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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.

Reading through Romans

The Address ( 1, 1–15 )

The address typically includes greetings and a thanksgiving. The greeting of Romans, identifying the sender, Paul, and his addressees, is an elaboration of the standard form of Greco‐Roman letters (see note 1, 1–7, p. 1494 , and “Letters and Epistles,” RG 440 ). Here and in some other letters, notably Philippians, Paul has woven this brief feature into an extended prayer. In no other authentic Pauline letter besides Romans does Paul write in his name alone. He usually has with him some co‐worker known to the recipients. In chapter 16 , this is certainly the case. But even in Romans, Paul is not entirely independent. He needs the Romans' acceptance. He is grateful for their perseverance, and he looks forward to being strengthened by them through their common faith ( 1, 11 ). Paul says that although he is personally unknown to the Romans, the gospel or Christian message he preaches is the same as that which they have received from other Christian missionaries.

Although Paul usually refers to his addressees as “the church in ————,” he does not use the term “church” in the address of Romans. But he does remind the Roman Christians of their vocation to holiness. In developing a Christian terminology in the Greek language, Paul will consistently draw upon images and phrases that appear in the Hebrew Scriptures. An example is Paul's description of the believing community as holy, as saints, called and sanctified by God (for instance, 1 Cor 1, 2 ). Israel is a “kingdom of priests, a holy nation,” according to Exodus 19, 6 . The Law sets Israel apart, making it distinct from its neighbors because it has a covenant relationship with God. This holiness has nothing to do with the virtue of the members but arises from the fact of God's call. Their personal holiness is then a response to that call.

The Body of the Letter ( 1, 16–15, 13 )

The Theme ( 1, 16–17 )

Romans 1, 16–17 states the theme. In the chapters that follow, the gospel is described as the power of God for universal salvation. This theme is developed in both its positive and negative implications. Positively, Paul insists that faith is accessible to all through Christ. But Paul also realizes some negative implications, even of his belief that all are saved in Christ. For example, it is clear that all have sinned and are in need of salvation. The emphasis on universal sinfulness deserving of God's wrath is the negative pole of the theme of Romans. There is no human means of achieving salvation for ourselves; it must be given.

Note that for Paul the starting point is not that all have sinned but rather that all have been saved. This is the conviction of faith. Paul considers sin to be an illustration of the universal need for salvation. This explains why Paul's hope, eloquently expressed especially in chapters 5, 8, and 15 , is so deep and certain. No human sin is sufficient to separate us from the love of God that saves us.

Paul's Fundamental Conviction

The Greek words that we translate “just,” “justice,” “justify,” and “righteousness” are all derived from the same root word, dikaios (just), dikaiosyn (justice, righteousness, or justification). Even more important, for Paul the concepts are closely linked. He connects the justice of God with God's power and will to “justify” all people, that is, to regard them as just.

The Scriptures show that God's justice is revealed, that is, it cannot be completely attained through human effort or study. Isaiah reminds us that God's thoughts are not human thoughts, and God's ways not our ways (see Is 55, 7–8 ). Yet the Scriptures also tell us that we are to be just, that we must act in imitation of God, that we are to walk blamelessly before God and be perfect (see Gn 17, 1; Hos 6, 6 ). Thus, justice is not completely foreign to us. The God‐fearing Israelite seeks to act justly, that is, in ways that are acceptable to God and in accord with God's covenant. These ways are also revealed through the Jewish Torah (“instruction”) or Law. The Torah was handed down from Moses and interpreted throughout the history of the Jewish people, who reverenced it as the revealed will of God. So, for example, Abraham in Genesis (Gn 15, 6 ) and Joseph in the infancy narrative (Mt 1, 19 ) are described as “righteous” (dikaios) men.

It is not that acting justly or keeping the Law earns salvation or God's approval, but rather the opposite. The covenant is God's gift to Israel. Israel's response is to keep the Law. The Jewish person seeking justice is enjoined to study and to follow the Torah or the instruction of God. In the covenant is the hope of being justified, that is, “made just” in God's sight. Thus, for the Old Testament as for Paul, the related terms “justice,” “just,” and “justified” all originate in God, who reveals how we are to act and judges us accordingly. Although all people are sinners, Jewish theology teaches that we may expect to learn the way of justice through a faithful following of the Law in all things. This is the background for Paul's understanding of justification through Jesus Christ.

There are two main ideas that we must understand if we are to grasp the argument about justification that Paul puts forth in Romans and in some of his other writings. The first is the meaning for him of trying to attain justification or salvation by obeying the Law. (This is dealt with particularly in chapter 3 of his Letter to the Galatians; see the Reading Guide to Galatians.) The second main idea pertains to Paul's explanation of how the Gentiles, or those who do not have the Law, are justified.

First, for Paul, justification through the works of the Law is a false hope for several reasons. The idea that the Law held the key to justification was the position of the Jews who did not become Christians as well as of the Christian‐Jewish group, led by Peter and James, who constituted the majority of the church when Paul began his mission. The theological challenge Paul faces is that his experience of the Risen Christ and his mission to preach that justification is available to all, both Jews who have the Law and the Gentiles who do not, convinced Paul that justification is an act of God, given freely to all who believe. Like his Jewish contemporaries, Paul himself was zealous for the Law (cf. Rom 10, 1–3; Phil 3, 3–7; Gal 1, 11–14 ), but now his experience has taught him that this is not the way to go. Now in his zeal to win people over to the way he is convinced is right, Paul argues that the Law is impossible to keep and can only lead to frustration and self‐righteousness. This caricature of the Law must be understood as rhetorical attempts to persuade Gentiles attracted by Law observance to his point of view.

Second, justification through the Law is insufficient because it excludes the Gentiles, who, as Paul has described the situation in Romans 1, 18–3, 31 , are in the same sinful predicament as the Jews. But both Abraham and Christ show that the Gentiles, no less than the Jews, are now justified through faith. According to the Law, Jesus was condemned to death. But God overturned the Law's verdict in raising Jesus to life (see Gal 3, 10–14 ). Thus, for Paul, the Law has been superseded by the death and resurrection of Jesus. As a consequence of this, the Gentiles are now included among the justified. By accepting Jesus' gift of justification, and consequently living in accord with God's will, Jews and Gentiles both are saved. Following the just requirements of the Law or the precepts of the church is not a prerequisite for but a result of being justified.

Paul understands justification as already having taken place through the death and resurrection of Christ. Salvation is in the future, promised to those who believe in Christ and live according to this belief. As Paul himself says it, “Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Rom 5, 10 ).

We must also comprehend Paul's idea of faith in order to understand the argument of Romans. It may seem that he is simply replacing one human action, obedience to the Law, with another human action, faith in Jesus Christ. But for Paul faith is trust: the belief that it is God's power, not our own, and our reliance on God, not on our own abilities, that saves us. Paul saw the obvious danger for sinful people: the danger that they would continue in their wrong behavior and so close themselves off from God forever. But Paul also saw the danger for those people who seemed moral and upright: the danger that they would believe God was forced to save them because they had earned their way into God's love.

For Paul, this thinking is a fatal mistake. It assumes that we can manipulate God by our actions. Paul breaks through this misunderstanding by his assertion of the necessity of faith. Faith is our acknowledgment that it is God's power that saves us, not our own efforts; that we are helpless, in that we are all sinners; and that we can trust in God.

We should note that Paul begins with the affirmation of faith in God's work of salvation to which all have access in Christ. He does not start with the premise of defeat nor emphasize that each person must individually become convicted of sin. Rather, Paul stresses first the goodness and power of God to save, and then tries to demonstrate the universal need for salvation to be given.

Paul uses terms such as “redeem” and “justify” and “reconcile” in relationship to one another and sometimes almost interchangeably (see Rom 5, 9–11 and discussion on that passage below). These terms originally belonged to the world of finance; for Paul they appropriately illustrate the economy of salvation. The “debit” columns of sin and guilt and punishment are converted by God into the “credit” columns of forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation. Through faith we are reconciled to God and to one another. We are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and our sins are forgiven.

Paul came to believe that the revelation of the Law was fulfilled and superseded by the death‐resurrection of Christ. In Romans, Paul will develop a dichotomy between what was “formerly” and what is “now.” For Paul, God's justice is only fully revealed in Jesus. The emphasis on “now” also implies an emphasis on the accessibility of God's justice to all through faith. The Law (or Torah) formerly divided humanity into “Jews and Gentiles,” the latter not sharing in the promise represented by the Law. This division is overcome, and all now have equal access to God's revelation of justice expressed in Christ.

The Common Predicament of Gentiles and Jews ( 1, 18–3, 20 )

Having stated his conviction that the gospel is God's power to save all people through faith ( 1, 1–16f ), Paul proceeds to demonstrate the need of all for salvation. Universal sin illustrates this need. Paul shows that “all,” both Gentiles and Jews, have sinned and incurred the wrath of God. The “wrath of God” is being revealed in that the Gentiles are experiencing disastrous consequences of their own behavior (Rom 1, 18–32 ). The wrath of God is an image borrowed from the Old Testament prophets (see Is 9, 8–12; 10, 5; Jer 50, 11–17; Ez 5, 13; 36, 5–6 ). It depicts God's rejection or “abandonment” (Rom 1, 24.26.28 ) of people to their own sin. The story of Saul's disobedience to God in 1 Samuel 15 dramatizes this dynamic: from the moment when God no longer accepts Saul's kingship, Saul's downfall is certain.

Although the Gentiles could know God through creation, the evidence of their godless lives means that they have rejected knowledge of God. Belief in God is no mere intellectual affair but involves a conversion to “the living and true God” (see 1 Thes 1, 9 ) expressed in a virtuous life. Paul adopts the Old Testament notion of the relationship between idolatry and immorality evident among the pagans. (But see the NAB note on 1, 18–32 that cautions that the lives of many in the Greco‐Roman culture could serve as models for Christians today.) Paul speaks in generalities here, trying first to indict the Gentiles ( 1, 18–31 ) and later (in 2, 1–3, 9 ) the Jews, in an effort to show the effects of universal sin and the need of all humanity for God's salvation.

Central Declaration of Justification by Faith ( 3, 21–31 )

Paul summarizes his previous demonstration of universal sinfulness ( 3, 23 ) but prefaces it with the way out, accomplished by God through Christ, then makes the central assertion: we are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law ( 3, 28 ). He emphasizes that God's just judgment comes upon all people, for God shows no partiality ( 2, 11; see also Dt 10, 17; 2 Chr 19, 7; Sir 35, 12f; Acts 10, 34; Gal 2, 6; Eph 6, 9; Col 3, 2.5; 1 Pt 1, 17 ). Having indicated that the Gentiles are sinners, Paul turns to concentrate throughout Rom 2, 1–3, 20 on the Jews. Here Paul adopts the language of the prophets, who not only charged sinfulness to the pagans but also accused the Jews of having “a stubborn and impenitent heart.”

Abraham, Model of Faith ( 4, 1–25 )

For Paul, Abraham is a type of Christ; that is, Abraham follows the pattern of Christ. Adam and Moses, on the other hand, are antitypes‐ reverse patterns. For Jews, circumcision, the ritual removal of the foreskin of the penis of infant boys, symbolizes the individual's membership in the people of God, and therefore the individual's acceptance of God's law and teaching. Since Abraham was justified before his circumcision, he was justified independently of the Law. Therefore Abraham is the ancestor of both Jews and Gentiles. Abraham's example illustrates the theme of Romans: all have access now to salvation through faith. (For further discussion of the image of Abraham for Paul, see the Reading Guide to Galatians.)

The Two Adams ( 5, 1–21 )

In chapter 5 Paul contrasts Christ's saving actions (that is, his death and resurrection) with the devastating consequences of the sin of the first Adam. By the time of Paul, it was generally understood that the first human beings were created immortal (Wis 2, 23f ) but that their sin brought death into the world. Subsequent generations continue the sentence of death by continuing to sin (Rom 5, 12 ). Adam represents all people under sin with its curse of death. But Adam is also a figure drawing out God's promise of redemption. The writer of Genesis portrays the situation of Adam as obviously in need of some divine action: even before the curse for sin is pronounced in Genesis 3, 16–19 , God promises to save the human family in the end (Gn 3, 15 ). The early church Fathers, above all Augustine, used these passages, especially Romans 5, 12 , as a basis for description of the devastating effects of original sin, although Paul does not use this terminology. Rather, he argues that if the first sin had such widespread effects that since Adam all people have been under its influence, how much more effective and powerful is the gift of salvation won through Jesus Christ. That gift is called grace, which brings eternal life ( 5, 21 ). The mode of argument here is a familiar rhetorical construction: from lesser to greater. If so much damage was caused by the first human being, Adam, how much greater is the grace and redemption won by the ultimate human being, Christ.

Paul insists that Christ's death and resurrection have affected all of human history. His argument is basically this: if the sin of Adam was so far reaching, how much more encompassing is the gift of God in Christ for all. Paul's thinking is at the basis of the church's ecstatic thanksgiving, “O happy fault that has merited so great a redeemer!” The Roman liturgy recalls this prayer during the Easter Vigil each year in the recitation of the Exsultet.

Salvation is a reality that Paul describes here and elsewhere (see 1 Cor 6, 11; 2 Cor 5, 10–15; 10, 5–10 ), using multiple terms like reconciliation, redemption, justification, and sanctification. The verb “to save” refers to God's intervening action when human beings are in need. It connotes actual, sometimes physical, rescue as well as deliverance in spiritual distress. The Old Testament often refers to God as “Savior.” Reference to God's saving action is one of the Bible's most frequent ways of referring to God, appearing literally hundreds of times. In the New Testament this term is often used in connection with Jesus. The disciples, for example, prayed “Lord, save us” (for example, Mt 8, 25 ). Paul assumes we are familiar with the long Old Testament tradition of God's saving actions on behalf of people. But Paul, in relating God's action to the death and resurrection of Christ, gives a new emphasis in the theology of salvation or “soteriology.” Many scholars point out that all of Paul's Christology or thinking about Christ is really a soteriology or doctrine of how God saves through Christ.

A Preliminary “Imperative” ( 6, 1–23 )

Paul's view of humankind, that is, his theological anthropology, is evident in this chapter. He considers all people to be under some dominant influence, living either for God under grace or living for sin. This is a different perspective from our contemporary one that considers human freedom as an autonomous, absolute ideal. For Paul, freedom is related to life for God ( 6, 10 ) in contrast with slavery to sin ( 6, 6 ). By means of the opposites of death and life, Paul contrasts the former condition of sin and death to the new life of freedom won by Christ and obtained by the believer through baptism.

The term baptism means “immersion,” and Paul plays on this original sense even as he has the initiatory rite in view. He coins several expressions in chapter 6 , compounding verbs with the prefix syn‐(meaning “with”) that signify believers' solidarity with Christ. We have “died with” him and are “buried with” him; therefore we will be “raised with” him and now “live with” him. This incorporation into the death‐resurrection of Christ by means of baptism necessarily has implications for the moral life. As a result of this incorporation, we “walk” (a term designating moral living) in the newness of life ( 6, 4 ). Paul will postpone a fuller discussion of the implications of this “newness of life” until chapters 12 through 15 .

Life without the Spirit ( 7, 1–25 )

The major part of chapter 7 follows the style of a diatribe (see the NAB notes on chapter 7 and RG 441 ). Paul anticipates the objections of real or imaginary opponents in a kind of dialogue designed to present his own ideas in an orderly fashion. The most important aspects of Paul's argument are three. First, the Christian views the Law differently now, having been freed from its service (Paul says “bondage”) by participation in the death of Christ. Second, the function of the Law is to specify what is sinful. Thus the Law did not encourage grace or freedom but only identified sin. Third, anticipating an objection that the Law is therefore sin, Paul responds emphatically, “No!” Yet knowledge of what is good does not enable us to do what is good. The Law is one more factor, then, in the judgment against humanity, convicting all of sin. The Law concurs with human conscience, judging us as sinners. This is the meaning of the expression, “the good that I want to do I avoid and the evil I wish to avoid I do” (see 7, 19–21 ). But it is important to realize that his statements about this unhappy predicament are rhetorical, not autobiographical. They are not expressions of his personal conscience but of the situation of humanity without God.

Life in the Spirit ( 8, 1–39 )

Chapter 8 celebrates the message of salvation. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” ( 8, 1 ). “[Nothing can] separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” ( 8, 38f ). Nowhere is Paul's understanding of the role of the Spirit more eloquently expressed than here. Paul begins chapter 8 with a consideration of the opposition between the flesh and the spirit. He often tries to illustrate his meaning by opposing two poles of thought. This is a way of showing the mutually exclusive categories of sin and death versus grace and life. Paul adapts the Greek notion of the flesh in order to express the sinful condition of humanity before grace. In the Greek philosophical tradition, flesh, like spirit, had several connotations. The flesh means, of course, that which pertains to the body. But it can also mean the inferior aspect of human existence, whatever in human life is weak or limited. For the Greeks, the flesh referred to what they regarded as baser desires, which for them included sensual and sexual instincts. The flesh is mortal and must be controlled by the spirit (that is, the mind and will), which in Greek thought is immortal. Paul adapts this notion to sometimes speak of the flesh as the moral equivalent of sin. For Paul, however, sins of the flesh include not just bodily sins, such as gluttony, but also spiritual sins, such as pride. Drawing on the same tradition, Paul uses the term spirit to refer to the new life accessible to all through Christ. In stressing the life of the spirit, Paul contrasts the present salvation with the past that was characterized by sin, death, and slavery to the dictates of the flesh.

The Holy Spirit is an advocate, coming to our aid and strengthening us. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we formerly could only groan in the suffering and weakness caused by sin. The Spirit converts our incoherent cries into a prayer that recognizes God as Father and ourselves as children of God. Thus through the Spirit we are liberated from slavery to sin and enabled to pray as the children of God, saying Abba ( 8, 15 ). From Paul's use of this prayer, we can assume that he is indirectly referring to the Gospel tradition that tells us that Jesus himself addressed God as “Abba, Father” (Mk 14, 36 ). We are confident, too, that the suffering we experience and witness is as nothing compared to the glory that is to come. All creation shared in the sin of Adam and groans with humanity in its suffering. Now all creation awaits the revelation of the children of God ( 8, 20–25 ).

At the end of chapter 8 , Paul exclaims that nothing can separate us from the love of God. But he goes on to acknowledge in chapters 9 through 11 that the Jewish rejection of the Christian message is a challenge to this belief. Some may say that now God has run out of patience with Israel. But if Israel's rejection of Christ limits God's fidelity to the covenant and God's justice, what does that mean not only for Israel but for the Christian church, which is adopting the prerogatives of Israel? Has God had a change of mind? These are some of the questions Paul puzzles out in these chapters in a remarkable review of the history of salvation.

But What of Israel? ( 9, 1–11, 36 )

The form of this three‐chapter unit is a philosophical diatribe. Paul responds to anticipated questions or challenges in the form of an artificial dialogue. In the course of developing his views, he makes abundant use of the Old Testament. Before dealing with some ethical conclusions to the doctrines in chapters 12 through 15 , Paul senses the necessity of taking up this personally painful question about God's fidelity to the Jews. Israel's rejection of Christ was clearly a problem not only for Paul but also for the early church. Paul's consideration of this question properly belongs with the doctrinal development of Romans.

Paul's summary of the privileges of Israel in Romans 9, 1–5 prompts him to redefine the term Israel in chapters 9 through 11 . Israel is not a mere ethnic or historical reality, but one that always had theological connotations. The Jewish Scriptures show, Paul argued, that “not all who are of Israel are Israel” ( 9, 6 ). The element of divine choice was operating throughout Jewish history, illustrating that God is free to show mercy as God wishes. Not all are children of Abraham simply because they descended from him, as the preference for Isaac over Ishmael shows (see 9, 7–9; Gal 4, 22–31 ). God chose Jacob over Esau (Rom 9, 10–13 ). God hardens some, as in the case of Pharaoh; but divine mercy is shown to Moses and the Hebrews in Egypt ( 9, 15–17 ). Paul also cites examples from the prophets, especially Jeremiah, Hosea, and Isaiah to support God's freedom to choose. For Paul, God's mercy is God's justice. Paul carefully builds his arguments to show how God is now including the Gentiles among the new “Israel of God” (Gal 6, 16 ).

Paul begins chapter 10 , as he had chapter 9 , with a defense of his kinspeople. He testifies to Jewish zeal in pursuit of the Law as he himself was zealous for the Law prior to his faith in Christ (see Gal 1, 14 ). But as “end of the law” (Rom 10, 4 ), Christ brings justification for all who believe. Thus Christ renders the Law useless and eliminates the differences between Jew and Gentile. To support his assertion that Christ is the end of the Law, Paul develops an explanation of Scripture in the style of a Jewish midrash or “running commentary.” Paul applies the Old Testament to Christ and so gives an example of how the “law and the prophets testify” to the righteousness given by God in Christ (cf. Rom 3, 2ff ). Paul argued that there is only one God of Jews and Gentiles in Romans 3, 21–31 . Similarly, here in chapter 10 , Paul says that there is only one Lord over all and accessible to all who call upon him. That Lord is Christ. Near the end of the, in chapter 10, 14–21 , Paul echoes the traditional prophetic denunciation of Israel who alone is responsible for her infidelity. But God continues to reach out to a “disobedient people” ( 10, 21 ).

God's fidelity, proven in the past and present (chapters 9 and 10 ) will ultimately be for the salvation of “all Israel” in the future (Rom 11 ). God has not finally abandoned Israel since a remnant remains faithful to God as a sign of the ultimate salvation of “all Israel” (Rom 11, 26 ). Paul cautions the Gentiles, included by the action of Christ into “all Israel,” to remember that it is only by grace that they are saved. This is a mystery revealing God's infinite mercy. The power of God is the divine compassion by which all are enfolded into the salvation of “all Israel.”

The Final “Imperative” ( 12, 1–15, 13 )

Paul's ethical conclusions apply his teaching, and form the “imperative” or “parenetic,” exhortatory part of the letter. This can be subdivided into consideration of the church and the world ( 12, 1–13, 14 ) and a call for reconciliation and unity ( 14, 1–15, 13 ). Romans 12, 1–2 has been called the heart of Pauline ethics. Here Christians, who do not yet have a sacrificial ritual like most of their neighbors in their temples and like the Jews in Jerusalem, learn that their lives are their living sacrifice, purifying them to be able to live not in conformity to the world (seen as being in opposition to God), but with transformed understanding. In describing the Christian community, Paul adapts the image of the “body” ( 12, 4–8 ), a popular image used by Stoic philosophers to illustrate the interdependence of members in a state. Older Catholics may be familiar with this image for the church and probably relate it to ideas developed by Pope Pius XII in an encyclical titled “The Mystical Body” (Mystici Corporis). This encyclical stressed the various ways members of the Christian community, both now and in past ages, are related to one another. We can also note that Paul develops the image to stress the very real mutual dependency of Christians who should not think of themselves “more highly than one ought to think” ( 12, 3 ) but as “one body” ( 12, 4 ) having many parts. The image of the body provides the transition between the liturgical language that describes Christians' behavior as “spiritual worship” ( 12, 1 ), and the obligations of the mutual love that is to be characteristic of Christians.

Romans 13, 1–7 takes up the question of the Christian community's relation to civil government. We must remember that Paul is speaking to a minority community within an alien state. At first glance his advice appears simplistic. Paul says that all authority is ordained by God and has its origin in God. Christians in Paul's time were trying simply to survive. Society expected citizens to follow the religion of the state. Paul instructs Christians to be good citizens while not being conformed to the standards of the world around them. Then, having spoken about giving society its due, Paul considers the question of the debt believers owe one another: love is the fulfillment of the law. Apparently Paul is acquainted with the love command of Jesus (see Rom 13, 8–10 ). He reviews the commandments from adultery to covetousness, repeating finally in verse 10 what he stated in verse 8: “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Divisions over Observances and the Call to Unity ( 14, 1–15, 13 )

Paul frequently enjoins his addressees to be of one and the same mind (for example, Phil 2, 1–4 ). Yet disputes over ethical issues threaten the unity that should characterize the Christian church. The Roman Christians disagree over dietary matters and the observance of certain feast days. In a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile Christians, such questions could not help but arise.

Referring to the different sides of this debate, Paul speaks of those with “weak” and those with “strong” faith. His emphasis is not so much on the opinions or positions of individual believers but on the common attitudes to be cultivated among believers. He refers to the faith of the community and of members' responsibility to be united with the faith of the whole body.

Paul exhorts the Christians to a fundamental harmony that is expressed in mutual respect and concern for one another. Paul reminds the Roman Christians, many of whom are Jewish, that the Scriptures are written for our instruction and encouragement. The term encouragement is linked to the hope that abounds in the community “by the power of the holy Spirit” ( 15, 13 ). Hope, joy, and peace are linked to belief. Faith is a confession about the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection (see Rom 10, 9 ). But it is also, according to 15, 7–13 , acceptance of other members of the Christian community.

Conclusion ( 15, 14–16, 27 )

Paul reminds the Romans again, as he did at the beginning of his letter, about their common faith and his confidence in them. In 15, 14–33 the apostle speaks of his need for their hospitality soon; he requests prayers as he embarks on his mission to Jerusalem to take the collection there. Although Paul is personally unacquainted with the Romans, he has written “boldly” because he is a “minister” of Jesus Christ. He describes his ministry in liturgical language, as a “priestly” (leitourgos) duty ( 15, 16 ). Paul is of course not referring to a sacramental priesthood, since Christians have not yet developed a theology of sacrificial cult, but to his mission to preach the Christian message to the Gentiles. He uses language common to the Jerusalem Temple priesthood and to other religious worship of the day.

Paul reports that his immediate plans include a visit to Rome in passing on the way to Spain, after taking the collection to Jerusalem. He understands the collection as a symbol linking Jews and Gentiles, the fulfillment of a responsibility he accepted at the Jerusalem council (Gal 2, 10 ). There is yet only the unfinished matter of taking the offering from the Gentiles to Jerusalem. This material gift represents a debt owed the Jews whose spiritual heritage is now shared by the Gentiles. The term debt occurred in Romans 13, 8–10 where Paul described love as the only legitimate debt a believer can incur. Since spiritual blessings are much greater than material things, the Gentiles owe these lesser goods to the Jews as a consequence of their inheriting Israel's spiritual blessings now through Jesus Christ. Common faith makes kin of Jews and Gentiles and links both in mutual responsibility. Paul's strategy, then, is twofold: to ensure that the offering is sizable and that it is accepted as symbolic of the true faith and equal status of the Gentile Christians. If the Jewish Christians accept the gift, they are thereby accepting the mission to the Gentiles.

Chapter 16 consists mostly of greetings to and from various people known to Paul. It is possible that it was originally part of a letter intended for Ephesus, and was for some reason later added to the preceding fifteen chapters of Romans. This chapter seems almost like an afterthought, and further examination suggests it even contains some discrepancies to material stated or implied in the first fifteen chapters. Paul commends Phoebe, bearer of the letter to the Romans, speaking of her as diakonos (the only named person in the New Testament who is a “deacon” of a particular church) and prostatis, that is, his patron and benefactor. Then he greets numerous people as if he is well known to them and as if he and the Romans have a number of mutual acquaintances. Until now the apostle has maintained a certain distance from the Roman Christians, insinuating that his introduction to himself and to his gospel could serve in lieu of the personal contact he usually has with communities he has founded. But if Paul knows as many Romans as this chapter indicates, the uncharacteristically general and impersonal tone of chapters 1 through 15 of the letter is strange. The note on 16, 1–23 draws attention to the mixture of Jewish and Gentile names, representative of the mixed background of the Roman community. Much valuable social information about acquaintances and collaborators of Paul, both male and female, whether in Ephesus or Rome, is contained in these verses.

The placement and originality of the final doxology or blessing is debated (see note). But its appropriateness at the end of this epistle is undisputed. The doxology echoes several themes developed in the course of the letter. Paul speaks of “my gospel” (see 1, 16–17 ), the mystery kept secret for long ages ( 11, 25–32 ), manifested through prophetic writings (numerous allusions to the Old Testament throughout this epistle), and to the obedience of faith (see 1, 5; 15, 28 ). Paul has pronounced a blessing at various points throughout his development ( 7, 24; 8, 35–39; 11, 33–36 ), as if carried away by the abundance of God's wisdom and mercy. This reflects the Jewish custom of celebrating the wonders of God with praise. Nowhere is the doxology more fitting than after Paul has reviewed the fundamentals of his gospel, with emphasis on the universality of redemption and the imminence of God's victory over all evil in the triumph of Jesus Christ.

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