Commentary on Romans 15:14-21

Notes (NET Translation)

14 But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

In the original Greek Paul’s introduction is emphatic (“And I am convinced, my brothers and sisters, even I myself”). “Goodness” (agathosynes), “knowledge” (gnoseos), and “instruct” (nouthetein) are general terms so we should not attempt to squeeze more specific definitions out of them. There is some hyperbole here for Paul knows the Romans are not perfectly good and knowledgeable. He knows that the Gentiles were arrogant towards unbelieving Jews (11:17-20), that they were ignorant of God’s salvation plans for Jews and Gentiles (11:25), and that there were conflicts between the “strong” and the “weak” (14:2-6). Paul is paying them the courtesy of assuming they are relatively mature. Recall that the faith of the Roman Christians was being proclaimed throughout the world (1:8).

15 But I have written more boldly to you on some points so as to remind you, because of the grace given to me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Is Paul saying that part of his letter was bold or blunt, or is he saying that what he has written is partially a reminder? It could be either. Dunn suggests that Paul means that in a particular part of the letter, namely 12.1-15.13, he has been so bold as to directly exhort an audience he did not convert, though Dunn admits this may well refer to the whole letter. Barrett thinks Paul is saying that he wrote partially to remind the audience. I think this is likely to be correct. Paul surely knew, especially in his argument in chs. 9-11, that he was breaking some fresh ground for his audience, not least because he characterizes what he is doing as the revelation of what previously had been a mystery or secret. So Romans is only in part a “reminder.”1

Paul can speak boldly because of the grace given to him by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Rom 1:5; Gal 1:16; 2:1-10; Eph 3:2, 7-8; Col 1:25). The Roman church is a primarily Gentile church and so lies within the scope of Paul’s ministry.

The ‘offering’ is susceptible of two interpretations: (i) the offering consists of the Gentiles themselves, and (ii) the offering consists of donations made by the Gentiles, that is, their contributions to the collection. The former interpretation, which is adopted by the NIV, is preferable in the light of three facts: (i) that the apostle has already urged the audience to offer their bodies (i.e., themselves) as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (12:1); (ii) that he speaks immediately of this offering being ‘sanctified by the Holy Spirit’, not something that Paul would say about contributions to a collection; and (iii) that Paul was heading for Jerusalem with the collection before his planned visit to Rome and therefore the Roman believers would not have opportunity to donate to the collection to which he refers in 15:25-32.

When, here in 15:16, Paul speaks of the ‘offering’ of the Gentiles, he uses a word found in only one other place in his letters, in Ephesians 5:2, where he says: ‘Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (italics added). In this text the word also denotes self-offering (the self-offering of Christ to God) and not something that Christ offers. This provides extra support for the view that ‘the offering of the Gentiles’ here in 15:16 is correctly portrayed by the NIV translation as the self-offering of the Gentiles. Over this offering Paul presides as a priest to ensure that it is acceptable to God.2

Notice the very natural trinitarian progression here–Paul is a minister of Christ, serving the gospel of God, offering the Gentiles who have been consecrated by the Spirit. Paul clearly sees the divine functions and existence parceled out in three persons and ways.3

17 So I boast in Christ Jesus about the things that pertain to God.

Verses 17-21 are one long, complex sentence in the original Greek. The “things that pertain to God” are what Christ has wrought through Paul’s ministry (vv 18-19). Paul does not boast about his own achievements (3:27; 4:2-3) but, rather, boasts about what God has done through him.

18 For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

The “obedience of the Gentiles” is the conversion of the Gentiles (1:5; 16:26). “Signs and wonders” refer to miracles performed through Paul (2 Cor 12:12).

It is significant that Paul’s reference to Christ working through his ministry to win the obedience of the Gentiles recalls the descriptions of Jesus’ own earthly ministry — effected by signs and wonders and through the power of the Spirit. One might say that Paul believed that what Christ began to do in his own ministry he has continued to do through the ministry of his apostles, including himself (cf. Acts 1:1-2).4

We may have expected Paul to say that he preached from Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) to Illyricum but Acts 9:28 (cf. Acts 26:20) records that he moved about freely in Jerusalem and spoke boldly in the name of the Lord. However, his preaching in Jerusalem was probably brief (Gal 1:18-19, 22). “The extent of the Roman province of Illyricum is difficult to define as its outer limits changed over time. In terms of present-day geography Illyricum lay along the Adriatic coast and took in present-day Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania.”5 Paul did not take a direct route from Jerusalem to Illyricum but, rather, moved about the regions in a circuitous way. When he says he “fully preached the gospel” he probably means that he completed his special apostolic task of planting strategic churches.

20 And in this way I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, so as not to build on another person’s foundation, 21 but as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”

Generally, Paul preached Christ where there was no worship of Christ at all. He viewed his mission as “planting” churches whereas others “watered” churches (1 Cor 3:5-15). Obviously this was not an absolute rule for in this very letter he is writing to build up a church he did not plant.

The quote is from Isa 52:15 LXX, part of the fourth Servant Song. Other NT writers also identify the servant of Isaiah with Jesus Christ (Matt 8:17; Luke 22:37; John 12:38; Acts 8:26-35; 1 Pet 2:22). Paul proclaims the message about Christ, the servant.

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. Witherington III 2004, 354 
  2. Kruse 2014, 538 
  3. Witherington III 2004, 355 
  4. Kruse 2014, 540 
  5. Kruse 2014, 541 
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