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Romans 1:1-17 commentary

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

A short commentary on Chapter 1:1-17

Romans 1:1-17 short commentary

Paul as a called apostle brings God’s message to the called people in Rome. A message which still applies to you and I today as we are part of God’s called people here in Edinburgh (or wherever you are).

1:1 Paul, a servant [1] of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle [2] and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures (links to the OT)3regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life [a] was a descendant of David, 4 and who through (or by virtue of) the Spirit of holiness (Holy Spirit) was appointed (or decreed, determined or even declared) the Son of God (invested) in power [3] [b] by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to faith and obedience for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong (they have already been set apart) to (our Lord)Jesus Christ.

7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy (consecrated) people:

Grace (unmerited favour) and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul uses the Greek words charis for grace and eirene for peace.

Paul’s Longing to Visit Rome

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world (famous faith in the Capital city , could it be in Edinburgh too?). 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit (with sincere devotion of the heart-Calvin) in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly (without ceasing) I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

Paul loves these Roman Christians tenderly and just as much as though he had founded the church in Rome which he had not.

11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift (as far as we know none of the apostles had visited Rome so Paul longed to lay hands on them and release the gifts of the Holy Spirit[4] in their ministries) to make you strong— 12that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith (works both ways). 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest (fruit probably including new converts and building up the body of Christ in character (Fruit of the Spirit), gifting and maturity) among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.(Paul modestly understates his huge success in ministering to the Gentiles).

14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.(Paul was called to preach the Gospel both to the learned and the unlearned, he was obligated to them because of the call on his life and also perhaps in view of how he once persecuted the church of Jesus Christ even to death).

16 I am not ashamed of the gospel,(Paul was proud of the Gospel message even when he came up against the learned philosophers or anyone because in it he saw the power to change a human life) because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.(usual order) 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[c] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith [5][d]

Paul is quoting the prophet Habakkuk here who also had to learn to trust God by exercising trust and faith in His person, His character and His actions.

The righteousness of (more accurately from) God means the absolute moral purity of God. What must I do to be accepted by God? The Jews had the law and could not keep it and the Catholic church did not know the way of salvation. So how could the reformers like Luther and Calvin become acceptable to God? They had the revelation which launched the reformation that the way to become righteous before God requires that those in relationship with Him are ‘righteous’ that is that they have an ‘imputed’ righteousness which ‘avails’ them before God. This means that we are put in right standing with God or perhaps we can stand in His presence without being consumed. There is nothing we can do to earn this either by our actions such as keeping the law, doing good deeds or obtain in other way other than simply believing the Gospel message. The righteousness that is imputed to us is actually the righteousness of Jesus Christ and we receive this by faith by simply believing the Gospel truth about Jesus Christ. The new birth begins by faith, develops by faith, receives all the blessings of Christ by faith and is sustained on a life-long basis by faith. The just or righteous person truly will live from beginning to end by faith. There is simply no other way to live before God. This is the only answer to the question, what must I do be acceptable to God.

[a} Romans 1:3 Or who according to the flesh

{b} Romans 1:4 Or was declared with power to be the Son of God

{c} Romans 1:17 Or is from faith to faith

[d] Romans 1:17 Hab. 2:4 but the righteous will live by their faithfulness (or faith)

[1] Gr. Doulos ; A bond servant or slave. A paid and usually highly skilled employee but with no right to resign. [2] Gr. Apostolos; A sent one or messenger. [3] Gr. Dunamis; English derivatives, dynamic and dynamite. [4] 1 Cor 12:8-10 [5] God spoke to Martin Luther through this verse when he was seeking an indulgence from the Pope ascending the stairs on his knees.

Added Hebraic Notes

A classic example of the culture clash between the Jewish and Gentile mindsets is found in Romans 1:1 where Paul describes himself as a slave (doulos) of Jesus Christ. In the Gentile Roman world to be a slave was a shameful thing. However in the Hebrew mindset a 'slave of God' (eved as were Moses, Elijah, David) was an honourable and special status. So Paul here is not humbling himself but was rather claiming a position of high authority, as he was hoping to establish himself as an apostle to the Romans.

The Greek word for apostle carries the implication of the 'sending out' in a military sense including ships. The nearest Hebrew equivalent to this is the word Shaliach which has the connotation of an agent who carries his master's power and authority. So if Paul considered himself as a Shaliach then this implies that Paul was not merely a messenger but a highly empowered agent of Yeshua.

v.11 Paul's desire to impart a 'spiritual gift' to the Roman Christians had in mind that these gifts would help establish the Roman church. The concept of 'spiritual gits' would have been know to Paul and Jesus from the Essenes (Dead Sea Scrolls - DSS 1QS) but would probably have been new to the Gentile churches.

v.12 Paul redefines the 'spiritual gifts' as the more meaningful 'mutual encouragement' since the spiritual gifts may have had no clear meaning to the church.

v14 Barbarians simply means 'non-Greek speakers' with the implication of being less civilized.

v.16-17 give the main thrust of the letter i.e. the power of the Gospel, which is able to save souls because it reveals God's righteousness. The best explanation of righteousness is alluded to in Exodus 21 (in Hebrew Tzedek, in Greek Dikaioo) which we know from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament c.250 BC). The Septuagint can be viewed as a 'Rosetta stone' allowing the best translations between the Greek and Hebrew words.

See the next part of the Letter to the Romans

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