Week 1: Introduction
This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.
We find in this letter, then, the richest possible teaching about what a Christian should know: the meaning of law, Gospel, sin, punishment, grace, faith, justice, Christ, God, good works, love, hope and the cross. We learn how we are to act toward everyone, toward the virtuous and sinful, toward the strong and the weak, friend and foe, and toward ourselves. Paul bases everything firmly on Scripture and proves his points with examples from his own experience and from the Prophets, so that nothing more could be desired. Therefore it seems that St. Paul, in writing this letter, wanted to compose a summary of the whole of Christian and evangelical teaching which would also be an introduction to the whole Old Testament. Without doubt, whoever takes this letter to heart possesses the light and power of the Old Testament. Therefore each and every Christian should make this letter the habitual and constant object of his study. God grant us his grace to do so. Amen.
– Martin Luther, first and last paragraph of the preface of his commentary on Romans.
Saul to Paul Acts 9: 1-30
Jewish; Roman citizen; tentmaker; trained and skilled in classical rhetoric.
Epistle, or letter
Types of rhetoric:
Diplomatic, hortatory, paranetic, epideictic, philosophical diatribe. Form of address was based on the issue addressed and on the location of the speech – law court, assembly, ceremonial gathering. “Place” helped define “audience.”
Exploring the relationship of creation to the Creator
By around the year 58 or 60, though, Paul seems to have felt that he had done as much as he could do in the Greek East and was preparing to move on. When Paul wrote the Roman letter, it's the longest of all of his letters and the last one that he wrote, he was preparing to go to Rome. He was writing to Rome but he himself had never been there. We know who was carrying the letter. It's his house church patroness Phoebe who has gone ahead to Rome to prepare the way.... Paul is going to Rome to get the Christian communities at Rome to support him in a new endeavor to go to Spain...to start a new gentile mission in an area that had never before heard the preaching of Jesus. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/missions.html)
Importance of Romans in Christian Thought
Augustine (354-430): The Roman Empire was crumbling and the structures which supported Christianity were tottering. Romans showed Augustine how to construct a view of human nature and the state that can survive the breakdown of civilization. (Achtemeier)
Luther and Calvin (1500-1600s): Romans informed them, at the outset of the Reformation, of the path to a clearer expression of the Lordship of Jesus Christ at a time when the church had exalted itself too highly. (Achtemeier)
Barth (20th century) When faith and culture became too intertwined, Romans led Barth to an understanding that God’s lordship “embodies a NO to human pretention and pride” and a resounding YES to “the healing judgment of God’s saving mercy.” (Achtemeier)
Wesley (mid 18th century): In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. (The Journal of John Wesley, May 24, 1738)
Important context and philosophies of the time:
1. Platonism, which divides the world into two distinct realms, the material and the spiritual. The material was transitory and the locus of evil. The spiritual was pure and perfect and the locus of God. Human nature was a mixture of the two elements. The human task, then, was to put aside the material (physical) and flee to the spiritual.
2. Stoicism, in which humans reached a moral life by renouncing dependence on anything beyond personal control. Such dependencies might move one to actions contrary to the personal will to do good. Only utter detachment prevents humans from doing evil.
3. Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism was being developed. The emphasis on covenant (which dominates even now) meant that as long as the Jews fulfilled God’s law, they could be certain that they were fulfilling God’s will.
4. Apocalyptic view of history. In this world view, (still prevalent with many Christians) God is in complete control of history, and will soon intervene in history to establish a new heaven and a new earth, to destroy evil and to set Christ to reign forever. Apocalypse, the revealing, is the final act of God’s unfolding revelation in relationship to humankind.
Romans 1:1-13 (NRSV)
1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9 For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10 asking that by God's will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles.
Romans 1:1-13 (The Message)
1 I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God's words and acts. I write this letter to all the Christians in Rome, God's friends. 2 The sacred writings contain preliminary reports by the prophets 3 on God's Son. His descent from David roots him in history; 4 his unique identity as Son of God was shown by the Spirit when Jesus was raised from the dead, setting him apart as the Messiah, our Master. 5 Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus. 6 You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ! 7 And I greet you now with all the generosity of God our Father and our Master Jesus, the Messiah. 8 I thank God through Jesus for every one of you. That's first. People everywhere keep telling me about your lives of faith, and every time I hear them, I thank him. 9 And God, whom I so love to worship and serve by spreading the good news of his Son - the Message! - knows that every time I think of you 10 in my prayers, which is practically all the time, I ask him to clear the way for me to come and see you. 11 The longer this waiting goes on, the deeper the ache. I so want to be there to deliver God's gift in person and watch you grow stronger right before my eyes! 12 But don't think I'm not expecting to get something out of this, too! You have as much to give me as I do to you. 13 Please don't misinterpret my failure to visit you, friends. You have no idea how many times I've made plans for Rome. I've been determined to get some personal enjoyment out of God's work among you, as I have in so many other non-Jewish towns and communities. But something has always come up and prevented it.