Thursday, September 28, 2006

Romans Preview

Romans was written in 57 AD by the apostle Paul from Corinth while on his third mission trip. Paul had not yet been to Rome. How did he know about the believers there? The first church at Rome was likely founded between 33-37 AD by Andronicus and Junias (mentioned in Romans 16:7) and made up of Jewish believers in Christ. These Jews gathered to worship Christ according to Old Testament mandates (as required in the Torah). Aquila and Priscilla, a married couple, likely joined this home fellowship sometime before 41 AD. In 41 AD, Emperor Claudius prohibited the public assembly of Jews in Rome.

Several apocryphal (uninspired), ancient texts, such as Justin’s First Apology, reported that Simon Magus (Simon the Sorcerer from Acts 8:9-24) came to Rome around this time proclaiming to be a god and won many converts to his form of Gnosticism by his ability to perform magic. The theory is that Simon Magus gained influence among the gentile converts in Rome, who could no longer meet in public to retain the leadership of Jewish Christians. With Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews in 45 AD, the church moved from genuine Messianic Judaism (Christianity) into Gnosticism over a period of years (41-49 AD).

While in Corinth during his second mission trip (49-51 AD), Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who had come from Rome to Corinth around 45-49 AD. Aquila and Priscilla later went to Ephesus with Paul, where they stayed and tutored Apollos while Paul continued back to Antioch. Aquila and Priscilla returned to Rome around 54-57 AD (Claudius died in 54 AD, and the ban on Jews was lifted or at least not enforced). By the time Paul wrote to the Romans (57 AD), Aquila and Priscilla were there, hosting the church in their home, most likely having restored the Jewish believers to regular fellowship and converted gentiles as well. By the time Paul wrote to Timothy (64-65 AD), Aquila and Priscilla were back in Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla may have fled for their lives from Nero, who stepped up persecution against Christians in 64 AD.

So it appears that Aquila and Priscilla were the agents God used, amidst what was seemingly chaos from our perspective, to bring Paul to write his most famous and most systematically complete epistle on the Christian faith.

Paul's major themes in Romans include: slavery and freedom, Jews and Gentiles, grace and the law. Paul discusses issues such as justification, propitiation, sanctification, and glorification. He gets into deep doctrinal issues, such as predestination, God's foreknwledge, election, and even reprobation. Paul leaves no doubt for his audience, the called of God, that the Gospel is from God. Indeed, Romans is first and foremost a book about God. It has been called the Gospel of Paul. This book has transformed lives of great historic Christians such as Augustine and Martin Luther, and several modern-day theologians, like John Piper. Romans can transform us as well. Many people have preconceptions about the gospel and about God that blind them to the sheer extravagance of grace in the gospel. By the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, God can take from our eyes the scales preventing us from appreciating the true glory of God, His grace, and enable us to see, as He did with Paul.

In the Book of Romans, we see that the Gospel is all about what God has done to reconcile His people to Himself all for the praise and glory of His Name. And for the next several weeks, I'll blog through Romans attributing my notes to the following sources:

Ligon Duncan's sermon series
John Piper's sermon series
Charles Spurgeon's sermons
John MacArthur's sermons
John Calvin's commentaries
Matthew Henry's commentaries
The Refomation Study Bible
Middletown Bible Church's Romans series

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