The Epistle to the Romans

By David Brown


Title.—In the most ancient manuscripts of the New Testament the Epistles of Paul are placed by themselves, under the general title of 'Epistles of Paul; 'and each Epistle is headed simply by the name of the party addressed. Thus, 'To the Galatians'—'To the Romans.'

CHAPTER I. 1-7.—Address and Salutation.

1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle,

2 separated unto the gospel of God, which he had promised

3 afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the

4 seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of

5 holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; by whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the

6 faith among all nations, for his name; among whom are ye

7 also the called of Jesus Christ: to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Being personally a stranger to those he is about to address, the Epistle opens with a threefold account of the writer:—He is a servant of Jesus Christ; he is a commissioned apostle; and he has been separated to the service of the Gospel.

1. Paul. The Hebrew family name Saul was changed into the Roman form Paul probably at or about the time of his first missionary journey; at least it is there first mentioned (Acts xiii. 9), and only twice after that does the name "Saul" appear—where he himself is relating the never-to-be forgotten words addressed to him on his way to Damascus: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" (Acts xxii. 7, and xxvi. 14, words which the historian, in his own narrative, scrupulously records, chap. ix. 4). Some very improbable conjectures have been indulged in as to the reasons for this change; but since to Gentile ears the Hebrew name would almost spontaneously pass into the smoother Roman form, no further explanation seems necessary.

a servant of Jesus Christ—rather, "Christ Jesus," according to the oldest MSS. Both forms, indeed, are used by the apostle, but he seems to have preferred putting "Christ" first, because He was first revealed to him as "the Christ "of the O. T. when "He appeared to him in the way." Five words are used for "servant "in the N. T., all of which convey the idea of free service except the one here used, which properly means 'slave 'or 'bondservant.' It is a word of far more frequent occurrence than all the others, and when used to express the relation of Christians to Christ, it means 'one who is Christ 's purchased properly (1 Cor. vi. 19, 20, vii. 24; 1 Pet. i. 18, 19), and so is subject to His will and wholly at His disposal. 'The felt honour of such a relation to Christ absorbed in the minds of the earliest Christians every repulsive association with a word signifying bond-service, insomuch that it is employed to express the standing even of the glorified saints to God and the Lamb, while the 'service' which they render in that capacity is expressed by the term which specially denotes religious service—"His servants shall serve Him" (Rev. xxii. 3). Further, just as the prophets of old were officially styled "the servants of Jehovah," so the apostles of Christ style themselves officially "the servants of Christ," in such a sense of subjection and devotion to Him as they would never have yielded to a mere creature. Even the Baptist deemed himself unworthy to do for his Master the meanest office of a slave—"to loose the latchet of His sandals" (Mark i. 7).

called to be an apostle—even at his first call to be a disciple (Acts xxvi. 16-18, also xxii. 14, 15, ix. 15; and compare I Cor. ix. 1, xv. 8): but his apostolic calling was publicly recognised only after events put it beyond all doubt.1

separated unto the gospel of God. This "separation" took place at three distinct periods of his life, and the same word is used to express them all: (1) at his birth, when "it pleased God to separate him from his mother's womb" (Gal. i. 15)—all the circumstances of it, and the events which succeeded it up to the period of his conversion, being divinely so ordered as to fit him for his life-work; (2) at the time of his conversion, when officially separated, as above; (3) when, in the church at Antioch "the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them "(Acts xiii. 2). And does not all Church History shew that a similar mysterious "separation" takes place in the case of all who are destined for eminent service in the cause of Christ, in respect of their birth, training, and ultimate calling to their life-work?

2. which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures. The Roman Church was a Gentile one (see on ver. 13); but since most of them had before their conversion been proselytes to the Jewish faith, they are here reminded at the outset that in embracing the Gospel they had adopted no new religion, and instead of casting off Moses and the prophets had only yielded themselves to the full import of their testimony to the Coming One (Acts xiii. 32, 33). And since this was his own first discovery when he was on his way to Damascus to stamp it out, no wonder that he dwells on it so much in all his speeches and Epistles, and that he starts with it here.

3. concerning his Son. Who He was he reserves till he has told what He was, and with such fulness that not until the close of the 4th verse does the actual name come out—"Jesus Christ our Lord "(as may be seen in the Revised Version).

who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh—or 'in respect of His human nature:' compare John i. 14, "The Word was made flesh" and chap. ix. 5, "of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came." Since "the seed of David "was the predicted Messianic line (Isa. ix. 6, xi. 10, lv. 3; Jer. xxiii. 5; Matt. xxii. 42; John vii. 42, Jesus of Nazareth behoved to come of it if He was to have any just claim to be called "the Son of God.' Accordingly this was grandly announced by the angel to His virgin mother (Luke i. 32, 33), while the descent of his legal father of the same line was emphatically expressed to himself by the same angel (Matt. i. 20, "thou son of David." and see Luke i. 27). That the royal city, too, was to be His birthplace, was expressly announced from heaven to the shepherds (Luke ii. 11). This claim, of descent in the predicted line, the apostles were at pains to bring under the notice of their countrymen in their earliest pleadings (Acts ii. 30-32, xiii. 22, 23; and see 2 Tim. ii. 8).

4. and2 declared to be the Son of God with power—or 'powerfully declared.' The word means 'marked off,' 'defined,' evidenced to be the Son of God. It is the same word as in Heb. iv. 7, "He limiteth" or "defineth a certain day."3

Note.—Observe how warily the word is changed here, in passing from the lower nature of Christ to the higher. He "was made (or "born") of the seed of David," but He was not "made (or "born ") the Son of God;" He was only "declared to be" this by His resurrection. And such is the uniform style. Thus Isa. ix. 6, "Unto us a Child is, born; unto us a Son is given:" John i. 1, 14, "In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was made (or "became") flesh;" Gal. iv. 4, "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made (born) of a woman: "Rom. viii. 3, "God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh: "compare John hi., "God. . .. gave His only-begotten Son;" 1 john iv. 9, 10, "God hath sent His only-begotten Son." Yes, this Sonship was no made relationship—a thing of time, or birth, or becoming; it was an essential, uncreated, eternal filiation. When enshrined in our flesh, it was so eclipsed that twice He was about to be stoned for claiming to be the Son of God (John v. 18, x. 32, 33); it was for owning Himself, when standing before His judges, to be the Son of God, that He was condemned to die the death of a traitor to Heaven (Luke xxii. 70, 71); and nothing short of His being raised from the dead by Him whom He was charged with blaspheming put the justice of His claim to be the "the Son of God "beyond all doubt.

according to the spirit of holiness—or 'in respect of His other,' His Divine nature.

Two other interpretations have been put upon this unusual phrase: (1) that it means 'according to the Holy Spirit.' But if the apostle meant this, why did he not say so? Was it not rather to prevent his being so understood that he went out of his way, and warily used this peculiar expression? Clearly, there is a designed contrast here between "flesh "and" spirit; "and if "according to the flesh" means 'in respect of one nature of Christ,' surely, by all the laws of strict interpretation, "according to the spirit" must mean 'in respect of another nature' of Christ, which the apostle chooses to call "the spirit" because he had just called the other nature "the flesh." But, as it would have been to mislead his readers if he had put "holy" before "spirit," he warily changes his form of expression, and says "according to the spirit of holiness," emphatically to proclaim that, as contrasted with "flesh," His is a spirit of absolute, essential holiness. (2) Others explain these words of the two conditions of Christ's life—His earthly life here, in which His higher nature was obscured, and His resurrection life, in which all His glory was revealed. But this makes no proper contrast between "flesh" and "spirit;" for if "the flesh" denotes His human nature, pure and simple, "the spirit" should denote His other nature, pure and simple, as distinguished from the human.4

by the resurrection from the dead—Gr. 'resurrection of the dead '(and so in the R. V.); for in Christ's own resurrection that of all the dead was seen to result. In this light the apostles constantly held it up, and hence it was that the Sadducees—"who say that there is no resurrection"—"were grieved because they preached in Jesus the resurrection of the dead" (as rightly rendered in the R. V. ), Acts iv. 2, and see xxiii. 6.

even Jesus Christ our Lord. Here at length we have the name of Him who was all along in view.

5. through whom (as the ordained Channel) we received grace and apostleship—both at the same time, and the one in order to the other.

for the obedience of faith—that is, that men might render to the Gospel the duty of believing it. Faith is set forth here as an act of obedience, and the first of all duties in those who hear it. So also in many other places, as in 1 John iii. 23, "This is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ; "and John vi. 28, 29; Acts vi. 7; chap. ii. 8 ("who obey not the Gospel"), x. 16; 2 Thess. i. 8; 1 Pet. i. 22.

among all nations, for his name—to spread abroad the savour of that Name which is above every name.

Note.—Among the devout in Israel "the name of the Lord" (or "Jehovah")—so frequent in the O. T.—was a household word for all that in the character and procedure of Israel's God which is most precious to the heart. When, therefore, we find the N. T. everywhere applying the same term to Christ quite naturally and in exactly the same sense, what can we conclude but that Christians were taught to regard the Lord Jesus as the rightful Heir to all that Israel's God was to His people?

6. among whom are ye also—but only along with others. In the light of Rome's modern claims, our apostle would say, "What! came the Word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? "( I Cor. xiv. 36; and see Mark x. 42-45). called to be Jesus Christ's—called, not in the mere outward sense in which "many are called but few chosen" (Matt. xx. 16), but inwardly and efficaciously—as this word is always used by our apostle. Now comes the Salutation:—



1) Some prefer to translate here 'a called apostle;' but in 1 Cor. i. 1, the apostle applies the same expression to those he was writing to—"called to be saints," where the proposed translation would be quite unsuitable.

2) The connecting particle "and" has no place in the original, and is omitted in the Revised Version, but it helps the English reader.

3) It is better to join "with power "to "declared," meaning 'powerfully declared,' than to "the Son of God," meaning Christ's own 'resurrection-power; 'as will be seen by consulting 2 Cor. xiii. 4; Eph. i. 18, 19; Col. ii. 12.

4) This is the view of some of the ablest interpreters—Melanchthon, Beza, Bengel, Olshausen, Alford, Philippi. (Meyer, while admitting that the two natures are here contrasted, becomes obscure and weak by confining the word "flesh "too much to the bodily part of Christ's human nature )