Romans 1:1-7

  1. The Good News of Salvation (1:1-8:39)
    1. Introduction (1:1-17)
      1. Greetings (1:1-7)

This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. 2God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. 3The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, 4and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord. 5Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.

6And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

Notes

1:1

This letter is from Paul.—Paul always refers to himself as Paulos [TG, ZG4263], the Gr. form of his Roman name Paulus. Saul was his Jewish name, used only in Acts (cf. Acts 13:9).

a slave of Christ Jesus.—This implies that Paul was wholly claimed by Christ and utterly devoted to his service, as one who belonged entirely to him. The phrase may have positive connotations: in the OT, “slave of the Lord” (or its equivalent) was a title of honor for people who served God, such as Abraham, Moses (e.g., Deut 34:5), Joshua (e.g., Josh 24:29), David, the prophets, and the psalmists (Cranfield 1980:50); similarly, in some languages of the Middle East, the title “slave of the king” was used of important officials (L&N 1.741). For background on slavery in the Greco-Roman world, see Rupprecht 1993:881. Instead of “Christ Jesus,” some Gr. mss (26 A) have “Jesus Christ.”

chosen.—Lit., “called” (klētos [TG, ZG3105]). Not in the weaker sense of “invited” (“Many are called, but few are chosen,” Matt 22:14), but in the stronger sense of being especially designated or appointed, either by God or by Jesus himself. The calling came at the time of Paul’s conversion (Acts 26:12-18; Gal 1:1). Cf. 1:6-7; 8:28-30; 9:12, 24; 11:29; 2 Thess 2:14; comments on 8:28-30.

apostle.—One especially commissioned by the Lord to proclaim his word. Though it often refers specifically to the Twelve (esp. in Luke-Acts), the word may also refer more widely to others (cf. 1 Cor 15:5, 7, 9).

sent out to preach his Good News.—Lit., “set apart for the Good News of God”—i.e., set apart for the service or proclamation of the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, which Paul spells out in chs 1-8.

1:2

through his prophets.—This may refer generally to the inspired men of the OT (including Moses and David, who were called prophets, Acts 2:29-31; 3:21-24), not simply those associated with the section we know as “the prophets.”

1:3

In his earthly life.—Or, “From a human point of view”; or, “On the human level”; or, “As a human.” Lit., “According to the flesh” (kata sarka [TG/, ZG2848/4922]). The phrase stands in contrast to the parallel phrase “according to the spirit of holiness” (kata pneuma hagiōsunēs [TG/, ZG4460/43]) in 1:4 (cf. note). Verses 3-4 may come from an early confession of faith (Cranfield 1980:57-58; Moo 1996:45-46).

he was born into King David’s family line.—Lit., “who came from the seed of David.” The fact that Paul uses the verb “came” (genomenou [TG, ZG1181]) instead of the more common “was born” (gennēthentos [TG, ZG1164]) may imply that he was familiar with the tradition of Jesus’ unusual birth (Moo 1996:46). There was a widespread expectation among Jews that the Messiah would come from the family line of David (Isa 11:1-11; Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-16; Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-25). Jesus’ Davidic descent rests on Joseph’s acceptance and legitimization of Jesus as his son, even though Joseph was not his natural father (Cranfield 1980:58-59).

1:4

and he was shown to be the Son of God.—Or, “and he was designated the Son of God”; cf. orizō [TG, ZG3988].

by the power of the Holy Spirit.—Or, “from the viewpoint of the Holy Spirit”; or, “from the viewpoint of his divine holiness.” Lit., “with power according to the spirit of holiness.” The phrase “with power” (en dunamei [TG, ZG1539]) may be understood as modifying either “shown” or “Son of God.” The phrase “according to the spirit of holiness” (kata pneuma hagiōsunēs [TG, ZG43]) is a reference either to the Holy Spirit (Bruce 1985:69; Dunn 1988a:14-15) or to Christ’s own inner spirit (Mounce 1995:62). Note the contrast in 1:3-4: “on the human level,... but on the level of the spirit—the Holy Spirit” (reb); “as to his humanity,... as to his divine holiness” (tev). Stott (1994:50-51) understands it rather as a contrast between Jesus’ pre-Resurrection and post-Resurrection ministries, “the first frail and the second powerful through the outpoured Spirit.” For a discussion of the complexities of this verse, see Cranfield 1980:61-64. The nlt rendering is accurate.

1:5

God has given us.—The word “us” refers either to Paul and the other apostles or to Paul himself (as in reb, tev, cev).

the privilege and authority as apostles.—Or, (preferably) “the grace [divine gift] of apostleship.” Lit., “grace and apostleship” (cf. 15:15-16)—not two separate things; the divine gift of being an apostle (Moo 1996:51).

Gentiles.—A Jewish term for people who are not Jews. Though ethnesin [TG, ZG1620] may be translated “the nations” or “the pagans,” the word is better translated “Gentiles” in most of its occurrences in Romans. This verse and those immediately following may imply that the letter is addressed primarily to Gentiles (cf. 11:13-14; 15:15-16) or that the church in Rome is predominantly Gentile. See, however, “Audience” in the Introduction.

so that they will believe and obey him.—Lit., “for the obedience of faith” (eis hupakoēn pisteōs [TG, ZG4411]), a phrase that could mean either “obedience that results from faith” (cf. “obedience inspired by faith”; Williams 1952:328) or, more probably (in the context of chs 1-8), “obedience that consists of faith” (Cranfield 1980:66 n.3; cf. 10:16; 11:30-31; 15:18; 16:19—all of which speak of people’s response to the Good News as an expression of their obedience to God; cf. 16:26; Schlatter 1995:11). The nlt leaves the relationship between the two terms ambiguous (so also reb, tev).

bringing glory to his name.—Lit., “for the sake of his name,” i.e., for the sake of glorifying either Christ or God.

1:6

called to belong to Jesus Christ.—Or, “called by Jesus Christ” (klētoi Iēsou Christou). The word “called” (klētoi [TGA, ZG3105]) implies “chosen, selected”; cf. note on 1:1; cf. 8:28, 30; 9:12, 24; 11:29.

1:7

I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God.—The words “in Rome” are omitted in a few ancient authorities (G 1739mg Origen). Instead, these manuscripts read, “to all those in the love of God.” G also omits “in Rome” in 1:15. This raises questions about the destination of the original letter and its later recensions (see “Canonicity and Textual History” in the Introduction).

called to be his own holy people.—Lit., “called to be saints,” i.e., chosen to be God’s holy people—those set apart for him. For the meaning of “called,” see note on 1:1.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.—A common invocation often found at the beginning of Paul’s letters, which may represent a combining and Christianizing of the traditional Greek greeting (chairein [TG, ZG5897G]) with the traditional Jewish greeting (shalom [TH, ZH8934], “peace”). “Grace” (charis [TG, ZG5921]), the keynote of the Good News, refers to God’s blessing, love, and kindness, always undeserved. “Peace” (eirēnē [TG, ZG1645]), when used generally as here, probably refers to a state of well being and contentedness embracing the whole of one’s life, deriving from the Good News (see comments on 15:13). In some of Paul’s invocations, the word “mercy” (eleos [TG, ZG1799]) is added (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; cf. Gal 6:16), just as the combination “mercy and peace” is found in some earlier Jewish invocations (Dunn 1988a:20; Käsemann 1980:16).

Commentary

The beginning section of Romans (1:1-17) serves as a general introduction and is best divided into three paragraphs. In these paragraphs, Paul introduces himself and greets the church (1:1-7), speaks of his desire to come see them in the near future (1:8-15), and states the main theme of the letter (1:16-17).

Paul introduces himself as a missionary apostle called by God to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, the resurrected Son of God and Lord of the universe, so that people all over the world will come to believe and obey him. Paul then invoked God’s blessing and peace upon those in Rome who belong to Jesus. This unusually long beginning paragraph (1:1-7), a single complex sentence in Greek, represents a Christian expansion of the typical way of beginning ancient Greek letters. Most letters from this period begin by simply listing the names of the sender and recipient and giving a brief greeting: “Person A to Person B, greetings” (Bruce 1985:67).


Paul’s Missionary Calling.

The beginning of the letter focuses immediately on the main point—the Good News of Jesus Christ, the most important message in the world. What Paul said about himself is entirely subservient to this: He was a missionary apostle specifically chosen by God to preach the Good News, one who was wholly claimed by Christ to serve his cause (1:1, 5; 15:15-16). He knew that Christ had been revealed to him in order that he might make him known to the world (Gal 1:16). In a most unusual way, recounted three times in Acts, he seems to have sensed his missionary calling from the earliest days of his conversion (Acts 9:3-6, 15-16; 22:14-15; 26:16-18). So he wrote as one who was passionately convinced that he had been given a crucial role to play in the most important work in the world, the proclamation of the Good News of salvation.

He clearly understood that it was God himself who had commissioned him for this work (1:1). Writing to the Galatians, he speaks of having been appointed directly by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father (Gal 1:1; cf. the words of the risen Lord, “Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles,” Acts 9:15). Indeed, he was convinced that God ordained him for this work long before he was ever born (Gal 1:15). F. F. Bruce (1985:67) concludes, “All the rich and diversified gifts of Paul’s heritage (Jewish, Greek, and Roman), together with his upbringing, were fore-ordained by God with a view to his apostolic service.”

Though we can see a number of ways in which Paul’s heritage and upbringing served him well in his missionary work, it is not clear how much Paul thought of these as “fore-ordained by God with a view to his apostolic service”—or, for that matter, how much he thinks of any Christian’s background as fore-ordained by God with a view to his or her special calling in the service of Christ. True, Paul acknowledges that God “chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan” (Eph 1:11). But generally speaking, his foreordination language is limited to the idea of God choosing his people for salvation (8:29; 11:2, 5; Eph 1:4-5, 11; 2:4-6, 8-10; Col 3:12; 1 Thess 1:4; 5:9; 2 Thess 2:13). His understanding of an individual’s ministry seems to be shaped more by the notion of charismatic giftedness than by considerations of natural heritage (12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11, 28; Eph 4:11). Nonetheless, because here and there in the Old Testament clear traces of God’s providential hand can be seen in the background of the people he chooses to use (as in the cases of Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Ezra, Esther, and Daniel, for instance), it is not unreasonable to assume that such notions may be in Paul’s thought, as well. Nor is it unreasonable for us to look for traces of God’s providential goodness in our own individual backgrounds, preparing us for our own specific callings in the service of Christ.

As a “slave” of Christ (1:1), he knows that his life is no longer his own—no longer to be lived for himself but for his master (Phil 1:21). He has been “bought... with a high price” (1 Cor 6:20), and every part of his life now belongs to Christ and must be devoted to his work in the world. Nothing else is ultimately important. As a slave of Christ, Paul viewed himself as a slave of Christ’s people also (2 Cor 4:5). Furthermore, in his missionary evangelism, he regarded himself as a slave of all those to whom he preached (1 Cor 9:19-22)—in the sense that his whole life was devoted to the spiritual welfare of others.

And so it is for every Christian, in Paul’s thinking: as redeemed people, our self-identity is defined by our conversion to Christ. Loyalty to Christ transcends the importance of everything else in our lives. Like Paul, all of us who confess Christ as Lord are to consider ourselves “slaves” of Christ; we too are claimed by Christ—“bought with a high price”—to serve his cause. Though not all of us are called to a life of pioneer evangelism as Paul was, all of us are called to be witnesses for Christ in everything we say and do and to be devoted ministers of God’s grace to the body of Christ. Like Paul, every serious follower of Christ must say, “For to me, living means living for Christ” (Phil 1:21). Because Christ died for us, we recognize that we, too, are called to live no longer for ourselves but for him (2 Cor 5:14-15). And if we take seriously our “slavery” to Christ—if we really mean what we say when we confess Christ as our Lord—then every part of our life must be devoted to his service because we belong to him. The whole of our life must be considered his, not ours. Slaves do not have the privilege of living for themselves like everyone else.

Here Paul’s words reflect a strong and radical understanding of Christian discipleship that challenges the softer, more comfortable view of the Christian life so common in the modern world. Paul knows that we only “find” our life by “losing” it, that dying is the necessary prelude to living. As slaves of Christ, we must constantly die to ourselves in order to live for the one who has claimed us, body and soul. This kind of commitment will never be easy to live out, but it is the life to which all true disciples know themselves to be called.


Christ as the Fulfillment of the Scriptures.

In the second verse of this introduction, we discover that the amazing Good News that Paul was called to preach was predicted—indeed, promised—in the Hebrew Scriptures themselves (1:2). This was a key element in the early Christian apologetic. This messianic way of reading the Old Testament is reflected throughout Paul’s writings (1:17; 3:21; 4:3-25; 10:5-20; 15:8-12, 21). As he testifies to King Agrippa, “I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike” (Acts 26:22-23). Though it is primarily the servant texts of Isaiah that Paul seems to have been thinking of here (Isa 42:6; 49:1, 5-6; 52:13-53:12), he clearly understood the Old Testament as a whole to point to Christ and the Good News, and read it in that light—as did the entire early Christian community. After all, didn’t Jesus himself say, “The Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39)? Luke especially, one of Paul’s converts and long-term missionary associates, highlighted Jesus’ endorsement of this perspective:

Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.... Then he said, “... everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.... Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” (Luke 24:27, 44, 46)

From a Christian point of view, then, the Old Testament must always be read, interpreted (judiciously), and taught in light of its fulfillment in Christ and the New Testament. Christians do not read the Old Testament in isolation or merely as the Hebrew Scriptures but as part of a larger canonical whole.

In the New Testament, the coming of Jesus Christ as the Messiah is viewed as the fulfillment of all the deepest hopes and dreams of the Jewish people and the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises under the old covenant (cf. esp. Heb 8:1-10:18). Paul went even further when he spoke of Jesus as the fulfillment of the deepest hopes and dreams of human beings universally: he is the ultimate reality, to which all other religious aspirations and teachings point, and of which they were but “shadows” (Col 2:17).

Jesus Christ is from the family line of David—a “Son of David” (a requirement for the Messiah, from a Jewish point of view)—yet at the same time he is the Son of God, sharing the nature of God himself, as the miracle of the Resurrection attests (1:3-4). This dual emphasis on Jesus as both human and divine anticipates the creeds of the early church, in which the early Christians struggled to put into words their understanding of who Jesus is and how he relates to God. Among the New Testament writers, it is the writer of Hebrews who places the greatest emphasis on the humanness of Jesus (considered essential for his work of atonement and intercession; Heb 2:10, 14-18; 5:8). And it is John, Paul, and the writer of Revelation who place the greatest emphasis on his deity (John 1:1-4, 18; 20:28; Col 1:15-19; 2:9; Rev 5:6-14). (There are three places where Paul seems to speak of Jesus as “God”: 9:5; 2 Thess 1:12; Titus 2:13; cf. Rom 1:7.) Though the early Christians thought it was essential to have a genuine appreciation of both the human and divine aspects of Jesus (he is always to be understood as simultaneously “fully human and fully divine”), the overall emphasis in this passage is on his divine power and authority as the Son of God, shown above all in the Resurrection.

The Resurrection was a historical event; it shows that God was clearly at work in Jesus’ life (1:4) and confirms that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God—the Lord and ultimate Judge of every human being. The historical fact of the Resurrection, then, played a central role in the proclamation of the Good News by the early Christians (Acts 2:31-33; 3:15; 5:30-32; 10:40-41; 13:30-31; 17:3, 31-32; 23:6; 24:21; 25:19; 26:6-8, 22-23; 1 Cor 15:1-8). It must also be a central element in the proclamation of the historic faith today, when skepticism abounds. Unlike other religions, the Christian faith is founded on a crucial historical event, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and all else flows from that.

The historicity of the Resurrection also plays a vital role in our understanding of the Good News, focused as it is on the promise of life beyond death. The resurrection of Christ assures us not only that there is life beyond death but also that we who belong to him will one day fully share in that resurrection life (1 Cor 15:20). To deny the historicity of the Resurrection, then, is to deny the heart of the Good News itself, leaving us with no sure hope of anything beyond this life (1 Cor 15:12-19).

The Resurrection plays another role in Paul’s thinking: it opens the door for believers to begin to experience the age to come. As a result of the Resurrection, believers can experience, here and now, something of the life and power of the Kingdom of God—“resurrection life”—by the power of the Holy Spirit (6:4-11; 7:4-6; 8:2-4, 9-14). This is nothing less than the power of the resurrected Christ himself at work in his people (Gal 2:20; Col 1:27). One of Paul’s deepest desires is to experience the full extent of this power in his own life—to “know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead” (Phil 3:10). In the same way, he prays that the Ephesians will come to know the incredible greatness of this power at work in their own lives—“the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead” (Eph 1:19-20). So the resurrection of Christ not only confirms the truth of Jesus, the Good News, and the Christian hope, it also makes it possible for us to experience the living Christ and his power in our lives today.

Paul’s way of thinking about the Christian life was radically shaped by his awareness that the Spirit of the resurrected Christ lives in those who belong to him. It is the Spirit of the living Christ within—not simply our own efforts—that produces in us Christlike qualities and character (Gal 5:22-23). Further, because our body is a sanctuary, we must do nothing that would offend the living presence of Christ within (1 Cor 6:18-19; Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 4:8). The awareness of Christ’s presence in believers also influences Paul’s way of thinking about Christian ministry, for here, too, the real power and effectiveness lie with Christ (the Spirit of Christ) and not with us (1 Cor 2:4-5, 13; 2 Cor 4:7, 10-11; 12:8-10). So in both Christian living and Christian ministry, the real power lies with the living Christ within; believers are simply channels through which the power of the resurrected Christ flows. The awareness of Christ’s presence working in and through us assures us that we will one day share in his full glory (Col 1:27).


Believing and Obeying.

Paul then tells his readers that he was given his apostleship in order to proclaim the Good News so that people would “believe and obey” (1:5; 16:26). Though the exact relationship between believing and obeying is ambiguous in the text, Paul probably means “obey by believing” in this context (cf. note on 1:5). Elsewhere he makes it clear that it is our faith in Christ, not our works, that saves us (1:16-17; 3:22-26; 4:3-8; 5:1; 9:30-32; 10:9-10; Gal 2:16; 3:2, 6, 11, 26). Salvation is always to be understood as a gift of God’s grace that we receive solely by faith, not as a reward for our efforts (Eph 2:8-9). At the same time, however, true faith will always be expressed in obedience, for true faith can never be divorced from a serious attempt to live it out. That is why Paul speaks of “faith expressing itself in love” (Gal 5:6). So, although we are saved by faith, we are paradoxically judged by works. This is a point made throughout the New Testament—by Jesus (Matt 7:21-27; John 5:29), Paul (2 Cor 5:10), John (1 John 1:5-6; 2:4-6; 3:4-10), and especially James (Jas 2:14-26). Though our works can never save us, the lack of them can damn us—by putting the lie to our claim to believe—if we are not serious about living out our faith. So although we are saved by faith alone, true saving faith is never alone. Authentic faith is always life-changing faith that is reflected in our works, i.e., in how we live (Eph 2:10). That is the point emphasized in the seemingly contradictory passage, James 2:14-26, which ends with the statement “Faith is dead without good works”—a statement with which Paul would agree. (For the relation between faith and works, see the comments on 4:1-8; 6:15-23; 8:5-14; see also “Salvation by Faith and Judgment by Works” in the Introduction.)

The Roman Christians were among those who had obeyed the Good News. As such, they were those whom God himself had “called” (or chosen) to belong to Jesus Christ. They are called to be “saints,” God’s own holy people, those whom God has specially chosen and set apart for himself. They are the ones specially loved by God (1:6-7). So even saving faith must be understood ultimately as a gift of God, the result of God’s sovereign work in the hearts of those he has mercifully selected to become part of his family. Behind all true faith in the living Christ, then, lies the gracious work of God, calling people to himself and making such faith possible (Eph 2:8-10; cf. Matt 11:25-27; John 6:44; 15:16). That is why, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, God’s people are spoken of as the “elect,” those who by God’s mercy are chosen and predestined to belong to him. (For election and predestination, see the comments on 9:6-29; see also “Predestination and Human Responsibility” in the Introduction.)

With a privileged calling come great responsibility and a sense of infinite indebtedness. Those who by the grace of God are rescued from his anger and judgment and chosen to be his people should dedicate their lives to him and live the rest of their days in joyful, grateful devotion to his service (12:1-2). As his people, they are to be holy, just as he is holy (Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 1 Pet 1:15-16). Everything Paul writes about the Christian life presupposes a sense of total indebtedness to God, who in sheer mercy grants believers their salvation.

Romans 1:8-15

  1. Paul’s desire to visit Rome (1:8-15)

8Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. 9God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.

10One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. 12When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

13I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. 14For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. 15So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

Notes

1:8

your faith in him.—Though the words “in him” are omitted in the Gr. text, when Paul speaks of “faith” (pistis [TG, ZG4411]), he usually means faith in Jesus Christ. Saving faith is not an intellectual affirmation of the truth of Christ; rather, it is personal trust in Christ as Savior. See note on 3:22.

all over the world.—This does not imply that their faith was extraordinary but rather that news of it had spread far and wide (Cranfield 1980:75), particularly in the places where Christianity had already been established.

1:9

Day and night.—Lit., “without ceasing.”

with all my heart.—Lit., “in [or with] my spirit”—i.e., with my whole being. For other interpretations, see Cranfield 1980:76-77.

1:11

some spiritual gift.—Here charisma pneumatikon [TG, ZG5922] is best understood generally, as a blessing bestowed by God through Paul’s ministry (so Cranfield 1980:79)—not as one of the specific gifts referred to in 12:6-8 and 1 Cor 12:8-10, 28, or as the apostolic understanding of the gospel (contra Schreiner 1998:54).

1:12

When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.—Lit., “that is, that we might be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, yours and mine.”

1:13

I want you to know.—Lit., “I do not want you to be ignorant,” a favorite phrase of Paul (11:25; 1 Cor 10:1; 12:1; 2 Cor 1:8; 1 Thess 4:13). A few mss (D G) read, “I do not suppose you to be ignorant,” but the support for this reading is less reliable.

dear brothers and sisters.—Gr. adelphoi [TG, ZG81] (brothers).

I was prevented.—Whether it was God, Satan, or other people or events that had prevented the visit is not clear. In 15:22, Paul attributes the long delay to the pressures of his evangelistic work in the northeastern Mediterranean area.

see spiritual fruit.—The results of his evangelistic work; cf. 1:14-15.

among other Gentiles.—Or, “in the other nations.”

1:14

I have a great sense of obligation.—Because of the great grace and wide-ranging missionary charge God had given him, Paul felt the obligation of proclaiming the Good News to all people everywhere.

to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world.—Lit., “both to Greeks (hellēsin [TG, ZG1818]) and to barbarians (barbarois [TGA, ZG975]),” i.e., both to the cultured and to the uncultured. To the Greeks, all who rejected Greek culture were barbarians. Here “Greeks” is not so much an ethnic designation as a term applying to all who identified themselves with Greek culture, as most Romans would; but in Paul’s usage generally, the word is synonymous with “Gentiles.”

1:15

in Rome.—Omitted in a few ancient authorities (G itg Origenlat), as it is in 1:7. The textual evidence for its inclusion is much stronger. The omission may well be the result of the letter being edited for wider distribution at a later time.

Commentary

Paul begins this section by expressing his thanks to God for the Romans’ faith and by telling them how much he prays for them and longs to come see them—something he has been wanting to do for a long time. He hoped that his coming would serve to strengthen them spiritually and that both they and he would be encouraged by each other’s faith. Because his divine calling as an evangelist obligated him to all people, he looked forward to the day when he would have the chance to proclaim the Good News in Rome.

Seeking to encourage them, Paul told the Christians in Rome how grateful he was for them because their faith in Christ had become so widely known (1:8). Apparently they were quite open in confessing their faith and made no attempt to hide it. For Paul, Christian faith was never simply a private matter but something to be confessed openly and proclaimed publicly for all the world to hear. Later in his life, face to face with death (presumably in Rome), Paul encouraged Timothy to carry on the same bold proclamation of the Good News that has characterized his own life, without the slightest sense of embarrassment—even if that entailed suffering for his witness (2 Tim 1:7-8; 2:1-3; 3:12; 4:1-5). Some things are simply so important that the world must hear them, whatever the cost.

The Romans’ faith in Christ evoked Paul’s thanksgiving. A number of Paul’s letters begin with his expression of gratitude for the “faith and love” of his readers—i.e., for their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for one another in the church (Eph 1:15; Col 1:4; 1 Thess 1:3; cf. 1 Thess 3:6; 5:8; 2 Thess 1:3). Taken together, these two terms represent his deepest desires for his converts: saving faith, which establishes their relationship to God, and heartfelt love, which “binds us all together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14). In Paul’s theology and ethics, faith and love represent the crucial twin responses of the Christian believer to the Good News. The two are joined by Paul in what is perhaps the best single-sentence summary of his view of the Christian life—“faith expressing itself in love” (Gal 5:6)—just as they ought to be joined in every Christian’s life. If either is missing, one’s experience of the Christian faith is deficient. The fact that Paul’s beginning affirmation in this letter focuses only on the faith of the Roman Christians may imply a certain lack in their expression of love (cf. 14:1-15:7), but we cannot be sure; his dominant concern in this theologically focused letter is with matters of faith. (For more on love, see comments on 12:9-21; 13:8-10.)

Paul desired to make a visit to the Romans because he wanted to communicate a spiritual blessing to them, so that they might be strengthened in their faith (1:9-11). Paul’s dominant concern for Christians was always a spiritual one, as may be seen in his prayers recorded in the Prison Letters (Eph 1:15ff; 3:14ff; Phil 1:9ff; Col 1:9ff). The focus of these prayers was not on the physical needs of his readers but on their need for a deeper experience of God and the resurrected Christ, his power and his Spirit—and the outworking of that in their love for one another. For Paul, the most important things center on one’s relation to God and Christ; all else is secondary—if not unimportant. As Christians, our concern for one another must go beyond our physical and social needs (as important as they are) to the health and vitality of our spiritual life—our walk with God and our experience of Christ.

Paul said he prayed “day and night” (lit., “without ceasing”) for the Christians in Rome (1:9). These words reveal not only his sense of utter dependence on God and his belief in the real power of prayer to change things but also his understanding of prayer as a way of life. For Paul, every part of a Christian’s life is to be immersed in prayer; everything is to be done prayerfully. The whole of life is to be filled with prayer—prayer is to become the proverbial air that we breathe. So, as Christians, we are not to worry about anything but to pray about everything (Phil 4:6-7). We are to pray at all times because this is God’s will for us (1 Thess 5:17-18)—it is the life to which he calls us, the life that pleases him. God even gives us his own Spirit to pray for us (8:26-27). So for us as Christians, prayer is to become a way of life because it expresses our dependence on him for everything. This amazing God, who calls us to be his own special people in the world and the undeserving recipients of his grace and love, wants us to pray constantly, in and for all things, so he can give us the help we need to live for him.

Paul qualified his desire to come see them with the simple phrase “God willing” (1:10), a phrase the early Christians commonly voiced when talking about their plans or hopes for the future. With this simple phrase they expressed their awareness of being dependent upon God for all things, and their submission to his sovereign will. Indeed, to fail to acknowledge such dependence and submission was interpreted as an expression of self-sufficiency and arrogance. (“What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil,” Jas 4:15-16.) In all our planning for the future, we must never forget that we are dependent upon God for everything and that we are to be subject to his will in all things. Whatever we do, all life long, it must always be “God willing.”

To avoid any one-sided impressions he may have communicated in expressing his desire to come minister to them, he emphasized that the fellowship they would experience together would be mutually edifying: their faith would encourage him, just as his faith would strengthen them (1:12). This is Christian fellowship at its best—Christians strengthening one another in their faith; anything less will seem superficial and unsatisfying to those who long for real communion on the deepest level. If our fellowship with one another is to be genuine Christian fellowship, it must be characterized not merely by social niceties and chit-chat but by mutual sharing of our experience of the Lord.

Paul had long wanted to visit the Roman Christians but had been prevented from coming to see them earlier (1:13). Exactly what prevented any previous visit is not stated—though later on he says it was the pressure of his evangelistic work in the East that had kept him from coming (15:22). It is this same evangelistic calling—this passion to win converts for Christ—that fueled his desire to go to Rome. Evangelism was in his blood—it was the passion of his life. As F. F. Bruce (1985:71-72) said, “He is never off duty but must constantly be at it, discharging a little more of that obligation which he owes to the whole human family—an obligation which he will never fully discharge so long as he lives.” Paul’s “mission field” was broad; he felt obligated to preach the Good News to all cultures and all levels of society—to everyone from simple peasants to sophisticated urbanites (1:14, 16). Because all people stand guilty before God, Paul felt called to evangelize everyone. Even though his primary calling was to the Gentile world, he did not limit himself to reaching Gentiles (1 Cor 9:19-22). This says a great deal about the burden he felt for all who do not know God.

In the same way, as Christ’s people we are called to bear witness to all the people in our world, even though our primary ministry may be to a more limited group. Not all of us, of course, are called to be evangelists as Paul was, but we are all called to bear witness to Christ in everything we say and do. And because evangelism lies at the very heart of the Great Commission that Jesus entrusted to his church (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47), we must all do everything we can to pray for and support the work of evangelism all over the world.

Romans 1:16-17

  1. The Good News that saves (1:16-17)

16For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

Notes

1:16

I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ.—Sometimes interpreted as an understatement (litotes) and translated accordingly: “I have complete confidence in the gospel” (tev); “I am proud of the good news!” (cev). But it may be preferable to understand it literally, with regard to Paul’s fearless proclamation in the face of opposition (Cranfield 1980:86-87; cf. niv, rsv, et al.). The words “about Christ” are added in the nlt for clarity.

It is the power of God at work.—God works powerfully through the simple preaching of the Good News to bring about the salvation of those whom he calls. See 1 Cor 1:17-25; 2:1-5.

saving everyone who believes.—God saves everyone who trusts in Christ from the effects, power, and eternal consequences of sin. Throughout the Bible, the greatest problem confronting people is the problem of sin, and their greatest need is to be saved from it (cf. Gen 3, 6; Ps 51).

the Jew first and also the Gentile.—As his chosen people, Jews have a prior claim to the Good News (cf. chs 9-11); but the message is fundamentally universal—it is also for Gentiles. The word “first” is omitted in a few ancient witnesses (B G copsa Marcion), though this may be due to the influence of Marcion’s anti-Jewish emphasis (Metzger 1971:506). God’s judgment, like God’s salvation, is also spoken of as “for the Jew first and also for the Gentile” (2:9-10).

1:17

tells us how God makes us right in his sight.—Lit., “in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” The phrase “righteousness of God” (dikaiosunē theou [TG, ZG1466]) occasionally refers to the character of God and has sometimes been interpreted that way here (cf. N. T. Wright 2002:30, 32, who interprets the phrase as “the faithful covenant justice of God”), but in this verse, as in 3:21, it refers rather to the righteousness that God graciously attributes (or credits) to those who put their trust in Christ—God declares them righteous—and is synonymous with the “righteousness of faith.” Paul contrasts it with the righteousness Jews traditionally tried to achieve by keeping the law of Moses (10:3). It may also be translated, “how God puts people right with himself” (tev). For a full discussion of Paul’s understanding of the important phrase “righteousness of God” and its role as theme of Rom 1-8, see Cranfield 1980:91-99; Moo 1996:79-90; Schreiner 1998:63-71.

This is accomplished from start to finish by faith.—Lit., “from faith to faith” (ek pisteōs eis pistin [TG, ZG4411]), a difficult phrase that may be translated in various ways (Cranfield 1980:99-100; Moo 1996:76). It is probably best taken as an emphatic expression: “entirely a matter of faith”; “through faith from beginning to end” (tev; cf. niv; Murray 1965:363-374). For the meaning of “faith,” see notes on 1:8; 3:22.

It is through faith that a righteous person has life.—Or, “The one who is righteous by faith will live” (ho de dikaios ek pisteōs zēsetai [TG, ZG1465])—a text from Hab 2:4, cited by Paul to validate his emphasis on justification by faith—i.e., his teaching that a believer is declared righteous by God because of his faith in Christ. The text is also found in Gal 3:11 and Heb 10:38. The original wording of Hab 2:4 in Heb. (“The righteous one will live because of his faithfulness”) and Gr. (“The righteous one will live because of my faithfulness” or “... because of his faith in me,” ek pisteōs mou) makes it clear that Paul is interpreting this text in light of the Good News of Christ and in line with Gen 15:6, which he cites in 4:3—“Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous.”

Commentary

Getting to the heart of the matter, Paul stated the main theme of the letter—the Good News of salvation in Christ. This message has the power to save all who believe, no matter what their ethnic background. The Good News reveals how people can be made right with God—by putting their trust in Christ. As the Old Testament Scripture says, it is faith that makes people right with God and gives them life (Hab 2:4).

Paul knew that many people would find this message laughable. How could a convicted criminal make people right with God? He also knew that many would be offended by its exclusivity—its claim that salvation is to be found in Christ alone (1:16; 3:22, 25; 10:9; cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:11-12). Yet because this is the God-given message of eternal life, Paul proclaimed it without the slightest sense of embarrassment: “I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ” (1:16). Even face to face with death, he remained undaunted. Shortly before dying he wrote to Timothy, “Never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.... be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News” (2 Tim 1:8). The one who died for us asks us to be willing to live—and die—unashamedly for him (2 Cor 5:14-15). And he warns us, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message..., the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns” (Mark 8:38).

Paul knew that his success as a missionary was not due to his own abilities or powers of persuasion but, rather, to the power of the message he preached, a message that can convict and convert human hearts. “It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes” (1:16). Paul’s reliance was not on himself but on the power of God to work in a saving manner in the lives of those who hear the Good News. When criticized by the Corinthian Christians because his speaking ability was not as impressive as that of others, he argued that the important thing was not his rhetorical skills but God’s work in and through him (1 Cor 1:17-25; 2:1-5, 13; cf. 2 Cor 4:7; 12:8-10). As servants of God, Christians are nothing more than channels; the real life-changing work is always done by the one with the real power, God himself (1 Cor 3:5-7).

Paul emphasized that the Good News is for everyone who believes, “the Jew first and also the Gentile” (1:16; cf. 2:9-10). In God’s scheme of things, the Jews, those traditionally considered his people, had a prior claim to the Good News; this Paul readily acknowledged (cf. chs 9-11). At the same time, in light of his own special calling to the Gentile world, he wanted to stress the universal nature of the Good News—it is also for Gentiles.

The pattern of “the Jew first and also the Gentile” may be seen in Paul’s own evangelism: he typically began work in a new area by preaching in the synagogues but then turned to the Gentiles when Jews reacted negatively (Acts 13:46; 18:6; 19:9). However, the order that pertains to the preaching of the Good News and the receiving of God’s eternal blessing also holds true for its rejection: God’s judgment is likewise “for the Jew first and also for the Gentile” (2:9). With privilege comes responsibility.

The precise nature of the tensions that give rise to Paul’s emphasis here on “the Jew first and also the Gentile” are not spelled out. (Whether the words are directed to anti-Jewish or anti-Gentile sentiments is not clear.) But the larger point is unambiguous: the Good News that has its origin and roots in Judaism is intended for Jews and non-Jews equally. As a result, the Jew-Gentile distinction—and any other ethnic distinction—loses its force in the body of Christ. Christians are to treat one another equally as brothers and sisters, regardless of their ethnic background. (“There is no longer Jew or Gentile.... For you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Gal 3:28; cf. Eph 2:11-22.) As Christians, it is our relationship to Christ that defines our fundamental identity, not our ethnicity or cultural background; the family to which we now belong is the universal family of Christ. (See “Jews and Gentiles” in the Introduction.)

The Good News that Paul preached was very straightforward: God, in his mercy, saves those who put their trust in Christ as Savior (1:17). Because of their simple faith, God regards believers as righteous in his sight, quite apart from their observance of the Mosaic law. This is God’s definition of righteousness—what Paul calls “the righteousness of God,” God’s way of making people right with himself. It is a truth affirmed in the Old Testament Scripture itself, as Paul points out in a text from the prophets: “It is through faith that a righteous person has life” (cf. Hab 2:4, which may be rendered, “The person who is put right with God through faith shall live”; cf. Gal 3:11). It was this emphasis on salvation by faith alone that Paul’s Jewish-Christian contemporaries found so hard to accept because it seemed to deny the validity and role of the law of Moses. Of all the New Testament writers, Paul is the one who articulates this principle most forcefully, usually in the context of arguing against certain Jewish Christians who were trying to convince his young converts of the necessity of obeying the Jewish law (cf. 3:21-4:25).

The emphasis on “justification by faith alone” is one of the most important tenets of the Good News, and it is essential that Christians understand it clearly and grasp it firmly. Our only hope of salvation lies in throwing ourselves wholly onto Christ our Savior, trusting him to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We must never rely on what we have done; it will always be inadequate to satisfy the holy demands of God. To the very day we die, our reliance must be wholly on what Christ has done for us in his sacrificial death for our sins; that alone is able to save us. Our own righteousness will always be insufficient; his righteousness—the righteousness God credits to us when we put our trust in Christ—is the only thing that can save us. God accepts us as righteous because of him. It is this that sets the Christian faith fundamentally apart from all other religions, which typically stress what people must do to earn salvation. (See “Salvation by Grace and Justification by Faith” in the Introduction.)

It was Paul’s words in 1:17 that proved to be so life-changing for Martin Luther in 1513 and that eventually sparked the Protestant Reformation. Burdened by his desire to experience God’s forgiving grace, Luther struggled to understand the phrase “the righteousness of God.” In his own words,

I had greatly longed to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the righteousness of God”, because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and acts righteously in punishing the unrighteous.... Night and day I pondered until... I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before “the righteousness of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven. (Luther 1960:34.336-337)

Through Luther, these words of Paul brought about a revolution in the church that has changed the entire course of history in the western world and transformed the nature of the Christian community around the world.

Romans 1:18-32

  1. The Universal Need of Salvation (1:18-3:20)
    1. The world has become corrupt (1:18-32)

18But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. 19They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

21Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

24So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. 26That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.

28Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.

Notes

1:18

God shows his anger from heaven.—Lit., “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” The wrath of God is the anger of God expressed in judgment, either present or future; Paul speaks of both aspects in this passage.

sinful, wicked.—Both terms are broad and comprehensive and probably not intended to be sharply distinguished. Some understand the terms to denote two distinct categories of sinfulness, with “sinful” (asebeian [TG, ZG813], “ungodly”) denoting sins against God and “wicked” (adikian [TG, ZG94], “unrighteous”) denoting sins against others, thus summing up the two tables of the Ten Commandments. However, it is probably more accurate to see the first as expressing ungodly behavior generally and the second as focusing on violations of God’s just decrees. Together they are intended to characterize sinful attitudes and behavior in their totality (Cranfield 1980:111-112; Günther 1976:94).

people who suppress the truth.—Or, “people who prevent the truth from being known.” They suppress the truth about God, whom they oppose (cf. 1:19-20).

1:19

he has made it obvious to them.—Here the focus is on what God has revealed about himself in nature; cf. 1:20.

1:20

divine nature.—God’s nature and characteristics (theiotēs [TG, ZG2522]). Though this is the only occurrence of this term in the NT, a similar term occurs in Col 2:9: “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God (theotēs [TG, ZG2540]) in a human body.”

1:21

they knew God.—They knew about God, but they had no sense of their need to acknowledge his authority over them.

their minds became dark and confused.—Lit., “their undiscerning heart was darkened.” They were unable to think correctly, either about God or about moral issues.

1:22

they instead became utter fools.—The reference is to moral obtuseness in God’s sight rather than intellectual deficiency (cf. Ps 14:1; Prov 1:7).

1:23

instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols.—Lit., “they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.”

1:24

God abandoned them.—Lit., “God gave them up” (paredōken [TG, ZG4140]); also in 1:26, 28. God abandoned them to their desires and let them go their own way, resulting in the misuse of their bodies.

1:25

They traded the truth about God for a lie.—A similar concept is expressed in 2 Thess 2:10-12.

they worshiped and served the things God created.—A reference to the worship of idols depicting created things; cf. 1:23. Such practices were expressly forbidden by God’s special revelation in Exod 20:4-5, and here it is implicit that they are also contrary to his general revelation.

1:27

Men did shameful things with other men.—A reference to homosexual practices. Pederasty was widely accepted in ancient Greek and Roman society and was viewed by some as superior to heterosexual love (Cranfield 1980:127; Dunn 1988a:65; Edwards 1992:55-56; Fitzmyer 1993:286-287). Such practices were considered perversions and abominations by orthodox Jews, and this view is reflected throughout the Bible (Lev 18:22; 20:13; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10; cf. D. F. Wright 1993). For a critique of modern reinterpretations of the biblical view of homosexual practices, see Dunn 1988a:64-66; Fitzmyer 1993:285-288; Moo 1996:113-117.

they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.—A reference either to some unspecified form of God’s judgment or to the sexually perverse lifestyle itself as a form of punishment for abandoning God. The latter was the interpretation of at least some church fathers (e.g., Chrysostom, Calvin; cf. Cranfield 1980:126-127).

1:28

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking.—There is word play here that is difficult to translate in English. Since they did not “approve” (edokimasan [TG, ZG1507]) of acknowledging God in their lives, God in turn abandoned them to their “depraved way of thinking” (adokimon noun