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Bible Study Notes

Romans: Background Material

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
Romans is more of a treatise than a letter, as it is Paul's greatest work. Not only is this our theology defined, but it is one of the greatest, if not the greatest piece of literature ever conceived! Unpacking Romans is like removing the cover of an old box spring mattress that all the springs will jump up at you!

Introduction to Romans

Date of writing 57-58AD

Romans is more of a treatise than a letter, as it is Paul's greatest work. Not only is this our theology defined, but it is one of the greatest, if not the greatest piece of literature ever conceived! Unpacking Romans is like removing the cover of an old box spring mattress that all the springs will jump up at you!

The Gospel is good news! It is the promise of fulfillment from the Old Testament and centered upon what Christ did on our behalf. That all of humanity is guilty before God and in danger of His judgment. Christ came to earth as a man (Jew), lived a perfect life on our behalf and died in God's wrath and punishment, which He did not deserve, on our behalf (which we do deserve). Then He arose again to purchase our salvation, "the power of God to salvation" (vs 16). He made us righteous before God, thus we need not fear God's judgment when we have faith in our Lord.

Paul was a chief persecutor of Christians, and then was converted directly by the risen Christ and was gripped by the Gospel, thus his whole life was surrendered and controlled by the gospel. After we have been "saved" we have peace with God, and gratitude for what He did. So our focus is to please Him and not ourselves. The question is, has the gospel gripped you?

Do you ever feel unprepared to give a logical presentation of the gospel to a friend or neighbor, or not quite sure about it yourself? Then look no further than Romans for a clear organized presentation of the Gospel!

A Brief History of the Christian Church in Rome

(Most of this information in this section (A) was taken in part from F. F. Bruce, "The Romans Debate Continued," Revised and Expanded Edition, ed. by Karl P. Donfried, 1977, 1991)

First of all, a significant Jewish population existed in Rome as early as 61 BC, when Jewish captives were taken to Rome by Pompey to celebrate the conquest of Judea. Most of the descendants of these slaves, "Freedmen" became liberated through various ways. It was these freed slaves who formed Synagogues in the Roman Empire (Acts 6:9).

Next, Christianity probably reached Rome within a few years of its inception, probably in the mid 30s. F.F. Bruce reminds us of the quickness of Christianity's spread and influence, and its contrast with the social and political culture that characterized the Roman Empire in those days. In all likelihood it was Hellenistic Jewish Christians who first took the Gospel to Rome. It is considered possible that the circle of Stephen and Philip (Acts 6-8) was responsible. They had debated with the "Freedmen" (Acts 6:9-10), and it is possible that Stephen's circle had a relationship with the Synagogue in Jerusalem. This association may have led them to Rome, where the Freedmen originated.

Nevertheless, however this spread originally accrued by man, it was by the means of the Spirit of God and not man; we are His tools, means, and instruments; but, we are not the architects, nor are we the designers. It was this "Christianity", which came to Rome, that introduced Christ into the Jewish community, which led to the same disputes and disruptions that effected other cities with Jewish communities and Christians worshiping in the same Synagogues (e.g., Acts 13:42-14:7; 17:1-9). The Roman historian Suetonius reports that during the reign of Claudius, "Because the Jews in Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he (Claudius) expelled them from the city." This refers to the Edict of Claudius, dated 49 AD, in which Jews, both non-Christian and Christian, were expelled, leaving the Gentile Christians to fend for themselves. The lack of discrimination between Christian and non-Christian Jews is in keeping with the Roman policy reflected in Acts which tended to view the often violent conflicts between Jews, who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and Jews who did not as an "inside quarrel" on the interpretation of Jewish law (Acts 23:29; 25:18-19).

It was during this time that Aquila moved to Corinth, "having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome" (Acts 18:2). It was in Corinth that Paul met this couple in 50 AD, less than a year after the Edict. Paul's arrival in Corinth has been dated to 50 AD by the reference in Acts 18:12 to Gallio as proconsul of Achaia. It is likely that Priscilla and Aquila were already Christians when Paul met them. (Luke makes no mention of their conversion but simply states that the couple taught Apollos "the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26)). If so, they had probably been founding members of the church of Rome prior to the Edict of Claudius.

In 54 AD, Nero succeeded Claudius, canceling the Edict of 49. Nero's accession to the throne was hailed by many at the time as the dawn of a new era of peace for the empire. History shows a different outcome from their original expectations! It was at this time that many Jews began to return to Rome. Priscilla and Aquila also returned to Rome at the end of Paul's missionary journey to the Ephesians (AD 55). The church met in their home at Corinth (1 Cor. 16:19), and they also began to open their doors to the church of Rome (Rom.16:3-5).

Even though the Roman church was originally founded by Hellenistic Jews, as a result of the flighting, the Jewish population from Rome in 49 was now predominantly Gentile! A fact that is stated in Paul's Epistle, three years after the death of Claudius. This conclusion is based on the fact that only 4 out of 26 of the greetings in Rom.16 are to Jews, since 3 of them are greeted as "my kinsmen," and we know that Aquila was a most likely a Jew; we cannot be sure about the ethnicity of his wife Priscilla (Acts 18:2).

Paul addresses the believers at Rome as if they were completely Gentile and gives no hint of the presence of Jewish believers in the congregation until chap. 16. Thus, the greetings of Rom. 16 are probably a sociological sign, most commentators estimate that the church of Rome at the time of the writing of Romans was about 80+% Gentile! And some commentators think this figure may be too low. For example, "for the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles … among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:5-6). Paul states in his salutation that he has received the "grace of apostleship", he goes on to say that he has longed to visit Rome "in order that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles" (v. 11). Romans 11 is clearly addressed to Gentiles, for "I am speaking to you who are Gentiles … inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles" (11:13). He warns, "the wild olive" branches, that have been grafted into the olive tree, to beware of becoming arrogant toward "the natural" branches. The figurative strategy of Rom. 11 supposes an almost entire Gentile congregation, and if there were Jews in the congregation, Paul appears to ignore them, which is unlike Paul's strategy, being a Hellenistic Jew himself.

Why is this important? Because it gives us a better picture of the original situation. And when we have a better picture we can see more clearly. And when we can see more clearly, we do more earnestly!

B. Paul's Situation:

Paul was, "the apostle of the Gentiles" (11:13). Antioch, Corinth, and Ephesus had been previous missionary bases, and he desired now to complete "the circle" (15:19, 23) by adding Rome (just look at a Bible map!) Now Paul is setting up camp in Rome and moving north and west (Spain - 15:24). However, Paul's desire is to finish the collection and bring it to Jerusalem. But what if the Jews attack him? (15:31). He had better get the Gospel down in writing. When Paul wrote Romans, he was arrested in Jerusalem, then was transported to Rome where he remained under house arrest for three years.

Although many assume Paul was released after his house arrest at Rome (Acts 28:30), the Acts passage implies that, at the end of the period, Paul sealed his witness to the Gospel with his life. This theme begins from the very moment of Paul's conversion, when he is told "how many things he must suffer for My name's sake" (9:16). Immediately afterwards, Paul preaches Christ in the synagogues of Damascus and the Jews plot to kill him, but he is let down through a wall in a large basket by the disciples (9:23-25). From this point on, the Jews are constantly following Paul and seeking to kill him, even at one point stoning him and leaving him for dead (9:29; 13:50; 14:2, 5, 19; 15:26; 17:5-9, 13; 18:12; 20:3).

The threat on Paul's life starts from the very beginning of his ministry, with constant warnings from the prophets that he is going to suffer greatly in Jerusalem, Paul's own willingness to die for the name of Christ, the promise of Christ that he would be preserved just long enough to testify in Rome … How can all these themes that stretch from Acts chapter 8 consistently to chapter 28 be left hanging with no statement of the outcome? Because, "the outcome has already been revealed by the narrator's skillful use of dramatic technique", says one commentator. In other words, Paul was martyred.

Thus, there are two views on the death of Paul. Now this is not critical to the understanding of Romans, but it is fascinating to speculate if he went to Spain or died right after his house arrest in Rome. The fact is we just do not know. Most scholars assume that Paul was released after the house arrest in Rome and then was martyred, but he never made it to Spain. However, Spanish legend says he did.

C. The Fourfold Purpose of Romans:

One: To convince the Roman Church that they should support and become partners of the mission to the Gentiles, thus effectively establishing Rome, "the eternal city", as Paul's next missionary base. Rome was considered the chief Gentile city, in contrast with Jerusalem as the chief Jewish city.

Two: To invite the Roman Church into the Pauline circle of churches since they had not had apostolic foundation. This is speculative since Philip may have been their Apostle.

Three: To present the "Pauline Manifesto", theology in a comprehensive and systematic and logical way, especially since Paul was well aware of his own mortality and the possibility that he might not survive the journey to Jerusalem; thus the urgency to get the Gospel down in writing!

Four: To defend his Gospel against the attacks of the Jews, "Justification by faith alone makes God unrighteous," "It leads to antinomianism," "It implies that God is finished with Israel." This is why Paul says he "is not ashamed of the Gospel" and spends a significant amount of time dealing with Israel.

D. CONCEPTUAL OUT LINE OF ROMANS

(This is not totally comprehensive, or it would be 100's of pages long, it is the main concepts, from the main sections. The "Learning Outcomes" are for you to know the main areas to be in prayer and challenged about.)

Romans has four main sections:

ONE: "The Gospel as the Revelation of the Righteousness of God" (chaps. 1-4): The Gospel is the lightning rod that conducts God's creative power, because it reveals the justice of God in the justification of the ungodly.

TWO: "The Gospel as our Induction into the Domain of the Spirit" (chaps. 5-8): The Gospel is the operation of divine power, because it is the means by which those who place all their faith in Jesus Christ are transferred from the realm of sin and death into the realm of the Spirit and life.

THREE: "The Gospel as the Resurrection of the Israel of God" (chaps. 9-11): The Gospel is a powerful demonstration of God's saving action, because it is through faith in Christ that a New, Eschatological Israel, composed of Jew and Gentile, is constituted in fulfillment of the promises made to the fathers.

FOUR: "The Gospel as the Transformation of Social Relationships" (chaps. 12-15): The Gospel is the life-changing power of God, because it transforms social relationships by virtue of the dynamic of love, which is the fulfillment of the law.

To Know Christ and make Him Known!

 

E. Comment on dividing Romans in two halves as theology, then practice:

Many outlines of Romans incorrectly divide the epistle into two major sections: (1) Theological (chaps. 1-11), and (2) Practical (chaps. 12-16). However this way of thinking can bring the themes out of the context, and would be rather misleading.

A. First, it is based on an unbiblical separation between theology and practice - as if theology were the theory, and practical exhortation the applied theory. But this is a modern construct that has little to do with putting doctrine into practice. (Eph. 1:9-10; Rom. 16:25-27). Yet I don't know how to … I simply believe it, love it, and enjoy it. Salvation is impossible, knowledge of God is unattainable, eternal life is unthinkable, and covenant fellowship is indefinable.

B. Second, if you make this distinction between theology and practice the underlying structure of Romans, then you lose much of Paul's argument. All sixteen chapters are theology, and all sixteen chapters show how that theology effects our lives. You would be in trouble to find any statement in Romans (or the Bible for that matter) that is just a dry theological proposition devoid of life and power. The thesis statement of Romans is that Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel, "for it is the power of God unto salvation" (1:16). No speculative systematizing here! What follows from 1:17 on is the unfolding and unpacking of that power.

We cannot separate doctrine from life. Just look at the four main sections from the outline, in each of these four sections there is theology and practice! All four sections are the theological reflection of the profoundest kind designed to show us how God works to our ability to understand and comprehend. Then it begs a response in our life. And all four sections involve those who have faith in Jesus in an existential exploration of the meaning of life (the Gospel) as God's power in our lives, that we too may join Paul in proclaiming, "I am not ashamed of "theology", for this theology is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe!"

So be aware not to distinguish theology from practical application! It is a common complaint amongst Christians that theology is boring and dry and speculative; thus has no real meaning. To continue to prevail the distinction in life as well as to outline Romans would be to say that we are ashamed of the Gospel of Christ!

F. "Why are there so many disagreements within the Christian faith?"

Is not the Holy Spirit giving all Christians the same truth? The Holy Spirit is giving the same truth; the problem is not Him; but us! I had once believed that the many different beliefs in the Christian faith demonstrated that it was not true. After all, how could there be so many disagreements about something that was supposed to be true? I found over the years this is easily; the case is that we have more in common than not, but we tend to focus on the negative distinctions and not our unity.

For example, all Christians agree that we are all sinful. Thus as long as sin remains, it is going to influence how we handle knowledge and truth, even the truth of God's Word. Additionally, nearly all of the divisions among Christians are the result of pride. Furthermore all Christians believe that we humans are limited in our abilities to understand what God has told us and even effectively communicate clearly what God is teaching. This is demonstrated by people who are against the Reformed teachings, mainly because it was not explained logically or clearly. All through Seminary I denied "Limited Atonement" because my professors never clearly explained it; since I did not understand it, I denied it. This is the same reasoning as to why Christians disagree over such things as the method of baptism: Who should be baptized, believers or infants...and what is taking place during this sacrament.

We contradict each other because scripture teaches us to baptize and gives some examples; but it does not actually provide any kind of specific formula. Thus, we come to different conclusions based on our limited insight and our own determination, (what we like over what God desires us to do). These differences are going to multiply if no control is enforced on individuals and churches, which is exactly what has happened. That is why our Church Order Manual and "Articles" are so important. The Reformation encouraged all people to read the Bible, before the common person was not allowed to. Thus many interpretations have risen, both minor and cultic over the centuries, and all these various reasoning have combined with traditions and expectations. These all focus on what we do versus what God calls us to do.

What is important is the agreement that remains over the basics of Christianity by those who believe that the Bible is true. (There are individuals and churches that claim to be Christian and reject what the Bible says. I'm not talking about them, just look up the word "reprobate", and read Romans 1). Most committed Christians, regardless of denomination, who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God have more in common than not; there is a great deal of unity in the midst of our diversity.

We all believe that God is our Creator; that He created us without sin, but that we have all fallen into sin; that our sin separates us from God and we cannot make up this gap; that Jesus Christ is God's Son who died for us that we may receive forgiveness for sin; that He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven: and we embrace salvation only by our faith in Jesus Christ; that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us understanding about Jesus and salvation; that Jesus will return some day in glory. These chief beliefs are our essence that have withstood the test of time and the misinterpretations from sinful people. For myself, the many different denominations have increased my appreciation for the gospel, at the same time given me a passion to teach correct theology. and to reach the lost.

Consider your neighbor, the person you work with, a close friend, a relative, or acquaintance who does not know Him. Will your attitude of "my way or no way" keep you from being a witness or friend? Scripture is clear on what we are called to do, are you clear in your understanding and purpose and response? From the Episcopal church practice of burning incense in worship to the fundamentalist church that renounces any form of liturgy, we all still bow the knee to our Lord (John 14:6).

G. The Timeline - Historical Context of Romans

28 John the Baptist - 15th year of reign of Tiberius (Luke 3:1-2)

30 Crucifixion/resurrection of Christ

31 Martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7)

32 Paul's conversion on road to Damascus (Acts 9), and in Arabia & Damascus for 3 years (Gal 1:17; Acts 9:19-25)

34 Paul's first Jerusalem visit with apostles (Gal 1:18-19; Acts 9:26-27). Departs for native Tarsus (Gal 1:21; Acts 9:30)

44-45 Martyrdom of James, son of Zebedee, by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-2). Barnabas finds Paul in Tarsus, takes him to church at Antioch. Famine-relief delivered to Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30; 12:25)

47-48 First missionary journey (Acts 13-14)

49 Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15; Gal 2:1-10). Jews expelled from Rome (Acts 18:2)

49-52 Second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-18:22)

50-52 Paul spent 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11). Thessalonian's and Galatians

52-57 Third missionary journey (Acts 18:23-21:17)

52-55 Paul's 3-year stay in Ephesus - base for Asia mission (Acts 19:10; 20:31)

56 Paul in Corinth; Paul decides to go to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21) Corinthian letters written ( I Cor 16:8, 19).

57 Macedonia and 3-month stay in Greece (Acts 20:1-3) Romans, Titus, 1 Timothy written. Departure for Jerusalem with the Collection (Acts 20:16, 22; 21:4, 10-15)

57 Paul's arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 21:33)

57-59 Caesarean imprisonment (Acts 23:23-26:32) "Prison epistles" written, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians (?)

59 Paul before Festus

59-60 Paul's voyage to Rome (Acts 27:1-28:16)

60-62 Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:17-31) 2 Timothy written (some scholars say the Prison epistles be placed here?)

62 Paul's Martyrdom at Rome under Nero (2 Tim 4:6-8)*

64 Fire breaks out in Rome - Christians blamed

68 Nero's death

70 Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus under Vespasian

 

Resources used:

1. Sturgeon's Devotional Bible; 1964, Baker Books

2. With the Word by Warren Wiersbe; 1991, Oliver Nelson

3. Halley's Bible handbook; 1927, Regency

4. New Geneva Study Bible; 1995, Thomas Nelson

5. The Romans Debate - Continued; by F. F. Bruce, 1991

6. The "New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge" Edited by Jerome H. Smith, 1992, Thomas Nelson, (footnote #1)

7. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith; R.C. Sproul 1992; Tyndale

8. Years of study & teaching notes, Seminary notes, & Prayer

9. Into Thy Word, 2000; Richard Joseph Krejcir, Writers Club Press

10. Walking by Faith, 2000; Richard Joseph Krejcir, Writers Club Press

(Condensed from "Walking by Faith: Impressions from the book of Romans," by Richard J. Krejcir ã 1998, 2001) www.intothyword.com   
 
 
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