Introduction to Romans




Paul’s letter to the Roman house churches has been preeminent among the New Testament writings for its theological and pastoral influence. It focuses on the doctrine of salvation, including the practical implications for believers as they live out the salvation given to them through Jesus Christ.

A view of the Roman Forum at night

A view of the Roman Forum at night


AUTHOR: Paul the apostle is the stated and indisputable author of the book of Romans. From the book of Acts and statements in Romans, we learn that Paul wrote this letter while he was in Corinth and on his way to Jerusalem in the spring of AD 57, to deliver an offering from the Gentile churches to poor Jewish Christians (Ac 20:3; Rm 15:25-29).

BACKGROUND: All of Paul’s writings grew out of his missionary/pastoral work and were about the problems and needs of local churches. The book of Romans is also of this genre, but it is the least “local” in the sense that Paul had not yet been to Rome. This letter was his opportunity to expound the good news message (the gospel). He could discuss the essence of sin, the salvation accomplished on the cross, the union of the believer with Christ, how the Spirit works in the Christian to promote holiness, the place of the Jewish people in God’s plan, future things, and Christian living or ethics. Though Paul did not write Romans as a systematic theology, his somewhat orderly exposition has been the fountain for the development of that discipline.

The origin of the Roman house churches is unknown. The founding of the Roman church likely goes back to the “visitors from Rome,” “both Jews and converts” who came to Jerusalem at Pentecost (Ac 2:10). Many of these visitors converted to Christianity (Ac 2:41), some of whom very likely hailed from Rome. In Acts 18:2 Luke mentioned Aquila and Priscilla, who left Rome because emperor Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave the city (AD 49). This exodus was caused by strife among Jews over “Chrestus” (Christ). The remaining Christians in Rome would be from a Gentile background. The Jewish-Gentile tensions in Rome had a long history. These tensions are somewhat reflected throughout the letter, most specifically in chaps. 2; 11; 14-15.

Rome was the primary destination of this letter. Yet some manuscripts lack the phrase “in Rome” (1:7), giving some support to the conclusion that Paul intended a wider audience for the book of Romans and sent copies to other churches.


Paul’s purpose in writing Romans can be identified from his direct statements in the text and inferred from the content. He expressly wrote that he wanted to impart spiritual strength to the believers at Rome (1:11-12; 16:25-26). He asked for prayer for the difficult task he was undertaking (15:30) and that he might be able to come and see them (15:32). He hoped to enlist the Roman churches to support a mission to the west (15:23-29). The content of the letter shows that the churches experienced tensions between believers from different backgrounds. Paul wanted them to be united and to avoid dissension and false teaching (16:17-18). The content also reveals his exposition of what is essential Christianity and what are matters of indifference.


What is the gospel? The word gospel means “good news.” The good news is about Jesus and what he did for us. Most Bible students would say that the gospel is outlined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Romans fills in that outline and clarifies the gospel in relation to the Old Testament promises and the Mosaic law, the role of good works, and the gift of God’s righteousness. Paul emphasized righteousness and justification in this letter to a depth and detail not found elsewhere in the Bible. Sin is traced to its core in our union with Adam and the imputation of original sin. Paul also mapped out the spread of human sin and its results in both believers and nonbelievers.

There are three passages in the New Testament (each one long sentence in the Greek text) that contain the most important theology of the NT: John 1:14 on the incarnation; Ephesians 1:3-14 about the triune purpose and glory of God; and Romans 3:21-26 on justification, redemption, and propitiation. If a Christian understands these three sentences, he has a solid foundation for faith.

Paul, in Romans 6-8, gave the most comprehensive development of our union with Christ and the Spirit’s work in us. Romans 9-11 (on the role of Israel in God’s plan) has been called the key to understanding the Bible. Romans 13 is the classic New Testament passage on the Christian’s relation to and duties to the state. Romans 14-15 covers how Christians can relate to one another yet have different opinions and convictions on nonessential religious matters.


Paul wrote thirteen of the twenty-one Letters (or “Epistles”) contained in the New Testament. The four Gospels, the book of Acts, and the book of Revelation are not classified as letters. Romans is the longest of Paul’s letters, and it contains the elements found in a standard letter at that time: salutation (1:1-7); thanksgiving (1:8-17); the main body (1:18-16:18); and a farewell (16:19-24). Some scholars refer to Romans as a tractate (a formal treatise). But it bears all the marks of a real letter, although it is a finely tuned literary composition.


I.Introduction (1:1-15)

A.Author and recipients (1:1-7)

B.Paul and the Roman church (1:8-15)

II.The Universal Need of Righteousness (1:16-3:20)

A.Guilt of the Gentile world (1:18-32)

B.Guilt of the Jews (2:1-3:20)

III.Justification: The Imputation of Righteousness (3:21-5:21)

A.The righteousness of God in justification (3:21-26)

B.Justification by faith excludes boasting (3:27-31)

C.Justification and the OT (4:1-25)

D.Justification involves reconciliation (5:1-11)

E.The Christ-Adam analogy (5:12-21)

IV.The New Life in Christ (6:1-8:39)

A.The old self/new self and sin’s dominion (6:1-23)

B.The old self/new self and the Mosaic law (7:1-25)

C.The old self/new self and the Holy Spirit (8:1-39)

V.The Mystery of Israel (9:1-11:36)

A.Israel’s unbelief and the gospel (9:1-29)

B.Israel responsible for its blindness (9:30-10:21)

C.Israel’s rejection is not final (11:1-36)

VI.Exhortations about the Christian Life (12:1-15:13)

A.The living sacrifice (12:1-2)

B.Spiritual gifts in the body of Christ (12:3-8)

C.Christians and non-Christians (12:9-21)

D.The believer’s obligation to the state (13:1-7)

E.The Christian’s motivations (13:8-14)

F.The strong and the weak in the church (14:1-15:13)

VII.Epilogue: Greetings and Travel Plans (15:14-16:27)

A.Paul’s missionary ambitions (15:14-33)

B.Personal greetings (16:1-24)

C.Concluding benediction (16:25-27)

800-450 BC

Mythical founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus 753

Rome ruled by seven kings. 753-509

King Tarquin the Proud ousted and the Roman Republic founded 509

Plebian struggle with patricians results in greater voice in the governance of Rome. 494

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, farmer, general, and consul of Rome from 460-438

450-250 BC

A Decemviri, committee of ten men, is commissioned to draw up Rome’s first code of law, The Twelve Tables, binding on both patricians and plebeians. 451

The Via Appia, first of an unparalleled system of roads in the ancient world, is begun by Appius Claudius Caecus running in a southwesterly direction out of Rome. 312

Rome gains control of the entire Italian peninsula as a prelude to far greater expansion and a series of wars with other peoples. 275-272

The Romans begin minting coins. 269

The first recorded gladiatorial games in Rome during the funeral of Junius Brutus. Three pairs of gladiators fought to the death. 264

100 BC-AD 33

Romans develop the hypocaust, a central heating system, used in large villas and public baths. 85 BC

Julius Caesar is assassinated on March 15, 44 BC

Agrippina, Emperor Claudius’s third wife, brings Seneca out of an eight-year exile on Corsica to be the tutor of her son Nero. 41

Agrippina poisons her husband Claudius; her son Nero becomes emperor of Rome. 54

Octavian (Augustus), Rome’s first emperor 27 BC-AD 14

The birth of Jesus of Nazareth 5 BC

The reign of Tiberius Caesar AD 14-37

AD 33-80

Jesus’s trials, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension 33

Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road October 34

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome written in Corinth 57

Nero blames Christians for the great fire in Rome. 64

Roman Colosseum under construction 70-80