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Romans 1:1-17

I.              Epistolary Introduction - 1:1-17

A.            Paul and the Principles of the Gospel - 1:1-7

This introduction of himself to the Romans is unusually long by Pauline standards. According to Moo, "the length and theological orientation of this prescript are due mainly to the fact that Paul was introducing himself to a church that he had neither founded nor visited. He wanted to establish his credentials as an apostle with a worldwide commission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ" (34).

1.             The messenger of the gospel - 1:1

a.              his captivity - v. 1a

Although Paul might have appealed to his educational credentials, his reputation, his other literary works, or some special accomplishment to distinguish himself in the eyes of the Romans, he is first and foremost a bondservant of Christ Jesus! In view of the fact that Paul doesn't personally know these people, one might have expected him to 'drop names' or appeal to past achievements or to his list of publications! But he chooses only to be known as a bondservant of Christ.

In both OT and NT it was a privilege and responsibility to be called a servant of God (cf. Moses, Joshua, David, etc.). The term "expresses the total belongingness, total allegiance, correlative to the absolute ownership and authority denoted by 'lord' used of Christ" (Cranfield/50-51).

Remember: only in service to Christ is true freedom to be found:, Deo servire, vera libertas , or "to serve God (is) true liberty" (Augustine).

N.B. It is reflective of Paul's high Christology that it is no longer YHWH but Christ Jesus whom he serves as sole master. [But then, of course, Christ Jesus is YHWH incarnate.]

b.             his calling - v. 1b

Lit., "an apostle by calling" or "a called apostle." Paul wants to contrast the divine calling by which he became an apostle with human self-appointment by which others claim the authority. It wasn't ambition or personal effort, but grace alone, that put Paul in the office of apostleship:

"Grace came, omnipotent grace, and the rampart of that great soul fell like the walls of Jericho; the impregnable citadel was carried in an hour, and all its ample magazines [resources] were redeemed for the service of the Lord" (Adolphe Monod).

This calling/commissioning is one of two requirements/conditions of apostleship (see Gal. 1:1). One must also have seen the risen Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 9:1-2). Paul also refers to a characteristic proof of apostleship as effectiveness in ministry, particularly the planting of churches.

c.              his consecration - v. 1c

See Gal. 1:15-17

N.B. The gospel = euangelion (60 of 76 NT occurrences are in Paul), the good news. Cf. our term Evangelical.

2.             The message of the gospel - 1:2-4

a.              its source, or where did the gospel come from? (the OT promise) - v. 2

Observe here the fundamental unity between the two testaments. The gospel of the NT is the fruit of which the OT is the root. The NT gospel is the flower of an OT seed.

"The Old is by the New explained,

The New is in the Old contained."

"The New is in the Old concealed,

The Old is by the New revealed."

Thus, whereas the gospel may well be good news, it is by no means new news. It is as old as the OT itself (cf. John 5:39-47; Lk. 24:25-27,44-47; Acts 8:32-35). Said Martin Luther:

"The Christian religion is not the result of a blind accident or of a fate determined by stars, as many empty-headed people have arrogantly assumed, but it was by God's definite plan and deliberate predetermination that it should turn out so" (145-6).

b.             its substance, or, whom does the gospel concern? (the NT person) - vv. 3-4

Jesus Christ is Christianity. J. N. D. Anderson, director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London, has noted that

"in Confucianism and Buddhism it is the teaching and principles of Confucius and the Buddha which represent the essence of the religion, rather than the teacher who first enunciated them or the facts of his life and death. Even in Islam, the towering figure of Muhammad finds its paramount importance in the divine revelation which it believes was given to mankind through him" (Christianity: The Witness of History, 38).

By contrast, Christianity is Christ. John Stott explains:

"The person and work of Christ are the rock upon which the Christian religion is built. If he is not who he said he was, and if he did not do what he said he had come to do, the foundation is undermined and the whole superstructure will collapse. Take Christ from Christianity, and you disembowel it; there is practically nothing left. Christ is the center of Christianity; all else is circumference" (Basic Christianity, 21).

1)             the gospel of God concerns "His (God's) Son" - vv. 3-4a

a)             his humiliation & humanity - v. 3

b)             his exaltation & deity - v. 4a

These two verses are central to Paul's Christology. Two fundamental truths are asserted of "His (God's) Son", and their close parallelism is impossible to miss:

"who was born" / "who was appointed"

"from the seed of David" / "Son of God with power"

"according to the flesh" / "according to the spirit of holiness"

There are three primary competing views of this passage:

1)             One view takes v. 3 as descriptive of Christ's humanity or his human nature, whereas v. 4 describes his deity or his divine nature. Thus the contrast is between the two components of Christ's person. He is one person with two natures: one human (hence flesh) and one divine (hence spirit; not a reference to the HS).

2)             According to this view, the contrast between 'flesh' and 'spirit' is between the outward and the inward. Externally Jesus may be said to have descended from the seed of David. Internally he was perfected in the spirit (or by the Spirit) which fitted him to be the Son of God with power.

3)             The most likely view contends that the focus of the contrast between v. 3 and v. 4 is not between his human nature and his divine nature but rather between his humiliation and his exaltation. In other words, the contrast is not between two different components in Christ's person but between two successive stages or phases in Christ's experience. Cf. Phil. 2:5-11.

Humiliation = his birth, earthly life and ministry, sufferings.

Exaltation = resurrection, ascension, enthronement.

According to this view, flesh refers not so much to the body (far less to the sinful nature) but to the present, natural, earthly realm in which we live. The flesh/spirit contrast is historical; it is a contrast between this present, fallen, earthly, temporal world in which we live, and the future, redeemed, heavenly, eternal world which is yet to come.

The phrase "according to the flesh" refers not so much to Christ's human nature but to the historical realm/environment with which humanity is necessarily associated. The eternal Son of God entered the sphere of the flesh, i.e., this present, fallen, evil age. But as v. 4 goes on to point out, by virtue of his resurrection he has entered the sphere of the spirit, the new age, the heavenly realm where he now lives and reigns.

N.B. The word translated "declared" (NASB) is significant. It is the Greek word horizo, from which we get the English term "horizon". Some insist it means that the resurrection marks out or declares Jesus to be the Son of God. But in its 7 other occurrences in the NT it means to determine, to appoint, to fix (Lk. 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:42; 11:29; 17:26,31; Heb. 4:7). In some sense, then, Christ Jesus was appointedSon of God by virtue of his resurrection from the dead.

This would appear to create a theological problem, for how can the eternally pre-existent Son be appointed Son of God? But note: Paul does not say Jesus was appointed Son of God, but Son of God with power. Paul is describing an event in history whereby Jesus was instated in a position of sovereignty and invested with power (cf. Acts 13:33; Phil. 2:9-11). At the resurrection and exaltation Jesus began a new phase of divine sonship. While on earth Jesus was certainly the Son of God. But he was not the Son-of-God-with-power. Paul is not saying Jesus became the Son at the time of the resurrection (the heresy of Adoptionism). After all, it is the Son who is appointed Son. "The tautologous nature of this statement," Moo explains, "reveals that being appointed Son has to do not with a change of essence -- as if a man or human Messiah becomes the Son of God for the first time -- but with a change in status or function. . . . [Thus] the transition from v. 3 to v. 4 . . . is not a transition from a human Messiah to a divine Son of God (adoptionism) but from the Son as Messiah to the Son as both Messiah and powerful, reigning Lord" (41). It is a transition from the Son of God in weakness and frailty and submission and humiliation to the Son of God in power and strength and authority and exaltation.

2)             the gospel of God concerns "Jesus Christ our Lord" - v. 4b

a)             his deity

b)             his dominion

Paul's use of Lord with reference to Jesus is eternally significant. Lord translates the Hebrew YHWH more than 6,000x in the LXX. To speak of Jesus as Lord is to identify him with YHWH, God of Israel! It also points to his absolute sovereign right of rule over us: over our minds, wills, emotions, lives, time, money, talents, over all.

3.             The motivation of the gospel - 1:5-7

a.              the power - v. 5a

b.             the purpose - vv. 5b-6

The phrase "obedience of faith" may mean one of three things, depending on how one interprets the genitive "of faith": 1) If it is an objective genitive the translation would be, "obedience directed toward, or in, [the] faith," in which case "faith" would refer to a body of doctrine or the message of the gospel. 2) If it is a subjective genitive the translation would be, "obedience that comes from or is produced by faith? (cf. Rom. 15:18). 3) If it is an appositional or epexegetical genitive the translation would be "the obedience which is faith." Belief in the gospel can be described as an act of obedience, as indicated by the parallel phrases in Romans 10:16 ('But not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah said, 'Lord, who has believed our report''?). I prefer option two. That faith in the gospel to which Paul calls us is the kind that obeys. Thus, if your so-called 'faith' does not obey, is it 'saving' faith?

However, note well that the salvation of the Gentiles was not the ultimate purpose of Paul's mission. He sought to bring them to the obedience of faith 'for His name's sake' (v. 5b). First, foremost, and fundamental to Paul's endeavors was honor and praise for the glory of Christ's name. Said Stott: "The highest of missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God, verse 18), but rather zeal" burning and passionate zeal 'for the glory of Jesus Christ' (53).

c.              the people - v. 7

Paul sends this epistle to the 'people', all the people of Rome. He doesn't send it to 'The Society of Ivory Tower Theologians' or to those with an IQ of 150 and higher. The point is that Romans is not too difficult for the average believer. It is for you and me. Question: Why was this section titled the Motivation of the gospel? Answer: Everything Paul did was for His name's sake (v. 5). "Ultimately, Paul ministers not for personal gain or even the benefit of his converts, but for the glory and benefit of Jesus Christ his Lord" (Moo/45). Note also that being a 'saint' is a matter of divine calling, not human performance.

B.            Paul and the People of Rome - 1:8-15

1.             The apostle praying - 1:8-10

a.              God's praise - v. 8

Note well: it is God whom Paul thanks, and thus praises, for the faith of the Roman believers. Cf. Phil. 1:29; 2 Pt. 1:1.

The fact that there were Christians in Rome had reached the ears of all! If there were no print media today, no TV, no yellow-page ads, no radio, would anyone outside Kansas City know there was a Metro Christian Fellowship? What visible, vocal impact are we having to make our presence known?

b.             God's people - v. 9

What does it mean when Paul says he 'serves' God in his 'spirit'? The latter can hardly be a reference to the Holy Spirit since Paul refers to it as 'mine'. In view of the subsequent context, the primary, but not exclusive, reference is to his prayer life (note that the words "preaching of the" are in italics, indicating their absence from the original text).

c.              God's providence - v. 10

Note three things: (1) Paul didn't know whether it was God's will for him to travel to Rome (God's will is not always something that can be ascertained); (2) all of his life and ministry was subject to God's will; and (3) regardless of what might ultimately prove to be God's will, Paul continues to pray and to make every effort to get to Rome.

2.             The apostle planning - 1:11-15

Paul gives 4 reasons why he hopes finally to be allowed by God to come to Rome.

a.              spiritual impartation - v. 11

Gift = charisma, which can mean one of four things: 1) God's gracious gift in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23); 2) God's gracious gifts to Israel (Rom. 11:29); 3) the Holy Spirit inspired ability to minister beyond one's natural talents (Rom. 12:6); and here 4) some blessing or benefit of a spiritual nature to be bestowed on the Christians at Rome by God through Paul (perhaps apostolic insight into the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ).

But to what end? So "that you may be established" (v. 11b).

b.             mutual edification - v. 12

The means of this mutual encouragement, notes Schreiner, 'is 'through the faith in one another, both yours and mine? . . . What inspires and fortifies other believers is when they perceive faith in other Christians. Seeing other believers trust God in the course of everyday life reminds us that God is indeed faithful and encourages us to trust him as well? (52).

Paul's humility is remarkable! John Calvin explains:

"Note how modestly he expresses what he feels by not refusing to seek strengthening from inexperienced beginners. He means what he says too, for there is none so void of gifts in the Church of Christ who cannot in some measure contribute to our spiritual progress. Ill will and pride, however, prevent our deriving such benefit from one another. Such is our superiority and such the intoxicating effect of our stupid boasting, that every one of us despises and disregards others, and considers that he possesses a sufficient abundance for himself" (24).

Note that what concerns Paul is people, not the city sights, nor the Coliseum; not the shops, the Emperor, nor anything other than people!

c.              fruitful cultivation - v. 13

d.             apostolic obligation - vv. 14-15

By 'Greeks' Paul means those who both spoke Greek and had adopted its culture, as over against 'barbarians.' The 'wise' and 'foolish' is simply another way of making the same distinction.

There appears to be a contradiction between Paul's assertion in v. 15 concerning his eagerness to preach the gospel in Rome and his assertion in 15:20-21 that he desired to preach where Christ had not previously been named. However, Paul undoubtedly wanted to engage in initial evangelism while in Rome, for even if a church had been planted he was eager to use every opportunity for winning new converts' (Schreiner, 55). Also, it should be noted that for Paul preaching the gospel entailed more than winning people to Jesus. It also involved strengthening and edifying those who had already come to faith, that is to say, bringing them into the 'obedience of faith' (1:5; 16:26; cf. Phil. 1:27).

C.            Paul and the Power of the Gospel - 1:16-17

The structure of Paul's argument here is important. There are three subordinate clauses that support and/or illuminate the one preceding it. Observe:

(1)           Paul is eager to preach in Rome (v. 15) because he is not ashamed of the gospel (v. 16a).

(2)           Paul is not ashamed of the gospel (v. 16a) because it is in the gospel that one finds God's power for salvation (v. 16b).

(3)           The gospel has power for salvation (v. 16b) because it manifests the righteousness of God (v. 17).

1.             The proclamation - v. 16

a.              Paul's perspective - v. 16a

There are any number of reasons why people feel ashamed of the gospel: fear of losing face, fear of losing friends, fear of being labelled a fanatic, fear of taunting and scorn, fear of losing influence, etc. But cf. 2 Tim. 1:8,16.

But Paul is not ashamed because he knows what the gospel and only the gospel can do: it mediates the power of God.

b.             God's power - v. 16b

For the power of the gospel, see also 1 Cor. 2:4-5; 4:19-20; 1 Thess. 1:5; also 2 Cor. 4:7; 6:7; 12:9; Eph. 3:7; and especially 1 Cor. 1:18. Paul's pride and confidence in the gospel come from his having seen it do what neither education nor religious zeal nor fame nor Roman military might nor wealth nor ethnic heritage nor anything else can do. The power resident in the gospel and the gospel alone can save the lost, give hope to the hopeless, freedom to slaves, guidance to the wandering, purity to the polluted, and purpose to those convinced that life has no value.

1)             its aim: salvation

2)             its appropriation: by faith

The power of God for salvation is not unconditionally and universally operative. It must be received, it must be believed, it must be appropriated by the divinely appointed instrument: faith. Hearing it, applauding it, understanding it, will not avail. You must believe it.

What does Paul mean when he says 'to the Jew first'?(1) He may be referring to his missionary policy of taking the gospel initially to the synagogues as a starting point for reaching an entire community (cf. Acts 13:46). (2) He also may be alluding to the historical priority of God's revelation to and covenant with Israel. It was through God's sovereign choice of Abraham and his descendants that the Gentile world would ultimately be blessed. He will later remind Gentile believers that it is into the olive tree of Israel that they have been grafted through faith (Romans 11). (3) There is a Jewish priority over Gentiles insofar as the former were 'entrusted with the oracles of God? (3:1-2; 9:4). (4) The Jews have a priority over the Gentiles insofar as the Messiah, Jesus, came first as a Jew to the Jews (9:5). (5) Paul may also have in mind Jesus' statement to the Samaritan woman: 'salvation is from the Jews' (John 4:22). That is to say, all salvation is salvation through God's covenant with Abraham. But we should also note the ways in which there is no Jewish priority. (1) They do not have priority in righteousness. As Paul will say, 'there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God' (3:22-23). (2) Neither do they have any priority in how they are saved. Jewish people are saved in precisely the same way Gentile people are saved: through faith in Jesus (see Rom. 3:29-30; 10:12-13). (3) Neither do they have priority when it comes to participation in the blessings of God's covenant. See Gal. 3:16,29; Eph. 2:12-13,19; 3:4-6; 1 Pt. 2:9-10. Gentiles now share equally with Jewish believers in all the covenant blessings and promises.

2.             The principle - v. 17

What does Paul mean by the righteousness of God? We will look at the three options.

(1)           Paul may be referring to an attribute of God, thus the righteousness that characterizes God. This righteousness may be either a) God's justice (cf. Rom. 3:5,25-26), according to which he always does what is right, or b) God's faithfulness, according to which he fulfills his covenant promises to his people.

(2)           Others believe Paul is referring to a status or position that God bestows on those who believe. It is therefore a righteousness that comes from God. Martin Luther gave eloquent expression to this view in the 16th century. Late in life he recalled how he had been taught that the righteousness of God was an impersonal attribute of God in accordance with which He punishes those who fail to meet his eternal standards. Luther was baffled how anyone, much less the apostle Paul, could call this "good news". Then came his life-changing, church-changing, world-changing discovery:

"At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely 'In it the righteousness of God is revealed,' as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.' There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.' Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise through open gates."

In other words, Luther came to the conclusion that the righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel is a gift of God given to sinners through faith. This righteousness is purely forensic or legal. It is a matter of our judicial standing before God, not our internal or moral transformation. Thus, Luther's view is that Paul refers here to the righteous status that comes from God in the gospel through faith.

(3)           Finally, some argue that the phrase refers to an activity of God. The righteousness of God is God's action of intervening on behalf of his people to save and deliver them. This idea has strong support from the OT (see Mic. 7:9; Isa. 46:13; 50:5-8).

N.B. Perhaps all three ideas are involved. God is just and right when he takes saving action to provide a righteous standing for us in his presence. Moo appeals to the imagery of the law court to make the point:

"To use the imagery of the law court, from which righteousness language is derived, we can picture God's righteousness as the act or decision by which the judge declares innocent a defendant: an activity of the judge, but an activity that is a declaration of status -- an act that results in, and indeed includes within it, a gift" (70).

Two other issues emerge in this important verse:

1)             What is the meaning of from faith to faith? There is an almost endless list of suggestions, the most plausible being that this is simply Paul's way of emphasizing that faith and nothing but faith, from beginning to end, can put us in right relationship with God.

Schreiner conveniently summarizes the many options: ?Most interpretations include the idea of a progression from one kind of faith to another: from the faith of the OT to the faith of the NT; from the faith of the law to the faith of the gospel; from the faith of the preachers to the faith of the hearers; from the faith of the present to the faith of the future; from the faith of words we hear now to the faith that we will possess what the words promise; from the faithfulness of God to the faith of human beings; from the faithfulness of Christ to the faith of human beings; from smaller to greater faith; from faith as the ground to faith as the goal? (71-72), etc. ad infinitum.

2)             Does Paul, in his quote from Hab. 2:4, mean to say that a) the righteous shall live by faith, or that b) those who are righteous by faith shall live?


How do you react when you think of the righteousness of God being imputed to you through the power of God? What feelings, if any, rise up in your heart? What response, if any, ought this to evoke in our souls?