Paul's Letter to the Romans (1)
Biblical Research Monthly, January/February 1976 — by Dr. David L. Cooper
The Roman epistle has been recognized by many leading scholars as one of the most profound documents ever to be written. Humanly speaking, it is a masterpiece of logic and clear thinking. Of course Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit when he wrote it, but the Lord used the apostle's master mind in giving this marvelous revelation of His will.
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - SALVATION FROM START TO FINISH
|Introduction||Lost World||Salvation||Sanctification||(The Jewish Question)||Instruction|
|1:1-7||1:8 - 3:20||3:21 - 5:11||5:12 - 8:39||9:1 - 11:36||12:1 - 16:27|
Through the Blood
Through the Spirit
|Past - Present - Future||Practical Christian Living (12:1 - 15:33)
Personal Matters (16:1-24)
In this epistle, as in no other, God's redemptive scheme is set forth so very fully. As the subheading of the chart above indicates, it is “salvation from start to finish.”
Paul was probably at Corinth on his third missionary tour when he composed this letter in the Spring of 58 A.D. It is quite likely that he wrote the epistle to the Galatians at the same time. If so, he sent one letter east and the other west. The Galatian letter was sent primarily to correct mistakes in doctrine. At the time these letters were written he had never been to Rome, but longed to go.
The Judaizing Controversy
In order to appreciate the epistles and letters of Paul — especially the early ones — we must understand what is known as “the Judaizing Controversy.”
After his first missionary tour (Acts 13, 14) Paul labored with the church at Antioch in Syria for some time. During his ministry there, certain ones came up from Jerusalem to Antioch and insisted that the formula for salvation was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ plus circumcision and the observance of the law of Moses. These self-appointed delegates and “guardians of the faith” claimed they had the backing of the apostles in the mother church at Jerusalem. Their claims that the Gentiles had to submit to circumcision and keep the law disturbed the souls of the believers in Antioch. So they sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to submit the question directly to the Apostles and to the church.
In Jerusalem Paul and Barnabas were received and a special session of the church was called, where they set forth the situation as they saw it. Doubtless speeches and counter speeches were made. The Pharisaical group of the church opposed them bitterly. Finally, Peter stood up and threw the weight of his influence and power with that of Paul and Barnabas. Then James, who seems to have been one of the leading spirits in the Jerusalem church, joined with Paul and Barnabas. In conclusion the Apostles, elders and the church of Jerusalem-guided by the Holy Spirit — wrote an epistle to the church at Antioch, which was to be circulated as well among the other churches on the mission field. The gist of this epistle was that the Judaizers were wrong; Paul and Silas were correct in preaching that one is saved by the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing, in addition to belief in Christ, is necessary to obtain salvation of our Lord and Saviour. Thus, the victory for Gentile liberty was won decisively.
This decision, reached by the Apostles, the elders of the Jerusalem church and the church itself as they were all under the influence of the Holy Spirit should have convinced the Judaizers. However, “one convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” These brethren would not accept the authoritative declaration by the church as led by the Holy Spirit. They started a counter movement — an anti-Pauline campaign — and pushed their propaganda throughout the mission field. Everywhere the Apostle Paul had established a church these men appeared on the scene and caused trouble. Fighting against this heresy, Paul and his colaborers stood for the Gospel of the grace of God.
We see this controversy coming to the fore in such letters as 1 and 2 Corinthians. It is the chief item on the agenda in the Galatian letter. The Apostle “strikes fire” with every sentence as he discusses salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, apart from all observances of the Law. There was a need for a clear, straightforward and comprehensive declaration of the Gospel which Paul was preaching.
An Offering for the Poor Saints
There was much suffering and distress among the believers at Jerusalem. Because of having accepted Jesus as Saviour, they were ostracized by the great Jewish community (Acts 2-6). The disciples who had possessions would sell them and put the proceeds into a common treasury, from which the whole Christian community was supported. The Apostle Paul, having previously carried a collection from Antioch (11:28-30) well knew the situation, and once again began to collect a contribution from various Gentile churches to meet this emergency (Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8, 9).
It was Paul's ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ had not been known. Having fully preached it throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece, he cast his eyes at the territory lying just west of the Adriatic Sea — the Italian peninsula. Paul had collected this great offering from among the Gentiles for the poor at Jerusalem, and wanted to take it to them. It was his intention to go to Jerusalem, then on to Rome, spend some time there and be sent on his way to Spain by the Roman church if all things were agreeable (Romans 15:22-29).
The apostle urged the church at Rome to pray earnestly that the brethren in Judaea might lay aside their prejudice and accept the offering made by the Gentiles. He was apprehensive that he might encounter foes in Jerusalem and wanted to be delivered from them so that he might continue his ministry.
Since Paul had been misrepresented throughout the mission field, it is quite possible he had also been misrepresented in Rome. In order to let that church, which he had never visited, know the things for which he stood and the Gospel he preached, he wrote this Roman Epistle. It is quite likely that Phoebe, the deaconess of Cenchreae (16:1) was the one who took this epistle from Corinth to Rome.
Paul constantly refers to himself throughout the entire epistle. He speaks of “my gospel.” Some devout scholars have seen, in the use of the personal pronoun, indications that the Holy Spirit was using Paul's experiences as the mold into which He poured this marvelous revelation that sets forth, in the clearest and fullest manner possible, the Gospel of the grace of God. Paul witnessed that he was a sinner under the law, sold under sin; that he was striving to do his very best in order to be justified by the law but failed. He met Jesus on the way to Damascus and he surrendered his heart and life to him and was saved by the grace of God through faith. A new power entered into his own life and being and he had, therefore, victory through Christ and was looking forward to the time when he would see his Lord.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2 which he promised afore through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name's sake; 6 among whom are ye also called to be Jesus Christ's: 7 to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:1-7)
Paul presents himself to his readers as a slave or bondservant of Jesus the Messiah — a servant because he recognizes that he has been purchased with a price, the precious blood of the Lord Jesus.
After Paul's conversion, his Damascus Road experience became the polar star of all his thinking. Having received his call directly from the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul declares that he was a “called” apostle. Translators have inserted the phrase to be in this sentence, but it is doubtful that it is proper to supply these words. Paul was simply saying that he was a called apostle and that he had been separated unto the Gospel of God. From his mother's womb, God had separated him with the intention of calling him in due season to become a chosen vessel. He was to bear the name of Jesus before Gentiles and rulers of the world (cf. Galatians 1:15).
The word Gospel means “good news.” One delights to be a bearer of good news. That which Paul bore — to as many people as possible — was a message of glad tidings from the Eternal God. It was the Gospel promised through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures.
We have three accounts of Paul's conversion. Acts 9, as written by Luke, his historian; Chap. 22, Paul's account made when he was on the steps of the castle in Jerusalem where he was to be incarcerated after arrest; chap. 26, in Paul's speech before King Agrippa. The Lord appeared personally to Paul on this occasion and gave him his call and commission. In doing so He promised to give Paul further revelations of His will.
Paul was especially called to be an apostle to the Gentiles. At the same time, in every community he always went to the Jews first; having preached to them, he would turn to the Gentiles. This was his unvarying custom.
That the Christian Dispensation was foretold in the Old Testament is clear from a number of passages. For example, Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool (Psalm 110:1). According to this verse, God the Father spoke to God the Son when the Jews became hostile to Him and told him to leave earth to sit at His right hand until the Father makes the Messiah's enemies the footstool of His feet. This shows the two comings of the one Messiah and the interval separating them — during which time Messiah is seated at the right hand of the throne of God — which is clearly the Christian Dispensation, and is shown in many other passages as well.
That the Church was revealed in the Old Testament is likewise certain. In Deuteronomy 32:21 Moses referred to the Church: They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those that are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. Paul quotes the latter part of this verse and applies it to the believers from all nations who now accept the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 10:19ff; see also lsa. 65:1). In Eph. 3:4-6 we see that the mystery of Christ had been revealed in former generations, but not with the same fullness of details and clarity as to the New Testament apostles and prophets.
This gospel of God, or good news, pertains to His Son. In order that we might understand this passage thoroughly we must go back to the Old Testament to see its teachings, for the New Testament presupposes the instruction found in the Old.
Deuteronomy 6:4 is probably the most important passage of all in the Scriptures. Properly rendered it reads: “Hear, 0 Israel, Jehovah our Gods is Jehovah a unity.” Throughout the Old Testament the plurality of the Divine Being is taught or assumed. On many occasions there is a mention of two and sometimes three of these divine personalities — but never four or more. In view of this we naturally conclude that there is a Holy Trinity. King David, in speaking for the Messiah said, I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee (Psalm 2:7). In this quotation he takes us back in his thinking into the council chambers of the Almighty and allows us to hear what God the Father said: “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” When studied in the light of Acts 13:26-37 we see that Paul applied this quotation to the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 33). After establishing this point he went on to discuss His resurrection (vs. 34; see also Psalm 16:10) using Isa. 55:3 to make the application. This was spoken by God the Father to another of the Holy Trinity whom He addressed as His Son. The writer in Prov. 30:4b asks “What is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou knowest?” “What is his name,” as we see from the context, refers to Deity — particularly to the Father; “and what is his son's name” relates to one whom we know as the Son of God.
In the New Testament, He that we sometimes refer to as “the second person of the Trinity” is spoken of as the Son who existed back in eternity past. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son ...” (John 3:16) clearly assumes the existence of the Son prior to the incarnation (see also Romans 8:3). In 2 Corinthians 8:9 we read: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor ...” Here we see the Son back in eternity with the Father enjoying all the richness of splendor, glory, power and equality with God. He “became poor” in order that through His poverty we might be made rich. In Philippians 2:5-7 the apostle is speaking of the prenatal state of the Son, the Lord Jesus, who existed in the form of God but voluntarily offered to lay aside the glory which He had with the Father throughout all past eternity in order to taste death for every man.
Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” (Philippians 2:5-7)
Paul declares that the eternal Son “was born of the seed of David according to the flesh.” According to Old Testament prediction, the Redeemer of mankind was to be “the seed of the woman,” an expression which is a hint regarding the virgin birth of the Messiah (Genesis 3:15); of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10); of the family of David (2 Samuel 7:8-17; 1 Chronicles 17; Jeremiah 23:5,6); born in the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
From the genealogical table in Matt. 1 we see that our Lord did come of the seed of David, according to the prophetic prediction, from the royal house of Judah. At the time of His coming the genealogical records of the priestly and royal line were kept at Jerusalem but after the overthrow of the nation and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. these records were all destroyed. From the physical, human standpoint it is not possible for any Jew today to show by the records that he is of the house of David. Matthew wrote his record of the Gospel around 60 or 61 A.D. before these records were destroyed. So far as we know, no one ever challenged the correctness of his statement regarding our Lord being of the Davidic dynasty.
There were those who had spiritual insight, such as Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22-40), who immediately recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Nathaniel, when he first laid eyes upon Jesus, said, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art King of Israel” (John 1:49). But most people — even the devout ones — did not have such insight and did not see in Jesus the fulfillment of the Messianic hope. Practically the entire nation of Israel was blinded by false conceptions concerning the nature of the kingdom which Messiah would establish upon His first advent. They were looking for a political Messiah who would throw off the Roman yoke and establish a reign of righteousness and peace over Israel, despite the Old Testament presentation of Messiah's redemptive career — His death, burial, resurrection, ascension to the right hand of the throne of God during which time the Gospel is being proclaimed to all nations, and his return at the end of the age to set up His kingdom of glory. To most of the people of His time He was simply a wonderful man. Even His enemies recognized that fact and were afraid of Him because of His supernatural power. His disciples loved Him and believed in Him even though they held erroneous ideas concerning His plans and purposes. But when our Lord was raised from the dead-the crowning proof of His deity-He was set forth as the Son of God. That which had been mysterious regarding Him was now explained by it. He was born “according to the flesh” of the seed of David. On the other hand He was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead “according to the spirit of holiness” — the holiness of His own divine nature.
There are records of ten appearances of our Lord to His disciples after He arose. On one occasion there were about five hundred brethren at once (1 Corinthians 15:6). John tells us they examined the Lord Jesus when He appeared to them — they heard Him, they saw Him, they touched His body. They were convinced there were no hallucinations in this regard, no appearance of a disembodied spirit. They recognized in this One who kept coming to them the same spiritual One whom they knew as the Lord Jesus during His personal ministry. Absolute, positive proof was given to the apostles and those associated with them that the Lord Jesus actually arose and appeared to them alive, bringing life and immortality to light through the Gospel. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is a guarantee and a pledge that those who have accepted Him will enjoy a similar resurrection of blessedness and immortality (1 Corinthians 15).
The Lord called Paul to His position of apostleship. The qualification of an apostle is that he have been a witness of the things which Jesus both said and did from the baptism of John until the day of the ascension (Acts 1). While this qualified the original Twelve, Paul was made an apostle in a special manner by witnessing the Lord in glory after His ascension — an experience the original twelve never enjoyed. There are no apostles today. There can be no successors of the apostles because the essentials of apostleship are lacking.
Paul was especially called that he might preach Christ to the nations, that they might render the obedience of faith. God loves the world so that He gave His only begotten Son to die, that every one who believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life. He has ordained that His church should proclaim the glad tidings to the ends of the earth, giving everyone a chance. It is the heritage of everyone coming into the world to hear the Gospel at least once.
The Gospel was never intended to convert the world. God knew that all men would not accept the truth, but the opportunity must be given. The Gospel is the savor of life unto life and of death unto death (2 Corinthians 2:14ff).
Those in Rome to whom Paul sent the Epistle were among those who had rendered the obedience of faith, and belonged to Jesus Christ.
Paul concluded his salutation by a prayer that grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ might be the portion of His church. Grace was given to us before times eternal but was manifested by the coming of the Lord Jesus to die for us. God's grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9; Hebrews 4:14-16). There will be grace brought to us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus (1 Peter 1:13). We need sustaining grace all the time, however, to help us as we go along life's journey. God wants peace to be multiplied in our hearts so that nothing may perturb us, but that we may let our light shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in Heaven.