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Epistle to the Romans

Detailed article on the history and theological content of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans

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Romans, EPISTLE TO THE.—This subject will be treated under the following heads: I. The Roman Church and St. Paul; II. Character, Contents, and Arrangement of the Epistle; III. Authenticity; IV. Integrity; V. Date and Circumstances of Composition; VI. Historical Importance; VII. Theological Contents: Faith and Works (Paul and James).


—Among the Epistles of the New Testament which bear the name of the Apostle Paul, that written to the Roman Church occupies the first place in the manuscripts which have come down to us, although in very early times the order was probably otherwise. The Epistle is intended to serve as an introduction to a community with which the author, though he has not founded it, desires to form connections (i,10-15; xv, 22-24, 28-29). For years his thoughts have been directed towards Rome (xv, 23). The Church there had not been recently established; but its faith had already become known everywhere (i, 8) and it is represented as a firmly established and comparatively old institution, which Paul regards with reverence, almost with awe. Concerning its foundation, unfortunately, the Epistle to the Romans gives us no information. To interpret this silence as decisive against its foundation by Peter is inadmissible. It cannot indeed be ascertained with complete certainty when Peter first came to Rome; there may have been Christians in the capital before any Apostle set foot there, but it is simply inconceivable that this Church should have attained to such firm faith and such a high standard of religious life without one of the prominent authorities of nascent Christianity having laid its foundation and directed its growth. This Church did not owe its Faith solely to some unknown members of the primitive Christian community who chanced to come to Rome. Its Christianity was, as the Epistle tells us, free from the Law; this conviction Paul certainly shared with the majority of the community, and his wish is simply to deepen this conviction. This condition is entirely incomprehensible if the Roman Church traced its origin only to some Jewish Christian of the community in Jerusalem, for we know how far the fight for freedom was from being ended about A.D. 50. Nor can the foundation of the Roman Church be traced to the Gentile Christian Churches, who named Paul their Apostle: their own establishment was too recent, and Paul would have worded his Epistle otherwise, if the community addressed were even mediately indebted to his apostolate. The complete silence as to St. Peter is most easily explained by supposing that he was then absent from Rome; Paul may well have been aware of this fact, for the community was not entirely foreign to him. An epistle like the present would hardly have been sent while the Prince of the Apostles was in Rome, and the reference to the ruler (xii, 8) would then be difficult to explain. Paul probably supposes that, during the months between the composition and the arrival of the Epistle, the community would be more or less thrown on its own resources. This does not however indicate a want of organization in the Roman community; such organization existed in every Church founded by Paul, and its existence in Rome can be demonstrated from this very Epistle.

The inquiry into the condition of the community is important for the understanding of the Epistle. Complete unanimity concerning the elements forming the community has not yet been attained. Baur and others (especially, at the present day, Theodore Zahn) regard the Roman community as chiefly Jewish Christian, pointing to vi, 15-17; vii, 1-6; viii, 15. But the great majority of exegetes incline to the opposite view, basing their contention, not only on individual texts, but also on the general character of the Epistle. At the very beginning Paul introduces himself as the Apostle of the Gentiles. Assuredly, i, 5, cannot be applied to all mankind, for Paul certainly wished to express something more than that the Romans belonged to the human race; in corroboration of this view we may point to i, 13, where the writer declares that he had long meditated coming to Rome that he might have some fruit there as among the other “Gentiles“. He then continues: “To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor; so (as much as is in me) I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are at Rome” (i, 14 sq.); he names himself the Apostle of the Gentiles (xi, 13), and cites his call to the apostolate of the Gentiles as the justification for his Epistle and his language (xv, 16-18). These considerations eliminate all doubt as to the extraction of the Roman Christians. The address and application in xi 13 sqq., likewise presuppose a great majority of Gentile Christians, while vi, 1 sqq., shows an effort to familiarize the Gentile Christians with the dealings of God towards the Jews. The whole character of the composition forces one to the conclusion that the Apostle supposes a Gentile majority in the Christian community, and that in Rome as elsewhere the statement about the fewness of the elect (from among the Jews) finds application (xi, 5-7; cf. xv, 4).

However, the Roman community was not without a Jewish Christian element, probably an important section. Such passages as iv, 1 (Abraham, our father according to the flesh); vii, i (I speak to them that know the law); vii, 4; viii, 2; 15, etc., can scarcely be explained otherwise than by supposing the existence of a Jewish Christian section of the community. On the other hand, it must be remembered that Paul was out and out a Jew, and that his whole training accustomed him to adopt the standpoint of the Law—the more so as the revelation of the Old Testament is in the last instance the basis of the New Testament, and Paul regards Christianity as the heir of God‘s promises, as the true “Israel of God” (Gal., vi, 16). St. Paul often adopts this same standpoint in the Epistle to the Galatians—an Epistle undoubtedly addressed to Christians who are on the point of submitting to circumcision. Even if the Epistle to the Romans repeatedly addresses (e.g., ii, 17 sqq.) Jews, we may deduce nothing from this fact concerning the composition of the community, since Paul is dealing, not with the Jewish Christians, but with the Jews still subject to the Law and not yet freed by the grace of Christ. The Apostle wishes to show the role and efficacy of the Law—what it cannot and should not—and what it was meant to effect.


A. Character

—The chief portion of this Epistle to the Romans (i-xi) is evidently a theological discussion. It would however be inaccurate to regard it not as a real letter, but as a literary epistle. It must be considered as a personal communication to a special community, and, like that sent to the Corinthians or the cognate Epistle to the Galatians, must be judged according to the concrete position and the concrete conditions of that community. What the Apostle says, he says with a view to his readers in the Roman community and his own relations to them.

Language and style reveal the writer of the Epistles to the Corinthians and the Galatians. Its emphatic agreement with the latter in subject-matter is also unmistakable. The difference in the parties addressed and between the circumstances, however, impresses on either Epistle its distinctive stamp. The Epistle to the Galatians is a polemical work, and is composed in a polemical spirit with the object of averting an imminent evil; the Epistle to the Romans is written in a time of quiet peace, and directed to a Church with which the author desires to enter into closer relations. We thus miss in the latter those details and references to earlier experiences and occurrences, with which the former Epistle is so instinct. Not that Romans is a purely abstract theological treatise; even here Paul, with his whole fiery and vigorous personality, throws himself into his subject, sets before himself his opponent, and argues with him. This characteristic of the Apostle is clearly seen. Hence arise unevenness and harshness in language and expression noticeable in the other Epistles. This does not prevent the Epistle as a whole from revealing an elaborately thought out plan, which often extends to the smallest details in magnificent arrangement and expression. We might recall the exordium, to which, in thought and to some extent in language, the great concluding doxology corresponds, while the two sections of the first part deal quite appropriately with the impressive words on the certainty of salvation and on God‘s exercise of providence and wisdom (viii, 31-39; xi, 33-36).

The immediate external occasion for the composition of the Epistle is, given by the author himself; he wishes to announce his arrival to the community and to prepare them for the event. The real object of this comprehensive work, and the necessity for a theological Epistle are not thought out. The supposition that St. Paul desired to give the Romans a proof of his intellectual gifts (i, 11; xv, 29) is excluded by its pettiness. We must therefore conclude that the reason for the Epistle is to be sought in the conditions of the Roman community. The earliest interpreters (Ambrosiaster, Augustine, Theodoret) and a great number of later exegetes see the occasion for the Epistle in the conflict concerning Judaistic ideas, some supposing an antagonism between the Gentile and Jewish Christians (Hug, Delitzsch) and others the existence of some typically Jewish errors or at least of an outspoken anti-Paulinism. This view does not accord with the character of the Epistle: of errors and division in the Church the author makes no mention, nor was there any difference of opinion concerning the fundamental conception of Christianity between Paul and the Roman Church. The polemics in the Epistle are directed, not against the Jewish Christians, but against unbelieving Judaism. It is true that there are certain contrasts in the community: we hear of the strong and the weak; of those who have acquired the complete understanding and use of Christian freedom, and who emphasize and exercise it perhaps regardlessly; we hear of others who have not yet attained to the full possession of freedom. These contrasts are as little based on the standpoint of the Law and a false dogmatic outlook as the “weak” of I Corinthians. Paul would otherwise not have treated them with the mild consideration which he employs and demands of the strong (xiv, 5-10; xiv, 13-xv, 7). In judging there was always a danger, and mistakes had occurred (xiv, 13: “Let us not therefore judge one another any more”). According to the nature of the mistake divisions might easily gain a footing; from what direction these were to be expected, is not declared by the Apostle, but the cases of Corinth and Galatia indicate it sufficiently. And even though Paul had no reason to anticipate the gross Jewish errors, it sufficed for him that divisions destroyed the unanimity of the community, rendered his labors more difficult, made cooperation with Rome impossible, and seriously impaired the community itself. He therefore desires to send beforehand this earnest exhortation (xvi, 17 sq.), and does all he can to dispel the misconception that he despised and fought against Israel and the Law. That there was good ground for these fears, he learned from experience in Jerusalem during his last visit (Acts, xxi, 20-1).

From this twofold consideration the object of Romans may be determined. The exhortations to charity and unity (xii sqq.) have the same purpose as those addressed to the weak and the strong. In both cases there is the vigorous reference to the single foundation of the faith, the unmerited call to grace, with which man can correspond only by humble and steadfast faith working in charity, and also the most express, though not obtrusive exhortation to complete unity in charity and faith. For Paul these considerations are the best means of securing the confidence of the whole community and its assistance in his future activities. The thoughts which he here expresses are those which ever guide him, and we can easily understand how they must have forced themselves upon his attention, when he resolved to seek a new, great field of activity in the West. They correspond to his desire to secure the cooperation of the Roman community, and especially with the state and needs of the Church. They were the best intellectual gift that ‘the Apostle could offer; thereby he set the Church on the right path, created internal solidity, and shed light on the darkness of the doubts which certainly must have overcast the souls of the contemplative Christians in face of the attitude of incredulity which characterized the Chosen People.

B. Contents and Arrangement

—Introduction and Reason for writing the Epistle arising from the obligations of his calling and plans (i, 1-15):

(1) The Theoretic Part (i, 16-xi, 36)

Main Proposition: The Gospel, in whose service Paul stands, is the power of God and works justification in every man who believes (i, 16-17). This proposition is discussed and proved (i, 18-viii, 39), and then defended in the light of the history of the Chosen People (ix, 1-xi, 36).

(a) The justice of God is acquired only through faith in Christ (I, 18-viii, 39). (i) The proof of the necessity of justifying grace through faith (I, 18-iv, 25): without faith there is no justice, proved from the case of the pagans (i, 18-32) and the Jews (ii, 20); (b) justice is acquired through faith in and redemption by Christ (the Gospel, iii, 21-31). Holy Writ supplies the proof: Abraham‘s faith (iv, 1-25). (ii) The greatness and blessing of justification through faith (v, 1-viii, 39), reconciliation with God through Christ, and certain hope of eternal salvation (v, 1-11). This is illustrated by contrasting the sin of Adam and its consequences for all mankind, which were not removed by the Law, with the superabundant fruits of redemption merited by Christ (v, 12-21). Conclusion: Redemption by Christ (communicated to the individual through baptism) requires death to sin and life with Christ (vi, 1-23). To accomplish this the Law is ineffectual, for by the death of Christ it has lost its binding power (vii, 1-6), and, although holy and good in itself, it possesses only educative and not sanctifying power, and is thus impotent in man’s dire combat against sinful nature (vii, 7-25). In contrast to this impotence, communion with Christ imparts freedom from sin and from death (viii, 1-11), establishes the Divine kinship, and raises mankind above all earthly trouble to the certain hope of an indescribable happiness (viii, 12-39).

(b) Defense of the first part from the history of the people of Israel (ix, 1-xi, 36). The consoling certainty of salvation may appear threatened by the rejection or obduracy of Israel. How could God forget His promises and reject the people so favored? The Apostle must thus explain the providence of God. He begins with a touching survey of God‘s deeds of love and power towards the Chosen People (ix, 1-5), proceeding then to prove that God‘s promise has not failed. For (i) God acts within His right when He grants grace according to His free pleasure, since God‘s promises did not apply to Israel according to the flesh, as early history shows (Isaac and Ismael, Jacob and Esau) (ix, 1-13); God‘s word to Moses and His conduct towards Pharao call into requisition this right (ix, 14-17); God‘s position (as Creator and Lord) is the basis of this right (ix, 19-24); God‘s express prophecy announced through the Prophets the exercise of this right towards Jews and pagans (ix, 24-29); (ii) God‘s attitude was in a certain sense demanded by the foolish reliance of Israel on its origin and justification in the Law (ix, 30-x, 4) and by its refusal of and disobedience to the message of faith announced everywhere among the Jews (x, 5-21); (iii) In this is revealed the wisdom and goodness of God, for: Israel’s rejection is not complete; a chosen number have attained to the faith (xi, 1-10); (iv) Israel’s unbelief is the salvation of the pagan world, and likewise a solemn exhortation to fidelity in the faith (xi 11-22); (v) Israel’s rejection is not irrevocable. The people will find mercy and salvation (xi, 23-32). Thence the praise of the wisdom and the inscrutable providence of God (xi, 33-36).

(2) The Practical Part (xii, 1-xv, 13)

(a) The general exhortation to the faithful service of God and the avoidance of the spirit of the world (xii, 1-2). (b) Admonition to unity and charity (modest, active charity, peacefulness, and love of enemies (xii, 3-21). (c) Obligations towards superiors; fundamental establishment and practical proof (xiii, 1-7). Conclusion: A second inculcation of the commandment of love (xiii, 8-10) and an incitement to zeal in view of the proximity of salvation (xiii, 11-14). (d) Toleration and forbearance between the strong and the weak (treated with special application to the Roman community on account of the importance and practical significance of the question; it falls under (b): (i) fundamental criticism of the standpoint of both classes (xiv, 1-12); (ii) practical inferences for both (xiv, 13-xv, 6); (iii) establishment through the example of Christ and the intentions of God (xv, 7-13). Conclusion: Defense of the Epistle: (I) in view of Paul’s calling; (2) in view of his intended relations with the community (xv, 22-23); (3) recommendations, greetings (warning), doxology (xvi, 1-27).


—Is the Epistle to the Romans a work of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, St. Paul? Undoubtedly it has the same authorship as the Epistles to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Galatians; consequently, if the authenticity of these be proved, that of Romans is likewise established. We shall however treat the question quite independently. The external evidence of the authenticity of Romans is uncommonly strong. Even though no direct testimony as to the authorship is forthcoming before Marcion and Irenaeus, still the oldest writings betray an acquaintance with the Epistle. One might with some degree of probability include the First Epistle of St. Peter in the series of testimonies: concerning the relation between Romans and the Epistle of St. James we shall speak below. Precise information is furnished by Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch. Polycarp, and Justin: Marcion admitted Romans into his canon, and the earliest Gnostics were acquainted with it.

The internal evidence is equally convincing. Modern critics (van Manen and others) have indeed asserted that no attempt was ever made to prove its authenticity; they have even gone further, and declared the Epistle an invention of the second century. Evanson (1792) first attempted to maintain this view; he was followed by Br. Bauer (1852, 1877), and later by Loman, Steck, van Manen (1891, 1903), and others. A less negative standpoint was adopted by Pierson-Naber, Michelsen, Volter, etc., who regarded Romans as the result of repeated revisions of genuine Pauline fragments, e.g., that one genuine Epistle, interpolated five times and combined finally with an Epistle to the Ephesians, gave rise to Romans (Volter). These critics find their ground for denying the authenticity of the Epistle in the following considerations: Romans is a theological treatise rather than an epistle; the beginning and conclusion do not correspond; the addresses cannot be determined with certainty; despite a certain unity of thought and style, there are perceptible traces of compilation and discordance, difficult transitions, periods, connections of ideas, which reveal the work of the reviser; the second part (ix-xii) abandons the subject of the first (justification by faith), and introduces an entirely foreign idea; there is much that cannot be the composition of St. Paul (the texts dealing with the rejection of Israel lead one to the period after the destruction of Jerusalem; the Christians of Rome appear as Pauline Christians; the conception of freedom from the law, of sin and justification, of life in Christ, etc., are signs of a later development); finally there are, according to Van Manen, traces of second-century Gnosticism in the Epistle.

We have here a classical example of the arbitrariness of this type of critics. They first declare all the writings of the first and of the early second century forgeries, and, having thus destroyed all the sources, construct a purely subjective picture of the period, and revise the sources accordingly.

That the Epistle to the Romans was written at least before the last decades of the first century is established; even by external evidence taken alone; consequently all theories advocating a later origin are thereby exploded. The treatment of a scientific (theological) problem in an epistle can constitute a difficulty only for such as are unacquainted with the literature of the age. Doubts as to the unity of the Epistle vanish of themselves on a closer examination. The introduction is most closely connected with the theme (i, 4, 5, 8, 12, etc.); the same is true of the conclusion. An analysis of the Epistle reveals incontestably the coherence of the first and second parts; from chapter ix an answer is given to a question which has obtruded itself in the earlier portion. In this fact Chr. Baur sees the important point of the whole Epistle. Besides, the interrelation between the parts finds express mention (ix, 30-32; x, 3-6; xi, 6; xi, 20-23; etc.). The author’s attitude towards Israel will be treated below (VI). The rejection of the Chosen People could have become abundantly clear to the author after the uniform experiences of a wide missionary activity extending over more than ten years. The unevennesses and difficulty of the language show at most that the text has not been perfectly preserved. Much becomes clear when we remember the personality of St. Paul and his custom of dictating his Epistles.

Were the Epistle a forgery, the expressions concerning the person and views of the author would be inexplicable and completely enigmatic. Who in the second century would have made St. Paul declare that he had not founded the Roman community, that previously he had had no connections with it, since at a very early date the same Apostle becomes with St. Peter its co-founder? How could a man of the second century have conceived the idea of attributing to St. Paul the intention of paying merely a passing visit to Rome, when (as would have been palpable to every reader of Acts, xxviii, 30-31) the Apostle had worked there for two successive years? The Acts could not have supplied the suggestion, since it merely says: “I must see Rome also” (xix, 21). Of Paul’s plan of proceeding thence to Spain, the author of Acts says nothing; in recording the nocturnal apparition of the Lord to St. Paul, mention is made only of his giving testimony at Rome (Acts, xxiii, 11). The arrival at Rome is recorded with the words: “And so we went to [the wished for] Rome” (Acts, xxviii, 14). Acts closes with a reference to Paul’s residence and activity in Rome, without even hinting at anything further. Again, it would have occurred to a forger to mention Peter also in a forged Epistle to the Romans, even though it were only in a greeting or a reference to the foundation of the Church. Other arguments could be drawn from the concluding chapters. Whoever studies Romans closely will be convinced that here the true Paul speaks, and will acknowledge that “the authenticity of the Epistle to the Romans can be contested only by those who venture to banish the personality of Paul from the pages of history” (Julicher).


—Apart from individual uncertain texts, which occur also in the other Epistles and call for the attention of the textual investigator, the last two chapters have given rise to some doubts among critics. Not only did Marcion omit xvi, 25-27, but, as Origen-Rufinus express it, “cuncta dissecuit” from xiv, 23. Concerning the interpretation of these words there is indeed no agreement, for while the majority of exegetes see in them the complete rejection of the two concluding chapters, others translate “dissecuit” as “disintegrated”, which is more in accordance with the Latin expression Under Chr. Baur’s leadership, the Tubingen School has rejected both chapters; others have inclined to the theory of the disintegration work of Marcion.

Against chapter xv no reasonable doubt can be maintained. Verses 1-13 follow as a natural conclusion from ch. xiv. The general extent of the consideration recommended in ch. xiv is in the highest degree Pauline. Furthermore xv, 7-13 are so clearly connected with the theme of the Epistle that they are on this ground also quite beyond suspicion. Though Christ is called the “minister of the circumcision” in xv, 8, this is in entire agreement with all that the Gospels say of Him and His mission, and with what St. Paul himself always declares elsewhere. Thus also, according to the Epistle, salvation is offered first to Israel conformably to Divine Providence (i, 16); and the writer of ix, 3-5, could also write xv, 8.

The personal remarks and information (xv, 14-33) are in entire agreement with the opening of the Epistle, both in thought and tone. His travelling plans and his personal uneasiness concerning his reception in Jerusalem are, as already indicated, sure proofs of the genuineness of the verses. The objection to ch. xv has thus found little acceptance; of it “not a sentence may be referred to a forger” (Julicher).

Stronger objections are urged against ch. xvi. In the first place the concluding doxology is not universally recognized as genuine. The MSS. indeed afford some grounds for doubt, although only a negligibly small number of witnesses have with Marcion ignored the whole doxology. The old MSS., in other respects regarded as authoritative, insert it after xvi, 24; a small number of MSS. place it at the end of xiv; some have it after both xiv and xvi. In view of this uncertainty and of some expressions not found elsewhere in the writings of St. Paul (e.g., the only wise God, the scriptures of the prophets), the doxology has been declared a later addition (H. J. Holtzmann, Julicher, and others), a very unlikely view in the face of the almost unexceptional testimony, especially since the thought is most closely connected with the opening of Romans, without however betraying any dependence in its language. The fullness of the expression corresponds completely with the solemnity of the whole Epistle. The high-spirited temperament of the author powerfully shows itself on repeated occasions. The object with which the Apostle writes the Epistle, and the circumstances under which it is written, offer a perfect explanation of both attitude and tone. The addressees, the impending journey to Jerusalem with its problematic outcome (St. Paul speaks later of his anxiety in connection therewith—Acts, xx, 22), the acceptance of his propaganda at Rome, on which, according to his own admission, his Apostolic future so much depended—all these were factors which must have combined once more at the conclusion of such an Epistle to issue in these impressively solemn thoughts. In view of this consideration, the removal of the doxology would resemble the extraction of the most precious stone in a jewel-case.

The critical references to xvi, 1-24, of today are concerned less with their Pauline origin than with their inclusion in Romans. The doubt entertained regarding them is of a twofold character. In the first place it has been considered difficult to explain how the Apostle had so many personal friends in Rome (which he had not yet visited), as is indicated by the series of greetings in this chapter; one must suppose a real tide of emigration from the Eastern Pauline communities to Rome, and that within the few years which the Apostle had devoted to his missions to the Gentiles. Certain names occasion especial doubt: Epenetus, the “first fruits of Asia“, one would not expect to see in Rome; Aquila and Prisca, who according to I Corinthians have assembled about them a household community in Ephesus, are represented as having a little later a similar community in Rome. Further, it is surprising that the Apostle in an Epistle to Rome, should emphasize the services of these friends. But the chief objection is that this last chapter gives the Epistle a new character; it must have been written, not as an introduction, but as a warning to the community. One does not write in so stern and authoritative a tone as that displayed in xvi, 17-20, to an unknown community; and the words “I would” (xvi, 19) are not in keeping with the restraint evinced by St. Paul elsewhere in the Epistle. In consequence of these considerations numerous critics have, with David Schulz (1829), separated all or the greater portion of chapter xvi from the Epistle to the Romans (without however denying the Pauline authorship), and declared it an Epistle to the Ephesians—whether a complete epistle or only a portion of such is not determined. Verses 17-20 are not ascribed by some critics to this Epistle to the Ephesians; other critics are more liberal, and refer ch. ix-xi or xii-xiv to the imaginary Epistle.

We agree with the result of criticism in holding as certain that xvi belongs to St. Paul. Not only the language, but also the names render its Pauline origin certain. For the greater part the names are not of those who played any role in the history of primitive Christianity or in legend, so that there was no reason for bringing them into connection with St. Paul. Certainly the idea could not have occurred to anyone in the second century, not merely to name the unknown Andronicus and Junias as Apostles, but to assign them a prominent position among the Apostles, and to place them on an eminence above St. Paul as having been in Christ before him. These considerations are supplemented by external evidence. Finally, the situation exhibited by historical research is precisely that of the Epistle to the Romans, as is almost unanimously admitted.

The “division hypothesis” encounters a great difficulty in the MSS. Deissmann endeavored to explain the fusion of the two Epistles (Roman and Ephesian) on the supposition of collections of epistles existing among the ancients (duplicate-books of the sender and collections of originals of the receivers). Even if a possible explanation be thus obtained, its application to the present case is hedged in with improbabilities; the assumption of an Epistle consisting merely of greetings is open to grave suspicion, and, if one supposes this chapter to be the remnant of a lost epistle, this hypothesis merely creates fresh problems.

While St. Paul’s wide circle of friends in Rome at first awakens surprise, it raises no insuperable difficulty. We should not attempt to base our decision on the names alone; the Roman names prove nothing in favor of Rome and the Greek still less against Rome. Names like Narcissus, Junias, Rufus, especially Aristobulus, and Herodian remind one of Rome rather than Asia Minor, although some persons with these names may have settled in the latter place. But what of the “emigration to Rome“? The very critics who find therein a difficulty must be well aware of the great stream of Orientals which flowed to the capital even under Emperor Augustus (Jiilicher). Why should not the Christians have followed this movement? For the second century the historical fact is certain; how many Eastern names do we not find in Rome (Polycarp, Justin, Marcion, Tatian, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and others)? Again for years Paul had turned his mind towards Rome (xv, 23; i, 13). Would not his friends have known of this, and would he not have discussed it with Aquila and Prisca who were from Rome? Besides, it is highly probable that the emigration was not entirely the result of chance, but took place in accordance with the views, and perhaps to some extent at the suggestion of the Apostle; for nothing is more likely than that his friends hurried before him to prepare the way. Three years later indeed he is met by “the brethren” on his arrival in Rome (Acts, xxviii, 15). The long delay was not the fault of St. Paul and had not, by any means, been foreseen by him.

The emphasizing of the services of his friends is easy to understand in an Epistle to the Romans; if only a portion of the restless charity and self-sacrificing zeal of the Apostle for the Gentiles becomes known in Rome, his active helpers may feel assured of a kind reception in the great community of Gentile Christians. The exhortation in xvi, 17-20, is indeed delivered in a solemn and almost severe tone, but in the case of St. Paul we are accustomed to sudden and sharp transitions of this kind. One feels that the writer has become suddenly affected with a deep anxiety, which in a moment gets the upper hand. And why should not St. Paul remember the well-known submissiveness of the Roman Church? Still less open to objection is the “I would” (xvi, 19), since the Greek often means in the writings of St. Paul merely “I wish”. The position of verse 4 between the greetings is unusual, but would not be more intelligible in an Epistle to the Ephesians than in the Epistle to the Romans.


—The contents of the Epistle show that the author has acquired a ripe experience in the apostolate. Paul believes his task in the East to be practically finished; he has preached the Faith as far as Illyricum, probably to the boundaries of the province (xv, 18-24); he is about to bring back to Palestine the alms contributed in Galatia, Achaia, and Macedonia (xv,25-28; cf. I Cor., xvi, 1-4; II Cor., viii, 1 9, 15; Acts, xx, 3-4; xxiv, 17). The time of composition is thus exactly determined; the Epistle was written at the end of the third missionary journey, which brought the Apostle back from Ephesus finally to Corinth. The mention of the Christian Phebe of Cenchrie (xvi, 1) and the greeting on the part of his host Caius (xvi, 23) very likely the one whom Paul had baptized (I Cor., i, 14)—conduct us to Corinth, where the Epistle was written shortly before Paul’s departure for Macedonia. Its composition at the port of Cenchrae would be possible only on the supposition that the Apostle had made a long stay there; the Epistle is too elaborate and evinces too much intellectual labor for one to suppose that it was written at an intermediate station.

The year of composition can only be decided approximately. According to Acts, xxiv, 27, St. Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea lasted two full years until the removal of the procurator Felix. The year of this change lies between 58 and 61. At the earliest 58, because Felix was already many years in office at the beginning of Paul’s imprisonment (Acts, xxiv, 10); Felix scarcely came to Judea before 52, and less than four or five years cannot well be called “many”. At the latest 61, although this date is very improbable, as Festus, the successor of Felix, died in 62 after an eventful administration. Accordingly the arrival of St. Paul in Jerusalem and the composition of the Epistle to the Romans, which occurred in the preceding few months, must be referred to the years 56-59, or better 57-58. The chronology of St. Paul’s missionary activity does not exclude the suggestion of the years 56-57, since the Apostle began his third missionary journey perhaps as early as 52-53 (Gallio, proconsul of Achaia—Acts, xviii, 12-17—was, according to an inscription in Delphi, probably in office about 52).


—The Epistle gives us important information concerning the Roman Church and St. Paul’s early relations with it. We may recall the dangers and strained relations and the various groupings of the community referred to in xvi, 5, 14, 15, and perhaps in xvi, 10, 11. That Paul’s gaze was turned towards Rome for years, and that Rome was to be merely a stopping place on his way to Spain, we learn only from this Epistle. Did he ever reach Spain? All tradition affords only one useful piece of information on this point: “he went to the extremest west” (Clement of Rome, vi, 7); the Muratorian Fragment, 38 sq., is not sufficiently clear.

An interesting conception of the apostolate is contained in the words: “But now having no more place in these countries” (xv, 23). Paul thus limited his task to laying the foundation of the Gospel in large centers, leaving to others the development of the communities. The meaning of the words “unto Illyricum” (xv, 19) will always remain uncertain. Probably the Apostle had at this period not yet crossed the borders of the province. Whether the remark in Titus, iii, 12, concerning a proposed residence during the winter in Nicopolis (the Illyrian town is meant), is to be connected with a missionary journey, must remain unsettled.

The Epistle is instructive for its revelation of, the personal feelings of the Apostle of the Gentiles towards his fellow-Jews. Some have tried to represent these feelings as hard to explain and contradictory. But a true conception of the great Apostle renders every word intelligible. On the one hand he maintains in this Epistle the position of faith and grace as distinct from the Law, and, addressing a people who appealed to their natural lineage and their observance of the Law to establish a supposed right (to salvation), he insists unswervingly on the Divine election to grace. But Paul emphasizes not less firmly that, according to God‘s word, Israel is first called to salvation (i, 16; ii, 10), explicitly proclaiming the preference shown to it (iii, 1-2; ix, 4-5—the Divine promises, Divine sonship, the Covenant and the Law, and, greatest privilege of all, the origin of the Messias, the true God, in Israel according to the flesh—xv, 8). Paul willingly recognizes the zeal of the people for the things of God, although their zeal is misdirected (ix, 31 sq.; x, 2).

Such being his feelings towards the Chosen People, it is not surprising that Paul’s heart is filled with bitter grief at the blindness of the Jews, that he besieges God with prayer, that he is guided throughout his life of self-sacrificing apostolic labors by the hope that thereby his brethren may be won for the Faith (ix, 1-2; x, 1; xi, 13-14), that he would be prepared—were it possible—to forego in his own case the happiness of union with Christ, if by such a renunciation he could secure for his brethren a place in the heart of the Savior.

These utterances can offer a stumbling-block only to those who do not understand St. Paul, who cannot fathom the depths of his apostolic charity. If we study closely the character of the Apostle, realize the fervor of his feelings, the warmth of his love and devotion to Christ’s work and Person, we shall recognize how spontaneously these feelings flow from such a heart, how natural they are to such a noble, unselfish nature. The more recognition and confidence Paul won from the Gentiles in the course of his apostolate, the more bitter must have been the thought that Israel refused to understand its God, stood aloof peevish and hostile, and in its hatred and blindness even persecuted the Messias in His Church and opposed as far as possible the work of His Apostles. These were the hardest things for love to bear, they explain the abrupt, determined break with and the ruthless warfare against the destructive spirit of unbelief, when Paul sees that he can protect the Church of Christ in no other way. Hence he has no toleration for insistence on the practice of the Law within the Christian fold, since such insistence is in the last analysis the spirit of Judaism, which is incompatible with the spirit of Christ and the Divine election to grace, for such assistance would by practice of the law supplement or set a seal on Faith. But from the same apostolic love springs also the truly practical spirit of consideration which Paul preaches and exercises (I Cor., ix, 20-22), and which he demands from others everywhere, so long as the Gospel is not thereby jeopardized. One can easily understand how such a man can at one moment become inflamed with bitter resentment and holy anger, showing no indulgence when his life’s work is threatened, and can later in a peaceful hour forget all, recognizing in the offender only a misguided brother, whose fault arises, not from malice, but from ignorance. In a soul which loves deeply and keenly one might expect the co-existence of such contrasts; they spring from a single root, a powerful, zealous, all-compelling charity—that certainty of St. Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles.


—The theological importance of the Epistle to the Romans lies in its treatment of the great fundamental problem of justification; other important questions (e.g., original sin—v, 12-21) are treated in connection with and from the standpoint of justification In the Epistle to the Galatians Paul had already defended his teaching against the attacks of the extreme Jewish Christians; in contrast with the Epistle to the Galatians, that to the Romans was not evoked by the excitement of a polemical warfare. The discussion of the question in it is deeper and wider. The fundamental doctrine which Paul proclaims to all desirous of salvation is as follows: In the case of all men the call to the Messianic salvation is absolutely dependent on the free election of God; no merit or ability of the individual, neither inclusion among the descendants of Abraham nor the practice of the Law, gives a title to this grace. God zealously watches over the recognition of this truth; hence the emphasizing of faith (i, 16 sq.; iii, 32, 24-30; iv, 2 sqq., 13-25; v, 1, etc.); hence the stress laid upon the redemptory act of Christ, which benefits us, the enemies of God (iii, 24 sq.; iv, 24 sq.; v, 6-10, 15-21; vii, 25; viii, 29 sqq.); we owe our whole salvation and the inalienable certainty of salvation to the propitiatory and sanctifying power of the Blood of Christ (viii, 35-39).

From this standpoint the second part (ix-xi) describes the action of Divine providence, which is more than once revealed under the Old Dispensation and which alone corresponds with the grandeur and sovereign authority of God. Hence the irresponsive attitude of Israel becomes intelligible; the Jews blocked their own path by considering themselves entitled to claim the Messianic Kingdom on the grounds of their personal justice In view of this repugnant spirit, God was compelled to leave Israel to its own resources, until it should stretch out its hand after the merciful love of its Creator; then would the hour of salvation also strike for the People of the Covenant (ix, 30 sqq.; x, 3-21; xi, 32)

A. Securing of Salvation

—To the question how man obtains salvation, St. Paul has but one answer: not by natural powers, not by works of the Law, but by faith, and indeed by faith without the works of the Law (iii, 28). At the very beginning of the Epistle Paul refers to the complete failure of natural powers (i, 18-32), and repeatedly returns to this idea but he lays the greatest emphasis on the inadequacy of the Law. From the Jews this statement met with serious opposition. What does the Apostle mean then when he preaches the necessity of faith?

Faith is for St. Paul often nothing else than the Gospel, i.e., the whole economy of salvation in Christ (Gal., i, 23; iii, 23, 25, etc.); often it is the teaching of faith, the proclamation of the faith, and the life of faith (Rom., i, 5; xii, 6; xvi, 26; Gal., iii, 2; Acts, vi, 7; Rom., i, 8; II Cor., i, 23; xi, 15; xiii, 5; Acts, xiii, 8; xiv, 21; xvi, 5). That according to all these conceptions salvation comes only by faith without the works of the Law, needs no demonstration. But to what faith was Abraham indebted for his justification? (iv, 3, 9, 13-22; Gal., iii, 6). Abraham had to believe the word of God, that is hold it for certain. In the case of the Christian the same faith is demanded: “to believe that we shall live also together with Christ: knowing that Christ rising again from the dead, dieth now no more” (vi, 8-9); “If thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God hath raised him up from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (x, 9). This faith is undeniably belief on the authority of God (dogmatic faith). The same conception of faith underlies all the exhortations to submit ourselves in faith to God; submission presupposes the conviction of faith (i, 5; vi, 16-19; x, 16; xv, 18).

The faith described in the Epistle to the Romans, as elsewhere in St. Paul’s writings and in the New Testament in general, is furthermore a trusting faith, e.g. in the case of Abraham, whose trust is specially extolled (iv, 17-21; cf. iii, 3, unbelief and the fidelity of God). So far is this confidence in God‘s fidelity from excluding dogmatic faith that it is based undeniably on it alone and unconditionally requires it. Without the unswerving acceptance of certain truths (e.g., the Messiahship, the Divinity of Christ, the redemptory character of Christ’s death, the Resurrection, etc.), there is for St. Paul, as he never fails to make clear in his Epistles, no Christianity. Therefore, justifying faith comprises dogmatic faith as well as hope. Again, it would never have occurred to St. Paul to conceive baptism as other than necessary for salvation; Romans itself offers the surest guarantee that baptism and faith, viewed of course from different standpoints, are alike necessary for justification (vi, 3 sqq.; Gal., iii, 26 sq.).

The turning away from sin is also necessary for justification. Paul cannot proclaim sufficiently the incompatibility of sin and the Divine sonship. If the Christian must avoid sin, those who seek salvation must also turn aside from it While St. Paul never speaks in his Epistle of penance and contrition, these constitute so self-evident a condition that they do not call for any special mention. Besides, chapters i-iii are only a grand exposition of the truth that sin separates us from God. For the nature of justification it is immaterial whether Paul is displaying before the eyes of the Christian the consequences of sin, or is making sentiments of contrition and a change to a Christian mode of life a necessary preliminary condition for the obtaining of grace What sentiments he requires, he describes in the words: “For in Jesus Christ, neither circumcision availeth any thing nor uncircumcision; but faith, which worketh by charity” (Gal., v, 6). It is merely a repetition of this sentence when the Apostle, after proclaiming freedom in Christ, seeks to remove the misconception that the condition of Christian freedom might endure anything and become synonymous with liberty to sin (Gal., v, 13-21; cf. Rom., xii, 1 sq.; xiii, 12 sqq.; viii, 12 sqq.; xi, 20 sqq.).

We thus see what Paul would have us understand by justifying faith. If he does not always describe it from every standpoint as in the present instance, but designates it as dogmatic or trusting faith, the reason is easily understood. He has no intention of describing all the stages along the road to justification; he is so far from desiring to give a strict definition of its nature, that he wishes merely to indicate the fundamental condition on the part of man. This condition is, from the standpoint of the supernatural character of justification, not so much the feeling of contrition or the performance of penitential works as the trusting acceptance of the promise of God. When a person has once taken this first step, all the rest, if he be consistent, follows of itself. To regard justifying faith as the work or outcome of natural man and to attribute grace to this work, is to misunderstand the Apostle. The free submission which lies in faith prepares the soul for the reception of grace. Provided that the teaching of St. Paul be studied in the context in which it is found in the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, it cannot be misunderstood. If, however, Paul in both Epistles forestalls an unjustified practical consequence that might be drawn therefrom, this is a proof of his deep knowledge of mankind, but in no way a limitation of his doctrine. The faith which justifies without the works of the Law and the Christian freedom from the Law continue unimpaired. The possibility of error would be afforded if one were to withdraw the words of the Apostle from their context; even shibboleths for libertinism might be extracted in that case from his teaching. This leads us to the well-known sentence in the Epistle of St. James concerning faith without works (ii, 20, 24). Was this written in premeditated opposition to St. Paul?

B. Paul and James

—Two questions must be distinguished in our inquiry: (I) Is there an historical connection between the statements in the Epistles? (2) How are the antitheses to be explained? Are they premeditated or not?

(1) The possibility of a direct reference in the Epistle of St. James to St. Paul (this hypothesis alone is tenable) depends on the question of the priority of the Epistle. For scholars (e.g., Neander, Beyschlag, Th. Zahn, Belser, Camerlynck, etc.) who hold that the Epistle of St. James was written before A.D. 50, the question is settled. But the grounds for the assigning of this date to the Epistle are not entirely convincing, since the Epistle fits in better with the conditions of the succeeding decades. An extreme attitude is adopted by many modern critics (e.g., Chr. Baur, Hilgenfeld, H. J. Holtzmann, von Soden, Julicher), who assign the Epistle to the second century—a scarcely intelligible position in view of the historical conditions. If the Epistle of St. James were composed shortly after the year 60, it might, in view of the lively intercourse among the Christians, have been influenced by the misunderstood views of the teachings of St. Paul, and James may have combated the misused formula of St. Paul. The almost verbal connection in the passages might thus be accounted for.

(2) Does there exist any real opposition between Paul and James? This question is answered in the affirmative in many quarters today. Paul, it is asserted, taught justification through faith without works, while James simply denied St. Paul’s teaching (Rom., iii, 28), and seeks a different explanation for the chief passage quoted by St. Paul (Gen., xv, 6) concerning the faith of Abraham (Jiilicher and others). But does James really treat of justification in the same sense as St. Paul? Their formulation of the question is different from the outset. James speaks of true justice before God, which, he declares, consists not alone in a firm faith, but in a faith supported and enlivened by works (especially of charity). Without works faith is useless and dead (ii, 17, 20). James addresses himself to readers who are already within the fold, but who may not lead a moral life and may appeal in justification of their conduct to the word of faith. To those who adopt this attitude, James can only answer: “But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (i, 25). Throughout his Epistle James aims at attaining the translation of faith to life and works; in speaking of a faith that worketh by charity (Gal., v, 6), Paul really teaches exactly the same as James.

But what of the argument of James and his appeal to Abraham? “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou, that faith did cooperate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled, saying: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him to justice, and he was called the friend of God” (ii, 21-23). Paul, like James, appealed to the same Abraham—both rightly from their individual standpoints. With entire right could Paul declare that Abraham owed his justice, not to circumcision, but to his faith; with complete right could James appeal to Abraham‘s act of obedience and assert that faith accompanied it and by it faith was completed. And if James applies to this act the phrase: “It was reputed to him to justice”, he is quite entitled to do so, since Abraham‘s obedience is rewarded with a new and glorious promise of God (Gen., xxii, 16 sqq.).

It is clear from the whole passage that James does not use the word “justify”, in the sense in which Paul speaks of the first justification, but in the sense of an increasing justification (cf. Rom., ii, 13; Apoc., xxii, 11), as corresponds to the object of the Epistle. Of any contradiction between the Epistle to the Romans and that of St. James, therefore, there can be no question.

Finally, there is a difference in the use of the term faith. In the passage in question, James uses the term in a narrow sense. As shown by the reference to the faith of the demons (ii, 19), nothing more is here meant by faith than a firm conviction and undoubting acceptance, which is shared even by the damned, and has therefore in itself no moral value. Such a faith would never have been termed by St. Paul a justifying faith. That throughout the whole course of the Epistle of St. James St. Paul’s doctrine of justification is never called into question, and that St. Paul on his side shows nowhere the least opposition to St. James, calls for no further proof. The fundamental conceptions and the whole treatment in the two Epistles exclude all views to the contrary.


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