I’ve writing a 15K essay on Romans for a forthcoming volume and getting ready to teach Romans for the first time in two years. In want of trying arouse the interest and attention of students, I’ve composed these first few paragraphs:
Paul’s letter to the Romans stands arguably as the pinnacle of Pauline thought. It is the longest letter in the Pauline corpus. Not only that, but it is arguably his most theologically erudite and pastorally applicable set of teachings about faith in Jesus Christ and all its implications. It is a letter that has had a monumental impact in the history of Christian thought. The rediscovery of Romans by people has led to reformation and renewal in the Christian church.
While spending time in Milan in CE 386 Augustine heard the words “Take up and read, take up read” from the chanting of a small boy or girl. He immediately looked for a Bible and opened it up at Romans, specifically to Romans 13:13-14, and there found rebuke for his behaviour and hope for his soul. Soon after both he and his son were baptized by Ambrose of Milan. Martin Luther was Professor at Wittenberg and during 1515-1516 he began expounding Romans to his students and so discovered that the “righteousness of God” was not the righteousness that condemned him, but the righteousness that acquitted him by faith alone. He wrote: “The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.” John Wesley once described how his heart was “strangely warmed” one evening at a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate on 24 May 1738 when he heard someone read the introduction to Luther’s commentary on Romans. The effect it had upon Wesley was such that, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” A suicidal young man named William Cowper was committed to St. Alban’s Insane Asylum in 1763. Finding a Bible lying on a bench in the garden he read over Rom 3:21-26 and in his diary he wrote: “Immediately I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fulness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel.” And so began the career of one of Britain’s finest hymn writers. In 1921 Dumitri Cornilescu, a deacon in the Orthodox church, translated Romans into his native Romanian and through it he learned that God, in Christ, had secured salvation for him. His translation of the Bible is still used in Romania to this day. After the First World War a young Swiss pastor named Karl Barth rocked the theological faculties of twentieth century Europe with his theological interpretation of Romans first published in 1919. Barth saw in Romans not the immanence of God in human society, but testimony to the transcendent God who was at work in Paul’s gospel to reconcile sinful humanity to himself through Jesus Christ. According to Karl Adam, Barth’s Römerbrief “fell like a bombshell on the playground of the theologians.”