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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

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Romans

Carolyn Osiek

Before Beginning…

The placement of Romans at the beginning of the New Testament letters is appropriate not only because it is the longest of Paul's letters but also because it may very well be his most important work. Romans has always held a special place among Paul's writings. Especially since the time of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the importance of the doctrine of “justification by faith,” which Paul develops in Romans (and, in a more succinct version, in Galatians) has been recognized by Catholics and Protestants alike as one of the most significant teachings of Paul and, in fact, of Christianity.

Paul and the Roman Christians

The Roman Christian community must have been fairly large by the time of Paul's arrival there. It is estimated that the Jewish community of Rome in the early first century numbered 50,000. Among Christians, it seems from Paul's letter that there were both Jews and Gentiles. Some of the information given in chapter 16 indicates quite a few house churches. Of course, Paul did not intend to arrive in Rome as a prisoner but as a free missionary. Yet according to the account in Acts, he arrived not the way he intended, but rather under arrest.

Several unique characteristics of Romans distinguish this letter from the other writings of Paul. In this letter, Paul addresses a church he has not founded. He writes to introduce himself and his gospel and to seek the Roman community's acceptance and help. Before fulfilling his desire to come to Rome on the way to Spain (cf. Rom 15, 22–33 ), Paul must first deliver the collection of money from the Gentile churches for the “poor among the holy ones in Jerusalem” ( 15, 26 ), who have been suffering from a famine. When these funds are delivered, his sights will be set for Rome.

So it is that both the Jewish mission field represented by the church in Jerusalem and the open‐ended Gentile mission represented by Rome and Spain are on Paul's mind as he writes this letter. Paul is concerned about unity among Christians. Although he has not founded the Roman church, he refers to the common faith he shares with believers there. He stresses the common fund of teaching from which both he and they draw. The issues of community in faith and of reconciliation permeate all of Romans and contribute to its perennial appeal to believers of every age.

Except for chapter 16 , which may have been added later (cf. below, our commentary on this chapter, and the notes of the NAB), Romans lacks the personal tone characteristic of most of Paul's letters. Some manuscripts omit the words “in Rome” in 1, 7 and 15 . Without this designation and the greetings of chapter 16 , Romans might be considered as a circular letter, a general development of Paul's most basic theological ideas. In Romans, Paul expounds upon universal salvation, upon the notion of justification by faith, and on the relationship between Israel and the church as transformed by Christ. These are some of the most important and generally ap‐ plicable aspects of all of Paul's theology. The general nature and universal applicability of Romans contribute to its wide appeal as an introduction to Paul.

Romans as “Diatribe”

More than any other Pauline writing, Romans is like a formal treatise, a summary of Paul's theology that serves both as a self‐introduction to a community not yet personally acquainted with Paul and as a summary for the message Paul preaches. Even though Romans has the formal features of an epistle, it can also be understood as a philosophical diatribe, a written exposé that tries to anticipate real or supposed objections or rebuttal. The diatribe, used by some ancient philosophers in teaching and writing, often interjected traces of dialogue in order to answer questions expected of opponents. For example, Paul brings his arguments forward by interspersing throughout Romans such rhetorical questions as “What advantage is there then in being a Jew?” ( 3, 1 ) or “Well, then, are we better off?” ( 3, 9 ) or “What then can we say that Abraham found, our ancestor according to the flesh?” ( 4, 1 ). Thus, in comparison to Paul's other works, Romans is structured more as a philosophical treatise. Most of the other letters reflect more the give and take of real dialogue among people actually working and interacting together.

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