Biblical Analysis: Book of Romans

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I. Introduction

Perhaps more than any other writer, prophet, or leader Paul is most responsible for the construction of an organized and systematic set of beliefs and practices which formed the basis of the theology and religion of Christianity.  While the Bible does not claim that Paul founded the Christian or Catholic Church, it is fair to say that Paul founded Christianity as a religion.  Paul is responsible for a large portion of the New Testament, and his writings and letters offer up an interpretation of the Word of Christ and what Jesus Christ meant, an interpretation of the Gospels, and a new reading and interpretation of the Old Testament informed by the life and teachings of the Messiah Jesus Christ.  

Out of all of Paul’s writings and contributions to Christianity, perhaps none is as important as the Book of Romans (or Pau’s Letter/Epistle to the Romans).  Many Biblical scholars and theologians believe that Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the most concise and clear outline of the new covenant of Jesus Christ. They argue it is the most direct and explicit statement of the beliefs of Christianity, the universal nature of humankind and of sin and grace.  In addition, Romans covers the relationship of people to each other. Dr. Allen Ross, Professor at the Besson Divinity College feels that Romans is the only book of the Bible one can read to understand the core values of Christianity and its worldview.  He writes, “the Book of Romans is one of the most profound books in existence; it is certainly one of the most valued parts of the Holy Scriptures. It has been appropriately termed the Cathedral of the Christian faith” . 

According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia the Book of Romans was written “at the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, probably during the winter of A.D. 57–58, just before he was about to return to Jerusalem” .  Scholars agree that the Letter was written after Paul had visited several Churches in each of these regions, and he had been in contact with the Christian community in Rome.  The Cambridge Companion to the Bible presents evidence that Paul wrote the letter while in Corinth, as textual evidence provides the names of people in Corinth that Paul was known to have lived with .

II. Reading of the Book of Romans

Overall, the Book or Romans explains the new covenant between humanity and God established by Christ’s suffering on the Cross.  Paul rereads the Old Testament through the frame of this new relationship, and then argues for the universal nature of both humanity and the offer of redemption through Christ.  He also talks about the importance of love, and attempts to resolve some political questions about the Church.  Paul begins by explaining his mission and then in 2 Romans he makes a clear split between the good and the evil, and that this definition is created by God’s judgement of humanity, and how he defines the good and the evil and what he has in store for them.  Paul says, “God “will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good…he will give eternal life, but for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” . In Romans 2, Paul also starts he deconstruction of the idea that Jewish people are not subject to this judgement because of their keeping to the laws of the old covenants of the Old Testament.  He also starts building up the idea of Christ as a universal, in other words that Christ’s sacrifice is available to all people.  This is a major theological point, as Paul is saying the Messiah is not just for the chosen people but for all people on the earth. 

In 3 Romans Paul establishes this new concept of the universal Christ. As the Cambridge Companion to the Bible states, the first 3 parts of the letter compare the Gospels with God’s wrath in the Old Testament, and connect the Gospels to Paul’s notion of Grace .   In Romans 3:22-24 Paul writes, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24).  Paul goes even further, and proceeds to reread the Old Testament through the new fact of the universal redemption offered through the sacrifice of Christ.  He rereads many of the major figures of the Old Testament from this position.  He examines Abraham in Romans 4, who is important as he established the first covenant with God.  Paul rereads this to show that although Abraham’s covenant was once the bond between man and God, it has been replaced by the New Covenant established by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.  He goes further, and says that from this vantage point, the story of Abraham can be read as a lesson for all humanity, not only the Jewish people.

5 Romans has two major points.  While some scholars call these sections Paul’s analysis of Sin and Grace based in Law, the reader can also see the comparison of Adam and Christ as the return of God’s love to a relationship that had only been based on Law before Christ .  First there is a beautiful section on how faith in Christ offers not only redemption, but hope that the suffering of life is worthwhile: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).  He then examines Adam, but again, uses Adam as further evidence of his idea of the universal condition of mankind.  Paul reads Adam’s story as proving that all of humanity exists in a fallen state, and the proof of this fallen state is death.  However, the new Covenant of faith in Christ offers humanity a chance for eternal life after that death.  When read with the first part of Romans 5, we can understand the reason Paul says that, Christ is hope.  We can feel hope that we will experience God’s eternal life.  

Paul writers, in 6 Romans verse 23 one of the most famous lines from the Bible, “for the wages sin is death” but people rarely give the second half of the quote, “but the gift of God is eternal life is Christ Jesus our Lord”.  Here is another reason for hope; Christ can absolve mankind of all sin, which means that Christ can free mankind from death, and offer us the greatest possible gift, eternal life, but eternal life in Christ.  In a sense, it sounds as if mankind will have a chance to experience the love of God, and that the state of this eternal life in Christ is a never-ending experience of love.  Paul is making a strong argument to have faith (hope) in Christianity, for it offers a chance to redeem suffering, erase sin, and transform death into life.

This is important, because Paul is establishing that the New Covenant of Christianity, available through faith in Christ, offers a different reward that the old covenant of Abraham, or the promise of a reward for following the Law of Moses.  In those previous cases, the reward was being selected by God, but this new universal reward is a fulfilment of God’s initial plan for humanity, to return to him and to share in eternal life with him.  7 and 8 Romans continue this argument, with more examples, and other expressions of Paul’s original formula, but the point is the same: faith in Jesus offers all humankind the chance of redemption, and that because of Christ’s suffering on the Cross, the result of our faith and acceptance of the new covenant of Christ is eternal life without suffering.  Indeed, eternal love will replace suffering, as “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” (Romans 6:23).   

Paul then spends several sections discussing Israel and other figures from the Old Testament, but these sections don’t really offer another theological concept of Christianity.  Rather, the reader feels as if these sections are dealing with the historical context of Paul’s various missions, and what was happening in the Christian community in Rome.  It is possible debates were occurring arguing that Christ was only available to Jews, as the Messiah was promised to the Jewish people, or people were arguing if the members of the Church should be called Christians or Jews, or if they had to live in Israel.  These latter chapters of Romans read like Paul is taking part in contemporary debates about the nature of the Jewish community and state, and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles.  As the New Catholic Encyclopedia confirms Paul was dealing with issues of the relationship of Jews and the churches and at the same time he was writing Romans he was working “to convince the Jewish Christians of Judea of the solidarity of Gentile Christians in the same spiritual blessings that they enjoyed and of the Gentiles’ recognition of the debt owed by them” .  Thus, we can see that Paul is dealing with both large theological questions and more worldly questions about the relationship of actual religious and ethnic communities.  This is very interesting, as Paul’s focus on establishing the universal nature of humanity, sin and Christ serves both the big theology picture, and the smaller political picture.  He may have hoped that readers would find both answers in these powerful images, metaphors and arguments.  In other words, at the same time as he was conceptualizing the belief system of Christianity, he was also trying to settle disputes between real Christians, Jews and Jewish Christians at this specific moment in history.  Adding this historical information does not take away from the religious power of the letter, but rather makes it stronger, as Paul makes the two work together to serve the same purpose.

However, in 12 Romans, Paul transforms these sectarian arguments into a universal truth for Christianity with a beautiful metaphor that still moves the reader today.  Paul wrote, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5).  Not only is this a powerful image of all humanity as members of one church, but on another level it is an image of all of humanity as the body of God.  Paul has established the universal brotherhood of all mankind in God.  Paul continues this theme in 12 Romans 3-8 is a long argument for accepting and loving the differences between people.  Paul does not want one identical type of person, but rather accepts that humanity is made up of all kinds of different people who all share one trait; all people are members of the body of God.  This section of Romans is an excellent argument against all kinds of discrimination, racisms or sexism.  It is no surprise then that Paul finished this chapter of Romans by instructing people to love one another and to take care of each other. 

III. Eulogy of Paul

With the passing of Paul, the church has lost both its greatest theologian, but also its greatest missionary.  Who else had travelled to Jerusalem, Syria, Greece, and Spain ?  Paul’s missionary work and word was so powerful, he was even able to convert people and spread the world of Jesus Christ simply by writing letters, and he sent letters to places he both visited and did not visit.  Who among us could ever forget his Letter to the Romans, which not only resolved the differences between the fellow members of the Church of Rome, but also taught us all so much about what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to be human.

In the words of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, let those of us who mourn Paul remember that while we may suffer some sadness from the loss of a great teacher, preacher, and leader, that Paul had faith in Christ, and thus he has defeated death.  As he taught us in the Letter to the Romans, Paul has eternal life, and he shares that eternal life with God through Christ. By following the lesson of the letter, we who remain must keep Paul’s spirit alive by loving each other, for Paul showed us that one meaning of Jesus is that all humans are the same, and the word of Jesus is for all of them.

Another reason we should remember Paul is not just for his writing, but for the life he lives.  Paul’s missions across the world brought the word of Jesus Christ and God and the Holy Spirit to hundreds of thousands of people.  Each one of those people who heard the word from Paul has been saved and given a chance at eternal life.  On his missions around the world Paul dis more than just preach to the people.  He did more than just write letters to people.  He did more than just convert people. 

On his many missions around the world, Paul raised money.  He used this money to feed the hungry and staring in Jerusalem and other parts of the Mediterranean world.  He used this money to help give people clothes and shelter.  Thus, in his life, Paul lived the words of Jesus Christ.  He lived by the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.  Paul did not just teach others, but was himself taught by the greatest teacher, Jesus Christ. 

Paul’s letters are so important, and teach so much, we must preserve them.  We should copy them, and continue to distribute them, to current and to non-members of the Church.  This mission of Paul will have eternal life, like Paul enjoys now with Christ, if we preserve his letters.  Jesus gave Paul eternal life in heaven; his writing will give him eternal life on earth.

Paul changed my life by bringing me to the church, and by getting me to accept the grace of Jesus.  It was not just Paul’s preaching that made me convert, as powerful as that was. It was the way Paul dedicated his life to God, Jesus, and the Church.  In the actions of Paul I saw the universal brotherhood of love he preached about.  I wanted to be a part of that community, and I went to Paul, and asked him to help me bring Jesus into my life.

Bibliography

Bible Study Tools. “The Book of Romans”.  BibleStudyTools.org. http://www.biblestudytools.com/romans/ (Accessed 3/12/2017)

Achtemeier, Paul. “Romans”. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Edited by Bruce Metzger, Michael Coogan. New York: NY, Oxford University Press, 1993.659-662

New Catholic Encyclopedia. “Book of Romans”. Edited by Thomas Carson, Joan Cerrito. New York: Gale, 2003.

Paul. “The Book of Romans 1-17”. ”. BibleStudyTools.org. http://www.biblestudytools.com/romans/ (Accessed 3/12/2017).

Ross, A. (2017). “Introduction to the Book of Romans”. Bible.org. Retrieved https://bible.org/seriespage/1-introduction-book-romans (accessed 3/12/2017).