Commentary on Romans 1:8-15

Notes (NET Translation)

8 First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world.

The opening word, “first,” implies a series, but Paul never comes to a “second” or “next.” It is hard to know whether Paul simply forgets to maintain the sequence he begins or whether the phrase functions here simply to highlight what Paul considers of primary importance (cf. NEB, “Let me begin . . .”). In either case, Paul draws special attention to his thanksgiving, a feature typical of Paul’s letters.1

Paul thanks “my God” as a note of personal intimacy with God (see also 1 Cor 1:4; 2 Cor 12:21; Phil 1:3; 4:19). The thanks is through Jesus Christ, either as the mediator of the thanks to God or as the one who has created the access to God for such thanks to be offered.

Since they were at the center of the Roman Empire, it is not surprising that the faith of the Romans was well known (“throughout the whole world” is hyperbole). The generally good reputation the Romans have also comes with the responsibility to be an example to other Christian communities.

9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit by preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness that I continually remember you

To assert something and call upon God as witness is tantamount to speaking under oath. Paul frequently uses oath formulae to stress the importance of something he wants to say (cf. 2 Cor 1:23; 1 Thess 2:5, 10; cf. Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 11:31; Gal 1:20), and for the most part he does so when speaking of what takes place in his inner life, for which there are no other witnesses. Käsemann says: ‘it probably indicates that Paul did not know that Jesus prohibited oaths’, but it is more likely that Paul’s use of oath formulae reflects the early church’s understanding that Jesus’ teaching was directed against inappropriate use of oaths rather constituting a blanket prohibition.2

When Paul says he serves in his spirit he probably means that the deepest part of him engages in ministry. This ministry consists of preaching the good news concerning God’s Son. Paul continually remembered the Romans in the sense that he prayed for them at frequent and regular intervals (v 10).3

10 and I always ask in my prayers, if perhaps now at last I may succeed in visiting you according to the will of God.

Paul’s travel are ultimately in God’s hands (Acts 16:6-10). “Of course circumstances would conspire such that Paul would get there [Rome] later than he hoped, and not as a free man either.”4

11 For I long to see you, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you,

Regarding the “spiritual gift”, Moo writes:

“Spiritual gift” is a literal translation of the Greek and may refer to that kind of spiritual gift which Paul elsewhere denotes simply with “gift” (charisma; cf., e.g., Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12, passim). But Paul never elsewhere uses the combination “spiritual” and “gift” with this meaning, and the indefinite focus here — “some” — makes it difficult to think that Paul has in mind his special ministerial gift(s). Others think that Paul refers to “spiritual blessings” that he hopes will result from his ministry in Rome. But we should think rather of an insight or ability, given Paul by the Spirit, that Paul hopes to “share” with the Romans. What gift Paul may want to share with the Romans cannot be specified until he sees what their needs may be. Whatever it is, its purpose will be to “strengthen” their faith.5

Schreiner disagrees with Moo:

Fee observes rightly that the gift mentioned here relates directly to the purpose of the Roman letter. The Roman Christians needed to understand the Pauline gospel, which proclaims the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. By grasping the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ the Roman community would dissolve the divisions plaguing them. Paul hopes that by imparting his understanding of the gospel to them they will be strengthened for the cause of the gospel and support him in his mission to Spain. The spiritual gift to be imparted, therefore, must be understood as an apostolic gift. As the apostle to the Gentiles Paul desires the Romans to comprehend his gospel to the Gentiles and to be strengthened by it.6

Kruse provides support for Schreiner’s view:

This interpretation is supported by the fact that elsewhere Paul speaks of sowing ‘spiritual seed’ among people (1 Cor 9:11) where what is meant is the preaching of the gospel, and of the ‘spiritual blessings’, first promised to the Jews, being experienced by Gentiles through the preaching of the gospel (Rom 15:27). And if Paul’s letter to the Romans foreshadows in writing the sort of spiritual gift he wanted to impart in person, then that gift is a reminder of the content of the gospel he proclaims (Rom 15:15-16).7

12 that is, that we may be mutually comforted by one another’s faith, both yours and mine.

“But that is,” used only here in the NT, implies that what follows in some sense “corrects” what has just been said. What is being corrected is probably the last phrase of v. 11, “in order to strengthen you.” It is not that Paul wants to withdraw this statement but that he wants to expand it by recognizing the mutual gain that will accrue from his visit. The verb Paul uses could refer to mutual exhortation, but probably here refers to mutual “comfort” or “encouragement.” This mutual encouragement will be accomplished through faith — “both yours and mine.” This rather cumbersome expression suggests both commonality — Paul and the Romans share the same faith — and distinction — the faith they share brings with it different perspectives and gifts, which, when shared, bring mutual edification. Paul’s wish that his visit would bring spiritual encouragement to him as well as to the Roman Christians is no mere literary convention or “pious fraud” (as Erasmus called it) but is sincerely meant (and he returns to it in the letter closing: see 15:32). But the fact that he mentions it here — in contrast to his habit elsewhere — signals Paul’s diplomacy. For he is dealing with a church that, while certainly within the scope of his authority (cf. 1:5-6; 15:15), is built on another person’s foundation (cf. 15:20). If Paul is to gain a sympathetic ear for “his” gospel from the Roman Christians and enlist their support for his Spanish mission (15:24), he must exercise tact in asserting his authority.8

13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I often intended to come to you (and was prevented until now), so that I may have some fruit even among you, just as I already have among the rest of the Gentiles.

Paul was probably prevented from visiting Rome due to the demands of his ministry in the eastern Mediterranean (15:20-24). One purpose in visiting Rome is to have a harvest (lit. “certain fruit”) among the Romans. The harvest/fruit is the product of his ministry, both an increase in the number of Christians and the strengthening of the faith of Christians (Rom 1:11; Phil 1:25-26). Paul views the Roman Christians as belonging to the Gentile church.

14 I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.

In saying he is a “debtor” Paul means that he has an obligation to preach the gospel to all Gentiles (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 9:16; Eph 3:8). “The word ὀϕειλέτης (opheiletēs, debtor) focuses not on the idea of a psychological compulsion but on a divine call that ordained Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles.”9 “Greeks” are Greek speakers and “barbarians” are non-Greek-speaking peoples. The two terms together refer to all Gentiles. The “wise” and “foolish” refer to cultural, educational, or social status. The gospel is not just for those of a certain status.

15 Thus I am eager also to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome.

G and Origen omit the phrase “to you who live in Rome” either accidentally or, as in 1:7, to give the epistle a more general application.10 Preaching the gospel does not refer to just an initial preaching mission to gain converts but to the ongoing work of teaching and discipleship.

Comments

Context

In verses 1-7 Paul stresses that he was called as an apostle to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. More specifically, the believers in Rome (vv. 6-7) are included among the Gentiles over whom Paul has apostolic oversight. The Pauline thanksgiving and prayer in verses 8-15 are an expression of this apostolic commission with reference to the church at Rome. The thanksgiving for the spread of the gospel in Rome is not merely a private thanksgiving by an individual. As an apostle to the Gentiles Paul voices thanks that the gospel was bearing fruit among the Gentiles in Rome. In the same way the prayer for the Romans is an extension of Paul’s apostleship. This is confirmed by the specific content of the prayer, for the only petition mentioned is his desire to visit Rome. A Pauline visit was not merely a private affair. He would come as an emissary of Christ to strengthen them (v. 11) and to obtain fruit as he did among other Gentiles (v. 13). Paul felt that he had an apostolic obligation to preach the gospel to all Gentiles (v. 14), which included those residing in Rome (v. 15).11

There is a striking similarity between the ideas expressed in 1:8-17 that precedes the body of the letter, and those expressed in 15:14-33 that follows it. In both places Paul: (a) affirms his audience, giving thanks for their faith, which is known ‘all over the world’ (1:8), and telling them that he is convinced that they are ‘full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another’ (15:14); (b) speaks of his ministry of gospel preaching among the Gentiles (1:9, 16-17 par. 15:16); (c) tells of his prayerful longing to visit them in Rome (1:10) and announces that he hopes to do so after his visit to Jerusalem when en route to Spain (15:22-24); (d) assures them that his purpose for making a visit is for mutual encouragement/refreshment, both his and theirs (1:11-12 par. 15:24, 32); and (e) explains that hitherto he has been hindered from visiting them (1:13), prevented from doing so because of the demands of his mission in the eastern Mediterranean, but that this has now been completed, enabling him to make his way first to Jerusalem and then to Rome en route to Spain (15:22, 25, 28). The way these matters are expressed prior to and following the body of the letter, thus bracketing the theological argument (1:18–15:13), supports the view that 1:8-17 functions as a propositio setting out the purpose of the letter, and 15:14-33 functions as a peroratio summing up what has been the main thrust of the letter.12

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. Moo 1996, 57 
  2. Kruse 2012, 59 
  3. Schreiner 1998, loc. 1361 
  4. Witherington III 2004, 46 
  5. Moo 1996, 59-60 
  6. Schreiner 1998, loc. 1449-1454 
  7. Kruse 2012, 62 
  8. Moo 1996, 60 
  9. Schreiner 1998, loc. 1469-1470 
  10. Metzger 2005, 447 
  11. Schreiner 1998, loc. 1327-1335 
  12. Kruse 2012, 58 
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