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ROMANS - Introduction

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Romans - Introduction

Supplemental Commentary:



Genuineness. The Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Romans, attested by the Epistle itself (1, 1), and accepted without hesitation by the early Church, has, in modern times, never been called into question except by the most extreme critics.

The Epistle was unanimously recognized by the ancient Church as the genuine work of St. Paul.  The earliest explicit testimony to this effect is found in the Muratorian Canon (160-170 A.D.), and in the writings of St. Irenaeus (about 185 A.D.).  Subsequent witness to the Pauline authorship of the Epistle is frequent and unanimous.

Evidence of the existence of the Epistle long before the explicit testimony to its Pauline authorship is found, many think, in 1 Peter, in which there are resemblances of ideas and expression which can scarcely be explained except on the hypothesis that St. Peter was familiar with the Epistle to the Romans.  It is generally admitted that there is literary dependence of the Epistle of St. James on Romans.  Be that as it may, there are passages in the Epistle of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (98 A.D.), of St. Ignatius Martyr (110-117 A.D.), and of St. Polycarp (about 120 A.D.), which are undoubtedly inspired by St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans.  This testimony is ample to establish the authenticity of the Epistle.

Integrity.  Serious doubts have arisen as to whether we have the text of the Epistle today as it originally came from the pen of St. Paul's secretary, Tertius.  The passages on which doubt has been cast are chapters fifteen and sixteen and in particular the doxology, 16, 25-27.  In regard to the doxology, it is omitted in some few later manuscripts, whole some of the early manuscripts put it at the end of chapter fourteen and others at the end of chapter sixteen, while Codex Alexandrinus puts it in both places.  The text used by St. John Chrysostom, by St. John Damascene, and by Theodoret, had the doxology at the end of chapter fourteen.  It is argued that this uncertainty as to the place of the doxology is an indication that it is a subsequent interpolation.  It is further argued that the style of this doxology is not Pauline, that it was not his custom to terminate his Epistles with a doxology, and that it does not fit in with what goes before it.  These arguments, however, are far from conclusive in view of the fact that all the oldest and best manuscripts such as Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Bezae, Claromontanus, and the recently discovered Chester Beatty Papyri, contain it and thus witness to its genuineness.  It sums up all the great thoughts of the Epistle, and although St. Paul does not thus end his other Epistles, there is no reason why he should have to conform all his letters to a rigidly fixed and stereotyped  rule.  Therefore, there is no serious reason for denying or doubting the genuineness of 16, 25-27.

In regard to 15 and 16, although all existing Greek manuscripts contain them, it is generally admitted that there was extant in the early Church a recension which omitted these chapters.  The doxology, placed, as we stated above, in certain manuscripts at the end of 14, seems to indicate that the Epistle ended there, for such a solemn doxology would hardly have been put elsewhere than at the end of an Epistle.  Various explanations of the omission have been suggested.  The following two are highly probable.  (a) An edition of the Epistle was prepared for use in the liturgical services of the Church.  Since the last two chapters were largely personal and hardly suited for public reading, they were omitted from the lectionaries, i.e., copies of the Scriptures prepared for church use.  The doxology, however, which terminated the entire Epistle, was appended at the end of 14.  (b) Some heretic, possibly Marcion, may have mutilated the Epistle by eliminating the last two chapters for doctrinal reasons.  The first of these hypotheses satisfactorily accounts for the different positions of the doxology in various manuscripts.

There is, however, no reason, drawn from the character of these two chapters, to doubt their Pauline authorship.  Their style and diction are certainly Pauline, and they have several touches which are strikingly characteristic of the Apostle of the Gentiles.  But, while the genuineness of these chapters is generally accepted, it has been supposed by some critics that 16 belonged originally to the Epistle to the Ephesians, and by the mistake of a copyist, was appended at the end of Romans.  But there is no strong argument in favor of this hypothesis, and against it we have the unanimous testimony of all the manuscripts.  All of them conclude the Epistle to the Romans with 16.

Date and Place of Composition.  It is practically certain that the Epistle was written at Corinth.  It seems to have been entrusted to Phoebe to bring to Rome (Rom. 16, 1-2).  Now Phoebe was a member of the church at Cenchrae, a small city, a port of Corinth, on the Aegean Sea.  Moreover, St. Paul sends to the faithful at Rome the greetings of his host, Gaius (16, 23), who is probably the Gaius whom St. Paul baptized at Corinth (1 Cor. 1, 14).  Finally St. Paul sends the greetings of Erastus whose name elsewhere (2 Tim. 4, 20) is connected with Corinth.  It seems then, that the Epistle was written from Corinth.

But St. Paul made two visits to Corinth.  His first visit (Acts 18, 1 ff) lasted a year and a half.  His second visit lasted three months (Acts 20, 1-3).  When he wrote to the Romans he was on the point of going to Jerusalem to present to the faithful of the mother-church the collection which he had made for them in Macedonia and Achaia (Rom. 15, 25 f).  As a matter of fact, St. Paul journeyed to Jerusalem for this purpose after his third missionary voyage (Acts 19, 21: 20, 1-3; 24, 17).  At this time among his companions were Timothy and Sopater or Sosipater (Acts 20, 4) who send their greetings to the Romans in the Epistle (16, 21).  There is not doubt, then, that St. Paul wrote to the Romans during this three months' stay in Achaia at the close of this third missionary journey, just prior to setting sail for Jerusalem.  This was during the winter of either the year 57 or 58 A.D.

The Church at Rome.  There were many Jews at Rome.  Many of them, brought there originally as slaves during the Roman wars in Palestine, in the course of time won their freedom, and were granted many concessions by the Roman emperors.

Their first contact with Christianity came on the first Pentecost, when, as Acts tells us, there were among those who heard St. Peter's inaugural sermon "visitors from Rome."  It is not improbable that some of these were among the three thousand converted and that they carried back with them to Italy the first seeds of the Christian faith.  Jews, moreover, were constantly migrating to Rome, and among them, undoubtedly, were some who had embraced Christianity.  Thus the nucleus of a Christian church was formed at Rome.  At the time St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans, he had many friends among them.

The official foundation of the Church at Rome is attributed by early tradition to St. Peter.  We read in Acts 12, 17 that, after the persecution of the Church by Herod Agrippa, St. Peter went to "another place."  Certain statements of early ecclesiastical writers make it highly probable that this "other place" was Rome, which accordingly was visited by St. Peter about the year 42 or 43 A.D.  But be that as it may, it is historically certain that the Prince of the Apostles went to Rome some time during his life, and that he suffered martyrdom there.  The flourishing condition of their faith when St. Paul wrote to the Romans seems to demand that some one of the Apostles taught and inaugurated the church there.  But early writers mention no other name than that of Peter.  Among other witnesses to the presence of St. Peter in Rome are Clement of Rome, Ignatius Martyr, Ireaneus, and Tertullian.  No other city has ever claimed the honor of possessing the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.

Although the first Christians at Rome were in all probability converts from Judaism, at the time St. Paul wrote to the Romans the faithful were, according to the opinion of the great majority of critics, largely converts from Paganism.

Occasion and Purpose.  In St. Paul's day the only safe way in which letters could be transmitted to friends in other cities was to entrust them to travelers who were journeying to the city where the addressees of the letter resided.  At this time Phoebe was setting out for Rome, and St. Paul seized the opportunity to send by her to the Roman Christians the Epistle to the Romans.  St. Paul, too, was planning soon to journey to Spain by way of Rome in quest of new fields in which to exercise his apostolic zeal (15, 24).  This journey would give him the long desired opportunity to see the Christians of Rome, whose faith "was proclaimed all over the world," and to satisfy his longing to impart "some spiritual grace" to them and to "be comforted" by the faith which was common both to himself and to them (1, 8-12).  In order that his visit might be more profitable and enjoyable, St. Paul wrote to them to prepare them for his coming, and to introduce himself to them.

St. Paul recognized that the Roman church was destined to play a conspicuous and most influential part in the future destiny of Christianity.  He wanted their assistance as he was about to set out for the mysterious and distant west to conquer new fields for Christ.  And while writing to them he took occasion to set forth the fundamental doctrine that Christianity is the only way of salvation, and the corollary of this thesis, that the Mosaic Law is powerless to sanctify or save.  St. Paul had briefly set forth this thesis in the Epistle to the Galatians, but since he had penned that document, he had much time to reflect and further to evolve and develop his argument.  He wished to present this doctrine to a wide circle of readers, but until the present time, the opportunity to do so had not offered itself to him.  At length, finding himself with leisure during the winter at Corinth while he was waiting for the sea to become propitious for his voyage to Jerusalem, and intending to introduce himself to the Romans by letter prior to his visit with them, he decided also to propose his doctrine with a more or less elaborate proof and explanation.  In directing this treatise to the church at Rome, Paul assured it a wide circulation, for Rome was the hub of the world; people flocked to it from all quarters.  Thus he could give to the Romans and through them to the Church Universal of that day and of subsequent ages the fruits of his long meditations on a problem which was then sorely vexing the Christian Church, and threatening to throw it into schism---the problem of the relationship of Christianity and Judaism, of the Church and the Synagogue.



Introduction 1, 1-17

I. Doctrinal: The Gospel, the Power of God for the Salvation of All Who Believe  1, 18 -- 11, 36
1. Humanity without Christ  1, 18 -- 3, 20

2. Salvation Through Faith in Christ  3, 21 -- 4, 25

3. The Superabundance of This Justification  5, 1-21

4. Justification and the Christian Life  6, 1 -- 8, 39

5. The Problem of the Rejection of Israel  9, 1 -- 11, 36
II. Moral: The Duties of Christians  12, 1 -- 15, 13

Conclusion: Personal Explanations and Greetings  15, 14 -- 16, 27

Confraternity Bible:



St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans is given the position of honor at the head of all the New Testament Epistles.  It was written at Corinth during the winter 57-58 A.D., at the close of St. Paul's third missionary journey, prior to his voyage to Jerusalem, where at the instigation of his bitter Jewish adversaries he was to be arrested and afterwards held prisoner for several years.  This date for the composition of the Epistle is arrived at by comparing the circumstances and persons to which it alludes with those at Corinth during St. Paul's sojourn there at the close of his third missionary journey.

St. Paul during this period of his missionary activity had rather thoroughly covered the territory in the eastern world, and was looking for new fields to evangelize in the West.  He proposed, accordingly, after visiting Jerusalem, to journey to Spain, stopping en route at Rome.  In this letter he wished to inform the Romans of his intended visit and to set before them the fruits of his meditations on the great religious question of the day, justification by faith and the relation of this new system of salvation to the Mosaic religion.  Although he had previously dealt briefly with the question in the Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul had not thus far had the opportunity of fully developing in writing his doctrine on this point.  But now wishing to introduce himself to the Romans, he seized the opportunity of setting forth a lengthy statement and defense of his doctrine, not only for the Romans but also for the various Christian communities throughout the world.