Romans :: Catholic News Agency

Author: St. Paul of Tarsus

Date Written: 57 or 58 AD


Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome probably while he was in Corinth in the winter of 57 or 58.  He planned to go from Corinth to Jerusalem and then to Rome, which is in fact what happened, though he was under arrest at the time (Acts 20:33).  Phoebe from Corinth's port city of Cenchreae bore the letter to Rome.


Paul begins with a formal introduction (Rom 1:1-7) because he has never personally met the church in Rome.  Next he launches into a series of theological arguments, which lasts until chapter 15 in which he relates his travels plans.  In the last chapter, Paul greets his friends in Rome and gives a final doxology prayer.


Paul employs the most advanced rhetorical techniques of his day to make a complicated theological argument.  He shows the depravity of man apart from God and explains the origin of sin as disobedience to the Torah-God's law given to man through Moses.  Without the Torah, there can be no law-breaking, so the law actually reveals our sinfulness.  He critiques judgmental Gentiles and Jews, showing that circumcision, which represented obedience to the Torah, "is a matter of the heart" (2:29).  Paul explains that God is totally righteous and the unrighteousness of man reveals that fact by way of contrast.  He shows how Abraham's faith in God's promise was counted to him as righteousness (4:9) and he makes it clear that we are invited into the fulfillment of that promise (4:24).


Just as Adam and Eve's sin broke our peace with God, Jesus' obedience rebuilds it (5:19).  Now that we have died with Christ in baptism, we are "dead to sin and alive to God" (6:11).  Thus we are transformed from being slaves of sin to being slaves of righteousness.  Paul illustrates the pain of being both a fleshly and spiritual creature.  Dramatic contradictions arise in the self because of temptation, but the "law of the Spirit of life has set you free" so that we can have victory over temptation (8:2).  We are called to walk according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh and so fully embrace our new identity as sons of God (8:4).  The hope that we have because of our adoption surpasses the greatest sufferings we could possibly experience and therefore sustains us in times of trial (8:18).


Paul expresses his concern for the salvation of the Israelites and explains that Jesus brings the "righteousness from God" and the fulfillment of the Law (10:3-4).  He laments the fact that many Jews have rejected Jesus, but he warns Gentile Christians against thinking that their salvation through Christ makes them better than the Jews who rejected him.  Jews and Gentiles are now on a level playing field because "God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all" (11:32).  Paul argues for moral action based on love, submission to governmental authorities, restraint from mutual judgment and a changed attitude toward life by "putting on the Lord Jesus Christ" (cf. 13:14).  Paul concludes his letter by mentioning his travel plans and by greeting several members of the Church in Rome.


Flesh, spirit, death, life, law, grace, glory, adoption, sin, the "obedience of faith" and "righteousness from God" are key terms for Romans.  Notable passages include 3:23, 5:8, 6:23 and chapter 8.  Romans has been at the heart of much Christian theological controversy.


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