By Don Ruhl
Paul wrote thirteen of the twenty-one Books of the New Testament. His letters have been arranged according to type and length: The letters to churches appear first. The letters to individuals appear second.
Within each type, the letters are arranged by length with the longer ones first. Romans is the longest and so appears first.
The Letter to the Romans is different from his other letters. He did not start the church in Rome. He did not write to them because of a letter they had written to him, nor was he necessarily writing to fix problems in the church at Rome.
In the letter to the Romans, Paul expounded upon the religion of God. He presents an argument and follows a form in doing so. His argument becomes obvious when you consider that he wrote 86 questions and 35 times he said, “Therefore” (NKJV).
Argument and Rhetoric
Paul used the rhetoric methods of his day:
- He gave an introduction
- He narrated
- He provided a thesis
- He gave proof
- He refuted objections
- He ended with an epilogue
I have followed Paul’s argument as thus:
1.8–15 A connection with his readers
1.16, 17 Thesis: Salvation for all people comes by the Gospel
1.18–3.20 Proof that all need the Gospel: All have sinned
3.21–4.25 Proof that all can be saved: All are saved by faith
5–8 Proof of salvation: We are free from sin and death
9–11.31 Proof of God’s works: How God used Israel to save the world
11.32 Proof of God’s desire to save all: He has mercy on all
12–15.13 Application: Show mercy as God has shown you mercy
15.14–16.27 The personal touch
Introductions in Ancient Letters
Today, we begin letters by addressing the person to whom we write. However, ancient letters, New Testament letters, and some modern cultures, begin with an introduction of the writer.
I thought it interesting that in Russia, they address envelopes in the reverse order of what we do in America. We put the name first, then the address, the city, the state, the zip code, and the country. They come close to reversing that, even putting last name first, then first name.
Notice Paul’s introduction (1.1–7).
His self-introduction occupies the first six verses and then in verse 7 he finally greeted the people to whom he wrote.
After explaining his eagerness to preach in Rome, Paul explained why, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Rom 1.16, 17). He then developed his thesis.
Everyone needs salvation, because everyone is under the wrath of God, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them” (Rom 1.18, 19).
The Gentiles have sinned (1.20–32).
The Jews have sinned (2.1–3.18).
God has silenced everyone, showing that all are guilty before Him, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3.19, 20). The purpose of the Law, according to what Paul said in 3.19, 20, is to show our sin.
However, there is good news, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference…” (Rom 3.21, 22).
Paul then proved how faith without the Law saves (3.21–4.25).
Justification (which enables us to be saved) by faith brings blessings (5.1–8.39).
The Place of Israel
If God intended all along to save the world, what was He doing with Israel? In chapters 9.1–11.31 Paul showed how God used Israel. In 9.6–13, Paul demonstrated that Israel was not a fleshly thing, as most people see it. God used Israel to show that salvation is according to the promises that He made to Abraham and his seed.
Summation of Argument
Finally, at 11.32 Paul concluded his argument and summed it up briefly, “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Rom 11.32). Seeing how God arranged things caused Paul to burst forth with praise (11.33–36).
What good is argument without an application? It was time to show how we live all that Paul demonstrated, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12.1).
From there, Paul set out to show our relationship to God, one another, the world, and one another again (12.2–15.13). I believe 15.7 summarizes this whole section and it uses the argument of 1.18–11.32 to do it, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God” (Rom 15.7).
Refutation of Objections
As Paul presented his argument, he anticipated objections. He presented those objections as questions from the opposing view, or as false conclusions from the opposing view. Consider just one section to see how he did this (3.1–9).
The Personal Touch
Paul was not a cold-hearted lawyer or scholar. He was an apostle of Jesus Christ, which means that Paul lived as Jesus did, and Jesus loved people. 15.14–16.27 shows that love. It also shows that he practiced what he preached.
The Influence of Romans
By seeking to understand the Book of Romans, the Great Awakenings of the 1720s and the 1740s began, especially in the work of Jonathan Edwards. His most famous sermon, and some believe the most famous sermon in American history, was, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
- Sermon: Total Forgiveness in Christ (grantspasschurchofchrist.com)
- Let Us Do Good to All (thebiblemeditator.wordpress.com)