The letter to the Romans was written by the Apostle Paul while he was in Corinth shortly before his departure to Jerusalem in early 56, 57 or 58 AD. Unfortunately, it is just about impossible to tie down an exact year, but it would have been one of these. His recipients were the believers in Rome, both of Gentile and Jewish background as you will see as we go through the book.
Paul gives us some insight into what occasioned his letter in chapters 1 and 15. It seems that he was about to leave Corinth and go to Jerusalem with the offering they had collected for the needs within the church in Jerusalem, and he asks the Roman Christians to pray for his journey since he was very much aware that his enemies in Jerusalem were interested in killing him. He also wasn’t entirely sure how the offering from gentile Corinth would be received by the Jewish Christians, as there was still a great deal of mistrust and confusion between the two groups, especially related to the role that the Law should play within the church. As you will discover, there is a great deal of discussion on this subject in the letter itself.
It is also clear, as we shall see, that Paul believed at that time that his work was about finished in the Eastern Mediterranean area, and he was already planning to venture to the western Mediterranean after his mission in Jerusalem was accomplished. In all likelihood, Paul would travel from Spain to Rome on this next journey.
Paul’s purpose for writing the letter to Rome isn’t as easy to discern as with most of his letters. Certainly he wanted to give clear instruction about the Gospel, and he also wanted to provide instruction about the role of the Law, and teach about the two covenants (Law of Moses and New Covenant) and how they relate to each other. It is also clear that he desired to teach unity within the church between Jew and Gentile: For these reasons, the letter to the Romans is a doctrinal essay. (Now dear reader, don’t be turned off by “doctrinal” here, for that simply means “teaching.” )
As we consider these things, another interesting point concerning Paul’s purpose begins to emerge: Paul is sending this letter to Rome, but his audience is far greater than that, for this letter is really written to all believers in all times; it is just as relevant today as it was when it was read for the first time. Today it is beloved by millions, a comfort and an encouragement, yet our loudest doctrinal arguments swirl through its pages. Even though there may be a controversy or two, and even though there are a few passages that are rather deep, and yes, even though Paul’s writing style can be a little hard to follow, I am confident that we can study this book together and come away with a clear understanding of it without raising our voices about this or that teaching by simply keeping the context straight.
In any event, it will surely be a fun adventure, so grab a chair and a cup of coffee, and we’ll set out when we get together next time!