Epistle to the Romans in Smiths Bible Dictionary
1. The date of this epistle is fixed at the time of the
visit recorded in Acts 20:3 during the winter and spring
following the apostle's long residence at Ephesus A.D. 58.
On this visit he remained in Greece three months.
2. The place of writing was Corinth.
3. The occasion which prompted it,,and the
circumstances attending its writing, were as follows:--St.
Paul had long purposed visiting Rome, and still retained
this purpose, wishing also to extend his journey to Spain.
Etom. 1:9-13; 15:22-29. For the time, however, he was
prevented from carrying out his design, as he was bound for
Jerusalem with the alms of the Gentile Christians, and
meanwhile he addressed this letter to the Romans, to supply
the lack of his personal teaching. Phoebe, a deaconess of
the neighboring church of Cenchreae, was on the point of
starting for Rome, ch. Ro 16:1,2 and probably conveyed the
letter. The body of the epistle was written at the apostle's
dictation by Tertius, ch. Ro 16:22 but perhaps we may infer,
from the abruptness of the final doxology, that it was added
by the apostle himself.
4. The origin of the Roman church is involved in
obscurity. If it had been founded by St. Peter according to
a later tradition, the absence of any allusion to him both
in this epistle and in the letters written by St. Paul from
Rome would admit of no explanation. It is equally clear that
no other apostle was like founder. The statement in the
Clementines --that the first tidings of the gospel reached
Rome during the lifetime of our Lord is evidently a fiction
for the purposes of the romance. On the other hand, it is
clear that the foundation of this church dates very far
back. It may be that some of these Romans, "both Jews and
proselytes," present. On the day of Pentecost Ac 2:10
carried back the earliest tidings of the new doctrine; or
the gospel may have first reached the imperial city through
those who were scattered abroad to escape the persecution
which followed on the death of Stephen. Ac 8:4; 11:10 At
first we may suppose that the gospel had preached there in a
confused and imperfect form, scarcely more than a phase of
Judaism, as in the case of Apollos at Corinth, Ac 18:25 or
the disciples at Ephesus. Ac 19:1-3 As time advanced and
better-instructed teachers arrived the clouds would
gradually clear away, fill at length the presence of the
great apostle himself at Rome dispersed the mists of Judaism
which still hung about the Roman church.
5. A question next arises as to the composition of
the Roman church at the time when St. Paul wrote. It is more
probable that St. Paul addressed a mixed church of Jews and
Gentiles, the latter perhaps being the more numerous. These
Gentile converts, however, were not for the most part native
Romans. Strange as the: paradox appears, nothing is more
certain than that the church of Rome was at this time a
Greek and not a Latin church. All the literature of the
early Roman church was written in the Greek tongue.
6. The heterogeneous composition of this church
explains the general character of the Epistle to the Romans.
In an assemblage so various we should expect to find, not
the exclusive predominance of a single form of error, but
the coincidence of different and opposing forms. It was:
therefore the business of the Christian teacher to reconcile
the opposing difficulties and to hold out a meeting-point in
the gospel. This is exactly what St. Paul does in the
Epistle to the Romans.
7. In describing the purport of this epistle we may
start from St. Paul's own words, which, standing at the
beginning of the doctrinal portion, may be taken as giving a
summary of the contents. ch. Ro 1:16,17 Accordingly the
epistle has been described as comprising "the religious
philosophy of the world's history "The atonement of Christ
is the centre of religious history. The epistle, from its
general character, lends itself more readily to an analysis
than is often the case with St. Paul's epistles. While this
epistle contains the fullest and most systematic exposition
of the apostle's teaching, it is at the same time a very
striking expression of his character. Nowhere do his earnest
and affectionate nature and his tact and delicacy in
handling unwelcome topics appear more strongly than when he
is dealing with the rejection of his fellow country men the
Jews. Internal evidence is so strongly in favor of the
genuineness of the Epistle to the Romans that it has never
been seriously questioned.