Romans, Epistle to the. 1. The date of this Epistle is fixed with more absolute certainty and within narrower limits, than that of any other of St. Paul's Epistles. The following considerations determine the time of writing. First. Certain names in the salutations point to Corinth, at the place from which the letter was sent. (1.) Phoebe, a deaconess [a servant or helper of sorts] of Cenchreae, one of the port towns of Corinth, is commended to the Romans (xvi. 1, 2) (2.) Gaius, in whose house St. Paul was lodged at the time (xvi. 23), is probably the person mentioned as one of the chief members of the Corinthian Church in 1 Cor. i. 14, though the name was very common. (3.) Erastus, here designated "the treasurer of the city" (xvi. 23, E. V. "chamberlain") is elsewhere mentioned in connection with Corinth (2 Tim. iv. 20; see also Acts xix. 22). Secondly. Having thus determined the place of writing to be Corinth, we have no hesitation in fixing upon the visit recorded in Acts xx. 3, during the winter and spring following the Apostle's long residence it Ephesus, as the occasion on which the Epistle was written. For St. Paul, when he wrote the letter, was on the point of carrying the contributions of Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem (xv. 25-27), and a comparison with Acts xx. 22, xxiv. 17, and also 1 Cor. xvi. 4; 2 Cor. viii. 1, 2, ix. 1 if., shows that he was so engaged at this period of his life. The Epistle then was written from Corinth during St. Paul's third missionary journey, on the occasion of the second of the two visits recorded in the Acts. On this occasion he remained three months in Greece (Acts xx. 3). It was in the winter or early spring of the year that the Epistle to the Romans was written. According to the most probable system of chronology, this would be the year a.d. 58. 2. The Epistle to the Romans is thus placed in chronological connection with the Epistle to the Galatians and Corinthians, which appear to have been written within the twelve months preceding. They present a remarkable resemblance to each other in style and matter — a much greater resemblance than can be traced to any other of St. Paul's Epistles. 3. The occasion which prompted this Epistle, and the circumstances attending its writing, were as follows. St. Paul had long purposed visiting Rome, and still retained this purpose, wishing also to extend his journey to Spain (i. 9-13, xv. 22-29). For the time, however, he was prevented from carrying out his design, as he was bound for Jerusalem with the alms of the Gentile Christians, and meanwhile he addressed this letter to the Romans, to supply the lack of his personal teaching. Phoebe, a deaconess of the neighborhood; Church of Cenchreae, was on the point of starting for Rome (xvi. 1, 2), and probably conveyed the letter. The body of the Epistle was written at the Apostle's dictation by Tertius (xvi. 22); but perhaps we may infer from the abruptness of the final doxology, that it was added by the Apostle himself. 4. The Origin of the Roman Church is involved in obscurity. If it had been founded by St. Peter, according to a later tradition, the absence of any allusion to him both in this Epistle and in the letters written by St. Paul from Rome would admit of no explanation. It is equally clear that no other Apostle was the Founder. The statement in the Clementines that the first tidings of the Gospel reached Rome during the lifetime of our Lord, is evidently a fiction for the purposes of the romance. On the other hand, it is clear that the foundations this Church dates very far back. It may be that some of those Romans, "both Jews and proselytes," present on the day of Pentecost (Acts ii. 10), carried back the earliest tidings of the new doctrine, or the Gospel may have first reached the imperial city through those who were scattered abroad to escape the persecution which followed on the death of Stephen (Acts viii. 4, xi. 19). At first we may suppose that the Gospel was preached there in a confused and imperfect form, scarcely more than a phase of Judaism, as in the case of Apollos at Corinth (Acts xviii. 25), or the disciples at Ephesus (Acts xix. 1-3). As time advanced and better instructed teachers arrived, the clouds would gradually clear away, till at length the presence of the great Apostle himself at Rome, dispersed the mists of Judaism which still hung about the Roman Church. 5. A question next arises as to the composition of the Roman Church, at the time when St. Paul wrote. Did the Apostle address a Jewish or a Gentile community, or, if the two elements were combined, was one or other predominant so as to give a character to the whole Church? It is more probable that St. Paul addressed a muted Church of Jews and Gentiles, the latter perhaps being the more numerous. There are certainly passages which imply the presence of a large number of Jewish converts to Christianity. If we analyse the list of names in the 16th chapter, and assume that this list approximately represents the proportion of Jew and Gentile in the Roman Church (an assumption at least not improbable), we arrive at the same result. Altogether it appears that a very large fraction of the Christian believers mentioned in these salutations were Jews, even supposing that the others, bearing Greek and Latin names, of whom we know nothing, were heathens. Nor does the existence of a large Jewish element in the Roman Church present any difficulty. The captives earned to Rome by Pompeius formed the nucleus of the Jewish population in the metropolis. Since that time they had largely increased. On the other hand, situated in the metropolis of the great empire of heathendom, the Roman Church must necessarily have been in great measure a Gentile Church; and the language of the Epistle bears out this supposition. These Gentile converts, however, were not for the most part native Romans. Strange as the paradox appears, nothing is more certain than that the Church of Rome was at this time a Greek and not a Latin Church. All the literature of the early Roman Church was written in the Greek tongue. The names of the bishops of Rome during the first two centuries are with but few exceptions Greek. And we find that a very large proportion of the names in the salutations of this Epistle are Greek names. When we inquire into the probable rank and station of the Roman believers, an analysis of the names in the list of salutations again gives an approximate answer. These names belong for the most part to the middle and lower grades of society. Many of them are found in the columbaria of the freedmen and slaves of the early Roman emperors. Among the less wealthy merchants and tradesmen, among the petty officers of the army, among the slaves and freedmen of the imperial palace — whether Jews or Greeks — the Gospel would first find a firm footing. To this last class allusion is made in Phil. iv, 22, "they that are of Caesar's household." 6. The heterogeneous composition of this Church explains the general character of the Epistle to the Romans. In an assemblage so various, we should expect to find not the exclusive predominance of a single form of error, but the coincidence of different and opposing forms. It was therefore the business of the Christian Teacher to reconcile the opposing difficulties and to hold out a meeting point in the Gospel. This is exactly what St. Paul does in the Epistle to the Romans. Again, it does not appear that the letter was specially written to answer any doubts or settle any controversies then rife in the Roman Church. There were therefore no disturbing influences, such as arise out of personal relations, or peculiar circumstances, to derange a general and systematic exposition of the nature and working of the Gospel. Thus the Epistle to the Romans is more of a treatise than of a letter. In this respect it differs widely from the Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians, which are full of personal and direct allusions. In one instance alone (xiii. 1) we seem to trace a special reference to the Church of the metropolis. 7. This explanation is in fact to be sought in its relation to the contemporaneous Epistles. The letter to the Romans closes the group of Epistles written during the second missionary journey. This group contains besides, as already mentioned, the letters to the Corinthians and Galatians, written probably within the few months preceding. In the Epistles to these two Churches we study the attitude of the Gospel towards the Gentile and Jewish world respectively. These letters are direct and special. The Epistle to the Romans is the summary of what St. Paul had written before, the result of his dealing with the two antagonistic forms of error, the gathering together of the fragmentary teaching in the Corinthian and Galatian letters. 8. Viewing this Epistle then rather in the light of a treatise than of a letter, we are enabled to explain certain phenomena in the text. In the received text a doxology stands at the close of the Epistle (xvi. 25-27). The preponderance of evidence is in favor of this position, but there is respectable authority for placing it at the end of ch. xiv. In some texts, again it is found in both places, while others omit it entirely. The phenomena of the MSS. seem best explained by supposing that the letter was circulated at an early date (whether during the Apostle's lifetime or not it is idle to inquire) in two forms, both with and without the two last chapters. 9. In describing the purport of this Epistle we may start from St. Paul's own words, which, standing at the beginning of the doctrinal portion, may be taken as giving a summary of the contents (i. 16, 17). Accordingly the Epistle has been described as comprising "the religious philosophy of the world's history." The atonement of Christ is the centre of religious history. The Epistle, from its general character, lends itself more readily to an analysis than is often the case with St. Paul's Epistles. The following is a table of its contents : — Salutation (i. 1-7). The Apostle at the outset strikes the keynote of the Epistle in the expressions "called as an apostle," " called as saints." Divine grace is everything, human merit nothing. — I. Personal explanations. Purposed visit to Rome (i. 8-15).— II. Doctrinal (i. 16-xi. 36). The general proposition. The Gospel is the salvation of Jew and Gentile alike. This salvation comes by faith (i. 16, 17). (a) All alike were under condemnation before the Gospel. The heathen (i. 18-32). The Jew (ii. 1-29). Objections to this statement answered (iii. 1-8). And the position itself established from Scripture (iii. 9-20). (6) A righteousness (justification) is revealed under the Gospel, which being of faith, not of law, is also universal (iii. 21-26). And boasting is thereby excluded (iii. 27-31). Of this justification by faith Abraham is an example (iv. 1-25). Thus then we are justified in Christ, in whom alone we glory (v. 1-11). And this acceptance in Christ is as universal as was the condemnation in Adam (v. 12-19). (c) The moral consequences of our deliverance. The law was given to multiply sin (v. 20, 21). When we died to the law we died to sin (vi. 1-14). The abolition of the law, however, is not a signal for moral license (vi. 15-23). On the contrary, as the law has passed away, so must sin, for sin and the law are correlative ; at the same time this is no disparagement of the law, but rather a proof of human weakness (vii. 1-25). So henceforth in Christ we are free from sin, we have the Spirit, and look forward in hope, triumphing over our present afflictions (viii. 1-39). (t) The rejection of the Jews is a matter of deep sorrow (ix. 1-5). Yet we must remember — (i.) That the promise was not to the whole people, but only to a select seed (ix. 6-13). And the absolute purpose of God in so ordaining is not to be canvassed by man (ix. 14-19). (ii.) That the Jews did not seek justification aright, and so missed it. This justification was promised by faith, and is offered to all alike, the preaching to the Gentiles being implied therein. The character and results of the Gospel dispensation are foreshadowed in Scripture (x. 1-21). (iii.) That the rejection of the Jews is not final. This rejection has been the means of gathering in the Gentiles, and through the Gentiles they themselves will ultimately be brought to Christ (xi. 1-36). — III. Practical exhortations (iii. 1-xv. 13). (a) To holiness of life and to charity in general, the duty (iii.) That the rejection of the Jews is not final. This rejection has been the means of gathering in the Gentiles, and through the Gentiles they themselves will ultimately be brought to Christ (xi. 1-36). — III. Practical exhortations (iii. 1-xv. 13). (a) To holiness of life and to charity in general, the duty of obedience to rulers being inculcated by the way (xii. 1-xiii. 14). (6) And more particularly against giving offence to weaker brethren (xiv. 1-xv. 13). — IV. Personal matters, (a) The Apostle's motive in writing the letter, and his intention of visiting the Romans (xv. 14-33). (4) Greetings (xvi. 1- 23). The letter ends with a benediction and doxology (xvi. 24-27). While this Epistle contains the fullest and most systematic exposition of the Apostle's teaching, it is at the same time a very striking expression of his character. Nowhere do his earnest and affectionate nature, and his tact and delicacy in handling unwelcome topics appear more strongly than when he is dealing with the rejection of his fellow-countrymen the Jews. 10. Internal evidence is so strongly in favor of the genuineness of the Epistle to the Romans that it has never been seriously questioned. But while the Epistle bears in itself the strongest proofs of its Pauline author ship, the external testimony in its favor is not inconsiderable. It is not the practice of the Apostolic fathers to cite the N. T. writers by name, but marked passages from the Romans are found em bedded in the Epistles of Clement and Polycarp. It seems also to have been directly cited by the elder quoted in Irenaeus, and is alluded to by the writer of the Epistle to Diognetus, and by Justin Martyr. It has a place moreover in the Muratorian Canon and in the Syriac and Old Latin Versions. Nor have we the testimony of orthodox writers alone. The Epistle was commonly quoted as an authority by the heretics of the subapostolic age, by the Ophites, by Basilides, by Valentinus, by the Valentinians, Heracleon and Ptolemaeus, and perhaps also by Tatian, besides being included in Marcion's Canon. In the latter part of the second century the evidence in its favor is still fuller.
William Smith, A Dictionary Of the Bible Comprising Its Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, p. 796-798
William Smith, A Dictionary Of the Bible Comprising Its Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, p. 796-798
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