In this session, we look at the book of Romans.
Speaker: Andrew Bunt
Andrew is a staff member at Kings Church Eastbourne, an author and a regular speaker on various thoelogy topics. In this session he looks at the book of Romans.
• Author: The Apostle Paul (1:1), probably through a scribe, Tertius (16:22).
• Location: Probably written in Corinth.
– Paul stayed in Greece ahead of his visit to Jerusalem (Rom. 16:25-26; Acts 19:21; 20:16).
– Phoebe, probably the letter carrier, was from Cenchrae, next to Corinth (Rom. 16:1-2).
– Gaius (16:23) may be the Gaius baptised by Paul in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:14).
– Erastus (16:23) may be the Erastus mentioned in an inscription from Corinth.
• Date: c.57AD.
• Recipients: Christians in Rome. Church probably started by Jewish converts returning from Pentecost (Acts
2:10). Several house churches (16:5, 16). Jews and Gentiles.
• Purpose and situation: Two often linked. Important in Romans, even though often thought to be less
situational than other letters of Paul.
What does the letter itself reveal about the situations of Paul and the Romans? How might these situations
shape the purpose of the letter?
See especially Romans 1:8-15; 1:16; 2:9-11; 14:1-15:7; 15:18-33.
• Each main section has been suggested as most important:
– Chs. 1-4 – Justification by faith – especially Reformers (e.g. Luther).
– Chs. 5-8 – Union with Christ (participation) – especially early 20th century (e.g. Schweitzer,
– Chs. 9-11 – Place of Gentiles and Jews in salvation history – especially later 20th century (e.g.
– Chs. 12-16 – Unity of Jewish and Gentile believers – especially later 20th and early 21st century
• Best option for overall theme: the gospel. Key theme in opening (1:1-6, 15, 16) and closing (15:16, 19, 20),
and 1:16 seems to be a thematic statement opening the main argument of the letter.
• Can account for all the main sections of Romans:
– Chs. 1-4 – How the gospel brings salvation
– Chs. 5-8 – The power of the gospel in Christian living and the guarantee it brings of end-time
– Chs. 9-11 – The relation of Jews and Gentiles in view of the gospel.
– Chs. 12-16 – Gospel living, including the unity brought by the gospel.
• Important sub-themes:
– Obedience which comes from faith (1:5; 16:26; also chs. 6-8, 12-13).
– The unity of Jew and Gentile (1:16; 2:10; 15:8-13).
Reading Romans Well
• Two key questions:
– What was Paul trying to communicate to the original readers?
– What impact should what Paul was saying have on us today and what response should we make?
• Romans is a letter, not narrative. Expect progression of thoughts, not of events. Tracing argument is
• Always ask: How does this phrase connect to the one before it and the one after it?
• Sometimes have to discern from context. Sometimes made explicit by a connective, a word which explains
the relationship between two phrases. (Therefore worth using quite literal translation.)
• Different types of connective:
– Connective: and, also.
– Contrastive: but, rather, however.
– Correlative: on the one hand … on the other hand; both … and.
– Alternative: or.
– Explanatory: for, you see, that is.
– Inferential/consequence: therefore, since.
• Most important in Romans is ‘for’ (γάρ gar) = ‘What I have just said is explained by what I’m about to
say’. (For more on connectives see chapter 5, ‘The Linking Words Tool’, in Beynon & Sach, Dig Deeper: Tools to unearth the Bible’s treasure (IVP, 2005), pp.59-68.)
• A helpful tool for tracing Paul’s argument. Can be done in a very technical way, but even a simple
diagram can help hugely. (See, for example, the booklet Biblical Exegesis by John Piper (https://cdn.desiringgod.org/pdf/booklets/BTBX.pdf)
• The aim is to separate each proposition (standalone statement) and visually represent the relationship
between each. This forces you to think through all the relationships.
• The process:
– Break the text down into separate propositions. Each one will be a standalone statement about
– Draw lines between the parts of the propositions which connect to each other.
– Annotate these lines to mark what the connection is. These annotations can be descriptive (e.g.
‘explanation’) or can state the question which is being answered (e.g. ‘why?’).
‘Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you
condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God
rightly falls on those who practice such things.’
‘But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is
unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the
‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by
their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God
has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been
clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without
A Survey of Romans
• Romans falls into four sections. Each can be understood as an outworking of the key statement in 1:16
about the gospel being the power of God.
– 1:17-4:25 – The gospel: God’s power for present salvation
– 5:1-8:39 – The gospel: God’s power for future salvation
– 9:1-11:36 – The gospel: God’s power for the fulfilment of his promises
– 12:1-15:13 – The gospel: God’s power for transformed living
1:1-15 – Introduction: Paul’s eagerness to preach the gospel
• Letter opening immediately introduces key theme of the gospel and explains what the gospel is (1:1-4).
• Also introduces the sub-theme of ‘the obedience of faith’, i.e. the goal of the gospel (1:5).
• But the ultimate aim of it all is that God would be glorified: ‘for the sake of his name’ (1:5).
• 1:8-13 – Paul explains his desire to visit the Roman church.
• 1:14-15 – This desire flows from Paul’s sense of obligation to preach the gospel. It leads him to be eager
to preach the gospel in Rome. The rest of the letter follows as an explanation of this (note ‘for’, v.16).
Romans is a missionary letter.
Romans 1:16-4:25 – The gospel: God’s power for present salvation
1:16-17 – Key statement: The gospel is God’s power for salvation
• Paul is eager to preach the gospel because he knows what the gospel is: it is God’s power to save all who
• How is it this power? Because in it, the righteousness of God is revealed (1:17). What does ‘the
righteousness of God’ mean?
– God’s character: Gospel shows God doing what he should do.
– God’s action: Gospel shows God enacting righteousness, i.e. salvation (the two are often
connected in the OT, e.g. Is. 46:13a; Is. 51:51).
– God’s gift: Gospel shows God giving righteousness to unrighteous people (cf. 5:17).
§ All three could be right. May be deliberately ambiguous. Connection with faith supports
righteousness as God’s gift.
• ‘From faith and for faith’ and quote from Habakkuk 2:4 stress that this righteousness is only by faith.
1:18-3:20 – The revelation of God’s wrath
• Starts with the problem. The revelation of God’s righteousness (1:17) must be set in the context of the
revelation of his wrath (1:18).
• God’s wrath is his just and fair judgement and punishment of sin.
• Explains the problem in four sections:
– 1:18-32 – God’s wrath is revealed against unrighteousness which is a suppression of the truth.
Truth of God’s existence and fact he should be worshipped is clear to all through creation. Failure
to worship God and choice to worship other things is sin. God punishes by ‘giving over’ into sin.
– 2:1-16 – Those who look down on unrighteous sinners are in an equally bad situation as they too
do the same and will be judged according to what they have done. God will judge Jews and
– 2:17-3:8 – Nothing external, such as having the law or being circumcised, can protect against this
judgement. The external is not important, an internal heart response is needed.
– 3:9-20 – Old Testament proves that all – Jews and Gentiles – need saving from God’s wrath. And
the law can’t save us, it only makes sin more obvious.
3:21-4:25 – The revelation of God’s righteousness
• Against the background of the revelation of God’s wrath against human unrighteousness, the gospel
reveals God’s righteousness in saving sinners.
• 3:23-24 – All have sinned, but all can be justified by God – given right legal standing before God.
• Only possible because of what Jesus has done: he became a propitiation.
– Propitiation is debated. Could mean ‘mercy-seat’, ‘expiation’ (i.e. removal of guilty), or
‘propitiation’ (i.e. appeasing of anger, pacifying). Latter makes best sense in context.
• Thus, God can be just and be the justifier of the ungodly (3:26).
• 3:27-31 – Takes up second part of 1:17: faith. This justification is received only by faith. Therefore, any
boasting is excluded.
• 4:1-25 – Uses examples of Abraham and David to show that justification has always been by faith alone.
Romans 5:1-8:39 – The gospel: God’s power for future salvation
• The promise of present salvation in Romans 1-4 raises a question: How can we know we will still be
declared righteous, and so be saved from God’s wrath, on judgement day? Romans 5-8 address this
question. The theme of future glory is present at both the start (5:2, 9-10) and the end (8:18-25, 38-39) of
• Paul’s answer is: Because of the comprehensive nature of our salvation which shapes what Christian life is
5:1-21 – Confidence because of the nature of salvation
• 5:1-5 – Paul moves from our past justification (‘we have been justified’) to our present position (‘we have
peace with God…grace in which we stand’) and our future hope (‘we rejoice in the hope of the glory of
God’). He is showing how our confidence for the future comes from the present.
• 5:6-11 – Explain this confidence. Argues from lesser to the greater. If Christ has justified us by his blood,
then of course he’ll save us on judgement day! (v.9) If we, when we were enemies, were reconciled to
God through Christ’s death, thenof course, now we’re reconciled, we’ll be saved by his life! (v.10) What
God has already done guarantees what he will do.
• 5:12-21 – We can also have confidence because of what salvation is. God sees all people in one of two
groups. Each group has a figurehead and the people in the groups are affected by the actions of the
figurehead. We start in Adam, and so are rendered sinners, and deserving of condemnation. But when we
put our faith in Christ, we are moved into Christ (‘in Christ’) and receive what his actions deserve. Can’t
hop in and out of being in Christ. It is a secure position which will still be true of us on judgement day.
6:1-23 – Confidence because of freedom from sin
• 6:1 – Romans 5 (especially v.20) raises another question: If our position is so secure, and if grace abounds
where there is sin, can’t we just continue in sin? Paul responds strong: Certainly not! By no means!
• 6:2-14 – We don’t just continue in sin, because having been united with Christ we have died with him, so
we can walk in newness of life. Our old body of sin died with Christ, so sin no longer has any power over
us. We are free to not sin.
• 6:15-23 – Once we were slaves to sin, but through our death with Christ we have been freed from that
slavery and have become slaves of God and of righteousness. We no longer have to listen to sin. It has no
power over us.
• These things are true of us because we’re ‘in Christ’, but we have to live them out. We reckon or consider
them to be so, and we don’t let sin exert power over us.
7:1-25 – Confidence because of freedom from the law
• If sin has no power over us because we’re under grace and not under the law, then was the law bad or
even sinful? And what role does the law have now? These are the questions behind Romans 7.
• 7:1-6 – Tackle the question of the role of the law for the Christian now. When we died with Christ, we
died to the law and are no longer bound to it (as illustrated by marriage). Now, therefore, we live not by
the law but by the Spirit.
• 7:7-25 – So was the law the problem, is it bad, even sinful? Certainly not! The law revealed sin and sin
used the law to tempt us and lead us to do its bidding. The problem was not with the law, but with sin
dwelling in us. The law is holy, righteous and good.
– Vv.13-25 – Paul speaks in the first person (‘I’) as an individual in anguish over their inability to
keep the law, even though they long to do so. Who is this figure? A Christian? A non-Christian? A
Jew under the law? Someone between regeneration and justification? Does this reflect something
we should experience or something we shouldn’t?
– Hard to reconcile what the ‘I’ says with what Paul says of the Christian in chapters 6 and 8. E.g.
§ 7:23 ‘the law of sin that dwells in my members’. But ch.6 speaks of freedom from sin (6:6,
§ 7:14 ‘I am of the flesh, sold under sin’; 8:9 ‘You, however, are not in the flesh but in the
§ Also hint in v.25 that Paul has reason to thank God that this is not his current situation.
– ‘I’ is therefore probably a non-Christian, possible a Jew outside of Christ
8:1-39 – Confidence because of life in the Spirit
• So Christian life is not abandoning ourselves to sin (ch.7) and it’s not striving to keep the law (ch.7), rather
it’s life in the Spirit (ch.8). Romans 8 describes what should be normal Christian life.
• 8:1-3 – Total freedom from condemnation. Points backwards to our being ‘in Christ’ (5:12-21) and
forwards to the Spirit’s work of applying to us the benefits of Christ’s death.
• 8:4-13 – Ability to live God’s way. Purpose of freedom from condemnation is that we might fulfil the
righteous requirement of the law. Work of the Spirit in us and our setting our mind on the things of the
Spirit empowers us to live God’s way.
• 8:14-17 – Adoption as God’s children, including the blessings of freedom from fear, intimacy with God,
being an heir of God, and being one who suffers with Christ.
• 8:18-30 – Utter confidence that in the face of suffering we are still children of God who are loved by God.
– Future – Certain hope of coming new creation (vv.18-25).
– Present – Spirit himself prays for us when we don’t know what to pray (vv.26-27).
– Past – Because of what God has already done for us in Christ, we can know that he will always
work all things for our good (vv.28-30).
• 8:31-39 – Because of all of this we can have utter certainty that God will always do us good (vv.31-32), he
will always fully accept us (vv.33-34), and he will always love us (vv. 35-39).
• Romans 5-8 tell us that we can be confident that we will still be declared righteous on judgement day
because of the nature of salvation (we are ‘in Christ’) and the Christian life we live now (free from the
power of sin, free from the law, life in the Spirit).
9:1-11:36 – The gospel: God’s power for the fulfilment of his promises
• Before getting to practical outworking of life in the Spirit Paul has to address another big question. Jesus
had come as the Jewish messiah, and yet many Jews had not received him as the messiah. So, is God notfaithful to him promises? Or perhaps he wants to be, but he is not powerful enough to be? Why have the
Jews not received Jesus as messiah?
• In Romans 9-11, Paul gives two parallel answers:
– Because of God’s election – It’s God’s doing, what he has chosen.
– Because of the people’s unbelief – It’s people’s doing, what they have chosen.
• 9:1-18 – Paul first focusses on the first answer: God’s election. Paul shows that God’s word has not failed
because he never promised to save all the physical descendants of Abraham, but only the children of
promise (9:9). This is in line with how God has always worked: choosing some and hardening others (9:10-
• 9:19-29 – But can it be right for God to find fault in those he hardens? Paul doesn’t attempt a logical
answer but appeals to God’s position as creator and ours as the creature. Who are we to answer back to
• 9:30-10:21 – Paul gives the second answer: people’s choice. The Jews haven’t accepted Jesus because
they have sought to be saved by the law, rather than by Jesus. And this is despite the fact that the gospel
has gone out and has been heard by the Jews.
• 11:1-10 – So, has God rejected his people? Certainly not! Paul himself, a Jewish Christian, is proof that
God will save a remnant of the Jewish people.
• 11:11-24 – And even here there is some mysterious purpose. The Gentiles are being welcomed in and this
is designed to make the Jews jealous to draw them in.
• 11:25-32 – All of this has been somewhat hidden until now, but somehow what God is doing will lead to
the salvation of ‘all Israel’. But what does this mean? Unlikely to mean all ethnic Jews, given what’s been
said. Could be the elect among the Jews or all Christians as the new Israel.
• 11:33-36 – All of this is too much for human understanding. This does not lead Paul to frustration or an
attempt to work out the things of God; it leads him to worship.
12:1-15:13 – The gospel: God’s power for transformed living
• In light of all that has been said, how should the Christians in Rome live in their daily lives? What does it
look like to live in the Spirit?
12:1-2 – Therefore…
• 12:1-2 are a transition between truth of what God has done and instruction of how we should live.
‘Therefore’ is the key word: in light of all that has been said, do this.
• 12:1 – Romans 1 talked of sin as misdirected worship which lead to the dishonouring of bodies (1:24).
Christian life is to be a life of worship to God, with bodies offered in sacrifice to him.
• 12:2 – In Romans 1, those under sin because ‘futile in their thinking’ (1:21). Those who are in Christ and
who live by the Spirit are to be transformed by the renewal of their thinking which will flow into new
12:3-13:14 – Christian Living
• 12:3-8 – Christians should recognise their giftings, but think of themselves soberly, in line with the
measure of faith and gifting.
• 12:9-21 – A string of quickfire instructions, the majority about relating to other people.
• 13:1-7 – Christians should live in submission to ruling authorities, recognising that they have been put
there by God as his servants.
• 13:8-14 – All of these instructions can be summarised in the command to love one another, for ‘love is
the fulfilling of the law’ (v.10).
a Christian (e.g. weak say you should not eat meat offered to idols, strong say eating meat
• Paul doesn’t answer by saying who is right (although he clearly sides with the strong), but rather teaches
how to live when there is disagreement over disputable matters. Strong shouldn’t cause the weak to
stumble and weak shouldn’t judge the strong.
• Talking about disputable matters: things on which we can agree to disagree. Wouldn’t respond the same
way if it was about fundamentals of the gospel (see Galatians!)
• 15:1-7 – Our model should be Christ, who did not put his own needs first but rather sought to please
• 15:8-13 – The welcome of Christ is for both Jews and Gentiles, and so the church should likewise welcome
Jews and Gentiles in unity.
15:14-16:27 – Conclusion
• 15:22-33 – Paul returns to his opening theme of his desire to go to Rome, this time giving more details on
his plan: he intends to go to Jerusalem and then wants to preach the gospel in Spain, stopping to see the
Romans on the way.
• 16:1-16 – Paul greets many individuals in the church. Note the diversity (male and female, couples and
singles, young and old, slaves and free etc), an example of the unity of the gospel in action. Note that
many are explicitly said to be involved in the mission of God (e.g. ‘fellow workers’, hosts of house
churches, ‘worked hard in the Lord’). This mission is not just for Paul.
• 16:17-27 – A final call to unity. Paul ends the letter in worship.
Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Eerdmans, 1996)
Intermediate-advanced. Excellent exegesis. Always worth consulting.
John Stott, The Message of Romans, BST (IVP, 1994)
Introductory. Section by section commentary. Good exegesis.
F.F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Survey (IVP, 2008)
Introductory. Good, but a little dated (Slight update of a much older edition).
Other useful resources
Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Company 2014)
An excellent guide to Romans 1-7. Easy to read, based on good exegesis of Romans.
D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Romans, 14 vols (Banner of Truth)
Solid, detailed exposition. As D.A. Carson says, ‘Read it if you are a fast reader.’
Audio & Video
Douglas Moo, Romans lecture series: https://www.biblicaltraining.org/romans/douglas_moo
John Piper, ‘Romans: The Greatest Letter Ever Written’ (sermon series):