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Romans 1:1-17: The Introduction, Salutation, and Theme of Paul’s Letter to the Romans

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Introduction

Paul’s letter to the Romans is probably the most systematic presentation of the gospel in all of his writings, and indeed in all of the NT. The letter can be broken down into two major sections, namely, doctrine (1:18-11:36) and then application (12:1-15:13). This large body of material is bracketed by an introduction (1:1-17) and a postscript (15:14-16:27). The point of this brief paper is to provide some thoughts on the verses that make up the introduction, 1:1-17.

A Translation of 1:1-7 (The NET Bible)

1:1 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God 1:2 that he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 1:3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with respect to the flesh, 1:4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1:5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. 1:6 You also are among them, called to belong to Jesus Christ. 1:7 To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Comments on 1:1-7

1 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Pau`lo" dou`lo" Cristou` jIhsou` klhtoV" ajpovstolo" ajfwrismevno" eij" eujaggevlion qeou`)

Paul begins his magnificent letter with the longest of his salutations. In 1:1-7 he tells them who he is (1:1), gives them the heart of the gospel (1:2-4), the nature of his mission and ministry (1:5) and addresses the audience he has presumably never met (1:6-7).

In this first verse Paul sets out for his readers three important facts; 1) his master; 2) his office; and 3) his purpose.1 First, Paul considered himself a slave (dou`lo") of Christ Jesus. While it was unthinkable to a cultured Greek that a relationship with a deity would involve the concept of slavery, it was not at all uncommon for a Jew. Undoubtedly the background for the use of the expression “a servant of…” is to be found in the Jewish Old Testament scriptures so that it does not connote drudgery, but honor and privilege. It was used of Israel in general at times (Isa 43:10), but was especially associated with famous OT personalities including such great men as Moses (Joshua 14:7), David (Ps 89:3; cf. 2 Sam 7:5, 8) and Elijah (2 Kings 10:10): all these men were servants of the Lord. Though there is indeed much honor in the use of the expression, for it was an extreme privilege to serve YHWH, it was not Paul’s desire in this context to simply place himself among venerated OT saints, or express his gratitude to be a servant of Christ Jesus (though both are true), but rather to communicate in plain terms his commitment and devotion to the Messiah Jesus. Though there are several reasons for his allegiance to Christ, it is ultimately due to his recognition of who Jesus is. Paul’s insertion of “Christ Jesus” into the OT formula “a servant of YHWH” shows the high view of Jesus that he maintained. He considered Jesus worthy of the same obedience and devotion as YHWH.

Second, Paul was called to be an apostle (ajpovstolo"). With the use of the term apostle, Paul moves from his allegiance to Christ to his authority to speak on Christ’s behalf. It was God who called him in history to become his spokesperson for the gospel. While the term ‘apostle’ is used with a general force in the New Testament to designate someone who is sent (cf. Phil 2:25; 2 Cor 8:3), it is also used by Paul to speak of someone who is specially gifted to communicate revelation from God and to whom the churches were responsible (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 3:5).2 Thus the apostolic gift was foundational to the development of the church (Eph 2:20; 4:11). This latter meaning is the sense Paul intends here. He is about to communicate revelation from God and the Roman church needs to know that as a servant of Christ, and one called as an apostle, he has the authority to do so.

Third, while Paul was keenly aware of his allegiance to Christ and conscious of his foundational role in the church as an apostle, he also knew that the particular expression of his servanthood and apostleship was by means of being set apart (ajfwrismevno") by God for the ministry of the gospel (eujaggevlion) to Gentiles (cf. Gal 1:15-17; 2:8). Being ‘set apart’ has in it the idea of consecration and total devotion to the service of God. It was used of the offering of the first-fruits (Num 15:20) and God setting apart Israel as His special possession (Lev 20:26). It may carry the sense of Jeremiah 1:5 here (cf. Gal 1:15), that is, set apart before birth, but more than likely since it follows called it refers to Paul’s dedication to the gospel at the time of his call to apostleship.3 The gospel refers to God’s saving activity in Christ and comes from the Hebrew term rvb (bashar) in the OT.4 It means to proclaim good news, especially of victory (e.g., 1 Sam 31:9). But, as Cranfield points out, it was also used in Greek culture to refer to the birth of an heir to the emperor, or his coming of age and accession to the throne.5 But, while that may have been good news to some people, Paul says that God’s good news is the gospel about his Son who we find out later in Romans is the true sovereign and savior of men (cf. 10:9-10).

2 that he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, (o} proephggeivlato diaV tw`n profhtw`n aujtou` ejn grafai`" aJgivai")

The mention of promised beforehand in the holy scriptures (proephggeivlato grafai`" aJgivai") indicates that Paul views the gospel about Christ as naturally arising out of the OT and supported by it. We will see his use of OT scripture in chapter 4 to demonstrate just such a truth and that the proper interpretation and fulfillment of OT hope is in Christ. This will be critical in his discussion of the Law throughout Romans and the place of Israel in God’s plan of salvation.

3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with respect to the flesh, (periV tou` uiJou` aujtou` tou` genomevnou ejk spevrmato" Dauivd kataV savrka,)

Having already stated that the gospel was promised beforehand in the OT, Paul now moves on to further define it. Notice that Jesus was God's son (tou` uiJou aujtou`) before his resurrection from the dead. The mention of David (Dauivd) links Jesus with all that was promised to David in 2 Samuel 7:8-16, Ps 72, 89, etc. and asserts his true and enduring manhood (i.e., humanity).

4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (tou` oJrisqevnto" uiJou` qeou` ejn dunavmei kataV pneu`ma aJgiwsuvnh" ejx ajnastavsew" nekrw`n, jIhsou` Cristou` tou` kurivou hJmw`n,)

The translation of the Greek expression tou` oJrisqevnto" is difficult to nail down. It seems best in this context, since the “Son” is already the “Son” before his resurrection (v. 2), that “declared” or “appointed” is best. Perhaps, with Davidic kingly image behind it, “installed” would work as well, thus drawing on the regal coronation idea of Israel’s Davidic kings. It seems most likely, then, that what we have here is not a change in Jesus’ essence, but in his function in redemptive history. He is now functioning as the reigning Davidic king as a result of his resurrection (cf. the sonship language in 2 Sam 7:14-15). The early church regarded him as fulfilling this function (Acts 2:36; 13:33-35). The reference to the Holy Spirit is literally “spirit of holiness” (pneu`ma aJgiwsuvnh"). This is an uncharacteristic phrase (Semitic) for Paul and probably denotes, not Jesus’ personal holiness as a man, but rather the Holy Spirit. The use of this expression along with other un-Pauline markers in the text may suggest that Paul is drawing on church tradition with which his readers may have been familiar. It must be pointed out, however, that this is in no way certain and is not an attempt to minimize Paul as a creative author in his own right.

5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. (di ou| ejlavbomen cavrin kaiV ajpostolhVn eij" uJpakohVn pivstew" ejn pa`sin toi`" e[qnesin uJpeVr tou` ojnovmato" aujtou`,)

The nature of the grace (cavrin) to which Paul refers here is linked closely with apostleship (ajpostolhVn) and must be viewed as that enablement which works itself out in the context of one’s divine calling and vocation. The direction of Paul’s apostolic efforts is to win obedience to the gospel which comes about by faith—and this he hopes to achieve among all the Gentiles. Here we have one of the many universalistic statements of Paul concerning the scope of the offer of salvation in Christ (cf. e.g., 1:16). Though Jesus came as the fulfillment of OT promise he is not for the Jew only, but indeed for the Gentiles as well. His name is that of YHWH (10:9-10) and he is Lord over the entire world.

6 You also are among them, called to belong to Jesus Christ. (ejn oi|" ejste kaiV uJmei<" klhtoiV jIhsou< Cristou<,)

The reference among whom you also shows that a good number, if not the majority, of the Christians in Rome were Gentiles. Further, Paul says that these Gentile Christians are called to belong to Jesus Christ. For Christians, all of reality is wrapped up in a relationship—a personal relationship with their Lord to whom they gladly belong. He has bought them with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20) and they are secure in him (Rom 8:38-39).

7 To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! (pa<sin toi<" ousin ejn JRwvmh/ ajgaphtoi<" qeou<, klhtoi<" aJgivoi", cavri" uJmi`n kaiV eijrhvnh ajpoV qeou< patroV" hJmi`n kaiV kurivou jIhsou< Cristouv.)

Paul says that these Christians are loved by God and called to be saints. The reference to them being saints is in accord with their attachment to Christ, through faith, and not as a result of their deeds. Though their calling will affect their lives, here the focus in on their status before God; they are holy in his sight. Paul ends his rather lengthy salutation with a commendation of grace and peace, the former being the efficient cause of the latter.

Summary of the Passage

In his salutation Paul wants his readers to know that he is a slave of Christ in the spirit of important OT personalities, and that he is an apostle with authority and set apart to the ministry of the gospel. The gospel he preaches has its antecedents in the OT and is about God’s son who was of regal descent and was declared the Son of God in power by the Holy Spirit in consequence of his resurrection from the dead. On the basis of Christ’s Lordship Paul had received grace and apostleship to win the Gentiles to obedience to Christ. Those in Rome constituted part of the field assigned to the apostle’s ministry.

Application from the Passage

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A Translation of 1:8-15 (The NET Bible)

1:8 First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world. 1:9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, is my witness that I continuously remember you 1:10 and I always ask in my prayers, if perhaps now at last I may succeed in visiting you in the will of God. 1:11 For I long to see you, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, 1:12 that is, that we may be mutually comforted by one another’s faith, both yours and mine. 1:13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I often intended to come to you (and was prevented until now), so that I may have some fruit among you too just as I have among the rest of the Gentiles also. 1:14 I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 1:15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.

Comments on 1:8-15

1:8 First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world. (Prw`ton meVn eujcaristw` tw`/ qew`/ mou diaV jIhsou` Cristou` periV pavntwn uJmw`n o{ti hJ pivsti" uJmw`n kataggevlletai ejn o{lw/ tw`/ kovsmw/).

In the next section, vv. 8-15, Paul wants to tell his readers how he longs to visit them in order that both they and he will benefit from each other’s faith. The faith of the Roman christians had become known probably throughout Asia minor and all the way back to Palestine and Jerusalem. Indeed, the fact that people had bowed the knee to Christ in the capital city was significant for the cause of Christ around the world. For this Paul was extremely thankful to God.

1:9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, is my witness that I continuously remember you (mavrtu" gavr mouv ejstin oJ qeov", w|/ latreuvw ejn tw`/ pneuvmati mou ejn tw`/ eujaggelivw/ tou` uiJou` aujtou`, wJ" ajdialeivptw" mneivan uJmw`n poiou`mai)

It was common for the apostle to assert his constancy in prayer for other christians, both for those whom he had ministered to as well as those he had not (1 Cor 1:4; Eph 1:16; Phil 1:4; Col 1:3; 1 Thes 1:2; 2 Thes 1:3 Phlmn 3). The term serve (latreuvw) connotes the idea of worship and is so used in the Greek OT (LXX) to refer to Israel’s commitment to worship YHWH (Ex 20:5; Deut 5:9) and in her desire to leave Egyptian captivity and worship/serve God in the desert (Ex 7:16). Thus Paul’s service in the gospel of God, in that he preaches it to others and prays unceasingly for them, is really his deep expression (cf. in my spirit) of worship to God. There may even be a priestly idea in the use of the expression in my spirit (see 15:16), but this may going a bit too far.

1:10 and I always ask in my prayers, if perhaps now at last I may succeed in visiting you in the will of God. (pavntote ejpiV tw`n proseucw`n mou deovmeno" ei[ pw" h[dh poteV eujodwqhvsomai ejn tw`/ qelhvmati tou` qeou` ejlqei`n proV" uJma`".)

It was Paul’s strong desire to be able to visit the church in Rome, and not just to use it as a base of operations for the Spanish mission (cf. 15:24), but to contribute to the church (1:11). In any case, he was not entirely certain that God would grant the request.

1:11 For I long to see you, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, (ejpipoqw` gaVr ijdei`n uJma`", i{na ti metadw` cavrisma uJmi`n pneumatikoVn eij" toV sthricqh`nai uJma`",)

It is reading too much into Paul’s use of spiritual gift here to take it as a special manifestation of the Spirit such as we see in 1 Cor 12-14. It is perhaps better to regard the gift as more general and a reference to some specific service he can render when he gets to Rome and learns more about the needs of the church there. In fact, whatever the gift is, it will lead to their strengthening. Would that all christians would have this mindset. To seek to strengthen others by contributing to their spiritual needs is truly a sign of a deep relationship with Christ. Not only did Paul preach the gospel, and defend it, he also lived it.

1:12 that is, that we may be mutually comforted by one another’s faith, both yours and mine. (tou`to dev ejstin sumparaklhqh`nai ejn uJmi`n diaV th`" ejn ajllhvloi" pivstew" uJmw`n te kaiV ejmou.)

Paul hopes that not only will he be able to contribute to them, but that both he and they may be comforted by each other’s faith. The fact that he refers to faith here is further evidence that what he means by gift in the previous verse is not that he will give the Roman church spiritual gifts, but that through the exercise of the gifts already given the apostle and the Roman church by God, each will be edified, the one by the other.

1:13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I often intended to come to you (and was prevented until now), so that I may have some fruit among you too just as I have among the rest of the Gentiles also. (ouj qevlw deV uJma`" ajgnoei`n, ajdelfoiv, o{ti pollavki" proeqevmhn ejlqei`n proV" uJma`", kaiV ejkwluvqhn a[cri tou` deu`ro, i{na tinaV karpoVn scw` kaiV ejn uJmi`n kaqwV" kaiV ejn toi`" loipoi`" e[qnesin).

Paul had often tried to come to the Romans but was unable. He says the same thing in 15:22 where the pressing need to establish new churches and promulgate the gospel in other areas hindered him from coming. Thus we may assume that this is what he means here in 1:13. Paul maintained a tremendous zeal for the gospel to go to the Gentiles and that he have some fruit among them referring probably to both new converts as well as spiritual growth among the christians.

1:14 I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. ({Ellhsin te kaiV barbavroi", sofoi`" te kaiV ajnohvtoi" ojfeilevth" eijmiv,)

The fact that Paul knew he had been set apart for the gospel of God (1:1) led to his deep conviction that given such a privilege he was now in debt to all men, that is, to preach the gospel to them. It is clear that Paul means all men (probably only implicitly referring to the Jews at this point) by the description he gives, but there is disagreement on the precise referent for each term. Scholars have put forth many suggestions, some better than others, but the most reasonable seems to be that the first pair refers to cultured Greeks as well as Barbarians, that is, those who were not Greeks. Thus we have here a reference to all of Gentile humanity. The second pair, the wise and the foolish, could be a further explanation of the first pair or simply a cross section of Gentile humanity including those who thought they had achieved some intellectual status and those who obviously had not (cf. 1 Cor 1:19, 20, 26-27).

1:15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. (ou{tw" to; kat ejmeV provqumon kaiV uJmi`n toi`" ejn JRwvmh/ eujaggelivsasqai)

Paul’s desire to preach the gospel in Rome is as a consequence (ou{tw") of his general feelings of debt for all men.

Summary of the Passage

The reason Paul prays for the Roman christians and is striving to come and see them is so that he can strengthen them in their faith (and he too receive comfort) for he feels that he is indebted to all men.

Application from the Passage

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A Translation of 1:16-17 (The NET Bible)

1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 1:17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “the righteous by faith will live.”

Comments on 1:16-17

1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Ouj gaVr ejpaiscuvnomai toV eujaggevlion, duvnami" gaVr qeou` ejstin eij" swthrivan pantiV tw`/ pisteuvonti, jIoudaivw/ te prw`ton kaiV {Ellhni.)

Paul was certainly not ashamed of the gospel for as he saw it, it was the power of God to save men, both Jew and Gentile alike. He will explain how it not only saves from the penalty of sin, but also from its power and ultimately from its very presence. It has the power to bring anyone into a right relationship with God through Christ at the moment they believe in God’s saving action in Christ. The reference to the Jew first and also to the Greek is not merely temporal such that the Jews were the first to hear the good news, but also one of priority for the promises of salvation through God’s messiah were first given to the Jew (cf. e.g., 2 Sam 7:8-16). This theme will be developed at length in Romans 9-11.

1:17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “the righteous by faith will live.” (dikaiosuvnh gaVr qeou` ejn aujtw`/ ajpokaluvptetai ejk pivstew" eij" pivstin, kaqwV" gevgraptai: oJ deV divkaio" ejk pivstew" zhvsetai.)

The word for takes us back to the preceding idea in v. 16 about the gospel being the power of God for salvation. How is that so? Paul knows that the gospel saves because it reveals the righteousness of God. We may understand the expression righteousness of God in a broad sense referring both to God’s saving activity and the resultant status of those who have been saved; they are now in a right relationship with him. It is not simply a reference to his character, though all that he does in saving men and women flows from his righteous character. The reference to from faith to faith has been variously interpreted throughout the history of the church: 1) it refers to the faith of the OT saints to the faith of NT saints; 2) from an immature faith to a more mature one; 3) from a Law-oriented faith to a gospel-oriented faith; 4) from the faith of the preacher to the faith of the hearers; 5) from present faith to a future faith; 6) from God’s faithfulness to man’s faith, etc. All these have some truth in them, but fail to deal adequately with the connection of this statement with the following quotation from Habakkuk. The point of Habakkuk’s comment in the OT is that it is only by sheer faith that one can ever comprehend the seemingly difficult things God does and this is probably the sense here in Romans 1:17. There is a parallel in 2 Cor 2:16. There Paul refers to “from death to death” which is intended to be rhetorical and refer to death, period. Thus we may say that, by the phrase from faith to faith, Paul is simply arguing that it is by faith and faith alone that one receives this righteous status and understands God’s work of saving sinners. This doctrine, Paul says, is anticipated in the Old Testament as (kaqwV") the quotation from Habbakuk 2:4 argues. There are several complexities involved in understanding the precise meaning of Paul’s citation of Hab 2:4 (and we cannot go into them here), but its function is to substantiate the claim that the gospel is appropriated only by faith. It is enough to say that by faith is probably to be taken with the righteous rather than will live as we have translated it. (But cf. the Greek OT and the Hebrew text which take by faith with will live). Thus the point Paul is making is that the person who is righteous by faith, will live. Paul uses this text in a way somewhat different than it is understood in the OT. The reader is urged to compare the two.

Summary of the Passage

The reason that Paul was not ashamed of the gospel is because it has the power to deal with the problem of sin and provide a person with a right standing with God—a feat impossible for people on their own.

Application from the Passage

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Select Bibliography

Barrett, C. K. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Harper’s New Testament Commentaries. Edited by Henry Chadwick. New York/Evanston/London: Harper & Row, 1957.

Cranfield, G. E. B. The Epistle to the Romans. The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Edited by J. A. Emerton and C. E. B. Cranfield. 2 Volumes. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975, 79.

Dunn, James D. G. Romans. Word Biblical Commentary. Edited by Ralph P. Martin. Vols. 38A/B. Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1988.

Edwards, James R. Romans. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992.

Harrison, Everett F. “Romans.” In The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 10. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.

Moo, Douglas. Romans 1-8. The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. Edited by Kenneth Barker. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991.

Murray, John. The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Two Volumes in One. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959, 65.


1 Moo, Romans, 1:34.

2 The meaning of “apostle” is probably derived more from the OT idea than from classical Greek. As Cranfield, Romans, 1:52, points out, it has to do with “an authorized agent or representative.”

3 So Murray, Romans, 3.

4 Moo, Romans, 37.

5 Cranfield, Romans, 55.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Bible Study Methods