The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans
[Sidenote: The Author.]

The genuineness of this Epistle, like that of Galatians and 1 and 2 Corinthians, is practically undisputed. No one ever seems to have questioned it between the time that Marcion drew up his Apostolicon, about A.D.140, and A.D.1792. Before the time of Marcion it is quoted by St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius, and St. Polycarp. And there seem to be some reminiscences of it in 1 Peter. It is first definitely mentioned by name in the writings of St. Irenaeus, who quotes it several times. This early and frequent use postulates for the Epistle a very authoritative source. There is no one that we know of among the first Christians who could have written it except St. Paul. What he tells the Romans about his personal wishes and intentions is exactly consonant with what he says elsewhere. The notices that he gives them of his movements perfectly accord with the notices in Acts. The primary conceptions of the Epistle are more or less common to all St. Paul's works. They are concerned with the guilt and the power of sin, the eternal purpose which God has for man, the meaning of Christ's death and the effect of His resurrection, the nature of our acquittal by God and our new spiritual life.

The only serious question with regard to the criticism of the outward letter of the Epistle, is connected with the last two chapters (xv., xvi.). Baur rejected both as spurious compilations, {159} intended to reconcile "Paulinism" with the more Jewish school of early Christian thought. But Baur's habit of pronouncing spurious every book or part of a book which did not agree with his peculiar estimate of St. Paul, is now discredited. In spite of this, many critics think that xv. and xvi. do not belong to this Epistle. They are generally admitted to be by St. Paul, but it is thought that they are simply pages which have become detached from some other writings of the apostle. Chapter xvi. in particular is supposed to be a fragment of an Epistle to Ephesus. It abounds in personal greetings to intimate friends; and yet it is difficult to believe that St. Paul had many friends in Rome before he visited it. And among these friends are Prisca and Aquila (xvi.3), who certainly stayed at Ephesus, where St. Paul had laboured for two years and must have had many friends. The tone of xvi.17-20 is thought to imply sectarian divisions which the rest of the Epistle ignores. And the final doxology appears in different places in different MSS., a fact which suggests that the early Church doubted where the Epistle ended. No real importance need be attached to another argument used by some critics, viz. that Marcion omitted xv. and xvi. He would have rejected them, whether genuine or not, on account of the sanction given to the Old Testament in xv.4.

On the other hand, the integrity of the Epistle is maintained by some of the best recent critics, including Sanday, Zahn, and Godet. The best MSS. place the final doxology in its present position. The fact that the majority of cursive MSS. and some valuable versions, such as the later Syriac and the Armenian, place it at the end of xiv. seems to be accounted for by the fact that the last two chapters were often omitted in the lessons read in church, being considered unimportant for the purposes of general edification. The fact that the Epistle seems to come to an end at xv.33, and also at xvi.20, before the final doxology in xvi.27, suggests the best solution. It is that the apostle, after concluding the argument of the Epistle, made various {160} additions of a personal nature with reference to himself and his friends as they occurred to his mind. He then summed up the whole argument in xvi.25-27, where the obedience of faith is stated to be the purpose of God's final revelation. The number of friends mentioned in xvi. is not incredibly large when we remember the easy and frequent intercourse which existed between Rome and the east.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

"To all that are in Rome, beloved by God, called to be saints." It has been well said that the universality of the gospel made St. Paul desire to preach it in the universal city. He longed to "see Rome;" he was conscious that Christ had called him to "bear witness at Rome." He himself had the freedom of the city of Rome, and he was inspired with the hope, which was fulfilled three hundred years afterwards, that the religion of Christ would be the religion of the Roman empire. The territory then ruled by Rome more nearly embraced the whole of the civilized world than any empire that has since been seen. It included London and Toledo, Constantinople and Jerusalem. Roman soldiers kept their watch on the blue Danube, and were planting outposts on the far-off grey Euphrates. The city of Rome itself contained about a million and a half of inhabitants. It was well governed and sumptuously adorned. A real belief in the homely vulgar gods of their forefathers had declined among educated people, and the humane principles of Stoic philosophy were instilling a new regard for the less fortunate classes of mankind. Strange foreign devotions were satisfying some of the yearnings which found no nourishment in the hard old Roman paganism. Men who took no interest in Jupiter were attracted by Mithras, the Eastern god of the light. Women who could obtain no entrance into the exclusive sisterhood of the Vestal Virgins, could find occupation in the worship of the Egyptian Isis. Some vague belief in a Divine One was rising in minds who thought that Jupiter Mithras and Isis were only symbols of a power behind the mists of human wisdom. Jews {161} of all classes were numerous, though the majority were as poor as those of East London. They made some converts, and Poppaea, the mistress of Nero in A.D.58, dallied with Judaism as with a new sensation. Men and women of every race were included among the slaves of Rome, and the arts and elegance of Greek and Syrian slaves often proved a staircase by which new religions found a way into the chambers of the great and wealthy. In spite of some signs of moral vigour, society was cankered with pride of class and with self-indulgence. It possessed no regenerating force capable of checking the repulsive vice which was encouraged by the obscenity of actors and the frivolity of sceptics.

We are told that "sojourners from Rome," both Jews and proselytes, were in the crowd which listened to St. Peter's address on the Day of Pentecost (Acts ii.10). It is possible that these men brought news of the gospel to the large body in Rome of Jews, and of Gentiles influenced by Jewish ideas. In any case, communication between the chief cities of the empire was at this time so frequent that we may be sure that the principles and attractions of Christianity were soon heard of at Rome. Gradually a small band formed there of people who were interested and pleased by what they had learnt of Christ; it is probable that St. Paul sent Aquila and Prisca from Ephesus to give them definite instruction. It does not seem that they had been visited by an apostle (xv.20). The Epistle is addressed to a community consisting of Jews and Gentiles, but the Gentiles are by far the more numerous.

The apostle's claim in ch. i. to address this Church as within the jurisdiction of "the apostle of the Gentiles," his direct appeal to the Gentiles in xi.13, and the statement of his priestly office exercised over the Gentiles in xv.16, show that the Church of Rome was Gentile in character. The proper names in the Epistle afford us little indication of the proportion of Jews and Gentiles. The majority of the names are Greek, and four names are Latin; but the Jews of that time, like the {162} Jews of the present day, often passed under Gentile names. We know how the English Jews now disguise Moses as "Moss" Judah as "Leo," and Levi as "Lewis."

The majority of the converts were probably in a humble social position. When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, there were Christians in the imperial household itself, and it is possible that the Narcissus mentioned in Romans may be the freedman of the Emperor Claudius, put to death in A.D.54. Ordinary slaves and freedmen seem to have been the principal element among those who were first "called to be saints" at Rome, but before long there were people of good birth and cultured intelligence who turned gladly from the lifeless old Roman religion and the fantastic new-fashioned Eastern cults to this original faith in the incarnate God.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

St. Paul wrote this letter towards the end of his stay at Corinth, at the close of A.D.55 or the beginning of A.D.56 (see xvi.1; xv.23-26, and Acts xix.21).

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

St. Paul writes as the apostle of the Gentiles to the Christians of the greatest of all Gentile cities. He does so with a solemn sense of special responsibility. Profoundly impressed with the grandeur of the Roman name, the position of this promiscuous little body of converts is to him enormously significant. They are the representatives of the faith of Jesus in the capital of the world; they are the first members of a Church to which God seems to give the most magnificent of all opportunities. And the thought is scarcely absent from his mind that this may be the last Epistle he will ever send. He is going to Jerusalem, and has a sad foreboding of what may await him there (xv.31).

The manner and style which give the Epistle a unique place among the works of St. Paul are caused by these considerations. He wishes to tell the Roman Christians his very best ideas in the very best way: this may be his last chance of doing so. He puts aside, then, all clamour of personal debate, and sets {163} himself to produce an ordered theological treatise. Never elsewhere does the apostle write with so careful method, so powerful concentration, so effective marshalling of arguments, so stirring yet measured eloquence.

The Epistle opens with a brief introduction. Paul, the apostle of Christ, wishes to preach the gospel to those in Rome whom Christ has called. Then he begins at once to describe the set of circumstances which the gospel is intended to meet. The Gentiles have not been true to such knowledge as they had of God, and by an inevitable process they have passed on to unnatural and vicious excess (i.18-32). And when St. Paul turns to the Jews, he finds they are in no better case. With fuller knowledge they have sinned scarcely less. Strict justice will be meted out by God to all, the Jew coming first and then the Gentile. The Gentile will not escape, for the Gentiles, whom we conceive of as having no law, have a law in that moral sense which makes them instinctively put in practice the precepts of the Law, and their inward thoughts accuse or defend them (ii.1-16). The Jew may boast of his Law and his knowledge of revelation, but he is no better in practice than a Gentile. And as for his circumcision, it is worthless unless he is also spiritually circumcised in the heart (ii.17-29).

After a parenthetical discussion of difficulties suggested by a possible Jewish opponent (iii.1-8), St. Paul shows that the Jews are not in a worse case than the Gentiles. Both are under the dominion of sin, and Scripture says so. The whole system of Law is a failure. Law does nothing but give a clear knowledge of sin (iii.9-20).

St. Paul then brings forward his great remedy -- the answer of God to the need which is represented by universal human sinfulness. Man has failed to correspond to the suggestions of conscience, he has failed to fulfil the requirements of the written Law, but now he may come into a right relation with God by identifying himself with Jesus Christ. He may be justified (i.e. accepted as righteous) by an act of God's grace (i.e. by an {164} undeserved act of God's love) on account of the redemption wrought by Christ, whom God has set forth as a propitiation to show His own righteousness. God could no longer allow man to mistake His patience with our sins for slack indifference. Man must no longer seek to be justified before God on the strength of what he himself has done, but on the strength of his faith in Christ, i.e. his devoted personal adhesion to Christ (iii.21-26). St. Paul tells the Romans that this justifying faith excludes glorying, can be realized by Gentile as well as Jew; that by it we establish the Law (iii.27-31), as the Jewish dispensation, rightly understood, testifies to its necessity. In fact, Abraham himself was justified by faith (iv.) Then St. Paul sets forth in glowing and stately words what are the consequences for us which follow from being so justified. We are at peace with God, and share in His love, and this is the secure ground of Christian hope for life and after death (v.1-11). The effects of Christ's death are computed by an argumentum a fortiori from the results of Adam's fall (v.12-21).

The apostle now carefully refutes the notion that the doctrine of justification by faith encourages Antinomianism. Liberty does not mean licence. St. Paul was quite alive to the fact that skilful opponents and brainless admirers would misrepresent his doctrine, which was also Christ's. He therefore takes great pains to show that the connection between the righteousness of Christ and the righteousness of a Christian is not arbitrary or fictitious. His argument throughout implies that man actually receives "the righteousness of God," that is, the righteousness which is inherent in God, and is bestowed by God upon man when he unites himself with Christ (vi.-viii.).

Shall I go on sinning that God's mercy may be all the greater in forgiving me? God forbid: for when I went down into the waters of baptism, I shared in the death of Christ; and when I rose from them, I rose as a sharer in His risen life. Because I am united thus to the life of Christ, sin is foreign to my nature (vi.1-14). I am no longer under law, but under grace: but {165} to be the slave of sin and be occupied with uncleanness, and to gain the wages of death, is inconsistent with being the slave of righteousness, occupied in a course of purification and rewarded with the gift of life (vi.15-23).

Next, St. Paul asks why it is that we are no longer under the Law? Because we have no connection with that state of sin to which the Law was applicable. Our soul is like a wife whose lawful husband is dead. Or, to put the truth into another form, our old state was killed by our identification with Christ crucified, and we are espoused to Christ risen (vii.1-6). What, then, shall we think of the Law? Is it sin? No. It reveals the sinfulness of sin, and it irritates dormant sin into activity. A thing cannot be identical with another thing which it exposes and irritates. But why did God permit the Law, which is holy, to prove fatal to my soul (vii.13)? He did not. The Law was not fatal, though sin was all but fatal. Sin was permitted to do its worst that its real hideousness might be apparent. This is what took place. The Law gave me an ideal, but my better self, which corresponds to the Law, could not keep me from ding wrong or make me do right. I became involved in a terrible conflict. This was the opportunity of Christ. He has delivered me from that state of the body which involved me in sin and death. Without Him, I should still be serving the Law of God with my conscience, and the law of sin with my body (vii.25).

Where the Law of Moses failed, Christ splendidly succeeds. He not only sets before men an ideal, but also helps them to attain it, and fulfil the righteous claims of the moral Law, by uniting Himself with them by the Spirit (viii.1-10). Men are now in a new relation to God: they call Him Father, He sees in them His sons. Though with all creation we wait still in fruitful pain for the fulness of redemption, we wait with confident hope. The Spirit is with us to help and to pray, we remember God's high purpose for us, we have known His love in the past, Jesus in infinite exaltation is interceding for us; {166} who, then, shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God (viii.11-39)?

St. Paul turns now to a parenthetical discussion which necessarily suggests itself here. It has practically happened that God's own people, the children of Abraham, in spite of their privileges, are excluded from this new salvation which comes from acceptance of Christ. This does not mean that God has been unfaithful. St. Paul vindicates His action toward them, and he shows that it has been consistent with His previous action towards the Israelites (ix.6-13), righteous (ix.14-21), and merciful (ix.22-29). God has always shown that He is free to select whom he likes to carry out His purpose in the world.[1] The Jews are rejected because they seek to be justified, on the strength of their own works (ix.30-33; x.1-3): now, the method of the Law has been superseded by Christ's, which is an easier method (x.4-10) and universal (x.11-13). And the Jews have had every opportunity for hearing of it (x.14-21). But God has not rejected them entirely or finally (xi.1-10); and if their fall has led to the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, how much more happily fruitful will be their reception into the Church (xi.11-15)! We may hope for this ultimate acceptance of the gospel by both Jew and Gentile because of the original holiness of the Jewish stock. The Gentiles are grafted into that: just as we may be cut off from it if we sin, so the Jews more easily may be grafted in again if they will (xi.16-24). St. Paul now shows how the hardening of the Jews and the disobedience of the Gentiles alike have served the purposes of God. Israel as a nation shall be saved by the Messiah. The chapter closes {167} with words of reverent admiration for the wonderful workings of the Divine Providence (xi.25-36).

After this long doctrinal argument, St. Paul insists upon certain practical duties (xii.-xv.13). We may notice in xiii.2 ff. the emphasis which is laid upon the dignity of the civil government, a dignity which was immeasurably degraded ten years later by the wanton persecution of the Roman Christians. And xiii.13 is a verse ever to be remembered by the Church as the verse by which God brought Augustine from free thinking and licentious living to be numbered among the saints. In xiv. begins some considerate advice about certain Christians "weak in faith." They seem to have formed a party, but not a party which can be identified with any other religious clique mentioned by the apostle. Their vegetarianism and their observance of particular holy days have suggested the theory that they were Christians who followed the ascetic practices of the Jewish sect of Essenes. The theory that they were Gentiles who affected the customs of the Pythagoreans has commended itself to other writers. On the whole, the number of Jews in Rome supports the theory that these were Jewish Christians. St. Paul deals very tenderly with these total abstainers from meat and wine. He evidently does not put them on the same level as the sectaries of Galatia or Colossae.

The Epistle closes with various references to personal matters, including the expression of a desire to visit Spain and Rome (xv.34).



Salutation and introduction (i.1-15).

(1) DOCTRINAL. -- The subject of the Epistle. How is righteousness to be attained? Not by man's work, but by God's gift, through faith, i.e. personal attachment to Christ (i.16, 17).

A. Righteousness as a state of man in the sight of God (Justification): i.18-v.21.

a. Righteousness was never attained before Christ came. The Gentiles neglected their conscience until they sank into abominable sins; future judgment will certainly come on all men without respect of persons; the Jews, too, have no right to criticize the Gentiles -- they had the Law of Moses, while the Gentiles only had the unwritten law of conscience, yet they failed. The Jewish quibble that there was no good in being a Jew if God condemned him, is refuted. The witness of the Old Testament to the universality of sin is quoted (i.18-iii.20).

b. Exposition of the new method of attaining righteousness. It is independent of the Law, is universal, is obtainable through Christ's death which manifests God's righteousness. This method excludes human boasting, and can be experienced by Jew and Gentile alike (iii.21-31).

c. The relation of this new method to the Old Testament. Abraham, the typical saint of the Old Testament, was not justified because of works, or circumcision, or law. His faith shows that the Old Testament supports the Christian method of salvation (iv.).

d. The blessed state of the justified Christian. He is filled with hope, and this hope is guaranteed by the proved love of God. What a contrast between this blessedness and the effects of Adam's fall! The work of Christ resembles that of Adam, because it passes from one man to all men: it differs greatly, because Adam's fall brought sin, our condemnation, our death. Christ's gift brings grace, our acquittal, our life. The Fall brought sin, Law increased sin; Grace is greater than sin (v.).


B. Righteousness as necessarily involving moral progress (Sanctification); vi.-viii.

a. Refutation of the theory that we may continue to sin in order to give God fresh opportunities of displaying His lovingkindness. Our baptism implies union with the sinless Christ. Refutation of the theory that we may as well sin as not sin because we are no longer under the Law. Our marriage to Christ must be fruitful (vi.1-vii.6). The Law is not to be disparaged, though it is impotent to rescue me in the terrible moral conflict under which I should suffer, if it were not for Christ (vii.6-25).

B. Where the Law of Moses failed, the incarnation of Christ succeeds. The life of Christian righteousness is ruled by the Holy Spirit. It implies filial confidence in God, a glorious inheritance, divine assistance, inviolable security (viii.).

C. The problem raised by the fate of the Jews: ix.-xi.

a. Their rejection from their privileged position a sad contrast to their high destiny; the entire justice of God in forming a new Israel of Jews and Gentiles alike (ix.).

b. The cause of their rejection was that they sought to be justified in their own way and not in God's way, and this in spite of Christian opportunities and prophetic warnings (x.).

c. Consolations which qualify the severity of their fate. Their unbelief is only partial and temporary, and God's purpose is to restore all. Doxology (xi.).

(2) PRACTICAL. -- The Christian sacrifice, and the duties of a Christian (xii.). Church and State, the law of love, the approaching judgment (xiii.).

Toleration for weak and eccentric Christians; vegetarians, observers of private holy days and total abstainers, not to be disturbed; we must do nothing that makes a brother stumble. Christ pleased not Himself; He was both a minister of the circumcision and the hope of the Gentiles (xiv.1-xv.13).

Personal conclusion (xv.14-xvi.27).

[1] The Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, as taught in the writings of Calvin and in the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, is a complete perversion of St. Paul's teaching. Calvin teaches a predestination to heaven or hell; St. Paul here speaks of an appointment to certain duties on earth. The Calvinists asserted that some men "cannot be saved;" St. Paul teaches that God so acted "in order that He might have mercy upon all" (xi.32).


chapter xii the epistle of
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