Archibald Thomas Robertson

The Epistle to the Romans

Spring of A.D. 57

By Way of Introduction

Integrity of the Epistle

The genuineness of the Epistle is so generally admitted by scholars that it is unnecessary to prove it here, for Loman, Steck, and the Dutch scholars (Van Manen, etc.) who deny it as Pauline are no longer taken seriously. He wrote it from Corinth because he sent it to Rome by Phoebe of Cenchreae (Rom 16:2) if chapter 16 is acknowledged to be a part of the Epistle. Chapter 16 is held by some to be really a short epistle to Ephesus because of the long list of names in it, because of Paul’s long stay in Ephesus, because he had not yet been to Rome, and because, in particular, Aquila and Priscilla are named (Rom 16:3-5) who had been with Paul in Ephesus. But they had come from Rome before going to Corinth and there is no reason for thinking that they did not return to Rome. It was quite possible for Paul to have many friends in Rome whom he had met elsewhere. People naturally drifted to Rome from all over the empire. The old MSS. (Aleph A B C D) give chapter 16 as an integral part of the Epistle. Marcion rejected it and chapter 15 also for reasons of his own. Renan’s theory that Romans was a circular letter like Ephesians sent in different forms to different churches (Rome, Ephesus, Thessalonica, etc.) has appealed to some scholars as explaining the several doxologies in the Epistle, but they cause no real difficulty since Paul interjected them in his other epistles according to his moods (2Co 1:20, for instance). That theory raises more problems than it solves as, for example, Paul’s remarks about going to Rome (Rom 1:9-16) which apply to Rome. Lightfoot suggests the possibility that Paul added Rom 16:25-27 some years after the original date so as to turn it into a circular letter. But the MSS. do not support that theory and that leaves Rom 15:22-33 in the Epistle quite unsuitable to a circular letter. Modern knowledge leaves the Epistle intact with occasional variations in the MSS. on particular points as is true of all the N.T.

The Time and Place

The place is settled if we accept Rom 16:1. The time of the year is in the spring if we combine statements in the Acts and the Epistle. He says: “I am now going to Jerusalem ministering to the saints” (Rom 15:25). In Act 20:3 we read that Paul spent three months in Corinth. In II Corinthians we have a full account of the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The account of the journey from Corinth to Jerusalem is given in Acts 20:3-21:17. It was in the spring between passover at Philippi (Act 20:6) and pentecost in Jerusalem (Act 20:16; Act 21:17). The precise year is not quite so certain, but we may suggest a.d. 57 or 58 with reasonable confidence.

The Purpose

Paul tells this himself. He had long cherished a desire to come to Rome (Act 19:21) and had often made his plans to do so (Rom 1:13) which were interrupted (Rom 15:22), but now he definitely plans to go from Jerusalem, after taking the contribution there (Rom 15:26), to Rome and then on to Spain (Rom 15:24, Rom 15:28). Meanwhile he sends this Epistle that the Romans may know what Paul’s gospel really is (Rom 1:15; Rom 2:16). He is full of the issues raised by the Judaizing controversy as set forth in the Epistles to Corinth and to Galatia. So in a calmer mood and more at length he presents his conception of the Righteousness demanded by God (Rom 1:17) of both Gentile (Rom 1:18-32) and Jew (Romans 2:1-3:20) and only to be obtained by faith in Christ who by his atoning death (justification) has made it possible (Romans 3:21-5:21). This new life of faith in Christ should lead to holiness of life (sanctification, chapters Romans 6-8). This is Paul’s gospel and the remaining chapters deal with corollaries growing out of the doctrine of grace as applied to practical matters. It is a cause for gratitude that Paul did write out so full a statement of his message. He had a message for the whole world and was anxious to win the Roman Empire to Christ. It was important that he go to Rome for it was the centre of the world’s life. Nowhere does Paul’s Christian statesmanship show to better advantage than in this greatest of his Epistles. It is not a book of formal theology though Paul is the greatest of theologians. Here Paul is seen in the plenitude of his powers with all the wealth of his knowledge of Christ and his rich experience in mission work. The church in Rome is plainly composed of both Jews and Greeks, though who started the work there we have no way of knowing. Paul’s ambition was to preach where no one else had been (Rom 15:20), but he has no hesitation in going on to Rome. 

Taken from "Word Pictures in the New Testament" by Archibald Thomas Robertson