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Introducing the Epistle to the Romans

Manuscripts: Papyrus 46 (published 1935-37) was the oldest textual evidence for the Pauline Epistles in a codex and included the last eight chapters of Romans. It is dated around 200 C.E. Apparently an earlier fragment of Romans 9-10 has been discovered in the Green collection. There is some evidence that a shortened version of the text circulated: some manuscripts put the doxology in 16:25-27 after 14:23 or 15:33 (including P46). Although no extant manuscript lacks chapters 15-16, some Patristic authorities do not cite these chapters (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian).

  1. Was an originally circular letter appended with ch. 15-16 for an edition for Rome? However, this solution has no textual support and Paul continues his discussion from 14:1-15:6 or 13.
  2. Was a letter sent to Rome (ch. 1-15) and the personal greetings from another letter sent to Ephesus appended on it (ch. 16)? Paul spent three years in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila are noted elsewhere in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:9; 2 Tim 4:19), and Epaenetus was a first convert in Asia.
  3. Chapters 15-16 may have been removed accidentally in scribal transmission or intentionally to reach a more general audience or for liturgical or theological reasons (e.g. Origen blames the excision of these chapters on Marcion in his Commentary on Romans 10.43 on 16:25)? This is the most plausible explanation.

Genre: epistle (the Greek ἐπιστολή means “letter”). The epistolary format includes a salutation, thanksgiving/prayer report, body (scriptural interpretation, moral exhortations), and benediction.

Authorship: Romans is considered one of Paul’s “undisputed epistles.”

  1. Read Romans 1:1. How does Paul describe himself and his ministry?
  2. Most ancient people were illiterate and even the few educated individuals able to read or write often relied on a professional amanuensis or secretary to record what they dictated to them. What is the role of Tertius (see Romans 16:22)?

Date: Paul traveled on three major missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean according to the book of Acts and seems to have written this letter while staying in Corinth around 57 C.E.

  1. What clues are given about the date of the letter in Romans 15:23-32?
  2. What places had Paul not yet visited and where did he hope to travel? Why was he raising a collection for the poor saints of Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, and 2 Corinthians 9:1-15)?
  3. Why do you think Paul was anxious about returning to Jerusalem (see Acts 21:10-36)? Paul’s wish to visit Rome was fulfilled, but he was transferred to Rome as a prisoner where he was eventually beheaded at the order of Nero according to Christian tradition.

Audience: Paul is writing to a network of house churches that he had not personally founded in the capital city of the Empire (see Romans 1:11-15; 15:22).

Purposes:

  1. To introduce himself and to systematically outline the apostolic foundation for his gospel for a network of churches that only knew Paul by reputation. Paul may have perhaps even intended the letter to be his last will and testament.
  2. (Some?) Jews were expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius in 49 C.E., but they were later permitted to return to Rome. This may have created tensions between Jewish and non-Jewish members of the church in Rome, leading to Paul’s wider reflections on God’s plan for Israel and the nations and practical advice for church unity. Paul is also raising a collection for the impoverished Christ followers in Jerusalem as a demonstration of unity (15:25-28).
    1. “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [a misspelling of “Christ” or just the name of a local person in Rome?], he expelled them from Rome” (Seutonius, Claudius 25).
    2. “There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.” (Acts 18:2; cf. Romans 16:3-4).
    3. Paul uses the term “Jew” 11 times in Romans and 15 times elsewhere and the term “Israel” 11 times in Romans and 6 times elsewhere.

3. To raise support for a mission to Spain (see Romans 15:28).

  1. It is unclear whether Paul ever reached Spain. According to Acts 28:23-31, Paul was left for two years under house imprisonment in Rome. Historians debate whether Paul was executed shortly thereafter or was initially released to go on further travels, only to then be re-arrested and executed. In a letter attributed to the bishop Clement of Rome in the late first century C.E., Paul is described as reaching the farthest limits of the West which may have been taken to be Spain (see 1 Clement 5:7).
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