Lesson 1 of 6
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Summary of Romans


The Apostle Paul writes the longest of his letters to followers of Jesus in Rome, announcing that he plans to visit them, to be mutually encouraged, and to be sent on by them to Spain. To accomplish the goal of having the support of the Roman Christians, Paul sets forth an account of the gospel that he preaches–particularly about the saving work of God in Christ–and spells out its implications for the Christian life. In addition, he writes concerning the salvation of the Jewish people, discusses some particulars of Christian conduct (life under the Roman government, living together in the midst of disagreements, and fulfilling the law of love). He speaks of his plans for travel as an apostle and sends greetings by name to some 26 people known to him in Rome.


With the exception of the four Gospels, Romans is unsurpassed among the books of the New Testament for its impact on later church history. It had a place in Augustine’s conversion from Manichaeism to Christianity; in the rediscovery of grace, justification, and faith by Martin Luther, sparking the Reformation; and in the beginnings of the Methodist movement when John Wesley read Luther’s Preface to Romans. In 1919 Karl Barth produced his commentary on Romans, a work that was to change theology radically in the 20th century.


Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the sixth book in the New Testament. Because it is the longest of Paul’s letters, it stands first in the “Pauline corpus,” the collection of letters attributed to the Apostle Paul (the books of Romans through Philemon).


According to the letter itself, the Apostle Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans. There have never been any serious doubts about Paul’s authorship.


Romans was written somewhere between 55 and 58 C.E. from Corinth, probably at the home of Gaius, a resident of Corinth (see Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14). Paul sent the letter to Rome, carried by Phoebe, deacon of the church at Cenchreae, the port of Corinth (Romans 16:1). According to Acts 20:2–3, Paul spent three months in Greece prior to his trip to Jerusalem. It may well have been at that time that he wrote Romans.


Paul’s Letter to the Romans is about God’s saving work in Christ for Jew and gentile alike, both of whom fall short of doing the will of God yet receive grace and mercy from God.


In his Loci communes of 1521, Philip Melanchthon (an associate of Martin Luther) referred to Romans as a “compendium of Christian doctrine.” That view is no longer held by interpreters, for there are many theological topics that are not covered in Romans (such as, in a direct way, the Lord’s Supper, the cross, and Christ’s return). Yet, even though the letter is not a compendium of doctrine, Paul does sum up many of his teachings, presenting his gospel to a community that he plans to visit. The modern reader can understand Romans in large part as a summary of Paul’s main teachings that have been foundational for Christian theology ever since.