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A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle to the Romans online

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ruled out of court, though it seems opposed to i Cor. xvi. 8, from which we
gather that when he wrote the first Epistle St. Paul did not contemplate slaying
in Ephesus longer than the next succeeding Pentecost.


Mr. F. Kendall in The Expositor for April, 1894 (p. 854 ff.), wbo would
place it some years earlier.

Clemen, who propounds a novel view of the chronology of S'.. Paul's life
generally, would interpose the Council of Jerusalem (which he identifies with
the visit of Acts xxi and not with that of Acts xv) between Romans, which
he assigns to the winter of A.D. 53 54, and Galatians, which he places towards
the end of the latter year^. His chief argument is that Galatians represents
a more advanced and heated stage of the controversy with the Judaizers, and
he accounts for this by the events which followed the Council (Gal, ii. 1 2 ff. ;
i. 6 ff.). There is, however, much that is arbitrary in the whole of this
reconstruction ; and the common view seems to us far more probable that
the Epistle to the Romans marks rather the gradual subsidence of troubled
waters than their first disturbing. There is more to be said for Mr. Rendall'i
opinion that Galatians was written during the early part of St. Paul's first
visit to Corinth in the year 51 (or 52), The question is closely comiected
with the controversy reopened by Professor Ramsay as to the identity of the
Galatian Churches. For those who see in them the Churches of South
Galatia (Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe) the earlier date
may well seem preferable. If we take them to be the Churches of North
Galatia (Pessinus, Ancyra, and Tavium), then the Epistle cannot be earlier
than St. Paul's settlement at Ephesus on his third journey in the year 54.
The argument which Bishop Lightfoot based on resemblances of thought and
language between Galatians and Romans rests upon facts that are indisput-
able, but does not carry with it any certain inference as to date.

(2) Occasion. If the time and place of the Epistle are clear,
the occasion of it is still clearer; St. Paul himself explains it
in unmistakable language twice over. At the beginning of the
Epistle (Rom. i. 10-15) he tells the Romans how much he has
longed to pay them a visit ; and now that the prospect has been
brought near he evidently writes to prepare them for it. And
at the end of the Epistle (ch. xv. 22-33) he repeats his explanation
detailing all his plans both for the near and for the more distant
future, and telling them how he hopes to make his stay with them
the most important stage of his journey to Spain. We know that
his intention was fulfilled in substance but not in the manner
of its accomplishment. He went up to Jerusalem and then

* Dr. Clemen places St. Paul's long stay at Ephesus (2J years on his reckon-
ing) in 50-52 A.D. In the course of it would fall our i Corinthians and two
out of the three letters which are supposed to be combined in our 1 Corinthians
(for this division there is really something of a case). He then inserts a third
missionary journey, extending not over three months (as Acts xx. 3), but
over some two years in Macedonia and Greece. To this he refers the last
Corinthian letter (2 Cor. i-viii) and a genuine fragment of Ep. to Titus
(Tit. iii. 12-14). Ep. to Romans is written from Corinth in the winter of
A.D. 53-54. Then follow the Council at Jerusalem, the dispute at Antioch,
Ep. to Galatians, and a fourtli journey in Asia Minor, with another genuine
fragment, 2 Tim. iv. ig-21. This fills the interval which ends with the arrest
at Jerusalem in the year 58, Epp. to Phil., Col., Philem. and one or two more
fragments of Past. Epp., the Apostle's arrival at Rome in a.d. 61 and hit
death in ad. f^. The whole scheme stands or falls with the place assigned to
the Council of Jerusalem, and the estimate formed of the historical character
of the Acts.


to Rome, but only after two years' forcible detention, and as
a prisoner awaiting his trial.

(3) Purpose. A more complicated question meets us when
from the occasion or proximate cause of the Epistle to the Romans
we pass to its purpose or ulterior cause. The Apostle's reasons
for writing to Rome lie upon the surface ; his reasons for writing
the particular letter he did write will need more consideration.
No doubt there is a providence in it. It was willed that such
a letter should be written for the admonition of after-ages. But
through what psychological channels did that providence work ?

Here we pass on to much debated ground ; and it will perhaps
help us if \\^ begin by presenting the opposing theories in as
antithetical a form as possible.

When the different views which have been held come to ba
examined, they will be found to be reducible to two main types,
which differ not on a single point but on a number of co-ordinated
points. One might be described as primarily historical, the other
primarily dogmatic ; one directs attention mainly to the Church
addressed, the other mainly to the writer; one adopts the view
of a predominance of Jewish-Christian readers, the other pre-
supposes readers who are predominantly Gentile Christians.

Here again the epoch-making impulse came from Baur. It was
Baur who first worked out a coherent theory, the essence of which
was that it claimed to be historical. He argued from the analogy
of the other Epistles which he allowed to be genuine. The cir-
cumstances of the Corinthian Church are reflected as in a glass in
the Epistles to the Corinthians; the circumstances of the Galatian
Churches come out clearly from that to the Galatians. Did it not
follow that the circumstances of the Roman Church might be
directly inferred from the Epistle to the Romans, and that the
Epistle itself was written with deliberate reference to them? Why
all this Jewish-sounding argument if the readers were not Jews ?
Why these constant answers to objections if there was no one to
object? The issues discussed were similar in many respects to
those in the Epistle to the Galatians. In Galatia a fierce con-
troversy was going on. Must it not therefore be assumed that
there was a like controversy, only milder and more tempered, at
Rome, and that the Apostle wished to deal with it in a manner
correspondingly milder and more tempered ?

There was truth in all this ; but it was truth to some extent
one-sided and exaggerated. A little reflexion will show that the
cases of the Churches of Corinth and Galatia were not exactly
parallel to that of Rome. In Galatia St. Paul was dealing with
a perfectly definite state of things in a Church which he himself had
founded, and the circumstances of which he knew from within and
not merely by hearsay. At Corinth he had spent a still longer


time ; when he wrote he was not far distant ; there had been
frequent communications between the Church and the Apostle;
anil in the case of i Corinthians he had actually before him a letter
containing a number of questions which he was requested to
answer, while in that of 2 Corinthians he had a personal report
brought to him by Titus. What could there be like this at Rome ?
The Church there St. Paul had not founded, had not even seen;
and, if we are to believe Baur and the great majority of his followers,
he had not even any recognizable correspondents to keep him
informed about it. For by what may seem a strange inconsistency
it was especially the school of Baur which denied the genuineness
of ch. xvi, and so cut away a whole list of persons from one or
other of whom St. Paul might have really learnt something about
Roman Christianity.

These contradictions were avoided in the older theory which
prevailed before the time of Baur and which has not been without
adherents, of whom the most prominent perhaps is Dr. Bernhard
Weiss, since his day. According to this theory the main object of
the Epistle is doctrinal; it is rather a theological treatise than
a letter ; its purpose is to instruct the Roman Church in central
principles of the faith, and has but little reference to the circum-
stances of the moment.

It would be wrong to call this view — at least in its recent forms
— unhistorical. It takes account of the situation as it presented
itself, but looks at another side of it from that which caught the
eye of Baur. The leading idea is no longer the position of the
readers, but the position of the writer: every thing is made to turn
on the truths which the Apostle wished to place on record, and for
which he found a fit recipient in a Church which seemed to have so
commanding a future before it.

Let us try to do justice to the different aspects of the problem.
The theories which have so far been mendoned, and others of
which we have not yet spoken, are only at fault in so far as they
are exclusive and emphasize some one point to the neglect of the
rest. Nature is usually more subtle than art. A man of St. Paul's
ability sitting down to write a letter on matters of weight would be
likely to have several influences present to his mind at once, and
his language would be moulded now by one and now by another.

Three t actors may be said to have gone to the shaping of this
letter of St. Paul's.

The first of these will be that which Baur took almost for the
only one. The Apostle had some real knowledge of the state of
the Church to which he was writing. Here we see the importance
of his connexion with Aquila and Prisca. His intercourse with
them would probably give the first impulse to that wish which he
tells us that he had entertained for many years to visit Rome in



person. When first he met them at Corinth they were newly
arrived from the capital ; he would hear from them of the state of
things they left behind them; and a spark would be enough to
fire his imagination at the prospect of winning a foothold for Christ
and the Gospel in the seat of empire itself. We may well
believe — if the speculations about Prisca are valid, and even with-
out drawing upon these — that the two wanderers would keep up
communication with the Christians of their home. And now, very
probably at the instance of the Apostle, they had returned to
prepare the way for his coming. We cannot afford to lose so
valuable a link between St. Paul and the Church he had set his
heart on visiting. Two of his most trusted friends are now on the
spot, and they would not fail to report all that it was essential to
the Apostle to know. He may have had other correspondents
besides, but they would be the chief. To this source we may look
for what there is of local colour in the Epistle. If the argument is
addressed now to Gentiles by birth and now to Jews; if we cutch
a glimpse of parties in the Church, 'the strong' and 'the weak';
if there is a hint of danger threatening the peace and the faiih of
the community (as in ch. xvi. 17-^20) — it is from his friends in
Rome that the Apostle draws his knowledge of the conditions with
which he is dealing.

The second factor which helps in determining the character of
the Epistle has more to do with what it is not than with what it is :
it prevents it from being as it was at one time described, ' a com-
pendium of the whole of Christian doctrine.' The Epistle is not
this, because like all St. Paul's Epistles it implies a common basis
of Christian teaching, those irapadua-ds as they are called elsewhere
(i Cor. xi. 2 ; 2 Thess. ii. 15; iii. 6), which the Aposde is able to
take for granted as already known to his readers, and which he
therefore thinks it unnecessary to repeat without special reason.
He will not 'lay again' a foundation which is already laid. He
will not speak of the ' first principles' of a Chrisdan's belief, but
will ' go on unto perfection.' Hence it is that just the most funda-
mental doctrines — the Divine Lordship of Christ, the value of His
Death, the nature of the Sacraments — are assumed rather than
stated or proved. Such allusions as we get to these are concerned
not with the rudimentary but with the more developed forms of the
doctrines in question. They nearly always add something to the
common stock of teaching, give to it a profounder significance,
or apply it in new and unforeseen directions. The last charge
that could be brought against the Epistle would be that it consisted
of Christian commonplaces. It is one of the most original of
writings. No Christian can have read it for the first time without
feeling that he was introduced to heights and depths of Chiistianity
of which he had never been conscious before.


For, lastly, the most powerful of all the influences which have
shaped the contents of the Epistle is the experience of the writer.
The main object which he has in view is really not far to seek.
When he thought of visiting Rome his desire was to ' have some
fruit ' there, as in the rest of the Gentile world (Rom. i. 13). He
longed to impart to the Roman Christians some ' spiritual gift,'
such as he knew that he had ihe power of imparting (i. 1 1 ; xv.
29). By this he meant the effect of his own personal presence,
but the gift was one that could be exercised also in absence. He
has exercised it by this letter, which is itself the outcome of a
iTvevfjiaTtKov x«P"^M«> ^ word of instruction, stimulus, and warning,
addressed in the first instance to the Church at Rome, and through
it to Christendom for all time.

The Apostle has reached another turning-point in his career.
He is going up to Jerusalem, not knowing what will befall him
there, but prepared for the worst. He is aware that the step which
he is taking is highly critical and he has no confidence that he will
escape with his life K This gives an added solemnity to his utter-
ance ; and it is natural that he should cast back his glance over
the years which had passed since he became a Christian and sum
up the result as he felt it for himself. It is not exactly a conscious
summing up, but it is the momentum of this past experience which
guides his pen.

•' Deep in the background of all his thought lies that one great
event which brought him within the fold of Christ. For him it
had been nothing less than a revolution ; and it fixed permanently
his conception of the new forces which came with Christianity into
the world. ' To believe in Christ,' ' to be baptized into Christ,'
these were the watchwords ; and the Apostle felt that they were
pregnant with intense meaning. That new personal relation of
the believer to his Lord was henceforth the motive-power which
dominated the whole of his life. It was also met, as it seemed, in a
marvellous manner from above. We cannot doubt that from his con-
version onwards St. Paul found himself endowed with extraordinary
energies. Some of tiiem were what we should call miraculous;
but he makes no distinction between those which were miraculous
and those which were not. He set them all down as miraculous
in the sense of having a direct Divine cause. And when he looked
around him over the Christian Church he saw that like endowments,
energies similar in kind if inferior to his own in degree, were
widely diffused. They were the characteristic mark of Christians.
Partly they took a form which would be commonly described as
supernatural, unusual powers of healing, unusual gifts of utterance,
an unusual magnetic influence upon others; partly they consisted

* This is impressively stated in Hort, /?fim. and Eph. p. 43 ff.


in a strange elation of spirit which made suffering and toil seem
light and insignificant ; but most of all the new impulse was moral
in its working, it blossomed out in a multitude of attractive trails —
' love, joy, peace, longsufTering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
meekness, temperance.' These St. Paul called ' fruits of the
Spirit.' The act of faith on the part of man, the influence of the
Spirit (which was only another way of describing the influence of
Christ Himself) from the side of God, were the two outstandmg
facts which made the lives of Christians differ from those of other

These are the postulates of Christianity, the forces to which the
Aposde has to appeal for the solution of practical problems as they
present themselves. His time had been very largely taken up
with such problems. There had been the great question as to
the terms on which Gentiles were to be admitted to the new society.
On this head St. Paul could have no doubt. His own ruling
principles, ' faith ' and ' the Spirit,' made no distinction between
Jew and Gentile ; he had no choice but to contend for the equal
rights of both — a certain precedence might be yielded to the Jews
as the chosen people of the Old Covenant, but that was all.

This battle had been fought and won. But it left behind
a question which was intellectually more troublesome — a question
brought home by the actual effect of the preaching of Christianity,
very largely welcomed and eagerly embraced by Gentiles, but as
a rule spurned and rejected by the Jews — how it could be that
Israel, the chosen recipient of the promises of the Old Testament,
should be excluded from the benefit now that those promises came
to be fulfilled. Clearly this question belongs to the later reflective
stage of the controversy relating to Jew and Gentile. The active
contending for Gentile lil^erties would come first, the philosophic
or theological assignment of the due place of Jew and Gentile in
the Divine scheme would naturally come afterwards. This more
advanced stage has now been reached ; the Apostle has made up
his mind on the whole series of questions at issue ; and he takes
the opportunity of writing to the Romans at the very centre of the
empire, to lay down calmly and deliberately the conclusions to
which he has come.

The Epistle is the ripened fruit of the thought and struggles of
the eventful years by which it had been preceded. It is no merely
abstract disquisition but a letter full of direct human interest in the
persons to whom it is written ; it is a letter which contains here
and there side-glances at particular local circumstances, and at
least one emphatic warning (ch. xvi. 17-20) against a danger
which had not reached the Church as yet, but any day might reach

* See the notes on cb. viii. 9-17 ; compare also ch. tL 1-14.


it, and the full urgency of which the Apostle knew only too well j
but the miin theme of the letter is the gathering in of the harvest,
at once of the Church's history since the departure of its Master,
and of the individual history of a single soul, that one soul which
under God had had the most active share in making the course of
external events what it was. St. Paul set himself to give the
Roman Church of his best ; he has given it what was perhaps in
some ways too good for it — more we may be sure than it would be
able to digest and assimilate at the moment, but just for that very
reason a body of teaching which eighteen centuries of Christian
interpreters have failed to exhaust. Its richness in this respect is
due to the incomparable hold which it shows on the essential
principles of Christ's religion, and the way in which, like the
Bible in general, it pierces through the conditions of a particular
time and place to the roots of things which are permanent and

§ 5. The Argument.

In the interestmg essay in which, discarding all tradition, he

seeks to re-interpret the teaching of St. Paul directly from the
standpoint of the nineteenth century, Matthew Arnold maps out the
contents of the Epistle as follows : —

'If a somewhat pedantic form of expression may be forgiven for
the sake of clearness, we may say that of the eleven first chapters
of the Epistle to the Romans — the chapters which convey Paul's
theology, though not . . . with any scholastic purpose or in any
formal scientific mode of exposition — of these eleven chapters, the
first, second, and third are, in a scale of importance, fixed by
a scientific criticism of Paul's line of thought, sub-primary; the
fourth and fifth are secondary ; the sixth and eighth are primary ;
the seventh chapter is sub-primary; the ninth, tenth, and eleventh
chapters are secondary. Furthermore, to the contents of the
separate chapters themselves this scale must be carried on, so far as
to mark that of the two great primary chapters, the sixth and
eighth, the eighth is primary down only to the end of the twenty-
eighth verse ; from thence to the end it is, however, eloquent, yet
for the purpose of a scientific criticism of Paul's essential theology
only secondary' {S/. Paul and Proiesianlism, p. 92 f.).

This extract may serve as a convenient starting-point for our
examination of the argument : and it may conduce to clearness of
ajiprehension if we complete the summary analysis of the Epistle
given by the fanv \\ riicr, with the additional advantage of presenting
it in his fresh and bright manner : —



* The first chapter is to the Gentiles — its purport is : You have
not righteousness. The second is to the Jews— its purport
is: No more have you, though you think you have. The thiid
chapter assumes faith in Christ as the one source of riglit-
eousness for all men. The fourth chapter gives to the nniion
of righteousness through faith the sanction of the Old Tesiamem
and of the history of Abraham. The fifth insists on the causes for
thankfulness and exultation in the boon of righteousness through
faith in Christ ; and applies illustratively, with this de.^ign, the
history of Adam. The sixth chapter comes to the all-important
question : " What is that faith in Christ which I, Paul, mean ? " —
and answers it. The seventh illustrates and explains the answer.
But the eighth down to the end of the twenty-eighth verse, develops
and completes the answer. The rest of the eighth chapter expresses
the sense of safety and gratitude which the solution is fitted to
inspire. The ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters uphold the second
chapter's thesis — so hard to a Jew, so easy to us — that righteous-
ness is not by the Jewish law ; but dwell with hope and joy on a
final result of things which is to be favourable to Israel' {ibid. p. 93).

Some such outline as this would be at the present stage of in-
vestigation generally accepted. It is true that Baur threw the
centre of gravity upon chapters ix-xi, and held that the rest of the
Epistle was written up to these : but this view would now on
almost all hands be regarded as untenable. The problem discussed
in these chapters doubtless weighed heavily on the Apostle's mind ;
in the circumstances under which he was writing it was doubtless
a problem of very considerable urgency ; but for all that it is
a problem which belongs rather to the circumference of St. Paul's
thought than to the centre ; it is not so much a part of his funda-
mental teaching as a consequence arising from its collision with an
unbelieving world.

On this head the scholarship of the present day would be on the
side of Matthew Arnold. It points, however, to the necessity, in
any attempt to determine what is primary and what is not primary
in the argument of the Epistle, of starting with a clear understanding
of the point of view from which the degrees of relative importance
are to be assigned. Baur's object was historical — to set the
Epistle in relation to the circumstances of its composition. On
that assumption his view was partially — though still not more than
partially — justified. Matthew Arnold's object on the other hand
was what he calls ' a scientific criticism of Paul's thought ' ; by
which he seems to mean (though perhaps he was not wholly clear
in his own mind) an attempt to discriminate in it those elemenis
which are of the highest permanent value. It was natuial that lie
should attach the greatest importance to those elements in [lauiLiilar
which seemed to be cajiable 01 direct personal verification. I'ium


this point of view we need not question his assignment of a primary
significance to chapters vi and viii. His reproduction of the thought
of these chapters is the best thing in his book, and we have drawn
upon it ourselves in the commentary upon them (p. 163 f.). There
is more in the same connexion that well deserves attentive study.
But there are other portions of the Epistle which are not capable of
verification precisely in the same manner, and yet were of primary
importance to St. Paul himself and may be equally of primary

Online LibraryW. (William) SandayA critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle to the Romans → online text (page 5 of 71)