The letter to the Romans was written around 57 AD by Paul while he was on his way from Ephesus to Corinth. He gave the letter to Phoebe to take to Rome on his behalf. It is the most systematic and doctrinal of his letters, touching on a wide range of issues yet centered around salvation by faith for all people, regardless of heritage.
- A 1:1–7a Greetings
- –B 1:7b–16 Prayers and blessings
- ––C 1:17 Theme: Salvation by faith
- –––D 1:18–8:11 Theology of theme
- Da 1:18–32 Non-Jews
- Db 2:1–3:8 Jews
- Dc 3:9–26 Both groups
- Dd 3:27–5:5 Faith and law
- De 5:6–6:2 Sin and redemption
- Df 6:3–11 A Death and resurrection like Jesus’
- Dg 6:12–23 Living accordingly
- Dh 7:1–8:7 The purpose and limitation of law
- Di 8:8–11 Duality
- –––– E 8:12–39 Obedience to God
- ––––– X 9:1–11:36 Unity in God
- X1a 9:1–5 Anguish over Israel
- –X1b 9:6–9 Faith and promise
- –– X1x 9:10–26 Choice and calling
- –X1b’ 9:27–33 Faith and promise
- X1a’ 10:1–4 Anguish over Israel
- X2 10:5–17 How all can believe
- X3a 10:18–21 Provoking to jealousy
- ––X3x 11:1–12 Rejection and blindness
- X3a’ 11:13–15 Provoking to jealousy
- X4 11:16–36 Analogies and timing
- ––––E’ 12:1–2 Obedience to God
- –––D’ 12:3–15:7 Practice of theme
- ––C’ 15:8–12 Theme summary
- –B’ 15:13–16 Prayers and Blessings
- A’ 15:17-16:27 Greetings
A 1:1–7a Greetings
Paul begins with his usual greeting, but goes a step farther in calling himself a slave of Jesus— not just a servant, but one who completely and permanently belongs to another. He includes the fact that the Gospel he is preaching was promised through the Old Testament prophets. They pointed to Jesus the Messiah, who was proven to be God by his resurrection from the dead. Paul, though a Jew, had been given the task of bringing this Gospel to the Gentiles.
B 1:7b–16 Prayers and Blessings
After thanking God for the believers at Rome, Paul expresses his great desire to see them in person, since he had been prevented from doing so several times. This Gospel came first to the Jews and then to everyone else (Gentiles or “Greeks”).
C 1:17 Theme: Salvation by faith
The overarching theme of the letter is that “the just will live by faith.” It began with faith, both on the part of Eve when she expressed belief in the coming Savior (Gen. 4: “I acquired a man with YHWH”, and YHWH literally means “the Coming One”), and on the part of Abraham (Gen. 15:6). And with the coming of the Messiah Jesus, it ends with faith. As Paul will develop in detail, the important thing in God’s eyes is not ancestry, social standing, or any other division, but only faith.
D 1:18–8:11 Theology of theme
This long section is where Paul meticulously constructs the theology to back up his theme. It begins with a very familiar passage about sin and judgment. We have to be careful here because there is much theological baggage applied to this passage, which is not necessarily warranted by the context.
Da 1:18–32 Non-Jews
First Paul talks about those who deliberately suppress the truth. They know there is a creator God just by looking around at nature. Someone had to make it all, since it’s impossible for anything to make itself. Who has the power to create the “heavens and the earth” but God? We never observe animals arising from plants, or people from animals, but that all things reproduce “after their kind”. But especially in the last century, people start with the assumption that God cannot exist, then find alternative stories to explain what we see. People are without excuse for this, since they know the truth but try to bury it and also keep others from seeing it. Because of this deliberate rejection of God, they became stupid! They traded the almighty Creator for idols of mere animals or people.
Throughout the rest of the chapter, we see the repeated phrase “Because of this, God gave them over...”. Note carefully the order of events here: First people reject the God they know exists, and then God “gives them over” to the evil and darkness they love. Some will ignore the cause of the effect, saying God gave them over to evil without their first having known the truth.
Db 2:1–3:8 Jews
But Paul suddenly turns on the self-righteous, who all this time were undoubtedly patting themselves on the back as he listed the deeds of the irreverent. Many people ignore the context and stop at the fragment “in judging others you condemn yourself”, arguing that there is never to be any judging. But Paul gives the reason: “because you practice the same things”. He is condemning a double standard, not teaching that Christians should never judge.
The Jews especially had relied upon their being the Chosen People to think themselves automatically righteous. But Paul shows them that they who know better are actually worse off than the non-Jews who naturally do what the law requires. He explains that God’s goodness is intended to lead them to a change of heart, not a license to sin. Just because God is patient and withholds judgment for a time shouldn’t be an excuse to indulge the flesh, because God’s patience will not hold out forever. And this is not any kind of anti-Semitism; Paul and Jesus were both Jews after all. But in this age of grace, we’re all treated the same. God is not finished with his Chosen People yet, but for the time being, there is no favoritism.
Note that Paul is not teaching salvation by works here, but simply stating that those who seek righteousness will find it, and those who reject God will not. Actions are the result of what’s in the heart. When we see words like “actions” or “deeds” and “rewards”, this is “works” language; it refers to what we earn or deserve. Salvation on the other hand, as is very clear from other scriptures, is strictly by faith. So we can tell what the subject is by looking for those words. Deeds are the result of salvation, not the cause. And scripture makes it clear that the two are mutually exclusive: it’s either faith or works, not both at the same time.
In 3:1 Paul turns to the logical question in the reader’s mind by this point: has he been saying that being a Jew is now worthless? Not at all. God had given his written laws exclusively to them, and through them the Savior of the World had come. Their unfaithfulness could not nullify the promises of God, even if most of them rejected him. There has always been a “remnant”, a small group of the faithful, and God certainly will never forget them.
Dc 3:9–26 Both Groups
But this does not negate God’s justice, and in that sense there is no privileged class; the Jews have no legal loophole when it comes to personal sin. God is gracious, but this does not negate his holiness. Jews are no less sinful than Gentiles, and Paul quotes their own Psalms to emphasize the point; the psalm was not written only about Gentiles!
Now Paul discusses the purpose of law (3:20): to expose sin and make us conscious of it. It was never meant to save anyone, but to make them aware of their need to be saved. Salvation is “apart from the law” and is for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. All have sinned, and all who are saved were saved by faith in Jesus’ “ransom payment”. Note that this happened “at the right time”. We must remember that timing is an important factor in God’s view, such that we should be careful not to take what God prescribes for one period of history and try to make it fit another, without clear reasons to do so. Also note that there is no need to use law to expose any alleged “original sin”; this is all about those personal sins we commit.
Dd 3:27–5:5 Faith and law
Paul points out, after all that about the lack of favoritism toward the Jews in regard to sin, that God is God over all, not just them. So the basis for his judgment will be the same for all: faith. The law has one purpose, but faith has another. Per the example of Abraham (4:1), Paul shows that he was declared righteous long before the Mosaic law had been given. Had Abraham worked for this declaration he would have earned a wage owed to him. But instead, having done nothing but believe God, we can see that this declaration was not a payment of wages owed but a gift. And not only did this happen before the Law, it happened even before the rite of circumcision. So that rite was not the cause or guarantee of righteousness, but only a sign that such righteousness had already existed. So while the physical descendents of the Promise were marked by circumcision, the spiritual descendants would be known by their faith. And just as Abraham’s faith was in the promise of God, our faith must be in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (4:23).
De 5:6–6:2 Sin and Redemption
Now we will take a careful look at how sin entered the world and the implications of that. This will further enhance our understanding of exactly what Jesus did. Paul begins by pointing out that God did not wait for us to turn to him, but that he took the initiative at the time he deemed optimal. His love for all people is proved by his payment for our sins while we (the world) still wallowed in them. This was God’s offer of reconciliation. One party cannot force another to reconcile, but only make the offer. So when Paul says that we were reconciled through the death of Jesus, he also points out that we were still the enemies of God. So he then added that we will be saved “through his life”, meaning we must put our faith in his resurrection.
Sin entered the world through one person, and death entered the world through sin. There was no death before sin, an important point to remember on the subject of origins and Genesis. What kind of death is this referring to? We look at Genesis 3 and see that it’s clearly about mortality– which means being able to die physically. If it meant any other kind of death, then we have to say that plants, who were cursed because of Adam, have spirits. We could also look at it as the broken relationship that it was; Adam became “dead” to God in the sense of being no longer in fellowship with him.
Notice the order and wording: since we observe that everyone sins, we know that death passed to all people. That is, sin is the evidence of death; we sin because we are are in mortal bodies that crave and decay. And “death was in charge from Adam to Moses, even over those whose failure was not like that of Adam.” How did Adam sin, as opposed to how Eve sinned? He rebelled against God to his face, blaming him for giving him Eve. That’s why sin is attributed to him alone; both Adam and Eve ate the fruit and died as a result, but only Adam blamed God and added a second sin. God never said there would be any additional penalties besides “death” for eating the fruit, so the cursing of the ground and Adam’s being driven out of the garden were for his unique second sin of open rebellion. We see this same blatant rebellion in Cain. So physical mortality is what we all inherit from Adam, but rebellion is what Jesus came to die for, along with the promise of a new immortal body. Innocent babies sometimes die, and it’s obvious they never had the capacity to rebel against God. Animals die as well, and are incapable of such rebellion. We all suffer the consequences of Adam’s rebellion, which is physical decay and death and suffering.
Df 6:3–11 A Death and Resurrection Like Jesus’
It is important to emphasize what Paul is saying in this passage. Our death is compared to Jesus’ death, so it must be physical, or else we have to say Jesus died spiritually. And what kind of resurrection did Jesus have, physical or spiritual? Then our resurrection will be physical, like Jesus’. And Paul expressly states that it is the body of sin that we put to death; we are dead to sin. Jesus died to sin “once for all” so that we could be alive to God with him. And being dead to sin means we cannot keep going on as though we are still alive to it.
Dg 6:12–23 Living Accordingly
In 6:18 Paul summarizes his point: Adam’s sin gave us spiritual separation and physical death, but Jesus’ death and resurrection gives us spiritual union and physical immortality. Once again he points out that the law he was talking about earlier only highlighted our rebellion, making the need for God’s grace even more obvious. And in case anyone would conclude that sinning is ultimately going to make God look better, Paul strongly retorts that this grace of God is not a license to sin. Instead, we are immersed into the same kind of death and life as Jesus, who knew no sin.
Dh 7:1–8:7 The Purpose and Limitation of Law
Here Paul takes another angle regarding law: Death puts an end to a person’s obligation to law, so since we died to sin we are no longer under its laws. But those believers who were under the Mosaic law also died to that law, as Paul said, “in order to belong to Another”. This is a strong rebuttal to the idea that believers in Jesus are somehow under that old law, “married” to it and obligated under it. But that is impossible; we died to law and now belong to Jesus, to the new Law that gives life as opposed to the old one that brought only condemnation.
So does this mean the old law was evil? Not at all; it was the “glass” through which we could see what sin is. It illuminated sin, making us aware of it. And you know how people are: if we are told not to do something, we feel compelled to do it. Without being told that, we would have had no desire to do it. This is what the Law does: it brings sin to our attention. But it is really our own sin that draws us to do that which the Law forbids.
Di 8:8–11 Duality
We cannot blame the Law for our own weakness. Yet we still live in our mortal bodies; we have not yet received our full inheritance. And it is this “flesh” that continually battles with our spirit. In fact, Paul expressly states that “the body is a rotting corpse because of failure, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” We died to the law and will get a new body that is not under the influence of sin, but for the time being we must struggle with it.
E 8:12–39 Obedience to God
Because of what Jesus accomplished for us, and if we put our faith in him, we can confidently approach God— no longer as slaves to a master but as children to a father. Yet if we are truly children, we will seek to please our Father and not disobey him. We must keep in mind that we have a new life, a new relationship, a new law, and we must keep in step with that instead of the old ways. But we are not in this struggle alone; we have the Spirit not only as a Deposit but also as a “helper”. The Spirit is our link, the bridge between our spirits and God. He continually intercedes for us, even when we just don’t know what to pray.
In what Paul says about God’s foreknowledge (8:29), remember the context. He is discussing our adoption as children and our help from the Holy Spirit. The people God foreknew (not fore-chose) are the ones he then predestined— not to be saved but to “be conformed to the image of his Son”. In other words, God decided that whoever would be saved would then be like Jesus, and be God’s own children. It is these who are also “called”, “justified”, and “glorified”. Notice also the past tense here: these things are guaranteed and considered finished in all who are saved. We don’t have to work for them, so we cannot lose them.
Using legal terminology again, Paul speaks of Jesus as our Advocate in the courtroom, defending us against all charges. And in spite of our present trials, we are conquerors in the eyes of God. Even though we have not yet won all the battles, we are guaranteed the victory; we will certainly receive our promised eternal life with God in heaven.
X 9:1–11:36 Unity in God
Here we arrive at the centerpiece of Paul’s dissertation: the unity of all people groups in faith.
X1a 9:1–5 Anguish over Israel
Paul begins by expressing his anguish over his own people, the Jews. He points out that the blindness they suffer in regards to their own Messiah is not a failure on God’s part. Instead he reminds us that God’s promises were to the faithful, not just to the physical descendants of Abraham. Many people take this to mean God has no more purpose for Israel, but this is not the case at all. This idea is formally known as Replacement Theology, where the Congregation (or possibly some other group) takes Israel’s place. Yet these people only accept Israel’s blessings and not her curses. What Paul is comparing is two types of Jews, and the descendants of Isaac rather than those of Ishmael; he is not talking about Gentiles here.
X1b 9:6–9 Faith and promise
Some take the account of God’s choosing Isaac over Ishmael as proof of his forcing people to be saved, but look at the context. God is simply choosing a physical race; this is not about individual salvation at all. As also with Jacob over Esau and many other examples, God has the right to choose whoever he wills to be the ancestors of the Messiah. It has nothing at all to do with individual salvation.
X1x 9:10–26 Choice and calling
But is God unjust to choose people for an ethnic group? Hardly. But again, the statement that God says “I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy” is twisted to mean the predestination of individuals for salvation. Yet the theme is still about God choosing a race of people through whom the Messiah would come. God didn’t choose Israel for its good qualities or numbers, but just the opposite, so his Name would be glorified instead of the people (Deut. 7:7–8).
Objects designed for either destruction or honor (9:22–26) refer to God’s responses to hearts that are either dead-set against him or made righteous by faith. And this is in the middle of a context about nations, as well as individuals who are chosen for various kinds of service based upon the condition of their hearts. That nations are in view is further supported by the following statements about Hosea and Isaiah. We learn of those God calls “his people”, and of the remnant, the few who have faith in God.
We can also take the objection of 9:19 as the Jews being indignant that God would include Gentiles in the plan of salvation. They were actually angry with God for doing this, but Paul responds with an equal degree of indignation at their conceit. And if predestination were true then we could rebut that as well: if we were mere puppets that God operates, we couldn’t be blamed for our sin. The concept of God blaming people he predestines to hell for their sin actually makes God the author of sin. So God’s choices are not for who will be saved and who will not, but for who is used to perform his will in this life (9:22–26). Those “designed for destruction” are the ones who were “given over” to their choices (see section D). And since the people he chose rejected him, God included Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous– which is exactly what we see here in the Jews’ objection to God’s including them in salvation.
X1b’ 9:27–33 Faith and promise
God’s promise will stand, regardless of the number. Though only a small number of physical Jews will be saved, because salvation is by faith, it is only by God’s grace that there would be any saved at all. Faith inherits the promise, whether held by Jew or Gentile.
X1a’ 10:1–4 Anguish over Israel
As with what began in 9:1, Paul ends this small section by expressing his heartfelt desire for the salvation of his people, the Jews. But they still try to make their own righteousness by works, in ignorance of the fact that Jesus already fulfilled all the obligations of the law.
X2 10:5–17 How all can believe
Paul now focuses on Moses, to whom the Jews look. But instead of supporting them, Moses condemns them: “The one who does all these things will live by them”. The Jews had to know that they were not perfectly obeying Moses, yet the law demands perfection. Only Jesus achieved that.
In vs. 9 and 10 we see the Gospel message in its most concise form: Jesus is Master and God raised him from the dead. With your heart/mind you believe that Jesus reconciled the world to God, and with your mouth you confess that he is God. This is not at all a requirement to speak the magical words “Jesus is Master”, but simply an explanation of how we relate to both God and man. Man cannot know the heart/mind as God does, so we have to speak up.
What exactly does it mean to call Jesus “Master”? It does not mean you prove by works that you are perfectly obeying him. Instead, it means that you believe him to be The Master, The I Am. In other words, it’s not “Jesus is my Master” but “Jesus is The Master”. Of course you will be expected to treat him like your Master after being saved, but not in order to get saved. So you confess that Jesus is God, and you have a conviction that God raised him from the dead. His death reconciled us; his life saves us. So these verses give the two most basic elements of saving faith: the right Savior and his resurrection.
Another important point is the order of events: you believe, and then you speak. It’s very much like the order of events in Peter’s address to the crowd on Pentecost: repent and be baptized. You repent (change your mind to belief), and so you are baptized. Confession, like water baptism, is a result and acknowledgment of a change of heart (the meaning of ’repent’). It clearly isn’t the speaking or the dunking that gets you saved, it’s the heart’s conviction. As with the circumcision of Abraham, the faith comes first and the outward signs second.
And above all, this all applies equally to both Jew and Gentile (10:12). All need to hear the Gospel in order to know where their faith is to be placed. And if anyone is assured of having heard, it is the Jews (10:18). But again, God used the salvation of Gentiles to provoke the Jews to jealousy, since they heard the Gospel but rejected it.
X3a 10:18–21 Provoking to jealousy
Another blow against predetermined salvation of individuals is found in the remaining verses of chapter 10. God woos Israel, he longs for them, he waits for them. This is not the forced dragging against our will of predestination but the pleading of a rejected Father who loves even his enemies. Surely God does not hold out his arms to people whose fate he decreed in eternity past, and surely this does not make him weak and helpless. Allowing people to have free will is not a weakness at all; it is the weak who deny it out of fear.
X3x 11:1–12 Rejection and blindness
In chapter 11 Paul soundly defeats the idea of Replacement Theology. He appeals not only to his own heritage but the fact that God always preserves a remnant. And if it is by God’s choosing, then it can’t depend upon Israel being faithful. Many claim that since Israel disobeyed God that they must be rejected. But here again we see that this is not so. It’s all about God, about his unilateral promises, about bringing him glory. That God is faithful in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness is a tribute to his trustworthiness, rather than a rejection of Israel as his chosen people. Because of their continual rejection of him, God (as we’ve seen repeatedly in this letter), “gave them over” to blindness and deafness to the Gospel. Yet individuals can still be saved. And how much more clearly can Paul put it than he does in verse 11? Israel did not fall beyond recovery.
X3a’ 11:13–15 Provoking to jealousy
It is their very hardness towards God that allowed the Messiah to be sacrificed for us all. It was to bring them to jealousy that God allowed this. Yet Paul cautions the Gentiles to not become proud. After all, if God would punish his chosen race, and if the Jews cannot escape responsibility for sin by their privileged position, then the Gentiles have even less reason to be overconfident.
X4 11:16–36 Analogies and timing
Paul uses the analogy of a vine and its branches to illustrate the relationship of all, Jew and Gentile alike, to the Vine. All draw their life from the Vine. The broken-off branches represent the unfaithful of a chosen group. This is in keeping with Paul’s discussion of the remnant. Just as with the Jews, the Gentiles have been “grafted in” as a group, but individuals stand or fall on the basis of faith.
The analogy of the olive tree serves the same purpose, but be careful not to attach unwarranted meaning to it. Some say that the olive tree must always represent Israel, but that cannot be the case here. Otherwise we’d have the nonsensical situation of the branches being made equal to the trunk. Put another way, if Israel is the trunk then it cannot also be the natural branches. But in context, the trunk must represent the same thing as the vine: Jesus. The Jews are “natural” branches and the Gentiles “wild”, but they’re all branches nonetheless.
An important implication of this is that it shows that the Congregation has not been absorbed into Israel, nor Israel into the Congregation. the Congregation is composed of both wild and natural branches. The context here tells us that the wild branches must therefore represent Gentiles, not Christians. Another implication is that Jews and Gentiles are still separate entities, branches of two types, but they all are grafted into the Trunk. So the natural cannot look down on the wild, and the wild cannot look down on the natural. The two groups are equal and distinct.
All that being the case, then, there is no support for Conditional Security (opposite of Eternal Security). To be grafted into either the Vine or the Trunk illustrates not individual salvation but God’s inclusion of Gentiles alongside Jews in the plan of salvation. Individuals can be cut off on the basis of lacking saving faith. Notice that these branches are first given a chance, and only after they produce no fruit are they removed. God is patient, and reluctant to cut anyone off. But if they persist, God will finally “give them over” to the flames.
In 11:25–32 Paul continues to warn people about not getting overconfident, and gives us a hint about prophecy: there is a certain number of Gentiles that are to be grafted in, not necessarily a certain point in time. But somehow he manages yet again to create another controversy: “All Israel will be saved”. What can this mean? Let’s remember all we’ve been reading in this letter. The theme is faith, not ethnic privilege or works. Who are true Israel? Who are the children of Abraham? The ones with faith. So here Paul is referring to the saved Jews, the faithful ones. The time will come when all the fruitless branches are cut off, and all that is left are the saved. To put it another way, someday Israel will be composed of only the saved. It does not mean that all the physical children of Abraham will be saved. Although Israel’s “hardening” was necessary to enable the Gospel to be brought to the Gentiles, they are still God’s chosen race, and he has not forgotten his promises to their ancestors. These were irrevocable promises.
Wrapping up this pivotal point in his letter, Paul breaks out in praise to God in 11:33-36.
E’ 12:1–2 Obedience to God
Now there is a distinct shift in Paul’s letter and he begins to work back in reverse order, with his focus here on obedience. In light of all that’s been said, he appeals to how reasonable it is to live in accordance with what pleases God. This is all about living like Christians, not how to be saved. We are to please God, and worship him out of understanding instead of ignorance. Otherwise there would have been no point to Paul’s long dissertation. If Christianity is just another blind, experience-oriented religion, then what’s the point of arguing over doctrine?
In contrast to the empty, powerless experience religions, Christians are to be “transformed by renewing your minds” instead of being pressed into the world’s mold. This is the exact opposite of the meditation of the world, which seeks to empty the mind and push it aside. Instead, we are to renew and fill our minds, for the purpose of knowing the will of God, a will that is pleasing and perfect. Even our bodies are to be presented to God as a kind of sacrifice. They are meant for neither self-indulgence nor self-destruction, but to please God.
D’ 12:3–15:7 Practice of theme
Moving back to the topic of the family of God, Paul puts added emphasis on ethics. A warning against self- centeredness is found in 12:3–8. We are to neither over- nor under-value ourselves, but be realistic. Sometimes we mistake extreme self-depreciation as humility, but it is just as bad as the other extreme. To say of oneself either “I am better than you” or “I am nothing” are both wrong. One presumes what God has not given, and the other insults his empowerment, so both are self-centered. To illustrate this point, Paul gives the analogy of the human body, as a figure of the Congregation being the Anointed’s “body”. All parts are necessary and all are equally important. Some are more prominent while others are kept hidden. Yet they all compose one body; with any part missing, the body would not exist. So one part cannot be considered either superior or inferior to another. This principle has important implications on the topics of a clergy/laity class distinction and discrimination on the basis of race, social class, or gender.
Now to some general exhortations to all believers (12:9–13:14). Clearly we are to be more than bench-warmers, more than spectators. Instead of lifeless appendages, we are to be busy with the work God has given us to do. Evil is overcome by active resistance to it, not by running away from it. And we must be model citizens wherever we are. After urging people to give what they owe and not be in debt, Paul again mentions law, but that it is fulfilled by love for others; this one command encompasses all the rest.
In chapter 14 Paul turns from how believers relate to society, to how believers relate to each other. The immediate context is about “to eat, or not to eat” in regards to meat, but the general principle is to keep everything in perspective relative to the Gospel and the Body of the Anointed. Someone whose faith is “strong” and has no qualms about this or that food must not despise someone whose faith is “weak” and whose conscience is bothered over certain controversial things. But it goes the other way too; the “weak” must not despise the “strong”. So instead of rubbing our personal convictions in each other’s faces, we are to keep to ourselves those things we know will bother others, in the name of peace. But don’t make the mistake of treating important doctrines as something we should keep to ourselves. This passage is about the disputable, the controversial, the matters of personal conviction over things God has not commanded us about.
We are all parts of one Body, but those parts are not identical. We each have different functions and levels of faith. Many today think we should all be interchangeable parts and demand that others see every detail exactly as we do. But we all answer to God, not to each other (14:10–13). And who is any of us to boss the others? We each will have to answer for how we treated other believers. Does this equate to no judging at all? Hardly. We are commanded to judge, to discern, to seek out the truth. But in this context, the judging we’re not supposed to do is to make ourselves authorities over others. The eye cannot demand that the foot answer to it instead of to the Head, nor can the right hand control the left.
In 14:21–15:7 Paul gives his personal opinion on meat eating, but leaves the whole matter to individual conscience. He tells us to be sensitive to others, whether they have more or less faith than we have. Food should never be a reason to part fellowship; it’s a trivial matter in the kingdom of God. But this is not to be taken as forcing people to violate their own consciences. The idea here is not to make everyone think the same over these secondary issues, but to keep peace by voluntary restriction, keeping things to ourselves if necessary. Our example is Jesus, who set aside his divine privileges to become one of us. In fact, all of what was written in the OT was recorded for our benefit. We can look at the heroes of old for inspiration. He again speaks of the Gentiles’ inclusion with the Jews in God’s plans, and that all of us who believe are to praise God because of this.
C’ 15:8–12 Theme summary
Paul is now back to his focus on faith. Jesus came not only to die for sin, but also to fulfill the promises, resulting in salvation also to the Gentiles. The promise began by faith, and it ended when fulfilled by Jesus.
B’ 15:13–16 Prayers and Blessings
As he approaches the end of his letter, Paul expresses his usual prayers and blessings. Though he credits the people with what they already know, he still feels the need to remind them of many things.
A’ 15:17–16:27 Greetings
Final greetings are given now. Paul has been living the example they should follow and spreading the Gospel everywhere. His driving ambition has been to take it to places it had never yet been, and his work has been accompanied by demonstrations of God’s power. This, he explains, is why he has been unable to visit them in person, but he hopes to do so soon, since he has completed his mission in that part of the world. But first he has business to attend to in Jerusalem and he appeals to them for prayer support in this.
In his final list of names (beginning in 16:1), Paul starts off with a woman named Phoebe. She is called a “servant” just as any man in the Letters; the Greek word is the masculine form typically transliterated “deacon” or translated “minister”. She was, as the Greek states clearly, “a presiding officer over many, including me”. This was no mere assistant or courier, but an important official to the believers in a large city. She was deemed worthy to take Paul’s letter to Rome, and the people there were to treat her as they would Paul.
Next is the married couple Priska and Aquila. Note that the female is listed first, which is outrageous by the standards of the time, and especially so since Paul had formerly been a Pharisee. He praises them both equally for risking their lives for him.
Another female noted is Mary. She was a co-worker, not simply a likeable person; she was on the same level as any male Paul named a co-worker.
Now to Junia. In an effort to explain away the obvious, those who believe in male preeminence have three ways to interpret this:
- Junia is really a man, Junias (no textual attestation exists for this before the Middle Ages)
- She is not an apostle herself but known to them
- She is not an “authoritative” apostle
Junia is in fact a woman, numbered among the apostles and counted as outstanding, and has the same authority as any male apostle.1 And there is no hint in scripture of a non-authoritative apostle. Only with a prior commitment to male preeminence can any of the three objections above be supported, and it is quite disturbing to know that those entrusted with the accuracy of the Greek text were willing to deliberately alter it. But Paul matter-of-factly lists these prominent women as co-workers, as equals. Added to the list are women such as Tryphena and Tryphosa, and several unnamed others.
In contrast to the people he listed as being commended, Paul follows with a warning to note the other extreme, the ones causing disputes and tripping people up in the faith (16:17–19). Such people are to be shut out. We are to be wise about the good, and innocent about evil. God will soon crush Satan under our feet.
More greetings, and then a final blessing. Paul has been given “the secret” to reveal, the Gospel itself and the relationship and security we have as believers. Through Jesus the Messiah we can all be saved, Jew and Gentile alike, by faith alone.
- 1E. J. Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, October 01, 2005.