Place and Time of Writing


Unique Characteristics






Opening Romans Up


Why do Paul’s letters to cities have the same two-step arrangement?


Before we proceed, a thought about the way most of the letters of Paul are arranged


Copying letters


In those days it was common for important people to write letters and for the letters to be copied and spread around.  This happened with the books of the NT (including the Gospels and Acts) also.  Although hiring someone to copy by hand was expensive, all of the books of the NT would have been copied and passed to other house churches.  That is one way we can take confidence in what is written in the NT:  scholars have discovered a number of copies, copies of copies, etc. and they almost universally agree.


Why did Paul write this letter?


Paul was in Corinth on his 3MT when he wrote this letter.  He had decided that he wanted to visit Rome next, and so decided to write the house churches before he arrived.  You can see from the theme that Paul focused on describing the message of Jesus and not on handling problems.

    The house churches in Rome consisted of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.  While the message of Jesus and the Council of Jerusalem was clear that circumcision and the Law were no longer to be followed, some Christians did not fully understand how God made a shift from the practices of the OT to the practices of Jesus.  Paul had traveled much and had talked to many people and so knew the questions people asked about the intent of Jesus.  Since Christianity increasingly included both Jewish and Gentile Christians, he knew the answer had to show how the message of Jesus included both equally.  Therefore, since Paul was getting ready to visit the city, he decided to write a letter that explained this topic in detail.  That way, once Paul arrived in Rome, that matter would be settled and he could move on to other work and ministries.


Background of differences between Jews and Jewish Christians


Rome had experienced disagreements over the issue of Jesus in the past.  During the reign of the emperor Claudius (41-54) this arose to such a problem between Jews and Jewish Christians that Claudius had to step in and act.  We now this from three sources:

  1. Suetonius was a Roman historian.  He wrote “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestos, he expelled them from the city.” (Lives of the Twelve Caesars, 25.2)  One note:  “Christ” in Greek would be “Christos” and not “Chrestos.”  Most scholars believed that Suetonius simply misspelled “Christos.”  He probably heard the word and wrote down what he thought he heard.  This becomes clear because of the two other references to his action below.

  2. Cassius Dio was a Greek historian.  He wrote "As for the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the city [Rome], he [Claudius] did not drive them out, but ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of life, not to hold meetings."  Cassius Dio expresses what is probably closer to the truth, that the mandate, while sounding severe (leave the city), was not implemented although it did mean some wealthier Jews left and the Jews left behind were curtailed in their activities.

  3. Acts 18:1,2:  “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.  There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.”  Aquila and Priscilla were probably amongst those wealthier Jews who felt uncomfortable living in Rome and so left. 

This issue probably impacted the letter that Paul wrote to the Romans in that this event was still on people’s minds (although it happened several or more years before).  This would have been another reason for Paul to write the letter.  He wanted to state the mission of Jesus clearly so that both Jewish and Gentile believers would have confidence that they were equal partners in the “people of God.”  We can also assume that Paul knew Jews would read this letter and so wrote clearly so that they could understand Jesus’ message as well.


The main topic in Romans


We have already discussed this in the last lesson on Pauline Theology.  Paul wanted to show how Jesus fulfilled the OT and so discussed that in detail in Romans.  So by understanding Pauline Theology, you understand what Paul was trying to do in the first part of Romans.  Remember, the second half mainly focused on how to live as a Christian because the Gospels had not been written yet.


Why this issue isn’t discussed much in churches today


As I have taught NT over 50 times in universities and churches, I noticed that this topic of circumcision and the Law were new ones to many Christians.  This lack of general knowledge about these two topics has a reason.  Christianity came out of (or “fulfilled” to use Jesus’ word) Judaism and so had to handle two issues that were basic to Judaism:  circumcision and the Law.  Therefore that was a major topic of discussion and debate in the first 30-40 years of Christianity.  It was so important that the first Christian council met because of it.  But that issue was settled in the First Century and so we don’t hear about it much in today’s churches.  Yet it is a topic of much discussion in some of the NT books. 

    As an example think about America in the 1770s.  In 1770 America was a colony of England, and then it broke from England in 1776.  One main reason, among others, was taxing the American colonies without the colonies being represented in the English Parliament.  So if you lived in America in 1777, you heard a lot about the right of Americans not to be unfairly taxed by the British.  But today, you never hear that mentioned whenever the topic of “what it means to be an American” comes up in conversation.  Why?  Because that issue was handled long ago and we don’t have to deal with it anymore. 

    The same progression happened with the issues of Gentiles needed to be (or not) circumcised and follow the Law in order to please God.  It was a huge issue in the first 30-40 years of Christianity but no more.  Nevertheless, if you are going to study the NT in any detail, it is a topic that has to be understood.


Outline of Romans



1:1-17:  Greetings to the house churches

1:18 – end of 4:  God is no longer please with the practice of circumcision and the Law, but instead desires faith in Jesus

5:1 – end of 8:  Paul describes what a life based on faith looks like

9:1 – end of 11:  Paul discusses the reluctance of many Jews in accepting Jesus and answers their questions

12:1 – 15:13:  Instructions on how to live as a Christian

15:14 – end of 16:  Paul explains a desire to visit them and sends greetings to many people that he knows there


Readings from Romans

Some consider this the “thesis statement” of Romans:  1:16,17:  “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:  first for the Jew, then for the Gentiles.  For in the gospel of righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness [being made right in the eyes of God] that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, “The righteous [those made right through Jesus in the eyes of God] will live by faith.”


Paul gives a new meaning to “circumcision”:  2:28,29:  “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly [having been circumcised], nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  no, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.  Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”


Paul shows how the Holy Spirit guides Christians:  8:9,10:  “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness [being made right in the eyes of God].”


One of the favorite set of verses in the Bible:  8:37-39:  “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Timeline so far      Additions are boldfaced     All dates are approximate



Rome Empire conquered Israel without fighting


Julius Caesar assassinated by Brutus, Cassius, and others.  Mark Antony tries to seize power, and he and Octavian (Caesar’s nephew) fight for power.


The Roman Empire made Herod the Great king of Israel


Antony married Cleopatra in Egypt


Octavian’s forces defeated Antony and Cleopatra’s forces; they committed suicide the next year.


Octavian is given name of Augustus, becomes Augustus Caesar.  This is the beginning of Pax Romana

4 BC

Jesus born

4 BC

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt because Herod the Great wanted to kill Jesus

4 BC

Herod the Great died

4 BC

After Herod the Great died, the kingdom of the Jews was divided and given to Herod’s three sons:

  • The northern part, north of Nazareth, went to Philip.

  • The middle part called Galilee, north of Jerusalem but where Nazareth was located, went to Herod Antipas.  (He is referred to as “Herod” in the Gospels and so this can be confusing.)

  • The southern part called Judea, where Jerusalem and Bethlehem was located, went to Herod Archelaus. 


All years after this point are AD



Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Nazareth instead of moving to Bethlehem


Archelaus was removed from power because he was so brutal

6 and after

The Romans did not choose another of Herod’s descendants to control Judea (southern Israel) but instead appointed Roman governors


Jesus lost in Jerusalem at age 12; Joseph and Mary found him in the Temple; possible Bar Mitzvah


Jesus probably worked as a carpenter


The Roman governor in charge of southern Israel was Pilate


Jesus baptized by John the Baptist


Jesus traveled in Israel and preached, taught, and performed miracles


1.  Jesus was crucified under the Roman governor Pilate, raises from the dead three days later and ascends out of sight about a month-and-a-half later

2.  The Apostles return to Jerusalem and pick a replacement for Judas

3.  Day of Pentecost

4.  Over 3000 people become Christian

5.  Christianity spreads outside of Israel


Peter was the leader of the Christian movement


Paul became a Christian


Paul went on his First Missionary Trip


Council of Jerusalem


We do not know what John did during this time period


Paul went on his Second Missionary Trip


Nero was Roman emperor


Paul went on his Third Missionary Trip


Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans


Paul arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Rome


Paul released from prison and travelled; he may have gone to Spain


Fire in Rome.  The emperor Nero blamed, persecuted, and killed many Christians.  This was the first Roman persecution of Christians. 


1.  Paul back in Rome

2.  Peter and Paul martyred around this year in Rome


Some of the Jews got tired of the Roman rule and killed many Roman soldiers.  They thus took back the land of Israel for the Jews.


The Romans counter-attacked.  The Romans lost one battle, but won the war.


Mark written around this year


The Romans captured Jerusalem and burned the Temple. 


Matthew and Luke written around this year


Domitian is Roman emperor


John and Acts written around this year


1.  Persecution of Christians

2.  John was placed on the island of Patmos as a prisoner of Domitian


1.  Domitian died

2.  John was probably released from Patmos; he probably traveled to Ephesus where he stayed for the rest of his life


John died


First listing of the 27 books in a letter written by an Egyptian bishop


Two councils “closed” the NT canon to those 27 books


NT divided into chapters


NT divided into verses



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