Click to donate today!
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
Romans Epistle to the
1. Date and destination.-The Epistle is usually supposed to have been written to Rome (Romans 1:7; Romans 1:15) during the visit of Acts 20:2 f., i.e. towards the close of the third missionary journey. The year will depend upon the general scheme of chronology adopted for St. Paul’s life; c. [Note: . circa, about.] a.d. 58 is the usual date. The grounds on which this view is based are:
(1) The reference to the collection for the saints (Romans 15:23 ff.). This is prominent in 1 and 2 Cor. (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 Corinthians 8:3), which belong to the same period of St. Paul’s life, and is mentioned incidentally in Acts 24:17 as forming part of the purpose of the final visit to Jerusalem. According to Romans 15 the collection is nearing completion, and St. Paul is about to start for Jerusalem; this points precisely to the circumstances of Acts 20.
(2) Acts 19:21 shows that the Apostle had in mind at this time a visit to Rome, which again corresponds exactly to the indications afforded by Romans 15:23 ff; cf. Romans 1:10.
(3) Timothy and Sosipater (Romans 16:21) were with St. Paul at this period (Acts 20:4). The fact that the other travelling companions of Acts 20 do not happen to be mentioned creates no difficulty; they may have had no connexion with Rome, or they may not yet have joined St. Paul.
(4) Phoebe, a ‘deaconess’ of Cenchreae, the port of Corinth, is prominently mentioned (Romans 16:1); possibly she is the bearer of the Epistle.
(5) Gains is the Apostle’s host (Romans 16:23), and we hear also of a Gaius at Corinth, evidently in close personal relation to St. Paul, since he was one of the few baptized by him (1 Corinthians 1:14).
(6) We hear of Erastus, chamberlain of the city (Romans 16:23); in 2 Timothy 4:20 we read that an Erastus was left at Corinth, which may thus have been his home.
Some of these indications are slight; (3) cannot be pressed, and the force of the references to Gaius and Erastus is weakened by the frequency of the names. But the first two cross-correspondences are very strong, and the data fit in so exactly with what we knew of St. Paul’s movements at this period that the commonly accepted placing of the Epistle might be regarded as indisputable, if it were not that it rests upon an assumption which may be questioned, as taking for granted its integrity. The indications come from the last two chapters; did these form part of the original Epistle? In particular, even if ch. 15 is accepted, can we safely use ch. 16?
2. Integrity.-There are here two distinct, though possibly related, problems to be considered: (a) the original destination of ch. 16, (b) the existence of a short recension of the Epistle.
(a) Was ch. 16 originally addressed to Rome?-We are at once struck by the fact that though St. Paul has never visited Rome, and in the body of the Epistle betrays no detailed acquaintance with local conditions, yet according to Romans 16:3-16 he seems to have a large number of friends there. Indeed the list of persons greeted is longer than in any other Epistle, and personal details are mentioned freely in a way which suggests a considerable knowledge of the work of the church. It is therefore widely held that Romans 16:1-23 (the concluding doxology offers a separate problem which will be considered under (b)) would be more in place if addressed to some church where St. Paul had made a long stay. Ephesus best satisfies the conditions at this period, and indeed two features point to it directly.
(1) In. Romans 16:5 b we find a greeting to Epaenetus, who is called ‘the firstfruits of Asia.’ [Note: AV ‘firstfruits of Achaia’ rests on poor MSS evidence, and is contradicted by 1 Corinthians 16:15, where Stephanas is so described.] Of course he may have moved to Rome, and St. Paul may be commending him to his new home, but the words are more naturally explained as addressed to the church of which Epaenetus is the oldest member; and in ‘Asia’ St. Paul first preached at Ephesus.
(2) Of greater significance is the reference to Prisca and Aquila (‘Salute Prisca and Aquila … and the church in their house,’ Romans 16:3 f.). We learn from Acts that they had come from Rome to Corinth, where they had met St. Paul; thence they accompanied him to Ephesus (Acts 18) and remained there. In 1 Corinthians 16:19, written from that city shortly before the date usually assigned to Romans, they are there still, and St. Paul sends a greeting from them and from the church in their house; similarly in 2 Timothy 4:19 he sends greetings to them, again at Ephesus. Hence Ephesus evidently became their home. It is of course possible that at the time when Romans was written they might have returned temporarily to Rome to settle their business affairs; their expulsion perhaps left them but little time to put them in order; but the strange thing is that when they were in Rome only for a short visit their house should there, as well as at Ephesus, be the meeting-place of the local church.
These facts, then, suggest that the verses are really a fragment of a letter addressed to Ephesus. It may be added that the sudden outburst in 2 Timothy 4:17 ff. is certainly surprising if meant for Rome; it is severe and emphatic in tone, and suggests that St. Paul is speaking of an existing danger, not of something which may happen, and yet the body of the Epistle gives no hint of the presence there of false teachers of this type (see 4).
On the other side the attempt is made to rebut these arguments by considerations derived from inscriptions and from archaeological evidence. [Note: See the discussions in Lightfoot, Philippians 4, London, 1878 (detached note on ‘Caesar’s Household,’ p. 171 ff.), Sunday-Headlam, ICC, ‘Romans’5, pp. xciv ff., 418 ff., with criticisms in K. Lake, Earlier Epistles of St. Paul, London, 1911, p. 330 ff.] It is pointed out that most of the names in this chapter can be paralleled from inscriptions found in Rome; it is not suggested that these refer to the actual people mentioned by St. Paul, but that ‘such a combination of names-Greek, Jewish, and Latin-could as a matter of fact be found only in the mixed population which formed the lower and middle clasps of Rome’ (Sanday-Headlam, p. xciv). We have, however, to allow for the fact that the corpus of Roman inscriptions has been greater than those of other places. As inscriptions, e.g. from Asia Minor, are studied and catalogued, more and more of the names of this chapter are found in them too, so that the argument is somewhat precarious. [Note: ‘To describe the personal names in Romans 16 as specifically Roman on the strength of inscriptions found in the city of Rome is about as safe as to describe Wilhelm, Friedrich, Luise as specifically Berlin names because they are found on Berlin tombstones. The names referred to are found swarming in inscriptions, papyri, and ostraca all over the Mediterranean world’ (Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, Eng. tr., London, 1911, p. 278, n. 1). Similarly G. Milligan, The New Testament Documents, do., 1913, p. 183, n. 1.] Again, much stress cannot be laid on the attempts to trace on antiquarian grounds evidence of an early connexion of Prisca and Aquila with Rome. It is possible that the households of Aristobulus and Narcissus (Romans 16:10-11) may refer to the slaves of the Imperial household inherited from Aristobulus, the grandson of Herod the Great, and to those of the Narcissus who was executed by Agrippina, but again the names are common, and, as Lake points out, we should expect οἱ Ναρκισσιανοί instead of οἱ Ναρκίσσου, words ending in -ani being usually transliterated. The most that can be said is that while these expressions suit Rome, they do not positively demand it.
Our conclusion may be that, though it is not impossible that this section may be an integral part of the Epistle, it is more probable that it was addressed to a church St. Paul had visited, and that the indications point to Ephesus. No doubt this conclusion would be more readily accepted if it were possible to give a reasonable explanation of the way in which the chapter came to be attached to this particular Epistle; a suggestion will be made when we come to deal with the next problem. Meanwhile it need only be added that those who regard the verses as misplaced often see in them a letter, [Note: According to Delssmann (Light from the Ancient East, p. 226), ‘there is no lack of analogies for a letter of recommendation plunging at once in medias res and beginning with “I commend.” ’ He suggests that the short letter to Ephesus followed that to Romans in the letter-book (a book containing copies or letters sent or received) of Tertlus, St. Paul’s amanuensis.] or part of a letter, commending Phoebe (see Romans 16:1). to Ephesus (Renan, etc.). Gifford [Note: For this and other theories see Moffatt, LNT, p. 138.] and others suggest that it may have been written to Rome after St. Paul’s first imprisonment there; this would explain the large circle of acquaintances (but not the references to Aquila and Prisca, or Epaenetus), and it might easily become attached to the earlier letter. It should be clearly understood that very few critics question the Pauline authorship of the chapter; the doubt is whether it is in its right place.
(b) The short recension.-This problem is not a little complicated, and its study requires some knowledge of the principles of NT criticism. It will be best to state the facts before proceeding to discuss the solutions which have been offered.
(1) Evidence that a recension of the Epistle existed which omitted chs. 15, 16.-It should be understood that no extantmanuscript omits these chs.; the evidence is indirect. (α) In the breves or chapter-headings [Note: It must be remembered that the ‘chapters’ or sections referred to are not our present chapters.] of the Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate (a system found in many other Manuscripts ) the 50th ‘chapter’ clearly describes Romans 14:15-23, and the 51st, and last, the doxology (Romans 16:25-27), the remainder of 15 and 16 being omitted. In the same way the breves of Codex Fuldensis point to a similar text, without the doxology, while the concordance, or harmony, of the Pauline Epistles found in the Codex Morbacensis unmistakably implies the use of the Amiatine breves based on the short recension.
(β) Neither Cyprian, Tertullian, nor Irenaeus quotes from the last two chs.; [Note: According to Moffatt (p. 140), Clement of Alexandria and Origen are the only Ante-Nicene Fathers who do so.] ‘the argument from silence,’ often so dangerous, is here significant. (i.) We should expect Cyprian in his Testimonia to use Romans 16:17 under the headings which refer to the duty of avoiding heretics; (ii.) Tertullian (adv. Marc. Romans 16:14) quotes Romans 14:10 as occurring in clausula, i.e. in the closing section, of the Epistle, while he does not use against Marcion any of the obvious passages from 15-16, or accuse him of having cut them out of the Epistle.
(γ) Origen does in fact say that Marcion ‘removed’ (abstulit) the final doxology and ‘cut away’ (dissecuit) [Note: On the whole, it is not probable that this means merely ‘separated off’ or ‘cut about.’ Hort tries to explain away Origen’s evidence, but he has not been generally followed; see Sanday-Headlam, p. xc; Lightfoot, Biblical Essays, London, 1893, p. 287 ff. (including a paper by Hort).] the last two chapters. This agrees with the evidence from Tertullian just quoted, though, as we have said, he does not accuse Marcion of tampering with the text; their copies apparently agreed.
(δ) In the group of Manuscripts DEFG, which seem to come from a common ancestor, it is argued that the text of the last two chs. is so different from that of the rest of the Epistle that somewhere in the line of transmission there must have come amanuscript containing only 1-14, which was supplemented from some other source for chs. 15-16. It is probable that this archetype also omitted the doxology. [Note: Lake, Earlier Epistles, p. 341; Sanday-Headlam, p. xcviii.]
(2) The position of the final doxology.-It should be carefully noted that there is no break in thought between chs. 14 and 15 (our present chapter divisions are late and do not always correspond to breaks in the sense), and the chs. as they stand offer a reasonably connected sequence of thought, except for the fact that there seem to be several distinct endings- Romans 15:33, Romans 16:20; Romans 16:25-27. But when we come to examine the textual phenomena the case is even more complicated. In some Manuscripts and Fathers (Chrysostom, Theodoret, etc.), representing the Antiochene text, the last three verses, which it will be convenient to refer to as ‘the doxology,’ are found at the close of ch. 14; Origen also knew of codices in which this was the case. A few authorities, including A, have it both there and at the end. FGg and a few other authorities omit the doxology altogether, as we know was the case with Marcion. The variation in the position of ‘the Grace’ (Romans 16:20), which is inserted in some Manuscripts after Romans 16:23 and in Textus Receptus by a natural conflation in both places, is additional evidence of the existence of copies which did not end with the doxology.
It will be understood that the evidence for the doxology after Romans 14:23 is also evidence for the existence of a short recension, since the doxology cannot have stood originally between Romans 14:23 and Romans 15:1 making a complete break in the sense. Its position there can only imply that the Epistle ended, or was supposed to end, at that point.
(3) Omission of the address to Rome.-There is evidence that the text used by Origen and Ambrosiaster omitted ἐν Ῥώμῃ (‘in Rome’) in Romans 1:7; Romans 1:15, and rend ἐν ἀγάπῃ (‘in love’), which is actually the reading of G. [Note: For details see Lake, op. cit., p. 346, who, supplements Sunday-Headlam, ad loc., by calling attention to the fact, discovered only in 1897, that the scholiast of cod. 47 was really using Origen. Lightfoot (Biblical Essays, p. 287) points out that Ruflnus’ Latin text of Origen also implies the omission.] It should be remarked that these authorities coincide with part of the evidence for the short recension, a point which may or may not be significant.
We have, then, these three textual phenomena-the existence of a short recension of the Epistle; the displacement, or omission, of the doxology; and the omission of the words ‘in Rome’-together with the doubt attaching to the original destination of Romans 16:23, though it is not yet clear how far they are all connected. The primary problem is to explain the short recension and the displacement of the doxology, which do undoubtedly stand in close relation to one another. Any solution must account for the fact, to which attention has already been called, of the close connexion of thought between Romans 14:23 and Romans 15:1. How then did the Epistle come to be truncated at this point, and the doxology to be inserted there? This consideration seems fatal to views such as those which regard chs. 15-16 as altogether unauthentic (Baur), or as belonging to a different recension of the Epistle made by St. Paul himself (Renan, Lightfoot, Lake). It is very difficult to believe that it ever ended with Romans 14:23, with or without the doxology.
The most popular explanation, therefore, is that adopted tentatively by Sanday-Headlam, following Gifford. They suppose the short recension, with the consequent confusion of text, to be due to Marcion. They point out truly enough that the opening verses of ch. 15 contradict his teaching entirely, and that he could not possibly have admitted them. He therefore cut them out, as Origen apparently says, and it is supposed that this influenced later orthodox practice. ‘When in adapting the text for the purposes of church use it was thought advisable to omit the last portions as too personal and not sufficiently edifying, it was natural to make the division at a place where in a current edition the break had already been made.’ [Note: Sanday-Headlam, p. xcvii.] The doxology was afterwards replaced at the end of ch. 14, while Marcion is also supposed to be responsible for the omission of the words ‘in Rome,’ which he struck out as an unimportant local allusion.
The theory has, however, been criticized by Lake. [Note: Earlier Epistles, p. 350 ff.] It implies that Marcion had a greater influence than is altogether probable on the formation of the canon of the Pauline Epistles and on the text of the NT; von Soden’s estimate of the extent of this influence has not been generally accepted. Further, Tertullian seems to have used the short recension, and his corpus was independent of Marcion’s; this fact and the widespread nature of the evidence for the omission of the last two chs. suggest that catholic collections of the Epistles, containing only the short recension, existed before Marcion. The charge that he cut the chs. out may only mean that they did not in fact stand in the copies he used.
As to his supposed responsibility for the omission of the reference to Rome, Lake points out that it is clear from the recently discovered Marcionite prologues that he did in fact describe the Epistle as ‘to the Romans’ in the usual way.
To these criticisms we may add others which are no less damaging. What evidence is there of any serious manipulation of the Epistles in order to fit them for ecclesiastical use? There is, e.g., no trace of the omission of 1 Corinthians 16, which is equally local and personal. And if this was done in the case of Romans, how came the doxology to be re-inserted? It cam have come only from amanuscript which had the complete ending, and in that case surely Romans 15:1-13, which is in every way suited for public reading, would have been restored at the same time.
Lake himself has a fresh theory. He suggests that the original Epistle consisted of chs. 1-14, with or without the doxology, and without the mention of Rome; this was sent as a circular letter, dealing with the Judaistic propaganda, to churches St. Paul had never visited, and belongs to the same period as Galatians. The latter Lake regards as the earliest of the Pauline Epistles, written before the Council of Acts 15. Later on St. Paul sent a copy of the letter to Rome, adding ch. 15, and ch. 16, if it really belongs to the Epistle. It is obvious to compare the relation of Ephesians, also regarded as a circular letter, to Colossians, written at the same time and closely resembling it. The theory has the advantage of accounting for the partial identity of the witnesses for the omission of the last two chs. and of the reference to Rome, and it is also attractive to those who, like the present writer, agree that Galatians is the earliest Pauline Epistle, since it accounts for the similarity of style and language between it and Romans, but it still seems to fail at the crucial point. It does not explain the break after Romans 14:23, since it is very difficult to believe that the Epistle ever ended there, whether with or without the doxology, which Lake indeed is inclined to regard as unauthentic. The close is too abrupt, and Romans 15:1-13 does not read as an afterthought. Further, ch. 1, even without the reference to Rome, gives the impression of being addressed to a particular church; it is more definite in tone than Ephesians.
The present writer is inclined to suggest a fresh theory, based on a hint given by Lake himself. He calls attention to the fact that in the Muratorian Canon Romans stood last of the Epistles to the Churches, and that it was also last in Tertullian’s, Cyprian’s, and Origen’s collections. We may remark that, being the longest and most important of the Epistles, it might equally well stand first, as in our own canon, or last, as in these, there being no attempt at chronological order in either. There is also good ground for regarding the doxology as not genuine. Its length and its position at the close of the Epistle are without parallel in the letters of St. Paul, and the language is to some extent un-Pauline (see Moffatt, p. 135). No doubt this would not be sufficient to justify our rejecting it if there were no other grounds for suspicion. But the fact of a passage being found in different places in our Manuscripts always suggests the possibility that it is a later addition (cf. the ‘Pericope’ in John 7:53 ff.), so the internal and the external lines of evidence here confirm one another. As Lake points out, it is a habit of scribes to add doxologies at the close of books or collections of books (cf. the doxology at the end of each book of the Pss.); this doxology may therefore have been inserted to mark the close of the Pauline corpus. We may, however, go further, and find here the key to the whole problem. (1) The Epistle may have originally ended with Romans 15:33; the short prayer is quite in keeping with St. Paul’s practice. (2) The last page of themanuscript or roll was lost, leaving only chs. 1-14 (cf. the lost ending of Mk.). (3) To this, standing at the end of a collection of Pauline letters, the doxology was added. (4) The lost conclusion was then, copied in from some other source, and ch. 16, a genuine fragment, of the Pauline correspondence, was also added as a sort of postscript to the corpus. (5) It was realized that the doxology was out of place, and it was transferred to the end, whether regarded by now as an integral part of the Epistle or not. If the process seems complicated, it will be seen that each step, with the exception of (1) and the first part of (4), is in fact represented by some part of our evidence; the variations are themselves so many that any theory which is to account for them must be somewhat complex. It may be added that the theory can in fact be presented in a simpler form if we regard ch. 16 as an integral part of the Epistle. We need only suppose, then, that the last two chs. were lost, the doxology added after ch. 14, and then transferred to the end of ch. 16 when the missing chs. had been replaced.
It is true that this hypothesis offers no explanation of the omission of the words ‘in Rome.’ But, as we have seen, the attempts of Sanday-Headlam and Lake to bring them into connexion with the short recension are not very successful; it only remains, therefore, to regard this as a primitive textual error, or perhaps as a deliberate omission made in order to ‘catholicize’ the Epistle.
Since the discussion of these textual phenomena has been of necessity somewhat long, it may be well to point out their bearing on the general view of the date and destination of the Epistle. Roughly speaking, they leave it unchanged on any theory which regards ch. 15 as genuine, whether belonging to a first or to a second edition. Rome remains as the destination, and the closing period of the third missionary journey as the date. The rejection of ch. 16 only removes the reference to Corinth as the place of writing. It must, however, be remembered that if Lake’s view that the Epistle was not originally intended for Rome be accepted, the reference of the details of the Epistle to the circumstances of the Roman Church will fall to the ground.
3. Authenticity.-The Pauline authorship of the Epistle is practically undisputed, except by the Dutch School. But since their views have found no foothold even among the most advanced critics, it does not seem necessary to discuss them here. The curious English reader may find them stated by W. C. von Manen in Encyclopaedia Biblica , s.v. ‘Romans (Epistle),’ with a refutation in the same Encyclopaedia by P. W. Schmiedel, s.v. ‘Galatians’; see also R. J. Knowling, Witness of the Epistles, London, 1892, p. 133 ff., Testimony of St. Paul to Christ, do., 1905, p. 34 ff., and Lake, Earlier Epistles of St. Paul, p. 421 ff. The external evidence for Romans is in fact peculiarly strong. It begins with 1 Peter, and perhaps with Hebrews and James (see 9), and clear traces, though without definite quotation, are found in Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr (see full quotations and references in Sanday-Headlam, p. lxxix ff.; Moffatt, p. 148). Marcion (circa, about a.d. 140) is the first to mention the Epistle by name; from the time of Irenaeus onwards we have numerous direct quotations. In the Muratorian Canon it stands the last of the seven Epistles to the Churches.
4. Purpose of the Epistle.-It seems obvious at first sight to look for the object of the Epistle in circumstances connected with the Roman Church. Most of St. Paul’s letters are in fact pieces d’occasion, called forth by special difficulties or dangers arising in churches in which he is interested; the Epistles to Galatia and Corinth are the outstanding examples. Accordingly, attempts have been made (Baur, etc.) to reconstruct from hints afforded by the Epistle the conditions of the Christian community in Rome, and the relations existing between its Jewish and Gentile elements; the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ of chs. 14, 15 are identified with parties supposed to have arisen there; and from these features so discovered the main purpose of the Epistle is deduced. It will not be denied that this method is justifiable in certain cases, but it is questionable whether it gives us the right point of view from which to approach this particular Epistle. For Romans is distinguished from the other Epistles just named by two important features. (a) It is addressed to a church which St. Paul has not founded, or even visited. He must therefore have been dependent upon reports received from others for any knowledge of its difficulties or of the various influences at work. No doubt such reports were available (? Prisca), but (b) the Epistle itself does not suggest that it was written in view of them. There is no hint in it [Note: Except Romans 16:17, on which see 2 (a).] that St. Paul’s purpose is to counteract errors or divisions which he has reason to believe have actually arisen. Indeed, he seems to safeguard himself from being supposed to do so (Romans 15:14), and suggests that his object is the imparting of a spiritual gift (Romans 1:11, Romans 15:15). He does not insist on his authority as an apostle except in the opening section. What he does insist on is his desire and frustrated attempts to visit Rome (Romans 1:13, Romans 15:22 ff.). It would appear, therefore, that the letter is intended partly to take the place of this visit, and partly to prepare the way for it, if it should be possible in the future. Remembering the circumstances under which it was written, we can hardly doubt that the writer was acutely conscious that the visit might in fact never take place. Already we have hints of the premonitions as to the result of the journey to Jerusalem (Romans 15:31), which soon became still more defined (Acts 20:22; Acts 21:10 ff.). St. Paul realized the outstanding importance of Rome and a church there both at the moment and still inure for the future. He may well have felt that in case he should never be able to go there himself he would wish that church to have some permanent record of his teaching. The Epistle is not a formal compendium of Paulinism, but it is the longest and most carefully thought out statement of his views on certain points, and we may conjecture that, though addressed to Rome, St. Paul had in mind the possibility of its penetrating to other churches. [Note: Note, however, that it is not ‘a circular letter’ (see 2 (b)); the references to Rome in both ch. 1 and ch. 15 are quite definite so far as they go.] In other words, the letter does not arise primarily from a desire to meet a particular situation in the Roman Church; it arises from the wish to put it and others in possession of his views in some more or less permanent form. Apart from the few personal references, it might have been equally well written to any church, and we can draw few conclusions from it as to the circumstances of the Roman Church in particular. The Epistle, however, remains of the greatest value as affording material for the reconstruction of the thought and conditions of Apostolic Christianity. It tells us the kind of questions St. Paul found men asking generally, the difficulties they felt, and the forms of error to which they were exposed. For the particular examples he had in mind we should probably look to the churches he knew, or even to the church in which he happened to be writing, rather than to Rome.
In the light of these considerations we may examine two questions which have bulked large in discussions of the Epistle.
(a) Was St. Paul writing to Jews or to Gentiles?-Certain passages imply clearly that he has Gentiles in mind; e.g. Romans 1:5 f., ‘Among all the nations [i.e. Gentiles, ἔθνεσιν] … among whom are ye also’; Romans 1:13, ‘That I might have some fruit in you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles’; Romans 11:13, ‘I speak to you that are Gentiles.’ But the curious thing is that there are other sections in which the writer seems to associate his readers no less decisively with himself as fellow Jews-4:1, ‘Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh’; Romans 7:6, ‘We have been discharged from the law’; Romans 9:10, ‘Our father Isaac.’ Further, the general argument of the Epistle presupposes acquaintance with Jewish Scriptures and ways of thought, and is addressed to Jewish as much as to Gentile Christians. In Galatians, on the contrary, St. Paul addresses his readers as those who have not been under the Law, though in 1 Corinthians 10:1, written to a Gentile church, he speaks of ‘our fathers.’ The obvious conclusion is that in Romans he has both Jews and Gentiles in mind, and the combination is made easier when we remember that many of the latter approached Christianity by way of the Synagogue, while some would even have been proselytes. A. Robertson, (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 298b) suggests that these predominated and ‘gave the tone to the community,’ sc. of the Christian Church in Rome. If, however, what has been said above holds good, we shall be cautious about drawing from the Epistle conclusions as to the composition of the Roman Church. Baur, followed by Mangold and others, argues that it was predominantly Jewish and a stronghold of Judaistic Christianity. In this, however, he has not been generally followed, and a priori considerations confirm what we gather from our sources as to the origin of the Roman Church, leading us to suppose that it contained both elements. The Epistle implies that the relation between Jew and Gentile Christians would be likely to arise in that church, but it does not suggest that it was a burning question, as in Galatia, or that Judaistic teaching had already obtained a strong footing there.
(b) What teaching is St. Paul combating in chs. 14, 15?-In other words, who are ‘the weak’ and ‘the strong’? In these chs. St. Paul discusses questions as to food and the observance of days. ‘One man hath faith to eat all things: but he that is weak eateth herbs’ (Romans 14:2); ‘One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike’ (Romans 14:5); ‘It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth’ (Romans 14:21); ‘We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak’ (Romans 15:1). Here again it has been assumed that the reference is to definite parties or sects existing in Rome, and the attempt has been made to identify them on this basis. It is suggested that the ascetics were Judaizers (Origen, etc.), but the obvious difficulty arises that the reference is not to scruples about eating things offered to idols as at Corinth, [Note: It is in fact doubtful whether these Corinthian ‘Puritans’ were Judaizers at all, at any rate of the ordinary type; see Lake, Earlier Epistles, p. 219 ff.] but to abstinence from meat and wine altogether, which was in no way characteristic of the party of the circumcision. More probable is the view that Essene [Note: It is not, however, quite certain that these practised vegetarianism; see Lietzmann, Com. ad loc., for the various traces of this type of asceticism in different quarters.] practices are referred to (Liddon, Lightfoot, Gifford), or vegetarian ascetics of the type mentioned by Seneca; Baur suggests Ebionites, who seem, however, to belong to a later period. Any of these ideas may have been in St. Paul’s mind, but the point is that it is by no means certain that he was referring to any particular sect in Rome: he mentions abstinence from meat as ‘a typical instance of excessive scrupulousness’ (Sanday-Headlam, p. 402). We conclude that the whole passage is probably due not to anything which St. Paul has heard of as going on in Rome, but to tendencies which he has found at work in the churches he knows, and particularly in Corinth, where he is perhaps writing. [Note: For scrupulousness as to days see Galatians 4:10 and Colossians 2:16, where meat and drink are also mentioned; for these cf. 1 Timothy 4:3.] The passage is not an answer to a question or a report, but he knows that errors which have arisen in the Church at large are sure to be represented sooner or later in Rome.
In the light of these considerations we may also answer the question as to
(c) How far Roman is a true letter.-Deissmann (Light from the Ancient East, p. 225), arguing on the basis of the recently discovered papyri and the light thrown by them on the language and methods of NT writers, has gone very far in the denial of any literary character to the Epistles; [Note: also the same writer’s Paulus, Tübingen, 1911, p. 4 ff., Eng. tr., London, 1912, p. 9 ff.] ‘The letters of Paul are not literary; they are real letters, not epistles; they were written by Paul not for the public and posterity, but for the persons to whom they are addressed. Almost all the mistakes that have ever been made in the study of St. Paul’s life and work have arisen from neglect of the fact that his writings are non-literary and letter-like in character.’ He admits that Romans is at first sight least like a letter, but he still persists in including it in his category: ‘Here also, therefore, if we would understand its true significance, we must banish all thought of things literary’ (p. 231). No doubt the warning is valuable against exaggerations; no one of the Epistles, not even Romans, is a theological treatise in which the epistolary form is adopted as a mere literary device; in their interpretation we must always allow for the personal factor and also for the special circumstances in which they were produced. At the same time Deissmann has carried his thesis too far. We may quote on the other side one who is equally qualified to speak from the point of view of the new discoveries: ‘The letters of St. Paul may not be epistles, if by that we are to understand literary compositions written without any thought of a particular body of readers. At the same time, in view of the tone of authority adopted by their author, and the general principles with which they deal, they are equally far removed from the unstudied expression of personal feeling, which we associate with the idea of a true letter. And if we are to describe them as letters at all, it is well to define the term still further by the addition of some such distinguishing epithet as “missionary” or “pastoral.” It is not merely St. Paul the man, but St. Paul the spiritual teacher and guide who speaks in them throughout’ (Milligan, The New Testament Documents, London, 1913, p. 95).
If this applies generally, it applies with special force to Romans, which has in it something both of the manifesto and of the homily.
5. The primitive Roman Church.-The bearing of the Epistle on the composition of the Roman Church and its supposed parties has already been discussed ( 4). It remains to put together what we can gather as to the character of the community addressed by St. Paul. Since the time of Pompey (63 b.c.) there had been considerable settlements of Jews in Rome, and Latin literature is full of references to them, mostly of an unfavourable character (see quotations in Sanday-Headlam, p. xix. ff.). We may therefore safely assume that there would also be in Rome large numbers of those proselytes and ‘God-fearers,’ attracted by the monotheism and ethical teaching of the Synagogue, from whom St. Paul and early Christian missionaries in general drew many of their converts. The importance of the Jewish community also implies frequent direct contact between Rome and Jerusalem (cf. the connexion of the Herods with the Imperial Court). There was a synagogue of Roman libertini at Jerusalem (Acts 6:9), and strangers from Rome, ‘Jews and proselytes,’ are mentioned among the first hearers of the gospel on the day of Pentecost (Romans 2:10). It is not unreasonable to trace the first beginnings of Christianity in Rome to this fact. But possibly more important was the constant intercourse between such cities as Ephesus and Corinth and the capital. A Christian church would be founded there almost imperceptibly, owing to the visits and migrations of converts, each of whom, after the manner of the first generations of Christianity, became a centre of missionary effort. There is at any rate no evidence of any definite propaganda in Rome on the part of Peter or any other of the apostles before the period of our Epistle. The stories of an early preaching of Peter (q.v. [Note: .v. quod vide, which see.] ) in the capital are comparatively late and unsupported. Our oldest authorities speak only of his martyrdom there at a later date. The evidence of Romans itself is certainly against any idea that he had visited Rome before the writing of the Epistle. It is true that the interpretation of Romans 15:20 is not undisputed, Lake and others seeing in the ‘hindrance’ the fact that the church had actually been founded by another-presumably St. Peter. But a careful reading of the passage shows that v. 22, ‘wherefore I was hindered these many times from coining to you,’ refers to the urgent necessity under which St. Paul had lain of preaching in other districts first, not to the objection of intruding on another’s foundation. He clearly implies that the ‘hindrance’ has now been removed; he has, in fact, ‘no more any further place in these regions’; i.e. he has done his work. On the other hand, the objection that Rome was another man’s foundation would be valid permanently, and it is most improbable that in these circumstances St. Paul would even have written to the Roman Church, at any rate without making the least reference to St. Peter’s work and position there. There would not, however, be the same objection to writing to or visiting a community in which Christianity had simply sprung up, as it were, of itself.
The remark of Suetonius (Claud. 25) that Claudius ‘Judaeos, impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes, Roma expulit’ (confirmed by Acts 18:2) may well be an indication of the existence of Christianity in Rome c. [Note: . circa, about.] a.d. 52. [Note: Under Nero (a.d. 54) the Jews again exerted considerable influence in the capital.] It is true that ‘Chrestus’ may be the name of an actual individual (it was a common slave name), but more probably it represents ‘Christus,’ in which case we have a hint either of some Messianic disturbance of a general character or else, more specifically, of troubles arising between Jews and Christians owing to the preaching of Jesus as Christ. The Roman historian might easily suppose from hearing the name that Christus, or Chrestus, was the actual ringleader. It may be that the reminder in Romans 13:1 ff. of the duty of proper submission to the civil power has a special reference to this event; Christians are to hold aloof from every type of lawless action, and from anything which might lead, however unintentionally, to collision with those responsible for law and order. Lake, however (Earlier Epistles, p. 392 ff.), suggests that the passage is more general and refers to the danger of being mixed up in the agitations and abortive rebellions of the Zealots. It is at any rate important as reflecting the Pauline and Lucan attitude to the Imperial power, in strong contrast to the hostility of the Apocalypse. And written to Rome, it might have a considerable apologetic value if a copy of the Epistle chanced to come into the hands of anyone connected with the Court.
We may now consider what light is thrown by the Epistle on the circumstances of the Roman Church. It has already been pointed out that it is precarious to argue too definitely from it to the conditions supposed to exist at Rome, and we must bear in mind that the destination of ch. 16, with its personal references, is doubtful. But, whether this ch. refers to Rome or to Ephesus, it is equally valuable as giving some indication of the wide spread of Christianity at this period among different classes and races. Slaves and freedmen are largely, but not exclusively, represented. If Narcissus is the freedman of Claudius, and Aristobulus (v. 10) the grandson of Herod the Great (see 2 (a)), it is interesting to find that Christianity had reached their households, i.e. their slaves and entourage. But if these identifications be rejected, we then probably have the names of prominent and presumably more or less wealthy members of the church. The ch. also suggests that the community is organized in groups and household churches, and this harmonizes with other indications afforded by the Epistle which, in common with others of the same period, has no reference to a developed ministry. We hear only generally of men who prophesy, teach, exhort, and rule (Romans 12:6 ff.), mentioned in a way which leaves it doubtful whether permanent officials are intended. Such a stage of development would be very natural in Rome, if the church had not been founded by any leading missionary but had grown up more or less haphazard. In ch. 16 the importance of the work of women is noticeable; Mary, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, and Persis are mentioned; Prisca is prominent, and Phoebe is the servant or deaconess (διάκονος) of the church at Cenchreae; it is, however, questionable whether a definite official is meant.
Of the sacraments, baptism is taken for granted, but there is no reference to the Eucharist. Though prophecy and, in St. Paul’s own case, miracles are mentioned, we do not hear of the startling gifts so prominent at Corinth. Disputes as to the relative value of charismata seem to lie in the background of Romans 12:3 ff., but this may only be a reflexion of St. Paul’s general experience, and need not imply the actual existence of such quarrels in Rome in particular. The whole picture of church life in chs. 12, 13 is markedly sober and practical; the Christian has his trials (8, Romans 12:12), but definite persecution is excluded by Romans 13:4. The importance of hospitality in the primitive Church is well known; the duty would be specially urgent in Rome, whither so many travellers came (Romans 12:13).
6. The bearing of the Epistle on the personal history of St. Paul.-Romans is primarily important as marking a definite stage in the development of Christian doctrine, and it has comparatively little to offer with regard to the external history of St. Paul’s life. There are, however, a few scattered indications which it may be well to group together. Its chief interest is with regard to the form his teaching had come to take; we find but few of those intimate personal touches in which 1 and 2 Cor. are so rich. Ch. 7 is no doubt autobiographical in the sense that it is based on personal experience, probably of struggles before conversion. At the same time the ‘I’ seems to be typical of the divided soul in general and not to refer to St. Paul specifically. The passionate outbursts in Romans 9:1 ff., Romans 10:1 throw a strong light on St. Paul’s burning patriotism. It has been remarked that if he had not spent himself in the service of Jesus he would have shed his blood with other natives of Tarsus on the walls of Jerusalem in. a.d. 70. As has been pointed out ( 1), the Epistle touches the narrative of Acts at two points.
(1) It emphasizes St. Paul’s strong desire to visit Rome (cf. Acts 19:21). Without any unworthy flattery it helps us to realize the importance he attached to that city and to its church, an importance natural to a Roman citizen who worked along the great roads and concentrated on the great towns of the Empire, and who understood to the full the opportunity afforded by the Pax Romana for the spread of Christianity. The Epistle underlines this particular feature in the Apostle’s missionary policy. Whether the journey to Spain of which he speaks (Romans 15:28) ever took place must remain doubtful, though it may be covered by the expression of Clement of Rome (Ep. ad Cor. i. 5) that he reached ‘the western limit of the world.’ The Muratorian Fragment also speaks of a visit to Spain, but on that we can lay little stress.
The phrase ‘even unto Illyricum’ (Romans 15:19) is difficult. It seems that it does not imply an extension of St. Paul’s missionary activity to the east coasts of the Adriatic, of which there is no hint in Acts, but merely that when he was in Macedonia he found himself on the border of Illyricum; this, when he wrote, formed the western limit of his preaching.
(2) The other important point of contact is the reference to the collection for the saints (Romans 15:25 ff.), which appears as the main motive for the visit to Jerusalem. We see from the Epistle St. Paul’s anxiety as to his reception and his keen desire that the gift should be favourably received. Romans itself is in a sense an eirenicon between Jew and Gentile, both within and without the Church (see esp. chs. 11-13), and the purpose of the Epistle is therefore in harmony with that of the visit to Jerusalem, showing that at this period St. Paul was taking particular pains both to secure unity within the Church and, if it were possible, to win over the nation as a whole. [Note: On this point, which has an important bearing on the reliability of the view of St. Paul’s character and policy presented on Acts, see A. Harnack, Date of the Acts and of the Synoptic Gospels, Eng. tr., London, 1911, pp. 64, 72 ff.]
We should not pass over the incidental reference in Romans 15:19 to St. Paul’s power of working miracles. It is not known what event is referred to in Romans 16:4; it can hardly be the riot of Acts 19:23.
(a) Introduction (Romans 1:1-17).
Romans 1:1-7. Extended greeting.
Romans 1:8-17. Congratulations and personal notes, leading up to statement of the writer’s Gentile apostleship and the theme of the Epistle-‘the righteous shall live by faith.’
(b) Righteousness (Romans 1:18 to Romans 5:21).
Romans 1:18-32. Even the Gentiles might have known God, but they have not; sin has followed ignorance, and God’s anger is just.
Romans 2:1-11. God’s judgment is universal and is only delayed in mercy (n.b. Romans 2:9-11, taking up the thought of Romans 1:16 and emphasizing the similarity between Jew and Gentile).
Romans 2:12-16. Not the possession of the Law but the doing of it is the crucial question from the point of view of God’s judgment.
Romans 2:17-29. Do the Jews keep the Law? Certainly not. This suggests that we must look deeper to discover the true Jew and the true circumcision, which turn out to be spiritual.
Romans 3:1-8. Preliminary objections. What is the advantage of the Jew (the answer is not given till chs. 9-11)? Man’s disobedience does not invalidate God’s promises, nor may this fact be made an excuse for sin.
Romans 3:9-20. Universal sinfulness proved by an appeal to Scripture, as it has already been proved by the appeal to experience.
Romans 3:21-31. God’s real method of salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ. It is connected with His death. This faith brings full forgiveness of sin and justification; it excludes all idea of personal merit and is essentially universal.
Romans 4:1-25. The principle considered in relation to Abraham. He was justified by his faith, not by his actions, and that before the institution of circumcision. Nor did the promise come through the Law. His faith was shown by his acceptance of the promise of a son. These facts make him the father of all believers, of whatever race (Romans 4:11-12; Romans 4:16; Romans 4:23 ff.).
Romans 5:1-21. The results of this new righteousness by faith. It carries with it the assurance of present free access to God and the hope of final salvation, guaranteed by the love of God displayed in the death of Christ. The work of Christ stands in strong contrast with the effects of Adam’s fall (Romans 5:12-21).
(c) Sanctification (chs. 6-8).
Romans 6:1-14. Our baptism is a death unto sin; it therefore implies a constant conflict against evil (some interpret this passage as implying that theoretically at least the Christian cannot sin; see 8).
Romans 6:15 to Romans 7:6. This truth illustrated by the double metaphors of emancipation from slavery and of marriage.
Romans 7:7-24. What, then, is the position of the Law? It brings the occasion and the possibility of sin, though not itself sinful. To it is due the inward struggle in the self between good and evil (‘flesh’), from which we are delivered by Christ (this section apparently refers not to the experience of the Christian but to that of the unregenerate man).
Romans 8:1-17. The work of the Spirit, bringing deliverance from the ‘flesh’ (Romans 8:1-9), the guarantee of bodily resurrection (Romans 8:11-13), of sonship and final glory.
Romans 8:18-39. The sorrows and yearnings of creation point forward to a future deliverance (Romans 8:18
Copyright Statement Bibliography Information
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Romans Epistle to the'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/r/romans-epistle-to-the.html. 1906-1918.