Why Did Paul Write Romans?

Unlike most of Paul’s letters, the occasion for the letter is not obvious. Although there seems to be a clear purpose statement in 15:24-29, it is not clear why Paul would have written the bulk of the book to support that purpose. There is no indication he is responding to questions from the Roman church nor does he address reported problems in the church similar to 1 Corinthians or 1 Thessalonians. Paul has yet to visit the church and it does not appear he has had an influence on the church prior to this letter (unlike Colossians, for example, a church founded by a disciple of Paul).

scribe-at-workThe consensus view until modern scholarship is that the main purpose of Romans is to set forth Paul’s theology in clear terms. He begins with sin, then on to salvation by grace, the role of the law, sanctification and finally the practice of the Christian life. For many, Romans is as close to a systematic theology as we get from Paul. In fact, many modern Systematic theologies follow this same general outline.

But if this is a “compendium of Pauline Theology,” there is a great deal missing (the resurrection of Jesus, for example), and it is difficult to account for Romans 9-11. Paul’s discussion of Israel is often treated like a digression from his main point, as if it could be dropped from the book without damaging Paul’s argument. One additional factor is fact Paul’s letters are all written in some historical and social context. He did not appear to write books for the sake of putting his thoughts down for future generations to read and ponder.

Is Paul responding to a situation within the Roman Church? (I am heavily indebted to Colin Kruse, Romans, 8-9 for this section.) There are several suggestions for explaining Paul’s pastoral response.

First, since the Roman church was not established by an apostle, Paul wrote Romans to provide the church with an “apostolic presentation of the gospel (Fitzmyer, Romans, 75; Kruse, Romans, 8).” Paul would do this in person when he arrives in Rome, but the letter offers a “pre-read” for the church prior to Paul’s arrival.

Second, Christian Jews expelled from Rome by Claudius returned to find the house churches in Rome now organized much differently than the Jewish synagogue. The Jewish Christians found they were not the minority within a Gentile church. Paul therefore wrote Romans to encourage the Gentiles to live in harmony with Jewish Christian. But this suggestion has some difficult because there is no evidence Gentile converts had rejected distinctive Jewish practices. Unlike Galatia, it is possible the only Gentile converts in Rome were God Fearing Gentiles and quite happy with most Jewish practices.

Third, since the status of the Law is an important issue in Romans, Paul may have written because Christian Jews who continue to observe the law were now in conflict with law-free Gentile Christians. This is like other Pauline churches, but it is not clear Gentiles in the Roman church had rejected the Jewish Law. Nor is there evidence of Judaizers in Rome. Roman Gentile Christians do not seem to have struggled with Judaizers like the Galatia Christians did. Romans 14-15 is unclear on who the weak and strong are and vague about the actually issues at stake. There may have been some God-fearing Gentiles who kept some the Law and other Gentiles who came into the church who were not at all attracted to Jewish traditions.

Fourth, it is possible Paul did not consider the Roman Christians to have been “evangelized” yet. In Romans 15:15-16 Paul says he has written boldly to the church, so that “so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” The letter therefore demands a response to the gospel from the Roman readers with respect to Paul’s understanding of the Gospel.

Fifth, it is also possible Paul wanted the Roman Christians to hear his gospel in order to draw them “apostolic orbit” (Kruse, Romans, 8). Since Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, he may have felt the Gentile believers were part of his commission regardless of how they originally came to hear the Gospel. Perhaps Romans 15:20 is an apology for taking as long as he has to come to Rome, the largest and most important city in the Empire (Fitzmyer, Romans, 76). If the Roman churches had grown to the extent Nero could use them as a scapegoat (ten years after Romans was written), then Paul cold be accused of overlooking a significant population of Gentile Christians.

In summary, any of these suggestions (or a combination of them) could explain why Paul wrote the letter to the Roman church. But it is possible he was motivated to write the later because he was moving into a new stage of his apostolic ministry rather than to meet some pastoral need in the church.

 

25 thoughts on “Why Did Paul Write Romans?

  1. It could be Paul wrote it simply because the Spirit of Jesus prompted him to write it, as He did so many other things. Whatever the reason, I’m certainly glad he did write it. Two thousand years on we’re still sifting it to find the deeper truths within. and finding satisfying theological explanations of the gospel to live by while sifting. This is just my opinion, an unvarnished country preacher who strives to live by faith and the Word. This is an interesting article even so.

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    • At the base of all of this discussion (for me) is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so I agree. but I think the HS works within Paul’s circumstances to produce the letters, so Galatians has a particular situation which prompted Paul to write that letter, the same is true for 1-2 Corinthians, or any other letter for that matter. if you do not understand the situation in the background of Philemon, for example, is it possible to fully understand that letter? You can learn a great deal from the letter, but the more you understand the historical and cultural situation, the better you “get” the letter of Philemon.

      The same is true for Romans, although Romans has a more complex circumstance, perhaps because it is a long, complex book!

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      • Yes, I understand. Such is a means of putting ourselves back in the times and circumstances of the writers rather than interpreting strictly from a 21st century mindset. I meant no disparagement in your hard work. And I realize you couldn’t see the grin when I wrote my original comment. Keep up the good work and God bless.

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  2. Interesting issues. Romans, in this regard and others, presents many puzzles. You’ve hinted you may be bringing up more about Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem and the issues surrounding it. Indeed, his mention of it in Romans… his grave concerns… is significant.

    It seems to revolve primarily around Paul’s years-long, major project of building up a large collection for believers in Jerusalem. And that he was intent on delivering it in person! (Seemingly for reasons of personal and inter-group relations, not unlike those hinted at in Romans, and perhaps theological reasons….) It is apparent that tensions remained between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders and the results of the visit in that regard remain unclear. This appears to be deliberate omission on Luke’s part (latter part of Acts), perhaps because things DID remain as unresolved tensions after Paul’s rescue, arrest, and removal from the city by Rome’s army.

    The importance of Paul’s collection is seriously underplayed or merely overlooked by many pastors, teachers and scholars. Few special-focus works have been done on it. Fortunately both a film and book under the title “A Polite Bribe” (website as well) have come out a couple years ago. I’ve found these, by filmmaker Robert Orlando, a good scholar in his own right though not one by profession, particularly fascinating as analysis on a personal and social/cultural level as well as a theological one. I’ve done a two-part review of it on my blog: http://wp.me/p5oBn-A1 and http://wp.me/p5oBn-By . There is also a Q and A I did with Orlando and link to a recorded interview with Ron Way who interviews many religious authors.

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  3. Whatever purpose Paul had in mind in writing the books of Romans, known or unknown, fit into the global purpose of the scriptures as documented in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
    16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
    17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

    To that we are grateful that the book was written.

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  4. I have always thought of Romans as a letter Paul was using to address multiple situations. As was said above, it does not appear that Paul had ever been to Rome nor helped start that church, and therefore did not have a authority over it like he would have if he’d started the church in Rome. However, as an apostle of Christ, I believe he had the authority and right to address the concerns he felt for his fellow believers living in Rome. Based off the letter, it clearly seems like there was some strain between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians living in Rome at that time, and as Paul addressed other churches before about the same issues, he of course continued to do so in this letter. It would be out of character, I think, for Paul to suddenly ignore that situation. If he had not known about it, it would not have been in the letter. I think he wrote the letter as a prelude, a this is who I am and what I stand for, introduction to the Roman Christians (meaning the Gentiles and Jews living in Rome). Paul always addressed all matters that he had either witnessed, or heard about, that differed from the gospel teachings of Jesus, he always countered any false teachings (or false gospels). I think what Paul was trying to do with his letter, was explain what a true Christian should behave like, what the good news was, and explain about things that displease God. He was aiming for unification, for the Jews and Gentiles to understand they were now all underneath the God’s umbrella, as I like to think of it, they all were now under the protection and promise of God thanks to their belief in what Christ had done for them. Paul was trying to impress upon them, that despite their unease in regards to each other, or despite the things they were doing, with the help of his letter they would see what God wanted them to be doing, and hopefully become a unified body in trying to honor the Lord. I think Romans 14:6-9, “6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living,” (ESV). Here Paul was trying to explain that whether Jew or Gentile, they were all a part of the body now and with this letter they would know what a Christian should be like, and what pleases or displeases God. It was not just an introduction of who Paul was, nor just an update about his soon-to-be arrival in Jerusalem, nor was it just a way to alleviate conflicts and concerns. I think his purpose for writing it had to deal with all of those things, and I also believe God was surely prompting this letter to be written because after reaching Rome, the gospel really was spread throughout the world over these last couple thousands of years (and God knew that would happen).

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  5. I believe your final statement is right on point when you said, “…it is possible he was motivated to write the letter because he was moving into a new stage of his apostolic ministry rather than to meet some pastoral need in the church.” He was called to reach the Gentiles, and the Roman Church would be a new stage of his apostolic ministry. With that being said, I don’t think we can turn away from the fact that Paul wanted to stop in Rome, but his end goal was to reach Spain. I believe Paul may have wrote Romans that the Roman Church would have a background of who he is when he arrives, but one reason for writing Romans is found in Romans 15:24. It states, “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.” Douglas Moo goes onto explain the Greek meaning of the word “help” or “assist” found in the verse above, and that is a word consistently used in the New Testament to mean missionary support. Moo states, “Paul is, in effect, asking if he can come to Rome, show his slides, and pass the offering plate for the new missionary endeavor.” Yes, Paul was in a new stage of his ministry, but he needed help. He was called to the Gentiles, he wanted to spend time with them, share his theology and minister to the Romans, but he needed their help and support as well to go farther in his journey.

    Moo, Douglas J. Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002. Print.

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  6. As stated within this article, the view that Paul wrote this letter to a church made up of both Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians should make us wonder why this group exists in the first place. There has always been a division amongst the Jews and the Gentiles (those who are non-Jews) for many social and religious reasons. It can be assumed through Paul that there still was some social tension being displayed with the law abiding Christian Jews and some Gentiles who were unknown to the law. As mentioned above, emperor Claudius booted the Jews out of Rome around A.D. 49 (refer to Acts 18:2) and left the Gentiles. This can be said to be the reason the Roman church Paul is writing to is a mixture of both, because when the Jews were allowed to come back to Rome- the Gentiles were leading the churches that the Jews were forced to leave. Differences amongst these groups would be hard to overcome because of the two different ideas of religion and their history of practices or lack their of.
    However, there are no clear statements whether these Christian Gentiles were opposed of these Jewish traditions in the first place. I could see most of the Christian Gentiles who took over these churches when the Jews left to have respect for these customs and practices. I think that the Jewish population was so prominent in Rome and such a loud example to the Roman empire that they were feeling threatened. What would be the reason Claudius would send out all these Jews? They must have been a huge presence within Romes society. Therefore, the gentiles were bystanders of these Jews and their religious practices. I could see the Gentiles having respect and admiration for this group of people and wanting to continue on what they started for decades in Rome. However, some clashes of practices and those who are under the law and those who are not would have undoubtedly arose at moments between them. Maybe that is why Paul is writing so clearly to both audiences to control the social tensions and issues of religious practice to have them remain a strong, unified, multicultural church needed in Rome and for Paul’s ministry (Romans 2:12- 29).

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  7. I think that it is important to keep in mind that Rome was central to the area as an authoritative ruler, and thus many people would have congregated there, including Jews and Gentiles of the Christian faith. Paul as you said could have had many different reasons for writing to the Romans, but it also clear that he says he is writing to them as he looks to go to Jerusalem, and then onward to Spain to further his ministry to the world (Romans 15:24). We know that he doesn’t make it past Jerusalem because he goes to prison, but his intention was to eventually make it to Spain. He may have seen Rome as not only another place to make sure that the Gospel was taught correctly, but also a place he knew that there would be many people, which could have meant a great deal of support for his journey onward to reach others with the same message. Moo agrees with this point in our textbook as seen on page 47, ” We further noted that Paul hopes to receive some support from the Roman Christians for the work in Spain”. This could be presented as another option to the ones you mentioned in your original post as well.

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      • It seems to me that the aspect of resurrection is evident right from the beginning, for example in chapter 1, I think, the fourth verse and in chapter 6 on the subject of the new life and baptism and in chapter 8 on the presence of the new life In our actions. That is it is through the death of Jesus that we become children of God, that is, through his new life. I.e. the resurrection is explicit in the first eight chapters as our means of becoming like him. Then in chapters 9 through 11 Paul considers how the nation also will become the child it was meant to be.

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  8. Paul may have written Romans for any part of a thousand reasons. And if the Christians who received and read it at the time saw the book as valuable as we see it for theology, it would have achieved its purpose. maybe he was buttering up the rich people, maybe he was passively letting the Jews in Jerusalem and other places know what his theology was, maybe he was doing all these other things with the letter. But i think the most important thing that came from this completed and giant work from Paul was that we have his theology! and although he doesn’t outright spend a lot of time talking directly about the resurrection of Jesus, it is clearly just behind the words we read in various passages. Romans seems like the good theology that a new believer would look for just after they come to a saving knowledge of all that we believe in regards to Jesus. This book is so foundational to what we believe. Where would we be if Luther hadn’t taken up the things he read in Romans to charge the Church of his time? there would be no covenant-dispensational debate, or at least it would look nothing like it does today. This is a great collection of all Paul’s theology to teach all believers a lot of great things.

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  9. After reading this article, two ideas seem to take precedence when thinking about why Paul wrote Romans. In Romans 15:15-16, Paul talks about how he is writing to the church to be a minister of Jesus Christ. The first idea is that Paul is making sure that the Roman church knows exactly what Christianity entails and he’s making sure the information is coming from an apostle. The second idea that comes to mind is that Paul may have been writing to the Romans because he wanted to establish himself with them before he went to Rome because he wanted their support for his trip to Spain. It could have been a support letter of sorts, where Paul was telling the church in Rome his plans for a mission’s trip and he was hoping for financial support in return. I do not think it would be one or the other, but more of a combination of both. Something along the lines of Paul was showing how great of a teacher he is and hoping they would want to help him further his teaching.

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  10. This blog helps put into perspective the possible reason or reasons behind Paul writing the book of Romans which is important to understand in order to follow the story line and plan that God had with not only the Jews, but the Gentiles as well. The last statement is the most commonly used reason as to why Paul wrote Romans: “But it is possible he was motivated to write the letter because he was moving into a new stage of his apostolic ministry rather than to meet some pastoral need in the church.” Some may argue that Paul was writing the book of Romans simply to meet a pastoral need or to address certain issues within the church that needed attention, but I personally believe that Paul was to continue his calling from God and move toward a new stage, to reach others (Gentiles) for Christ. The time period was no longer the same, God brought about a new plan and chose Paul as a special messenger to bring about his new plan (Acts 22). Overall, I think we can confidently agree that Paul’s reason and purpose behind writing was to reach out to his fellow brother and sisters in Christ. I personally think that it can be dangerous to get caught up in trying to figure out the exact reason behind why Paul did the things that he did, because we could drift away from the bigger picture. Paul was chosen by God to do an incredible job and part of Paul doing his job was traveling, writing and sharing what he knew so that God’s plan would become known to all.

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  11. It is interesting to see the possibilities of why Paul could have written the letter to the Romans. I also find it strange that we don’t even know the true reason why he wrote this letter on account of all the other letters have some sort of occasion for writing. Also the pure fact that this letter is so influential in faith currently and so important to the Christian faith and theological arguments that it is even more strange there was never an occasion named. I understand that these all could have been reasons or just one of them could have been the main reason that this letter was written and I just find it strange there was no truly established reason behind it written down from Paul. I think that Paul wrote it to continue the beliefs of the Roman people and to teach them things that he felt they needed to know that definitely have continued to play an important role in Christian practices and beliefs today. The fact of the matter is it does not truly matter the why Paul wrote this letter but the content is so valuable it is important and truly the more important fact is that he did write this letter that has made heavy impact upon believers and churches today as it did at the time it was written.

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  12. Romans is a unique book, since it does not appear that Paul had a particular circumstance within the church prompt him to write it. It is written like he is writing out his theology, but as was stated in the blog above, Paul did not normally write like this, and it is also missing several key issues, so it must be something else. Longenecker mentions in TTP that it could have been Paul’s way of introducing himself and his theology in hopes that the Roman church would support his planned missionary journey to Spain (168). This view is backed by Romans 15:24, where Paul explains how he is looking forward to seeing the Roman believers on his way to Spain, and that he hopes that they will “assist me on my journey there.” This view seems plausible to me as I think about how missionaries normally go about raising support today: they contact other churches, travel to them, and share with them their mission, hoping that others will catch the vision that they are portraying. Paul had no other personal way to contact them at that time besides writing a letter, so he writes Romans as a way to introduce himself and his theology to a new church whose support he wants. In any case, it provides an introduction so that they will all ready be familiar with him when he eventually comes to them. It may be any number of reasons that Paul wrote Romans, but we do know that “it has impacted people who have influenced the course of history,” and it is one of the most influential documents ever written (Longenecker 165).

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  13. It’s interesting to read the many reasons Paul could’ve written Romans. TTP says, “His addresses were Christians whose communities had been founded by others and whom Paul had never been able to visit in their local context” (TTP 168). I find it interesting as to why Paul would write a letter to people he had never met, so he may not of been fully aware of what these people needed to hear. One could assume that it was by the Holy Spirit, that God spoke through Paul’s letter in Romans. In other letter, Paul spoke more about sexual immorality and other sin issues, but Paul focused more on ethnicity for the church as a whole. TTP says that he knew that the Christians in Rome knew that he had a controversial reputation within the early Jesus movement (TTP 169). “If he was to succeed in his goal of extending the gospel message into parts where no one had taken it, he would need the financial support of those Christians; but he would first need to convince them that his gospel message was one that they should indeed support” (TTP 169). Paul was willing to do what ever it took to spread the gospel and raise the support that he needed.

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  14. There is a common proverb that states “all roads lead to Rome.” This is used to mean that one can get to an answer using multiple ways, but it’s origin was literally that most of the roads during the time of the Roman Empire did indeed lead back to Rome. It was the center of Civilization, the pinnacle of the world. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that Rome was on Paul’s list. As previously mentioned, Paul writes in Romans 15:24 “I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.” The way to Spain is through Rome. That is where Paul feels the culmination of his ministry, the end goal if you will, is found. “Romans is Paul’s calling card, in a sense. Desiring support in his Spanish missions, Paul sends to Jesus-followers in Rome a discursive elaboration of the gospel he preaches.” (TTP 190). In more simple terms, I believe that much of Romans is basically a tract, a basics of evangelism to assist the Romans in sharing the gospel of Jesus.

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  15. I think Paul wrote Romans for countless amount of reasons. I also think that it can be up for interpretations because God can use many different reasons for many different lives. Paul just wanted to reach the people God was calling him to reach. “It is almost astonishing, while at the same time utterly predictable, that Paul sees healthy relationships among Christians who overcome their differences and support one another to be among the primary manifestations of the power of the gospel that facilitates the righteousness of God on the stage of world history (Longenecker, 189). God had a certain path paved for Paul and I know that He is doing the same for those who are following Him as well. God can use Paul’s story to help others, but we all still have our own story.

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  16. It seems very intimidating to me to talk to a group of people that I know nothing about. If I don’t know what they believe or where they come from, it makes it harder to say something that is relevant to them. What if I were to offend them? What if I completely misread them? That is why it is interesting to me that the arguably most “important” book that Paul wrote was to a group of people that he never met. The book of Romans is referenced for almost everything when it comes to the gospel, and the fact that Paul was writing this almost blindly to this group of people is so cool. He boldly proclaims Christ and lays out the basics of our faith in a way that is powerful and articulate. You can see how God has worked through Paul to create this body of work that has become a staple to the Christian faith, even today.

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