Introduction to Letters
and Study of Romans I - III
November 24th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Most of the books of the New Testament fall into the category of letters sent from one of the leaders of the early church to a specific set of constituents or in some cases to an individual. These letters represent twenty of the twenty-six books in the New Testament. The remaining set includes the four Gospels, the one book of History that we have already read, and the one book of prophecy that concludes the Bible - Revelation.

Most of the letters in the New Testament were written by Paul, but other authors include Peter, John, and James. Each letter had a specific purpose for the original audience and has timeless value for all of us. The letters provide insight into the thinking of these leaders, but it can be difficult to know with certainty the full intent without having the broader context of previous communications. However, the timing of many of the letters overlaps with the history recorded in Acts, allowing the careful reader to tie together details regarding certain situations and then determine how to apply the lesson to himself or herself.


The book of Romans, also known as the Letter to the Romans or the Epistle to the Romans, is the first of many letters from Paul and other Apostles that are recorded in the New Testament. Paul wrote this letter to the people of Rome to introduce himself and provide a foundation for Christian theology. In the letter Paul indicates that he was planning to go there in order to explain the Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles living in Rome, thus it seems reasonable to assume that it was written before the journey to Rome that is described at the end of Acts. Presumably, this letter was written around the time recorded in Acts 15, when Paul was preparing to go to Jerusalem to meet his fate. As noted in yesterday's study, Paul's plans to visit Rome were important for fulfilling the mission of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

This letter is distinct from all the other ones penned by Paul because he is not responding to a specific situation, but instead is providing a general primer on Christianity. As a result, it reads more like a thesis paper or an essay as opposed to a personal letter. The introduction in the New American Bible notes that "It (Romans) is the longest and most systematic unfolding of the apostle's thought, expounding the gospel of God's righteousness that saves all who believe." Somehow there was a Christian community that had developed in Rome without the direct instruction of Peter, Paul, or one of the leaders of the church. Thus, Paul sought to give them guidance through his letter and a follow up personal visit.

The first eleven chapters describe what Christians believe and the remaining five describe the duties of a Christian (1). We will divide the book into 5 sections for our daily study as shown below:

    Christian Beliefs
    Romans 1-3 (Greetings Fellow Sinners) - November 24th
    Romans 4-5 (In Christ We Are Forgiven) - November 25th
    Romans 6-8 (Freedom!) - November 26th
    Romans 9-11 (The Chosen Ones) - November 27th

    The Duties of a Christian
    Romans 12-16 (Principles of Christianity) - November 28th

The concepts in this book are relatively complex compared to the previous books of the New Testament. Most of the Gospels and Acts were presented like stories, but this one is presented more like a technical document. It may require reading more than once to fully comprehend, but the assistance of reference books and discussions with friends and experts will help us to ferret out the key concepts.

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

  • Barclay, William, The Letter to the Romans, the New Daily Study Bible, John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1975
  • Foreman, Kenneth J., The Layman's Bible Commentary, V21, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, John Knox Press, Richmond, VA, 1961
  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version , Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version , Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005
  • "Sermon Library," Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT

Romans 1-3 (Greetings Fellow Sinners)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

"What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin."

- Acts 3:9 (NRSV)

Summary of Chapters

In these first three chapters Paul describes the sinfulness of man, but begins with an introduction, emphasizing how eagerly he seeks to visit Rome.

Paul says that we have no excuse for sinful behavior because God has clearly demonstrated his dominion and explained his laws. The people had been given the word, but chose to trade God for false idols, so God let them have their way, and the people indulged themselves in all types of sins. Paul presents a fairly comprehensive list of the typical sins.

In chapter 2 Paul describes God's judgment against the evil-doers and reminds his audience not to judge one another for sins that they too have committed:

    Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn't so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you've done.

    - Romans 2:1-3 (MSG)

In chapter 3, Paul reminds everyone that faith in Jesus Christ is more important than knowledge of the law or outward appearances. Thus, Gentiles are equally eligible for salvation, even if they are not circumcised or cannot quote the law. Paul concludes the chapter by explaining that the law enables us to be conscious of sin. We are not saved by knowledge or obedience to the law, because we are all sinners. Instead, we can become righteous through faith in the grace of God and the redemptive power of Jesus, and through our faith we uphold the law.

    But now God's way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it.God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence.

    - Romans 3:21-23 (GNB)

    Does this mean that by this faith we do away with the Law? No, not at all; instead, we uphold the Law.

    - Romans 3:31 (GNB)

Reflection and Application

As noted earlier, we have gone back in time relative to the period described at the end of Acts, during which Paul had arrived in Rome. When Paul wrote this letter to the Romans he was in residence with one of the other churches, but he had heard of the activity in Rome and wanted to address the people.

After a formal greeting Paul jumps right into the topic of sin and all of the things that we as humans do wrong. It seems like an abrupt way to begin, but it makes sense for us to first recognize our sinful ways before we can fully appreciate the forgiveness of Christ. Paul leaves no stone unturned in naming the types of things we do, but does not directly judge the people in Rome or elsewhere. We can self-select the ones that best fit us.

He addresses the distinction between Jews and Gentiles in a number of ways. In one instance he notes that some Gentiles may observe the law without even studying it, because they intrinsically know it is right. By contrast, some of the people who have studied the law exhaustively have a hard time following it, even though they are experts.

Once we are aware of the law, then we are aware of our sin and the need for God's grace. We can be saved through our faith alone, but that does not mean the law is not important, therefore Paul emphasizes that the Christian theology upholds the law.

The sequence that Paul follows can be applied in our prayer time. If we begin with confession, we can move into the next topic in the right frame of mind, as we realize the first thing we may want to give thanks for is the gift of Grace.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. When was the last time you wrote or received a hand-written letter?
    2. What letter would you like to write today and to which person or group?
    3. What do we have to confess to God today?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we thank you for your gift of Grace. Help us to acknowledge our shortcomings and accept your gift.

    Prayer Concern
    People of Rome

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Romans IV - V (In Christ We Are Forgiven)


    (1) Introduction to The New American Bible, online version Introduction to Romans (New American Bible - NAB)

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