Paul, the author, was a Hebrew by descent, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, and educated by Gamaliel, the great Pharisaic teacher. He was one of the most unmerciful persecutors of the early Christians, but was converted by the sudden appearance to him of the risen Lord.
He began preaching at Damascus, but on account of persecution went into Arabia. Returning from Arabia he visited Jerusalem and Damascus, and then went to Cilicia, where he doubtless did evangelistic work until Barnabas sought him at Tarsus and brought him to Antioch, where he worked a year with Barnabas.
After this they went up to Jerusalem with contributions for the brethren. Upon return to Antioch he was called by the Holy Ghost to mission work in which he continued till his death, making at least three great missionary journeys, during which and afterward he suffered “one long martyrdom” till his death.
Paul’s Epistles. Paul’s epistles are commonly put into four groups as follows:
(1) The Eschatological group, or those dealing with the second coming of Christ. These are I. and II. Thessalonians and were written from Corinth about 62 to 63 A. D.
(2) The Anti-Judaic group, or those growing out of controversy with Judaistic teachers. They are I. Corinthians. II. Corinthians, Galatians and Romans, written during the third Missionary journey, probably at Ephesus, Philippi, and Corinth.
(3) The Christological group, which center their teachings around the character and work of Jesus, and were written during the imprisonment at Rome. They are Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Hebrews (many think Paul did not write Hebrews).
(4) The Pastoral Group, or those written to young preachers touching matters of church organization and government and practical instructions concerning evangelists, pastors, and other Christian workers. They are 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus.
All of Paul’s epistles, unless it be Hebrews, fall very naturally into five sections, as follows:
(1) An introduction, which may contain a salutation, usually including the subject of the epistle and the name of those with Paul as co-laborers at the time of the writing, and a thanksgiving for the good character or conduct of those whom he addresses.
(2) A Doctrinal Section, in which he discusses some great Christian teaching, which needs special emphasis as the case of the church or individual addressed.
(3) A Practical Section, in which he sets forth the practical application of the principles discussed in the doctrinal section to the life of those addressed.
(4) A Personal Section, in which are personal messages and salutations sent to and by various friends.
(5) A Conclusion, in which may be found a benediction or autograph conclusion to authenticate the letter, maybe both, with other closing words.
The Occasion of the Roman Epistle.
(1) Paul longed to go to Rome (Acts 19:21) and now hoped soon to do so (Romans 15:24-33). He may, therefore, have wished them to know of his doctrine before his arrival, especially as they had perhaps heard some false reports of it.
(2) It was just after he wrote Galatians and Paul’s mind was full of the doctrine of justification, and he may have desired to write further upon the subject, giving special emphasis to the Divine side of the doctrine as he had given to the human side of it in Galatians.
(3) Then, too, he may have been misunderstood in Galatians and desired to enlarge upon his teaching. In Galatians man is justified by believing, in Romans God gives his own righteousness to the believer for his justification.
(4) Phoebe, a woman of influence and Christian character, a friend of Paul, was about to go to Rome from the coasts of Corinth, and Paul not only had a good opportunity to send the letter, but could do her a service by way of introducing her (16:1-2).
The Church at Rome was doubtless in a very prosperous condition the time of Paul’s writing. It was perhaps organized by some Jews heard and believed while at Jerusalem, probably on the day of Pentecost.
While its membership included both Jews and Gentiles (1:6- 13; 7:1), it was regarded by Paul as especially a Gentile church (1:3- 7; 13-15).
Some Errors of Doctrine and Practice Had Crept in Which Needed Correction.
(1) They seem to have misunderstood Paul’s teachings and to have charged that he taught that the greater the sin the greater the glory of God (3:8).
(2) They may have thought him to teach that we should sin in order to get more grace (6:1) and, therefore, may have made his teaching of justification by faith an excuse for immoral conduct.
(3) The Jews would not recognize the Gentile Christians as equal with them in Christ’s Kingdom (1:9, 29, etc.).
(4) Some of the Gentile brethren, on the other hand, looked with contempt upon their narrow and prejudiced and bigoted Jewish brethren (14:3).
(5) Paul, therefore, aimed to win the Jews to Christian truth and the Gentiles to Christian love.
Paul’s Connection With the Church. He had never been there up to this time (1:11, 13, 15) and it is not likely that any other apostles had been there. For then Paul would have not have been planning to go since his rule was not to go where another had worked (15:20; 2 Cor. 10:14-16). This strikes a heavy blow at Catholicism, claiming that Peter was first bishop of Rome.
If Paul would not have followed him, then Peter had not been there, and the most important test of papacy is overthrown. Paul had, however, many intimate friends and acquaintances at Rome, many of whom were mentioned in chapter 16. Among them were his old friends, Aquila and Priscilia.
The Argument of the Book: The doctrines of the book are considered and discussed under four main propositions:
(1) All men are guilty before God (Jews and Gentiles alike).
(2) All men need a Savior.
(3) Christ died for all men.
(4) We all, through faith, are one body in Christ.
Theme: The gift of the righteousness of God as our justification which is received through faith in Christ, or justification by faith.
Date: Probably from Corinth, about A. D. 58.