Epistle to the Romans

From New World Encyclopedia

New Testament

The Epistle to the Romans is one of the books of the New Testament canon attributed to Saint Paul the Apostle. Often referred to simply as Romans, it is one of the seven currently undisputed letters of Saint Paul and counted among the four letters accepted as authentic (known in German scholarship as Hauptbriefe) by the Tübingen School of historical criticism.

The main message of the Epistle is that salvation is available to humanity through the grace of Jesus Christ, and only by faith (not works) is humankind seen as righteous before God. Overall, the Epistle of Romans has been called Paul's "masterpiece," which "dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages. …a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision."[1]


The Epistle to the Romans was probably written at Corinth, and transcribed by Tertius (16:22). Phoebe (16:1) conveyed it to Rome. The precise time of its writing, however, is not mentioned, but it seems to have been composed when Paul was about to "go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints;" that is, at the close of his second visit to Greece early in 58 C.E. At this time, the Jews made up a substantial number in Rome, and their synagogues, frequented by many, enabled the Gentiles to become acquainted with the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Consequently, a church composed of both Jews and Gentiles developed at Rome. There is evidence that Christians were then in Rome in considerable numbers and probably had more than one place of meeting (Rom 16:14-15).

Paul's Epistle to the Romans may have been a response to the expulsion of many Jews from Rome around 49 C.E., because of Christian disturbances.[2] Paul is aware that there is some conflict between Gentile and Jewish-Christians in the Roman church, and he addressed those concerns. (Especially in chapters thirteen and the first half of fourteen.) While the Roman church was presumably founded by Jewish Christians, the exile of Jews from Rome, in 49 C.E., by Emperor Claudius resulted in Gentile Christians taking leadership positions. Claudius' successor, Emperor Nero, allowed the Jews back into Rome. This epistle may have been Paul's thoughts about this exile of the Jews, and their consequent return.[3] At this time, some Gentile Romans argued that Jews were no longer God's people.[4]

Purposes of writing

The underlying rationale for the Book of Romans is given by Paul in Romans 1:1, where he reveals that he wishes to impart to the Roman readers a gift of encouragement and assurance in all that God has freely given to them (Romans 1:11-12; 1 Corinthians 2:12). The intentions of the Apostle in dictating this letter to Amanuensis Tertius (16:22) are also articulated in the second half of chapter 15:

  1. Paul asks for prayers for his upcoming journey to Jerusalem; he hopes that the offering collected from the Gentile churches will be accepted there.
  2. Paul is planning to travel to Rome from Jerusalem and spend some time there before moving on to Spain; he hopes the Roman church will support his mission to Spain.
  3. Since Paul has never been to Rome, he outlines his gospel so that his teaching will not be confused by that of "false teachers."
  4. Paul is aware that there is some conflict between Gentile and Jewish Christians in the Roman church, and he addressed those concerns (chs. thirteen and the first half of fourteen). While the Roman church was presumably founded by Jewish Christians, the exile of Jews from Rome in 49 C.E. by Claudius resulted in Gentile Christians taking leadership positions.


Paul sometimes uses a style of writing common in his time called a "diatribe." He appears to be responding to a "heckler," and the letter is structured as a series of arguments. The letter is addressed to the church at Rome, which consisted of both Gentile and Jewish Christians. In the flow of the letter, Paul shifts his arguments, sometimes addressing the Jewish members of the church, sometimes the Gentile membership and sometimes the church as a whole.

The main theme of the letter is the salvation offered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1:16-17). Paul argues that all humanity is guilty and accountable to God for sin and that it is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that humanity can attain salvation. Therefore, God is both just and the one who justifies. In response to God's free, sovereign, and graceful action of salvation, humanity can be justified by faith. Paul uses the example of Abraham to demonstrate that it is by faith not works that humankind can be seen as righteous before God.

In chapters five through eight, Paul argues that believers can be assured of their hope in salvation, having been freed from the bondage of sin. Paul teaches that, through faith (3:28; 4:3), the faithful have been joined with Jesus (5:1) and freed from sin (6:1–2, 6:18). Believers should celebrate in the assurance of salvation (12:12). This promise is open to everyone, since everyone has sinned (3:23) save the one who paid for all of them (3:24).

In chapters nine through eleven, Paul addresses the faithfulness of God to Israel, where he says that God has been faithful to His promise. Paul hopes that all of Israel will come to realize the truth (9:1–5) since he himself was also an Israelite (11:1) and had in the past been a persecutor of Christ. In Romans 9–11, Paul talks about how the nation of Israel has been cast away, and the conditions under which Israel will be God's chosen nation again: When the Body of Christ (believers in Christ's payment for sin) stops being faithful (11:19–22).

In Romans 7:1, Paul says that humans are under the law while we live: "Know ye not … that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?" However, Jesus' death on the cross makes believers dead to the law (7:4, "Wherefore, my brethren, ye are also become dead to the law by the body of Christ").

From chapter 12 through the first part of chapter 15, Paul outlines how the Gospel transforms believers and the behavior that results from such a transformation. He goes on to describe how believers should live: Not under the law, but under the grace of God. If believers live in obedience to God and to rightfully delegated authority (12:9–21; 13:1–10), study the scriptures, (and share them with others) and love everybody, believers are not going to need to sin. As Saint Paul says in Romans 13:10, "love (ἀγάπη) worketh no ill to his neighbor: Therefore love is the fulfilling of law."

The concluding verses contain a description of his travel plans and personal greetings salutations. One-third of the twenty-one Christians identified in the greetings are women, some of whom played an important role in the early church at Rome.

Protestant interpretation

Martin Luther described the Book of Romans as the "most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul".[5]

The Romans Road refers to a set of scriptures from the book of Romans that Christian evangelists use to present a clear and simple case for personal salvation for each person.

The "Book of Romans" has been at the forefront of several major movements in Protestantism. Martin Luther's lectures on Romans in 15: 15–16 probably coincided with the development of his criticism of Roman Catholicism which led to the 95 Theses of 1517. In 1738, while reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, John Wesley famously felt his heart "strangely warmed," a conversion experience which is often seen as the beginning of Methodism. In 1919, Karl Barth's commentary on Romans, The Epistle to the Romans, was the publication which is widely seen as the beginning of neo-orthodoxy.

Catholic interpretation

Catholics accept the necessity of faith for salvation but point to Romans 2:5–11 for the necessity of living a virtuous life as well:[6]

Who [God] will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God.

It is often the starting point of those who argue against the Protestant understanding of Romans, specifically in regards to the doctrine of sola fide, to point out that the same apostle who wrote Romans is also quoted in Philippians as saying "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12).[7]


Many Christians (and non-Christians) who oppose the Catholic interpretation of the text argue that the faith of those who do good works would itself be suspect. However, to argue their claim that sincere profession of Christ takes precedence over good works in God's eyes, they hold up Romans 4:2–5:

For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted unto him for righteousness.

They also point out that in Romans 2, Paul says that God will reward those who follow the law (as opposed to antinomianism) and then goes on to say that no one follows the law perfectly (Romans 2:21–25).


  1. N.T. Wright, in Leander E. Keck et al. (eds.), The New Interpreter's Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 395.
  2. Acts 18:2; Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Claudius XXV.4.
  3. N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992), 354-355.
  4. Leander E. Keck, The New Interpreter's Bible, p. 407.
  5. Martin Luther, Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, Luther's Works. Retrieved May 12, 2008.
  6. Catholic Encyclopedia, Epistle to the Romans. Retrieved May 12, 2008.
  7. Cathloc Answers, Aren't we saved by faith alone? Retrieved May 12, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996. ISBN 978-0802823175.
  • Barth, Karl. The Epistle to the Romans. Oxford University Press, 1968. ISBN 978-0195002942.
  • St. Augustine. Augustine on Romans: Propositions from the Epistle to the Romans and Unfinished Commentary on the Epistles to the Romans. Society of Biblical Literature, 1982. ISBN 978-0891305835.
  • Schaff, Philip. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: First Series, Volume XI St. Chrysostom: Homilies of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans. Cosimo Classics, 2007. ISBN 978-1602066106.
  • Hodge, Charles. Commentary on Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950 (original 1836). ISBN 978-0802881366.

This entry incorporates text from the public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary, originally published in 1897.

External links

All links retrieved February 13, 2024.


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