Brief background to Paul’s letter to the Romans
- The author was the apostle Paul (Romans 1:1).
- The date of writing was about the winter A.D. 56-57 during his third missionary trip.
- Paul wrote to believers in Rome (Romans 1:7), probably from Corinth on his third missionary trip during which he delivered the offering to Jerusalem that was given by believers in Macedonia and Achaia (1 Corinthians 16:1-9). From Jerusalem he planned to travel west to Rome and Spain (Romans 15:24). As we know, Paul eventually got to Rome, but not the way he planned. He went to Rome two years later under arrest (Acts 25:10-12; 26:30-32; 27:1; 28:11-16, 30-31). The Gaius mentioned in Romans 16:23 and 1 Corinthians 1:14 is likely the same person, while the Gaius of Acts 19:29, 20:4, and 3 John 1 do not seem to fit. The Erastus of Romans 16:23 and 2 Timothy 4:20 is probably the same person. These two men may indicate that Paul wrote Romans from Corinth. Paul commended Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrea, to the Romans (Romans 16:1-2). Cenchrea was a seaport city about 8 miles southwest of Corinth. She may have taken Paul’s letter to Rome from Corinth. He wrote to the Romans to prepare them for his anticipated visit (Romans 15:22-33). Acts 19:21 also tells of his plan to visit Rome. Acts 23:11 records the Lord telling Paul that he will witness for Christ’s cause in Rome.
- The Political background placed the first century church under Roman rule. God used Roman rule to protect, to consolidate, to extend, and to test His young church. The city itself was prosperous, popular, growing, dirty, immoral, pagan, with many slaves, and much poverty. Working class, slaves, and aristocracy lived in Rome. Economic subsidies, wealth, poverty, entertainment, government, public buildings, parks, famous people, military, and intrigue filled the city. Nero was the emperor at this time. He ruled from A.D. 54-68. He became the emperor at age 17 and committed suicide at age 31 in A.D 68. The first part of his reign was adequate. The severe excesses for which he is remembered did not come until later.
- Romans is a theological letter—the most theological of Paul’s writings. Among the topics that Paul addresses are God’s nature, man’s nature, sin, salvation, faith, works, grace, law, union with Christ, sanctification, the flesh and sinful nature, ministry of the Holy Spirit, Israel in God’s plan, remnant of Israel, Christian ministry, spiritual gifts, godly love, authority, weak believers, doubtful things, privileges and responsibilities of believers, and commendation of believers associated with his ministry.