Bible Passage: Romans 1:1-17

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-

 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures

 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David,

 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name's sake.

 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.

 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you

 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

 11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong-

 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.

 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.

 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed- a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.' (Rom. 1:1-17 NIV)

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Following the creation and fall of Adam and Eve, God acts to make promises to Abraham to reverse the fall’s effects. When Abraham responds with faith, it is credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). As Paul goes on to explain in Romans 4, that was the same faith that now saves all who believe the gospel, the good news of rescue that is by faith alone (Romans 1:17).

That same gospel centres around the Son of God, the kingly figure who is promised in Psalm 2. While Israel is in one sense God’s son (Exodus 4:22), God promised David that he would have a son who would reign forever (2 Sam 7:14). Jesus comes in the gospels as Son of God (Matt 17:5), descended from David (Matt 1:1), and resurrected from the dead.

The passage also picks up on Habukkuk 2:4. There, the prophet Habukkuk has been asking how God, whose ‘eyes are too pure to look on evil’ (Hab 1:3), can both punish evil and keep his promises to save? God answers, saying that believers should wait for the appointed time, when the righteous will live by faith (Hab 2:4), and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14). That day, described in Revelation, is the day of full and final salvation (compare Romans 1:16).


Brief note on context/key themes of book

The book of Romans was probably written in Corinth in about AD 57, while Paul was in Corinth (see Acts 20:2-3). Two significant things are going on. First, Paul is looking for a church that will support him on his missionary journey to Spain (see 15:25). Secondly, he knew that the church in Rome was facing tension between Jew and Gentile – it seems that Claudius has expelled Jews from Rome from AD 49 to his death in AD 54, so it’s possible they have recently returned. His two intentions in writing the letter are to prepare the church to be mission partners, and teach them to live in harmony with one another. The way that he will do that is to teach and apply the gospel, which will build humility, and so prayerfully produce unity and mission-mindedness.


Structure of the passage

1) The ‘Jesus Christ’ gospel which calls us (1:1-7)

Centre-stage in Paul’s extended greeting is the gospel (1:2). This gospel comes from God (1), is long-promised (1:2), is all about Jesus (1:3), produces faith (1:5), and calls people to serve Jesus Christ (1:1, 6). Even the apostle Paul, in fact, stresses his apostolic credentials only so far as they make him a servant of Jesus (1:1) and of the Gentiles (1:5). It’s a reminder, principally, that it is Jesus the Lord who stands at the centre of the gospel and not us. Such a gospel calls us (1:5, 6, 7) to the obedience that comes through faith (1:5)

2) The ‘everyone’ gospel which encourages us (1:8-15)

Once again (1:9, 15) it is the gospel which is in view. Here, though, as Paul gives thanks for the Roman church, he is explaining that is for everyone (“all” 1:8; “all over the world” 1:8; “other gentiles” 1:13; “Greeks and non-Greeks… wise and foolish” 1:14). As a result, there are warm relationships (note the emotional language Paul uses), and strong encouragement. Indeed, verse 12 in the New American Standard Version reads more literally: “that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.”

3) The ‘righteousness’ gospel of which we can be unashamed (1:16-17)

These two verses outline the central theme of the letter, and in the original begin with the word ‘for’, linking them to Paul’s eagerness to preach the gospel. The verses set out a logical chain, beginning with Paul’s refusal to the ashamed (or disappointed by) the gospel, because it is powerful (1:16), for everyone (1:16), and righteous (1:17), beginning and continuing with faith (1:17). He quotes Habukkuk 2:4, where believers are instructed to wait for the appointed time (see ‘key OT/NT passages’ above). This powerful gospel which brings rescue, is one of which we can be unashamed.


Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What is ‘the obedience that comes through faith’ in verse 5?

Paul uses this phrase here at the start and also at the end of his letter (16:26). Literally, it just says ‘the obedience of faith’ in the original language. It means both the obedience that leads you to repentance and belief, and the obedience that follows on from faith. Christopher Ash defines it well, “It means bowing the knee in trusting submission to Jesus the Lord, both at the start and all through the Christian life.”

Why ‘first to the Jew and then to the Gentile’ in verse 16?

Paul will come back to this, but the emphasis here is on inclusion of both Jew and Gentile under the same gospel. In the missionary journeys in Acts, Jews are addressed first in many towns (e.g. Acts 14:1), but remarkably, the way that Jews and Gentiles are saved is exactly the same.

What is the “righteousness of God” in verse 17?

The righteousness of God can mean a whole range of things, from an aspect of God’s character, to a quality he demonstrates, to something God gives a believer (see Phil 3:9, where it talks more specifically about “a righteousness from God”). As shorthand, we’re going to take the phrase to mean “God’s right way of putting wrong people right with him”.


Summary of author’s main point

The gospel of the Jesus Christ is for all: I am eager for all to hear it


Aim/purpose for original audience

To be unashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Lord, and so proclaim it to all.


Aim/purpose for us today

To be unashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Lord, and so proclaim it to all.


Key area of application

The pluralist agenda says that religion is a private matter, and that we should keep our faith for ourselves. If Jesus is universal Lord, then we cannot do that. Our faith is not something we believe because it works for us. It’s something we believe because Jesus is king of heaven and earth, whose recue is needed for everyone. To not hold out this gospel unashamedly is to treat people as less than human.