Bible in the World – Romans
Broad Impact of Romans
Paul’s letter to the Romans has proven to be one of the most influential biblical texts for understanding Christian identity and developing Christian theology and practices, as the subsequent entries detail. To be sure, Romans does not present a comprehensive, systematic theology or address in detail every topic mentioned across Paul’s letters. It does, nonetheless, give what is arguably the most complete view in a single Pauline letter of many of the theological matters and practical concerns that characterized Paul’s ministry. These include: the nature of the gospel and its implications for both Jews and gentiles, how God works through Jesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity More Christ to bring people into relationship with God and each other, God’s fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, the work of the Holy is a term that originally meant set apart for the worship or service of God. While the term may refer to people, objects, time, or places, holiness in Judaism and Christianity primarily denotes the realm of the divine More Spirit, the transformed life that flows from being redeemed by Christ, and others. Although it is important to study Romans as an occasional letter written to actual first-century Christians, such study also reveals the timeless significance of its message for diverse audiences. It continues to be a foundational text for instruction in Christian theology and practice, as well as for sharing the gospel with those who may never have heard it. The so-called “Romans Road” is one popular method for learning and sharing what is considered to be the core of the gospel, expressed in a series of specific texts that are all found in Romans. These often include Romans 3:22b–26, 5:8, 6:23, 8:1, 10:9, and 10:13, although there are variations on this learning tool.
Over the centuries, interpreters have wrestled with what Romans 1:18–23 (and surrounding context) says about the extent to which God can be known from the Creation, in biblical terms, is the universe as we know or perceive it. Genesis says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the book of Revelation (which speaks of end times) the author declares that God created all things and... More, apart from God’s self-revelation in Scripture or Jesus Christ. This “natural theology” debate arises from the suggestion in this passage that some level of knowledge or awareness of God has been available to all people since the world was created (v. 20). But what does that knowledge consist of? Origen (ca. 185–253), and other scholars after him, argued that what can be known of God through nature is limited: God’s very essence cannot be known by humans and God’s righteousness cannot be known through nature. Despite these limitations, several Christian interpreters argue that the Romans text indicates that people have access to sufficient knowledge of God through the creation for them to be accountable for their failure to properly acknowledge God. While some have suggested that only philosophers had the capacity to know something of God through nature using reason, Martin Luther argues that knowledge of God has been available to all people, even though the educated and leaders have greater accountability for this knowledge. In fact, the turn toward idolatry mentioned in Romans 1:23 is, for Luther, only possible because of humanity’s awareness of God. Karl Barth, an influential 20th-century theologian and biblical interpreter, is especially skeptical of humans’ ability to have true knowledge of God through nature, apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Barth, what fundamentally can be known of God through creation is the incomprehensibility of God, by which humans are to recognize their “otherness” from the Creator but fail to do so. For a more thorough treatment of this topic, see Mark Reasoner, Romans in Full Circle: A History of Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005).
Romans as Instrumental in Augustine’s Conversion
Saint Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo, is widely recognized as one of the most influential Christian theologians and interpreters of Paul’s writings. Although his mother, Monica, was a devout Christian, Augustine was not always a devoted follower of Christ. In his youth, Augustine engaged in behavior deemed inappropriate to a Christian life, including being in an intimate relationship with a woman whom he did not marry and having a son with her named Adeodatus. Trained in grammar and rhetoric, Augustine had intellectual reservations about the Bible. He also spent nine years as a student of Manichaeism, a dualistic religious movement that rejected the Old Testament and its characterization of God. Then in 386, Augustine converted to Christianity when he sensed a divine prompting to read the first passage he encountered in Paul’s writings, which happened to be parts of Romans 13:13–14: “…not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (NRSV; cf. Confessions 8.12). This immediately gave Augustine certainty about Christian faith and conviction to live a Christian life. The writings of A Christian missionary who once persecuted the church More continued to influence Augustine’s life and work.
Romans 5:12–21 is a key text for the development of understandings of how sin and death entered humanity through the transgression of The first man God created. More and continues to affect his descendants. One of these understandings has come to be known as the doctrine of original sin. Although the concept of “original sin” predates him, Augustine’s formulation of it has been extremely influential in the theology of many Western ecclesial traditions. He asserts that before Adam sinned by disobeying God (cf. Genesis 3)—an act commonly known as the “fall”—humans had the capacity not to sin. But through Adam’s transgression, human nature became so corrupt that all people, as Adam’s offspring, need God’s saving Grace is the unmerited gift of God's love and acceptance. In Martin Luther's favorite expression from the Apostle Paul, we are saved by grace through faith, which means that God showers grace upon us even though we do not deserve it. More in Jesus Christ to do the good that pleases God, which must be motivated by love of God. For Augustine and others following him (such as Luther and Calvin), Adam’s sin brought guilt and condemnation upon all people, regardless of their own actions. This means that for Augustine, even infants who have not committed individual sins inherit Adam’s guilt and are therefore subject to condemnation, making infant Jesus was baptized (literally, "dipped") in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer, at which time he was acclaimed from heaven as God's Son, the Beloved. Much later baptism became one of the sacraments of the Church, the action by which a person is incorporated... More necessary—a point with which some other interpreters disagree. Following Origen, Augustine asserts that the stain of Adam’s sin is transmitted from parents to their children through the physical act of conception, which involves lust or impure carnal desire.
Not all interpreters agree with the Augustinian concept of original sin or that this is, in fact, what Paul intended to convey in Romans 5:12–21. Some instead believe that this text portrays Adam as an example of turning away from God that humans have the tendency to imitate, but that an inevitable transmission of sin biologically is not in view here. There are diverse views among contemporary Christians about the extent to which a person’s free will continues to be damaged by original sin after baptism. For a more thorough treatment of this topic, see Mark Reasoner, Romans in Full Circle: A History of Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), and The first Christian martyr More Westerholm, Romans: Text, Readers, and the History of Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2022).
Romans 5:20 Applied to Follower of Jesus and among the first to reach Jesus' tomb on Easter More
Paul’s statement in Romans 5:20 that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” has played an interesting role in the history of interpretation of Mary Magdalene. According to the New Testament Gospels, Magdalene was a A disciple is a person who accepts and follows the pronouncements of a teacher. Jesus chose twelve disciples (also called "apostles" in some of the Gospels) to follow him and bear witness to his message Anyone who (like them) follows Jesus is engaged in Christian... More of Jesus who witnessed his crucifixion, burial, and empty tomb. John’s Gospel depicts her as the first person to encounter the resurrected Jesus and to share the news of his resurrection and ascension with others, making her the first Christian evangelist. Some patristic and medieval Christian interpreters struggled to explain why a woman would be granted this privilege, rather than one of Jesus’ eleven closest male disciples, and appeal in part to Romans 5:20 to do so. Although the context of Romans 5:20 speaks of sin and death entering humanity through Adam, the first human being, interpreters such as Ambrose identify The name of the first woman, wife of Adam. More, the first woman, as responsible for this “fall” to explain Magdalene’s evangelist role. A common formulation of such explanations is that it was fitting that Mary Magdalene, as a woman, was the first to announce Jesus’ resurrection because it frees humanity from the sin and death that the first woman supposedly ushered into the world. Romans 5:20 serves as a proof text for this claim: whereas sin abounded through Eve’s disobedience to God by eating the forbidden fruit, grace abounded through Magdalene’s obedience to Christ by proclaiming the resurrection. Magdalene thus functions symbolically as representative of women, responsible for undoing the sin of the first woman.
The application of Romans 5:20 to Mary Magdalene acquires a new dimension in the Middle Ages, when she is identified—without clear foundation in the New Testament—as a penitent sinner. Some European medieval legends describe Magdalene as being so grateful to Jesus for having forgiven her allegedly great sins that she became one of his most devoted followers. Some legends use Romans 5:20 to describe Magdalene’s drastic transformation from paradigmatic sinner to exemplar of true Christian discipleship. In the modern era, many interpreters have challenged the portrait of Magdalene as a penitent and have instead reasserted her clear New Testament roles.
Role of Faith, Works, and Grace in Justification
Romans (together with Galatians) is a foundational New Testament text for informing various understandings of “justification,” or being placed in a right relationship with God. Across the centuries, theologians and others have wrestled with Paul’s words in passages such as Romans 3:21–31 and 4:1–25 to discern how God works through Christ to make justification possible for sinful humanity. A particular interpretive issue that arises from Romans is understanding the relationship between divine grace, faith, and human deeds in justification.
Although interpreters have posited various understandings of this issue, many Christian theologians and exegetes agree that God’s grace is necessary for justification or righteousness (also referred to by some as “Salvation can mean saved from something (deliverance) or for something (redemption). Paul preached that salvation comes through the death of Christ on the cross which redeemed sinners from death and for a grace-filled life. More”), and that people receive this grace (or “gift”) by faith. A major point of disagreement, however, is whether God’s grace (and the human response of faith) is sufficient for justification or whether a person’s good deeds must also contribute to this. The issue came to a turning point in the West during the late Middle Ages. One of the twelve disciples of Jesus who is remembered for doubting then believing in the resurrection More Aquinas, for example, asserted that doing the works of the Law cannot on its own bring about righteousness (e.g., Romans 3:28). Instead, God’s unmerited grace comes first, enabling a person to do works of love as part of a process that moves toward justification. Martin Luther, by contrast, asserted that a person’s justification comes solely by divine grace, received by faith, apart from a person’s works. For Luther, works of love necessarily flow from God’s gift of justification but he asserts that people cannot truly do these unless they have first been justified. There is no consensus today among Christians about the precise relationship between grace, faith, and good works.
Proponents of the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” that emerged roughly in the 1970s have sought to reconsider texts such as Romans 3:21–31 within Paul’s first-century context, rather than seeing them as a more general commentary on the relationship between faith, grace, and one’s actions. Some argue that Paul’s statements about justification by faith are primarily intended to ensure that gentiles are fully included in Christian communities without being required to observe the Jewish Law. Paul is not, in this view, commenting more broadly on the role of the Law for Jews. In the view of some interpreters, the “works of the Law” that are not necessary for justification are specifically those that serve as identity markers that distinguish Jews from gentiles, such as Circumcision is an act of cutting off part of a male (or female) sex organ for religious or health reasons. In the Bible circumcision was performed on males to indicate inclusion into the Jewish religious community. Some church calendars commemorate January 1 as the Circumcision... More and dietary regulations. For a more thorough treatment of this topic, see Mark Reasoner, Romans in Full Circle: A History of Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), and Stephen Westerholm, Romans: Text, Readers, and the History of Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2022).
Luther’s “Discovery” of the Gospel and the Protestant Reformation
Martin Luther (1483–1546) is credited with sparking the 16th-century Protestant Reformation of the church. A core theological conviction of Luther that led to this movement is that a person is justified—or placed into a right relationship with God—solely through God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ, received by faith, apart from one’s works or merit. This view stood in contrast to a prominent understanding in the late medieval church that a person’s free will must cooperate with God’s grace in certain ways in order for them to merit justification.
The Letter to the Romans was central to Luther arriving at the view that justification comes only by divine grace through faith. In his Preface to his Latin Writings (1545), Luther describes a powerful, personal struggle he faced years earlier with the phrase “righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17. Although Luther was striving to live diligently as a monk at the time, he was deeply troubled by the belief that he could never satisfy God and was therefore subject to God’s judgment as a sinner. The revelation of “God’s righteousness” in the gospel (Romans 1:16–17) initially brought Luther no comfort because he understood the phrase to refer to the A righteous person is one who is ethical and faithful to God's covenant. Righteousness in the Old Testament is an attitude of God; in the New Testament it is a gift of God through grace. In the New Testament righteousness is a relationship with God... More God being justified in punishing unrighteous sinners—including him—so that he hated this God. But after intense meditation and by God’s Mercy is a term used to describe leniency or compassion. God's mercy is frequently referred to or invoked in both the Old and New Testaments. More, Luther came to understand Romans 1:17 in a radically different way—namely, that it proclaims that God’s righteousness, revealed in the gospel, is a gift by which the merciful God freely justifies sinners, who receive this gift by faith. Luther calls this a “passive righteousness” imparted by God that no one can merit. This realization radically transformed Luther’s view of God and the gospel. He describes the experience as one of being reborn and entering paradise.
Romans continued to be central to Luther’s theology throughout his career. He addresses the letter in several writings, including in his Preface to Romans and his Lectures on Romans. And his understanding of justification by grace through faith continues to inform many streams of Protestant Christianity.
Romans and John Wesley’s Experience of Grace
John Wesley (1703–1791) was an Anglican A priest is a person who has the authority to perform religious rites. In New Testament times priests were responsible for daily offerings and sacrifices in the temple. More who founded and led the Methodist movement that began in England, assisted by his brother, Charles. The name “Methodist” came from the methodical way that Wesley and those he led engaged in religious practices such as Bible study, prayer, and fasting. Despite such practices and his ministry to the poor and imprisoned, Wesley describes in his journal (https://www.ccel.org/w/wesley/journal/cache/journal.pdf) struggling with sin and not sensing assurance of being truly accepted and forgiven by God through Christ. Instead, he considered himself to be relying on his own attempts at righteousness. Then, on the evening of May 24, 1738, Wesley was invited to a meeting with Moravians on Aldersgate Street in London. As someone was reading Luther’s Preface to Romans, describing how God changes one’s heart through faith in Christ, Wesley felt that his own heart was “strangely warmed.” He also had the conviction that he did trust in Christ alone for salvation, which finally gave him the desired assurance that Christ had taken away his sins. This experience of God’s grace shaped Wesley’s subsequent evangelistic ministry, which proclaimed salvation by faith in Christ as a gift. Some churches still celebrate Aldersgate Day on May 24.
Paul’s Letters in Jarena Lee’s Conversion and Call
Jarena Lee (1783–?) was one of the first African American female preachers in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as a traveling evangelist. Her autobiography (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.69015000002754&view=1up&seq=1), first published in 1836, describes her conversion to Christianity and subsequent call to preach the gospel using references and allusions to Paul’s letters (as well as other Scriptures).
Although Lee was not raised as a Christian, she had encounters with Christian preaching and Scripture that led her to feel convicted of her sinfulness, driving her to despair and contemplation of suicide. Residing in Philadelphia in 1804, Lee had a powerful conversion experience while listening to the preaching of the Rev. Richard Allen of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). She describes her mind being in ecstasy as she realized that God, through Christ, had forgiven her sins, and paraphrases Romans 10:10 to mark this as the first day her heart believed and her mouth confessed, leading to salvation. Immediately after her conversion, Lee reports being empowered to testify to others about God’s goodness and salvation.
Several years later, Lee sensed the Lord calling her to preach the gospel but was told that Methodist policies did not allow a woman to preach. Using an argument that foreshadows feminist biblical interpretation, Lee argues that since Mary (presumably Magdalene) was the first person to preach the resurrection of Christ, then other women should also be allowed to preach the gospel. To highlight the importance of Mary being the first evangelist of the resurrection, Lee references Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection is foundational for Christianity. One might also find resonance between Lee’s unmovable conviction that God had directly called her to preach the gospel and Paul’s own conviction that his calling came from God, rather than humans (e.g., Galatians 1:1).
Nonetheless, Lee was subsequently assailed by the thought that she would fall from grace and lose her soul. Eventually, Lee had a profound religious experience in which the Lord reassured her and alleviated her doubt. She expressed her newfound confidence by claiming Paul’s language in Romans 8:35–39: that nothing could separate her from God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Barth’s Commentary on Romans
Karl Barth (1886–1968) was a Reformed pastor in the Swiss village of Safenwil when he wrote a commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans that would challenge both the prominent Protestant liberal theology of his day and accepted methods of biblical interpretation. This landmark work (Der Römerbrief; The An epistle, simply, is a letter or message. As many as twenty-one of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are epistles, letters written to churches or persons for instruction, pastoral care, or discipline. More to the Romans in English translation) is credited with launching Barth’s career as one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. The publication of the first edition of his commentary in 1919 led to his appointment as Professor of Reformed Theology at Göttingen in 1921, despite his not having a doctoral degree. Interest in the commentary led Barth to publish a rewritten second edition in 1922.
In Barth’s context, academic biblical studies often focused on discerning the meaning of the biblical texts in their ancient contexts, recognizing the distance between these and contemporary contexts. Barth’s commentary on Romans largely collapsed this distance, insisting that the experiences and concerns Paul engaged in the first century are just as relevant in the present. This meant recognizing God as the subject of the biblical text and the reality that precedes the human questions and concerns that one brings to the text, which only lead people back to themselves rather than to God. Barth asserts that any human attempt to know God ultimately fails because God can only be known through God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ—a unique event in which time and eternity meet and that makes faith in the essentially unknowable God possible. Barth’s Romans commentary also presents a powerful challenge to the notion that human effort can bring about God’s purposes for the world.
“Paul’s Letter to American Christians”
In the 1950s and ’60s, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached versions of a sermon titled “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” that was inspired in part by Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In June of 1958, King preached this sermon to a meeting of the Commission on Ecumenical Missions and Relations of the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., which was recorded and transcribed (https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/pauls-letter-american-christians-sermon-delivered-commission-ecumenical#ftnref2)
. It takes the form of an imaginary letter written by the Derived from a Greek word meaning "one who is sent," an apostle is a person who embraces and advocates another person's idea or beliefs. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus called twelve apostles to follow and serve him. Paul became an apostle of Jesus... More Paul to Christians in the United States, whom, of course, Paul never met. This is one point of connection between the sermon and Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which was written to Christian communities that Paul had not visited.
King’s sermon/imaginary letter from Paul aims to hold American Christians accountable for racial segregation in both church and society, divisiveness among Christians who claim allegiance to various churches or denominations, and the negative effects of capitalism on the average American. Despite Americans’ great advances in science and education, the sermon claims that there has not been corresponding spiritual growth. At one point in the sermon, King, speaking in the first person as Paul, quotes Romans 12:2 to criticize how American Christians allow their values to be determined by seeking social acceptance rather than by allegiance to God. The sermon also alludes to or quotes other of Paul’s letters, such as his statement on the equality of all people in Christ found in Galatians 3:28.
Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God in Christ: Romans 8:31–39
Romans 8:31–39 is one of the most cherished passages in Paul’s letters, and perhaps in the entire New Testament. It closes the section of the letter that began in 5:1 using powerful rhetoric that builds up to the climactic claim in 8:39 that nothing—no human or cosmic force—can separate Christians from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This passage is an emphatic affirmation of the faithfulness of God, who gave God’s own Son as a gift to justify sinners (Romans 8:32). This same God—through Christ and the Holy Spirit—will sustain Christians in God’s presence, transform them into Christlikeness (Romans 8:29), and ultimately make them victorious (Romans 8:37), even though they endure trials and suffering (Romans 8:18–25, 35–36).
Across the centuries, Romans 8:31–39 has inspired countless sermons, songs, and popular devotional materials. Verses 38–39 have provided comfort to those grieving at funerals. And the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paraphrases these verses in his sermon titled “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” which is written as an imaginary letter to American Christians from Paul. He does so to exhort these Christians not to worry about the persecution that will inevitably come when opposing racial segregation, referencing Paul’s own suffering and persecution for doing God’s will. In addition, numerous contemporary praise and worship songs have been based on various themes in Romans 8:31–39.
Spiritual Gifts: Romans 12:6–8
In Romans 12:6–8, Paul lists various God-given gifts that empower Christians to edify the whole church. They are often referred to as “spiritual gifts,” drawing especially on Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 12:1–11 (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28–31; 13:1–14:40; Ephesians 4:11–13). In 1 Corinthians 12:1–3, Paul states that the foundational work of the Holy Spirit is to bring people to faith in Christ, so that they are able to sincerely proclaim that “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3). But in both Romans and 1 Corinthians, Paul describes a variety of other gifts or manifestations of the Spirit that empower individual Christians to act in specific ways that they would not be able to on their own. These include Prophecy is the gift, inspired by God, of speaking and interpreting the divine will. Prophets such as Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel spoke words of judgment and comfort to the people of Israel on behalf of God. More, teaching, exhortation, generosity, healing, ability to work miracles, speaking in tongues, as well as the capacity for various types of service in the church (e.g., Romans 12:7–8; 1 Corinthians 12:29–30). Paul explains that, while not all Christians receive the same gifts, all Christians do have gifts that are needed for the ongoing growth and maturity of the church, which Paul describes as the Body of Christ (Romans 12:4–5; 1 Corinthians 12:12–27).
Over the centuries, Christians have not agreed on how to understand the spiritual gifts as described in texts such as Romans 12:6–8 and 1 Corinthians 12:1–11 or on whether the Spirit continues to give all of these gifts to individuals in the present. Some believe that the Spirit ceased to give certain gifts (especially those that seem to be more “supernatural,” such as prophecy, miracles, and speaking in tongues) after the earliest era of the church. Although there is diversity within this so-called “cessationist” position, a common argument is that certain gifts were only needed for a limited time to affirm the apostles’ preaching of the gospel and/or that they were no longer needed once the full biblical A canon is a general law or principle by which something is judged. The body of literature in the Old and New Testaments is accepted by most Christians as being canonical (that is, authentic and authoritative) for them. More was composed. Other Christians affirm that the Spirit continues to give all the gifts mentioned in the New Testament (as the Spirit chooses) and that believers should be open to receiving and developing these gifts. This view gained popularity in the United States (and beyond) with the Pentecostal movement of the 20th century that led to the establishment of new Protestant denominations, although it has also found adherents within Catholicism and other previously existing Christian groups. Still other Christians take a more middle-ground approach, focusing on developing the gifts that are considered to be more common in the church and necessary for ministry while not denying the existence of the seemingly more miraculous gifts. Numerous spiritual gifts inventories or surveys exist that aim to help Christians identify and develop their particular gifts for service.
Submission to Governments: Romans 13:1–7
In Romans 13:1–7, Paul exhorts the Roman Christians to subject themselves to the governing authorities, which are described as God’s servants who were established in their role by God. There is no consensus on how to interpret this passage within its first-century context or for subsequent contexts.
Considered within Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 13:1–7 can be seen as an extension of Paul’s exhortations in chapter 12 for the Romans to embrace a life of faithful Christian discipleship in the world that reflects the gift of justification they have received in Christ. To the extent that a government rewards good behavior and punishes evil (Romans 13:3–4), obedience to its laws is a way for Christians to live in harmony with each other and peaceably with all (Romans 12:16, 18). This includes not seeking to avenge themselves of any wrongs committed against them (Romans 12:19). And given emperor Claudius’s expulsion of Jewish people (including Jewish Christians) from Rome a few years earlier, together with Paul’s desire to establish a missionary base in Rome, Paul’s exhortations in 13:1–7 may be more specifically aimed at preventing the Roman Christians from arousing the suspicions of the Roman authorities, which could threaten their ability to practice their faith and help spread the gospel.
Some interpreters take Romans 13:1–7 to be a timeless doctrine of civil government that binds Christians to strict obedience of civil laws and authorities, or at least have employed it to this end in specific situations. Martin Luther, for example, appealed to this text to oppose the peasant revolt of his day. It was also used to support apartheid in South Africa. Other interpreters consider Paul’s statements to be contextually bound and not intended to present his universal understanding of the state or government. Included here is the view that Paul’s exhortations only apply when a government does, in fact, reward good and punish evil, thus acting consistently with God’s will. This view has especially resonated with people living under oppressive regimes or who face discrimination under existing laws based on their race, ethnicity, religion, or other aspects of their identity. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” (https://www.csuchico.edu/iege/_assets/documents/susi-letter-from-birmingham-jail.pdf) the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. distinguishes between just laws, which align with God’s law, and unjust laws, which are human-made and degrade people. Unjust laws, such as those enforcing racial segregation, must be opposed. Such acts of civil disobedience were essential to the American civil rights movement.
Elsa Tamez on Romans
Elsa Tamez is a Latin American biblical scholar who has made valuable contributions to the study of Romans, drawing on her experiences of living in several different countries. To counter what she sees as a tendency to interpret the theology of Romans in abstract ways, Tamez aims to elucidate it as deeply connected with the social, economic, and political realities of Paul’s time, and as it addresses these same realities in contemporary life. For example, Tamez reads “sin” in Romans as pervasive structural sin that arises from human greed and is supported by legal and economic laws that benefit the powerful of society while harming many others. God manifests God’s justice apart from any human laws—whether of the ancient or modern world—through the faith of Jesus Christ that is seen in Christ’s acts of love for all people, as well as in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. To be justified by this faith of Christ is not only to participate in just practices that work against the effects of structural sin, but also to experience a conversion by which one embraces God’s justice as infinite mercy. Only this justice can bring about a new humanity of resurrected people who practice counter-cultural forgiveness, mutual care, and justice in their daily lives in ways that reflect the reality of grace and the empowerment of God’s Spirit. In other words, “justification” for Tamez can never be an abstract, merely intellectual or spiritual concept, but rather shapes particular types of lives that concretely manifest God’s own justice in the world. For a summary of Tamez’s interpretation of Romans, see “Romans” in Latinx Perspectives on the New Testament, edited by Osvaldo D. Vena and Leticia A. Guardiola-Sáenz (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic: 2022).
Romans 16 as Argument for Women in Ministry
Some of the key biblical texts that are often employed in arguments against women preaching the gospel or being official church leaders are found in the Pauline letters: 1 Corinthians 11:2–8, 1 Corinthians 14:34–35, and 1 The companion on Paul's later journeys for whom two pastoral epistles are named More 2:11–14 (although Paul’s authorship of this letter is disputed). How these difficult passages should be interpreted within their original contexts and applied to subsequent contexts is a matter of ongoing scholarly and ecclesiastical debate. Fueled by the growth of feminist biblical interpretation in the 1970s, an increasing number of scholars have argued that these texts should not be taken as universal prohibitions of women speaking in worship or exercising ecclesiastical leadership, but rather as contextually shaped perspectives on women’s leadership that may have been addressing specific issues within particular ancient Christian communities.
Romans 16 has been interpreted as additional positive evidence for the view that women exercised leadership in ancient Christian communities and that they should also be permitted to do so in the present. As stated in the commentaries on Romans 16:1–2 and 16:7, as well as “Women as Ministers of the Gospel” in “Introductory Issues,” Paul greets at least seven women in Romans 16 who are active in spreading the gospel or otherwise leading and serving early Christian communities. They include Phoebe, a “"Deacon" originally meant "one who serves" or "ministers." In the early church deacons served in leadership roles; later they became a specific rank of clergy. Today some churches ordain deacons while others commission them to serve in specific ways such as worship, pastoral care, and... More” or “minister,” and Junia, a female apostle. Some scholars have argued that this evidence of women’s leadership in the early church from one of Paul’s undisputed letters—in which he acknowledges women among his own ministry partners—demonstrates that the other texts in the The Pauline corpus is the body of New Testament letters known to have been written by the apostle Paul. The seven epistles generally accepted as being by Paul are 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans. The authorship of the remaining... More that seem to curtail women’s leadership must be understood as contextual notes rather than as presenting a universal prohibition of women’s leadership. Feminist biblical scholars in particular have argued that, given the patriarchal nature of Paul’s first-century context, the fact that any women are named as active in ministry is remarkable and suggests there were other female church leaders and ministers who are not named in the biblical texts.