Romans is by far Paul’s most systematic theology letter, written to the Roman church to address specific concerns. Discuss the occasion, date, recipients, and purpose of Romans?
Introduction to Romans
“Romans is Paul’s ‘doctrinal statement,’ sent on ahead to demonstrate his orthodoxy and worthiness of missionary support” (Moo 2000, 22). Indeed, Romans reflects Paul’s mature thinking on essential Christian orthodoxy. Paul wrote Romans for several reasons, including resolving a conflict of opinion between Jews and Gentiles, as found in Romans 14:1-15:13. Schreiner notes that Paul knew many people in Rome (cf. Rom 16), and therefore, he must have been informed about the real tension going on (Schreiner 1998, 20-22). In writing this epistle, Paul sought to unify the churches in Rome so that Jews and Gentiles would worship God “harmoniously together” as he states in Romans 15:7-13 that “a harmonious church would bring honor and praise to God’s name” (Schreiner 1998, 22).
The epistle to the Romans identifies its author as Paul (1:1) or better yet it was “composed by Paul, who uses Tertius to write down what Paul dictates to him” (cf. Rom16:22) (Moo 2008, 16). Many details in Romans confirm his authorship. Paul affirms his tribe of Benjamin heritage (Rom 11:1; cf. Phil. 3:5). He sends greetings to Priscilla and Aquilla, whom he met in Corinth and Ephesus (Rom 16:3; cf. Acts 18:2-3, 18-19). He mentions his trip to Jerusalem with the love gift collected from churches in Macedonia and Achaia, facts confirmed in the Book of Acts and Corinthians (Rom 15:25-27; cf. Acts 19:21; 20:1-5; 21:15; 17-190). He makes references to his desire to go to Rome (Rom 1:10-13,15:15-22-32), also confirmed in the Book of Acts (Acts 19:21).
Paul’s audience includes Gentile and Jewish Christians, with the Gentile Christians in the majority (Moo 2000, 21). Paul addressed Jews directly (Rom 2:17) and included himself when he spoke of “Abraham our forefather” (Rom 4:12). Also, Paul directly remarked, “I am talking to you Gentiles” (Rom 11:3; cf. Rom 11:17-31; 15:14-16). The implication from Romans 1:5, 13 is that Paul considered the Christian community in Rome predominantly Gentile (Walvoord 1983, 486).
Who Founded the Roman Church?
Paul did not plant the Roman Church. Moo notes that “visitors from Rome” (Acts 2:10) were among those who witnessed the miracle of Pentecost and heard Peter’s sermon. Some of them were among the three thousand who were converted on that day (Acts 2:41), and they brought their new belief in Jesus as Messiah back with them to Rome. So, “the church in Rome as the church father Ambriosiaster claimed, probably had its origins in the synagogue.” (Moo 2000, 21). Since Paul had not yet visited Rome prior to writing this letter, it is apparent that no other apostle had founded the church of Rome considering Paul’s stated purpose to be a pioneer missionary “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Rom 15:20).
Date, Place, and Occasion
According to Moo, Paul wrote Romans probably in A.D. 57 while in Corinth during his third missionary journey (Acts 20:2-3). The circumstances that lead to this letter is, Paul has been preaching for almost twenty-five years, he has planted several churches in the Mediterranean, addressed many pastoral issues, and debated several opposing factions. Now while experiencing a break in his itinerant missionary, he pens this letter to the Church in Rome (he was planning to visit), explaining several doctrinal beliefs and Christian worldview issues (Moo 2000, 17).
The primary purpose for Paul writing Romans is his “missionary situation” (Moo 200, 17). “Paul wrote Romans in part to win support for his anticipated mission to Spain” (Blackwell 2105, 17), to prepare the Churches in Rome for his visit to their city and to include them in his ministry. Paul is poised to take a missionary trip to Spain, which means he will have an opportunity to stop over in Rome to visit the Roman Churches, something he says he has been yearning to do but has been hindered from coming to Rome (Romans 1:8-13; 15:22-24) (Morris 1988, 7). Bruce asserts that Paul wrote Romans to establish the full gospel as he has understood and declared it for several reasons, including setting the record straight because “his message was being misrepresented by his opponents in various places.” (Bruce 1985, 20-21). The Jewish Christians thought “he was giving too much of the old (Mosaic) tradition away,” and the Gentile Christians thought he was too keen on Jewish orthodoxy. Paul observed that if he expects the Roman multi-cultural Christians to support him, he needs to “clear the air.” Therefore, “he writes Romans to clarify what he believes. In short, Paul wrote Romans to “define and defend the gospel” (1:15) (Moo 2000, 22-23).
What was the situation like in Rome during this time?
Contemporary scholars believe that there was a division between the Gentile and the Jewish Christians over obeying certain Mosaic law provisions, and Paul writes to heal this Jewish-Gentile tension (cf. 24:1-15:13) (Moo 2000, 23).
Blackwell, Ben C., John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston. Eds. Reading Romans in Context. Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan. 2015
Bruce, F.F. Romans: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Leon Morris (General Editor). Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press, USA. 2008
Moo, Douglas. Romans. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., (General Editors). The Bible Knowledge Commentary. New Testament. An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty., David C. Cook, Colorado Spring, CO, 1983