and one at Portus, the harbour at the mouth of the Tiber5.
Till some way on in the reign of Tiberius the Jewish colony flourished without interruption. But in a.d. 19 two scandalous cases occurring about the same time, one connected with the priests of Isis, and the other with a Roman lady who having become a proselyte to Judaism was swindled of money under pretence of sending it to Jerusalem, led to the adoption of repressive measures at once against the Jews and the Egyptians. Four thousand were banished to Sardinia, nominally to be employed in putting down banditti, but the historian scornfully hints that if they fell victims to the climate no one would have cared6.
The end of the reign of Caligula was another anxious and critical time for the Jews. Philo has given us a graphic picture of the reception of a deputation which came with himself at its head to beg for protection from the riotous mob of Alexandria. The half-crazy emperor dragged the deputation after him from one point to another of his gardens only to jeer at them and refuse any further answer to their petition1. Caligula insisted on the setting up of his own bust in the Temple at Jerusalem, and his opportune death alone saved the Jews from worse things than had as yet befallen them (a.d. 41).
In the early part of the reign of Claudius the Jews had friends at court in the two Herod Agrippas, father and son. But a mysterious notice of which we would fain know more shows them once again subject to measures of repression. At a date which is calculated at about a.d. 52 we find Aquila and Prisca at Corinth ‘because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome’ (Acts 18:2). And Suetonius in describing what is probably the same event sets it down to persistent tumults in the Jewish quarter ‘at the instigation of Chrestus2 ’ There is at least a considerable possibility, not to say probability, that in this enigmatic guise we have an allusion to the effect of the early preaching of Christianity, in which in one way or another Aquila and Prisca would seem to have been involved and on that account specially singled out for exile. Suetonius and the Acts speak of a general edict of expulsion, but Dio Cassius, who is more precise, would lead us to infer that the edict stopped short of this. The clubs and meetings (in the synagogue) which Caligula had allowed, were forbidden, but there was at least no wholesale expulsion3.
Any one of three interpretations may be put upon impulsore Chreste assidue tumultuantes. (i) The words may be taken literally as they stand. ‘Chrestus’ was a common name among slaves, and there may have been an individual of that name who was the author of the disturbances. This is the view of Meyer and Wieseler. (ii) Or it is very possible that there may be a confusion between ‘Chrestus’ and ‘Christus.’ Tertullian accuses the Pagans of pronouncing the name ‘Christians’ wrongly as if it were Chrestiani, and so bearing unconscious witness to the gentle and kindly character of those who owned it. Sed et cum perperam Chrestianus pronunciatur a vobis (nam nec nominis certa est notitia penes vos) de suavitate vel benignitate compositum est (Rev_3; cf. Justin, Apol. i. § 4). If we suppose some such very natural confusion, then the disturbances may have had their origin in the excitement caused by the Messianic expectation which was ready to break out at slight provocation wherever Jews congregated. This is the view of Lange and others including in part Lightfoot (Philippians, p. 169). (iii) There remains the third possibility, for which some preference has been expressed above, that the disturbing cause was not the Messianic expectation in general but the particular form of it identified with Christianity. It is certain that Christianity must have been preached at Rome as early as this; and the preaching of it was quite as likely to lead to actual violence and riot as at Thessalonica or Antioch of Pisidia or Lystra (Acts 17:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 13:50). That it did so, and that this is the fact alluded to by Suetonius is the opinion of the majority of German scholars from Baur onwards. It is impossible to verify any one of the three hypotheses; but the last would fit in well with all that we know and would add an interesting touch if it were true1.
The edict of Claudius was followed in about three years by his death (a.d. 54). Under Nero the Jews certainly did not lose but probably rather gained ground. We have seen that just as St. Paul wrote his Epistle Poppaea was beginning to exert her influence. Like many of her class she dallied with Judaism and befriended Jews. The mime Aliturus was a Jew by birth and stood in high favour2. Herod Agrippa II was also, like his father, a persona grata at the Roman court. Dio Cassius sums up the history of the Jews under the Empire in a sentence which describes well their fortunes at Rome. Though their privileges were often curtailed, they increased to such an extent as to force their way to the recognition and toleration of their peculiar customs3.
(2) Organization. The policy of the emperors towards the Jewish nationality was on the whole liberal and judicious. They saw that they had to deal with a people which it was at once difficult to repress and useful to encourage; and they freely conceded the rights which the Jews demanded. Not only were they allowed the free exercise of their religion, but exceptional privileges were granted them in connexion with it. Josephus (Ant. XIV. x.) quotes a number of edicts of the time of Julius Caesar and after his death, some of them Roman and some local, securing to the Jews exemption from service in the army (on religious grounds), freedom of worship, of building synagogues, of forming clubs and collecting contributions (especially the didrachma) for the Temple at Jerusalem. Besides this in the East the Jews were largely permitted to have their own courts of justice. And the wonder is that in spite of all their fierce insurrections against Rome these rights were never permanently withdrawn. As late as the end of the second century (in the pontificate of Victor 189-199 a.d.) Callistus, who afterwards himself became Bishop of Rome, was banished to the Sardinian mines for forcibly breaking up a Jewish meeting for worship (Hippol Refut. Haer. ix. 12).
There was some natural difference between the East and the West corresponding to the difference in number and concentration of the Jewish population. In Palestine the central judicial and administrative body was the Sanhedrin; after the Jewish War the place of the Sanhedrin was taken by the Ethnarch who exercised great powers, the Jews of the Dispersion voluntarily submitting to him. At Alexandria also there was an Ethnarch, as well as a central board or senate, for the management of the affairs of the community. At Rome, on the other hand, it would appear that each synagogue had its own separate organization. This would consist of a ‘senate’ (γερουσία), the members of which were the ‘elders’ (πρεσβύτεροι). The exact relation of these to the ‘rulers’ (ἄρχοντες) is not quite clear: the two terms may be practically equivalent; or the ἄρχοντες may be a sort of committee within the larger body1. The senate had its ‘president’ (γερουσιάρχης)̀ and among the rulers one or more would seem to have been charged with the conduct of the services in the synagogue (ἀρχισυνάγωγος, ἀρχισυνάγωγοι). Under him would be the ὑπηρέτης (Chazan) who performed the minor duties of giving out and putting back the sacred rolls (Luke 4:20), inflicted scourging (Matthew 10:17), and acted as schoolmaster. The priests as such had no special status in the synagogue. We hear at Rome of wealthy and influential people who were called ‘father’ or ‘mother of the synagogue’; this would be an honorary title. There is also mention of a προστάτης or patronus, who would on occasion act for the synagogue in its relation to the outer world.
(3) Social status and condition. There were certainly Jews of rank and position at Rome. Herod the Great had sent a number of his sons to be educated there (the ill-fated Alexander and Aristobulus as well as Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip the tetrarch2 ). At a later date other members of the family made it their home (Herod the first husband of Herodias, the younger Aristobulus, and at one time Herod Agrippa I). There were also Jews attached in one way or another to the imperial household (we have had mention of the synagogues of the Agrippesii and Augustesii). These would be found in the more aristocratic quarters. The Jews’ quarter proper was the reverse of aristocratic. The fairly plentiful notices which have come down to us in the works of the Satirists lead us to think of the Jews of Rome as largely a population of beggars, vendors of small wares, sellers of lucifer matches, collectors of broken glass, fortune-tellers of both sexes. They haunted the Aventine with their baskets and wisps of hay1. Thence they would sally forth and try to catch the ear especially of the wealthier Roman women, on whose superstitious hopes and fears they might play and earn a few small coins by their pains2.
Between these extremes we may infer the existence of a more substantial trading class, both from the success which at this period had begun to attend the Jews in trade and from the existence of the numerous synagogues (nine are definitely attested) which it must have required a considerable amount and some diffusion of wealth to keep up. But of this class we have less direct evidence.
In Rome, as everywhere, the Jews impressed the observer by their strict performance of the Law. The Jewish sabbath was proverbial. The distinction of meats was also carefully maintained3. But along with these external observances the Jews did succeed in bringing home to their Pagan neighbours the contrast of their purer faith to the current idolatries, that He whom they served did not dwell in temples made with hands, and that He was not to be likened to ‘gold or silver or stone, graven by art and device of man.’
It is difficult to say which is more conspicuous, the repulsion or the attraction which the Jews exercised upon the heathen world. The obstinate tenacity with which they held to their own customs, and the rigid exclusiveness with which they kept aloof from all others, offended a society which had come to embrace all the varied national religions with the same easy tolerance and which passed from one to the other as curiosity or caprice dictated. They looked upon the Jew as a gloomy fanatic, whose habitual expression was a scowl. It was true that he condemned, as he had reason to condemn, the heathen laxity around him. And his neighbours, educated and populace alike, retaliated with bitter hatred and scorn.
At the same time all—and there were many—who were in search of a purer creed than their own, knew that the Jew had something to give them which they could not get elsewhere. The heathen Pantheon was losing its hold, and thoughtful minds were ‘feeling after if haply they might find’ the one God who made heaven and earth. Nor was it only the higher minds who were conscious of a strange attraction in Judaism. Weaker and more superstitious natures were impressed by its lofty claims, and also as we may believe by the gorgeous apocalyptic visions which the Jews of this date were ready to pour out to them. The seeker wants to be told something that he can do to gain the Divine favour; and of such demands and precepts there was no lack. The inquiring Pagan was met with a good deal of tact on the part of those whom he consulted. He was drawn on little by little; there was a place for every one who showed a real sympathy for the faith of Israel. It was not necessary that he should at once accept circumcision and the whole burden of the Mosaic Law; but as he made good one step another was proposed to him, and the children became in many cases more zealous than their fathers1. So round most of the Jewish colonies there was gradually formed a fringe of Gentiles more or less in active sympathy with their religion, the ‘devout men and women,’ ‘those who worshipped God’ (εὐσεβεῖς, σεβόμενοι, σεβόμενοι τὸν Θεόν, φοβούμενοι τὸν Θεόν) of the Acts of the Apostles. For the student of the origin of the Christian Church this class is of great importance, because it more than any other was the seed plot of Christianity; in it more than in any other the Gospel took root and spread with ease and rapidity2.
§ 3. The Roman Church
(I) Origin. The most probable view of the origin of the Christian Church in Rome is substantially that of the commentator known as Ambrosiaster (see below, § 10). This fourth-century writer, himself probably a member of the Roman Church, does not claim for it an apostolic origin. He thinks that it arose among the Jews of Rome and that the Gentiles to whom they conveyed a knowledge of Christ had not seen any miracles or any of the Apostles3. Some such conclusion as this fits in well with the phenomena of the Epistle. St. Paul would hardly have written as he does if the Church had really been founded by an Apostle. He clearly regards it as coming within his own province as Apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 1:6, Romans 1:14 f.); and in this very Epistle he lays it down as a principle governing all his missionary labours that he will not ‘build upon another man’s foundation’ (Romans 15:20). If an Apostle had been before him to Rome the only supposition which would save his present letter from clashing with this would be that there were two distinct churches in Rome, one Jewish-Christian the other Gentile-Christian, and that St. Paul wrote only to the latter. But not only is there no hint of such a state of things, but the letter itself (as we shall see) implies a mixed community, a community not all of one colour, but embracing in substantial proportions both Jews and Gentiles.
At a date so early as this it is not in itself likely that the Apostles of a faith which grew up under the shadow of Jewish particularism would have had the enterprise to cast their glance so far west as Rome. It was but natural that the first Apostle to do this should be the one who both in theory and in practice had struck out the boldest line as a missionary; the one who had formed the largest conception of the possibilities of Christianity, the one who risked the most in the effort to realize them, and who as a matter of principle ignored distinctions of language and of race. We see St. Paul deliberately conceiving and long cherishing the purpose of himself making a journey to Rome (Acts 19:21; Romans 1:13; Romans 15:22-24). It was not however to found a Church, at least in the sense of first foundation, for a Church already existed with sufficient unity to have a letter written to it.
If we may make use of the data in ch. 16—and reasons will be given for using them with some confidence—the origin of the Roman Church will be fairly clear, and it will agree exactly with the probabilities of the case. Never in the course of previous history had there been anything like the freedom of circulation and movement which now existed in the Roman Empire1. And this movement followed certain definite lines and set in certain definite directions. It was at its greatest all along the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and its general trend was to and from Rome. The constant coming and going of Roman officials, as one provincial governor succeeded another; the moving of troops from place to place with the sending of fresh batches of recruits and the retirement of veterans; the incessant demands of an ever-increasing trade both in necessaries and luxuries; the attraction which the huge metropolis naturally exercised on the imagination of the clever young Orientals who knew that the best openings for a career were to be sought there; a thousand motives of ambition, business, pleasure drew a constant stream from the Eastern provinces to Rome. Among the crowds there would inevitably be some Christians, and those of very varied nationality and antecedents. St. Paul himself had for the last three years been stationed at one of the greatest of the Levantine emporia. We may say that the three great cities at which he had spent the longest time—Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus—were just the three from which (with Alexandria) intercourse was most active. We may be sure that not a few of his own disciples would ultimately find their way to Rome. And so we may assume that all the owners of the names mentioned in ch. 16 had some kind of acquaintance with him. In several cases he adds some endearing little expression which implies personal contact and interest: Epaenetus, Ampliatus, Stachys are all his ‘beloved’; Urban has been his ‘helper’; the mother of Rufus had been also as a mother to him; Andronicus and Junia (or Junias) and Herodion are described as his ‘kinsmen’—i. e. perhaps his fellow-tribesmen, possibly like him natives of Tarsus. Andronicus and Junias, if we are to take the expression literally, had shared one of his imprisonments. But not by any means all were St. Paul’s own converts. The same pair, Andronicus and Junias, were Christians of older standing than himself. Epaenetus is described as the first convert ever made from Asia: that may of course be by the preaching of St. Paul, but it is also possible that he may have been converted while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. If the Aristobulus whose household is mentioned is the Herodian prince, we can easily understand that he might have Christians about him. That Prisca and Aquila should be at Rome is just what we might expect from one with so keen an eye for the strategy of a situation as St. Paul. When he was himself established and in full work at Ephesus with the intention of visiting Rome, it would at once occur to him what valuable work they might be doing there and what an excellent preparation they might make for his own visit, while in his immediate surroundings they were almost superfluous. So that instead of presenting any difficulty, that he should send them back to Rome where they were already known, is most natural.
In this way, the previous histories of the friends to whom St. Paul sends greeting in ch. 16 may be taken as typical of the circumstances which would bring together a number of similar groups of Christians at Rome. Some from Palestine, some from Corinth, some from Ephesus and other parts of proconsular Asia, possibly some from Tarsus and more from the Syrian Antioch, there was in the first instance, as we may believe, nothing concerted in their going; but when once they arrived in the metropolis, the free-masonry common amongst Christians would soon make them known to each other, and they would form, not exactly an organized Church, but such a fortuitous assemblage of Christians as was only waiting for the advent of an Apostle to constitute one.
For other influences than those of St. Paul we are left to general probabilities. But from the fact that there was a synagogue specially assigned to the Roman ‘Libertini’ at Jerusalem and that this synagogue was at an early date the scene of public debates between Jews and Christians (Acts 6:9), with the further fact that regular communication would be kept up by Roman Jews frequenting the feasts, it is equally clear that Palestinian Christianity could hardly fail to have its representatives. We may well believe that the vigorous preaching of St. Stephen would set a wave in motion which would be felt even at Rome. If coming from such a source we should expect the Jewish Christianity of Rome to be rather of the freer Hellenistic type than marked by the narrowness of Pharisaism. But it is best to abstain from anticipating, and to form our idea of the Roman Church on better grounds than conjecture.
If the view thus given of the origin of the Roman Church is correct, it involves the rejection of two other views, one of which at least has imposing authority; viz. (i) that the Church was founded by Jewish pilgrims from the First Pentecost, and (ii) that its true founder was St. Peter.
(i) We are told expressly that among those who listened to St. Peter’s address on the Day of Pentecost were some who came from Rome, both born Jews of the Dispersion and proselytes. When these returned they would naturally take with them news of the strange things which were happening in Palestine. But unless they remained for some time in Jerusalem, and unless they attended very diligently to the teaching of the Apostles which would as yet be informal and not accompanied by any regular system of Catechesis, they would not know enough to make them in the full sense ‘Christians’; still less would they be in a position to evangelize others. Among this first group there would doubtless be some who would go back predisposed and prepared to receive fuller instruction in Christianity; they might be at a similar stage to that of the disciples of St. John the Baptist at Ephesus (Acts 19:2 ff.); and under the successive impact of later visits (their own or their neighbours’) to Jerusalem, we could imagine that their faith would be gradually consolidated. But it would take more than they brought away from the Day of Pentecost to lay the foundations of a Church.
(ii) The traditional founder of the Roman Church is St. Peter. But it is only in a very qualified sense that this tradition can be made good. We may say at once that we are not prepared to go the length of those who would deny the connexion of St. Peter with the Roman Church altogether. It is true that there is hardly an item in the evidence which is not subject to some deduction. The evidence which is definite is somewhat late, and the evidence which is early is either too uncertain or too slight and vague to carry a clear conclusion1. Most decisive of all, if it held good, would be the allusion in St. Peter’s own First Epistle if the ‘Babylon’ from which he writes (1 Peter 5:13) is really a covert name for Rome. This was the view of the Early Church, and although perhaps not absolutely certain it is in accordance with all probability. The Apocalypse confessedly puts ‘Babylon’ for Rome (Revelation 14:8; Revelation 16:19, &c.), and when we remember the common practice among the Jewish Rabbis of disguising their allusions to the oppressor2 , we may believe that Christians also, when they had once become suspected and persecuted, might have fallen into the habit of using a secret language among themselves, even where there was less occasion for secresy. When once we adopt this view, a number of details in the Epistle (such as the mention of Silvanus and Mark, and the points of contact between 1 Peter and Romans) find an easy and natural explanation3.
The genuine Epistle of Clement of Rome (c. 97 a.d.) couples together St. Peter and St. Paul in a context dealing with persecution in such a way as to lend some support to the tradition that both Apostles had perished there4 ; and the Epistle of Ignatius addressed to Rome (c. 115 a.d.) appeals to both Apostles as authorities which the Roman Church would be likely to recognize5 ; but at the utmost this proves nothing as to the origin of the Church. When we descend a step later, Dionysius of Corinth (c. 171 a.d.) does indeed couple the two Apostles as having joined in ‘planting’ the Church of Rome as they had done previously that of Corinth6. But this Epistle alone is proof that if St. Paul could be said to have ‘planted’ the Church, it could not be in the sense of first foundation; and a like consideration must be taken to qualify the statements of Irenaeus7. By the beginning of the third century we get in Tertullian8 and Caius of Rome9 explicit references to Rome as the scene of the double martyrdom. The latter writer points to the ‘trophies’ (τὰ τρόπαια10 ) of the two Apostles as existing in his day on the Vatican and by the Ostian Way. This is conclusive evidence as to the belief of the Roman Church about the year 200. And it is followed by another piece of evidence which is good and precise as far as it goes. Two fourth-century documents, both in texts which have undergone some corruption, the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (ed. Duchesne, p. 84) and a Depositio Martyrum in the work of Philocalus, the so-called ‘chronographer of the year 354,’ connect a removal of the bodies of the two Apostles with the consulship of Tuscus and Bassus in the year 258. There is some ambiguity as to the localities from and to which the bodies were moved; but the most probable view is that in the Valerian persecution when the cemeteries were closed to Christians, the treasured relics were transferred to the site known as Ad Catacumbas adjoining the present Church of St. Sebastian1. Here they remained, according to one version, for a year and seven months, according to another for forty years. The later story of an attempt by certain Orientals to steal them away seems to have grown out of a misunderstanding of an inscription by Pope Damasus (366-384 a.d.)2.
Here we have a chain of substantial proof that the Roman Church fully believed itself to be in possession of the mortal remains of the two Apostles as far back as the year 200, a tradition at that date already firmly established and associated with definite well-known local monuments. The tradition as to the twenty-five years’ episcopate of St. Peter presents some points of resemblance. That too appears for the first time in the fourth century with Eusebius (c. 325 a.d.) and his follower Jerome. By skilful analysis it is traced back a full hundred years earlier. It appears to be derived from a list drawn up probably by Hippolytus3. Lipsius would carry back this list a little further, and would make it composed under Victor in the last decade of the second century4 , and Lightfoot seems to think it possible that the figures for the duration of the several episcopates may have been present in the still older list of Hegesippus, writing under Eleutherus (c. 175-190 a.d.)5.
Thus we have the twenty-five years’ episcopate of St. Peter certainly believed in towards the end of the first quarter of the third century, if not by the beginning of the last quarter of the second. We are coming back to a time when a continuous tradition is beginning to be possible. And yet the difficulties in the way of bringing St. Peter to Rome at a date so early as the year 42 (which seems to be indicated) are so great as to make the acceptance of this chronology almost impossible. Not only do we find St. Peter to all appearance still settled at Jerusalem at the time of the Council in a.d. 51, but we have seen that it is highly improbable that he had visited Rome when St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Church there. And it is hardly less improbable that a visit had been made between this and the later Epistles (Phil., Col., Eph., Philem.). The relations between the two Apostles and of both to the work of missions in general, would almost compel some allusion to such a visit if it had taken place. Between the years 58 or 61-63 and 170 there is quite time for legend to grow up; and Lipsius has pointed out a possible way in which it might arise6. There is evidence that the tradition of our Lord’s command to the Apostles to remain at Jerusalem for twelve years after His Ascension, was current towards the end of the second century. The travels of the Apostles are usually dated from the end of this period (i.e. about 41-42 a.d.). Then the traditional date of the death of St. Peter is 67 or 68; and subtracting 42 from 67 we get just the 25 years required. It was assumed that St. Peter’s episcopate dated from his first arrival in Rome.
So far the ground is fairly clear. But when Lipsius goes further than this and denies the Roman visit in toto, his criticism seems to us too drastic1. He arrives at his result thus. He traces a double stream in the tradition. On the one hand there is the ‘Petro-pauline tradition’ which regards the two Apostles as establishing the Church in friendly co-operation2. The outlines of this have been sketched above. On the other hand there is the tradition of the conflict of St. Peter with Simon Magus, which under the figure of Simon Magus made a disguised attack upon St. Paul3. Not only does Lipsius think that this is the earliest form of the tradition, but he regards it as the original of all other forms which brought St. Peter to Rome4 : the only historical ground for it which he would allow is the visit of St. Paul. This does not seem to us to be a satisfactory explanation. The traces of the Petro-pauline tradition are really earlier than those of the Ebionite legend. The way in which they are introduced is free from all suspicion. They are supported by collateral evidence (St. Peter’s First Epistle and the traditions relating to St. Mark) the weight of which is considerable. There is practically no conflicting tradition. The claim of the Roman Church to joint foundation by the two Apostles seems to have been nowhere disputed. And even the Ebionite fiction is more probable as a distortion of facts that have a basis of truth than as pure invention. The visit of St. Peter to Rome, and his death there at some uncertain date5 , seem to us, if not removed beyond all possibility of doubt, yet as well established as many of the leading facts of history.
(2) Composition. The question as to the origin of the Roman Church has little more than an antiquarian interest; it is an isolated fact or series of facts which does not greatly affect either the picture which we form to ourselves of the Church or the sense in which we understand the Epistle addressed to it. It is otherwise with the question as to its composition. Throughout the Apostolic age the determining factor in most historical problems is the relative preponderance of the Jewish element or the Gentile. Which of these two elements are we to think of as giving its character to the Church at Rome? Directly contrary answers have been given to the question and whole volumes of controversy have grown up around it; but in this instance some real advance has been made, and the margin of difference among the leading critics is not now very considerable.
Here as in so many other cases elsewhere the sharper statement of the problem dates from Baur, whose powerful influence drew a long train of followers after him; and here as so often elsewhere the manner in which Baur himself approaches the question is determined not by the minute exegesis of particular passages but by a broad and comprehensive view of what seems to him to be the argument of the Epistle as a whole. To him the Epistle seems to be essentially directed against Jewish Christians. The true centre of gravity of the Epistle he found in chaps. 9-11. St. Paul there grapples at close quarters with the objection that if his doctrine held good, the special choice of Israel—its privileges and the promises made to it—all fell to the ground. At first there is no doubt that the stress laid by Baur on these three chapters in comparison with the rest was exaggerated and one-sided. His own disciples criticized the position which he took up on this point, and he himself gradually drew back from it, chiefly by showing that a like tendency ran through the earlier portion of the Epistle. There too St. Paul’s object was to argue with the Jewish Christians and to expose the weakness of their reliance on formal obedience to the Mosaic Law.
The writer who has worked out this view of Baur’s most elaborately is Mangold. It is not difficult to show, when the Epistle is closely examined, that there is a large element in it which is essentially Jewish. The questions with which it deals are Jewish, the validity of the Law, the nature of Redemption, the principle on which man is to become righteous in the sight of God, the choice of Israel. It is also true that the arguments with which St. Paul meets these questions are very largely such as would appeal specially to Jews. His own views are linked on directly to the teaching of the Old Testament, and it is to the Old Testament that he goes in support of them. It is fair to ask, what sort of relevance arguments of this character would have as addressed to Gentiles.
It was also possible to point to one or two expressions in detail which might seem to favour the assumption of Jewish readers. Such would be Romans 4:1 where Abraham is described (in the most probable text) as ‘our forefather according to the flesh’ (τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα). To that however it was obvious to reply that in 1 Corinthians 10:1 St. Paul spoke of the Israelites in the wilderness as ‘our fathers,’ though no one would maintain that the Corinthian Christians were by birth Jews. There is more weight—indeed there is real weight—in the argument drawn from the section, Romans 7:1-6, where not only are the readers addressed as ἀδελφοί μου (which would be just as possible if they were converts from heathenism) but a sustained contrast is drawn between an earlier state under the Law (ὁ νόμος vv. 1, 4, 5, 6; not vv. 2, 3 where the force of the article is different) and a later state of freedom from the Law. It is true that this could not have been written to a Church which consisted wholly of Gentiles, unless the Apostle had forgotten himself for the moment more entirely than he is likely to have done. Still such expressions should not be pressed too far. He associates his readers with himself in a manner somewhat analogous to that in which he writes to the Corinthians, as if their spiritual ancestry was the same as his own. Nor was this without reason. He regards the whole pre-Messianic period as a period of Law, of which the Law of Moses was only the most conspicuous example.
It is a minor point, but also to some extent a real one, that the exhortations in chs. 13, 14 are probably in part at least addressed to Jews. That turbulent race, which had called down the interference of the civil power some six or seven years before, needed a warning to keep the peace. And the party which had scruples about the keeping of days is more likely to have been Jewish than Gentile. Still that would only show that some members of the Roman Church were Jews, not that they formed a majority. Indeed in this instance the contrary would seem to be the case, because their opponents seem to have the upper hand and all that St. Paul asks for on their behalf is toleration.
We may take it then as established that there were Jews in the Church, and that in substantial numbers; just as we also cannot doubt that there was a substantial number of Gentiles. The direct way in which St. Paul addresses the Gentiles in ch. 11:13 ff. (ὑμῖν δὲ λέγω τοῖς ἔθνεσιν κ.τ.λ.) would be proof sufficient of this. But it is further clear that St. Paul regards the Church as broadly and in the main a Gentile Church. It is the Gentile element which gives it its colour. This inference cannot easily be explained away from the passages, Romans 1:5-7, Romans 1:13-15; Romans 15:14-16. In the first St. Paul numbers the Church at Rome among the Gentile Churches, and bases on his own apostleship to the Gentiles his right to address them. In the second he also connects the obligations he is under to preach to them directly with the general fact that all Gentiles without exception are his province. In the third he in like manner excuses himself courteously for the earnestness with which he has written by an appeal to his commission to act as the priest who lays upon the altar the Church of the Gentiles as his offering.
This then is the natural construction to put upon the Apostle’s language. The Church to which he is writing is Gentile in its general complexion; but at the same time it contains so many born Jews that he passes easily and freely from the one body to the other. He does not feel bound to measure and weigh his words, because if he writes in the manner which comes most naturally to himself he knows that there will be in the Church many who will understand him. The fact to which we have already referred, that a large proportion even of the Gentile Christians would have approached Christianity through the portals of a previous connexion with Judaism, would tend to set him still more at his ease in this respect. We shall see in the next section that the force which impels the Apostle is behind rather than in front. It is not to be supposed that he had any exact statistics before him as to the composition of the Church to which he was writing. It was enough that he was aware that a letter such as he has written was not likely to be thrown away.
If he had stayed to form a more exact estimate we may take the greetings in ch. 16 as a rough indication of the lines that it would follow. The collection of names there points to a mixture of nationalities. Aquila at least, if not also Prisca1 , we know to have been a Jew (Acts 18:2). Andronicus and Junias and Herodion are described as ‘kinsmen’ (συγγενεῖς) of the Apostle: precisely what this means is not certain—perhaps ‘members of the same tribe’—but in any case they must have been Jews. Mary (Miriam) is a Jewish name; and Apelles reminds us at once of Iudaeus Apella (Horace, Sat. I. v. 100). And there is besides ‘the household of Aristobulus,’ some of whom—if Aristobulus was really the grandson of Herod or at least connected with that dynasty—would probably have the same nationality. Four names (Urbanus, Ampliatus, Rufus, and Julia) are Latin. The rest (ten in number) are Greek with an indeterminate addition in ‘the household of Narcissus.’ Some such proportions as these might well be represented in the Church at large.
(3) Status and Condition. The same list of names may give us some idea of the social status of a representative group of Roman Christians. The names are largely those of slaves and freedmen. In any case the households of Narcissus and Aristobulus would belong to this category. It is not inconceivable, though of course not proveable, that Narcissus may be the well-known freedman of Claudius, put to death in the year 54 a.d., and Aristobulus the scion of the house of Herod. We know that at the time when St. Paul wrote to the Philippians Christianity had penetrated into the retinue of the Emperor himself (Php 4:22). A name like Philologus seems to point to a certain degree of culture. We should therefore probably not be wrong in supposing that not only the poorer class of slaves and freedmen is represented. And it must be remembered that the better sort of Greek and some Oriental slaves would often be more highly educated and more refined in manners than their masters. There is good reason to think that Pomponia Graecina, the wife of Aulus Plautius the conqueror of Britain, and that in the next generation Flavius Clemens and Domitilla, the near relations and victims of Domitian, had come under Christian influence1. We should therefore be justified in supposing that even at this early date more than one of the Roman Christians possessed a not inconsiderable social standing and importance. If there was any Church in which the ‘not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble,’ had an exception, it was at Rome.
When we look again at the list we see that it has a tendency to fall into groups. We hear of Prisca and Aquila, ‘and the Church that is in their house,’ of the household of Aristobulus and the Christian members of the household of Narcissus, of Asyncritus, &c. ‘and the brethren that are with them,’ of Philologus and certain companions ‘and all the saints that are with them.’ It would only be what we should expect if the Church of Rome at this time consisted of a number of such little groups, scattered over the great city, each with its own rendezvous but without any complete and centralized organization. In more than one of the incidental notices of the Roman Church it is spoken of as ‘founded’ (Iren. Adv. Haer. III. i. 1; iii. 3) or ‘planted’ (Dionysius of Corinth in Eus. H. E. II. xxv. 8) by St. Peter and St. Paul. It may well be that although the Church did not in the strict sense owe to these Apostles its origin, it did owe to them its first existence as an organized whole.
We must not however exaggerate the want of organization at the time when St. Paul is writing. The repeated allusions to ‘labouring’ (κοπιᾶν) in the case of Mary; Tryphaena and Tryphosa, and Persis—all, as we observe, women—points to some kind of regular ministry (cf. for the quasi-technical sense of κοπιᾶν 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:17). It is evident that Prisca and Aquila took the lead which we should expect of them; and they were well trained in St. Paul’s methods. Even without the help of an Apostle, the Church had evidently a life of its own; and where there is life there is sure to be a spontaneous tendency to definite articulation of function. When St. Paul and St. Peter arrived we may believe that they would find the work half done; still it would wait the seal of their presence, as the Church of Samaria waited for the coming of Peter and John (Acts 8:14).
§ 4. The Time and Place, Occasion and Purpose, of the Epistle
(1) Time and Place. The time and place at which the Epistle was written are easy to determine. And the simple and natural way in which the notes of both in the Epistle itself dovetail into the narrative of the Acts, together with the perfect consistency of the whole group of data—subtle, slight, and incidental as they are—in the two documents, at once strongly confirms the truth of the history and would almost alone be enough to dispose of the doctrinaire objections which have been brought against the Epistle.
St. Paul had long cherished the desire of paying a visit to Rome (Romans 1:13; Romans 15:23), and that desire he hopes very soon to see fulfilled; but at the moment of writing his face is turned not westwards but eastwards. A collection has been made in the Greek Churches, the proceeds of which he is with an anxious mind about to convey to Jerusalem. He feels that his own relation and that of the Churches of his founding to the Palestinian Church is a delicate matter; the collection is no lightly considered act of passing charity, but it has been with him the subject of long and earnest deliberation; it is the olive-branch which he is bent upon offering. Great issues turn upon it; and he does not know how it will be received1.
We hear much of this collection in the Epistles written about this date (1 Corinthians 16:1 ff.; 2 Corinthians 8:1 ff.; 2 Corinthians 9:1 ff.). In the Acts it is not mentioned before the fact; but retrospectively in the course of St. Paul’s address before Felix allusion is made to it: ‘after many years I came to bring alms to my nation and offerings’ (Acts 24:17). Though the collection is not mentioned in the earlier chapters of the Acts, the order of the journey is mentioned. When his stay at Ephesus was drawing to an end we read that ‘Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome’ (Acts 19:21). Part of this programme has been accomplished. At the time of writing St. Paul seems to be at the capital of Achaia. The allusions which point to this would none of them taken separately be certain, but in combination they amount to a degree of probability which is little short of certainty. The bearer of the Epistle appears to be one Phoebe who is an active, perhaps an official, member of the Church of Cenchreae, the harbour of Corinth (Romans 16:1). The house in which St. Paul is staying, which is also the meeting-place of the local Church, belongs to Gaius (Romans 16:23); and a Gaius St. Paul had baptized at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14). He sends a greeting also from Erastus, who is described as ‘oeconomus’ or ‘treasurer’ of the city. The office is of some importance, and points to a city of some importance. This would agree with Corinth; and just at Corinth we learn from 2 Timothy 4:20 that an Erastus was left behind on St. Paul’s latest journey—naturally enough if it was his home.
The visit to Achaia then upon which these indications converge is that which is described in Acts 20:2, Acts 20:3. It occupied three months, which on the most probable reckoning would fall at the beginning of the year 58. St. Paul has in his company at this time Timothy and Sosipater (or Sopater) who join in the greeting of the Epistle (Romans 16:21) and are also mentioned in Acts 20:4. Of the remaining four who send their greetings we recognize at least Jason of Thessalonica (Romans 16:21; cf. Acts 17:6). Just the lightness and unobtrusiveness of all these mutual coincidences affixes to the works in which they occur the stamp of reality.
The date thus clearly indicated brings the Epistle to the Romans into close connexion with the two Epistles to Corinthians, and less certainly with the Epistle to Galatians. We have seen how the collection for the Churches of Judaea is one of the links which bind together the first three. Many other subtler traces of synchronism in thought and style have been pointed out between all four (especially by Bp. Lightfoot in Journ. of Class. and Sacr. Philol. iii , p. 289 ff.; also Galatians, p. 43 ff., Exo_2). The relative position of 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans is fixed and certain. If Romans was written in the early spring of a.d. 58, then 1 Corinthians would fall in the spring and 2 Corinthians in the autumn of a.d. 571. In regard to Galatians the data are not so decisive, and different views are held. The older opinion, and that which would seem to be still dominant in Germany (it is maintained by Lipsius writing in 1891), is that Galatians belongs to the early part of St. Paul’s long stay at Ephesus, a.d. 54 or 55. In England Bp. Lightfoot found a number of followers in bringing it into closer juxtaposition with Romans, about the winter of a.d. 57-58. The question however has been recently reopened in two opposite directions: on the one hand by Dr. C. Clemen (Chronologie der paulinischen Briefe, Halle, 1893), who would place it after Romans; and on the other hand by Mr. F. Rendall in The Expositor for April, 1894 (p. 254 ff.), who would place it some years earlier.
Clemen, who propounds a novel view of the chronology of St. Paul’s life generally, would interpose the Council of Jerusalem (which he identifies with the visit of Act_21 and not with that of Act_15) between Romans, which he assigns to the winter of a.d. 53-54, and Galatians, which he places towards the end of the latter year1. His chief argument is that Galatians represents a more advanced and heated stage of the controversy with the Judaizers, and he accounts for this by the events which followed the Council (Galatians 2:12 ff.; Galatians 1:6 ff.). There is, however, much that is arbitrary in the whole of this reconstruction; and the common view seems to us far more probable that the Epistle to the Romans marks rather the gradual subsidence of troubled waters than their first disturbing. There is more to be said for Mr. Rendall’s opinion that Galatians was written during the early part of St. Paul’s first visit to Corinth in the year 51 (or 52). The question is closely connected with the controversy reopened by Professor Ramsay as to the identity of the Galatian Churches. For those who see in them the Churches of South Galatia (Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe) the earlier date may well seem preferable. If we take them to be the Churches of North Galatia (Pessinus, Ancyra, and Tavium), then the Epistle cannot be earlier than St. Paul’s settlement at Ephesus on his third journey in the year 54. The argument which Bishop Lightfoot based on resemblances of thought and language between Galatians and Romans rests upon facts that are indisputable, but does not carry with it any certain inference as to date.
(2) Occasion. If the time and place of the Epistle are clear, the occasion of it is still clearer; St. Paul himself explains it in unmistakable language twice over. At the beginning of the Epistle (Romans 1:10-15) he tells the Romans how much he has longed to pay them a visit; and now that the prospect has been brought near he evidently writes to prepare them for it. And at the end of the Epistle (ch. 15:22-33) he repeats his explanation detailing all his plans both for the near and for the more distant future, and telling them how he hopes to make his stay with them the most important stage of his journey to Spain. We know that his intention was fulfilled in substance but not in the manner of its accomplishment. He went up to Jerusalem and then to Rome, but only after two years’ forcible detention, and as a prisoner awaiting his trial.
(3) Purpose. A more complicated question meets us when from the occasion or proximate cause of the Epistle to the Romans we pass to its purpose or ulterior cause. The Apostle’s reasons for writing to Rome lie upon the surface; his reasons for writing the particular letter he did write will need more consideration. No doubt there is a providence in it. It was willed that such a letter should be written for the admonition of after-ages. But through what psychological channels did that providence work?
Here we pass on to much debated ground; and it will perhaps help us if we begin by presenting the opposing theories in as antithetical a form as possible.
When the different views which have been held come to be examined, they will be found to be reducible to two main types, which differ not on a single point but on a number of co-ordinated points. One might be described as primarily historical, the other primarily dogmatic; one directs attention mainly to the Church addressed, the other mainly to the writer; one adopts the view of a predominance of Jewish-Christian readers, the other presupposes readers who are predominantly Gentile Christians.
Here again the epoch-making impulse came from Baur. It was Baur who first worked out a coherent theory, the essence of which was that it claimed to be historical. He argued from the analogy of the other Epistles which he allowed to be genuine. The circumstances of the Corinthian Church are reflected as in a glass in the Epistles to the Corinthians; the circumstances of the Galatian Churches come out clearly from that to the Galatians. Did it not follow that the circumstances of the Roman Church might be directly inferred from the Epistle to the Romans, and that the Epistle itself was written with deliberate reference to them? Why all this Jewish-sounding argument if the readers were not Jews? Why these constant answers to objections if there was no one to object? The issues discussed were similar in many respects to those in the Epistle to the Galatians. In Galatia a fierce controversy was going on. Must it not therefore be assumed that there was a like controversy, only milder and more tempered, at Rome, and that the Apostle wished to deal with it in a manner correspondingly milder and more tempered?
There was truth in all this; but it was truth to some extent one-sided and exaggerated. A little reflexion will show that the cases of the Churches of Corinth and Galatia were not exactly parallel to that of Rome. In Galatia St. Paul was dealing with a perfectly definite state of things in a Church which he himself had founded, and the circumstances of which he knew from within and not merely by hearsay. At Corinth he had spent a still longer time; when he wrote he was not far distant; there had been frequent communications between the Church and the Apostle; and in the case of 1 Corinthians he had actually before him a letter containing a number of questions which he was requested to answer, while in that of 2 Corinthians he had a personal report brought to him by Titus. What could there be like this at Rome? The Church there St. Paul had not founded, had not even seen; and, if we are to believe Baur and the great majority of his followers, he had not even any recognizable correspondents to keep him informed about it. For by what may seem a strange inconsistency it was especially the school of Baur which denied the genuineness of ch. 16, and so cut away a whole list of persons from one or other of whom St. Paul might have really learnt something about Roman Christianity.
These contradictions were avoided in the older theory which prevailed before the time of Baur and which has not been without adherents, of whom the most prominent perhaps is Dr. Bernhard Weiss, since his day. According to this theory the main object of the Epistle is doctrinal; it is rather a theological treatise than a letter; its purpose is to instruct the Roman Church in central principles of the faith, and has but little reference to the circumstances of the moment.
It would be wrong to call this view—at least in its recent forms —unhistorical. It takes account of the situation as it presented itself, but looks at another side of it from that which caught the eye of Baur. The leading idea is no longer the position of the readers, but the position of the writer: every thing is made to turn on the truths which the Apostle wished to place on record, and for which he found a fit recipient in a Church which seemed to have so commanding a future before it.
Let us try to do justice to the different aspects of the problem. The theories which have so far been mentioned, and others of which we have not yet spoken, are only at fault in so far as they are exclusive and emphasize some one point to the neglect of the rest. Nature is usually more subtle than art. A man of St. Paul’s ability sitting down to write a letter on matters of weight would be likely to have several influences present to his mind at once, and his language would be moulded now by one and now by another.
Three factors may be said to have gone to the shaping of this letter of St. Paul’s.
The first of these will be that which Baur took almost for the only one. The Apostle had some real knowledge of the state of the Church to which he was writing. Here we see the importance of his connexion with Aquila and Prisca. His intercourse with them would probably give the first impulse to that wish which he tells us that he had entertained for many years to visit Rome in person. When first he met them at Corinth they were newly arrived from the capital; he would hear from them of the state of things they left behind them; and a spark would be enough to fire his imagination at the prospect of winning a foothold for Christ and the Gospel in the seat of empire itself. We may well believe—if the speculations about Prisca are valid, and even without drawing upon these—that the two wanderers would keep up communication with the Christians of their home. And now, very probably at the instance of the Apostle, they had returned to prepare the way for his coming. We cannot afford to lose so valuable a link between St. Paul and the Church he had set his heart on visiting. Two of his most trusted friends are now on the spot, and they would not fail to report all that it was essential to the Apostle to know. He may have had other correspondents besides, but they would be the chief. To this source we may look for what there is of local colour in the Epistle. If the argument is addressed now to Gentiles by birth and now to Jews; if we catch a glimpse of parties in the Church, ‘the strong’ and ‘the weak’; if there is a hint of danger threatening the peace and the faith of the community (as in ch. 16:17-20)—it is from his friends in Rome that the Apostle draws his knowledge of the conditions with which he is dealing.
The second factor which helps in determining the character of the Epistle has more to do with what it is not than with what it is: it prevents it from being as it was at one time described, ‘a compendium of the whole of Christian doctrine.’ The Epistle is not this, because like all St. Paul’s Epistles it implies a common basis of Christian teaching, those παραδόσεις as they are called elsewhere (1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6), which the Apostle is able to take for granted as already known to his readers, and which he therefore thinks it unnecessary to repeat without special reason. He will not ‘lay again’ a foundation which is already laid. He will not speak of the ‘first principles’ of a Christian’s belief, but will ‘go on unto perfection.’ Hence it is that just the most fundamental doctrines—the Divine Lordship of Christ, the value of His Death, the nature of the Sacraments—are assumed rather than stated or proved. Such allusions as we get to these are concerned not with the rudimentary but with the more developed forms of the doctrines in question. They nearly always add something to the common stock of teaching, give to it a profounder significance, or apply it in new and unforeseen directions. The last charge that could be brought against the Epistle would be that it consisted of Christian commonplaces. It is one of the most original of writings. No Christian can have read it for the first time without feeling that he was introduced to heights and depths of Christianity of which he had never been conscious before.
For, lastly, the most powerful of all the influences which have shaped the contents of the Epistle is the experience of the writer. The main object which he has in view is really not far to seek. When he thought of visiting Rome his desire was to ‘have some fruit’ there, as in the rest of the Gentile world (Romans 1:13). He longed to impart to the Roman Christians some ‘spiritual gift,’ such as he knew that he had the power of imparting (1:11; 15:29). By this he meant the effect of his own personal presence, but the gift was one that could be exercised also in absence. He has exercised it by this letter, which is itself the outcome of a πνευματικὸν χάρισμα, a word of instruction, stimulus, and warning, addressed in the first instance to the Church at Rome, and through it to Christendom for all time.
The Apostle has reached another turning-point in his career. He is going up to Jerusalem, not knowing what will befall him there, but prepared for the worst. He is aware that the step which he is taking is highly critical and he has no confidence that he will escape with his life1. This gives an added solemnity to his utterance; and it is natural that he should cast back his glance over the years which had passed since he became a Christian and sum up the result as he felt it for himself. It is not exactly a conscious summing up, but it is the momentum of this past experience which guides his pen.
Deep in the background of all his thought lies that one great event which brought him within the fold of Christ. For him it had been nothing less than a revolution; and it fixed permanently his conception of the new forces which came with Christianity into the world. ‘To believe in Christ,’ ‘to be baptized into Christ,’ these were the watchwords; and the Apostle felt that they were pregnant with intense meaning. That new personal relation of the believer to his Lord was henceforth the motive-power which dominated the whole of his life. It was also met, as it seemed, in a marvellous manner from above. We cannot doubt that from his conversion onwards St. Paul found himself endowed with extraordinary energies. Some of them were what we should call miraculous; but he makes no distinction between those which were miraculous and those which were not. He set them all down as miraculous in the sense of having a direct Divine cause. And when he looked around him over the Christian Church he saw that like endowments, energies similar in kind if inferior to his own in degree, were widely diffused. They were the characteristic mark of Christians. Partly they took a form which would be commonly described as supernatural, unusual powers of healing, unusual gifts of utterance, an unusual magnetic influence upon others; partly they consisted in a strange elation of spirit which made suffering and toil seem light and insignificant; but most of all the new impulse was moral in its working, it blossomed out in a multitude of attractive traits— ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance.’ These St. Paul called ‘fruits of the Spirit.’ The act of faith on the part of man, the influence of the Spirit (which was only another way of describing the influence of Christ Himself1 ) from the side of God, were the two outstanding facts which made the lives of Christians differ from those of other men.
These are the postulates of Christianity, the forces to which the Apostle has to appeal for the solution of practical problems as they present themselves. His time had been very largely taken up with such problems. There had been the great question as to the terms on which Gentiles were to be admitted to the new society. On this head St. Paul could have no doubt. His own ruling principles, ‘faith’ and ‘the Spirit,’ made no distinction between Jew and Gentile; he had no choice but to contend for the equal rights of both—a certain precedence might be yielded to the Jews as the chosen people of the Old Covenant, but that was all.
This battle had been fought and won. But it left behind a question which was intellectually more troublesome—a question brought home by the actual effect of the preaching of Christianity, very largely welcomed and eagerly embraced by Gentiles, but as a rule spurned and rejected by the Jews—how it could be that Israel, the chosen recipient of the promises of the Old Testament, should be excluded from the benefit now that those promises came to be fulfilled. Clearly this question belongs to the later reflective stage of the controversy relating to Jew and Gentile. The active contending for Gentile liberties would come first, the philosophic or theological assignment of the due place of Jew and Gentile in the Divine scheme would naturally come afterwards. This more advanced stage has now been reached; the Apostle has made up his mind on the whole series of questions at issue; and he takes the opportunity of writing to the Romans at the very centre of the empire, to lay down calmly and deliberately the conclusions to which he has come.
The Epistle is the ripened fruit of the thought and struggles of the eventful years by which it had been preceded. It is no merely abstract disquisition but a letter full of direct human interest in the persons to whom it is written; it is a letter which contains here and there side-glances at particular local circumstances, and at least one emphatic warning (ch. 16:17-20) against a danger which had not reached the Church as yet, but any day might reach it, and the full urgency of which the Apostle knew only too well; but the main theme of the letter is the gathering in of the harvest, at once of the Church’s history since the departure of its Master, and of the individual history of a single soul, that one soul which under God had had the most active share in making the course of external events what it was. St. Paul set himself to give the Roman Church of his best; he has given it what was perhaps in some ways too good for it—more we may be sure than it would be able to digest and assimilate at the moment, but just for that very reason a body of teaching which eighteen centuries of Christian interpreters have failed to exhaust. Its richness in this respect is due to the incomparable hold which it shows on the essential principles of Christ’s religion, and the way in which, like the Bible in general, it pierces through the conditions of a particular time and place to the roots of things which are permanent and universal.
§ 5. The Argument
In the interesting essay in which, discarding all tradition, he seeks to re-interpret the teaching of St. Paul directly from the standpoint of the nineteenth century, Matthew Arnold maps out the contents of the Epistle as follows:—
‘If a somewhat pedantic form of expression may be forgiven for the sake of clearness, we may say that of the eleven first chapters of the Epistle to the Romans—the chapters which convey Paul’s theology, though not … with any scholastic purpose or in any formal scientific mode of exposition—of these eleven chapters, the first, second, and third are, in a scale of importance, fixed by a scientific criticism of Paul’s line of thought, sub-primary; the fourth and fifth are secondary; the sixth and eighth are primary; the seventh chapter is sub-primary; the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters are secondary. Furthermore, to the contents of the separate chapters themselves this scale must be carried on, so far as to mark that of the two great primary chapters, the sixth and eighth, the eighth is primary down only to the end of the twenty-eighth verse; from thence to the end it is, however, eloquent, yet for the purpose of a scientific criticism of Paul’s essential theology only secondary’ (St. Paul and Protestantism, p. 92 f.).
This extract may serve as a convenient starting-point for our examination of the argument: and it may conduce to clearness of apprehension if we complete the summary analysis of the Epistle given by the same writer, with the additional advantage of presenting it in his fresh and bright manner:—
‘The first chapter is to the Gentiles—its purport is: You have not righteousness. The second is to the Jews—its purport is: No more have you, though you think you have. The third chapter assumes faith in Christ as the one source of righteousness for all men. The fourth chapter gives to the notion of righteousness through faith the sanction of the Old Testament and of the history of Abraham. The fifth insists on the causes for thankfulness and exultation in the boon of righteousness through faith in Christ; and applies illustratively, with this design, the history of Adam. The sixth chapter comes to the all-important question: “What is that faith in Christ which I, Paul, mean?”—and answers it. The seventh illustrates and explains the answer. But the eighth down to the end of the twenty-eighth verse, develops and completes the answer. The rest of the eighth chapter expresses the sense of safety and gratitude which the solution is fitted to inspire. The ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters uphold the second chapter’s thesis—so hard to a Jew, so easy to us—that righteousness is not by the Jewish law; but dwell with hope and joy on a final result of things which is to be favourable to Israel’ (ibid. p. 93).
Some such outline as this would be at the present stage of investigation generally accepted. It is true that Baur threw the centre of gravity upon chapters 9-11, and held that the rest of the Epistle was written up to these: but this view would now on almost all hands be regarded as untenable. The problem discussed in these chapters doubtless weighed heavily on the Apostle’s mind; in the circumstances under which he was writing it was doubtless a problem of very considerable urgency; but for all that it is a problem which belongs rather to the circumference of St. Paul’s thought than to the centre; it is not so much a part of his fundamental teaching as a consequence arising from its collision with an unbelieving world.
On this head the scholarship of the present day would be on the side of Matthew Arnold. It points, however, to the necessity, in any attempt to determine what is primary and what is not primary in the argument of the Epistle, of starting with a clear understanding of the point of view from which the degrees of relative importance are to be assigned. Baur’s object was historical—to set the Epistle in relation to the circumstances of its composition. On that assumption his view was partially—though still not more than partially—justified. Matthew Arnold’s object on the other hand was what he calls ‘a scientific criticism of Paul’s thought’; by which he seems to mean (though perhaps he was not wholly clear in his own mind) an attempt to discriminate in it those elements which are of the highest permanent value. It was natural that he should attach the greatest importance to those elements in particular which seemed to be capable of direct personal verification. From this point of view we need not question his assignment of a primary significance to chapters 6 and 8. His reproduction of the thought of these chapters is the best thing in his book, and we have drawn upon it ourselves in the commentary upon them (p. 163 f.). There is more in the same connexion that well deserves attentive study. But there are other portions of the Epistle which are not capable of verification precisely in the same manner, and yet were of primary importance to St. Paul himself and may be equally of primary importance to those of us who are willing to accept his testimony in spiritual things which lie beyond the reach of our personal experience. Matthew Arnold is limited by the method which he applies—and which others would no doubt join with him in applying—to the subjective side of Christianity, the emotions and efforts which it generates in Christians. But there is a further question how and why they came to be generated. And in the answer which St. Paul would give, and which the main body of Christians very largely on his authority would also give to that question, he and they alike are led up into regions where direct human verification ceases to be possible.
It is quite true that ‘faith in Christ’ means attachment to Christ, a strong emotion of love and gratitude. But that emotion is not confined, as we say, to ‘the historical Christ,’ it has for its object not only Him who walked the earth as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’; it is directed towards the same Jesus ‘crucified, risen and ascended to the right hand of God.’ St. Paul believed, and we also believe, that His transit across the stage of our earth was accompanied by consequences in the celestial sphere which transcend our faculties. We cannot pretend to be able to verify them as we can verify that which passes in our own minds. And yet a certain kind of indirect verification there is. The thousands and tens of thousands of Christians who have lived and died in the firm conviction of the truth of these supersensual realities, and who upon the strength of them have reduced their lives to a harmonious unity superseding the war of passion, do really afford no slight presumption that the beliefs which have enabled them to do this are such as the Ruler of the universe approves, and such as aptly fit into the eternal order. Whatever the force of this presumption to the outer world, it is one which the Christian at least will cherish.
We therefore do not feel at liberty to treat as anything less than primary that which was certainly primary to St. Paul. We entirely accept the view that chapters 6 and 8 are primary, but we also feel bound to place by their side the culminating verses of chapter 3. The really fundamental passages in the Epistle we should say were, ch. 1:16, 17, which states the problem, and 3:21-26, 6:1-14, 8:1-30 (rather than 1-28), which supply its solution. The problem is, How is man to become righteous in the sight of God? And the answer is (1) by certain great redemptive acts on the part of God which take effect in the sphere above, though their consequences are felt throughout the sphere below; (2) through a certain ardent apprehension of these acts and of their Author Christ, on the part of the Christian; and (3) through his continued self-surrender to Divine influences poured out freely and unremittingly upon him.
It is superfluous to say that there is nothing whatever that is new in this statement. It does but reproduce the belief, in part implicit rather than explicit, of the Early Church; then further defined and emphasized more vigorously on some of its sides at the Reformation; and lastly brought to a more even balance (or what many would fain make a more even balance) by the Church of our own day. Of course it is liable to be impugned, as it is impugned by the attractive writer whose words have been quoted above, in the interest of what is thought to be a stricter science. But whatever the value in itself of the theory which is substituted for it, we may be sure that it does not adequately represent the mind of St. Paul. In the present commentary our first object is to do justice to this. How it is afterwards to be worked up into a complete scheme of religious belief, it lies beyond our scope to consider.
For the sake of the student it may be well to draw out the contents of the Epistle in a tabular analytical form. St. Paul, as Matthew Arnold rightly reminds us, is no Schoolman, and his method is the very reverse of all that is formal and artificial. But it is undoubtedly helpful to set before ourselves the framework of his thought, just as a knowledge of anatomy conduces to the better understanding of the living human frame.
I. —Introduction (1:1-15).
α. The Apostolic Salutation (1:1-7).
β. St. Paul and the Roman Church (1:8-15).
The Great Thesis. Problem: How is Righteousness to be attained?
Answer: Not by man’s work, but by God’s gift, through Faith, or loyal attachment to Christ (1:16, 17).
A. Righteousness as a state or condition in the sight of God (Justification) (1:18-5:21).
1. Righteousness not hitherto attained (1:18-3:20). [Rather, by contrast, a scene which bespeaks impending Wrath].
α. Failure of the Gentile (1:18-32).
i) Natural Religion (1:18-20