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Romans Bible Study Notes

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the most theologically advanced of all his epistles.   Written near the end of his third missionary journey it contains discourses about important Gospel principles such as salvation by grace.  In many ways Romans completes topics first discussed in Galatians thus it is best to study the two epistles jointly.


Overview of Romans

Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans, which is usually considered to be the most theologically developed of all his epistles, near the end of his third missionary journey (probably A.D. 54 to A.D. 58) during his three month stay at Corinth shortly before his return to Jerusalem with a collection for the poor. It was either written in Corinth itself or in Cenchrea, which is about six miles away. (The reference to Phoebe of Cenchrea has caused some to believe that Paul was actually in Cenchrea when he wrote Romans.)

Paul had not yet been to Corinth on this third missionary journey when he wrote Second Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8-9) which helps in establishing the order in which Paul’s epistles were written. Second Corinthians was probably written in A.D. 57 and Romans during the winter of A.D. 57/58. Most likely it was written while Paul was residing in Corinth, probably while he was staying in the house of Gaius. It is often thought that Tertius served as Paul’s amanuensis (scribe or secretary) when Romans was written.

The problem of when the Epistle to the Galatians was written is discussed in the notes about Galatians. There is reason to believe that Galatians was written during Paul’s third missionary journey after he wrote Second Corinthians in Macedonia, and before Paul wrote Romans in Corinth or Cenchrea. But when and where Galatians was written is a matter of much scholarly debate.

Thus Romans follows Second Corinthians and possibly Galatians. Romans precedes Paul’s prison epistles (Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, and Philippians of which Colossians is probably the first although Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon were carried by the same messenger and thus were probably written at almost the same time). Paul’s prison epistles were written during his first Roman incarceration (circa A.D. 61-63).

There are some scholars who believe the 16th chapter of Romans was part of one of more other epistles, perhaps to the Ephesians where Paul had lived for several years. Paul had never been to Rome but in the 16th chapter he sends greetings to a large number of people. More than it seems likely would be acquaintances of Paul simultaneously visiting Rome. Additionally, Romans 15:33Romans 15:33
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33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.  

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, Romans 16:16Romans 16:16
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16 Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.  

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, and Romans 16: 27Romans 16: 27
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27 To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen. Written to the Romans from Corinthus, and sent by Phebe servant of the church at Cenchrea.  

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all seem to be the ending of an epistle. (Although some have suggested these are the equivalent of post scripts.) This author considers the observation that Romans chapter 16 may be part of one or more other epistles to be worthy of consideration. He notes, however, that in no way diminishes what is contained in Romans chapter 16.

In Romans Paul appears to expand upon themes, such as salvation by faith, raised in Galatians hence this author recommends that Galatians and Romans be studied together. These similarities also support the theory that Galatians was written at approximately the same time that Romans was written.

Many consider the theme of Romans to be salvation by faith. However, the theme is broader and it might be better said the theme of Romans is God’s plan of salvation for all mankind (Jew and Gentile) or, more succinctly the Plan of Redemption. While Romans certainly includes Paul’s thoughts on salvation by faith, it discusses many other topics including sin, salvation, grace, faith, righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption, death, and resurrection.

Paul begins by discussing the spiritual condition of all mankind. He contends that both Jew and Gentile fail to abide the law hence they are guilty of sin and in need of salvation which is provided by God through Jesus Christ. Paul emphasizes that since all mankind fails to live the law that all must be saved through faith.

He goes on to state that faith is not a new principle, rather as Abraham’s example shows God has always dealt with man through the principle of faith. Paul then explains how through the gospel mankind is freed from the law, sin, and death through the atonement and resurrection of Christ. (When Paul speaks of the law he usually is referring to the Law of Moses and when he speaks of faith he usually means personal righteousness.) Paul writes that Israel is in a state of unbelief. He states that Israel is currently only a remnant, but that in time all Israel will be saved. The epistle concludes with an appeal for the readers to work out their faith in practical ways, both in the church and the world.

One of the questions that has never been answered to the satisfaction of all is when and by whom the church in Rome was founded. The Catholic Church maintains that Peter founded the church in Rome. The most popular competing theory is that the church in Rome was founded by those who heard Peter preach the gospel on the day of Pentecost. (This makes Peter the indirect founder of the church in Rome.)

Those who believe Peter founded the church in Rome often maintain that the apostles departed Judea during the persecution of Agrippa the first. James was killed by Agrippa in A.D. 44 and the theory is that soon thereafter that Peter went to Rome.

Most scholars (Catholic and Protestant) believe the church in Rome was founded before Nero became emperor. In A.D. 49 Claudius, Emperor of Rome, exiled all Jews living in the City of Rome and Jews were not allowed to return to Rome until after Nero became emperor in A.D. 54. (It appears that Jews held prominent positions in the church in Rome prior to their exile and upon return there was some debate about whether they should be restored to their previous positions of leadership or if the leadership positions should continue to be filled by the gentiles who replaced them while the Jews were in exile.) Thus if Peter founded the church in Rome he had to be present in Rome sometime between A.D. 44 and A.D. 49. This seems unlikely. We know that Peter was present at the Council of Jerusalem (as the meeting described in Acts chapter fifteen is commonly called) which was held in either A.D. 49 or 50. Also in Galatians 2:9Galatians 2:9
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9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.  

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Paul speaks of Peter, John, and James, the brother of the Lord, as being the pillars of the church in Jerusalem. Furthermore Paul tells the Romans of his plans to come to Rome and also says, “I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20Romans 15:20
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20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:  

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). All of this casts doubt on the belief that Peter founded the Church in Rome.

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans has been the cornerstone for several major Protestant movements. Martin Luther’s lectures on Romans (in 1515–16) probably coincided with the development of his criticism of Roman Catholicism which led to the 95 Theses (in 1517). In 1738, while reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, John Wesley famously felt his heart “strangely warmed,” a conversion experience which is often seen as the beginning of Methodism. In 1919 Karl Barth published his commentary on Romans, The Epistle to the Romans, which is usually seen as the beginning of neo-orthodoxy (a reaction against doctrines of 19th century liberal theology and a more positive reevaluation of the teachings of the Reformation).

Romans is also the foundation for the doctrine of “salvation by grace” when “salvation by grace” is defined as a person being saved simply by saying he believes in Jesus Christ. Such a belief is inconsistent with other scripture, such as the Book of James (2:26), which clearly teaches that “faith without works is dead.” The doctrine of “salvation by grace,” as defined above, is also inconsistent with statements made by Paul himself, such as his instruction to the Philippians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12Phil. 2:12
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12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  

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) and Paul’s statement in Romans itself that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23Romans 6:23
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23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

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These words and the doctrines taught by Paul in Romans are discussed in greater detail below in the section of these notes entitled Gospel Principles Taught by Paul. An understanding of these doctrines is essential to understanding Paul’s teachings in Galatians and Romans.

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