Paul describe himself with three “titles” in Romans 1:1. First, he is a a servant of Christ Jesus. The term “servant of Christ Jesus” should be understood in terms of Old Testament background rather than Greek/Roman culture (Cranfield, 50).  On the other hand, James Dunn sees Paul drawing on his Jewish background in the phrase “servant of Christ Jesus.” Dunn suggests Paul has Isaiah 49:1-7 in mind here, since Jews naturally saw themselves as servants of God (Dunn, 6).

Paul in Prison RembrandtSecond, Paul as called to be an apostle. The noun κλητός refers to an invitation, but here it has the sense of a “divine calling.”  Paul’s divine appointment, however, is not simply to be a Christian, but to be an Apostle. This is a special commissioning that only was given to a few who were witnesses of the resurrection, and therefore carried a special authority. To be an apostle is to be an “authorized agent or representative” (Cranfield 52).

Third, Paul says he was set apart for the gospel of God.  “Set apart” might refer to Paul’s separation from Judaism, or his missionary activity (Acts 13:2.)  But it is more likely that the separation that Paul has in mind is his “consecration to a future task,” specifically the task of bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. The verb ἀφορίζω is used in the LXX for the setting aside the firstborn male animal to God (Numbers 15:20). But it is also used for consecrating Levites to God’s service (Numbers 8:11) and of God’s separating Israel from the nations to be his people (Lev. 20:26). The idea of separation for service to God seems to be Paul’s point here. When was Paul set apart by God? This could refer to his conversion on the Roman to Damascus, but Paul claims he was separated for his ministry before he was born (Gal 1:1:15).

Paul was separated to the gospel of God. Paul is separated to the gospel of God. This would resonate with both a Jewish the concept of Gospel as well as a pagan/Roman worldview (Cranfield 54-55).  The Romans considered important events in the life of the Emperor as εὐαγγέλιον and celebrated them as “good news.”  This is in contrast to the true good news of salvation. The early church would have understood the difference between the normally plural “good tidings” of the emperor cult and the singular εὐαγγέλιον (Dunn 10). The phrase may be based on Jesus’ own use in Matthew 11:5 and Luke 7:22.

Paul therefore begins this important letter with a declaration he is God’s servant and a chosen representative to present the good news, to declare what God is doing to redeem people in the present age.

Since Paul has not personally met the Roman churches who will read this letter, this opening line establishes Paul’s authority. Why do you think that was necessary at this point in Paul’s career? He writes this letter after establishing churches in Asian Minor and the eastern edge of Europe. It would seem as though he was well-known. Is there something else going on here in this opening address of the letter?