Lectionary Calendar
Friday, April 19th, 2024
the Third Week after Easter
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

- Romans

by Editor - Joseph Exell


THE authenticity of this Epistle is indisputable, and acknowledged; except that Baur has questioned that of the two concluding chapters. The relation of these two chapters to the body of the Epistle, and the evidence of their having been written as well as the rest by St. Paul, will be considered in loco. The internal evidence of the Epistle as a whole is in itself convincing. In tone of thought, method of argument, and style, it has all the peculiar characteristics of St. Paul. It may be safely said that no one could possibly have written it but himself. The external evidence is no less complete, including the testimony of such early Fathers as Clement of Rome, Polycarp ('Ad Philip.'), Justin Martyr, Ignatius, and Irenaeus.


Equally certain is our knowledge of the time and place of writing, derived from intimations in the Epistle itself, in conjunction with what is found in other Epistles and in the Acts of the Apostles. It was written from Corinth, in the spring of A.D. 58 (according to the received chronology of the Acts), when St. Paul was about to leave that place to take the alms he had collected to Jerusalem for the relief of the poor Christians there, as related in Acts 20:3. The proofs of this conclusion are briefly these: It appears from the Acts of the Apostles that St. Paul, after staying for more than two years at Ephesus, "purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome" (Acts 19:21). He sent Timotheus and Erastus before him into Macedonia, intending to follow them before long. His departure seems to have been hastened by the tumult raised by Demetrius the silversmith, after which he proceeded at once to Macedonia, and thence to Greece (i.e. Achaia), remaining three months at Corinth. His intention at first was to sail thence direct to Syria, so as to reach Jerusalem without unnecessary delay; but, in order to elude the Jews who laid wait for him, he changed his plan at the last moment, and returned to Macedonia, whence he hastened towards Jerusalem, hoping to reach it before Pentecost (Acts 20:1-6,Acts 20:13-16). His purpose in going there was, as just stated, to carry the alms from various Gentile Churches which he had long been soliciting from them for the poor Jewish Christians in Palestine; and his previous tour through Macedonia and Achaia had been for receiving these alms. He declared this to have been the purpose of his visit to Jerusalem, in his defence before Felix (Acts 24:17); and in both his Epistles to the Corinthians his design is distinctly spoken of. In the first, written probably during his stay at Ephesus, he alludes to "the collection for the saints" as something already going on, and already urged upon the Corinthians; he directs them to offer for the purpose every Lord's day, so as to have the money ready for him when he comes for it, as he hopes to do before long, after first passing through Macedonia (1 Corinthians 16:1-8). In the Second Epistle, written probably from Macedonia, after he had left Ephesus and was on his way to Achaia, he refers to the subject at length, saying how liberal the Macedonians had been, and how he had incited them by boasting to them of the Corinthians having been ready a year ago; and he implores the latter not to let his boasting be in vain in this behalf, having sent certain brethren to them to get the contributions ready in preparation for his own arrival (2 Corinthians 8:9.). Now, inasmuch as in Romans 15:25, seq., of this epistle he speaks of being on the point of going unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints, and of both the Macedonians and Achaians having already made their contribution for the purpose, it is evident that he wrote his letter to the Romans after he had been in Achaia, but before going to Jerusalem. And, further, he must have sent it before leaving Corinth, or its port Cenchrea; for he commends to them Phoebe of Cenehrea, who was on the point of going thence to Rome, and who was probably the bearer of the letter (Romans 16:1, Romans 16:2); he sends salutations from Erastus the chamberlain of the city (which, after mention of Cenchrea, must be concluded to be Corinth); and from Gaius, then his host, who was probably the Gains mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14 as having been one of the two baptized at Corinth by himself (Romans 16:23). Further, the time of year may be gathered from the narrative in Acts. The letter was sent, as we have seen, on the eve of his departure for Jerusalem; navigation after the winter season had then begun; for he had first intended to go by sea to Syria (Acts 20:3): after his journey, in consequence of his change of intention, to Macedonia, he spent Easter at Philippi (Acts 20:6); and he hoped to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost (Acts 20:16). Thus the time must have been early spring — the year, according to received dates, having been, as said above, A.D. 58. We may conclude the letter to have been finished and committed to Phoebe before he changed his intention of going by sea in consequence of the discovered plots of the Jews against him (Acts 20:3); for in the letter, though he expresses apprehension of danger from the Jews in Judaea after his arrival there (Romans 15:31), he gives no intimation of any plots against him known of at the time of writing; and he speaks as if he were about to go at once to Jerusalem.

Thus our knowledge of the time and circumstances of the sending of this Epistle is exact, and the correspondence between the references to them in the Epistle and elsewhere complete. Further correspondence of this kind is found in Romans 1:10-13 and 15:22-28 compared with Acts 19:21. In the Epistle is expressed his fixed intention of visiting Rome after carrying the alms of the Churches to Jerusalem, as well as his desire to do so having been entertained for some time past; and from Acts 19:21 it appears that the desire had been already in his mind before he left Ephesus for Macedonia. His further intention, expressed in the Epistle, of proceeding from Rome to Spain, does not indeed appear in Acts 19:21; but he may have had it, though there was no need to mention it there; or he may have enlarged the plan of westward travel subsequently. For consideration of the reason of his strong desire to visit Rome, of his having been "let hitherto" (Romans 1:13), and of his finally determining to take Rome only on his way to Spain, see notes on Romans 1:13 and 15:21, etc.


Thus the occasion and reason of St. Paul's sending a letter to the Roman Christians at the time he did are sufficiently obvious. He had long been intending to visit them as soon as he had finished the business he had in hand; he had probably been for some time preparing his long and important letter, which could not have been written hastily, to be sent at the first favourable opportunity; and Phoebe's voyage to Rome afforded him one. But why his letter took the form of an elaborate dogmatic treatise, and what was the then condition, as well as the origin, of the Roman Church, are further questions that have been much discussed. So much has been written on these subjects, to be found in various commentaries, that it has not been thought necessary here to go at any length over beaten ground. It may suffice to show briefly what is obvious or probable with regard to these questions.


First, as to the origin of the Roman Church. It had not been founded by St. Paul himself, since it is plain from the Epistle that, when he wrote, he had never been to Rome, and only knew of the Roman Church by report. Nor does the narrative of the Acts allow any time when he could possibly have visited Rome. The tradition, which in time came to be accepted, that St. Peter had already founded it, cannot be true. Eusebius ('Eccl. Hist.,' 2:14), expressing this tradition, says that he had gone to Rome in the reign of Claudius to encounter Simon Magus, and thus brought the light of the gospel from the East to those in the West; and in his 'Chronicon' he gives the second year of Claudius (i.e. A.D. 42) as the date, adding that he remained at Rome twenty years. The probable origin of this tradition is well and concisely shown in the Introduction to Romans in the 'Speaker's Commentary'. Enough to say here that it has no trustworthy evidence in its favour, and that it is inconsistent with the two facts — firstly, that certainly up to the time of the apostolic conference at Jerusalem (A.D. 52) Peter was still there (cf. Acts 12:4; Acts 15:7; Galatians 2:1, seq.); and secondly, that in the Epistle to the Romans St. Paul makes no mention whatever of St. Peter, as he surely would have done if so prominent an apostle had founded, or even so far visited, the Roman Church. A different and independent tradition, to the effect that St. Peter and St. Paul jointly preached the gospel at Rome, and were both martyred there, is too well supported to be set aside. It is attested by Irenaeus, 3, c. 1. and c. 3:2, and by other early authorities quoted in addition to Irenaeus by Eusebius, namely, Dionysius of Corinth (Eusebius, 'Eccl. Hist.,' 2:25), Caius, an ecclesiastic of Rome in the time of Pope Zephyrinus (ibid.), and Origen ('Eccl. Hist.,' 3:1). Eusebius also quotes the aforesaid Caius as pointing in proof to the monuments of the two apostles in his time existing on the Vatican and on the road to Ostia (2:25). Indeed, even apart from this testimony, it would be very difficult to account for the general and early association of the see of Rome with the name of St. Peter, had that apostle had no connection with the Roman Church at some time before his death. But it must have been a considerable time after the writing of the Epistle to the Romans, and after the writing of the Epistle to the Philippians too, which was undoubtedly sent by Paul from Rome during his detention there, in which the history of the Acts leaves him. For in it, though he speaks much of the state of things in the Church at Rome, he says nothing about St. Peter. Further, the statement of Irenaeus that Peter and Paul together founded (qemeliou&ntwn) the Church in Rome cannot be accepted in the sense that either of them first planted it there; for St. Paul spoke of it as existing, and even notorious, when he wrote his letter. But still they may, at a later period, have founded it in the sense of consolidating and organizing it, and providing, as they are said to have done, for its government after their own decease. This is not the place for considering why, in after-times, the Church of Rome came to be regarded as peculiarly St. Peter's see, whereas in the early testimonies above referred to the two apostles are spoken of together without distinction. St. Paul at any rate, in point of time, has been seen to have had to do with it before St. Peter, though neither of them can have been its original planter.

It is further highly improbable that any other of the apostles properly so called had planted it. For not only are there no traces of any tradition connecting it with any apostles but Peter and Paul, but also the absence of allusion to any apostle in St. Paul's Epistle is strongly against the supposition. It is true that St. Paul's original agreement with James, Cephas, and John (Galatians 2:9), and his avowed principle of not building on any other man's foundation (Romans 15:20; 2 Corinthians 10:13-16), cannot properly be pressed as affording a conclusive argument. For if his way of addressing the Roman Church be considered, it will be seen that he carefully avoids assuming personal jurisdiction over it, such as we find him distinctly claiming over Churches of his own foundation. In virtue of his general apostleship to the Gentiles, he is bold in admonish and demand a hearing; but he does not propose in his letter to take the reins, or set things in order among them when he comes, but rather to be "filled with their company" with a view to mutual refreshment and edification, during a short stay with them on his way to Spain. Such a mode of address, accompanying a doctrinal treatise meant doubtless for the edification, not of the Romans only, but of the Church at large, is consistent with the supposition of even an apostle having first founded the Church addressed. Still, for the reasons above given, any personal agency of any of the apostles themselves in the first planting of the Roman Church is, to say the least, highly improbable.

Who had first planted it we have no means of determining. There are many possibilities. The large number of people from all parts of the empire who resorted to Rome would be likely to include some Christians; and wherever believers went, they preached the gospel. "Strangers from Rome" were present at Pentecost, and some of them may have been converted, and so, having, perhaps, partaken of the Pentecostal gift, carried the gospel to Rome. Among those who were scattered abroad after the martyrdom of Stephen, and "went everywhere preaching the Word," some may have gone to Rome. For though in Acts 8:1 they are said only to have been scattered through the regions of Judaea and Samaria, so as to lead up to the account of Philip's preaching in Samaria, yet some of them are mentioned afterwards as travelling as far as Phoenice and Cyprus and Antioch, and there preaching; and others may have travelled as far as Rome.

Further, though we have seen sufficient reason for concluding that no apostle, properly so called, had visited Rome, yet evangelists and persons endowed with prophetic gifts may possibly have been sent from the company of the apostles. Among the Christians at Rome greeted in the Epistle are Andronicus and Junia, "of note among the apostles," who had been in Christ before St. Paul. These may be supposed to have belonged to the circle of the twelve, and may have been instrumental in planting the gospel in Rome. Again, among others saluted, several are spoken of as known to St. Paul elsewhere, and fellow-workers with him, so that some of his own associates had evidently contributed to the result; among whom were notably Aquila and Priscilla, in whose house a congregation assembled (Romans 16:5). In fact, from many sources, and through various means, Christianity was likely to get an early footing at Rome; and it would have been rather remarkable if it had not been so. Tacitus, it may be observed, testifies to the fact; for, speaking of the Neronian persecution (A.D. 64), he says of the Christians, "Auctor nominis ejus Christus, Tiberio imperitante, per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat: repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio rursus erumpebat, non modo per Judaeam, originem ejus mali, sod per Urbem etiam, quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque" ('Ann.,' 15:44). This implies an early as well as extensive spread of Christianity in Rome.


Against the supposition, which is thus probable, and which the Epistle confirms, of the Christians in Rome being at that time numerous or important, has been alleged the fact that, when St. Paul actually arrived there, "the chief of the Jews" whom he called to him seem to have known little about them. They only say of them contemptuously, "As concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against" (Acts 28:22). But this really proves nothing as to the actual extent or condition of the Church at Rome. It only shows that it was apart from the synagogue, and that the members of the latter scouted it. Their words only express the prevalent prejudice against the Christians, such as Tacitus intimates when he says, "Quos per flagitia invisos, vulgus Christianos appellabant," and when he speaks of their religion as "exitiabilis superstitio;" and, at any rate, notoriety is implied, from which extent may be inferred. Bodies of men are not usually "everywhere spoken against" till they have attained a position which is felt. Further, what is said in Acts 28:0, of St. Paul's intercourse with the Christians themselves when he went to Rome suggests the idea of a numerous and zealous community rather than the contrary. Even at Puteoli, before reaching Rome, he found brethren, who entertained him for a week; and at Appii forum Christians came from Rome to meet him, so that he thanked God, and took courage (Acts 28:13-15).


The Church at Rome being supposed to have grown up through various agencies, and not to have been formally constituted at first by any apostle, the question has been raised whether it was likely to possess, at the time of the writing of the Epistle, a regular ministry of presbyters, as other Churches did, so as to be fully organized. There is no conclusive reason against the supposition; though in the admonitions and greetings of the Epistle there is no reference to any of whom it is intimated that they were in an official position, having the rule over others, and to be submitted to. The passage Romans 12:6-8 does not apparently refer to any regular ordained ministry, as will be seen from the notes in loco. For references to one in other Churches, cf. 1 Corinthians 16:16; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:13; 1 Timothy 3:1, seq.; 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:17; James 5:14; Acts 6:5, seq.; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 23; 20:17, seq. But absence of allusion is no sufficient proof of non-existence. It may, however, have been the case that the Roman Christians were as yet an unorganized body, united only by a common faith, and meeting for worship in various houses, the gifts of the Spirit supplying the place of a settled ministry, and that it was reserved for the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul afterwards to organize it, and provide for a due succession of ordained clergy. As to the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit in the early period before the universal settlement of the Church order which afterwards prevailed, see notes under ch. 12:4-7.


Another question that has been much discussed, and this partly with reference to the supposed intention of the Epistle, is whether the Roman Church at that time was mainly a Jewish or a Gentile one. St. Paul's way of addressing it can leave hardly any doubt that he regarded it as the latter. This is shown, to begin with, by his introduction, in which he speaks of his apostleship for obedience of faith among all the nations, among which, he continues, those whom he addresses were, and gives as his reason for being ready to preach the gospel to them that he is debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, and that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, though to the Jew first, yet to the Greek also. Then afterwards, in Romans. 9-10, where the position and prospects of the Jewish nation are under review, when he comes to admonition, it is to the Gentile believers that he addresses it, bidding them not be high-minded, but fear, lest God, who spared not the natural branches of the olive tree, spare not them (Romans 11:13-24); and in his concluding admonitions (Romans 14:1-16) it is the enlightened and free from prejudice that he mainly admonishes to bear with the infirmities of the weak, the latter being presumably, as will be seen, prejudiced believers of Jewish race. Doubtless, as appears also from the Epistle itself, Jews, who are known to have been numerous in Rome, would be included among the converts, and probably many Gentiles who had previously been proselytes to Judaism. Such may have been the original nucleus of the Church; and the first evangelists may, as St. Paul was wont to do, have announced the gospel first in the synagogues; but it seems evident that, when St. Paul wrote his Epistle, Jews did not constitute the main body of the Church, which is addressed as essentially a Gentile one. The same conclusion follows from what occurred when St. Paul arrived at Rome. At first, in accordance with the principle he always acted on, he called the chief of the Jews together to his lodging, who seem, as has been seen, to have known little, or professed to know little, of the Christian community. With them he argued for a whole day, from morning till evening, and made an impression on some; but, perceiving their general adverse attitude, he declared to them "that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it" (Acts 28:17-29). From this it seems to follow that his ministrations thenceforth would be mainly among the Gentiles. Later on also, when he wrote to the Philippians from Rome, it is in the palace (or Praetorium), and among those of Caesar's household, that he intimates that the gospel was taking hold (Philippians 1:13; Philippians 4:22).

The fact of the argument of the Epistle being based on Jewish ideas, and presupposing acquaintance with the Old Testament, affords no valid argument against the Church to which it was sent having been in the main a Gentile one. The same fact is observed in other Epistles addressed to what must have been mainly Gentile Churches. In fact, we find the gospel always announced by apostles and evangelists as the issue and fulfilment of the old dispensation; and for a full understanding of it, as well as of its evidences, it would be necessary to indoctrinate all converts in the Old Testament (see note under Romans 1:2). It is true that, in preaching to the Athenians, who bad as yet no knowledge of the Scriptures, St. Paul discourses on what we may call natural religion only (Acts 17:0.); and so also at Lystra (Acts 14:15-17); but doubtless in preparation for baptism all would be instructed in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. It is observable too that even in this Epistle, though its main argument is based on the Old Testament, yet there are parts which appeal to philosophical thinkers generally, and which would seem especially suited for cultured Gentiles, such as, in Romans 1:14-16, the writer seems to expect to have among his readers at Rome. Such passages are Romans 1:18-16, where the guilt of the world at large is proved by a review of human history, and appeals to general human consciousness; and the latter part of ch. 7., where the experience of the human soul under the operation of law bringing conviction of sin is analyzed.


We may next consider the apostle's purpose, as distinct from the occasion, in sending such an Epistle as this is to the Roman Church. We cannot, in the first place, regard it, as some have done, as written with a polemical intention, either against the Jews, or the Judaizers among Christians, or any others. Its tone is not polemical. It is rather a carefully reasoned theological treatise, drawn up with the view of setting forth the writer's views of the meaning of the gospel in its relation to the Law, to prophecy, and to the universal needs of mankind. The chapters (9. — 11.) about the present position and future prospects of the Jews have no appearance of being written controversially against them, but rather with the purpose of discussing a difficult question connected with the general subject; and the admonitions and warnings at the end of the Epistle do not seem to be directed against any classes of persons known to be then troubling the Roman Church, but are rather general ones in view of what was possible or probable there. The Epistle to the Galatians, written probably not long previously, resembles this in its general subject, and, as far as it goes, enforces the same doctrine; it shows signs of having been written when the apostle's mind was already full of thoughts which pervade his Epistle to the Romans. Its purpose is avowedly polemical, against the Judaists who were bewitching the Galatian Church; and, in accordance with its purpose, it has a tone throughout of disappointment., indignation, reproof, and occasional sarcasm, such as is wholly absent from the Epistle to the Romans. The contrast between the two Epistles in this respect strengthens the internal evidence of the latter not having been composed with a polemical intention.
The following considerations may help us to understand the apostle's real purpose in composing the Epistle when he did, and sending it to Rome. He had long entertained a deep and comprehensive view of the meaning and purpose of the gospel, such as even the original apostles seem at first to have been slow to follow, or, at any rate, some of them in all cases to act up to. This appears from such passages as Galatians 2:6 and 2:11, seq He ever speaks of his comprehension of the gospel as having been a revelation to himself; not derived from man — not even from those who had been apostles before him. It was the clear revelation to himself of the mystery of which he so often speaks; even "the mystery of his will, according to the good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself; that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth, even in him" (Ephesians 1:9. For a fuller view of what St. Paul means by "the mystery," cf. Ephesians 3:3-11; Colossians 1:26, Colossians 1:27; Romans 11:25; Romans 16:25, seq.). Full of his grand conception of what the gospel was for all mankind, which it was his special mission to bring home to the conscience of the Church, he had, since his conversion, been preaching in accordance with it; he had met with much opposition to his views, much misconception of them, and much slowness to comprehend them; he has now planted Churches in Gentile centres, "from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum," and fulfilled his appointed mission in those regions; and has formed his definite plan of going without delay to Rome, in the hope of thence extending the gospel westward to the Gentile world. At such a time, he is suit, ably moved to set forth, in a doctrinal treatise, and support by argument, his views of the far-reaching significance of the gospel, that they might be fully understood and appreciated; and he sends his treatise to Rome, whither he was just going, and which was the metropolis of the Gentile world, and the centre of Gentile thought. But, though thus sent in the first place to Rome for the enlightenment of the Christians there, it may be supposed to have been intended ultimately for all the Churches; and the evidence there is of the absence of all mention of Rome throughout the Epistle, and also of the concluding chapters specially addressed to Rome, in some ancient copies (as to which, see note at the end of ch. 14.), may lead us to conclude that it was, in fact, afterwards circulated generally. It may be observed further, with regard to the purpose of the Epistle, that, though based on Scripture and full of scriptural proofs and illustrations, it is by no means (as has been before observed) addressed in its argument to Jews exclusively. It is rather, in its ultimate drift, a setting forth of what we may call the philosophy of the gospel, showing how it meets haman needs, and satisfies human yearnings, and is the true solution of the problems of existence, and the remedy for the present mystery of sin. And so it is meant for philosophers as well as for simple souls; and it is sent, therefore, in the first place, to Rome, in the hope that it may reach even the most cultured there, and through them commend itself to earnest thinkers generally. For, says the apostle, "I am a debtor to the Greeks and to the wise, as well as to barbarians and unwise; "I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:14-16).


1. Meaning of "the righteousness of God." As to the doctrine of the Epistle, of which detailed explanation will be attempted in the notes, there is one leading idea, which, because of its importance, claims introductory notice — the idea expressed by the phrase, "the righteousness of God." With this the apostle (Romans 1:17) announces the thesis of his coming argument, and he has the thought of it ever before him. It is to be observed, in the first place, that the expression in Romans 1:17 (as afterwards in Romans 3:21, Romans 3:22, Romans 3:25, Romans 3:26; Romans 10:3) is simply "God's righteousness" (δικαιοσυìνη Θεοῦ). It is usual to interpret this as meaning man's imputed or forensic righteousness, which is from God — Θεοῦ being understood as the genitive of origin. But if St. Paul meant this, why did he not write ἡ ἐκ Θεοῦ δικαιοσυìνη, as he did in Philippians 3:9, where he was speaking of the righteousness derived to man from God, in opposition to ἐμηÌν δικαιοσυÌνην τηÌν ἐκ νοìμου? The phrase, in itself, suggests rather the sense in which it is continually used in the Old Testament, as denoting God's own eternal righteousness. It is indeed contended, as by Meyer, that it cannot have this sense in Romans 1:17, where it first occurs, because of ἐκ πιìστεὠ following, and the quotation from Habakkuk, (Ο δεÌ διìκαιος ἐκ πιìστεως ζηìσεται. But, as will be pointed out in the Exposition, ἐκ πιìστεὠ (not ἡ ἐκ πιìστεὠ), which is connected in construction with ἀποκαλυìπτεται, cannot properly be taken as defining the righteousness intended; nor does the quotation from Habakkuk really of necessity support this idea. Reasons for this last assertion will be found also in the Exposition. Further, in Romans 3:22, where the idea, here concisely expressed, is taken up and carried out, διαÌ πιìστεως (corresponding to ἐκ πιìστεως here) seems intended to be connected with εἰ̓ παìντας, etc., following, and perhaps also with πεφανεìρωται preceding, which corresponds to ἀποκαλυìπτεται in the verse before us. If so, the phrases, ἐκ πιìστεὠ ανδ διαÌ πιìστεὠ, do not qualify the essential meaning of δικαιοσυìνη Θεοῦ, but rather express only how it is now revealed or manifested to man. The intended meaning of dikaiosu&nh is thus rather to be got at, in the passage before us, from the obvious reference of vers. 16 and 17 to Psalm 18., of which ver. 2 in the LXX. is, Κυìριὀ τος σωτηìριον αὐτοῦ ἐναντιìον τῶν ἐθνῶν ἀπεκαìλυψε τηÌν δικαιοσυìνην αὐτοῦ; where we observe the same verb, ἀποκαλυìπτειν, the same parallelism between "salvation" and "his righteousness," and the same inclusion of the Gentile world with Israel as objects of the revelation. Now, in the psalm, God's own righteousness is undoubtedly meant; and so surely in our text, in the absence of any insuperable objections to so understanding the expression. And not only from the reference to the psalm in this particular passage, but from the very fact of the constant use of the same phrase in a known sense in the Old Testament, we should expect St. Paul to use it in the same sense, with which he would be so familiar, and which his readers also, whom he so continually refers to the Old Testament, would understand. It is maintained in this Commentary (with all due deference to the distinguished ancients and moderns who have held otherwise) that not only in this opening passage, but throughout the Epistle, δικαιοσυìνη Θεοὗ does mean God's own eternal righteousness, and that even in passages where a righteousness that is of faith is spoken of as communicated to man, the essential idea beyond is still that of God's own righteousness including believers in itself.

For a better understanding of the subject, let us first see how God's righteousness is regarded in the Old Testament with reference to man. The Hebrew word rendered in the LXX. by ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΎΝΗ denotes moral excellence in perfection — the realization of whatever the mind conceives, and the conscience approves, of what is right and good. It is indeed sometimes used for such moral excellence as man is capable of; but this only in a secondary or comparative sense; for the Old Testament is as emphatic as the New against any perfect righteousness in man. As Hooker says, "The Scripture, ascribing to the persons of men righteousness in regard to their manifold virtues, may not be construed as though it did thereby clear them from all faults." Absolute righteousness is ascribed to God alone; and, in contrast with the unrighteousness prevailing in the world, his righteousness is a constant theme of psalmists and prophets. We find them at times perplexed in view of the unrighteousness prevalent and often dominant in the world, as being inconsistent with their ideal of what should be under the sway of the righteous God. But they still believed in the supremacy of righteousness; their innate moral sense, no less than their received religion, assured them that there must be a reality answering to their ideal; and they found this reality in their belief in God. And thus their undying faith in the Divine righteousness sustains them in spite of all appearances; and they look forward to God's eventual vindication of his own righteousness, even on this earth below, under a "King of righteousness" to come. But the righteousness of the Messiah's kingdom is still to be God's own, manifested in the world and reconciling it to him — flooding it (as it were) with its own glory. "My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished... My righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation" (Isaiah 51:5-8).

Now, St. Paul ever views the gospel as being the true fulfilment, as of the Old Testament generally, so of all those inspired prophetic yearnings; and, when he says here that in it the righteousness of God is revealed, his language must surely bear the sense of that of the ancient prophets. In the gospel he perceived God's own eternal righteousness as last vindicated, and in Christ manifested to mankind; vindicated with regard to the past, during which God might seem to have been indifferent to human sin (cf. Romans 3:25), and manifested now for the reconciliation of all to God, and the "salvation for ever" of all. But, further, we find such expressions as Λογιìζεται ἡ πιìστις αὐτοῦ εἰ δικαιοσυìνην (Romans 4:5); Τῆς δικαιοσυìνης τῆς πιìστεως (Romans 4:11); Τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς δικαιοσυìνης (Romans 5:17); (Η ἐκ πιìστεως δικαιοσυìνη (Romans 10:6); ΤηÌν ἐκ Θεοῦ δικαιοσυìνη ἐπιÌ τῆ πιìστει (Philippians 3:9). In these modes of speech a righteousness attributed to man himself, derived to him through Christ from God, is certainly denoted; and thus comes in the idea of man's imputed righteousness. But it is submitted that such conceptions do not interfere with the essential meaning of Θεοῦ δικαιοσυìνη, when used as a phrase by itself; and also that all along God's own inherent righteousness is still in view as the source of the justification of man; the idea being that man, by faith and through Christ, is embraced by, and made partaker in, the eternal righteousness of God.

Thus the main contention of St. Paul as against the Jews of his day is pregnantly expressed by "God's righteousness," opposed to "mine own righteousness," or "the righteousness of the Law." It was that man, being what he is, cannot possibly raise himself to the ideal of the Divine righteousness, but that, for his acceptance, the righteousness of God must come down to him and take him into itself. And he maintains that this is the very thing that the gospel means and accomplishes for man. The Jew went about to establish his own righteousness by imagined strict conformity to Law. But the apostle well knew the vanity of this pretension; how it was a delusion, put man in a false position before God, and lowered the true ideal of Divine righteousness. He himself had once been "touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless." But he was painfully conscious how, when he would have done good, evil was present with him. The Jew might trust to sacrifices to expiate his own shortcomings. But St. Paul felt, and Scripture itself confirmed his feeling, how impossible it was for the blood of bulls and goats to be in themselves of avail in the spiritual sphere of things. He had, we may suppose, long been on such grounds dissatisfied with the religious system he had been trained in, and may possibly have thrown himself into the fierce excitement of persecution the more eagerly in order to drown uneasy thoughts. And he may have been impressed by what he had heard of Jesus and his teaching, and of what his followers held about him, more than he acknowledged to himself. For his sudden illumination on his conversion implies surely some preparation for receiving it; the material that burst into a flame must surely have been ready for the kindling spark. On that memorable journey to Damascus the spark fell, and the illumination came. Jesus, whose voice at length penetrated his soul from heaven, now rose clearly before his eye of faith as the King of righteousness, foretold of old, who was to bring the righteousness of God to man. Thenceforth he saw in the human life of Jesus a manifestation at last even in man of Divine righteousness; and in his offering of himself a true atonement, not made by man, but provided by God, of a character to avail in the spiritual sphere of things: in his resurrection from the dead (the evidence of which he no longer resisted) he perceived him declared the Son of God with power, ordained for accomplishing the perpetual reconciliation of mankind; and in his gospel, proclaiming pardon, peace, regeneration, inspiration, and immortal hopes, to all alike, without distinction of rank or race, he saw opening before him the glorious prospect of a realization at last of the prophetic anticipation of a kingdom of righteousness to come. To complete our view of his conception, we must further note that the full manifestation of God's righteousness is regarded by him as still future: the gospel is but the dawning of the full day: "the earnest expectation of the creature" still "waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God;" "Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:0.); it is not till "the end" that "all things shall be subdued unto him," "that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:0.). But meanwhile believers are regarded as already partaking in the righteousness of God, revealed and brought home to them in Christ; faith, aspiration, and earnest endeavour (which are all man is capable of now) being accepted in Christ for righteousness.

The above is by no means intended as a full exposition of St. Paul's doctrine of God's righteousness, such as to make his lines of thought in all places clear, or to remove all difficulties; but only to set forth what is conceived to have been his fundamental conception. There had, we may suppose, been in the first place borne in upon him a grand idea of a realization in Christ of the predicted Messianic kingdom, as at length vindicating and exhibiting to man God's own eternal righteousness. To him, as a devout Jew and a student of the Scriptures, this conception would naturally first present itself, so soon as he came to recognize the Messiah in Jesus. But then, the ordinary Jewish conception — as of the purport of the promise to Abraham, so also of the character of the Messianic kingdom — having to his mind become enlarged and spiritualized, he seems to have interwoven with Jewish ideas others suggested by his own contemplation of human consciousness, of the condition of the world as it is, and the general problems of existence; and to have found in Christ an answer to his various difficulties and his various cravings. But it is not always easy to trace or define exactly his lines of thought; and hence arises one main difficulty in the way of a clear interpretation of this Epistle, in which there are certainly, as is said of his Epistles generally in the Second Epistle of St. Peter, "some things hard to be understood." Perhaps even he himself could hardly have defined exactly all that "the Spirit of Christ which was in him did signify" on a subject so transcendent; while his style of writing — often abrupt, unstudied, and pregnant with undeveloped thoughts — increases our difficulty in the way of a clear interpretation.

2. Universalism. The doctrine as above set forth seems to lead logically to universalism, i.e. the reconciliation in the end of all things to the righteousness of God. Without such sequel it is not easy to see how the supposed ideal of God's righteousness embracing all can be regarded as fulfilled. Nor can it be denied, except by the prejudiced, that St. Paul, in some passages of his writings, does more or less distinctly intimate such an expectation; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 1:10, Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:15-21; and in this epistle Romans 5:18, seq.; 11:26, 32, seq. (see notes under these two passages). Without here entering on this mysterious subject (at present occupying so many minds) we may observe, as to the intimations respecting it found in this Epistle (which are all that concern us here), firstly, that, whatever hope may seem to be held out of the salvation of all at last, it must be in the undefined ages of eternity, beyond the range of our present view; faith and walking in the Spirit being, at any rate for enlightened Christians, insisted on as the condition of partaking in the eternal life of God; and secondly, that punishment after this life is as distinctly spoken of as reward (Romans 2:8, Romans 2:9), and death in a spiritual sense as distinctly regarded as being the proper result of sin, as is life as being the result of holiness (Romans 8:13). In fact, just retribution is essential to the apostle's conception of the display of the righteousness of God; and the Divine wrath has to him a real and awful meaning. Thus he by no means ignores or abates the force of whatever is meant by the πῦρ τοÌ αἰωìνιον, and the κοìλασις αἰωìνιος, spoken of by our Lord (Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46); as to which expressions the question is — What is implied by the word αἰωìνιος? One view, entertained by some, is that, though such expressions as ὀìλεθρος αἰωìνιος (2 Thessalonians 1:9) and ὡìν τοÌ τεìλὀ ἀπωìλεια (Philippians 3:19) preclude hope of any restoration of the utterly lost, yet that their perdition may be reconciled with the idea of the final triumph of universal good by supposing such lost ones to cease in the end to be as individual souls at all, like things hopelessly blighted which come to nothing. And it has been argued that such words as ο!λεθρὀ ανδ ἀπωìλεια in themselves suggest the idea of final destruction rather than of endless suffering. Enough here to draw attention to this view, our purpose in this Commentary being not to dogmatize on mysterious subjects which are evidently beyond our grasp, but rather to present conceptions of them that may be considered tenable.

3. Predestination. This Epistle having been a principal battle-ground of the predestinarian controversy, and often regarded as a stronghold of Calvinism, special attention may be directed to the sections that bear upon this subject. These are especially Romans 8:28-39; Romans 9:6-24; and, in a more general way, ch. 9, 10, 11, throughout. In the exposition of these passages an honest attempt has been made to view them apart from the battle-field of controversy, so as to get at their real meaning in view simply of their context, their apparent purpose, and the language used. It will be seen, among other things, that ch. 9, 10, 11, though they have been used in support of theories of the absolute predestination of individuals to glory or damnation, do not really bear on individual predestination, but rather on the election of races of men to positions of privilege and favour; the present rejection of the race of Israel from the inheritance of the promises, and its prospect of restoration to favour, being in view throughout these chapters. In ch. 8., where the predestination to final glory of such as are called to faith in Christ is undoubtedly spoken of, all that need be here said is that in the Exposition an attempt has been made to discover what the apostle really teaches, and his purpose in so teaching, on this mysterious subject, which is in its depths inscrutable.

4. Law. One idea pervading the doctrinal part of the Epistle, and evidently deeply fixed in St. Paul's mind, is that of law. What is often specifically meant, and what had probably suggested the whole idea to him, is the Law given from Mount Sinai; but he uses the word also in a wider sense, so as to denote generally requirement of obedience to a moral code, appealing to the conscience. We may suppose that he had long, even before his conversion, wondered how it was that the Law given through Moses, holy and Divine as he had ever esteemed and never ceased to esteem it, should have proved so inoperative for conversion of the heart, nay, should seem rather to intensify the guilt of sin than to deliver from it. He had thus been led to consider what the office and purpose of the Law really was, and hence of law generally, as expressing the principle of exaction of obedience, under threat of punishment, to moral behests. And he found that all that law in itself could do was to restrain from overt transgressions such persons as would not be restrained without it; but that it had also a further office in the economy of grace, viz. to define and bring out the sense of sin in the human conscience, and so to prepare for the deliverance of redemption. This his view of the meaning and office of law it is important to keep in mind. As to the difference of meaning of ὁ νοìμο ς and of νοìμος without the article, as used by St. Paul, see note on Romans 2:13.


I. INTRODUCTORY. Romans 1:1-16.

A. Salutation, with significant parenthesis. Romans 1:1-7.

B. Introduction, expressing the writer's motives and feelings towards those addressed. Romans 1:8-16.

II. DOCTRINAL. Romans 1:17-36.

C. The doctrine of the righteousness of God, propounded, established, and explained. Romans 1:17-39.

(1) All mankind liable to the wrath of God. Romans 1:18-29.

(a) The heathen world in general. Romans 1:18-32.
(b) Those also who judge others, not excepting the Jews. Romans 2:1-29.

(2) Certain objections with regard to the Jews suggested and met. Romans 3:1-8.

(3) The testimony of the Old Testament to universal sinfulness. Romans 3:9-20.

(4) The righteousness of God, manifested in Christ, and apprehended by faith, set forth as the sole remedy, available for all. Romans 3:21-31.

(5) Abraham himself shown to have been justified by faith, and not by works, believers being his true heirs. Romans 4:1-25.

(6) Results of the revelation of the righteousness of God. Romans 5:1-21.

(a) On the consciousness and hopes of believers. Romans 5:1-11.
(b) On the position of mankind before God. Romans 5:12-21.

(7) Moral results to believers. Romans 6:1-39.

(a) The obligation to holiness of life. Romans 6:1-6.
(b) How Law prepares the soul for emancipation in Christ from the dominion of sin. Romans 7:7-25.
(c) The blessed condition and assured hope of them that are in Christ, and walk after the Spirit. Romans 8:1-39.

D. The present position and the prospects of the Jewish nation with reference thereto. Romans 9:1-36.

(1) Deep regret expressed for the present exclusion of the Jewish nation from inheritance of the promises. Romans 9:1-5.

(2) But it is not inconsistent with —

(a) God's faithfulness to his promises. Romans 9:6-13.
(b) His justice. Romans 9:14-24.
(c) The word of prophecy. Romans 9:25-29.

(3) The cause is in the fault of the Jews themselves. Romans 9:30-21.

(4) They are not finally rejected, but, through the calling of the Gentiles, will be brought into the Church at last. Romans 11:1-36.

III. HORTATORY. Romans 12:1-9:23 (followed by the doxology of Romans 16:25-27).

E. Various practical duties enforced. Romans 12:1-14.

F. Mutual toleration enjoined. Romans 14:1-23.

G. Concluding doxology. Romans 16:25-27.

IV. SUPPLEMENTARY. Romans 15:1-24.

H. Resumption and further enforcement of F. Romans 15:1-13

I. Romans The writer's account of himself and his plans. Romans 15:14-33.

K. Greetings to Christians at Rome, with warning in conclusion. Romans 16:1-20.

L. Greetings from Corinth. Romans 16:21-24.

adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile