One of the things I try to get across to my Bible students is that the authors did not sit down to intentionally write the Bible. This is especially true when it comes to Paul’s letters. Paul wrote his letters to specific churches going through certain challenges. While the principles apply to us, we must understand the original context before making the application to our time.
The letter to the Romans may be one of the most influential books in the Bible. It is packed with deep theological truth on a variety of subjects. But what ties Romans together? Why did Paul write this letter?
I strongly believe we have to understand the context before we try to interpret the book. Here is in outline of what happened that led Paul to write Romans.
- The Roman church began when Jews from Rome were converted on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:10)
- These Jewish Christians returned to Rome and built up the church. The church would have been majority ethnically Jewish with perhaps a small minority of Gentiles.
- The Roman Emperor Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome. (Acts 18:2) Claudius would not have cared if they were traditional or Christian Jews. They all had to go.
- With the Jewish Christians gone, the Gentile Christians had to rebuild the church. With no Jews around, the Roman church would now have been almost completely Gentile.
- The Jews were eventually allowed to return to Rome, including Christian Jews. They had now gone from being the majority in the church to being the minority in the church.
Paul was writing to a mixed church, with each group believing that they had an advantage over another. This is why Paul starts the letter by explaining that all, Jewish and Gentile, start off in the same state of sin and have no advantage over each other.
I have found that this outline helps me as I read Romans. I keep coming back to how each passage connects with this theme. Hopefully this helps you as well.