Commentary on Romans 15:22-29

Notes (NET Translation)

22 This is the reason I was often hindered from coming to you.

Paul’s evangelization in the eastern Mediterranean is what hindered him from going to Rome (15:17-19). He also had problems with congregations to deal with and was imprisoned multiple times (1 Cor 15:32; 2 Cor 1:8; Phlm 1; Phil 1:14).

23 But now there is nothing more to keep me in these regions, and I have for many years desired to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I hope to visit you when I pass through and that you will help me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.

Paul’s failure to visit Rome previously was not due to a lack of interest (1:9-13). In the ancient world Spain included all of the Iberian peninsula. Parts of Spain had been occupied by Rome since about 200 BC.

Did Paul ever reach Spain? If he did, it would have to be after his house arrest in Rome ended in A.D. 62. We have the evidence of Clement of Rome (1 Clement 5.7), writing at the end of the first century, that Paul reached “the limit of the west,” but we cannot be certain this refers to Spain. It is possible that Paul envisioned finishing church planting in the northern half of the Mediterranean crescent before turning to the southern half, which would include Roman Africa and of course Egypt. But this is mere speculation. What we can be more sure of is that v. 24 makes evident that Paul did not intend to stay in Rome long, much less to become apostle in residence there and take over whatever leadership structure they already had. Rather Paul keeps stressing that he will only be passing through and that he will enlist the Romans’ aid so that he can go further afield in his missionary work. “The diplomatic caution evident in the proem still controls the statement here. Paul must avoid the suspicion that he wants to make the world capital his own domain, and he does not want to say brusquely that he regards it merely as a bridgehead. Nevertheless, he states that Spain is the true goal of his journey . . . .”1

The Acts of Peter and the Muratorian Fragment state Paul made it Spain.

Paul also mentioned his intention to visit the Roman church at the beginning of the letter, but he claimed there that his purpose was to “preach the gospel” in Rome (1:15). Now, however, Paul speaks generally of “enjoying their company,” hints at a fairly short stay (“for a while”), and treats Rome as little more than a layover on his trip to Spain (“while passing through”). The best explanation for the difference in emphasis (there is no contradiction) between these two statements is Paul’s sensitivity about financial matters. For Paul makes clear in this verse that he hopes his “layover” in Rome will result in his gaining material support from the Roman Christian community for his Spanish mission: the verb propempō is a regular technical term for missionary support. Probably, then, Paul is reluctant even to hint at this request for help at the beginning of the letter; only after he has “built a relationship” with the community through his letter does he think it appropriate to bring up the matter.2

Paul has spoken similarly in 1 Cor. 16.6b, where he says he hopes that the Corinthian Christians will be able to “help me on my journey,” a round-about way of asking them to provide traveling funds and resources to enable him to make it to the next destination. To judge from texts like 1 Mace. 12.4 and 4 Esd. 4.47, this could entail anything such as food, funds, letters of introduction, and transportation, and it became a regular practice in the early church (cf. Acts 15.3; 20.38; 21.5; 2 Cor. 1.16; Titus 3.13; 3 John 6).

This is a short-term and very different matter than placing oneself in either a relationship of “giving and receiving” such as Paul speaks of having with his partners in ministry the Philippians (Phil. 4.15), or placing oneself in the debt of a patron. Paul consistently refused patronage from new converts, had only a parity reciprocity relationship with the Philippians, and otherwise accepted only either hospitality or traveling funds from churches like that in Corinth, or in this case in Rome. It would have been especially unlikely that Paul would accept patronage or even parity from the Roman church for it was not one he had founded, and he was only just now establishing some kind of personal contact and influence over the Christians in Rome. The request for traveling funds was in fact a way for Paul to show his faith and belief in the good character of the Roman church. It was also an overture to establish a somewhat more intimate relationship with them. Basically Paul avoided accepting missionary support while staying with a new congregation to avoid the appearance of offering the gospel for money, but he would allow them to help him in another arena, such as the Philippians did, or at least allow them to provide traveling funds.3

25 But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia are pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.

Paul is soon to conclude the collection first mentioned in Gal 2:10 (cf. Acts 24:17; 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9). The churches of the Roman province of Macedonia (= modern northern Greece, Macedonia, and southern Albania/Macedonia) included those in Philippi and Thessalonica (cf. 2 Cor 8:1-4). The churches in the Roman province of Achaia (= the bulk of modern Greece) included those in Athens, Corinth, and Cenchreae.

The significance of the collection for Paul and his mission has been the subject of some debate. Was it (i) simply a compassionate response to the pressing needs of Judean Christians; (ii) an important expression of the unity of the Jewish and Gentile sections of the church (2 Cor 8:14, 15; cf. Rom 15:25-27); (iii) similar to the collection of the Jewish temple tax (though with some differences); or, (iv) more conjecturally, a fulfillment of the OT prophecies of the latter days when the nations and their wealth would flow into Zion (Isa 2:2, 3; 60:5-7; Mic 4:1, 2)? The way Paul promotes the collection for the saints in 2 Corinthians 8–9 shows clearly that he wanted it to be an expression of love and generosity, one that would enhance the relationship between the Corinthian believers and those in Jerusalem. As Wright makes clear: ‘For Gentiles to give money for Jewish Christians was a sign that the Gentiles regarded them as members of the same family; for Jewish Christians to accept it would be a sign that they in turn accepted the Gentiles as part of their family’. As there is no hint in either Paul’s letters to the Corinthians or in Romans that he regarded the collection as a counterpart to the Jewish temple tax, or that it would be in fulfillment of the OT prophecies of the wealth of the Gentiles flowing into Jerusalem, these suggestions must remain speculations.4

Did Paul also believe that the collection, the symbol of Gentile inclusion into the people of God, would provoke the Jews to jealousy so that they would turn and be saved? It is certainly possible that Paul hoped that this would be the outcome. We know from Rom. 10–11 that the conversion of the Gentiles would eventually provoke the Jews to jealousy so that the latter would be saved. We have no reason to doubt, therefore, that Paul may have hoped that the collection would yield such an outcome. What we must avoid is the claim that Paul certainly believed that the consequence of the collection would be Jewish jealousy and salvation. Nowhere does Paul say this, and it is eisegesis to read it into the text.5

Paul’s identification of the recipients of this expression of fellowship, “the poor of the saints in Jerusalem,” can be interpreted in three different ways: (1) “the poor saints in Jerusalem” (KJV); (2) “the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (NIV; NASB; REB; NRSV; cf. TEV); (3) “the poor, that is, the saints in Jerusalem.” Both the first two options assume that “poor” is an economic designation. The first, however, suggests that all the Christians in Jerusalem were poor and that the collection was meant accordingly for them all, while the second suggests that only some of the “saints” were poor and that the collection was directed specifically to them. The third rendering, however, taking “the poor” and “saints” as having the same scope, assumes that “poor” is a theological description, drawn from the OT and Jewish tradition that used the term to denote the “righteous” and taken over by the early Jerusalem church as a self-description. The NT contains passages in which “poor” has this theological nuance. But Paul gives no hint of such a nuance here; and surely an economic meaning is more likely in a context where he talking about a financial contribution. Of the first two alternatives, the second is to be preferred since it explains better why Paul uses both “poor” and “saints.”6

27 For they were pleased to do this, and indeed they are indebted to the Jerusalem saints. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are obligated also to minister to them in material things.

For their part, Paul says, ‘they were pleased to do it’. This was certainly the case with the Macedonians (cf. 2 Cor 8:1-2), and in the end it proved to be the case with the Achaians also, but in the case of the Corinthians this was only after the apostle stressed to them the importance of a generous and voluntary gift (2 Cor 9:5-7). In Paul’s mind, if not in the mind of the Macedonians and the Achaians, it was a matter of obligation: ‘they owe it to them’ (lit. ‘they are their debtors’).7

The obligation of the Gentiles to the Jerusalem saints was moral, not legal, for their contributions were to be made generously and cheerfully (2 Cor 9:5-7). The Jerusalem saints shared the gospel, promised first to the Jewish people, with the Gentiles. In turn, the Gentiles share financial contributions with the Jerusalem saints. Paul hopes to cement the Jewish and Gentile parts of the church together.

28 Therefore after I have completed this and have safely delivered this bounty to them, I will set out for Spain by way of you, 29 and I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of Christ’s blessing.

Verse 28 literally says “and having sealed to them this fruit“. The “fruit” is the collection viewed as a sort of harvest from the evangelizing of the Gentiles. It is debated as to why Paul uses the word “sealed”. Kruse, like the NET, thinks the term is used to signify the safe delivery of the collection. Moo notes that affixing a seal to something was often a sign of authenticity and so Paul intended to accompany the collection to Jerusalem in order to affirm its integrity and insure that it is rightly understood by its recipients. Witherington III suggests that Paul views the delivery of the collection as the finishing touch of his ministry in the eastern Mediterranean that seals the bond between his largely Gentile churches and the Jerusalem church. The options are not mutually exclusive.

Paul looked forward to visiting the Romans for mutual encouragement (1:11-12). The “fullness of Christ’s blessing” could refer to the blessing imparted by Paul to the Roman Christians or vice versa.

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, 363 
  2. Moo 1996, 901–902 
  3. Witherington III 2004, 363-364 
  4. Kruse 2014, 546-547 
  5. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 15022-15027 
  6. Moo 1996, 903–904 
  7. Kruse 2014, 548 
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