Ancient letters began with the names of sender and recipient and a short greeting (see Acts 23.26
). Paul's expansion of this form reflects the liturgical context in which his letter would be read.
A servant … called … set apart, the characteristic marks of Israel's prophets (Jer 1.5; Am 7.14
). Apostle, lit. one “sent forth,” i.e., by God (Isa 6.8; Jer 1.7; Ezek 2.3–4
De scended from David, messiah in David's royal lineage.
The spirit of holiness, God's Spirit (see 8.2n.
). The corresponding Heb phrase is translated “holy spirit” in Ps 51.11; Isa 63.10–11 (cf. 1QS 4.21; 8.16; 9.3; 1QH 7.6–7; 9.32
Despite greetings to Jews among his audience (
), Paul addresses the Roman Christians as Gentiles (
Saints, lit. “holy ones.”
Ancient letters continued with a prayer of thanksgiving. Paul's thanksgivings signal important themes in his letters. He describes
his obligation to proclaim the gospel to the Romans as priestly service (v. 9; see 15.16,25
), grounded in the revelation of God's righteousness (vv. 16–17
By God's will … prevented, apostolic obligations have delayed Paul's visiting the Romans (
Share … reap some harvest, Paul seeks an active response from the Romans (
). Strengthen … encouraged,
1 Thess 3.2
. Polite circumspection dominates here and at
To Greeks and … barbarians, Paul describes the world as Roman orators saw it, divided into more or less civilized peoples (cf. 1.16n
). To you also, the Romans stand within Paul's obligation as apostle to the Gentiles (
Often taken as the “theme” of the letter, these verses explain Paul's eagerness to proclaim the gospel (v. 15
) to the Romans.
I am not ashamed, a confession of faith (cf. 4 Macc 5.34–38; 6.20; 9.2
). Paul's “boast” in God's power is a recurrent theme in the letter (
5.1–4,11; 15.17; cf. 1 Thess 1.5; 1 Cor 2.4
). The gospel, “euangelion,” in nonbiblical Greek, celebrated the triumph of a ruler; Paul announces God's triumph. Salvation is the result
of the lifegiving and rightmaking power of God (see 4.17; 5.11,12–21; 6.1–14; 8.1–4,10–11,21–25; 11.15,23; 15.18–19
). To the Jew first,
2.9–10; 3.1–2; 9.4
. And also to the Greek, Paul now describes the world from a Jewish point of view (cf. 1.14
The righteousness of God, or “justice” (as at 3.5
). God's character as righteous, being revealed as God brings human beings into right relationship (see 3.21–26
), is a sign of the last days (see 13.11–12
). God's vindication before the nations is in view (Ps 98.2; Isa 51.5
). Through faith, i.e., God's faithfulness (as at 3.3
). For faith, God's faithfulness elicits human trust. The one who … by faith,
. Like other Jews, Paul may have read the citation as a messianic prophecy: The Righteous One, the messiah (Acts 3.14; 7.52; 22.14
), will live on the basis of faithfulness (see 3.22n.
Paul argues in
that God's justice allows no impunity for any who willfully do wrong.
The wrath of God,
. God's righteousness (
) requires that God no longer pass over sins with forbearance (see 3.25
). Wickedness, lit. “injustice.”
Idolatry is an attempt to deny awareness of God, thus evading accountability for one's actions. Its opposite is the “spiritual
worship” offered by renewed minds (
2.1; 3.19; compare Wis 13.1–9
Images, idolatry was condemned by the Torah (Ex 20.4–6
) and ridiculed by the prophets (Isa 40.18–20; 42.17; 45.16,20; Jer 10.1–16
). Like other Jews, Paul attributes the wickedness characteristic of the pagan world to idolatry. A more irenic tone is attributed
to Paul in Acts 17.22–23
Impurity, disordered thinking and behavior, to be left behind in baptism (
God gave them up, in a spiral of depravity, injustice leads mortals to suppress their awareness of truth and turn from God (vv. 18–23
); God abandons them to increasing wickedness (vv. 24–32
). The Creator, who is blessed forever, spontaneous praise to God (
6.17; 7.25; 9.5; 11.33–36; 16.25–27
Degrading passions, while Torah forbids a male “lying with a male as with a woman” (Lev 18.22
), Paul's Jewish contemporaries criticized a range of sexual behaviors common in the pagan world. Although widely read today
as a reference to homosexuality, the language of unnatural intercourse was more often used in Paul's day to denote not the orientation of sexual desire, but its immoderate indulgence,
which was believed to weaken the body (the due penalty).
The spiraling descent into wickedness reaches its nadir in these vices, presented here in list form as elsewhere in the New
Testament (e.g., Gal 5.19–21; 1 Tim 1.9–10; 1 Pet 4.3
) and in Greek and Roman literature. Full of envy, murder, strife, the notorious perversity and brutality of emperors like Gaius (Caligula), or Paul's contemporary, Nero, come readily to mind.
They know God's decree, they cannot plead ignorance as an excuse (see 1.20
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