The letter to the Romans was written by St Paul while staying at the house of Gaius (16:23) in Corinth[16 p.62]. This suggests that it was written while Paul was imprisoned there, a little before Festus became governor, perhaps in 58 CE [17 p.232, 234]. The letter is a balanced statement addressed to a mixed group of gentile and diaspora Jew converts. It mentions the names of twenty men and nine women there; the names show a mixture of Roman, Greek and Hebrew descent[17 p.236].
The amount of Jewish influence and the number of references to the Old Testament are surprising; perhaps there were a lot of Jews in Rome at this time. Paul makes many of the same points as he did in Galatians but, probably following criticism of that rather hastily-written letter, he expresses himself more carefully this time. He omits what they already knew well: the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the second coming and our eternal life in heaven.
The traditional way of thinking about Paul was to ask "does he believe in rules or relationships"? Augustine and Luther found he believed in Justification by Faith. This could flow naturally from his own experience of having been a persecutor of the church who received forgiveness and a new mission—a walking illustration of God's power to save and transform sinners. A recent alternative that seems productive is to view his writings as discussion of our mystical union with Christ. One certainly shouldn't regard Paul as rule-bound for his day; he was astonishingly radical and he fought for religious freedom with all his energy, even challenging Peter to his face in what seems to have been a bitter row.
John Drane says of this book:
a) it can best be regarded as a careful re-statement of the issues dealt with in Galatians, which had been written hastily and had proved capable of being misread, and reviewed in the light of lessons learned at Corinth. In particularly, he explains clearly in writing why our "freedom in Christ" is not an excuse for loose living. By the time he wrote the letter to the Romans he knew that it would probably be circulated widely and read in the other churches he had founded and, particularly critically, in Jerusalem.
b) the letter comprises:
c) the letter is noteworthy in that despite dating from 20 odd years after the resurrection it contains no sign of any hierarchy or structure within the church[2 p.395].
© David Billin 2002–2023