By Roy D Oosthuizen
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2011. Volume 29.
This article was submitted to the Arminian on the 10TH SEPTEMBER, 2007
Posted Aug., 2011


The theme of Romans is: "Righteousness is the free gift of God, and faith in Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation for all mankind, for Jew as well as for Gentile." (Bruce Metzger, The New Testament, Its Background, Growth and Content, pp 229-231)

Throughout Romans, Paul speaks of and to Jews and Gentiles; circumcised/uncircumcised; children of natural descent/children of the promise; grace/law; Israel/the nations. This is because the Christian fellowship in Rome consisted of both ethnic groups, which made up the human context to which Paul addressed this letter.

"Paul, (a Jew), knew the mind of the Jew as did no other." (The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray, Vol. 1, p. xiv). Likewise, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, through his intimate and long-term ministry to the Gentiles knew the Gentile mind. Finally, Paul the apostle knew the gospel so intimately that he could call it "my gospel." He was therefore ideally suited to address any issues that could arise between these two diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds and that might become a threat to the fellowship and unity of believers or an obstacle to the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

"The content of his letter to the Romans was not the flash of the moment in writing, but had been maturing in Paul's thinking and teaching over many years. Therefore, what he sets forth in one part of the letter cannot be isolated from what he has said, (elsewhere) or is going to say, in another part." (of this letter).

For example, "Paul begins to answer an objection in 3:1-4, breaks off, then returns to it in chapters 9-11. 3:5-8 is dealt with more fully in chapters 6 and 8 and in 12:1-15:13." (Bruce Metzger, The New Testament, Its Background, Growth and Content, pp 229-231) In Galatians he also deals extensively with the issue of salvation by faith in Christ verses obedience to the law.

Paul's theme stated in 1:16-17 should be kept uppermost in mind as we seek to interpret Romans. " . . . in one way or another the theme, enunciated (stated) in 1:16-17, comprehends all that is unfolded in the rest of the epistle." (Murray, Vol. 1, p. xxiii) Righteousness is the free gift of God received through faith in Jesus Christ.


There were several reasons why Paul wrote this letter:

  • He sets forth his mature views on the Galatians/Corinthian issues he dealt with concerning the Judaizers;
  • The coming crisis in Jerusalem;
  • The need to secure a missionary basis for his work in Spain;
  • The importance of unifying the divided Christian community (Jews and Gentiles) in Rome around the Gospel. (Introduction to the New Testament, Carson, Douglas, Moo and Morris, p.p. 239-255)

Romans "was written from Corinth or its vicinity towards the end of Paul's three months' stay in Greece at the close of his third missionary journey." (Murray, Vol. 1, p. xvi)


In Romans 1:17 Paul says the gospel "is by faith from first to last"; In 1:5, the phrase "the obedience of faith" shows that "Faith is regarded as an act of obedience, of commitment to the gospel of Christ. Hence the implications of this expression "obedience of faith" are far-reaching. For the faith which the apostleship was intended to promote was not an . . . act of emotion but the commitment of wholehearted devotion to Christ and to the truth of his gospel. It is to such faith that all nations are called." (Murray, Vol. 1, p. 13-14)


Having declared his gospel, Paul sets out to explain that the reason for the need of a gospel of righteousness is because humanity, (here he specifically describes the sins of Gentiles) rejected God's revelation of Himself, and turned to idolatry, which in turn, resulted not only in God rejecting them, but also in their bringing God's judgment upon themselves, resulting in God abandoning them to their sin, which resulted in the wholesale perversion of their lives. Of these men Paul says, "they knew God" (1:21); "God allowed them" (24); "they brought upon themselves the inevitable penalty of their perversion" (27). He concludes this section by saying, "These men are well aware that God has decreed that those who do these things deserve to die; yet they not only do them, they applaud others who practice them." (TTNT, 1:32) This language implies personal moral responsibility.


Despite his God-given privileges, the Jew fares no better than the Gentile. Of the Jew, Paul says, ". . . is it that you despise the wealth of His kindness, forbearance and patience?" "Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you on to repentance? But you are stubborn and impenitent. You are storing up for yourself wrath when God will reveal His own just judgment. That day he will settle each man's account on the basis of that man's conduct." (TTNT, 2:4-6) "There is no favouritism with God. Those who sin knowing nothing of the Law, (Gentiles) will be lost, even though they know nothing of the Law; those who sin with the knowledge of the Law (Jews) will be judged by the Law." (TTNT, 2:11-12) Likewise, this language too implies personal moral responsibility.


We are each one personally morally accountable to God. God is not mocked, we personally reap what we personally sow. Galatians 6:7-8 and Jeremiah 18:1-10 are two of many examples found in Scripture of a divine principle where God metes out judgment or mercy depending on the human response to His word. In fact, the passage in Galatians seems to imply a fixed moral law that works relentlessly either way.

"CHRIST AND ADAM COMPARED" (Metzger) (5:1-21)

"One man brought sin upon all humanity; one man brought forgiveness and restoration to all who believe." (Ibid) The "many died" in verse 15 is equivalent to the "all died" in verse 12. (See Isaiah 53:11-12; Mark 10:45)

Elsewhere, Paul also says, ". . . no human being will get into a right relationship with God by keeping any law." (TTNT, 3:20) "God's own way of putting men right with Himself (is) through faith in Jesus Christ and it is available for all who believe - all, without distinction." (TTNT, 3:22) Not all biblical scholars agree on the meaning of the phrase "All who believe – all without distinction." Murray admits that "it is difficult to arrive at certainty respecting the precise thought intended." (Murray, Vol. 1, p.111) But does such language not imply a universal offer of grace?

In Romans chapter 5 Paul refers to an event implying that man's original relationship to God was based on a divine command that required Adam's trust and obedience, which he failed to deliver. The phrase is found in 5:13, ". . . from the time of Adam to that of Moses, death reigned even over those who did not sin by breaking a commandment as Adam did." (TTNT)

THE ADAMIC COVENANT (Gen. 2:8-9, 15-1)7

The phrase "by breaking a commandment as Adam did." implies that at the outset, (the creation of man) man's relationship with God was structured by God on the basis of trust and obedience to God's express command. God fully expected Adam to exercise his (limited) will in accordance with the divine command and warned him of the consequences if he failed to do so. The basis of man's choice therefore was not his own will but God's sovereign command. God sovereignly predetermined both the options and the consequences for Adam. These and many other statements in the Bible teach us that God relates to humanity in a morally responsible manner.


The primary reason for Paul writing chapters 9-11 is to address the problem of both the present and the future of Israel in God's plan of salvation as well as to show how the Gentiles' salvation is interwoven in God's plan.


Paul's thesis is stated in Romans 1:16-17 where he says, "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (NASB)

One aspect that calls for an answer is the phrase: "To the Jew first." Murray says, "It is this priority that appears to be contradicted by the large-scale unbelief and apostasy of Israel." (Murray, Vol. 2, p. xiii) If the Jews were the first to be offered the gospel which was promised through their own prophetic writings, why is it that the majority of Jews have rejected the gospel? Paul answers this question by pointing out that in His wisdom God has temporarily hardened the Jews because of their own rejection and stubbornness, and that He has turned this to the Gentiles' advantage.