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Epistle to the Romans




EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS. The origin of the Chris-tian community at Rome is involved in obscurity. Accord-ing to Catholic tradition it was founded by Peter, who was its bishop for a quarter of a century. But neither allega-tion has historical support. The most striking proof of the contrary is precisely this epistle of Paul. It does not contain the remotest reference to either the one fact or the other. And if Paul had written such an epistle to a community founded by Peter he would not only have vio-lated the agreement mentioned in Gal. ii. 9, but would also have gone against his own principle of refraining from intrusion on the mission fields of others (Rom. xv. 20 ; 2 Cor. x. 16). But neither was Paul the founder of the church in Rome. This also is shown by the present epistle, in which he for the first time opens relations with & community already formed. Thus we are thrown upon mere conjecture. In pursuing the investigation we have this fact to start from, that even before the Christian era there already existed in Rome a strong Jewish colony. After the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey (63 B.C.) numbers of Jewish prisoners of war were brought to Rome and there sold as slaves. Of these many were soon after-wards emancipated by their masters, Jewish slaves being a peculiarly inconvenient kind of property on account of the strictness of their observance of their law, especially in the matter of clean and unclean meats (Philo, Leg. ad Caium, ii. 568, ed. Mangey). These freedmen became the nucleus of a Jewish community, which ultimately settled in Trastevere and organized itself into an independent religious communion. It rapidly increased and became an important element in the life of the capital. By the time of Herod's death (4 B.C.) the independent Jews of Rome—that is, besides women and children—already numbered 8000 according to Josephus (Antiq., xvii. 11, 1 ; Bell. Jud,, ii. 6, 1). In the reign of Tiberius indeed this large and powerful organization was dissolved at a single stroke, a decree of the senate (19 A.D.) having sent to Sardinia for military service all Jews capable of bearing arms (Tac, Ann., ii. 85 ; Suet., Tiber., 36 ; Joseph., Antiq., xviii. 3, 5). It is probable, however, that after the death (31 A.D.) of Sejanus, to whom this measure had been mainly due, the Jews were expressly permitted to return to Rome, for we are told by Philo (Leg. ad Caium, ii. 569, ed. Mangey) that after the death of his favourite Tiberius perceived the Jews to have been unjustly calumniated, and ordered the authorities to refrain from oppressing them. At all events the community must ultimately have come together again, for in the reign of Claudius its existence is again presupposed, the idea of expelling the Jews from the capital having anew been entertained under that emperor. Regarding this proposal, however, accounts vary. According to the Acts of the Apostles (xviii. 2), and also Suetonius (Claud., 25), it was actually carried out; but according to Dio Cassius (Ix. 6) the expulsion was only proposed, and, when it was seen to be impracticable without great tumult, all that was done was to withdraw from the Jews their right of meeting. The latter version is doubtless the more correct. The withdrawal of the right of meeting was equivalent to the prohibition of public worship, and sufficiently explains why numbers left the city (Acts xviii. 2). But the main body must have remained and doubtless have again obtained the privilege of assembly, for from the time of Nero onwards we find the Jews in Rome once more flourishing with undiminished vigour.

From the midst of this Jewish community it was that the Christian congregation doubtless arose. The Jews of the Dispersion, it is well known, kept up an active corre-spondence with the mother-country in Palestine. Every year they sent their gifts and offerings thither, and every one in a position to do so went in person to the great festivals of the Holy City. As a result of this vigorously-maintained intercourse, which was aided also by the interests of trade, tidings of Jesus as the promised Messiah did not fail to reach the capital of the empire. Individual Jews who had become believers came forward in Rome as preachers of the gospel and found acceptance with a section of their countrymen. They found a perhaps still more numerous following among the "God-fearing" or "devout" (crc/So/tevoi, <f>of3ovfi¤voi, TOV t3eov) heathen, i.e., within that large circle which consisted of those who had adopted the faith of the Jews, observed certain of the more important precepts of their law, and also attended their public worship, but did not, strictly speaking, belong to the communion, and thus represented a sort of Judaism of the second order. In proportion as faith in Jesus as the Messiah gained ground within the Jewish community, a separation between the believers and the others would of course become more and more inevitable. Under what circumstances and con-ditions the separation actually took place is not now known. We may be sure, however, that it was not brought about without violent internal commotions; it is probable even that the edict of Claudius itself may have had its occasion in these. The remark of Suetonius (Claud,, 25) readily admits of being interpreted in such a sense: " Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit." So interpreted, these words contain our first notice of the Christian Church in Rome; its earliest constitution must have taken place precisely then. For, as has already been seen, the edict of banishment was probably never carried out, or at all events did not continue long in force. Un-fortunately, we do not know the date of it, but it must have belonged to the later years of Claudius, for in the beginning of his reign the disposition of that emperor towards the Jews was friendly (Jos., Antiq., xix. 5). In its context also Acts xviii. 2 implies a late rather than an early date, say about 50-52 A.D. ; and there is nothing against this in the circumstance that the edict is mentioned by Dio Cassius towards the beginning of his account of that reign, for in that particular passage the author is characterizing his subject in a general way and not referring to events in their chronological sequence.

If the foregoing suppositions are correct, Paul's epistle to the church at Rome was written some six or eight years after its formation. Paul was staying in Corinth at the time, in the last month before the eventful journey to Jerusalem which led to his captivity (58 A.D.). The evi-dence that the epistle was written during this last sojourn in Greece, which is only briefly alluded to in Acts xx. 2, 3, is simple and conclusive. We know from the Epistles to the Corinthians that shortly before this stay the apostle had set on foot throughout the churches of Macedonia and Achaia a collection on behalf of the needy church at Jerusalem (1 Cor. xvi.; 2 Cor. viii.-ix.). This collection it was his wish to carry in person from Corinth (1 Cor. xvi. 3-6 ; 2 Cor. i. 16 ; Acts xxiv. 17). But the Epistle to the Romans was written, as we learn from the author himself (Rom. xv. 24-28), when the collection had just been concluded and he was on the point of taking it with him to Jerusalem,—in other words, before his departure from Corinth, but not long before.





We have now to inquire into the motive which led the apostle precisely at such a juncture to address a communi-cation so full and elaborate as this to the Christian com-munity at Rome, with which he had no personal acquaint-ance. In general terms we have it from himself at the beginning and end of the epistle (i. 8-15, xv. 14 sq.). He had proclaimed the gospel in all the East from Jerusalem to Illyricum (xv. 19). He regarded his work in these quarters as for the present finished, and he felt impelled to preach Christ crucified also in the West. He was already looking towards Spain (Rom. xv. 24, 28). He wished first to take the collection to Jerusalem, and, that once accomplished, his labours in the West were to begin forthwith. But there, in Rome, the metropolis of the world, a community already existed which had come into being apart from any effort of his. For his activity in the West it was obviously of the utmost importance to secure the organization for himself and his message. Should its attitude be cold, he would be left without any secure base of operations. The purpose of the present epistle, then, is, to speak generally, this : to secure a connexion with the community at Rome, to gain it for himself and the gospel he carried. But had it hitherto been without that gospel t The community was at any rate already a Christian one.

And, if perhaps it was in need of fuller teaching, why did he not wait until he arrived in person in Rome in order to give it 1 Surely he could have done this more effect-ually by word of mouth than by a written treatise. Why, then, did he send this written message before him 1 There must have been some perfectly definite circumstances which led him to take this course. The nature of these will become clear to us when we seek to ascertain what at that juncture was the state of the Christian community in Rome.
Assuming that church to have arisen out of the midst of the Jewish community of the place, the most obvious conjecture is that at the period of the present letter it still continued to consist mainly of Jewish Christians, i.e., that the majority of its members were Jews by birth who even after their conversion to Christ still continued to regard the Mosaic law in its totality as binding on them. This is the view which Baur in particular sought to establish, as against the previously prevailing belief in the Gentile Christian character of the church in question. Baur's position was adopted by many subsequent critics, the most careful and elaborate defence of it, though with many modifications in detail, being that of Mangold. An inter-mediate position between the older view and that of Baur has been sought by Beyschlag, who works out the theory that the Christian community in Rome may possibly have been Jewish Christian in its way of thinking, yet at the same time Gentile Christian in its origin. In direct opposition to Baur, on the other hand, Theodor Schott has again maintained the older view as to its Gentile character, and in all essential points this is also defended by Weizsäcker, who, however, recognizes in Baur's hypo-thesis certain elements of truth by which the older theory must be corrected and supplemented.
In presence of the facts we are compelled to adopt the view of Weizsäcker as on the whole the right one. For the Jewish Christian character of the church Baur and Mangold, besides the argument from its presumable origin, have adduced a number of isolated texts. On the majority of these Mangold no longer lays any stress, since they admit of being otherwise interpreted. Thus when Paul designates Abraham as "our father" (TOV ITpoir6.ro pa fjpwv; iv. 1) he indeed includes his readers under the r/pwv. But in 1 Corinthians, an epistle certainly addressed to a church of Gentile Christians, the fathers of Israel are also called "our fathers" (1 Cor. x. 1). The Christian Church is in point of fact the true Israel; hence the patriarchs of Israel are its "fathers." In another place (Rom. vii. 1) Paul addresses his readers as persons "who know the law." But this holds true not of born Jews alone but of Gentile Christians as well, to whom also the Old Testament was a sacred book. Mangold finds an "irrefragable evidence of the Jewish Christian character of the community in Rome" in Rom. vii. 4 : "ye also, beloved brethren, have died to the law " (___ _'/____ ________-___ __ vo/__)). If they have died to it they must of course have once lived under it: so argues Mangold quite correctly. But the inference that in such a case they must have been born Jews is neverthe-less a rash one. Not the Jews only, who possess the written law, but the whole of pre-Christian mankind are in Paul's conception ideally under the law,—under its bondage and curse. For all alike redemption is a redemp-tion from the law's penalty and dominion. Hence Paul can say even to born Gentiles, e8avarojdi]re TCU V6/J.O>. But according to Baur and Mangold the decisive evidence for the Jewish Christian character of the Roman Christians is the whole substance of the present epistle. All its arguments have for their aim to establish and vindicate the free gospel of Paul as against the objections of the Judaizers. They therefore conclude that it can have been designed only for Judaistically-disposed readers whom Paul seeks by these representations to win for his gospel. This line of argument is at bottom sound, and Baur has rendered a real service by showing that the epistle is by no means an outline of the Pauline dogmatic as a whole, but is simply an elucidation of such points in it as were offensive to the Judaically-minded. A brief review of its contents will make this clear.

The epistle falls into two unequal parts,—a theoretical (i.-xi.) and a hortatory (xii.-xvi.). The latter is almost of the nature of a mere appendix. The proper kernel of the epistle, that for the sake of which it came to be written, is found in the theoretical exposition of the first eleven chap-ters. These again fall into two sections,—chaps, i.-v. laying the positive foundations of the Pauline gospel as freed from the law, and chaps, vi.-xi. containing the vindication of that gospel against objectors. Having shown directly in chaps, i.-v. that we can attain righteousness and so salvation not along the path of legal observance but only along the path of faith, that is to say, believing apprehension of the. mercy of God in Christ, he goes on in chap. vi. to refute point by point the positions of the Judaizers. He shows that in the freedom from the law the freedom to sin is by no means involved; on the contrary, it is with the believer an inherent necessity that he should live a new life in his fellowship with Christ (chap, vi.), and precisely by that fellowship is he for the first time truly enabled so to live (chap. viii.). The law cannot give him this power ; it only commands, and does not at the same time give strength to obey. Hence, although good in itself, it has for men only a pernicious effect, inasmuch as by its injunctions sinful desire is excited (chap. vii.). A special objection of the Judaizers against the activity of Paul was also this,—that he should have turned to the heathen while still the greater part of Israel remained unconverted. His answer to this is contained in chaps, ix.-xi. On the one hand, it is Israel's own fault to have rejected its salvation; on the other hand, such has been God's will. Israel is at present rejected in order that the heathen may step into the gap thus made. Yet the rejection of Israel is only for a time. By the ad-mission of the heathen Israel is to be stirred to jealousy and thus at last to be also converted. Precisely in such intricate paths as these is the wonderful depth of the divine wisdom made manifest.





Thus all the theoretical disquisitions of the epistle are in reality neither more nor less than a vindication and a polemic against the Jewish Christian point of view. But are we to conclude from this that the readers were them-selves Jewish Christians ? Such an inference has against it the fact that Paul, both at the beginning and at the close of his epistle, clearly designates them as Gentile Christians. In i. 5, 6, and i. 13-15, as well as in xv. 15, 16, he appeals to his office as apostle of the Gentiles as justifying him in now writing to the church at Rome and in proposing further labours there. In xi. 13, also, the readers are spoken to as of Gentile birth. The arguments by which Baur and Mangold seek to weaken the force of this passage are very far-fetched. If, then, the Roman Christians were Gentiles by blood, the theory of Beyschlag, that they were Gentile Christians in origin but Jewish Christians by conviction, appears to have most to commend it in view of the contents of the epistle. If the epistle stopped short at the end of chap, xiii., we should indeed be compelled to adopt that theory. But the remaining chapters (xiv., xv.) suggest much rather that the majority were by conviction also Gentile Christians and emancipated from the law. For in the chapters specified Paul deals with a division that has arisen within the community. One section still remained in the bonds of the strictest legal scrupulosity: they regarded a vegetable diet (Xa^ava) as alone permissible, rejecting the use of animal food (xiv. 2), and they also observed certain days (xiv. 5), by which, there can be no doubt, the Jewish sabbaths and festivals must be under-stood. In fact they were legal Jewish Christians, but Jewish Christians who in their asceticism went beyond the precepts of Mosaism, which indeed prohibits the use of the flesh of unclean animals, but not animal food in general. Over against these Jewish Christian ascetics, called by Paul " the weak in the faith," stood another section, whom he describes as " the strong." They rejected these legal observances, taking their stand on the gospel as freed from the law. But the latter must have been in the majority, for they are exhorted by the apostle to have a tender regard for the weakness of their brethren, and not by any harsh terrorism to force them into any courses which might offend their consciences. Such an exhortation, as Weizsäcker remarks, would have no meaning if the representatives of the freer view were not in the majority. The majority, then, of the church at Rome was Gentile Christian not only by origin but by conviction.

Here two problems arise, neither of which received sufficient attention from critics before Baur : (1) How are we to explain the origin, outside the limits of Paul's activity, of a Christian community thus free from the fetters of the law 1 and (2) How came it about that Paul should have addressed to such a community a letter like this,—adapted, as it appears to be, for Jewishly-inclined readers ? As regards the first question, in the absence of adequate materials for a conclusive solution, our answer can only be conjectural. The problem is a difficult one, because, following Gal. ii., we must start with the assump-tion that the communities founded under the more direct influence of the original apostles did not reject the Jewish law. In seeking, then, to account for the existence of a community which had so done, we must carry with us the fact that within the wide limits of the Jewish Dispersion very various degrees of strictness in observance of the law were to be found. Even those who were in the truest sense members of the communities of the Dis-persion can hardly have observed the law as strictly as did the Pharisees in Palestine. But the demands made on those " God-fearing " Gentiles who were wont to attach themselves, more or less closely, to the Jewish communi-ties must of course have been still more accommodating. If only they accepted the monotheistic religion and its worship without the use of images, the ceremonial pre-cepts laid upon them were reduced to a bare minimum,— the observance of Sabbaths, and also of some laws regard-ing meat. Now the community at Rome seems to have chiefly arisen out of the circles of such " God-fearing" Gentiles. As Paul himself gained access for the preach-ing of the gospel, at Thessalonica, for example, principally among the " God-fearing Greeks" (Acts xvii. 4), so also in Rome do these seem to have been the main element in the church. On this assumption we can understand how from the outset the community had not been in the habit of observing the Mosaic law. At most it was observed in isolated details, and as new members continued to be added from the outer heathen world these relics of Jewish custom received less and less prominence, fading away in presence of the faith in Jesus as the Redeemer. It is possible that influences from Pauline circles may also have come into play, but of this we cannot be sure.

If such were the circumstances in which the majority of the community in Rome had been brought to their attitude of freedom towards the law, that attitude was one of fact rather than of principle. The law was not observed; but there was no clear consciousness that it had no obligatory force. A community thus placed had no firm basis from which to withstand a Judaizing agitation when it should arise. In such an event there was the greatest danger to its very existence. It is here, then, that we must look for the real occasion of the present epistle. Paul was afraid that the Judaizers who had wrought with such effect within the churches founded by himself in Galatia and Corinth might also lay hold on that at Rome. Perhaps they had already arrived there and the apostle knew it. At all events he perceived a threatening danger. He was unwill-ing to delay till he could visit the church personally, and accordingly sent forthwith an elaborate document in estab-lishment and vindication of the gospel as free from the law, so that the Roman Christians might be confirmed in their free practice and might be strengthened to withstand the agitations of Judaizers. This is the explanation of the fact that a letter addressed to a Gentile Christian church, not in bondage to the law, is yet almost entirely devoted to the refutation of the Judaistic positions.


The genuineness of the epistle is practically undisputed; not so, however, its integrity. Baur (as had already been done by Marcion in ancient times) disputed the genuine-ness of the last two chapters (xv., xvi.), chiefly on the ground that in them a spirit of concession towards the weak is urged in a wholly un-Pauline manner. Lucht has sought to separate out the genuine from the spurious in these chapters in a very complicated manner, but substantially on the lines of Baur's criticism. The most thorough discussion of Baur's and Lucht's views is that of Mangold, who has very convincingly shown that there is no real ground for refusing to attribute to the apostle the chapters in question. All the exhortations to concession do not, after all, go beyond the principle acted on by Paul himself (1 Cor. ix. 20),—"to the Jews I became as a Jew that I might win the Jews." In two points, however, the defence does not hold: (1) the doxology at the close (Rom. xvi. 25-27) appears certainly to be from a later hand; (2) ch. xvi. 3-20 seems to be genuinely Pauline indeed, but not to belong to the present epistle. Not only is the large number of salutations in a letter addressed to a community personally unknown to the apostle in itself strange ; but salutations also occur addressed to per-sons whom one would expect to find rather at Ephesus than at Rome (ver. 3, Aquila and Priscilla; ver. 5, Epaenetus) and in districts where the apostle had resided and laboured (xvi. 7, 9, 13). Not without reason, therefore, is it conjectured that here we have a fragment of an epistle to the Ephesians which by mistake has come to be incorporated with that to the Romans.

The more recent literature relating to the Epistle to the Romans has been fully catalogued and discussed in the work of Grafe (Ueber Veranlassung u. Zweck des Romerbriefes, Tubingen, 1881). The most important works in the list have already been named in the present article. (E. S*.)



Footnotes

Many scholars identify these "devout" heathen with the "pro-selytes of the gate " who are met with in Rabbinical literature; but in reality the two are quite distinct and unrelated.

The vulgar pronunciation "Chrestus" for "Christus" is borne witness to in other passages (Tert., Apol., 3, and Ad Nat, i. 3; Lactan., Inst. Div., iv. 7, 5).
First of all in his essay " Ueber Zweck u. Veranlassung des Römer-briefs," in the Tübinger Zeitschr. f. Theol, 1836, hft. 3, p. 59 sq.
Der Römerbrief _. d. Anfänge der römischen Gemeinde, Marburg, 1866; Der Römerbrief u. seine geschichtlichen Voraussetzungen, Mar-burg, 1884.
" Ueber das geschichtliche Problem des Römerbriefs," in Stud. _. Krit, 1867, p. 627 sq.
Der Römerbrief, seinem Endzweck u. Gedankengang nach ausgelegt, Erlangen, 1858.
"Ueber die älteste römische Christengemeinde," in Jahrbb. f. deutsche Theol., 1876, p. 248 sq.
The words ____ _____. in Rom. iv. 1 are not to be construed with irpoir&Topa T)fiüv but with the verb eupij/ceVat. Abraham is thus de-signated as '' our father " only in the spiritual and not in the physical sense.

Ueber die beiden letzten Eapiteldes Romerbriefes, Berlin, 1871.
Der Romerbrie/u. s. geseh. Voraussetz., pp. 1-164.
8 See Mangold, op. cit., pp. 44-81.
See especially Mangold, op. cit., pp. 147-164. Lightfoot (St Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, 2d ed., pp. 169-176) has shown that many of the names met with in Bom. xvi. 3-20 are found precisely in Roman inscriptions of the period of the emperors, hut the fact is more striking than convincing. The names in themselves are common. It is not to the names hut to the persons characterized that we have




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