Modern Bible Commentary on Romans 1

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures (Rom. 1:1-2).

The majority of scholars believe the book of Romans was written by the Apostle Paul around 55 A.D. Paul, previously known as Saul of Tarsus, referred to himself as the stock of Israel from the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee of Pharisees (Phil. 3:5).

It’s incredible to see the life changing conversion of the Apostle Paul. He was once zealously persecuting Christians but then had an encounter with the living God on the road to Damascus. While being blinded by a marvelous light, Jesus asked him: “Why are you persecuting me, Saul?” Just then, Saul realized that Jesus was Lord and Savior—He was the Messiah prophesied from the Tanakh. Paul was later baptized by Ananias and became one of the greatest Christian leaders the world has ever known.

In this book, written to mostly Gentile believers in Rome, Paul starts off his salutation—like most his letters, with the affirmation of being a servant of Jesus and called to be an apostle. The Greek word for apostle, Απόστολος, simply means “person sent” to do God’s will.

Furthermore, Paul says he is set apart for the gospel of God. The gospel simply means “good news.” It concerns the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus rose again from the dead, he told his disciples:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19-20).”

Thus, when one repents, believes in the gospel, and gets baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), they are following the gospel commission.

The promise Paul is referring to is the messiah—Jesus Christ, who would be descended from King David and born in Bethlehem. Micah 5:2 is fulfilled here and reiterated in Matthew 2:6 as a confirmation of Jesus taking the role as the promised redeemer and shepherd of Israel.

“And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”

Furthermore, the most detailed prophesy of the coming messiah is found in Isaiah 53 concerning the suffering servant. It foretells a savior who will be despised and rejected by men. He will take our pain and suffering. This servant will be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.

This is exactly what happened to Jesus on the cross. For our sake, God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). This promise was detailed by the prophets in the old testament and validates Jesus as the anointed one of Israel—truly the Son of God.

Concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:3-6).

This statement solidifies that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness. Some false teachers were saying that Jesus did not take on human flesh, but only “appeared” to have a body. This movement was called Docetism, but is opposed by this verse since Jesus took on human flesh.

However, Jesus was miraculously conceived by the virgin Mary and had no earthly father. This is why He is considered the only begotten Son of God. Also, this explains how Jesus was not born in sin because sin is transmitted through Adam, the male.

“When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned (Rom. 5:12).”

“So then, just as one trespass brought condemnation for all men, so also one act of righteousness brought justification and life for all men (Rom. 5:18).”

Because of the resurrection of Jesus, the world has received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for those who belong to Jesus—from every tribe, tongue, and nation. As you can see, Jesus was born without sin, lived a perfect life, and then voluntarily took upon the sins of the world in our place.

Consequently, Jesus is our substitute. He lived the perfect life we failed to do. He took on the sins that we rightfully deserve from God the Father. So then, if we place our faith in Jesus and His resurrection, we will receive grace. Grace is undeserved favor. No one deserves to go to heaven, but because God loved us so much, He sent His son to die in our place so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”

“To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:7).”

Paul is declaring that those who are loved by God are called to be saints. As Scripture states, “Those whom God foreknew he predestined to become conformed into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).”

This calling from the Lord is reserved for the saints whom God redeemed before the foundation of the world. He offers grace and peace from God as another salutation before starting his theological treatise throughout the letter.

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you (Rom. 1:8-11).”

As an apostle, Paul is called to lead and shepherd the household of God. The letter clearly demonstrates Paul’s love for the household of faith. He does exactly what a good leader should do: encourage, exhort, and pray for like-minded believers.

This was especially important during the 1st century AD, when Rome brutally persecuted Christians, also known as “the way.” Christians were considered a sect that didn’t adhere to the polytheistic gods of the governing establishment. Consequently, followers of Jesus knew what it was like to suffer ridicule and even martyrdom because they didn’t conform to the world nor serve the false gods of Rome.

Paul can sympathize with believers in Rome. He knows exactly what persecution is like. This is why he is continually praying for them to be uplifted and encouraged during their trials, and he also hopes to “succeed” in finally meeting with them. We know he has had difficulty getting to Rome because of all the trials he has experienced. For instance, In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul writes:

“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea…”

“Or I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine (Rom. 1:8-12).”

Paul has a yearning to see his spiritual family in Christ. I think this brotherly love is evident in Paul’s writing. You can tell his heart has been transformed by the gospel. He eagerly desires to impart spiritual gifts to the people of God.

He also desires to have fellowship in order that his own faith might be strengthened. Leaders also need constant fellowship with brothers and sisters. Acts 2:42 tells us that the early church were devoted to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome (Rom. 1:13-15).”

The Apostle Paul let’s his people know that he has tried in many ways to meet with them in person. As stated previously, Paul endured many hardships and was physically unable to get to places because of persecution. Nevertheless, he is determined and focused to preach the gospel to them who are in Rome.

He states he is “under obligation” both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Paul makes a similar statement in 1 Corinthians 9:22—To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. His obligation isn’t out of obedience, but out of love and concern for God’s chosen people.

And finally, Paul elegantly encapsulates the heart of the gospel when he makes this statement to the churches of Galatia: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).” In other words, all of us are equal as brothers and sisters in Christ. For God created every human being in His image and likeness. Paul wants to stress the notion of unity and love for all people as part and parcel of the gospel!

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith (Rom. 1:16-17).”

Jesus made a profound statement to his disciples in Luke 9:26, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” I think Paul had the words of Jesus etched into his heart when he exclaimed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel!”

Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because it truly is the power of God for salvation. When Paul met God in His brilliant splendor on the road to Damascus, He literally meant the gospel is the power of God for salvation—He was converted from the old to the new self within a blink of an eye.

Additionally, Paul writes that salvation is first to the Jews and also to the Greeks. Why do you think he made this statement? It’s clear that Paul had a zeal for the Israelites and desired for them to be saved, just as much as for the Gentiles. I don’t think Paul is giving preference to the Jews. Rather, he is articulating the fact that the Jews were first chosen by God, while the rest of the world was adopted into the family. Therefore, it’s only right that the Jews hear this message first as the natural branches (Rom. 11:24).

Finally, Paul articulates that the righteous shall live by faith. Keep in mind, faith is not empty. As James eloquently said, “Faith without works is dead (James 2:20).” He further adds: What good is it if someone says he has faith but not works. Can that faith save him? Of course not.

In other words, the one who has saving faith does live in obedience! Obedience doesn’t save; it only testifies to saving faith. It’s crucial that we understand this notion of faith, especially in the epistle to the Romans. Many scholars have separated the Law of God from faith simply because they have detached faith from obeying Torah.

Jesus never did this. He clearly taught to his disciples that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. As we will see throughout this commentary, Paul has a high view of the Law. He doesn’t ridicule it.

The apostle Paul doesn’t juxtapose Law with faith. On the contrary, He harmonizes faith, the law, and the gospel—they are synergistic and necessary foundations for a clear understanding of the Judeo-Christian worldview.

“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 excuse (Rom. 1:18-21).”

Scripture’s chief desire is to reveal to people their sin so that they would repent and be saved. However, God’s wrath is on display. He is angry with the wicked, the lawbreakers, and ungodly men and women who suppress the truth. Even though God’s wrath will be poured upon the wicked on the day of judgment, He is not willing that anyone perish, but that all come to repentance and faith (2 Peter 2:9). That is why God is patient and long-suffering—-so repent now before it’s too late.

The apostle Paul emphasizes that God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen in nature. This is an interesting concept because people who say there is not enough evidence for God are lying. Instead, skeptics are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. According to this verse, the created order clearly shouts that God exists—The Lord is not some esoteric entity but has made himself plainly known to the world.

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:22-23).”

American philosopher Thomas Nagel once said: “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(The Last Word by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997).

What a sad statement but true reality of the human condition. For Mr. Nagel, he hopes that there is no God. He doesn’t even want the universe to be like that. Oh how I wish he would know the kindness and love of the Creator. Hopefully someday he will recant from the religion of atheism and come to genuine faith in Yahweh.

Nevertheless, God calls people who profess to be wise as fools when they reject God. When the human heart suppresses this truth, their foolish hearts become darkened. Next, they are tempted to worship and serve the creation rather than the creator. The most obvious example is man’s desire to worship self. We want to become the master of our fate—we desire to be the captain of our souls.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen (Rom. 1:24-25).”

When God allows a sinner to continue lusting after their own desires, this is a form of judgment. In fact, this judgment and hardening of the heart is the worst place you can be. The unbeliever has become so warped by sin that they can no longer feel condemnation or guilt for what they are doing. The Lord will not force anyone into relationship with Him, and he honors our freedom of the will—even a false freedom of being enslaved to sin.

Paul informs the audience that these unbelievers have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator. When a person has a craving lust, they will deceive themselves. They will exchange truth for error to satiate their selfish desires. This is why sin destroys people because when one becomes possessed by it, their moral faculties no longer function properly. Thus, they make poor choices and even lose their soul in the process.

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:26-27).”

God has created specific parameters for romantic relationships. They are to be male and female consenting adults in a covenant relationship. Genesis 2:24 states, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Moreover, God’s relationship with His people has been portrayed as a marriage whereby the Lord represents the husband and the people of God (Isa. 62:5). In the New Testament, this theme is further elaborated as Jesus being the bridegroom or husband and the church—his bride (Eph. 5:22-33). The goal or purpose of marriage is to reflect commitment, fidelity, and unconditional love towards one another.

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness (Rom. 1:28-29).”

God is patient with all of us. 2 Peter 3:9 declares, “The Lord is not being slow in doing what he promised—the way some people understand slowness. But God is being patient with you. He doesn’t want anyone to be lost. He wants everyone to change their ways and stop sinning.”

However, there comes a point when one’s heart becomes so hardened by sin that it’s difficult to hear the voice of God. When this occurs, God gives people over to their passion. He offers them up to a debased mind. Debased means reduced in quality or value. It is also similar to debauched—which means when one indulges in so much sensual pleasure that it morally corrupts and clouds their own mind.

God specifically calls out these vices: covetousness, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. Scripture says these sinners are “full” of these iniquities and will have to suffer the wrath of God. Despite God’s grace, mercy, and unwavering patience, when immoral people refuse to turn from this lifestyle, they will not be accepted into the kingdom of God. They will be casted out and punished in hell—along with the devil and the fallen angels.

Some theologians suggest that love wins in the end and all people will eventually go to heaven. This theological construct is called universalism and is a popular idea in modern culture. However, this position ignores all the other attributes of God, including justice, holiness, and wrath.

Moreover, true love doesn’t tolerate evil. If you love righteousness, you will hate iniquity. If you love truth, you despise falsehood. If you love kindness, surely you hate slander and bullying. You see, a love that tolerates all acts is no love at all. There needs to be a moral standard to follow. All of us intuitively know what this standard is since God gave us a conscience. Therefore, if a sinner refuses to repent, they must suffer the punishment to uphold integrity and justice for all.

“They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (Rom. 1:30-32).”

The apostle Paul continues to list grievous sin: gossiping, slander, hatred, insolence, haughty, boastful, disobedience, foolishness, faithless, heartless, ruthless, etc. The point is that those who practice these wicked vices should be held accountable. Jesus specifically told his disciples in Luke 13:3, “I tell you. But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Repentance comes from the Greek word μετάνοια, which means to have a change of mind. This change of mind leads to action. It’s not just what you think that matters; it’s how your thinking affects your conduct. Therefore, when God calls humanity to repentance, they must be willing not only to believe that gossip is wrong, but stop gossiping altogether. This is the change of life Jesus wants from all of us.

Finally, Paul writes that those who practice these wicked acts are also giving approval to those who practice them. In other words, reprobate individuals who have embraced a sinful lifestyle are enticing others to do the same. They are trying to get approval from society so they can continue to feed their lusts and deviances.

Unfortunately, when a society tolerates this behavior, it spreads like wild fire. This is why it’s vital for Christians to share the good news that Jesus gives people the power to overcome these vices and temptations. He has commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every living creature. In the next chapters, we will see the Apostle Paul’s realization of this sober truth—that’s why Paul has devoted his entire life to equipping like-minded believers to advance the kingdom of God in Rome.

Commentary written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)

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