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Romans - a study guide

About the Book of Romans: its author, date and original readers

When people study a Bible book, they often want to know about its author, its date, and about its first readers.

Actually, the Bible rarely gives all this information. Often, it is not important. The Bible is not merely an ancient book for us to study like other old books, Rather, the Bible declares itself to be God's message for us today (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). Therefore, we should give it careful attention and we should believe it (10:8-10). It is a very serious matter to neglect or to refuse the message that God has given to us (11:7-10)

However, the Bible does tell us much about the author, date and original readers of the Book of Romans.

The author was Paul, who wrote a total of 13 or 14 books of the Bible. Paul's Jewish name was Saul; the account of how he became a Christian is in Acts chapter 9. God had given Paul the special work to declare his (God's) message to the Gentiles (11:13; 15:15-16). The Gentiles are people who are not Jews; the Jews are Israel's people. In Paul's work for God, he had declared the message about Christ in several countries round the Mediterranean sea (15:19). However, he had not yet been to Rome (1:13).

Paul wrote his book in the form of a letter to the Christians at Rome. He probably expected one of the leaders of the original church there to read it to the members at a church meeting. The main part of the book (Romans 1:16 to 15:13) seems very much like a speech; the rest of the book has private greetings and personal news.

We do not know who established that first church at Rome.

We can see that, by the time of Paul's letter, the church had both Jewish and Gentile members. Perhaps, therefore, the first Christians who entered Rome were Jewish traders (compare James 4:13). Acts 8:1 and Acts 11:19 show us that most of the first Christians had to leave Jerusalem because of their troubles there. Among them were Andronicus and Junias, two important church leaders who were in Rome at the time of Paul's letter (16:7). They may have been among the original leaders of Rome's church.

It seems clear that the first Christians in Rome spoke about Christ both to Jews and to Gentiles. Christ had told them that God's good news, the gospel, is for people from every nation (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16). It seems clear that many Gentiles became Christians (11:13). However, Rome's church would have had Jewish leaders until the events in Acts 18:2.

Acts 18:2 records how Rome's ruler ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. This happened about 5 years before Paul wrote the Book of Romans. Suddenly, all the Jewish Christians, together with the other Jews, had to leave Rome. At once, Rome's church had lost all its Jewish members, including probably all of its leaders. Those leaders would have prayed much for the Gentile Christians who remained in Rome. It would be very difficult for them to serve God loyally without anyone to teach them.

Paul tells us what happened to them. They did remain loyal to God (1:8). At the time of Paul's letter, Christians everywhere were talking about how Rome's Christians had continued to trust God.

When Paul write his letter, Rome's Jewish Christians were again able to return to Rome (compare Acts 18:1-3 and Romans 16:3-4. However, that too caused difficulties, because the Jewish Christians were unable to agree with the Gentile Christians about many matters (Romans 14:1-8). So, Paul urged all the Christians to help and to support each other. He reminded the Gentile Christians about God's plans for the Jews (Romans chapter 11). He reminded the Jewish Christians about God's plans for the Gentiles (15:8-12). He reminded all the Christians that the gospel (God's message about Christ), is both for Jews and for Gentiles (1:16).

Romans 15:23-28 shows us when Paul wrote the book. He had collected a gift from the Christians of Achaia and Macedonia, and he was taking it to Jerusalem. Acts chapters 20 and 21 have an account of that journey. In addition, Romans 16:1-2 shows that a woman called Phoebe from Cenchreae probably took the letter to Rome. Cenchreae was a port near Corinth (Acts 18:18). So, Paul probably wrote the letter during the three months when he stayed at Corinth in Greece (Acts 20:2-3; 1 Corinthians 16:6).

This was probably in the year 57 or 58 AD. Just a few weeks earlier, Paul wrote the Book of 2 Corinthians to prepare Corinth's church for his return there. About a year previously, Paul had written the Book of 1 Corinthians. So, in a period of only about 12 months, Paul wrote three of his most important books. He also worked extremely hard during this period to declare God's message in the regions then called Asia, Macedonia and Achaia.

Next part: A brief explanation of each chapter in the Book of Romans

 

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© 2018, Keith Simons.