- Introduction (1:1-17)
- The world's need of salvation (1:18 - 3:20)
- Salvation by faith (3:21 - 8:39)
- Israel in the plan of God (9:1 - 11:36)
- Living the Christian life (12:1 - 15:13)
- The conclusion and postscript (15:14 - 16:27)
Authorship, date, and background
The Romans was written by Paul about A.D 56-57. He had completed his third missionary tour and was in the Corinth where he composed the letter which was sent to Rome by Phoebe (16:1), who was a deaconess of the church of Cenchreae. The letter was addressed to friends, not to a church at Rome. Indeed, how the church at Rome got started is not known, although at Pentecost in Jerusalem there were visitors from that the city who probably returned to Rome to proclaim the gospel and to spread the faith. At the time of the writing, there were more Gentile believers in Rome than there were Jewish converts. Paul was on his way to Jerusalem with funds for the saints, but he expected to visit Rome in the days ahead, something he had longed to do earlier but had been prevented from doing. He hoped to use Rome as the base of operations for a trip to Spain; he wanted it to be an urban missionary center in Antioch, Ephesus, and Philippi.
Apparently there were no gross theological errors to be corrected in the church at Rome. The letter was designed to set forth the Christian faith systematically and thus is comparable to Galatians; both are theological and didactic. Romans is notably lacking in data having to do with the end of the age (eschatology); rather, it consists of an exposition of foundational truths essential to a full-orbed gospel. This letter, by way of an introduction, was written for the purpose of opening the door for Paul's future visit which, unknown to him, would come in fetters and not in freedom, and would find its culmination in his execution. At this point, he yearned to visit his friends later, instruct them in the holy faith, and go from Rome to Spain for evangelistic outreach with their help and prayers.
Characteristics and content
Paul presents, in orderly fashion, the essential elements of the gospel, having for its central motif the concept of salvation (justification) by faith alone without good works. The Good News is "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth" (1:16). All need the Good News, for Jews and non-Jews are guilty before God. Jesus Christ is man's only hope; by His date and resurrection, through faith in Him, heaven's doors are opened for redeemed men to enter in. The grace (that is, the favour) of God is freely offered. How it is obtained, what it involves, and what the consequences are, are spelled out by Paul. Law and grace are powerfully contrasted in Romans. Paul discusses the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. Believers are indwelt by the Spirit; the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead; believers are led by the Spirit; are aided by the Spirit in prayer, are the firstfruits of the Spirit and call God "Father" by the Spirit's witness. To believers there is given the assurance that "all things work together for good" (8:28). Our salvation is certain, for the Scriptures tell us that nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Chapters 9-11 constitute a parenthesis (an interruption of the line of thought to insert another idea) in which Paul deals with Israel and God's purpose for His people, a purpose which is certain to be executed because God is sovereign.
In Chapter 12 Paul speaks about the Christian holistically, insisting that the true Christian life consists in the body's being given to God as a living sacrifice, and the mind's being renewed or transformed to reflect the mind of Christ. He orders Christians to be subject to governing authorities, in chapter 13, along with additional ethical teachings summed up in the second table of the Law which, when abbreviated, says you shall love your neighbour as you love yourself. Paul shares his future plans with his readers and closes the letter with commendations and a doxology. There has been some question about whether chapter 16 belongs to the letter, since one ancient manuscript has the benediction of 16:25-27 at the end of chapter 15. There is, however, no good reason for supposing it was not part of the original letter.