The Letter to the Romans
Copyright ©2004, Charles Hess, Lakeside, California


Before Paul wrote the Roman epistle, he had never been in Rome (Ro 1:11, 13, 15). Yet he personally greets no less than thirty individuals there with whom he was acquainted (Ro 16:3-15). After he wrote the Roman letter, he intended to go to Jerusalem, to Rome (Ro 15:23-28) and then on to Spain (Ac 19:21). When he wrote the Roman letter he did not mention the fact that he would arrive in Rome in chains. Before he left on the trip he was arrested in Jerusalem. After that he spent time in prisons at Jerusalem and Caesarea. The journey to Rome as a prisoner stopping at different ports, boarding different ships, enduring a shipwreck and spending time on an island, took considerable time.


    1. Julius Caesar, 102-44 BC, great soldier, statesman, orator, author.
    2. Augustus Caesar, 31 BC-AD 14, AKA Gaius Octavius, Jesus born.
    3. Tiberias Caesar, AD 14-37, AKA Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus, Christ crucified (Lu 3:1; 20:22-25).
    4. Caligula, AD 37-41, AKA "Little Boots."
    5. Claudius Caesar, AD 41-54, famine, banished Jews (Ac 11:18; 18:2).


    1. Nero AD 54-68 (Ac 25:10, 11; Php 4:22).
    AKA Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus.
    AKA Nero Claudius Caesar Germanicus.
    [Paul's appeal, fire in Rome AD 64, Paul and Peter executed].
    2. Four emperors, AD 68: Galba, Otho, Vitellius
    plus Vespasian, a rough and tough soldier who
    ruled AD 69-79.
    4. Titus AD 79-81, finished his father Vespasian's Jewish war in AD 70.
    5. Domitian AD 81-96, cruel persecutor.


Rome had a population of over a million people.[ 1 ] Residents included Jews, Greeks, and immigrants from various places and many slaves. Although Claudius once gave the Jews religious freedom,[ 2 ] he later banished them from Rome in AD 49. Priscilla and Aquila were among those who were banished (Ac 18:2). After the ban was relaxed some Jews went back (Ro 16:3).


    1. In house of Prisca and Aquila (Ro 16:3-5).
    2. Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren WHO are with them (Ro 16:14).
    3. Those with Philogogus and Julia, Nereus and
    his sister and Olympas (Ro 16:15).


The Roman letter seems to have been written during Paul's third visit to Corinth. He mentions Gaius his host and city treasurer Erastus (Ro 16:23). If this assumption is correct, the letter was written during the winter of AD 56, plus or minus a year or so.


I have no historical reference of who actually started the church at Rome. "Strangers from Rome, both Jews and proselytes" who went home from Jerusalem may have planted it (see Ac 2:10). Several of Paul's converts in other cities may have relocated in Rome (see Ro 15:23-28). Missionaries may have been sent out from large congregations such as Antioch, Corinth or Ephesus. Some of the Christians Paul addressed in chapter 16 must have preceded him to Rome and had become a strength for the church.


    1. Judaizers. As at Galatia, some were trying to bind OT law on Christians.
    2. Enemies accused Paul of teaching "Let us do evil, that good may come" (Ro 3:8; 6:1).
    3. Some Jewish Christians apparently thought they were better than Gentile Christians
    (Ro 3:9, 29; 15:7-12).
    4. Some "enlightened" Gentiles seemed to scorn any Jew who "does not eat" (Ro 14:3).


The church of Christ in Rome became very large.

In the Catacombs, ten generations of Christians are buried. It is difficult to reach an accurate estimate of the extent of these galleries in the tufa rock,[ 3 ] or of the number of miles of graves they contain.[ 4 ]

The lowest estimate is 350 miles of catacombs, the highest 600. Various writers have estimated the number of burials in them. Approximations in books run from 1,175,000 to 4,000,000. When Jean and I were in a Roman catacomb in 1996, our guide said that 6,000,000 Christians who had been immersed were buried in the six catacombs during the first 300 years of the church. Perhaps one out of four people in Rome was a Christian in the first century.[ 5 ] Though the population of Rome is known to have declined in the third and fourth centuries, the number of Christians must have been between 238,000 and 800,000 or more in each generation.


Most of the Roman Christians in the first century were Gentiles (see Ro 1:6, 13; 11:13). Paul's arguments in chapter 3 suggest that his readers were somewhat familiar with the OT (see also chapters 4, 9, 10, 11). The letter has about 74 quotations from the OT. The reference to Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 has led some to conclude that there were several Jews in the church. Paul used the second person to address Jews in Romans 2:17-24. He also wrote:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God (Ro 3:19).

He also said, "For I speak to those who know the law" (Ro 7:1). His instructions to the strong and weak may allude to Christians of Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.


Roman Christians were known far and wide for their faith (Ro 1:8). Paul praised them highly (Ro 1:9, 10). He desired to visit them personally (Ro 1:11-13). He considered them to be fine Christians who were "full of goodness" (Ro 15:14-16). He requested their prayers (Ro 15:30-32).


Tertius, Paul's amanuensis, wrote in Greek. It is more likely that Greek (not Aramaic or Latin) was the cross-cultural language in the immense, multi-racial church at Rome.


Paul was imprisoned at Jerusalem (Ac 21:11, 33), sent to Caesarea (Ac 23:31-33), appealed to Caesar (Ac 25:11) and sailed for Italy as a prisoner (Ac 27:1-28:14). He entered the prison in Rome about AD 60 (see Ac 25:12; 28:16). Luke and Aristarchus accompanied him.[ 6 ] His prison consisted of his own hired dwelling but he was constantly chained to a guard (Ac 28:30, 31). From the Roman jail he wrote the "prison epistles" of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.


About AD 63, d uring Nero's rational years, Paul was released from Roman prison. He then traveled east to Ephesus (1Ti 1:3) and to Crete (Tit 1:5; 3:12). I like to think he made his intended trip to Spain (see Ro 15:24, 28). He was re-arrested about AD 64 or 65 and tried as a malefactor. He was executed by sword on the Ostian way southwest of Rome about AD 66 or 67. Fairly reliable traditions confirm this.


In the KJV there are five benedictions or doxologies[ 7 ] which some regard as appropriate endings to the letter (Ro 15:13, 33; 16:20, 24, 25-27). In some versions there are only four.[ 8 ] Origen wrote that Marcion the heretic[ 9 ] cut away Romans 14:23 to the end. Some conjecture that someone added verse 24 to manuscripts from which verses 23-27 were missing.


Coordinate themes of the book of Romans are the righteousness of God and salvation by faith. The righteousness of God is revealed in the powerful gospel of Christ through which salvation is made available to sinners (see chart ROMANS OUTLINE). A key verse is:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (Ro 1:16).

In chapter 3, Paul begins to discuss righteousness by faith (see Ro 3:21-5:21). In chapter 4, he supports his point by citing Abraham and his righteousness by faith (see Ro 4:1-25). Then in chapter 5, he contrasts Adam and Christ (Ro 5:1-21). In chapter 6, he discusses righteous living, a practice pretty much rejected by ruling Jews (see Ro 9:1-11:36). He outlines details of virtuous living (Ro 12:1-15:13) and closes his letter with personal matters and greetings (Ro 15:14-16:27; see chart ROMANS OUTLINE).


    1. God's righteousness revealed in the powerful gospel (Ro 1:1-17).
    2. Righteousness not by human effort: Gentiles
    (Ro 1:18-32); God's kindness to morally upright
    (Ro 2:1-16); Jews (Ro 2:17-3:20).
    3. Righteousness by faith (Ro 3:21-5:21).
    4. Righteous living (Ro 6:1-8:39).
    5. Jews spurned righteousness (Ro 9:1-11:36).
    6. Righteous living described (Ro 12:1-15:13).
    7. Personal matters (Ro 15:14-16:27).


[ 1 ]Zondervan 731.
[ 2 ]Josephus, Antiquities 19.5.3.
[ 3 ]Tufa rock is compacted volcanic ash. It is easily chiseled or sawed.
[ 4 ]Zondervan 732.
[ 5 ]According to Gibbon, one out of twenty were Christians.
[ 6 ]Implied by "we" passages (Ac 27:1, 2; also Col 4:10; Phm 24).
[ 7 ]Doxologies are expressions of praise to God.
[ 8 ]The ASV omits Romans 16:24 which is in the Greek Received Text. The NKJV and NASB have it in brackets. The NEB and NIV include it as a footnote. I see no harm to include "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all" since the identical words appear in 1 Thessalonians 5:28 except for the word PANTON all.
[ 9 ]The heretic Marcion flourished AD 138-150.

Copyright ©2004, Charles Hess, Lakeside, California, U.S.A.
This material may be copied for personal study only.
It may not be distributed or published in any form whatever
without the copyright owner's written permission.
This copyright notice must be included on all copies made.

The basic text, and all quotations not designated otherwise, are from the New King James Version, copyrighted ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Bracketed alternatives are drawn from various sources such as the ASV, Darby, KJV and RSV. Greek transliteration follows the BibleSoft method.

Published in The Old Paths Archive (

To the Index