THE LETTER TO THE ROMANS – PART II
LAW AND GRACE,
LIVING AS CHILDREN OF GOD
I. Chapters 3 through 7 raise and then respond to various objections that could be made against the notion of salvation by grace and faith in Jesus.
A. Chapter 3 begins with raising several questions in rhetorical form and then giving a short answer, to be completed in subsequent chapters.
1. The first four questions concern the Old Covenant, and in particular, why God called people to be Jews if in fact the old law did not save, and why there was an old covenant if God knew the people would be unfaithful.
- The quick
answer is that the ancient law provided "oracles" foreseeing in
fact salvation would occur, and the old covenant did last despite the
people's unfaithfulness. Chapter 4 (and to some degree the rest
of chapter 3) will develop this theme with reference especially to Abraham,
and the promises made to him.
2. The next two
questions deal with whether the wrath of God is just, for human sinfulness
is inevitable. There is only a short answer to this question,
pointing to the fact that sin must offend God. Chapter 5 will
develop the theme that it is Jesus who provided satisfaction for sin.
3. The final two questions ask what difference sins make if we are not saved by works anyway.
- The short
answer is simply a reference to the punishment of those who think this
way. Chapters 6 will refer to the slavery to sin that is the punishment
for not caring about righteousness.
4. By referring
to "our wickedness" and "I [being] condemned as a sinner," St.
Paul is conceding that his life is not perfectly righteous. Chapter
7 will describe the continuing conflict in the Christian life.
B. The rest of chapter 3 describes the universal sinfulness of humanity and the universal salvation offered by Jesus, but does so especially in reference to Jewish Scriptures, thus making this section partially a general theme for the letter and partially a response to the question of why Judaism was important.
1. After saying in verse 2 that the Jews were better off because of their oracles, St. Paul then says that they are not entirely better off because all are sinful, as the oracles themselves say. He then strings together several quotes to make this conclusion
10-12 quote from the nearly identical Psalms 14 and 53, which at the
same time describe universal human sinfulness, but also that some people
are God's people and that He will provide for them. The letter
will develop this theme of God's saving power through Jesus.
13 and 14 quote from Psalms 5, 10 and 140, which are pleas for help
against God's enemies. There is an implication that we are all
at one time or another enemies of God.
15 to 17 are most likely a quote from Isaiah 59, in which the prophets
describes how all of Israel has been sinful, but how the Lord will make
His covenant work all the same. See Is. 59:7-8; see also Prov.
- Verse 18
quotes from Psalm 36, which again calls for God's protection against
the wicked. There is again an implication that all people on earth
are to some degree wicked.
- Verse 19
then states the conclusion that we all should see the law and know,
through the law, that we are sinners and fall short of it.
2. Verses 21 to 26 then give the solution, that the law and the prophets pointed the way to Jesus, who provided satisfaction for our sins and bring us justification. There is here also partially an answer to how God can be righteous and save us at the same time. The righteousness of Jesus both gives satisfaction for sins and makes us just.
- This notion
of expiation seems to be based upon both the Jewish notion of redeeming
a relative who was captured, see Lev. 25:25, or to the idea that at
the Day of Atonement, which symbolized the forgiveness of sins by sending
a goat, who would symbolically carry the people's sins, into the desert.
3. Verses 27
to 30 then conclude that now, under Jesus Christ, there is universal
salvation and that no one should claim credit for having been Jewish
before being Christian. He points out that this universal salvation
was the goal of the whole law in the first place.
C. Chapter 4 then describes how Abraham receive the promises of the covenant and became a patriarch before the law was given or he performed any works.
1. In Genesis,
the covenant begins with God making Abraham the promise that he would
be the father of a great nations and that all nations would be blessed
in him. See Gen. 12:1-3. This promise is later reiterated
in subsequent visions, which clarify the promise of children and land.
See Gen. 15:1-6, 17:1-22.
2. Citing especially
the second of the three visions, St. Paul emphasizes the fact that the
moral and cultic law had not even been given, and that Abraham did nothing
to merit the covenant except put faith in God.
3. The argument
is that, as heirs of Abraham, we also receive the covenant by faith
without merit. As chapters 7 and 8 will emphasize, there is no
inconsistency with the doctrine from the letter of James that we must
act on our faith, lest the faith be dead. See James 2:14-26.
To make this point, he quotes from Psalm 32, in which King David praises
God for accepting his confession and forgiving his sins.
D. Chapter 5 then describes the paradoxical justice of God that brought about redemption through His Son's sacrifice.
1. It begins
by addressing the paradox many Christians must have wondered at, i.e.
why it is that before accepting Christ they got along perfectly well,
but now are suffering. St. Paul responds that this suffering opens
up to the joyousness and glory of salvation in Christ.
2. He then proceeds
with a poignant analogy that anyone should understand, i.e., dying to
save another person, the highest act of human love. Cf. John 15:13.
St. Paul argues that Jesus' sacrifice was greater than that because
He died to save the unjust, who had offended Him. And now His
risen life confers God's saving power all the more.
3. The chapter then introduces the theme of the three ages.
12 to 14 describe how from Adam to Moses, death reigned, for there was
a break between humanity and God. Although people may not have
been as guilty of sin because the law was not known well, there was
still that fundamental flaw that kept us from life with God.
20 and 21 describe how, from Moses to Christ, the law was given that
sin may become more obvious and thus people recognize their need for
15 to 19 at the center describe the perfect balance through which justice
is restored as one perfect act more than balances out the sins of humanity,
which began with the one sin of Adam. Thus, there is both mercy
and a just balance.
E. Chapter 6 responds to the question of why a Christian should avoid sin, or uphold the law, if he is not saved by the law anyway.
1. Verses 2 to 11 focus on the union with Christ as being its own motive. The idea is that, if we truly have faith, we will be in union with Christ and, therefore, will have died to sin, which in turn will eliminate our desire for sin. This liberation from sin is effectively receiving already a new body in Christ, one that will be raised again in glory.
- Here, as
elsewhere, sin is portrayed as almost a personal force that seeks to
dominate our lives through our desires. The unity with Christ
breaks that dominance and makes us want to live in accord with the law
of Christ and of the Spirit. Chapter 8 will discuss more of the
- Verse 2
clearly ties this unity with Christ to baptism, without any apparent
need for argumentation. It seems that the fact of baptism was
already established among the Romans. Cf. Acts 2:38.
2. Verses 12 to 23 then discuss the notion of service and life and death.
- As with
classic Wisdom literature, the letter presents two ways and two ways
only, slavery to righteousness through Christ and slavery to sin.
To the degree that one willingly sins, one is a slave to sin, which
in turn leads to death. The "slavery" to righteousness is,
by contrast, only a human term and only superficially related to the
alternative, for it leads to holiness and everlasting life. Chapter
8 will go further and say that we become nothing less that sons and
daughters of God.
- These verses
are building on Jesus' discussion of the freedom He offers, a freedom
built upon truth and obedience, which makes us children and friends
of God. See John 8:31-59, 15:11-17.
F. Chapter 7 then goes back and discusses the continuing effects of the law and of sinfulness.
1. After the
discussion in chapter 6, one could be inclined to think that once one
is Christian, one would never be tempted to sin again. But that
is contrary to experience.
2. The first 6 verses begin with an analogy between marriage and the relationship of humanity and the law. Humanity was in a sense married to the law, but sin kept acting almost as an adulterous lover, conceiving sin. This analogy may build upon the common Old Testament analogy between God's relationship to His people and a marriage, to which the people were -often unfaithful. See, e.g., Is. 1:21; Jer. 2:1-3:5; Hos. 2:4-3:5.
- Here, there
is a curiosity, for it is the death to sin of the now faithful ones
that ends the marriage with the law, and leads to a new life in the
3. Verse 7 to
13 continues the theme that the law is a great and glorious thing, but
sin used that glorious law to produce sin, for humans tend to resist
anything above them. But even this temptation works towards salvation,
for the more sins that sin produced, the more obvious the problem became.
4. The letter then continues on along this line, but implying that sin continues to work its effect in St. Paul, or the general person, even though the reign of grace has begun.
- The implication
is that, on this earth, the death to sin, and entrance into grace, still
needs to be completed, for the power of sin is not ended. Cf.
1 John 1:5-10. Even now there is a conflict between the flesh
and the soul.
II. Chapter 8 then stands in the center describing the new life in the Spirit that Christ brings.
A. The chapter builds
upon the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel that God would bring about
a new Covenant for His people by pouring out His Spirit upon them.
See Jer. 31:31-34; Ez. 36:22-37:14.
B. The first 13 verses dramatically describe the difference between the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh.
1. The section
begins by speaking about the spirit in the more general way, as in "the
spirit of Christ." But by the end of this subsection and for
the rest of the chapter, St. Paul describes the Spirit of God in increasingly
personal terms as the one who raised Jesus and the one who leads us
and comes to our assistance.
2. Living according
to the "flesh" here means serving mere desire, which rebels against
God who draws the spirit higher. By contrast the Spirit
raises us up to a live of the spirit that is at the realm of God a realm
C. Verses 14 to 17
take the issue even further and promise nothing less than adopted sonship
of God, being heirs to a greater kingdom. This promise even more
dramatically distinguishes the seeming slavery to righteousness with
the slavery to sin. However, he reminds us, in order to be sons
of God, we must be willing to join Christ in His suffering.
D. Verses 18 to 27 describe this suffering of Christians as a part of the suffering of all of creation as it awaits redemption.
- St. Paul describes
here the mystery that even nature was affected by the fall of man (and
presumably of angels) and needs to be, and will be, redeemed.
- Verses 26 and
27 adds a recognition that prayer too is difficult, but that the Spirit
guides in this way too, referring at the end to Psalm 139, which marvels
at the wonder of God's providence and the mystery of His ways.
E. Verses 28 to 39 then celebrate God's providence, making all things work for those who love God.
1. Verses 29 and 30 give the progression from God's knowledge of us to predestination to calling to justification and finally glory as adopted sons through Jesus Christ.
- One has
to recognize that God's knowledge is eternal, and thus terms such
as pre-destination and foreknowledge do not imply that the future is
fixed, for past, present and future are all one to God. He knows
who is saved, not because He has fixed from the time someone is conceived,
or from the creation of the world, who is saved and who is not, but
rather because He sees all time as one.
- What St.
Paul is trying to do is stress the primacy of grace, not make a point
about free will. In chapters 13 and 14 he describes how the work
of God can be destroyed by scandal. See especially Rom. 14:20-22;
see also 1 Cor. 9:27; Phil. 3:12-14.
2. Verses 31-34
then speak of his confidence that God will deliver us from sins, for
He has already invested in us the death of His only Son.
3. Verses 35 to 39 also speak of the power of God over anything external to the self. Such things are unable to separate us from God.
however, he does not say that sin cannot separate us from God.
Such a choice can break off that life in the Spirit, as the letter will
III. Chapters 9 to 11 then discuss how God worked through the Jewish people, but now how He has made the covenant available to all.
A. The chapter is
balancing two considerations: (1) the fact that God truly called His
people and brought about salvation through them; but (2) the fact that
salvation now belongs to all the world. He wants to avoid either
the error of thinking that Christianity is simply a different sort of
Judaism, or thinking that the Jewish Scriptures are irrelevant.
B. St. Paul speaks
of his love for his former people and the glory they have received.
And he predicts confidently that his people will come to the Gospel.
See Rom. 9:1-5, 10:1-4, 11:17-29.
C. In chapter 9,
St. Paul points out that Abraham and Isaac had other descendants, and
that God called the few to prepare the way for the many to be saved.
Why He chose some and not others is mysterious, but that choice did
not mean others could not be saved. For, as verses 30-33 point
out salvation was by faith, not by works of the law. In fact,
an over-dependence upon the law caused many Jews to stumble.
D. Chapter 10 and
the beginning of chapter 11 argue the at even the Jewish Scripture said
all along that salvation would be by belief, not by work, and that Moses,
Elijah, Isaiah and the Psalms among others spoke of a remnant being
saved, while others disbelieved. The point is that it is hardly
surprising that most of the Jewish people did not accept the Gospel
immediately, for most people generally have not accepted the truth when
E. The rest of chapter 11 then warns against any arrogance towards people who have not yet converted. For, it points out that the Gentile converts were originally outside as well and have only recently come in, and so it will be even more glorious when God's Chosen People do so.
- St. Paul uses the
image of the vine, saying that the Jewish faith was the original vine,
but that those who have gone astray (in this case not accepted the Gospel)
are, in a sense branches broken off, while others who were outside are
as branches grafted onto the vine. This image is building on the
vine imagery Jesus used at the Last Supper. See, e.g., John 15:1-10;
see also Ps.80:9-17; Jer. 2:21; Ez. 15:2, 17:5-10, 19:10; Hos. 10:1.
F. Chapter 11 concludes
with a reflection upon all human sinfulness as being allowed by God,
so that the glory of His mercy may shine through. The implication
is that the fallen but redeemed state has led to a greater glory than
was there at the beginning.
IV. Chapters 12 through 14 and the first part of chapter 15 then give directive on how to live out this life in the spirit.
A. Chapter 12 begins
with the controlling principles that: (1) we must life a living sacrifice
to God as our worship of Him in contrast with the ways of the world;
and (2) the unity of the Church, with the image of the Church as the
body of Christ, an image St. Paul also uses in First Corinthians, Philippians,
B. Verses 9 to 21 of chapter 12 then list numerous principles of Christian life, especially emphasizes charity towards others and forgiveness of enemies.
on the latter point, St. Paul quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures, again
emphasizing that the old law is still valid. See Lev. 19:18, Duet.
32:35-41, Prov. 25:21-22.
C. Chapters 13 and 14 focus on a rightful sense of Christian liberty.
1. Chapter 13 emphasizes that the faith does lead to a moral revolution but does not imply a political anarchy.
- One should
uphold civil obligations, but not take on unnecessary burdens, so that
one may be free to love others and serve God.
- There is a grand
battle between light and darkness, which is guided by the highest law.
The victory over sin allows us to awaken to the life with God.
2. Chapter 14 cautions against unnecessary rules, but also reminds Christians that liberty is meant for love. Thus, if a legitimate liberty causes another scandal, it should not be exercised, the self-limitation being an offering for another's faith.
seems to have been a background dispute here, possibly over: (1) Jewish
Christians who wanted to continue refraining from food unclean under
Jewish law; (2) eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, see 1
Cor. 8:9-11; or (3) Christians who wanted to refrain from all alcohol
on the grounds that it caused so much sin, see 1 Tim. 5:23.
St. Paul points out that such rules are not in themselves necessary,
but if they are a part of one's faith, they should be followed, and
another person should not tempt one of the faithful to fall away from
D. Chapter 15, verses
1-13 then conclude the doctrinal section of the letter with a glorious
call for unity between the Jews and Gentiles, for the faith and universal
call is the fulfillment of Jewish prophesies.
V. The rest of chapter 15 and chapter 16 are mostly a conclusion that describes St. Paul's plans and his greetings, but there are some concluding messages.
A. St. Paul describes his overall plan to bring the Gospel to new nations, including finishing this missionary journey and launching a new one to Spain, during which he hoped to visit Rome. It turns out that, upon his arrival back in Jerusalem, he was again seized by religious authorities and had the case brought to Rome for the sake of receiving the Emperor's protection. See Acts 21:27-28-16.
B. Among the commendations
and greetings, St. Paul refers to Phoebe as a "diaconos."
That term would later come to mean deacon, see 1 Tim. 3:8, 12.
However, in the early church what we now call deacons did not have this
title, see Acts 6:1-7, and the term "diaconos" seems to be a general
term for people who had a special role in serving the church, see 2
Cor. 6:4, 11:23.
C. There is near
the end a warning against false teachers and factions. The emphasis
on this point in not as great here as in other letters, such as 1 and
2 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians, probably because
St. Peter was in Rome with control over the situation. But divisions
and doctrinal disputes are apparently finding their way in.
D. The final doxology in verses 25 to 27 of chapter 16 once again emphasize that this salvation through Christ has been a mystery, first revealed through the prophetic writings (i.e. the Jewish Scriptures) but now made manifest to all nations. The goal again in a faith that act in tune with God, the "obedience of faith,' which leads to glory.