Friday, June 10, 2011


It is worth summarizing Paul’s letter to the Romans here. Romans (57 AD) is often been compared to a systematic theology, because its content can easily be summarized by various doctrinal headings, which are often the same as those followed in the creeds, confessions, catechisms, and systematic theologies throughout church history: God, creation and fall, the work of redemption in Christ, the application of redemption by the Spirit, and the Christian life and relation to the world, etc. But it is important to point out that the Book of Romans was not written as a systematic theology; rather, there is a specific historical context that drives Paul’s arguments (especially concerning the relationship between Jews and Gentiles). Notice especially how Paul raises and answers questions throughout the letter. This tool is used both to prove that what he is teaching is true and to cause his audience to engage these issues with their full intellect. The Epistle contains an unfolding theological argument that attempts to summarize God’s work throughout the Scriptures.

1:1-17 Introduction & Thesis
1:18-3:20 Before Paul can elaborate on the good news of v17, he must explain the bad news. All of humanity faces a problem: the wrath of God, which is entirely justified because all of humanity has violated His law. The Gentiles know God according to general revelation, and the Jews know God according to special revelation, yet both have failed to worship and obey Him.
3:21-4:25 Back to the good news: Since everyone is under sin and God’s wrath, the only way out is the Gospel: the announcement that, in Christ, God has provided a righteousness that satisfies His holy requirements. All of this is received through faith alone, apart from works, just as the Old Testament Scriptures have taught, which the examples of Abraham and David demonstrate. Christ propitiated God’s wrath in His death and justified the wicked by His resurrection.
5:1-11 We have peace with God thanks to the work of Jesus Christ. Our understanding of this truth should result in rejoicing, in spite of and even on account of our sufferings.
5:12-21 At this point, Paul has concluded his summary of justification by grace through faith in Christ. This brief section serves as an interlude revisiting our sinfulness and God’s amazing mercy by comparing and contrasting Jesus with Adam. V20 stirs a question that gets Paul going on what happens after justification – namely, sanctification.
6:1-7:6 God has not only secured our salvation from the condemnation of the law, but also from the dominion of sin and death. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we are made new creatures, no longer slaves to sin, as shown through an example of marriage.
7:7-8:39 Despite this truth, we continue to struggle throughout our life with indwelling sin, and the only hope we have is to look to Christ, with the indwelling Spirit testifying in our hearts to our adoption and keeping alive within us the hope that all of creation will share with us in the final redemption. The Golden Chain of Salvation reminds us that God is at work (v28-30) in us to sanctify us according to His purpose. In light of this, nothing can separate us from God’s love.
9:1-11:36 How can we trust Paul’s Gospel if God has been unfaithful to His earlier promises to Israel? What about Israel in this grand scheme? God has always maintained a faithful remnant among the physical descendants of Abraham, and even among the Gentiles, by sovereign election. Salvation is solely a matter of God’s mercy alone. Faith, which comes through hearing the Gospel, is how salvation is received, and plenty of messengers have been sent to proclaim the genuine offer of the Gospel. All along, God has been perfectly faithful to His promises, and after He adds the complete number of Gentile branches to the Tree of Israel, He will bring in the fullness of the Jews as well. The plan of God throughout time is amazing.
12:1-15:13 Application of 1-8 and 9-11: In view of God’s mercy, which staggers our imagination, we no longer offer dead animal sacrifices for atonement; rather, our own bodies serve as living sacrifices out of praise and thanksgiving. In that light, we must not judge one other in disputable matters, but instead, by grace, build each other up by loving and serving selflessly.
15:14-16 Note the clear display of the Communion of Saints and powerful conclusion in v26-27: Paul accomplished his mission, writing “so that all nations might believe and obey Him – To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

Martin Luther said about Romans, “You had better follow the order of this epistle. Worry first about Christ and the Gospel, that you may recognize your sin and His grace. Then fight your sin, as the first eight chapters have taught. Then, when you have reached the eighth chapter, and are under the cross and suffering, this will teach you correctly of predestination in chapters 9, 10, and 11, and how comforting it is. In chapter 12 he teaches what true worship is, and makes all Christians priests. They are to offer not money or cattle, as under the law, but their own bodies, with slaying of the lusts. Then he describes the outward conduct of Christians, under the spiritual government, telling how they are to teach, preach, rule, serve, give, suffer, love, live, and act toward friend, foe, and all men. These are the works that a Christian does; after all, faith takes no holidays. This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.”

Finally, John Calvin said of Romans, “It can never be sufficiently appreciated that when anyone gains a knowledge of this Epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture. The whole Epistle is so methodical, that even its very beginning is framed according to the rules of art.”

The Roman Church was founded on a Jewish base, before any apostle came and preached there. Though Paul notes Andronicus and Junias as apostles who were in the Lord before he was; perhaps they were in Jerusalem to hear Peter’s Pentecost sermon only to return to Rome and found the Roman Christian Church amongst their Jewish brethren. Jews and Romans had a tenuous relationship from 19 AD, when there was a major and scandalous financial misappropriation that may have led to Paul’s comment in Romans 2:24, that the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of the Jews. Claudius placed a number of travel and business restrictions on the Jews when he became Emperor in 41 AD, based on uprisings in Alexandria and Jerusalem. There were an estimated 40-60,000 Jews in Rome as of 49 AD, when he expelled them from Rome. Secular historians ascribe the eviction to Jewish uproars instigated by the Christians in their midst. Though it is impossible to know how many Roman Jews had become Christians prior to 49 AD, once many of them returned in 55 AD (after Claudius died and Nero succeeded him), the Christian community in Rome was comprised of a minority of Jews and a majority of Gentiles. Paul elaborates on this physical reality by explaining it spiritually in Romans 11. Gentiles had no right to boast; their inclusion would ultimately lead to more Jews turning to Christ. Some suggest Hebrews was written (by Paul) specifically to Roman Jews / Jewish Christians further explaining their situation (Hebrews 13:13).

In Romans 16, Paul greets many people, seemingly in 5 or 6 groups, pointing to the fact that many of Paul’s acquaintances had moved to Rome but lacked a central meeting place (perhaps due to the size of the city, which was separated into suburbs). It is also noteworthy that many of the names appear in records of imperial households. Due to the decentralization, it is not surprising that Ignatius reports that there was no bishop in Rome, even as late as 110 AD. It is suggested that Phoebe, from Cenchreae, the port of Corinth, delivered Romans to each house church. In early or mid April 57 AD, Paul’s delegates to Jerusalem left Cenchreae by ship, but Paul and Luke went a different route due to a plot against Paul’s life (Acts 20:6). They would meet up later in the voyage and hope to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost, which was the last week of May. From the Philippian port of Neapolis, it took Paul and Luke five days to reach Troas, four more than when they had gone earlier in the opposite direction. They celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread at Troas (Acts 20:6), with the body of believers there, and Paul even taught late into the night. Eutychus was in the audience, and Paul’s sermon put him to sleep. He fell out a third story window, but thankfully, he was alive and well. They made their way to Miletus, visiting several cities along the way (Acts 20:15). There they were delayed in harbor, probably due to cargo issues for the ship, so Paul invited the Ephesian elders to come down 30 miles and visit him. He warned them of impending danger, both from within and without (Acts 20:15-38). No mention is made of a Christian congregation in Miletus, but there is plentiful evidence of a Jewish synagogue there at that time, with a number of God-fearers as well.

Before arriving at Caesarea, the party stayed at Tyre for seven days, fellowshipping and praying on the beach with the Christians there, though no specific mention of their congregation is made (Acts 11:19). In Caesarea, Paul and his friends stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist for several days (Acts 21:1-8). Perhaps he visited Cornelius, who lived there, as well. Then Paul and his colleagues made for Jerusalem, guided by Mnason, a Hellenist Christian from Cyprus who would host them while in Jerusalem. Paul had been warned twice (by the Ephesian elders and again by the prophet Agabus) about going to the city (Acts 21:4, 10-15), but everyone proclaimed in the end, “the Lord’s will be done” (Acts 21:14). The delegation met James and the elders – perhaps the Sanhedrin of the true Jewish remnant (believers) – and they glorified God. But they were also quick to point out the Jews who believed the gospel and kept the law; they apparently did not accept Paul’s gift, which signified a break between Paul and Jerusalem that would never be healed.

Peter and the other apostles had likely left Jerusalem to minister in the lands of the Jewish dispersion. But at Pentecost, many Jews had returned to Jerusalem, and the Ephesian (or Asian) Jews recognized Paul and one of his Gentile converts named Trophimus at the Temple. They accused Paul of bringing a Gentile where Gentiles were not allowed, and they dragged him out and beat him. The Roman military rescued Paul, and he was brought to the tribune, Claudius Lysias, who was surprised by his educated Greek words. (He undoubtedly thought Paul was a renegade Egyptian who stirred up trouble and escaped a couple years earlier.) Paul was given the opportunity to speak, and he addressed the crowd in Aramaic (Acts 22:3-21). His speech stirred the crowd again (especially when he mentioned ministry to the Gentiles), and the tribune order Paul to be imprisoned and flogged. Before the flogging, Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship and avoided the painful punishment. But if he had broken Jewish law, he would be subject to the Sanhedrin. When no witnesses came forward, Paul was held by the tribune, pending the Sanhedrin’s ability to prosecute. It is thought that Paul’s delegation returned to their homes at this time, with the exception of Luke and Aristarchus, who stayed to try to provide care for Paul. Paul defended himself before them by bringing up the resurrection, which caused the Pharisees and Sadducees to argue amongst themselves. When the tribune saw the lack of progress and learned from Paul’s nephew of a plot to assassinate Paul, he sent him to Caesarea under the cover of plentiful guards and nightfall. There, the provincial governor, Felix, would facilitate the case and hearing against him.

Paul spent the next 2 years imprisoned in Caesarea, which was a predominantly Gentile city, in which Roman leadership preferred to live to avoid the Jewishness of Jerusalem. Felix was a freedman, once a slave in the house of the daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia, who happened to be the mother of Emperor Claudius. Felix had a brother, Pallas, who was Claudius’ chief accountant of the public treasury. Felix had skill in befriending the political and social elite – three of his wives were of royal birth – which helped him to maintain a lifestyle of power and prestige. He also maintained his power by siding with Rome against any uprising. At this time, many zealous Jews were launching terrorist-style, guerilla warfare tactics against any people they felt were siding with Rome, even against their own people. Once such victim of the sicarii – daggermen – was the high priest Jonathan, and Felix fought these uprisings harshly and successfully. Even when Pallas lost his position at Nero’s accession (late 54 AD), Felix was able to keep Rome’s favor, and therefore his position of authority, for five more years.

Five days after Paul’s arrival in Caesarea, the Sanhedrin came with Tertullus, a hired lawyer / orator, to carry out the case against Paul (Acts 24:2). Paul defended himself (Acts 24:10), and Felix delayed a decision, waiting to hear from the tribune, Claudius Lysias, on the matter. We have no further record of Felix holding another hearing, though many experts suppose he had hopes of holding Paul for ransom, taking a bribe to release him to the highest bidder. No offers were tendered, and so Paul remained. Felix called on him from time to time, and Luke says surprisingly that he had “a rather accurate knowledge of the Way” (Acts 24:22). One of his wives, Drusilla, a Jewess, may have wanted to hear Paul. In the end, continued strife between Romans and Jews got Felix recalled to Rome.
Festus succeeded him in 59 AD and reopened the case against Paul. Paul was in danger now, because Festus was siding with the Jews over Rome in many cases. Having no confidence in his chances of a fair trial in this district, Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11). Roman citizenship increasingly abused this right until it was abolished in 212 AD. Claudius always heard the cases himself, but until 62 AD, Nero never did. We don’t know who, if anyone, heard Paul’s case, but because of his case, Bruce says, “It would soon be impossible to regard Christianity as a variety of Judaism… A favorable hearing…might win recognition for Christianity…as the true fulfillment of Israel’s ancestral religion.” Festus was likely glad to have the responsibility off his shoulders, but he still had to draft a letter explaining the situation. Festus passed that duty off to 17-year-old Agrippa II, son of Herod Agrippa I, who died in 44 AD (Acts 12:23). Agrippa, hearing “about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive” (Acts 25:19), wanted to meet and talk with Paul. But he laughed at the rationality of becoming a Christian (Acts 26:27-28), and he suggested that Paul could have been released if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar.

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