Skip to Main Content

Romans: 1:1-7, 13-17 Notes

Romans 1:1-7 - EXEGESIS:

BACKGROUND: Paul's opening to this letter to the church in Rome follows standard letter-writing conventions of the day with certain modifications. It was common for letters to begin with the name of the person writing the letter and the name of the person for whom it was intended. It was also common to include a brief prayer.

Paul could have satisfied these conventions by saying simply, "Paul to the church at Rome, Grace to you and peace." However, he expands considerably on that short greeting to establish who he is (v. 1), where he gets his authority (vv. 1, 5), the nature of his mission (v. 5), and the fact that the Christians in Rome are called (v. 6) and are saints (v. 7). He also crams a good deal of theology into this greeting. We are tempted to pass quickly over this salutation quickly to get to the body of the letter, but this tightly packed greeting will yield a great deal of meaning if we take the time to study it phrase by phrase.

This salutation differs from the salutations of other Pauline epistles, in part because his relationship with the church at Rome differs from his relationship with churches that he established. He has not been to Rome and is not personally acquainted with the Christians there, so he takes more care than usual to establish who he is and what he is about. He hopes to visit Rome on his way to Spain, and hopes "to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while" (15:24). He clearly hopes for their support for his mission to Spain.

In other epistles to churches, Paul includes others with himself in his greetings. His omission of co-senders here makes him solely responsible for the content of this letter and makes this letter more personal than most.


1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,

"Paul." Until his conversion, Paul was known by his Hebrew name, Saul. The Latin name, Paul, means "small." Paul may have adopted the Latin name as a mark of humility, but probably did so to facilitate his travels throughout the empire.

"a bond-servant" (doulos). There are two Greek words for servant, doulos and diakanos (the latter being where we get our word "deacon"). Both imply humble service, but doulos is the more humble of the two. It can be translated "slave," an appropriate translation here. Paul is establishing that he does not set his own agenda, but is acting under orders.

  • For Roman Christians, the phrase, "doulos of Jesus Christ" would bring to mind "doulos of Caesar." Slaves of Caesar, serving in the imperial household, enjoy substantial prestige. Even though slaves, their association with the emperor confers on them a good deal of respect. Some of them wield a good deal of clout.
  • For Jewish Christians (and there were surely Jewish Christians in Rome), the phrase "doulos of Jesus Christ" would bring to mind the Old Testament identification of Abraham, Moses, and the prophets as God's doulos (Genesis 26:24; Joshua 1:2; Isaiah 20:3; Amos 3:7) in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament.

"called to be an apostle." Having established his humble status as a doulos, Paul now tells the other side of the story. God has called him, just as God called Abraham (Genesis 12:1), Moses (Exodus 3), Isaiah (Isaiah 6), and other prophets-thus allying Paul with the great icons of Jewish history. God called Paul to be an apostle-a message-bearer-one of a select group privileged to see Jesus and chosen by Jesus to carry on his work.

"set apart for the Gospel of God." Paul is a Pharisee, and Pharisees are known as separated people-separate and holy. However, for many Pharisees, separateness occasions spiritual pride.

  • It is worthy of note that the Pharisees set themselves apart-separated themselves from common people-a separateness that became an occasion for spiritual pride. However, Paul, called to be an apostle, has been set apart, not because of his own choosing, but by the will of God. Elsewhere, Paul says that God set him apart before he was born (Galatians 1:15).


which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,

Note: While many, perhaps most, Roman Christians are Gentiles, Paul includes this verse for the sake of Jewish Christians. He makes it clear that the Gospel that he preaches is not his invention, but was promised by Old Testament scriptures. "God had spoken persistently through type, symbol, and figure of the blessing to be made available through the One who would come" (Briscoe). "The words of the prophets, long fastened under lock and key, are now set free.... Now we can see and understand what is written, for we have an 'entrance into the Old Testament' (Luther)" (Barth, 28).

"promised." "Paul does not speak of prediction in advance by the prophets, but rather of promise in advance" (Witherington, 32). The promise began with the call of Abram, where God promised to make a great nation of Abram and also promised, "All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you" (Genesis 12:1-3).

"his prophets." By "prophets," Paul most likely includes people such as Moses (see Acts 3:21-22), and David (see Acts 2:29-31) who are not authors of Old Testament books that we usually label as prophetic.


concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Jesus was "born of a descendant of David" (v. 3)-is the Son of David, a member of a royal family. Paul could have mentioned the promise of the holy scriptures (v. 2) again here, because the scriptures promised that the Messiah would be descended from David (Isaiah 11:1, 10; Jeremiah 23:5-6). Jesus is also "Son of God" (v. 4). He was David's son "according to the flesh" (v. 3) and God's Son "according to the Spirit of holiness" (v. 4).

"with power" (v. 4). Jesus demonstrated great power even prior to the resurrection-over demons, physical ailments, storms, and even death itself (John 11). However, his ultimate demonstration of power was the resurrection. That power is multiplied infinitely as his resurrection, the first fruits of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), confers the promise of resurrection on his disciples.

"according to the Spirit of holiness" (v. 4). Does Paul intend the "Spirit of holiness" to mean Jesus' spirit or the Holy Spirit? Probably the latter.

"by the resurrection from the dead" (v. 4). This verse could be interpreted to mean that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God at his resurrection. Scholars agree, however, that this could not be Paul's intent. Paul clearly believed that Christ possessed Godly qualities from the beginning (Philippians 2:5-11).

  • The word for "dead" (Greek: nekron) is plural. Paul sees Jesus' resurrection as "the first fruits of those who are asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20).

"Jesus Christ our Lord" (v. 4).

  • "Jesus" is his human name.
  • "Christ" is the Greek word for "anointed," and is the equivalent of the Jewish word "Messiah," which also means "anointed."
  • "Lord" (kurios) refers to Jesus' exalted status as Lord and Master of all. Jewish Christians would know that kurios was also used frequently in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament used by many Jews as their primary version of the scriptures) to translate YHWH (Yahweh)-God's name. "Lord," then, hints strongly at Christ's Godly status.


through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;

"through whom we received grace and apostleship" (v. 5). It is Jesus Christ (v. 4) through whom Paul has received grace and apostleship. We should probably read the "we" in this phrase as a "royal we"-referring solely to Paul. While Roman Christians have received grace, they have not received apostleship.

  • Grace is unearned favor-a gift from God. Paul was a recipient of grace, beginning with his experience on the road to Damascus. He had been guilty of persecuting Christians, which should have disqualified him for Christian service-but Christ showed him grace by choosing him to be an apostle-a "sent person"-a man chosen for a particular mission, in this case a mission to the Gentiles. Christ showed him grace, not only by choosing him, but also by empowering him for his mission. Without grace, no called person has any hope of fulfilling his/her calling.

"for obedience of faith" (v. 5). It seems odd to see this phrase in this epistle-particularly in these early verses where Paul is establishing the scope of the entire letter. We rightly think of this epistle as a treatise on faith and grace. Obedience would seem to be something altogether different-if not opposed to grace, then at least rendered unnecessary by it. Paul, however, reminds us that obedience is inextricably linked to faith-is a component of faith-an outgrowth of faith. That becomes clearer when we consider the significance of Paul's language throughout this pericope.

  • Paul spoke about being "a slave (doulos) of Jesus Christ" (v. 1). A slave is obligated to obey his master.
  • He spoke of being "called to be an apostle" (v. 1). A call falls flat-has no meaning-unless the called person responds to the call-unless he/she obeys.
  • He spoke of Jesus Christ as Lord (v. 4), and a Lord expects obedience from subjects.
  • He says here that his call to the Gentiles is a call from Christ "to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles. To be obedient to his calling, Paul must also help the Gentiles to be obedient to theirs.

"for his name's sake" (v. 5). Many people today consider their name to be no more than a label. More perceptive people recognize, however, that their name equates to their reputation-and a good reputation is, indeed, more valuable as gold.

  • Our lives bring honor or shame to those close to us. A parent whose reputation in the community is good brings honor to his/her family, while a drunken parent brings them embarrassment and shame. A young person who is a good student brings honor to his/her parents, while a young person who hangs out with the wrong crowd brings them shame. In like manner, we who wear Christ's name bring him honor by our obedience or shame by our disobedience.

"among whom you" (v. 6). Christ called Paul "for obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name's sake"-literally, "to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name" (v. 5). Now Paul reminds the Romans that they are among the Gentiles that he has been called to serve. While he was not the founder of the church at Rome, he nevertheless speaks with authority because he is obeying his Christ-given call.

"are also called to belong to Jesus Christ" (v. 6). In verse 1, Paul mentioned being called by Christ to be an apostle. Now he tells these Roman Christians that they, too, have been called-"called to belong to Jesus Christ" (v. 6). Such a call involves both privilege and responsibility-very much like being born to a royal family. While the Roman Christians are free to obey or disobey, we can imagine all the hosts of heaven sitting on the edge of their seats to see how they will do-cheering those who obey their call and weeping over those who fail to respond.


to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Greek: pasin tois ousin en Rhome agapetois theou kletois hagiois-literally "To all the ones being in Rome, loved ones of God, called holy ones, saints):

"to all who are in Rome, beloved of God" This surely includes Jewish Christians as well as Gentiles.

"called to be saints" (hagiois). Note that "saints" is plural. The New Testament uses this word quite differently than we use it today. We typically use it in its singular form to speak of St. Peter or St. Paul or a person "who is a saint"-by which we mean a person who has done a generous deed or has exhibited some other "saintly" quality.

  • In the New Testament, the word is plural in 56 of its 57 occurrences, and the one exception implies more than one saint (Philippians 4:21-"Greet every saint in Christ Jesus"). "Saints" always brings to mind a community of saints-a community of believers. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that hagiois also means "holy ones"-"separated"-"set apart"-"dedicated to God." "Saints" therefore speaks to the quality of life to which believers are called as well as to the community to which they belong.

"Grace (charis) to you." The typical Greek greeting is chaire-"joy"-although by Paul's time it has devolved into a word of greeting that has lost specific meaning. Paul does not use chaire here, but charis, a word with a similar sound but one invested with substantial meaning. Grace (charis) is central to this epistle. Grace is the gift of God that justifies us (3:24). Grace is that on which the promise rests (4:16). Sin is abundant, but grace abounds even more (5:20). We are not under law but under grace (6:14). We are no longer dependent on good works, but on grace (11:5).

"and peace" (eirene). The typical Jewish greeting is shalom, which the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) usually translates eirene.  Thus Paul incorporates both a variation of the usual Greek greeting and the usual Jewish greeting into the blessing that he offers these Roman Christians.

  • Both eirene (Greek) and shalom (Hebrew) can refer to an inner kind of peace--the kind of well-being that is derived from a deep relationship with God--the kind of wholeness that comes from having the image of God, once shattered by sin, restored in the believer.
  • Elsewhere, Paul says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)-in other words, "If God is for us, who cares who might be against us?" or "If God is for us, what does it matter who might be against us?" A close relationship with God confers on the believer a confidence that cannot be shaken by any opponent or any danger. It's appropriate to call that state of mind "peace"-eirene (Greek)-shalom (Hebrew).


13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.

Paul notes that he has not only thanked God for their witness (v. 8)--and included them in his prayers (v. 9)--and longed to visit to impart to them a spiritual gift (v. 11). He has also frequently made plans to visit Rome--but some sort of hindrance has always presented itself to make it impossible for him to follow through with his plans.


14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul acknowledges that he is under obligation [a debtor] (Greek: opheiletes) to Greeks and foreigners (Greek: barbarous--barbarians) alike--as well as to wise and foolish alike. Debtor is an unfortunate translation of the Greek word opheiletes in this verse. That word makes it sound as if Paul has received something from Greeks and foreigners, so he must repay them. That is not the case.

  • The word opheiletes has several meanings. The ones most appropriate for this verse are "obligated" or "morally bound". When Paul says that he is opheiletes to Greeks, barbarians, wise, and foolish, he is saying that he is obligated to them--morally bound to perform some sort of service in their behalf.
  • That leaves us with two questions: (1) WHO placed this obligation on Paul? (2) WHAT is that obligation?
  • We can answer both questions with one sentence. CHRIST has laid the obligation on Paul TO PREACH THE GOSPEL to Greeks and non-Greeks (barbarous) alike--to wise and foolish alike--to all people and every sort of person alike.
  • So the WHO is Christ. The WHAT is the obligation to preach the Gospel.

We see that sense of obligation elsewhere as well.

  • In 1 Corinthians 3:16, Paul says, "necessity (Greek: Ananke--necessity, requirement) is laid upon me.... Woe is to me, if I don't preach the Good News."
  • In Ephesians 3:8, he says, "To me, the very least of all the saints, was this grace given to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ."
  • When paired with Greeks as it is here, the word barbarous (foreigners or barbarians) means those who are not Greeks. Because Greece was an advanced culture, they tended to regard others as lesser lights--ignorant, and uncultured--barbarians.
  • Greeks and non-Greeks means everyone. That phrase parallels wise and foolish, which also includes everyone. The point of this verse, then, is that Christ has obligated Paul to preach the Gospel to everyone.
  • This closes the introduction or preface to the Epistle. Having shown his deep interest in their welfare, he proceeds in the next verse to state to them the great doctrines of that gospel which he was desirous of proclaiming to them.


16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith."

"For I am not ashamed of the Gospel" (euangelion-gospel, good news) (v. 16a). Why would anyone think that Paul would be ashamed of the gospel? Perhaps because he is addressing Christians who live in Rome-a sophisticated city-the center of worldly power. Paul can offer only a Jew who was executed as a common criminal-a stumbling block to those who prize power and wisdom (1 Cor. 1:20-23). How can this be euangelion-good news? How can this euangelion compare with the splendor of an emperor backed by legions of soldiers?

But the gospel "is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes" (v. 16b). Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, because he knows its Godly power. The emperor enjoys great power, but it is both transient and limited. God's power has no limits-no end. God holds the emperor's life in his hands. The emperor serves at God's pleasure.

  • Paul has seen the gospel's power. He experienced it on the road to Damascus, where he was going to persecute Christians. Instead of condemning Saul, Jesus used his power to redeem him (Acts 9). Jesus' power was manifested on that occasion by the bright light that blinded Saul and the voice from heaven. Since that time, Paul has seen God's power manifested in many ways. He has seen people healed and people converted. He has been freed from prison by an earthquake (Acts 16:16-40). He has preached successfully in unlikely places (Acts 17:16-33). He has survived a host of dangers (2 Cor. 11:23-28). He has seen his confidence in God justified time after time. How could he be ashamed of the gospel?
  • This gospel is "the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes" (v. 16b). Salvation from what? Salvation from whatever would undo us! Christ has saved people from drugs and other self-destructive behaviors. Christ has saved people from self-hatred and aimless living. But the primary thrust of the salvation of which Paul speaks here is eschatological. Christ saves us from separation from God. Christ enables us to live eternally in the presence of the Father. "for everyone" (v. 16b). That word, "everyone," is hard to believe:
  • Jews believed that Gentiles could be saved, but only by becoming proselytes-i.e., practicing Jews. Paul, however, says that the gospel has power to save "everyone who has faith" including Gentiles.
  • We might be surprised to learn that the gospel has power to save a murderer-even a notorious serial killer-but it does.

"who believes" (pisteuonti-from pisteuo) (v. 16b). Pisteuonti is present tense-in Greek, the present tense denotes an ongoing activity. Salvation belief is not something that happens once, but something that continues. We should not, however, fear that God's grace is insufficient to forgive doubt. We all doubt. We can all say, with the father who petitioned Jesus to heal his son, "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).

"for the Jew first, and also for the Greek" (v. 16c). In this context, "Greek" means "Gentile." Paul's ministry is predominantly to Gentiles, but he acknowledges the priority of Jews in God's plan of salvation. Jews enjoyed centuries of a special relationship with God, and Paul often preaches in Jewish synagogues. With the advent of Christ, however, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

"For in (the gospel) is revealed God's righteousness from faith to faith" (v. 17a). When Paul speaks of "God's righteousness," does he mean the righteousness that is characteristic of God or the righteousness that God imputes to those who have faith? Scholars are divided, but it seems best to say "both/and" instead of "either/or":

  • God is righteous. He has proven himself faithful in his relationship to humans.
  • But the gospel (euangelion-good news) is good news primarily because God has chosen to share his righteousness with us-has chosen to justify us "freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (3:24).
  • This righteousness "is revealed from faith to faith" (v. 17a). We could know nothing of God's righteousness or grace unless God revealed them to us. However, it requires faith to see what God has revealed. It is through faith that we see God's righteousness. It is through faith that we experience righteousness.

"as it is written" (v. 17b) is a common phrase in both Old and New Testaments to introduce a scriptural quotation (Joshua 8:31; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Chronicles 23:18; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4; John 6:31; Acts 15:15; Romans 2:24; 3:4, 10; 4:17; 8:36, etc.).

"But the righteous shall live by faith" (v. 17b). Paul's quotes from Habakkuk 2:4, where the prophet contrasts proud people with people of faith. Habakkuk said that the spirit of proud people "is not right in them," but "the righteous will live by his faith."

In Galatians 3:11, Paul quotes this verse from Habakkuk to say "no man is justified by the law before God," but "the righteous will live by faith." Salvation by faith will be a continuing emphasis throughout this book (3:22-31; 4:5; 5:1-20; 6:5; 7:24-25; 8:1-2, 37-39; 9:30; 11:20).

Romans 1:1-17 - General Commentary

1. a servant of Jesus Christ--The word here rendered "servant" means "bond-servant," or one subject to the will and wholly at the disposal of another. In this sense it is applied to the disciples of Christ at large (1 Corinthians 7:21-23), as in the Old Testament to all the people of God (Isaiah 66:14). But as, in addition to this, the prophets and kings of Israel were officially "the servants of the Lord" (Joshua 1:1, Psalms 18:1, title), the apostles call themselves, in the same official sense, "the servants of Christ" (as here, and Philippians 1:1, 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1:1), expressing such absolute subjection and devotion to the Lord Jesus as they would never have yielded to a mere creature.
called to be an apostle--when first he "saw the Lord"; the indispensable qualification for apostleship.
separated unto the--preaching of the
gospel--neither so late as when "the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 13:2), nor so early as when "separated from his mother's womb" the same time to the faith and the apostleship of Christ (Acts 26:16-18).
of God--that is, the Gospel of which God is the glorious Author. (So Romans 15:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:2 1 Thessalonians 2:8 1 Thessalonians 2:9, 1 Peter 4:17).

2. Which he had promised afore... in the holy scriptures--Though the Roman Church was Gentile by nation as it consisted mostly of proselytes to the Jewish faith to this Epistle), they are here reminded that in embracing Christ they had not cast off, but only the more profoundly yielded themselves to, Moses and the prophets ( Acts 13:32 Acts 13:33 ).

3, 4. Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord--the grand burden of this "Gospel of God."
made of the seed of David--as, according to "the holy scriptures," He behooved to be.
according to the flesh--that is, in His human nature (compare Romans 9:5 , John 1:14 ); implying, of course, that He had another nature, of which the apostle immediately proceeds to speak.

4. And declared--literally, "marked off," "defined," "determined," that is, "shown," or "proved."
to be the Son of God--Observe how studiously the language changes here. He "was MADE [says the apostle] of the seed of David, according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3); but He was not made, He was only "declared [or proved] to BE the Son of God." So John 1:1 John 1:14 , "In the beginning WAS the Word... and the Word was MADE flesh"; and Isaiah 9:6 , "Unto us a Child is BORN, unto us a Son is GIVEN." Thus the Sonship of Christ is in no proper sense a born relationship to the Father, as some, otherwise sound divines, conceive of it. By His birth in the flesh, that Sonship, which was essential and uncreated, merely effloresced into palpable manifestation.
with power--This may either be connected with "declared," and then the meaning will be "powerfully declared" [LUTHER, BEZA, BENGEL, FRITZSCHE, ALFORD, &c.]; or (as in our version, and as we think rightly) with "the Son of God," and then the sense is, "declared to be the Son of God" in possession of that "power" which belonged to Him as the only-begotten of the Father, no longer shrouded as in the days of His flesh, but "by His resurrection from the dead" gloriously displayed and henceforth to be for ever exerted in this nature of ours [Vulgate, CALVIN, HODGE, PHILIPPI, MEHRING, &c.].
according to the spirit of holiness--If "according to the flesh" means here, "in His human nature," this uncommon expression must mean "in His other nature," which we have seen to be that "of the Son of God"--an eternal, uncreated nature. This is here styled the "spirit," as an impalpable and immaterial nature (John 4:24), and "the spirit of holiness," probably in absolute contrast with that "likeness, of sinful flesh" which He assumed. One is apt to wonder that if this be the meaning, it was not expressed more simply. But if the apostle had said "He was declared to be the Son of God according to the Holy Spirit," the reader would have thought he meant "the Holy Ghost"; and it seems to have been just to avoid this misapprehension that he used the rare expression, "the spirit of holiness."

5. By whom--as the ordained channel.
we have received grace--the whole "grace that bringeth salvation" (Titus 2:11).
and apostleship--for the publication of that "grace," and the organization of as many as receive it into churches of visible discipleship. (We prefer thus taking them as two distinct things, and not, with some good interpreters, as one--"the grace of apostleship").
for obedience to the faith--rather, "for the obedience of faith"--that is, in order to men's yielding themselves to the belief of God's saving message, which is the highest of all obedience.
for his name--that He might be glorified.

6. Among whom are ye also--that is, along with others; for the apostle ascribes nothing special to the Church of Rome (compare 1 Corinthians 14:36 ) [BENGEL].
of Christ Jesus--that is, either called "by Him" ( John 5:25 ), or the called "belonging to Him"; "Christ's called ones." Perhaps this latter sense is best supported, but one hardly knows which to prefer.

7. beloved of God--(Compare Deuteronomy 33:12 , Colossians 3:12).
and peace--the peace which Christ made through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20), and which reflects into the believing bosom "the peace of God which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ--"Nothing speaks more decisively for the divinity of Christ than these juxtapositions of Christ with the eternal God, which run through the whole language of Scripture, and the derivation of purely divine influences from Him also. The name of no man can be placed by the side of the Almighty. He only, in whom the Word of the Father who is Himself God became flesh, may be named beside Him; for men are commanded to honor Him even as they honor the Father ( John 5:23 )" [OLSHAUSEN].

8. your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world--This was quite practicable through the frequent visits paid to the capital from all the provinces; and the apostle, having an eye to the influence they would exercise upon others, as well as their own blessedness, given thanks for such faith to "his God through Jesus Christ," as being the source, according to his theology of faith, as of all grace in men.

9. For God... whom I serve--the word denotes religious service.
with my spirit--from my inmost soul.
in the gospel of his Son--to which Paul's whole religious life and official activity were consecrated.
is my witness, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers--so for the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:15 Ephesians 1:15); so for the Philippians (Philippians 1:3 Philippians 1:4); so for the Colossians (Colossians 1:3 Colossians 1:4); so for the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:2 1 Thessalonians 1:3). What catholic love, what all-absorbing spirituality, what impassioned devotion to the glory of Christ among men!

10. Making request, if by any means now at length I may have a prosperous journey by the will of God, to come to you--Though long anxious to visit the capital, he met with a number of providential hindrances (Romans 1:13 , Romans 15:22 ; and nearly a quarter of a century elapsed, after his conversion, ere his desire was accomplished, and that only as "a prisoner of Jesus Christ." Thus taught that his whole future was in the hands of God, he makes it his continual prayer that at length the obstacles to a happy and prosperous meeting might be removed.

11, 12. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift--not any supernatural gift, as the next clause shows, and compare 1 Corinthians 1:7.
to the end that ye may be established.

12. That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me--"Not wishing to "lord it over their faith," but rather to be a "helper of their joy," the apostle corrects his former expressions: my desire is to instruct you and do you good, that is, for us to instruct and do one another good: in giving I shall also receive" [JOWETT]. "Nor is he insincere in so speaking, for there is none so poor in the Church of Christ who may not impart to us something of value: it is only our malignity and pride that hinder us from gathering such fruit from every quarter" [CALVIN]. How "widely different is the apostolic style from that of the court of Papal Rome!" [BENGEL].

13. oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, but was let--hindered.
hitherto--chiefly by his desire to go first to places where Christ was not known (Romans 15:20-24).
that I might have some fruit--of my ministry
among you also, even as among other Gentiles--The GENTILE origin of the Church at Rome is here so explicitly stated, that those who conclude, merely from the Jewish strain of the argument, that they must have been mostly Israelites, decide in opposition to the apostle himself. (But to this Epistle.)

14, 15. I am debtor both to the Greeks--cultivated
and to the Barbarians--rude.

15. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also--He feels himself under an all-subduing obligation to carry the gospel to all classes of mankind, as adapted to and ordained equally for all (1 Corinthians 9:16).

16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel--(The words, "of Christ," which follow here, are not found in the oldest and best manuscripts). This language implies that it required some courage to bring to "the mistress of the world" what "to the Jews was a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:23). But its inherent glory, as God's life-giving message to a dying world, so filled his soul, that, like his blessed Master, he "despised the shame."
for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth--Here and in Romans 1:17 the apostle announces the great theme of his ensuing argument; SALVATION, the one overwhelming necessity of perishing men; this revealed IN THE GOSPEL MESSAGE; and that message so owned and honored of God as to carry, in the proclamation of it, GOD'S OWN POWER TO SAVE EVERY SOUL THAT EMBRACES IT, Greek and Barbarian, wise and unwise alike.

17. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed--that is (as the whole argument of the Epistle shows), GOD'S JUSTIFYING RIGHTEOUSNESS.
from faith to faith--a difficult clause. Most interpreters (judging from the sense of such phrases elsewhere) take it to mean, "from one degree of faith to another." But this agrees ill with the apostle's design, which has nothing to do with the progressive stages of faith, but solely with faith itself as the appointed way of receiving God's "righteousness." We prefer, therefore, to understand it thus: "The righteousness of God is in the gospel message, revealed (to be) from (or 'by') faith to (or 'for') faith," that is, "in order to be by faith received." (So substantially, MELVILLE, MEYER, STUART, BLOOMFIELD, &c.).
as it is written--(Habakkuk 2:4).
The just shall live by faith--This golden maxim of the Old Testament is thrice quoted in the New Testament--here; Galatians 3:11 , Hebrews 10:38 --showing that the gospel way of "LIFE BY FAITH," so far from disturbing, only continued and developed the ancient method.

On the foregoing verses, Note (1) What manner of persons ought the ministers of Christ to be, according to the pattern here set up: absolutely subject and officially dedicated to the Lord Jesus; separated unto the gospel of God, which contemplates the subjugation of all nations to the faith of Christ: debtors to all classes, the refined and the rude, to bring the gospel to them all alike, all shame in the presence of the one, as well as pride before the other, sinking before the glory which they feel to be in their message; yearning over all faithful churches, not lording it over them, but rejoicing in their prosperity, and finding refreshment and strength in their fellowship! (2) The peculiar features of the gospel here brought prominently forward should be the devout study of all who preach it, and guide the views and the taste of all who are privileged statedly to hear it: that it is "the gospel of God," as a message from heaven, yet not absolutely new, but on the contrary, only the fulfilment of Old Testament promise, that not only is Christ the great theme of it, but Christ in the very nature of God as His own Son, and in the nature of men as partaker of their flesh--the Son of God now in resurrection--power and invested with authority to dispense all grace to men, and all gifts for the establishment and edification of the Church, Christ the righteousness provided of God for the justification of all that believe in His name; and that in this glorious Gospel, when preached as such, there resides the very power of God to save Jew and Gentile alike who embrace it. (3) While Christ is to be regarded as the ordained Channel of all grace from God to men (Romans 1:8), let none imagine that His proper divinity is in any respect compromised by this arrangement, since He is here expressly associated with "God the Father," in prayer for "grace and peace" (including all spiritual blessings) to rest upon this Church (Romans 1:7). (4) While this Epistle teaches, in conformity with the teaching of our Lord Himself, that all salvation is suspended upon faith, this is but half a truth, and will certainly minister to self-righteousness, if dissociated from another feature of the same truth, here explicitly taught, that this faith in God's own gift--for which accordingly in the case of the Roman believers, he "thanks his God through Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:8). (5) Christian fellowship, as indeed all real fellowship, is a mutual benefit; and as it is not possible for the most eminent saints and servants of Christ to impart any refreshment and profit to the meanest of their brethren without experiencing a rich return into their bosoms, so just in proportion to their humility and love will they feel their need of it and rejoice in it.

Romans 1:1-17 - BLB Commentary


  1. (Rom 1:1) Paul introduces himself to the Romans.

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

  1. Paul: The life and ministry of Paul (also known as Saul of Tarsus) is well documented in Acts chapters 8 through 28, as well as Galatians 1 and 2, and 2 Corinthians 11 and 12.
    1. It is almost universally agreed that Paul wrote Romans from the city of Corinth as he wintered there on his third missionary journey as described in Acts 20:2-3. This is based on Romans 16:1 and 16:23 along with 1 Corinthians 1:14. A variety of commentators pick the date of writing anywhere from 53 to 58 A.D.
    2. By the time Paul wrote Romans, he had been a Christian preacher for some 20 years. In Corinth, on his way to Jerusalem, he had three months without any pressing duties. He perhaps thought this was a good time to write ahead to Rome, a church he planned to visit after Jerusalem.
    3. As Paul endeavored to go to Rome, the Holy Spirit warned him about the peril awaiting him in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-14). What if he were unable to make it to Rome? Then he must write them a letter so comprehensive that the Christians in Rome had the gospel Paul preached, even if Paul himself were not able to visit them.
    4. Because of all this, Romans is different than other letters Paul wrote to New Testament churches. Other New Testament letters focus more on the church and its challenges and problems. The letter to the Romans focuses more on God and His great plan of redemption.
    5. We know the letter to the Romans was prized by the Christians in Rome; Clement of Rome's letter in 96 A.D. shows great familiarity with Paul's letter. It may be that he had memorized it, and that the reading of it became a part of virtually every meeting of the Roman church. As well, many scholars (Bruce and Barclay among them) believe that an edited version of Romans - without the personal references in Romans 16 - was distributed widely among early churches, as a summary of apostolic doctrine.

  2. A bondservant ... an apostle: Paul's self-identification is important. He is first a servant of Jesus Christ, and second called to be an apostle.
    1. There were several Greek words used to designate a slave, but the idea behind the word for servant (doulos) is "complete and utter devotion, not the abjectness which was the normal condition of the slave." (Morris)
    2. "A servant of Jesus Christ, is a higher title than monarch of the world." (Poole)

  3. Separated to the gospel of God: The idea of being an apostle is that you are a special ambassador or messenger. Paul's message is the gospel (good news) of God. It is the gospel of God in the sense that it belongs to God in heaven. This isn't a gospel Paul made up; he simply is a messenger of God's gospel.
    1. Separated unto the gospel: "St. Paul may here refer to his former state as a Pharisee, which literally signifies a separatist, or one separated. Before he was separated unto the service of his own sect; now he is separated unto the Gospel of God." (Clarke)
    2. "Some think he alludes to the name of Pharisee, which is from separating: when he was a Pharisee, he was separated to the law of God; and now, being a Christian, he was separated to the gospel of God." (Poole)

  4. The gospel of God: Other New Testament letters focus more on the church and its challenges and problems; Romans focuses more on God. "God is the most important word in this epistle. Romans is a book about God. No topic is treated with anything like the frequency of God. Everything Paul touches in this letter he relates to God. In our concern to understand what the apostle is saying about righteousness, justification, and the like we ought not to overlook his tremendous concentration on God." (Morris)
    1. The word "God" occurs 153 times in the book; an average of once every 46 words - this is more frequently than in any other New Testament book. In comparison, note the frequency of other words used in Romans: law(72), Christ (65), sin (48), Lord (43), and faith(40). Romans deals with many different themes, but as much as a book can be, it is a book about God.
    2. There are many important words in the vocabulary of Romans we must understand; Bruce quotes Tyndale's preface to Romans: "First we must mark diligently the manner of speaking of the apostle, and above all things know what Paul meaneth by these words - the Law, Sin, Grace, Faith, Righteousness, Flesh, Spirit, and such like - or else, read thou it ever so often, thou shall but lose thy labor."
  1. (Rom 1:2-6) Paul introduces his gospel to the Romans.

Which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;

  1. He promised before through His prophets: This gospel is not something new, and it is not a clever invention of man. Paul's world was much like ours, with people liked "new" teachings and doctrines. Nevertheless, Paul didn't bring something new, but something very old in the plan of God.

  2. Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord: This is the center of Paul's gospel, the "sun" that everything this else orbits around. The center of Christianity is not a teaching or a moral system, it is a Person: Jesus Christ.
    1. This Jesus has both a human origin (born of the seed of David according to the flesh), and an eternal existence (declared to be the Son of God). The evidence of Jesus' humanity is His human birth; the evidence of His deity is His resurrection from the dead.
    2. The resurrection of Jesus shows His divine power because He rose by His own power: Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again. (John 2:19)
    3. "There is a sense in which Jesus was the Son of God in weakness before the resurrection but the Son of God in power thereafter." (Morris)

  3. Declared: This ancient Greek word (horizo) comes from the idea "to bound, define, determine, or limit, and hence our word horizon, the line that determines the farthest visible part of the earth in reference to the heavens. In this place the word signifies such a manifest and complete exhibition of the subject as to render it indubitable." (Clarke)

  4. Jesus Christ our Lord: It means something that the Apostle Paul called Jesus Lord: "This term could be no more than a polite form of address like our 'Sir.' But it could also be used of the deity one worships. The really significant background, though, is its use in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to render the divine name, Yahweh ... Christians who used this as their Bible would be familiar with the term as equivalent to deity." (Morris)

  5. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith: Paul's gospel impacts individual lives. It isn't interesting theory or philosophy, it is life-changing good news.
    1. The gospel gave Paul and the church grace and apostleship, and one reason those two gifts were given was to produce obedience to the faith. "Without the GRACE, favour, and peculiar help of God, he could not have been an apostle." (Clarke)
    2. The gospel is big enough and great enough for the whole world; it must go out to impact all nations.
    3. The gospel had reached the Roman Christians, demonstrating that they are the called of Jesus Christ.
  1. (Rom 1:7-15) Paul's desire to come to Rome.

To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.

  1. To all who are in Rome: Paul had never been to Rome, and did not found the Roman church. This makes the Book of Romans different because most of Paul's letters were to churches he founded. It seems the church in Rome began somewhat spontaneously as Christians came to the great city of the Empire and settled there. There is no Biblical or historical evidence that the Apostle Peter founded the church in Rome.
    1. Acts 2:10 describes how there were people from Rome among the Jews present at the Day of Pentecostal, so when they returned home that was a start. Beyond that, the origins of the church in Rome are somewhat obscure, but Christians continually migrated to Rome from all parts of the empire. It shouldn't surprise us that a church started there spontaneously, without the direct planting by an apostle.
    2. Even so, through mutual acquaintances or through his travels, Paul knew many of the Christians in Rome by name because he mentions them in Romans 16. Even if Paul only knew many of the Roman Christian by acquaintance, he knew two things about them and every true Christian. He knew they were beloved of God and that they were saints.
    3. Called to be saints: "You notice that the words 'to be' are put in by the translators; but though they are supplied, they are not really necessary to the sense. These believers in Rome were 'called saints.' They were not called because they were saints; but they became saints through that calling." (Spurgeon)
    4. Lenski says Romans 1:8-15 has the feel of "small talk" among those trying to get to know one another.

  2. Grace to you and peace from God: Paul formally addresses his readers with his familiar greeting, combining the Greek greeting of grace with the Jewish greeting of peace. This grace and peace is not the kind wish of a man; they are gifts, coming from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  3. I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world: Paul was thankful for the good reputation of the church in Rome. Because of its location, this church had a special visibility and opportunity to glorify Jesus throughout the empire.
    1. These Christians had to be strong. "The Christians of Rome were unpopular - reputed to be 'enemies of the human race' and credited with such vices as incest and cannibalism. In large numbers, then, they became the victims of the imperial malevolence - and it is this persecution of Christians under Nero that traditionally forms the setting for Paul's martyrdom." (Bruce)
    2. "The Romanists urge this place to prove Rome the mother church; but without reason: the church of Thessalonica had as high a eulogy: see 1 Thessalonians 1:8." (Poole)

  4. Without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers: Paul wanted the Roman Christians to know he was praying for them, and praying for an opportunity to visit them (I may find a way in the will of God to come to you).
    1. "No wonder that they prospered so well when Paul always made mention of them in his prayers. Some churches would prosper better if some of you remembered them more in prayer." (Spurgeon)
    2. For God is my witness is perhaps Paul's acknowledgment of how easy it is to say you will pray for someone, and then fail to do it. He wanted them to know that he was really praying.

  5. I may impart to you ... that I may be encouraged: Paul's desire to visit the church in Rome is not merely to give to them, but to receive as well, because Paul realized that in their mutual faith, they have something to give to him.

  6. I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now): For a long time, Paul wanted to visit Rome and was only hindered by external circumstances. Perhaps some enemies of Paul implied he was afraid to go to Rome and preach the gospel in the "major leagues," in the Empire's leading city.

  7. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise: Paul recognized he had something of a debt to Rome. The Roman Empire brought world peace and order, they brought a common cultural, and an excellent transportation system to the world. Paul used all these in spreading the gospel, so he can best repay this debt by giving Rome the good news of Jesus Christ.
    1. Paul was such a tireless evangelist, working all over the world because he believed he had a debt to pay, and he owed it to the whole world.

  8. I am ready: Spurgeon wonders if Paul didn't use the words "I am ready" as his motto. Almost the first words out of his mouth when he was saved were, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" (Acts 9:6)
  • Paul was ready to preach and to serve (Romans 1:15)
  • Paul was ready to suffer (Acts 21:13)
  • Paul was ready to do unpleasant work (2 Corinthians 10:6)
  • Paul was ready to die (2 Timothy 4:6)

    1. "A Moravian was about to be sent by Zinzendorf to preach in Greenland. He had never heard of it before; but his leader called him, and said, 'Brother, will you go to Greenland?' He answered, 'Yes, sir.' 'When will you go?' 'When my boots come home from the cobbler;' and he did go as soon as his boots came home. He wanted nothing else but just that pair of boots, and he was ready to go. Paul, not even waiting for his boots to come home from the cobbler, says, 'I am ready.' Oh, it is grand to find a man so little entangled that he can go where God would have him go, and can go at once." (Spurgeon)
    2. I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also: This is a bold way of talking. "Talk of your brave men, your great men, O world! Where in all history can you find one like Paul? Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, marched with the protection of their armies to enforce their will upon men. Paul was eager to march with Christ alone to the center of this world's greatness entrenched under Satan with the word of the cross, which he himself says is to the Jews, and offence; and to Gentiles, foolishness." (Newell)
    3. Ironically - in the mystery of God's irony, when Paul did eventually get to Rome, he came as a shipwrecked prisoner.
    4. "I do not suppose that Paul guessed that he would be sent there at the government expense, but he was. The Roman Empire had to find a ship for him, and a fit escort for him, too; and he entered the city as an ambassador in bonds. When our hearts are set on a thing, and we pray for it, God may grant us the blessing; but, it may be, in a way that we never looked for. You shall go to Rome, Paul; but you shall go in chains." (Spurgeon)
  1. (Rom 1:16-17) Paul introduces the theme of his letter: the righteousness of God, as revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

  1. After his introduction, Paul introduces his "thesis statement" for his letter to the Romans. Leon Morris says of Romans 1:16 and 17: "These two verses have an importance out of all proportion to their length."

  2. I am not ashamed of the gospel reveals Paul's heart. In a sophisticated city like Rome, some might be embarrassed by a gospel centered on a crucified Jewish savior, embraced by the lowest classes of people - but Paul is not ashamed.

  3. For it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes: This is why Paul is not ashamed of a gospel centered on a crucified savior. He knows that the gospel - the good news of Jesus Christ - has inherent power. We do not give it power, we only stop hindering the power of the gospel when we present it effectively.
    1. The gospel is certainly news, but it is more than information; it has an inherent power. "The gospel is not advice to people, suggesting that they lift themselves. It is power. It lifts them up. Paul does not say that the gospel brings power, but that it is power, and God's power at that." (Morris)
    2. In particular, Rome thought it knew all about power: "Power is the one thing that Rome boasted of the most. Greece might have its philosophy, but Rome had its power." (Wiersbe). Despite all their power, the Romans - like all men - were powerless to make themselves righteous before God. The ancient philosopher Seneca called Rome "a cesspool of iniquity" and the ancient writer Juvenal called it a "filthy sewer into which the dregs of the empire flood."
    3. For salvation: In the Roman world of Paul's day, men looked for salvation. Philosophers knew that man was sick and needed help. Epictetus called his lecture room "the hospital for the sick soul." Epicurus called his teaching "the medicine of salvation." Seneca said that because men were so conscious of "their weakness and their inefficiency in necessary things" that all men were looking "towards salvation." Epictetus said that men were looking for a peace "not of Caesar's proclamation, but of God's." (Cited in Barclay)
    4. The gospel's power to salvation comes to everyone who believes. God will not withhold salvation from the one who believes; but believing is the only requirement.

  4. The message of the gospel came for the Jew first and also for the Greek (the non-Jew). This was demonstrated both by the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 15:24) and the initial ministry of the disciples (Matthew 10:5-6).
    1. This means that the gospel was meant to go first to the ethnic and cultural Jew, and then to the cultural Greek. "At this time the word Greek had lost its racial sense altogether. It did not mean a native of the country of Greece ... (a Greek) was one who knew the culture and the mind of Greece." (Barclay)

  5. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed: Simply, the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. This revelation of God's righteousness comes to those with faith, fulfilling Habakkuk 2:4: The just - that is, the justified ones - shall live by faith.
    1. It is essential to understand exactly what the righteousness of God revealed by the gospel is. It is not speaking of the holy righteousness of God that condemns the guilty sinner, but of the God-kind of righteousness that is given to the sinner who puts their trust in Jesus Christ.
    2. Righteousness: William Barclay explains the meaning of this ancient Greek word dikaioo, which means I justify, and is the root of dikaioun (righteousness): "All verbs in Greek which end in oo ... always mean to treat, or account or reckon a person as something. If God justifies a sinner, it does not mean that he finds reasons to prove that he was right - far from it. It does not even mean, at this point, that he makes the sinner a good man. It means that God treats the sinner as if he had not been a sinner at all."
    3. "It was the happiest day in Luther's life when he discovered that 'God's Righteousness' as used in Romans means God's verdict of righteousness upon the believer." (Lenski)
    4. This declaration is even greater when we understand that this is the righteousness of God given to the believer. It is not the righteousness of even them most holy mere man, nor is it the righteousness of innocent Adam in Eden. It is God's righteousness. "The righteousness which is unto justification is one characterized by the perfection belonging to all that God is and does. It is a 'God-righteousness'." (Murray)
    5. This faith (trust) in Jesus Christ becomes the basis of life for those who are justified (declared righteous); truly, the just shall live by faith. They are not only saved by faith, but they live by faith.

  6. From faith to faith: The idea behind this difficult phrase is probably "by faith from beginning to end." The NIV translates the phrase from faith to faith as by faith from first to last.
    1. "He saith not, from faith to works, or from works to faith; but from faith to faith, i.e. only by faith."
    2. "Perhaps what it conveys is the necessity of issuing a reminder to the believer that justifying faith is only the beginning of the Christians life. The same attitude must govern him in his continuing experience as a child of God." (Harrison) This is an "echo" of Paul's message in Galatians 3:1-3.