Quick Links to Visual Commentary on Romans
Three basic questions to introduce Paul’s letter to the church in Rome:
- Who is Paul?
- Why did he write this letter?
- Who cares? Right? I mean, why should we care about a personal letter written by someone 2,000 years ago?
Who is Paul?
When we first meet Paul, he goes by his first name, Saul. We meet him back in Acts chapter 8. This is the story of when Stephen was stoned to death in Acts chapter 7. He was the first person to die for proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for.
Saul is standing by, approving of this execution.
Saul was a well-educated young man. He had the best of three worlds. He was Jewish by birth, but was born in a Roman colony in Asia Minor and received Roman citizenship. This was rare for Jews. He was educated in Greek philosophy and in the Jewish religion. He moved to Jerusalem, studied with famous rabbis, and was sure to become a powerful leader of his people.
He was very much against the followers of Jesus. One day he got permissions from the leaders to go to a norther town called Damascus to round up the Jesus people and have them arrested, and possibly executed.
On his way to Damascus he is encountered by the risen Jesus. He has a dramatic conversion, and drops off the scene for 13 years. Then, when he comes back, he is the leading missionary to the Gentile people.
During one of Paul’s journeys–found in the story of Acts–he spends 18 months in the city of Corinth, hanging out with a married couple named Aquila and Priscilla. They are Jewish people who are in Corinth because the Roman Emperor had all the Jews run out of Rome.
So, Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla are making tents together, probably talking about the church in Rome. Paul has never been to this church, but he feels like he knows the people.
Why Did He Write This Letter?
Paul is in back Corinth, on his third journey. He has been collecting money from the Gentile churches in order to help the people in Jerusalem, because there was a big famine and the church was suffering from hunger.
Paul’s big plan was to go all the way to Spain, which was, from his perspective, literally the end of the Earth. He knew that if he wanted to get to Spain, he was going to have to go through Rome, and he would need the help of the church there.
So, he writes this letter to introduce himself, and to explain to the people in that church what he is all about, and how he defines the Gospel.
An Overview of Chapters 1-4
In Romans 1:1-17, Paul introduces himself and identifies his audience as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul also establishes his view of the Good News of Jesus in Romans 1:16-17. These two verses are essentially the thesis statement for Paul’s argument throughout the entire letter. He is trying to demonstrate that the Good News of Jesus is for ALL people. The Gentiles don’t have to become Jewish in order to be part of God’s Promise.
The rhetorical argument begins in verse 18…
Here is the basic overview of what Paul said in the first four chapters of Romans.
Remember the story of Abraham. 2,000 years before Paul’s day, God made a promise to a guy named Abraham. God said, “I will bless you so that your family can be a blessing to the nations.”
“Blessed to be a blessing.”
2,000 years later, some of Abraham’s children are known as the Jews. They believe that they are God’s chosen people. They are Jews and everyone else is the “Gentiles” You see here that there are as many types of Gentiles as there are non-Jewish culture. Everybody is a Gentile if you are Jewish.
They also believed that the only way a person could be right with God and have any hope of eternal life and/or salvation, was to become Jewish. You have to abandon your culture and become just like us in order to know God.
Paul is arguing against this idea. He makes this argument in the first four chapters of Romans
The first chapter establishes that the Gentiles have turned away from the creator to worship created things. This is idolatry. The Jews shout “Amen!”
The second chapter says, “Whoa! Hold on my Jewish brothers and sisters.” The Jews have turned away from God and put their trust in self-righteousness, thinking the Law of Moses makes them better than everyone else.
Paul pulls an impressive rhetorical jujitsu move and turns the argument back onto his Jewish brothers and sisters. He essentially accuses them of turning the Laws of Moses into the same type of idol as the gentiles’ gods. The Law condemns them and exposes that they are just as much “sinners” as the gentiles.
It seems that Paul’s primary goal in this rhetorical excercise is not to name specific sins that are more sinful than others, or to create more ammunition for why we should condemn “those” people. His goal is to unify all people under the grace of God. No one “measures up,” so stop measuring.
The third chapter can be summed up in Romans 3:23. For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all equal and we all need salvation.
The fourth chapter ties it all back to the beginning with God’s simple promise to Abraham. It all comes down to God’s faithfulness to God’s promise and Abraham’s faith in God’s faithfulness. Period
So, here is, perhaps, a more accurate picture of how Paul sees the Gospel. God’s massive restart is bringing the Good news of God’s faithfulness, demonstrated through Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit to all nations. Not to convert them to a new culture, but to transform them within their own culture to know the love of God.