Romans is a book of the Christian Bible that was written by the Apostle Paul in approximately 57 AD. While writing it, he was travelling back to Jerusalem to bring a gift of money that he had collected to relieve the famine affecting Christians. Paul intended to eventually pass through Rome on his way to Spain, where he was going to share the Gospel where Christ was not known. Even though Paul is writing to the church in Rome, he had never been there before. As such, we can see the letter as a way to introduce himself to the Romans and outline the Gospel that he preaches to gain support for his missionary endeavours and to encourage them with God’s word.
There is also the matter of Christian unity between Jews and Gentiles; after all, there would have been many questions on both sides about what it meant for the Jewish Messiah to be declared Lord of all. For instance, Jews could have grown distrustful of God’s promises because of seemingly abandoning His covenant people. Meanwhile, Gentiles could grow arrogant and believe that they were the superior group that had been favoured by God over Israel. Romans addresses these issues in intricate detail.
Broadly speaking, we could consider Romans 1:16-17 and 4:16 to be the big ideas of the letter that encapsulate the essence of Paul’s concerns. Additionally, we could look at Romans 11:33-36 to be the doxology of the letter, expressing the heart of the apostle when it comes to his attitude towards the one, true, living God’s sovereign actions and achievements through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Michael Bird puts the purpose of the letter this way:1
In brief, Romans is a word of exhortation, a masterpiece of missional theology, culturally savvy apologetics, Christological exegesis, pastoral care, theological exposition, and artful rhetoric – all designed to win over the audience to Paul’s gospel, to support his mission in Spain, to draw Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome closer together, to strengthen them in the faith despite the perils of Roman culture, and to encourage his audience to identify with the apostle to the Gentiles as he goes to Jerusalem.
Outline of the book
1) Romans 1-4 – The Gospel of the Jewish God
2) Romans 5-8 – The Gospel’s story for a reconciled humanity
3) Romans 9-11 – The Gospel’s relationship to the Jewish people
4) Romans 12-15:13 – Gospel-centered community
5) Romans 15:14-16:27 – Gospel partnership
While there is a multitude of specific themes that we can identify, we will be going through the following ten over the coming weeks:
Consider these ten themes as a set of tools to guide a Christian as they read Romans and navigate their way through the chapters themselves.
Recommended accessible commentaries for personal study
Barnett, PW 2003, Romans: Revelation of God’s Righteousness, Christian Focus Publications, Tain, Ross-Shire.
Bird, MF 2016, Romans: The Story of God Bible Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.
Bruce, FF 1985, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
Stott, JRW 1994, The Message of Romans, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
- Bird, MF 2016, Romans: The Story of God Bible Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 48. ↩