Introduction: This is a letter that Paul wrote to the Roman church in the late 50’s, possibly when he was in Corinth. It is the longest and probably the latest of Paul’s undisputed letters. Unlike his other letters, Romans was written to a church that he did not found and has never visited. He describes in detail his theology on the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ and addresses conflicts between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church. One possible motivation for writing this letter was to get the Roman church’s support for a mission to Spain, which Paul has planned (15:24).
Romans 1-4: Paul greets the Roman church, hoping to visit soon, and begins to explain his gospel. First, God’s wrath has been made plain to all wicked and ungodly people. God gave them up to unnatural sexual intercourse. Because they did not acknowledge God, God allowed their minds to be filled with all kinds of evil thoughts–murder, strife, deceit, slander, etc. Paul then addresses hypothetical Jewish sinners, accusing them of hypocrisy in judging Gentiles while committing the same evils themselves. God will judge everyone on the day of wrath, Jew or Gentile. Circumcision is something spiritual and not literal–those who keep the law find favor with God, whether physically circumcised or not.
Everybody, both Jews and Gentiles, are under the power of sin–nobody is righteous, and nobody will be justified before God by following the law. God sent Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement; he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. To Paul, faith is all-important, but it does not overthrow the law–rather, it uploads the law. Paul explains that Abraham had faith in God and his promise to make his descendants great nations, even before he was circumcised. This faith, not circumcision, was what made him righteous; circumcision was only a symbol representing this righteousness. Therefore we will also be righteous if we have faith in God, who raised Jesus from the dead, and who was sacrificed for our sins.
- Most scholars believe that Romans 1:3-4 is pre-Pauline–that is, Paul was quoting a creed that he heard or read. This is because the language he uses to refer to Jesus is not found anywhere else in his letters. For example, he says about Jesus, “through the Spirit of holiness [he] was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead.” Note the odd term for the Holy Spirit, and the adoptionist Christology–Jesus was appointed as the Son of God at his resurrection.
- It is interesting that despite emphasizing the importance of faith in God, Paul also says:
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all (Romans 2:13-16)
Many ancient and modern Jews believed that Gentiles can also be righteous and find favor with God. The modern Jewish view is that any Gentile who follows the seven Noahide laws will be assured of a place in the world to come, the final reward of the righteous.
- Romans 1:26-27 reveal Paul’s views on homosexuality:
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
In the first verse, “unnatural” sexual relations may not refer to lesbianism–in Paul’s day, it more often referred to immoderate indulgence in sex. The second verse, however, quite clearly refers to gay sex.