The author of the Epistle to the Romans, as he himself states in the introduction, was the Apostle Paul, chap. 1, 1. A large part of this great missionary’s life is described in the Acts of the Apostles, and a short history of his youth and of his work as an apostle of Christ is given in articles appended to Acts 9 and 28 of this COMMENTARY. “It will be sufficient to state here that Saul (afterwards called Paul) was born in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, of Jewish parents, who possessed the right of Roman citizens; that, when young, he was sent to Jerusalem for the purpose of receiving a Jewish education; that he was there put under the tuition of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel, and was incorporated with the sect of the Pharisees, of whose system he imbibed all the pride, self-confidence, and intolerance, distinguishing himself as one of the most inveterate enemies of the Christian cause; but, being converted by a most singular interposition of Divine Providence and grace, he became one of the most zealous promoters and successful defenders of the cause which he had before so inveterately persecuted.” 1) The letter throughout bears the characteristic impress of Paul, both in content and form. It is a part of the apostolic teaching, a part of Scriptures, given by inspiration of God, to make us wise unto salvation by faith which is in Christ Jesus.

The letter is addressed to the Romans, that is, “to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints,” chap. 1, 7. “From chaps. 1, 8 and 16, 19 it appears that the church at Rome had existed for some time when Paul wrote this epistle. How had it been founded? Evidently not through the services of St. Paul himself. When he wrote his letter, he had never been in Rome (chap. 1, 10. 13; 15, 23). The Roman Catholic Church of today claims that St. Peter was the founder of the church in Rome, and that he guided its destinies for twenty-five years as its first bishop. This claim has no foundation in the Bible. Indeed, it is contrary to all the evidence of the New Testament. Here is some of the evidence. 1. Up to the time of the apostolic council... St. Peter was still in Jerusalem (Acts 12, 4; 15, 7; Gal. 2, 1 ff.). Trustworthy tradition has it that he died in 67. From 51 to 67, however, is not twenty-five years. 2. St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans early in 58. But in this epistle he makes no mention whatever of St. Peter, as he surely would have done if so prominent an apostle had founded the Roman church. 3. In his epistle (chap. 16, 3-16) St. Paul sends special greetings to a large number of Christians at Rome. But St. Peter’s name is not mentioned in the long list of those whom St. Paul greets. What does that mean? It can only mean that St. Peter was not in Rome at the time. It is clear, then, that neither St. Peter nor St. Paul founded the church at Rome. Nor have we any evidence to the effect that any other apostle was the founder. The origin of this church must probably be accounted for in the following manner. Rome, the mistress and metropolis of the world, had a large number of Jewish inhabitants in those days. Some of them were present in Jerusalem on the great day of Pentecost when the Holy Ghost was poured out on the disciples (Acts 2, 10). In all probability some of these ‘sojourners from Rome’ were among the 3,000 who were converted and baptized. When they returned to Rome, these converts carried the Gospel of Christ with them. That was the beginning of the church at Rome.” 2)

The purpose of the epistle is stated by Paul himself (1, 11-15; 15, 22-32). Having long intended to visit the congregation at Rome, he here announced his probable coming in the near future. He wanted to prepare the church at Rome to become a suitable basis for carrying the Gospel farther westward. The instructions of Paul in this letter therefore assume the proportions of a full and exhaustive doctrinal treatise, the most systematic and complete of all the epistles of St. Paul: “a presentation of the divine counsel of grace and salvation in its universality, being intended and necessary for Jews and heathen alike.” Then also, the congregation, composed of Jews and Greeks, with the Gentile Christians in the majority, had not yet formed a harmonious whole, the Jews believing that they were destined to enjoy special privileges in the kingdom of God, and the Gentiles exhibiting a tendency to look down upon the Jewish brethren. The exposition of Paul in this letter was intended to unify the two parties. On account of these two features the Epistle to the Romans is the most important writing of Paul, or, as Luther expresses it, “the chief book of the New Testament and the purest Gospel, which is well worthy that a Christian should not only know it by heart, word for word, but daily use it as the daily bread of the soul; for you can never read and study it too often and too well, and the more you use it, the more precious does it become, and the better does it taste.” 3)

From Acts 20, 2. 3; Rom. 16, 1. 2. 23; 1 Cor. 1, 14 it appears that Paul wrote this epistle on his third missionary journey, in the winter of 58-59, just before leaving for Jerusalem. The conditions for sending the letter at this time were favorable, since Phoebe, a deaconess of Cenchrea, a port of Corinth, was on the point of traveling to Rome, and thus became the bearer of the precious message (chap. 16, 1. 2). The letter was dictated by Paul to Tertius, one of his companions and helpers, in the house of Gaius, at Corinth.

The Epistle to the Romans is plainly divisible into a doctrinal and a practical part. The first part, including chaps. 1-11, includes four subdivisions. After the introduction the topic of the letter is announced: justification by faith as revealed in the Gospel. The apostle shows that neither the Gentiles nor the Jews are righteous before God, but are by nature under the wrath of God. The righteousness of God, as earned by the vicarious merits of Christ, with all its blessings, is next pictured. A necessary fruit and consequence of imputed righteousness is sanctification, with its manifestation of good works. The universal grace of God is the basis of the election of grace, as Paul shows from the example of Israel and of the Gentile world. In the practical, hortatory section of his letter, the apostle then shows what Christian virtues flow from love toward Christ: humility, charity, obedience, a holy life in general. In the conclusion of the letter, Paul justifies his writing, expresses the hope of coming to Rome soon, commends Phoebe, sends his personal greetings, warns against false teachers, includes greetings of his companions, and concludes with a doxology.

The summary of the entire epistle cannot be given more beautifully than in the words of Luther: “Thus we find in this epistle in richest measure what a Christian should know, namely, what Law, Gospel, sin, punishment, grace, faith, righteousness, Christ, God, good works, love, hope, cross, is, and how we should comport ourselves against every one, whether he be pious or a sinner, strong or weak, friend or enemy, and against ourselves. And all this well established with Scriptures, proved with examples from his own experience and from the prophets, that there is nothing more to be desired here. Wherefore it seems that St. Paul in this epistle for once wanted to condense the entire Christian and Gospel doctrine in a brief summary, and prepare an introduction to the entire Old Testament. For without doubt, he that has this epistle well in his heart has the light and power of the Old Testament in himself. Therefore let every Christian make it his common and steady occupation and exercise. Whereto God give His grace! Amen.” 4)