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An Introduction to the New Testament



Occasion. Paul's work in the Eastern world was done. It had begun in Syria and Cilicia, extended to Galatia, and then passed beyond the borders of Asia into Europe, to the provinces of Macedonia and Greece. The foundations he had laid in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus, and his conviction that his work was to pioneer and break new ground for the Christian mission, now led him to turn his eyes to the West, to Rome and the western Mediterranean, even to Spain.

The name of Spain sounds strange in the New Testament, and especially here in these earliest writings in it. But Roman roads and aqueducts, amphitheaters and bridges, had made Spain a new world. Some of the bridges, built under Augustus, still stand, as solid and serviceable as ever, and the great aqueducts which so awed the medieval Spaniards that they called them "miracles" still fill the traveler with wonder.

It was not only in material progress that Spain was coming to the front in the first century. It is a curious fact that, in the very years when Paul was writing his letters, the torch of Latin literature was passing from Italian to provincial hands, and men from Africa and Spain were beginning to write Latin books. First


among these Spanish writers stands Seneca, Nero's tutor, a contemporary of Paul. Martial, Lucan, Columella, Pomponius Mela, and even Quintilian, the great authority on Latin style, were all from Spain. Materially and culturally Spain was, in Paul's day, a new world.

This was the Spain that so attracted Paul as a field of missionary pioneering. He stood now on the pinnacle of the third journey at Corinth—Corinthus Bimaris, Corinth on two seas—with its two ports, Lecheum and Cenchreae. From one he could take ship for the East, for Antioch and Caesarea. From the other he could sail away over the Gulf of Corinth to Brundisium and the Appian Way, which led to Rome.

Paul is poised upon a momentous decision. The West is calling him. He wishes to visit the Roman church and have a hand in shaping its religious life. Galatia and Corinth have shown him into what mistaken attitudes Christian groups might suddenly veer, and his great conception of faith as the central thing in Christian experience must be put before the Roman Christians, if they are to be safeguarded against grave errors. With his vivid messianic expectations Paul can hardly have foreseen much of the vast future that lay before the Roman church. But its immediate importance for the Greek mission was evident enough. The founding of the Roman church is lost in obscurity. The legend connecting Peter with its foundation is clearly unhistorical. We are left to suppose that Roman visitors to Corinth, Ephesus, or Antioch had carried the gospel back with them to Rome, or that


visitors from those places or others like them had carried the good news to Rome and it had taken root there. Paul's friend and employer Aquila was from Rome, Acts 18:2, and he and his wife Priscilla may have had a hand in it. Or perhaps Paul, in his slow voyages about the Mediterranean, had sowed the seed of it in conversation with strangers from Rome on the moonlit deck of some coasting vessel. At any rate, Paul had learned that there were already believers there. He would have liked to lay that foundation himself; but if it was already laid, he would want, above everything else, to go there and make his views and presence felt in the formative period of the church that was taking shape in the capital of the world.

Everything, in short, draws Paul westward, first to Rome and then to Spain. At Corinth he is already well on his way to the West. Only one thing holds him back, but that is a decisive thing—the collection for the poor brothers in Jerusalem. The churches of four provinces—Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Greece—have raised the fund Paul had asked for, and now he must take it to Jerusalem.

He might, of course, have sent a draft.[1] The bankers of his day were quite capable of transmitting credits about the Mediterranean. But that would not do. This money was not simply to feed so many hungry mouths; it was to bind the two parts of the Christian body together, to satisfy the Jerusalem group of the reality of their union with the Greek churches of the

[1] M. Rostovtzeff, Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire (Oxford, 1926), p. 170.


West. The fund had to be interpreted by Paul in person if it was to do the thing he most hoped for, that is, to reconcile Jerusalem to the Greek mission.

Raising money in the first century or the twentieth carries with it grave responsibilities, and it was these that now controlled Paul's movements—most unfortunately, too, as it turned out. For it was this fatal collection that took Paul to turbulent Jerusalem, already seething as he knew very well, 15:31, with that mad unrest that ten years later was to break into open war. It was this charitable fund that cast him into prison and terminated the missionary work of the best missionary of them all. We may talk as we like about Paul the prisoner and what he could accomplish talking to his guards or writing his letters, but common sense tells us that what a man shut up in prison can accomplish is nothing to what the same man, free and at large, can do.

So Paul must turn his face eastward once more, with the representatives of the contributing churches whose names are given in Acts 20:4. But he cannot turn his back upon Rome and the West without some gesture indicative of what he felt and desired about them. So he writes the letter to the Romans.

Burton called it "prophylactic," designed to safeguard them against dangers he had seen other churches experience. Sanday called it "testamentary," the compressing of his gospel into a letter and bequeathing it as a last will and testament to their keeping. There is truth in both interpretations. The echoes of the Galatian controversy, chapters 3-5, and the manifest


allusions to the kind of thing that had happened at Corinth, chapter 14, show that the letter was designed to safeguard the Roman believers against similar errors. And the more ordered manner of presentation that distinguishes Romans from the other letters of Paul, together with the constructive character of the letter, justifies Sanday's description of it as testamentary. Paul may well have felt that he might never be able to reach Rome. Certainly it has, in fact. become what Sanday said it was intended to be—Paul s bequest of his gospel to the Roman Christians and to the world.

Contents. No book of the New Testament appears more formidable to the modern reader than Romans. It is positively awe-inspiring, and this fact considerably impedes the understanding of it. At the risk of violating sound principles of pedagogy and interpretation, let us turn aside for the moment from the front of the letter and see if the student's apprehensions may not be appreciably lightened if we approach it from the rear.

We are here confronted by one of its problems. Chapter 16 is a letter of introduction for Phoebe, an assistant of the church at Cenchreae, who is about to make a journey, apparently to Rome. There is nothing impossible or improbable about that, of course, Aquila and Priscilla had come from Rome to Corinth and established their business first there and then at Ephesus, Acts 18:1, 2, 18, 19, 26. Here in Rom. 16:3 they are mentioned as at the place which Phoebe was about to visit. It would seem that they have gone


back to Rome, though at last accounts they were in Ephesus, I Cor. 16:19, where one congregation met in their house. The fact that greetings are sent to Epaenetus, the first man in Asia to turn to Christ, 16:5, rather suggests, however, that Ephesus is Phoebe's destination, not Rome, unless he too has, like Aquila and Priscilla, betaken himself to Rome. The extraordinary number of persons greeted in the chapter, twenty-six in all, is surprising if it is addressed to Rome. Not that Paul might now know that many people in a city he had never visited (he has never been in Rome) but because he is so familiar with their domestic or religious groupings; he knows that Rufus has his mother with him, that Philologus and Julia are together. Nereus has his sister with him, and they form the nucleus of a Christian congregation. So do Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas; a group of brothers meets with them. No less than twenty-four people—men and women—are greeted by name, not to mention Rufus' mother and Nereus' sister, 16:13, 15. The Christian record of some of these people is also emphasized. Some of them had worked very hard in the Lord's service: Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis. Paul knows of three different congregations and the individuals that they rally around, perhaps in whose houses they meet, 16:5, 14, 15. Some of the people greeted are old comrades of Paul's in missionary work; some have shared imprisonment with him, 16:7.

All this makes it seem extremely probable that Paul is not writing to a strange city but to his


well-known and greatly loved Ephesus. Acts records that, on his final journey to the East, he had a special farewell for the elders of Ephesus, 20:17-38. Having just spent more than two years in Ephesus, Acts 19:8-10, he would, of course, have just such knowledge about people and groups there as chapter 16 exhibits and, if a friend were crossing at once to Ephesus, would naturally send .them his greetings. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how he could know so much in detail about the Christians in Rome, or how so many of his old friends could so suddenly have removed to Rome. The warning against departing from "the instruction you were given," 16:17, fits Rome poorly if Paul has never been there, and on the whole it is very probable that chapter 16 was written not to Rome but to Ephesus. Short journeys are more numerous and hence more probable than long ones, and it is likely that Phoebe was making the short voyage to Ephesus, not the longer journey to Rome. It may be added that Cenchreae was the Aegean port and slightly favors contacts with Ephesus rather than with Rome. Not that a resident of Cenchreae might not undertake a journey to Rome; only that a woman of Cenchreae would be rather more likely to have contacts—business or social—with Ephesus than with Rome.

The separation of the bulk of the sixteenth chapter from the rest of Romans has very recently received striking support in the Ann Arbor papyrus manuscript of Paul's letters, [1] published by Professor Henry A.

[1] Ten leaves of this very ancient papyrus codex of Paul's letters were published by Sir Frederic G. Kenyon in London in 1934 (Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri, Fasc. III). Thirty others from the same codex were published at Ann Arbor by Professor Henry A. Sanders in 1935, and forty-six others, also from the same codex, have been published by Sir Frederic from the Chester Beatty Collection, in 1936, as Fasc. III, Suppl.


Sanders in 1935 and dated by Wilcken and Gerstinger about A.D. 200. The Michigan leaves include Romans and place the great doxology, 16:25-27, at the end of chapter 15. This so fully accords with the main facts about the sixteenth chapter that it may be said to complete the evidence. The Letter to the Romans ends with the fifteenth chapter and the doxology; the sixteenth chapter is not a part of it; it is a letter of introduction, one of those letters so frequent in the ancient world, referred to by Paul in II Cor. 3:1. There are numerous examples of them in the Greek papyri, [1] and Christians must have made use of them constantly, for in moving about the ancient world, where the inns were so often places of ill-repute and questionable morals, the Christians on their journeys formed the practice of stopping with some Christian brother, to whom they carried letters of introduction. III John is such a letter. So Romans, chapter 16, makes Phoebe known to Paul's old friends, the Christians of Ephesus. That it contains so little in the way of instruction, coupled with the references to instruction previously given, verses 17-20, is natural enough in view of the fact that Paul has so lately come from there by way of Troas and Macedonia. [2]

[1] Milligan, Greek Papyri (Cambridge, 1910), p. 24.

[2] The objections raised by C. H. Dodd (The Epistle to the Romans [New York, 1922], pp. xix and xx) yield readily to this approach: (1 and 2) If Phoebe is going to a city from which Paul has just come, after spending almost three years preaching in it, it is natural that he should take advantage of the opportunity to greet many old friends there, thus also introducing Phoebe to them personally; that he has no new body of instruction to impart is entirely natural in the situation. The preponderance of greetings creates no difficulty; cf. the letter of Sempronius to his mother (second century A.D.), in which in a letter of seventeen lines eleven persons or groups are saluted; cf. also Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East (New York, 1927), pp. 192-94. This sort of thing is a marked and well-known feature of ancient Greek letters. (3) Dodd's excellent solution of 16:16b, "All the churches of Christ wish to be remembered to you," fits Ephesus quite as well as Rome: "Paul was at the moment in close touch with the churches of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia and Achaia, over the business of the relief fund, and it may be that their delegates had already assembled" (op. cit., p. 240). (4) It is no longer necessary to suppose that the letter ended at 15:33; the Ann Arbor papyrus shows that the great doxology, 16:25-27, originally stood after 15:33.


If we pursue our plan of beginning Romans at the end, we find that the next main portion of it is concerned with an account of Paul's situation and prospects, 15:14-33. Much that has just been said about his situation when he wrote the letter is drawn from these lines. The next preceding section, 12:1-15:13 tells what the Christian's conduct ought to be in the world, the state, and the church. This is our longest statement from Paul's pen of his ideal of Christian behavior and deserves to stand next to the Sermon on the Mount among such statements.

It is, in turn, preceded by a discussion of the hardening of Israel or, as we should say, the Jews' rejection of Christianity, chapters 9, 10, and 11. The fact that the Jews did not accept their own Messiah must have greatly embarrassed the efforts of Paul and other missionaries to interest Greeks in Christianity and called for a good deal of explaining on their part. This is


Paul's chief effort to deal with that problem, which was still acute when the Gospel of Matthew was written, some twenty-five years later.

The formidable letter is thus reduced to more feasible proportions when we temporarily dismiss these last two-fifths of it as supplementary matters, not intimately related to its main argument. And the three chapters next preceding may also be detached as setting forth the relation of those who possess faith to sin, law, and the new life, chapters 6, 7, and 8.

The commanding part of Romans, its great argument, is really in what remains—chapters 1-5. The rest is largely sequel to what is established there. Let us now approach this main trunk of the letter from the beginning.

Paul addresses his letter to those in Rome whom God loves and who are called to be his people, describes himself as commissioned in Jesus' name to preach obedience and faith among the heathen, and declares Jesus to be the long-foretold Messiah. And here one cannot forget the epigrams of Matthew Arnold: "The first chapter is to the Gentiles—its purport is: You have not righteousness. The second is to the Jews—its purport is: No more have you, though you think you have."[1] The third chapter goes on to show that, with sin and guilt thus shown to be universal among Jews and Greeks, there has now been revealed through Christ a way of becoming upright and accepted with God; it is the way of faith. Faith with Paul means an attitude of vital dependence upon

[1] St. Paul and Protestantism (New York, 1883), pp. 78-79.


God—of repentance, obedience, and spiritual union with him. As such it was in simple fact the germ of all true uprightness, for it accepted his will and made it its own. This new uprightness comes through having faith in Jesus Christ, and it is for all who have faith without distinction. For all men sin and come abort of the glory of God, but by his mercy they are made upright for nothing, by the deliverance secured through Christ Jesus.

The relation of the death of Christ to this is set forth in two ways: It is an expiation for man's sin, and it is a revelation of God's own righteousness. It is the fashion nowadays to belittle sin and represent it as a sort of theological fiction. But one does not have to look very far about us in the modern world to find plenty of conduct which cannot be called by any less serious name. And if the modern world were all virtuous, the death of Jesus is by itself enough to prove that sin once existed on the earth, for how else could such a man be brought to such an end?

Paul somehow saw in the death of Christ a great gesture of reconciliation on the part of God. Man deserved the penalty; Jesus took it. He was a sacrifice of reconciliation, to be taken advantage of through faith.

The foes of this doctrine of faith were wont to appeal to Abraham and God's agreement with him. Christ was the completer of that old agreement which promised blessings to Abraham and his descendants. So, in order to benefit by this new salvation, one must be a descendant of Abraham. This was the battle


fought out in Galatians. Here again, in Romans, Paul takes the sword from the hands of his Judaizing opponents and turns it against them. For it was by his faith, the Scripture says, that Abraham won God's approval. So for Greeks and Jews, as for Abraham, salvation comes by the way of faith. The story of Abraham is no obstacle to Paul's doctrine of faith; it has become one of its chief supports, chapter 4.

As in chapter 4 Paul has shown how Abraham illustrates his teaching, now in chapter 5 he turns to another great figure of the Jewish theology—Adam. It was a Jewish commonplace that Adam's sin had infected mankind with guilt. Over against this unitary source of condemnation Paul now puts Jesus as a unitary source of acquittal. He has hardly accomplished this, however, when he pulls down the scaffolding, which the figure of Adam had afforded, to leave Christ standing alone.

There is no comparison between God's gift [of salvation] and that offense [of Adam's]. For if one man's offense made the mass of mankind die, God's mercy and his gift, given through the favor of the one man Jesus Christ, have far more powerfully affected mankind. Nor is there any comparison between the gift and the effects of that one man's sin.

This plainly means that the good Christ did far outweighs the harm Adam did, and that can mean only that Paul perceived that good was more fruitful than evil. So the great idea of the superior fruitfulness of good gleams through this paragraph. Once more Paul


has brought us, by devious intellectual paths, to a great spiritual outlook.

So in chapters 4 and 5, as Matthew Arnold put it, Paul employs the history of Abraham and Adam to illustrate his doctrine of faith. The great idea that shows now and again through the text is that God has forgiven the world. All man has to do is to accept that forgiveness in faith. This is the great undercurrent of chapters 3, 4, and 5, which form the heart of Romans.

The consequences of this great amnesty are presented, as we have already seen, in chapters 6, 7, and 8. The man who adopts this attitude of faith is saved from sin; it no longer has control of him, chapter 6. He is freed from law, chapter 7; and did anyone ever probe more deeply into the eternal conflict in man's moral nature than Paul does here? The man of faith lives a new life on a new spiritual level, as a son of God, with God's spirit in his heart. It is a tremendous thought, but the fact is he has in some way, however imperfect, attained God's point of view. He views himself and mankind and life itself just a little as God himself views them. God's will becomes his. He has found the river of the love of God. He is at one with the deepest life of the universe, chapter 8.

These are magnificent concepts in religion. No wonder Paul bursts forth at the end into exultation: "If God is for us, who can be against us? .... Who can separate us from Christ's love? Can trouble or misfortune or persecution or hunger or destitution or danger of the sword? .... In all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us."


Nothing can separate us from the love of God, shown in Jesus Christ.

So the great letter, in its essential argument, really ends. But Paul must add an appendix to explain the failure of the Jews to accept the culmination of their own religion. To this he devoted chapters 9, 10, and 11. The Jews have indeed failed to see the values in the religion of faith, although Jesus was in truth the Messiah foretold by their own prophets. But it is their reluctance that has given the Greeks their opportunity, and it is the plain duty of the Greeks to seize it and not debate about it; otherwise they in their turn, wild olives as they are, may be pruned away. Still Paul is not without hope that Israel may yet turn to the gospel. "Only partial insensibility has come upon Israel, to last until all the heathen have come in, and then all Israel will be saved." The section on the hardening of Israel ends with another outburst. "How inexhaustible God's resources, wisdom and knowledge are! .... For from him everything comes; through him everything exists; and in him everything ends!"

The series of exhortations and moral instructions that follows, 12:1-15:13, is by itself a commanding statement and would attract far more attention if it were not overshadowed by the rest of Romans. But it still amazes us by its penetration, elevation, and breadth. Here is a morality that does not grow old or obsolete. And it is all so inward, so little concerned with the accidental or the temporary. Chapter 12 has to do mostly with relations in the church, while chapter 13 deals with relations to the state. "Love never


wrongs a neighbor, and so love fully satisfies the Law."

Chapter 14 reviews some matters already worked out with the Corinthians, for the strong and the weak parties reappear—the party that has knowledge or the emancipated party, on the one hand, and the overscrupulous party, on the other. "It is the duty of us who are strong to put up with the weaknesses of the immature, and not just suit ourselves. .... Christ did not please himself. Therefore treat one another like brothers." The same splendid ideal of Christian courtesy set forth in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, reappears here. The section of moral instruction ends with a quartet of Old Testament oracles showing the place the heathen were to have in the Kingdom of God and a final benediction. It is in its own way fully equal to the great argument that begins the letter, chapters 1-5 Paul turns in closing to personal plans and movements. As one peculiarly commissioned to the heathen, he has been moved to write them pretty boldly on some points. He reviews his work in the East and declares that it is now done, and he is looking toward Rome and Spain, but that his visit to them must be postponed until he has taken the collection to Jerusalem. Paul knows that this is a dangerous thing for him to do. "Pray that I may escape from those in Judea who are disobedient, and that the help I am taking to Jerusalem may be well received by God's people, so that, it is God's will, I may come with a glad heart to see you and enjoy a visit with you," 15:31, 32.


This was the letter Paul sent from Corinth to Rome about A.D. 56. It is almost as though he had carried his gospel as far as he could toward Rome, and then, when he could go no farther, had rolled it into this letter and sent it the rest of the way.

Problems. Romans has its problems. Was it really addressed to a single body of Christians, or was it meant for a wider circle? There seems no reason to suppose that it was more than what it claims to be—a message to the Roman church, written when Paul's responsibilities obliged him to postpone the visit to Rome he had planned. Paul wrote long letters to his friends, as I Corinthians shows.

Lake has assembled evidence that a form of Romans without chapters 15 and 16, and perhaps also without the name of Rome in 1:7 and 1:15, was known in antiquity;[1] it is reflected in the list of chapter headings of the Codex Amiatinus of the Latin Vulgate and finds color in the apparent neglect of these two chapters on the part of Tertullian and Cyprian. Origen seems to have preferred manuscripts that omitted Rome in 1:7, 15. The abbreviated form of the letter may have been produced by Marcion or later hands by reduction—a common practice even today [2]—but its existence in antiquity is by no means certain, and the recent discovery of the Ann Arbor-Chester Beatty papyrus of Paul's

[1] The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul (London, 1914), chap. vi.

[2] In a recent publication entitled The Bible, Designed To Be Read as Living Literature: The Old and the New Testaments in the King James Version, 1936, the Letter to the Romans breaks off with 14:12, followed by the Doxology, 16:25-27. Such reductions are frequent nowadays, and they were not unknown in antiquity.


letters in Greek, dating according to the best paleographers from about A.D. 200 and designated P 46 bears most unfavorably upon it, for the closing chapters are present in the manuscript. This is the oldest of our manuscripts of Paul; it goes back to the time of Tertullian and to the boyhood of Origen.

It is, moreover, agreed that chapter 15 is closely linked in thought with chapter 14. Now, while most manuscripts have the Doxology, 16:25-27, at the end of chapter 16, many have it at the end of chapter 14; some have it in both places, and some omit it entirely. But the new papyrus text (P 46) has it at the end of chapter 15—a strong corroboration of the suggestion that chapter 16, the letter of introduction for Phoebe, is an addition to the great letter. This is the obvious testimony of our oldest witness to the text of Romans.

It is altogether probable that the original form of Romans, as Paul sent it to Rome, consisted of chapters 1-15, plus 16:25-27. When the Pauline corpus was formed at Ephesus about A.D. 90, the Phoebe letter which had been written to Ephesus and preserved there, was appended to it. This is the form of Romans contained in the new papyrus text, about A.D. 200. The benediction was afterward variously shifted, on literary or liturgical grounds, from the end of chapter 15 to the end of chapter 14, or to the end of chapter 16; with the result that some later copyists omitted it in both places, while others inserted it in both.

Kenyon argues that "the difficulty still remains of understanding how a letter of introduction for Phoebe should have been extant without preface or


conclusion, and should have been attached to the great Epistle to the Romans."[1] But if the Phoebe letter was originally directed to Ephesus, and the first collection of Pauline letters was made there, as I have sought to show, [2] that might very well have happened. The collectors of the letters would possess in their own church chest an unimportant letter of Paul's, which they might well wish to include in the corpus they were forming; they would be reluctant to publish so meager a letter as a separate unit, as the Letter to the Ephesians, to stand beside the massive letters to Rome and Corinth. Yet they would feel that they must not leave it out altogether. It would not be unnatural for them to append it to one of the longer letters, especially if they knew from Acts that Priscilla and Aquila had a Roman connection. It is enough to say that it was attached to Romans to insure its preservation and circulation, which is precisely what it has done. It could not possibly have been added to either of the letters to Corinth, for a woman of Cenchreae, a suburb of Corinth, would be well known already to the Corinthian Christians; she was, in fact, one of them. As one surveys the Pauline letters, it is difficult to find a better one to which to attach it, and the first collectors and editors of Paul's letters had no hesitation about combining two letters into one, as II Corinthians and Philippians show. Moreover, they seem to have been holding the collection to seven churches, the typus septiformis ecclesiae; certainly the collection

[1] Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri, Fasc. III, Suppl. (London, 1936), p. xviii.

[2] Formation of the New Testament (Chicago, 1926), pp. 28 and 29.


has always contained letters to seven and only seven churches, though they are not always the same seven.

There is something very impressive about Paul as we see him in Romans. To the eye, he may have seemed just a Jewish artisan, wandering from one Mediterranean port to another. But what great concerns were occupying his mind! Carrying a conciliatory gift to the Jewish believers of the East with one hand, with the other he dispatches westward a masterly account of the Christian faith in a letter to the new Greek church at Rome; heroically striving to bring East and West, Jew and Greek, together in the Kingdom of God. Such is the giant figure that shines through the pages of the Letter to the Romans.


Lake, Kirsopp. The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul (London, 1914), chap. vi.

Sanday, William, and Headlam, Arthur C. The Epistle to the Romans (New York, 1895).

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