I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4


Friday, January 1, 2010

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH, Beaner's Romans Paper

Here’s a paper the Beaner wrote for last year’s Bible class. Not too bad for a then thirteen year old ;). Earlier this year, she did a piece on Nero, which I’ll post sometime in the not too distant future. I’m awful proud of God’s grace that works in her heart and mind; and I wouldn't trade the pleasure of homeschooling her any thing, getting to see her grow everyday in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ--in every discipline, with heart, soul, and mind.
INTRODUCTION

Martin Luther once said that Romans was “the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest of all the gospels.”[1] He believed we should soak our souls in this Epistle everyday, and for good reason. To know anything about Martin Luther is to know about the agonizing struggle he went through trying to become acceptable before a holy God. K. Scott Oliphint says that Romans 1:17 “began to soothe Luther’s guilty conscience and bring him to an understanding of the liberty of the gospel.” He further recounts that Luther said that this verse—“The righteous shall live by faith”—“struck my conscience like lighting” and was “like a thunderbolt in my heart.”[2]

If the question of our acceptability before God is the most important one that can be asked (and it is), and more directly than any other book in the Bible, the Epistle to the Romans answers that question, then our coming to better understand this Epistle should be the most important object of every heart. The purpose of this thesis, therefore, is to investigate and answer four of the basic but essential questions for a correct understanding of the Epistle to the Romans: The who, the when, the where, and primarily the why of Romans. I will venture to do so by presenting various hypotheses formed by a variety of conservative commentators, dating from the Reformation to today.

AUTHORSHIP

Most commentators automatically assume the apostle Paul to be the author of Romans, largely because of certain writings in earlier manuscripts written to the churches of various cities, namely Galatia. As Harrison argues, “If the claim of the apostle to have written the Galatian and Corinthian letters is accepted, there is no reasonable basis for denying that he wrote Romans, since it echoes much of what is in the earlier writings, yet not slavishly.”[3] Galatians provides many such examples. For instance, when Paul mentioned how “we know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing…” in Romans 6:6, this echoes “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” in Galatians 2:20, written earlier. There are a number of other parallel phrases and concepts found between these two books thus further proving Paul as the author. [4]

DATING THE EPISTLE

Many commentators (e.g., Schaff, Harrison, Quarles, Bryan, Moo, and Hendrickson)[5] agree that the epistle to the Romans was undoubtedly written on Paul’s third missionary journey, sometime between the years of AD 53 and AD 58. Douglas Moo states, for example, “Paul writes Romans on his third missionary journey…probably in about AD 57.”[6] He was completing his third missionary journey and was heading back to Jerusalem with a collection (gift) from the Gentile churches, preparing for a missionary trip to Spain by way of Rome.

ORIGIN OF THE EPISTLE

In the book of Acts, Luke tells us that when Paul was in Corinth, testifying in front of the Jews, they opposed him and he said, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the gentiles.” The Roman church was predominantly a gentile congregation with some from the Jewish community. More than likely, Paul wrote this letter to Rome not long after he made this declaration. Many scholars support that it was most likely written in Corinth. Although, others, including Christopher Bryan and Douglas J. Moo, believe it was written in Cenchreae (a small seaport very near to Corinth).[7] Thus Paul was writing from Corinth or near Corinth about his plan to go to Rome.

PURPOSE OF THE EPISTLE

This is not an exhaustive list of supported reasons for Paul to have written the letter, but what follows are a few of the basics or more general themes and motives behind his writing the Epistle.

Paul’s Thesis Statement

Paul states the thesis of his Epistle in the first chapter. “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Rom. 1:16-17). That Paul would write down a summery of his Gospel and the theology behind that in a letter and send it to Rome, so that the church there could digest his message, before his visit, is the main reason supported by scholars for Paul writing Romans. Barrett agrees, “Most commentators recognize in them [1:16, 17] the ‘text’ of the Epistle; it is not wrong to see in them a summary Paul’s theology as a whole.”[8]

Paul’s Call to Unity within the Church

Another clear reason behind the Epistle, which is held highly by commentators, is that Paul wanted to address and correct certain problems existing in the Roman church; in particular, calling them to unity. Thanks to Gods providence, through Roman conquest, the pax Romana (“Peace of Rome”) helped to tare down nationalistic boundaries that would have kept Christian evangelists from reaching the nations, keeping the Great Commission. Rome also sustained a ‘universal,’ common language, Koinē Greek, which made it possible to communicate the Gospel to every “tongue, tribe, nation, and people”—or “the whole world.” Moreover, a highway system that allowed for easy travel. Despite these external benefits of Rome’s peace, this peace did not go deep enough to touch human hearts. There still existed bitter hostility between ethnic, social, religious, and cultural groups throughout the empire. The clearest tension lies between the Jews and Greeks, and the enmity was mutual. This disunity spread through all areas of their lives, but the one it was most evident in was their religion. The church in Rome was born under this area of false ‘peace.’ This disunity was at the heart of the church, and it was obvious. The attitude of resentment toward each other was the one Paul was facing when he was writing the letter. Bryan articulates this by saying, “Paul sought to address both groups not with a ‘compendium of Christian doctrine,’ but with an account of how the Gospel accords with God’s promises to restore creation (Rom 8:18—25) and how that should affect the attitude of believers toward each other (Rom 12:1—15:13).”[9] Paul is trying to point out that Caesar’s counterfeit peace could not reach the core of peoples hearts and Jesus’ genuine peace can (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Paul’s Personal and Theological Introduction to the Church in Rome

Since Paul had been longing to go to Rome for so long (Rom 1:11), and the Roman church had never seen him or heard his message, he sought to formally introduce himself and give them a full exposition of his Gospel. In this way, they would not be totally ignorant of his message and perceive it wrongly. Many commentators hold to the belief that this was at least part of the purpose of the letter.[10] Not least, C. K. Barrett, who puts it this way, “An obscure provincial, Paul plans to visit the center of the world; a self-styled apostle, lacking the self evident authorization of the Twelve, he approaches a church where his authority and even his credentials may well be questioned.”[11] Never the less he marches on, because that is what God called him to do.

CONCLUSION

I set out to answer the questions, who, when, where, and why, and I have done so to the best of my ability. There is no reason to doubt that the Apostle Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans on his third missionary journey, between AD 53 and AD 58 in the city of Corinth. He did so, because that was God’s plan for him to fulfill the Great Commission in Rome.


[1] Luther, Martin, Commentary of Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications. 1976) xiii.

[2] Oliphant, K. Scott, The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith, (Phillipsburg – New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing. 2003) pp. 107—8.

[3] Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” pp. 519—605 in The Expositors Bible Commentary, Barker, L. Kenneth, John R. Kohlenberger general editors, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1994) p. 519.

[4] E.g., Rom 6:3//Gal 2:20, 3:27; Rom 6:9//Gal 2:19-20; Rom 6:21, 22//Gal 6:8; Rom 7:4//Gal 2:19; 5:22; Rom 7:23//Gal 5:17; Rom 8:6//Gal 6:8; Rom 814—17//Gal 4:3—7, etc.

[5] Respectively: Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. 2006), holds AD 58. p. 369; Everett Harrison, “Romans,” EBC, dates the epistle to early AD 57. p. 519; Charles Quarles, “Romans, letter to the,” pp. 1409—15 in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Brand, Chad, Charles Draper, Archie England general editors, (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference. 2004), agrees on AD 56 – 57. p. 1410; Christopher Bryan, “Romans, book of,” pp. 697—703 in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, Kevin J. Vanhoozer general editor, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing. 2005), concurs with AD 56 – 57. p. 697; William Hendrickson, Survey of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books Publishing. 2005), also maintains Paul’s third missionary journey as the time of writing. p. 341.

[6] Douglas J. Moo, “Romans,” pp. 291—96 in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity and Diversity of Scripture, Alexander, T. Desmond, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy general editors, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 2000) p. 292.

[7] Christopher Bryan, “Romans, Book of,” DTIB, is comfortable with either Cenchreae or Corinth, p.697. Douglas J. Moo, “Romans,” NDBT, says, “Cenchreae, near Corinth…” p.292.

[8] C. K Barrett., A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, (New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London; Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957.) p. 27.

[9] Christopher Bryan, “Romans, Book of,” DTIB, p. 699.

[10] Charles Quarles, “Romans, Letter to the,” HIBD, p. 521; Everett Harrison, “ Romans,” EBC, p. 1411.

[11] C. K Barrett, Ibid.

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