Purpose of Romans (Again)

Still wrestling with Romans (and always will be!), how’s this sound for a description of the purpose of Romans:

In my estimation, the reason for Romans are multiple and complex. Paul writes to the Roman churches, primarily to the Gentiles, but knowing full well that Jewish Christians in the city will hear about the letter, perhaps even from his delegate Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2). Paul wants the financial support of the Roman Gentiles for his planned journey to Spain and as he prepares to return to Jerusalem to deliver the collection with all of the Gentile churches firmly behind him as the Apostle to the Gentiles (Rom 15:24-25). In order to win their financial favor and willingness to voluntarily come under his apostolate, Paul has two implied tasks. First, he must win them over to his version of the gospel (Rom 1:9, 15-16; 15:15-21). He does that by setting out his gospel at theological depth in order to better “establish” them (Rom 1:16; 16:25). He appeals to shared traditions (e.g., Rom 1:3-4, 3:22-25; 4:25; 15:15) and makes apologetic remarks where necessary to assure them that he is not antinomian or anti-Israel, but is a kosher advocate of the Jewish Christian gospel about Israel’s Messiah (Rom 3:8; 6:1-2; 9:1-5). Paul’s strength is that he is able to provide sophisticated scriptural and rhetorical arguments explaining how God through the Messiah welcomes Gentiles into the family of Abraham, and how Jews and Gentiles in the Messiah should equally welcome one another (Rom 4:16; 5:8-11; 15:6-7). Paul, in effect, gospelizes them, by which I mean that he endeavors to conform them to the evangelic character of his vision for Christian communities. Paul wants to make the Romans a pristine example of a “faithful obedience” among the Gentiles (Rom 1:5; 16:26) that his opponents believed that his converts lacked. Since Paul cannot be there in person to impart a spiritual gift to them, to reap a full harvest by preaching the gospel in Rome, he does the next best thing. He imparts to them the blessing of his gospel, hoping that it will place them in his debt, a debt that will be repaid when he arrives in Rome. This way we account for the themes of apostleship, Gentiles, gospel, mission, Rome, and Spain, that are so prominent at the beginning and end of the letter. A second implied task is some preventive pastoral care. Paul knows the dangers that the churches in Rome face. The possibility of anti-Paulinists arriving in Rome (Rom 16:17-18), the fragmentation of the house churches over Torah and Halakhah perhaps exacerbated by the departure and return of Jewish Christians to Rome (Romans 14), the need of strategy for negotiating the perils of living in a pagan society (Romans 12–13), preemptively countering the possibility of Gentile Christians imitating the rancorous anti-semitism of Roman cultural elites (Romans 9, 11), affirming the interlocking nature of Jewish and Gentile missions (Rom 1:16; 10:14-21; 11:13-33; 15:8-9, 27), demonstrating a way of explaining to Jewish neighbors a messianic theodicy for the existence of evil (Rom 8:18-39; 16:20), and expositing God’s faithfulness to Israel and his impartiality towards Jews and Greeks in Jesus Christ concerning judgment and justification (Romans 1–4, 9–10, 14:9-10). In sum, Romans is a word of exhortation,[1] a masterpiece of apologetics, missionary theology, christological exegesis, pastoral care, theological exposition, and artful rhetoric – all designed to win over the audience to Paul’s gospel, to support his mission in Spain, to draw Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome closer together, and for his audience identify with the Apostle to the Gentiles as he goes to Jerusalem.


[1] David E. Aune, “Romans as a Logos Protreptikos,” in The Romans Debate, ed. K.P. Donfried (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 278-96.

  • http://profiles.google.com/ed.gentry Ed Gentry

    What evidence is there that Paul was trying to induce the Church in Romans “to voluntarily come under his apostolate.” Couldn’t he be just asking for recognition as an apostle and support for his mission. Why do you think that he is trying to induce them to come under his wing?

  • http://profiles.google.com/ed.gentry Ed Gentry

    What evidence is there that Paul was trying to induce the Church in Romans “to voluntarily come under his apostolate.” Couldn’t he be just asking for recognition as an apostle and support for his mission. Why do you think that he is trying to induce them to come under his wing?

  • David Alan Reed

    Michael,

    Thanks for the good post. It was insightful, information, and comprehensive (in a summary sort of way). I don’t mean to come off as a wet-blanket to your approach, for I find much in it that is correct. You are correct when you say that Paul’s chief moral concern was to convince them of his vision for Christian communities. Perhaps I misunderstood you at the end of your post, but I took you to say that Paul was trying to convince them to believe in his view of the Gospel. I think that Paul wanted the Roman believers to realize that they believed in the same Gospel, which would inspire them to financially and spiritually join him in his mission to the West.

    As food for thought and perhaps further discussion, please consider my outline of Romans, which is heavily influenced by a rhetorical analysis of this theological discourse of the Apostle. (Disclaimer: since I wrote this fast, please forgive any typos and the summary nature of my outline.)

    OUTLINE OF ROMANS

    Part 1 (1:1-17) begins with Paul opening the letter with a prescript, which he follows by presenting his thesis statement in 1:16-17, namely, that the one who is righteous lives by faith (based on the Old Testament).

    Part 2 (1:18-5:21) consists of his successful attempt to prove the truthfulness of his thesis, which he does by two strategies. First, in 1:18-3:20) offers a negative approach. He demonstrates the truthfulness of his thesis showing that its contrast is also true; i.e., that wrath is revealed in unbelief (the opposite of faith), which leads to death (the opposite of life). Then, in 3:21-31 and again in 4:1-5:21, he offers a positive approach. First, the truthfulness of the thesis is proved through Christ’s faithfulness (3:21-31). And second, it is proved true from both Scripture (Abraham as a model of the life of faith), as well as through our own experience with God through the Holy Spirit (5:5ff.). Overall, Part 2 contains the origin of Paul’s thesis, which is based on several Old Testament themes (particularly, creation and covenant).

    Part 3 is much more complex and diverse. Having demonstrated the truthfulness of his thesis, this third main section of Romans finds Paul answering potential objections to his thesis. These objections are raised in the form of an imagined interlocutor. Each of these four questions is a theological and/or logical challenge to his previous theological argument presented in 1:18-5:21. In summary form, these four questions are:
    1) Shall we continue to sin in order to increase grace? (6:1-14)
    2) Shall we continue to sin since Law no longer has authority (6:15-7:6)
    3) Shall we consider the Law to be sin or sinful (7:7-8:39)
    4) Has God abandoned Israel, or Has the Covenant failed? (9:1-11:36)

    Part 4 contains the outcome of Paul’s thesis, based on the theological categories of transformation and righteousness. The emphasis here is one love as the foundation and motivating moral principle of the Christian faith. Near the beginning of this section (12:9) he called for love to always be sincere. This reaches a climax at 13:10 when he refers to love as the fulfillment of Torah. In other words, if God’s love has created them as a community, then they are required to be a community that walks “according to love” (14:15).

    Part 5 contains a brief summary and a postscript, which includes a doxology, his travel plans, his request for the Romans to financially back his plan to bring the Gospel to the western part of the Empire (starting with Spain and moving back East to Rome, most likely), and a benediction. This benediction ends the letter the way it began with the phrase; “to bring about the obedience of faith” (1:5; 16:26).

    Of course, there is a lot that I have skimmed or just plain skipped over. For instance, the richest part of the letter is his answer to objection 3 in Part 3. I outline that portion in the following way:

    Shall we consider Law as sin? NO! (7:7-8:39)
    Adam’s story retold: sin producing death (7:7-13)
    Man’s story retold, part 1: ‘life’ outside of Christ (7:14-25)
    Man’s story retold, part 2: ‘life’ in Christ (8:1-39)
    Life in Christ, part 1 – Life in the Spirit (8:1-17)
    Life in Christ, part 2 – Life in Glory, doxology (8:18-39)

    Similarly, his response to the fourth potential objection also is structured in three parts:

    Has God Abandoned Israel, or has the Covenant failed? NO! (9:1-11:36)
    Part 1: God’s actions in the past (9:1-29)
    Part 2: God’s actions in the present (9:30-11:6)
    Part 3: God’s actions in the future; doxology (11:7-36)

    The importance of Paul’s doxology at the end of chapter 11, containing quotations from Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11, should not be underestimated. It is inspired by everything for which he has argued throughout the letter so far. As such, it is nothing less than Paul’s final definitive response to the questions of whether God has abandoned Israel and if his covenant with them has failed, and it immediately leads to Paul’s call for believers to present themselves as living sacrifices made possible by God’s merciful actions (12:1-2; cf. 1:16-17; 3:21; 4:25; 5:9-11; 6:22-23; 7:6; 8:31; 11:22; 11:31-32).

    Hope this adds to the discussion. If so, great. If not, ignore.

    Grace & peace,
    - David

  • David Alan Reed

    Michael,

    Thanks for the good post. It was insightful, information, and comprehensive (in a summary sort of way). I don’t mean to come off as a wet-blanket to your approach, for I find much in it that is correct. You are correct when you say that Paul’s chief moral concern was to convince them of his vision for Christian communities. Perhaps I misunderstood you at the end of your post, but I took you to say that Paul was trying to convince them to believe in his view of the Gospel. I think that Paul wanted the Roman believers to realize that they believed in the same Gospel, which would inspire them to financially and spiritually join him in his mission to the West.

    As food for thought and perhaps further discussion, please consider my outline of Romans, which is heavily influenced by a rhetorical analysis of this theological discourse of the Apostle. (Disclaimer: since I wrote this fast, please forgive any typos and the summary nature of my outline.)

    OUTLINE OF ROMANS

    Part 1 (1:1-17) begins with Paul opening the letter with a prescript, which he follows by presenting his thesis statement in 1:16-17, namely, that the one who is righteous lives by faith (based on the Old Testament).

    Part 2 (1:18-5:21) consists of his successful attempt to prove the truthfulness of his thesis, which he does by two strategies. First, in 1:18-3:20) offers a negative approach. He demonstrates the truthfulness of his thesis showing that its contrast is also true; i.e., that wrath is revealed in unbelief (the opposite of faith), which leads to death (the opposite of life). Then, in 3:21-31 and again in 4:1-5:21, he offers a positive approach. First, the truthfulness of the thesis is proved through Christ’s faithfulness (3:21-31). And second, it is proved true from both Scripture (Abraham as a model of the life of faith), as well as through our own experience with God through the Holy Spirit (5:5ff.). Overall, Part 2 contains the origin of Paul’s thesis, which is based on several Old Testament themes (particularly, creation and covenant).

    Part 3 is much more complex and diverse. Having demonstrated the truthfulness of his thesis, this third main section of Romans finds Paul answering potential objections to his thesis. These objections are raised in the form of an imagined interlocutor. Each of these four questions is a theological and/or logical challenge to his previous theological argument presented in 1:18-5:21. In summary form, these four questions are:
    1) Shall we continue to sin in order to increase grace? (6:1-14)
    2) Shall we continue to sin since Law no longer has authority (6:15-7:6)
    3) Shall we consider the Law to be sin or sinful (7:7-8:39)
    4) Has God abandoned Israel, or Has the Covenant failed? (9:1-11:36)

    Part 4 contains the outcome of Paul’s thesis, based on the theological categories of transformation and righteousness. The emphasis here is one love as the foundation and motivating moral principle of the Christian faith. Near the beginning of this section (12:9) he called for love to always be sincere. This reaches a climax at 13:10 when he refers to love as the fulfillment of Torah. In other words, if God’s love has created them as a community, then they are required to be a community that walks “according to love” (14:15).

    Part 5 contains a brief summary and a postscript, which includes a doxology, his travel plans, his request for the Romans to financially back his plan to bring the Gospel to the western part of the Empire (starting with Spain and moving back East to Rome, most likely), and a benediction. This benediction ends the letter the way it began with the phrase; “to bring about the obedience of faith” (1:5; 16:26).

    Of course, there is a lot that I have skimmed or just plain skipped over. For instance, the richest part of the letter is his answer to objection 3 in Part 3. I outline that portion in the following way:

    Shall we consider Law as sin? NO! (7:7-8:39)
    Adam’s story retold: sin producing death (7:7-13)
    Man’s story retold, part 1: ‘life’ outside of Christ (7:14-25)
    Man’s story retold, part 2: ‘life’ in Christ (8:1-39)
    Life in Christ, part 1 – Life in the Spirit (8:1-17)
    Life in Christ, part 2 – Life in Glory, doxology (8:18-39)

    Similarly, his response to the fourth potential objection also is structured in three parts:

    Has God Abandoned Israel, or has the Covenant failed? NO! (9:1-11:36)
    Part 1: God’s actions in the past (9:1-29)
    Part 2: God’s actions in the present (9:30-11:6)
    Part 3: God’s actions in the future; doxology (11:7-36)

    The importance of Paul’s doxology at the end of chapter 11, containing quotations from Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11, should not be underestimated. It is inspired by everything for which he has argued throughout the letter so far. As such, it is nothing less than Paul’s final definitive response to the questions of whether God has abandoned Israel and if his covenant with them has failed, and it immediately leads to Paul’s call for believers to present themselves as living sacrifices made possible by God’s merciful actions (12:1-2; cf. 1:16-17; 3:21; 4:25; 5:9-11; 6:22-23; 7:6; 8:31; 11:22; 11:31-32).

    Hope this adds to the discussion. If so, great. If not, ignore.

    Grace & peace,
    - David


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