Before we get started watch this video introduction to Romans.
The Bible is not a theology textbook, it is a collection of correspondence, stories, and prophetic writings surrounding the narrative of God’s people Israel and his redemptive plan for a world corrupted by sin. Romans, however, is the closest thing in the Bible to a theology textbook as Paul writes to a feuding church in Rome before he hopes to arrive (Ro 1:13 & 15:22–25).
As the video explains, the Jews in Rome were expelled by Claudius around AD 49. Romans was written sometime around the mid-to-late 50’s AD, possibly about 57 as the Jewish population has returned. All that to say, the church in Rome isn’t very Jewish anymore. Thus, one of the primary purposes of the book of Romans is how the people of God are unified under God’s redemptive plan—the gospel.
In his apostolic introduction, Paul sets up the book of Romans, delivering several theses that he will be defending over the course of the epistle. Of note we see several things, the gospel was promised in the prophetic writings (2), Jesus is David’s descendant fulfilling the covenant and identifying his Jewishness (3), Jesus’ resurrection validates his claims as the Son of God (4), and the forgiveness of the gospel applies to all the Gentile nations, as well as Jews who are called to belong to Christ (5–6).
Most importantly in this section are the two facts Paul states about the gospel in 16 & 17. That it is, first, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (both Jews and Gentiles),” and second, “the revelation of God’s righteousness.”
Although the gospel applies to all people equally, that statement regarding “the Jew first,” didn’t make sense to me for a long time. On the idea of Jewish priority, one commentator writes,
“Because the Jews were God’s Chosen People (11:1), the custodians of God’s revelation (3:2), and the people through whom Christ came (9:5), they have a preference of privilege expressed historically in a chronological priority.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary)
Verse 17 also puts forward two key terms for the book of Romans: “righteousness” and “faith.” These two terms are crucially important for understanding the gospel. Righteousness is God’s holy standard, consistent with his character. When we discuss the effects of sin, we are talking about unrighteousness—in the same way, it’s not what you do, it’s who you are and there’s nothing you can do to change it. However, as we’ll see in chapter 3, God justly punishes sin through Jesus so that we can receive his righteousness and achieve God’s standard, which we could never achieve on our own. Any act of righteousness we pursue would always be tainted by sin, thus we need a new nature through Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)
Faith, on the other hand, is the means by which we receive salvation (and our new nature). That phrase in verse 17 that the NASB translates “from faith to faith,” is probably best understood according to the NIV “by faith from first to last,” meaning in every way, faith in Jesus (Rom. 10:9–10) is how we receive and experience God’s righteousness.
Ask yourself today, “Where do you see disunity in your life and how can the gospel bring unity?”
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate