Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


13. Romans

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of Romans, followed by discussion of historical background and major themes.

In terms of historical background, Romans is thought to have been written by Paul from Corinth near the end of his missionary career, just before he traveled to Jerusalem, where he would be arrested. The letter is addressed to a church Paul did not found, and a variety of explanations have been advanced for why Paul would have written such a letter. A central question concerns whether Paul intended the letter to deal with problems in the Roman congregation or whether he was simply writing to introduce himself to the church and summarize his theology with reference to generic concerns.

In this letter, Paul argues that God’s action in Jesus Christ reveals that God is righteous. It also imparts God’s righteousness to human beings in a way that allows them to be justified by faith (put into a right relationship with God in spite of their sin) and also sanctified by God in a way that brings about what Paul calls “the obedience of faith.” Paul stresses that God’s salvation is now universally available to all people (Jews and Gentiles) through faith, and he maintains that this is because of what God accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul considers the question of what will become of Jews who do not believe in Jesus, concluding ambiguously that “all Israel will be saved” but that “not all Israelites truly belong to Israel.” Paul also urges believers to obey governing authorities as instituted by God, and he develops an ethical principle that calls for those who understand the full implications of the gospel to make accommodation for the “weak in faith” who follow rules and regulations that are no longer necessary.

Study Questions

  1. Describe circumstances in both Paul’s life and in the Roman church at the time when Paul’s letter to the Romans was written. List three reasons why Paul might have written this letter at that particular time in his life to that particular congregation.

  2. What does Paul mean by the phrase “the righteousness of God”? Give three different senses in which that phrase might be applied in Pauline theology.

  3. What ambiguity do scholars perceive in trying to understand the Greek phrase in Romans that many English Bibles translate as “justification by faith”? How do the possible meanings for this phrase fit in with Paul’s overarching concept of what justification means?

  4. What do theologians mean by “imputed righteousness” and “effective righteousness” and how do those concepts relate to the notion of the “obedience of faith” expressed in Paul’s letter to the Romans?

  5. How does Paul relate the concepts of reconciliation, justification, and salvation to acts of Jesus Christ? In the letter to the Romans, what tenses does he use for referring to each of these three phenomena?

  6. What does Paul say about the salvation of Israel in his letter to the Romans, and how have his words been understood differently by various interpreters?

  7. Why have some Bible interpreters found it difficult to square what Paul says in Romans about “governing authorities” with what is said elsewhere in the New Testament? What suggestions do interpreters offer to help resolve this tension?

Video: New Perspective on Paul

Interactive: Models for Understanding Justification

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Click to see models for representing justification.