Commentary on Romans 1:1-7

Notes (NET Translation)

1 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.

The manuscript evidence is rather balanced between the readings “Christ Jesus” and “Jesus Christ.” On the basis of two fourth century manuscripts (p10 and B) the UBS4 prefers the reading “Christ Jesus.”1

In calling himself a slave of Christ Jesus, “Paul is making it clear that he is a man who belongs to and is under the authority of Jesus. His will is not his own, and his mission, his apostleship, is a task to which he has been called and assigned. Paul does not see himself as one who is free to do as he pleases. He is called to be a missionary among the Gentiles.”2

In Gal 1:1 Paul states that his calling as an apostle is “not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.”

As is Paul’s custom, then, he specifies at the very beginning of his letter that he writes not as a private individual, nor even as a gifted teacher, but as a “called apostle” whose words bear the authority of God himself. Any reading of this great theological treatise that ignores this claim to authority will fail to come to grips with the ultimate purpose of its writing.3

Paul is set apart for the gospel of God.

“Gospel” here might denote the activity of preaching the gospel (cf. TEV: “called by God to preach the Good News”), or it might simply refer to the message of the gospel itself. What makes a decision difficult is that the dynamic sense fits well with v. 1 but badly with vv. 2-3, while the more static connotation suffers from just the reverse problem. Cranfield suggests that the word contains both connotations here. This is certainly on the right track, but perhaps we can refine this suggestion further. Paul uses “gospel” so generally in some contexts (cf. Rom. 1:9; Phil. 1:27; Eph. 3:6; 6:19) that it becomes functionally equivalent to “Christ” or God’s intervention in Christ. In other words, Paul can sometimes expand the scope of “gospel” to include the very events of which the message speaks. God’s sending his Son for the salvation of the world is itself “good news.” Since the context makes it difficult to choose either the active or the static sense alone, there is good reason to adopt this broad meaning of the word here. In saying that he has been “set apart for the gospel of God,” then, Paul is claiming that his life is totally dedicated to God’s act of salvation in Christ — a dedication that involves both his own belief in, and obedience to, that message as well as his apostolic proclamation of it.4

Scholars differ on whether Paul intends to say the gospel is about God or from God. Schreiner observes that the gospel Paul preaches is both from God and about God and so we should understand “of God” in both senses.

2 This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,

The gospel stands in continuity with the Old Testament. The promises made to Israel in the OT are being fulfilled.

In 16:26 he describes the gospel in similar terms as that ‘made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God’. In 3:21 he insists that the law and the prophets testify to the righteousness made known through the gospel. In these ways he deliberately links the gospel he proclaims with God’s promises to Israel in the OT. Besides such explicit statements, Paul’s frequent quotations from the OT in Romans reflect implicitly his conviction that the gospel was ‘promised beforehand’ (1:17; 4:3, 7, 8, 9, 16-17, 22; 9:25-26; 10:6-8, 11, 13; 11:26-27; 15:9-12), as do quotations in his other letters (1 Cor 2:9; 15:27, 54-55; 2 Cor 6:2, 16-18; Gal 3:6, 8, 11, 13, 16; 4:27-28; Eph 4:7-8). An examination of all these references indicates that the OT Scriptures in which Paul found the gospel foreshadowed are Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, and Habakkuk. For Paul, these books constitute (the law) and the prophets which proclaimed beforehand ‘the gospel of God’.5

3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh,

Most important, by calling Jesus the Son, Paul now assigns to Jesus the designation for Israel as God’s son (Exod. 4:22-23; Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1; Wis. 18:13; Jub. 1.24-25; Ps. Sol. 18.4; T. Moses 10.3; Sib. Or. 3.702). This does not mean that there is no significance in being a member of ethnic Israel (Rom. 9-11). But if Jesus is God’s true Son, then membership in the people of God depends on being rightly related to Jesus. As Paul says elsewhere, he is the singular seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), and thus the blessing of Abraham (Gal. 3:14) is available only to those who belong to the Messiah Jesus.6

The phrase “a descendant of David” alludes to the promises of a Davidic Messiah in Jewish writings7 and echoes early Christian belief that Jesus was the long-awaited Davidic Messiah.8

“Flesh” (sarx) is a key Pauline theological term. It refers essentially to human existence, with emphasis on the transitory, weak, frail nature of that existence. “According to the flesh,” used 21 times in Paul, denotes being or living according to the “merely human.” Neutral in itself, the phrase nevertheless suggests that only one perspective is being considered and that other aspects must be taken into account to get the whole picture. The phrase here, then, while obviously far toward the neutral end of the spectrum, also suggests that we have not arrived at a full understanding of Jesus if we look at him only from the standpoint of “the flesh.” Verse 4 goes on to fill out this picture of Jesus by looking at him from another perspective.9

4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Being appointed the Son of God is a change in status not a change in essence.10 At the resurrection Jesus enters a phase of his career where he becomes the Son of God in power. Previously, he was the Son of God in weakness (Phil 2:6-11). “The transition from v. 3 to v. 4, then, is not a transition from a human messiah to a divine Son of God (adoptionism) but from the Son as Messiah to the Son as both Messiah and powerful, reigning Lord.”11

The Greek literally reads “according to the spirit of holiness” and has been interpreted in three basic ways. The phrase parallels “according to the flesh” in verse 3.

The first way holds that this is a contrast between Christ’s human nature and divine nature. Jesus is son of David as far as his human nature was concerned but Son of God as far as his divine nature. This view should be rejected because it improbably takes horizo (“appoint”) to mean “declare”, “demonstrate”, “manifest”, or “show”. The word means “appoint”, “determine”, or “fix” (Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:42; 11:29; 17:26, 31; Heb 4:7). It also gives “spirit” a connotation it does not have elsewhere in Paul’s writings.

The second way holds that the “flesh” is the body of Jesus and the “spirit” is the human spirit of Jesus. While it is true that Paul sometimes uses “flesh” and “spirit” to refer to the human body and the human spirit respectively (1 Cor 5:5; 2 Cor 7:1; Col 2:5), when he uses the phrase “according to the spirit” it always refers to the Holy Spirit.

The third way notes that Paul frequently contrasts what is “according to the flesh” with what is “according to the Spirit”, where “Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:4-6, 9, 13; Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8; Phil 3:3; 1 Tim 3:16). On this view “the spirit of holiness” may refer to “the Holy Spirit”, “the Spirit of sanctification”, or “the Spirit who sanctifies”. Paul identifies the present age as dominated by sin, death, and the flesh but he identifies the age to come as characterized by righteousness, life, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ earthly life (his life in “the realm of the flesh”), he was the Davidic seed, the Messiah. But while true and valuable, this does not tell the whole story. For Christians, Jesus is also, in “the realm of the Spirit,” the powerful, life-giving Son of God. In Christ the “new era” of redemptive history has begun, and in this new stage of God’s plan Jesus reigns as Son of God, powerfully active to bring salvation to all who believe (cf. 1:16). The major objection to this interpretation is that “spirit of holiness” is never used of the Holy Spirit in the NT; indeed, the phrase is found only here in biblical Greek. However, the Semitic-flavored expression may reflect traditional language. As is usual in Paul, the inauguration of this new age is attributed to Christ’s resurrection.12

The description of Jesus Christ our Lord (kyrios) as the one declared to be the Son of God with power, when heard by the believers in Rome, the imperial capital, would have very significant connotations. Caesar claimed to be the kyrios with political power, and those who acknowledged Jesus as kyrios were acknowledging a greater power. He was not only the Lord of individual believers, but also the one who would subdue all political as well as spiritual powers beneath his feet (cf. Phil 2:9-11: those ‘in heaven and on earth and under the earth’), and indeed the one who would renew the whole created order (8:19-21).13

5 Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name.

As a persecutor of the church of God, Paul did not deserve to be made an apostle on the basis of merit (1 Cor 15:9). Yet God, through Christ and in an act of grace, made him an apostle anyway.

The plural “we received” (ἐλάβομεν, elabomen) is occasionally understood to include other apostles besides Paul. Most commentators rightly take the plural as epistolary. Four pieces of evidence support the claim that Paul is referring only to himself. First, we have already noted that Paul omits the mention of any cosenders in the letter even though Timothy was with him. Second, Paul was keenly aware that he had a unique ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles, and verse 5 confirms that this ministry to the Gentiles is particularly in his mind. Third, and more decisive, the steady repetition of the first person singular in verses 8-16 suggests that Paul was thinking of his own apostolic ministry in verse 5. Finally, the first person plural in the Pauline writings is often an apostolic plural that designates Paul alone.14

‘Grace and apostleship’ is a hendiadys, that is, an expression using two words to convey one concept. Paul does not mean that he received grace and apostleship, but rather that he received the grace of apostleship. Thus in Ephesians 4:7, 10 Paul says that ‘to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it, . . . and it was he who gave some to be apostles’, that is, he gave some the grace of apostleship.15

The meaning of the phrase “obedience of faith” is debated. The first interpretation holds that it means obedience issuing from faith. Obedience to God’s commands follows from faith (trust) in Christ. The second interpretation holds that it means obedience consisting in faith. It means accepting the gospel call to have faith (trust) in God’s Son. We should be cautious in thinking we need to choose only one of these interpretations, especially since Paul advocates both positions in other passages. Faith consisting in obedience cannot be separated from faith expressing itself in obedience.

Paul called men and women to a faith that was always inseparable from obedience — for the Savior in whom we believe is nothing less than our Lord — and to an obedience that could never be divorced from faith — for we can obey Jesus as Lord only when we have given ourselves to him in faith. Viewed in this light, the phrase captures the full dimension of Paul’s apostolic task, a task that was not confined to initial evangelization but that included also the building up and firm establishment of churches.16

Paul was called to minister to the Gentiles in distinction from the Jews (Gal 1:16; 2:7, 9; Acts 9:15; 22:21). He emphasizes the word “all” to signal the universal dimensions of his ministry. He did this on behalf of (or for the sake of) the name of Jesus. Name connotes the person in his true character and significance.

6 You also are among them, called to belong to Jesus Christ.

The uses of “you” (hymeis) in v. 6 are emphatic. The form of “to be” here already contains the subject “you” (plural), so we could in fact translate the clause as “among which peoples you are, even you called of Jesus Christ.”17

This verse indicates that the Romans are among the Gentiles and therefore within the sphere of Paul’s apostolic commission. Just as Paul was called to be an apostle (v 1) so the Romans are called to belong to Christ.

7 To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Several manuscripts omit the words “in Rome” (G 1739mg 1908mg itg Origen). This is due either to an accident in transcription or a deliberate excision to give the epistle a more general, as opposed to local, application.18

The omission of the word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia, church) has often been given undue significance. The word ἐκκλησία is lacking in the salutations of Philippians, Colossians, and Ephesians as well, and this can scarcely be ascribed to defects in the churches. In fact, Paul uses the word ἐκκλησία later in Philippians (4:15) in an almost casual way, indicating that failure to mention the term earlier is not significant. G. Klein’s theory that the term ἐκκλησία is omitted in Romans because the church lacks an apostolic foundation and is thereby not an authentic church in Paul’s eyes is flawed. Rather, the church is praised as having a worldwide impact (Rom. 1:8), and Paul apologizes for writing so boldly, since the Romans were knowledgeable enough to instruct one another (15:14-15). Neither is it persuasive to speculate that the omission of ἐκκλησία is explained by the numerous house churches in which the Romans gathered. The letter to the Galatians is also written to a number of churches, and there Paul simply uses the plural ἐκκλησίαις (Gal. 1:2). Presumably he could have done the same in Romans. Finally, disunity of the church does not explain the omission of the term ἐκκλησία. The Corinthian church, by all appearances, experienced even more serious divisions, yet it is still designated as a “church of God” (1 Cor. 1:2).19

“All those” in Rome includes the Jewish Christians alongside the Gentile Christians. “Saints” are the people who are set apart for, or consecrated to, God. Paul implies that, like Israel in the Old Testament, Christians are God’s chosen people. This is a theme of the first eight chapters of the letter.

Comments

Paul’s Authority

The prescript to Romans is more expansive than those of some of Paul’s other letters, which may reflect the fact that here he is not writing to his own converts, and presumably the issue of ethos and authority is more of a concern with this audience than with some others.20

Here we must say a bit more about the deliberative rhetoric Paul is offering and why he seems to adopt a somewhat humble and irenic tone in this discourse as compared to his letters to his own converts. Before he can advise or instruct, his authority must be declared and made plain to an audience which likely does not recognize that he has any authority over them. And since the authority of the speaker is the most crucial issue when one offers up declarative rhetoric, he must establish his credentials up front.

Furthermore, as Quintilian stresses, “It also makes a great deal of difference who it is that is offering the advice: for if his past has been illustrious, or if his distinguished birth or age or fortune excites high expectations, care must be taken that his words are not unworthy of him. If on the other hand he has none of these advantages he will have to adopt a humbler tone” (Instit. Or. 3.8.48). Paul is addressing an audience of largely Gentile Christians over which, as it would appear to them, he has no authority. Since it is quite clear from chs. 9-11 that this audience has an issue with Jews and Jewishness and what God thinks about these matters, Paul cannot appeal to his own illustrious past as a Jew, as he does in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, and elsewhere. He has no fortune to tout, nor does it appear that he can appeal to a distinguished birth. He does not possess, as far as the Gentile Christians in Rome would be concerned, the signs of honor that normally produced instant respect in Rome. Accordingly, it must suffice that he take a different rhetorical tact — he will stress that he is an apostle, indeed the apostle of the Gentiles, up front, and at the same time will take a hubris-free or humble approach to his discourse. Indeed, he will even go so far as to introduce himself first as a slave of Christ before calling himself apostle to the Gentiles. He is simply following the sort of advice he knew applied in his situation if Romans was to be a rhetorically effective piece of discourse.21

In v. 5 he puts special stress on his apostleship being to all the peoples, including, of course, the Romans. He believes that he has a task of winning the “obedience of faith” even from the Romans, even though they are not his converts. He has a divine commission to accomplish this task even in Rome, and when he does so it will be not for his own personal glory but for the sake of God’s name. It was critical that from the very outset Paul establish his ethos, his authority in relationship to his audience, before he addressed them properly. It was not enough to ingratiate himself with the audience and establish rapport, as he does in the verses that follow; he also had to make clear his divine commission and task in relationship to the Roman Christians themselves. He wants to bestow on them a spiritual gift. Well and good. By what authority does he assume any claim on those who are not his converts? By God’s commission that he be apostle to all the non-Jewish peoples.

To further punctuate his authority over the audience, Paul adds in v. 6 “among which non-Jewish peoples you are included.” He thus stresses the overwhelmingly non-Jewish character of his audience. He is not unaware of the Jewish Christians in Rome or intending that they not hear this discourse. But his focus will be on those that he has specific apostolic authority and commission to deal with — Gentiles. Especially with a new audience of already converted Christians, Paul must be careful not to step beyond his divine commission.22

Pre-Pauline Material in 1:3-4

Most scholars think verses 3-4 cite a pre-Pauline hymn or creed. The following arguments are made for this conclusion:

  1. The participial construction.
  2. The parallelism and balance between the two clauses.
  3. The rare, for Paul, reference to Jesus’s Davidic ancestry (but see Acts 13:22-23, 32-34; Rom 15:12; 2 Tim 2:8).
  4. Considering the centrality of the crucifixion to Paul’s gospel (1 Cor 1:13, 17-18, 23; 2:2; Gal 3:1; 5:11; 6:12, 14; Eph 2:16; Phil 2:8; 3:18; Col 1:20; 2:14) it is somewhat surprising it is not mentioned here.
  5. The phrases “appointed the Son of God” and “spirit of holiness” are rare in Paul’s writings.

This hypothesis is nothing more than a possibility in my opinion. If Paul used a creed it may have been to establish some common ground with the unfamiliar Roman church. Regardless of one’s view on the matter, the text should be interpreted in its present context and not on speculation about earlier material.

Bibliography

Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.


  1. Metzger 2005, 446 
  2. Witherington III 2004, 31 
  3. Moo 1996, 42 
  4. Moo 1996, 42-43 
  5. Kruse 2012, 41 
  6. Schreiner 1998, loc. 1146-1150 
  7. 2 Sam 7:12-16; Pss 89:3-4, 20-29; 132:11-12; Isa 11:1-5, 10; Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-17; Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Zech 3:8; 6:12-13; Ps Sol 17:21-18:9; 4 Ezra 12:31-32; T. Jud. 24:1-6; 1QM 11:1-18; 4QFlor 1:10-14; 4QpGena 5:1-7 
  8. Matt 1:1, 17; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 22:42; Mark 10:47-48; 11:10; 12:35-37; Luke 1:27, 32, 69; 2:4; 3:23-31; 18:38-39; 20:41-42, 44; John 7:42; Acts 2:30; 13:22-23, 32-34; 15:16; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16 
  9. Moo 1996, 47 
  10. Moo 1996, 47-48 
  11. Moo 1996, 49 
  12. Moo 1996, 50 
  13. Kruse 2012, 47 
  14. Schreiner 1998, loc. 1053-1060 
  15. Kruse 2012, 50; cf. Schreiner 1998, loc. 1045-1051 
  16. Moo 1996, 52-53 
  17. Witherington III 2004, 35-36 
  18. Metzger 2005, 446 
  19. Schreiner 1998, loc. 1108-1118 
  20. Witherington III 2004, 29 
  21. Witherington III 2004, 34 
  22. Witherington III 2004, 35 
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