uplifting thoughts and inspiration on faith
Paul’s Epistle to the Romans
Epistle: a formal letter written and intended for instruction.
Saul of Tarsus was a dedicated and passionate Torah-observant rabbi and Pharisee. A devout Jew and a lover of God. When the Gospel of Jesus Christ began to take root and gain followers Saul considered these people to be a cult and an offense to God. He worked diligently to eradicate these people and took on a key role in persecuting them, imprisoning them, and killing them if he had the opportunity. For Saul it was a Holy War and a mission from God. Saul traveled as far as he needed to in order to further his cause and it was on one of his journeys that God spoke to him and revealed to him the truth of Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:11-20 Call to Apostleship: Saul becomes Paul
11 But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
After Saul’s conversion his name was changed to Paul and he became a passionate follower of Christ and spent the rest of his life as an evangelist in order to spread the good news of the Gospel. Peter, one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus was called to witness primarily to the Jews and Paul was called to primarily witness to the Gentiles (non Jews, non believers, pagans, heathens, idol worshipers, and people who were not Jewish by birth and genetics but who had at some point converted to the Jewish faith.)
The Audience and Recipients of The Epistle to the Romans
Paul had never been to Rome at the time of the writing of this letter and Paul had not started the church at Rome so the foundation that had been laid there was not his usual method of setting things in order.
It is held by some that Peter had started the church at Rome but there is no concrete evidence of this and it is far more likely that Jews visiting Jerusalem from Rome were present at Pentecost (Acts Chapter 2) when the Holy Spirit was received. These Jews went back to their synagogue at Rome and began to witness what they had heard and seen and experienced for themselves and many believed what they were telling.
It was forbidden by the Roman Empire at this time for any new religions to be formed. The new believers met and operated within the framework of the synagogue system as a sub group. It was their only choice. It was only after the destruction of the Temple in 70AD that a clear separation of Jews who believed in Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) and Jews who did not began to emerge.
The church at Rome was a very long way from Jerusalem and the heart of the Roman Empire was a pagan oriented, idol worshipping society. This coupled with the strong influences of the Greek philosopher movement made for a very interesting crowd. These people followed new ideas as if they were fashion trends and many people worshipped more than one god. This church was a hodge podge of devout Torah believing Jews still waiting for a Messiah to come mixed with every level of believer you can come up with:
All of these people were meeting at the same synagogue because it was all that was allowed by the Roman Empire and even if they opted to have their meetings in private homes to avoid conflict or confrontation it still had to be done under the authority of the Synagogue system. The Roman laws against the formation of new religions was what led to or furthered much of the persecution of the early christians.
Paul’s letter to the Romans would have been read aloud at the Synagogue and would have been heard by Jewish believers and Jewish non-believers alike. The Jews held that they were God’s chosen people, elite in every way, and better than everyone else. The Gentiles, even the converted ones, believed that the Jews hated all mankind and held them in contempt. The Jews were willing to concede that the Gentiles could be saved but only if they took on the entire yoke of the Jewish Law, including being circumcised. This of course did not provide a setting of harmony but of discord and since no formal foundation had ever been established for these new believers there was much confusion.
The overall summation of the letter to the church at Rome is Paul’s attempt to establish God’s plan of salvation for the world as prophesied throughout the Old Covenant and that Jesus is the Messiah the Old Testament prophets spoke of since the beginning of the world. He also tries to teach about proper behavior for the gentiles coming into their Messianic faith directly from a pagan background.
The difficult task Paul faced was balancing the truth of the Jews as God’s chosen people, the concept that the Gentiles have been “grafted in” to the root of Jesse, yet maintaining the truth of their equal standing through faith alone. The Gentiles did not have to become Jews through conversion to the Jewish faith to be saved but they become Jews, i.e., the seed of Abraham, once they believe and this brings them into relationship with the Old Covenant or the Torah.
There were heresies on both sides that had to be addressed. Some Jews were teaching that gentiles had to take on all the Torah first through converting before they could receive the Messiah while some Gentiles were under the belief that the Torah held no significance for them nor did anything Jewish. It is of utmost importance for believers then and believers now to have a firm grasp of the Old Testament scriptures in order to fully understand who Jesus is and why we should believe.