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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE ROMANS"
1. Authorship.—The Pauline authorship of this epistle is universally admitted. There is no lack of external evidence in its favour; but its strong resemblance to Galatians is enough to prove its common authorship with that epistle. Moreover, a comparison of its contents with other Pauline epistles and with the Book of Acts affords valuable confirmation of its genuineness and authenticity.
From one of the closing salutations (xvi. 22) we learn that the epistle was written by Tertius as the apostle's amanuensis.
i Besides the remarkable coincidences with regard to the time and place of its composition, p. 102, the following points are worthy of notice. (1) The statement of the writer's long-felt desire to visit Rome, and of his hope of now doing so after fulfilling his mission to Jerusalem, is in harmony with the purpose expressed by the apostle at Ephesus some time before, i. 13 ; xv, 22-25 ; Acts xix. 21. (2) The request which he makes to the Christians at Rome that they would unite with him in prayer that he “may be delivered from them that are disobedient in Judæa,” corresponds with the apostle's expression of feeling in his last journey to Jerusalem (xv. 30, 31 ; Acts xx. 22, 23). (3) The teaching in this epistle and in Galatians is in striking harmony with Paul's mission as the apostle of the Gentiles, and goes far to explain the accusation brought against him on his last recorded visit to Jerusalem (Acts xxi. 19). (4) The nature of the visit to Rome contemplated by the writer of this epistle, namely, “ that I may come unto you in joy through the will of God, and together with you find rest” (xv. 32), is so very different from what the apostle actually experienced, when he was carried a prisoner to Rome, that it could not have been so described by any one who derived his information from the Book of Acts.
2. The Readers.- “To all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” These words and the absence of any mention of bishops and deacons either in this epistle or in the account of the welcome which Paul received from the Roman brethren three years afterwards (Acts xxviii. 15) would seem to indicate that there was no formally organised Church in the city, but merely groups of believers meeting for worship in private houses (xvi. 5). They seem to have been mainly of Gentile origin (i. 5, 6, 13-15; xi. 13-24; xv. 15, 16). But the whole tenor of the epistle, abounding as it does in quotations from the Old Testament (more than sixty in number) and in allusions to the Jewish Law, clearly shows that they had been led to a knowledge of the truth through their connection with the Jewish faith as proselytes of the gate (indeed, some of them appear to have been born Jews—ii. 17 ; xvi. 7—and hence the expression, “I speak to men that know the law,” vii. 1). The Jews had for a long time been a numerous and powerful section of the community at Rome, and their religion had gained great influence among the educated classes.1 The introduction of Christianity among them had apparently been due not to apostolic labours (certainly not to those of Peter, whose alleged episcopate of twenty-five
i Thousands of Jewish captives were brought to Rome by Pompey from the East, about 63 B.C. ; and from that time forward the Jews continued to grow in numbers and influence until, in the next century, Seneca could say of them, Victoribus victi leges dederunt, “The conquered have given laws to their conquerors.”
2 “It is not without significance that, among the frescoes of the Catacombs, the only figure of an apostle which is represented separately from the rest of the twelve is that of St. Paul, described as PAULUS PASTOR APOSTOLUS, side by side with a figure of the Good Shepherd. In none of the Catacombs is St. Peter specially designated by name or attribute.”— Marriott's Testimony of the Catacombs.
years at Rome is unsupported by evidence in the New Testament or elsewhere), but to the influence of Christian travellers, especially, we may believe, of the “sojourners from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,” who had witnessed the wonderful works of God on the great day of Pentecost (Acts ii. 10). Although Paul had never been at Rome, many of the Christians there were personally known to him-possibly owing to their temporary banishment from Rome by the Edict of Claudius, we may infer from the numerous greetings in the closing chapter. From i. 7, 8; xv. 14, it would appear that the religious condition of the Christians at Rome was in many respects satisfactory; and in keeping with this we learn from Tacitus that a great multitude of them endured martyrdom in the reign of Nero a few years later. But the apostle's language (in chap. xiv.) would indicate the existence of weakness and disagreement among them, in connection with certain scruples felt by some of their number with regard to the eating of animal food and the observance of days and seasons. They were also liable to many serious temptations, as we may infer from the exhortations in xii.-xiii.; and their spiritual life required to be strengthened (i. 11).
3. Date and Place of Composition. From the writer's circumstances, as stated in xv. 22-26, viewed in the light of Acts xx. 1-3, xxiv. 17-19; 1 Cor. xvi. 1-4; 2 Cor. viii. 1-4, ix. 1, 2, we gather that the epistle was written towards the close of Paul's second visit to Corinth (early in 58 A.D.), on the eve of his journey to Jerusalem to carry up the alms collected for the
brethren there, after which he was to make his long-intended visit to Rome.1
1 In remarkable harmony with this inference as to the date of the epistle are the facts (1) that of those who “accompanied Paul as far as Asia” (Acts xx. 4) on his last journey towards Jerusalem, three, namely, Sosipater, Gaius, and Timothy, send their salutations in this epistle ; (2) that salutations are sent to Priscilla and Aquila (xvi. 3), who are mentioned as having rendered great service and incurred great danger on behalf of the apostle and in the interests of the Church of the Gentiles—which finds confirmation in Acts xviii. 2-26 ; 1 Cor. xvi. 19; (3) that the apostle speaks (xv. 19) of having preached the Gospel “from Jerusalem, and round about even unto Illyricum —a country adjoining the western frontier of Macedonia, -a statement which could not have been made before his second recorded visit to Europe (Acts xx. 1, 2), as on the first occasion his visit was confined to the towns along its eastern coast (Acts xvi. xviii.).
4. Character and Contents.In an intellectual sense this epistle may be said to be the apostle's masterpiece ; theologically it is the most important of all his epistles. Coleridge has pronounced it “the most profound work ever written.” Calvin said of it that "it opened the door to all the treasures in the Scriptures”; while Luther considered it “the chief book of the New Testament, and the purest Gospel."
As already mentioned, it bears a striking resemblance to Galatians (written a short time before it) not only in individual words and phrases, but in the general drift of its teaching with regard to the superiority of the Gospel to the Law. It is, however, more dispassionate in tone, being less personal in its character, and containing a more full and comprehensive treatment of the subject.
It may be said to embody the results of the recent controversy with the Judaisers, stated in a logical and
Equally in keeping with the inference as to the place of composition, viz. Corinth, are the facts (1) that “Gaius my host” and “Erastus the treasurer of the city” send their greetings (xvi. 23), the former being mentioned in 1 Cor. i. 14 as one of the very few persons at Corinth whom the apostle had himself baptized, the latter in Acts xix. 22 as a companion of Paul and in 2 Tim. iv. 20 as left behind at Corinth ; (2) that Phæbe, by whom the epistle was apparently conveyed to Rome, is commended (xvi. 1, 2) as “a servant of the church that is at Cenchreæ,” which was one of the ports of Corinth that had been previously visited by Paul (Acts xviii. 18).
In connection with the mention of Phoebe it is interesting to observe that even at this early period the Christian Church had learned to appreciate the value of female energy and devotion.
systematic form, and at the same time with such moderation and caution as was fitted to disarm the prejudices and conciliate the favour of the Jewish element in the Church. That element had not yet been infected with the leaven of malignant bigotry, emanating from Jerusalem, which had made its influence felt in so many of the other Churches where Paul had laboured ; and the epistle was intended to serve the purpose of prevention rather than cure. It was also intended to pave the way for the apostle's visit to the Church at Rome, whose destined greatness he foresaw, and by whose assistance he hoped to obtain a still wider field for his missionary labours. 1
Being addressed to the Christians of imperial Rome, this epistle is distinguished by its cosmopolitan tone, which is shown at the outset (i. 4, 5) by a reference to the "obedience of faith” to which “all the nations" called in “Jesus Christ our Lord.” It sets forth the universality of the Gospel as "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” 2 (i. 16), and brings out the contrast not between Moses and Christ, as in Galatians, but between Adam and Christ as the representatives of nature and of grace (v. 12-21). With no less propriety, in writing to the inhabitants of a city that was the seat of justice for the whole civilised world, the apostle looks at the great question of salvation from a judicial or forensic point of view, — exhibiting the bearing of the
1 “In time of war, a good general knows well the importance of seizing commanding positions, and discerns them by a sort of intuition. St. Paul had this faculty, as a leader of that little army which, with its spiritual weapons of warfare, went forth to subdue the nations to Christ : and, while journeying in the east, he kept this steadily in view: 'I must also see Rome (Fraser's Synoptical Lectures, Third Series, p. 13).
2 The word "all ” or “every occurs nearly seventy times in the epistle.