Paul's Letter to the Christians in Rome

About this letter

Rome

Paul wrote this letter about 56 A.D. The city of Rome was then biggest city in the world. The Caesars were the men who ruled the Roman Empire. They lived in Rome. From Rome they sent out their laws. They sent out also men to rule in other parts of the Empire. They sent out their armies to keep the peace or to make war. In Rome there were fine houses and great temples. There were also narrow streets with tall houses made from wood. Sometimes these fell down because they were badly built. There were fires too. There were crowds of people everywhere. They came to Rome from all over the Empire. Many of these people could not find work. The Caesars had to feed them or the crowds would cause trouble. So hundreds of ships brought food for Rome. Most of this food came from north Africa.

People from many nations lived in Rome . Among them were many Jews. It is thought that there were 40,000 Jews and perhaps even 60,000. We think that they had about 12 places in Rome in which to worship. Still they liked to visit the temple in Jerusalem to join in worship there at special times. Much of the long journey was by sea. Sea travel in winter was not safe, so a long journey like this would be made in the summer. Acts 2 tells us how God sent His Holy Spirit and then Peter and others preached the Good News in Jerusalem. This was at Pentecost, in the summer. Acts 2:10 tells us that people from Rome were there. Some of them were Jews. Some were not. Some people from other nations could see that the Jewish worship was much better than the worship of false 'gods'.

These people went back to Rome. So right from the start of the church, there were Christians in Rome. Not all of them were Jews. We hear nothing more about them for about twenty years. Then we learn a little from Acts 18:2. Aquila was a Jew from Pontus in the north east of what is now Turkey. He may have become a Christian at that first Pentecost. (Acts 2:9) With his wife Priscilla he had gone to Rome. He had no doubt worked there. He made tents. Then the Jews in Rome made so much trouble that the Caesar, Claudius, made them all go away. [0.1] This would have left the Christians who were not Jews still in Rome. Still, over a few years, the Jews came back again to Rome. Claudius died in 54 BC., and after that the law which he had made would no longer stop them. Aquila and Priscilla now knew Paul well. See Acts 18:2-3.

Paul

We think that Paul was in Corinth in the winter of 56-57AD and that he wrote this letter then. Paul wanted to go to Rome (Romans 1:11; 15:23). First, however, he had to go to Jerusalem (Romans 15:25). He feels that his work in the east is done (Romans 15:23). He wants to pass through Rome on his way to Spain (Romans 15:24,28). It may be that Phoebe carried the letter to Rome (Romans 16:10). Paul hoped that the Christians would read his letter and welcome him when he reached Rome. He did not get to Rome until about April in 60AD, and then he was no longer a free man. He was a prisoner of the Romans. Acts 28:17-31 tells us about Paul's time in Rome.

Timothy was with Paul when he wrote this letter (Romans 16:21). In the beginning of six of his letters, Paul joins Timothy's name with his own. In Romans, Paul does not do this. The letter is from him. Paul wrote his letter in Greek. The Roman Church used Greek, not Latin, for nearly two hundred years.

Notice that in Romans 1:7, Paul writes to all the Christians in Rome. He does not write to 'the church'. Now we know that there were several Jewish groups who met for worship in Rome in their dozen or so 'synagogues'. We know that there were some Christians in each of these groups. Paul would have sent a copy of his letter to each of these groups. This may be why the very oldest copies that we have of the letter are not all the same. In one group at Rome there were many friends of Paul, so in Chapter 16, he named them. Other copies would leave this out. Paul may well have kept his own copy of this letter as well.

After the Letter reaches Rome

We can be sure that the Christians in Rome read the letter. They knew that it was not just from Paul. It was the Word of God. They took good care of the copies. Three or four years later some of the Christians came to meet Paul as he neared Rome (Acts 23:15). Paul preached the Good News to the Jewish leaders in Rome. Some of them believed (Acts 15:24). This must have helped the Christian groups. Others did not believe. Perhaps four or five of the 'synagogues' became Christian churches. So Paul taught and preached the Good News. There was a Roman soldier with him all the time but he did not stop Paul.

We think that two things happened in 62 AD. The Romans set Paul free, and he began to travel in Greece again. He did not go to Spain. Away in Jerusalem, James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, was the leader of the church. The Jews who did not believe in Jesus killed him. [0.2] This must have divided the Jewish Christians from other Jews in Rome as well as in Palestine.

In 64 AD fire destroyed much of Rome. [0.3] People began to blame Nero, who was Caesar. It suited him then to blame the Christians. Most people did not understand them. Many people hated them. So Nero and his men killed great numbers of Christians in very cruel ways. This great 'persecution' may not have spread beyond Rome. It left the Roman Christians full of fear. Many of their friends had died. Maybe many of the old friends that Paul names in Romans 16 died at this time.

The Romans brought Paul back to Rome about 67 AD. This was when Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy. Paul expects that the Romans will soon kill him. He has already been in court (2 Timothy 4:16, 17). This was in public and some of the crowds who heard him speak had become Christians. Paul was almost alone in Rome. He did not fear death, but he did fear the coming of winter. Yet even then God used him to build up the Roman Christians. The Romans probably killed Paul at this time. Away in Palestine, there was war between the Jews and the Romans. The Christians left Jerusalem and went to a safer place called Pella. The Roman Christians were on their own now.

The Letter

This is a very great letter. If I thought I could explain it all, I would be silly. All I can hope is that I may help you to ask the right questions about it. I may be able to show you where to look for the answers. May the Lord give us wisdom by His Holy Spirit.

Romans has two main parts. The first part is Chapters 1-11. These tell us about God and the way in which He saves sinners through Jesus. From Chapters 12-15, Paul talks about the Christian life. In Chapter 16, he says 'Goodbye' to his friends in Rome.

Within the first part, chapters 9-11 are special. Here Paul tries to understand why it is that the Jews mostly do not believe the Good News.

Paul also has to say: 'Hello' at the beginning of his letter. This takes up Chapter 1:1-12. 'I do not want you to be unaware' or 'I want you to know' in verse 13 shows that Paul moves on at this point. [0.4]