Romans 1 Commentary
A STUDY THROUGH THE BOOK OF ROMANS
As the opening words of the letter indicate, the apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans. Only a few scholars in history have doubted his authorship, and their doubts have been shown to be groundless. The title of the book indicates that the letter was written to the Christian churches in Rome.
Paul probably wrote Romans from Corinth, on his third missionary journey, in A.D. 57 (Acts 20:2–3). Having completed his work in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, he hoped to travel to Rome and then on to Spain; but first he needed to go to Jerusalem to deliver the money he had collected for the church there (Rom. 15:19–32; see Acts 19:21). Paul commends Phoebe (Rom. 16:1–2), and she was likely the person who brought the letter to Rome. She resided in Cenchreae, which was near Corinth and was one of its port cities. Furthermore, Gaius was Paul’s host (16:23), and this is likely the same Gaius who lived in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:14). Finally, two fairly early manuscripts of Romans have subscriptions (brief notes that a copyist added to the end of a document) which say that the letter was written from Corinth. 
This letter is arguably the most influential book in Christian history, perhaps in the history of Western civilization. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to read! While theologically minded people love it, others steer away from it (except for a few favorite passages), thinking it is too deep for them. But the overall argument and reason for it can be uncovered with a little spadework.
At issue is tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome, who probably meet in separate house churches and who appear to be at odds regarding Gentile adherence to the Jewish law–especially over the three basic means of Jewish identity in the Diaspora: circumcision (2:25-3:1; 4:9-12), Sabbath observance, and food laws (14:1-23). What is at stake practically is whether Gentiles must observe the Jewish law on these points. What is at stake theologically is the gospel itself– whether God’s “righteousness” (= his righteous salvation that issues in the right standing with God) comes by way of “doing” the law or by faith in Christ Jesus and the gift of the Spirit.
What drives the argument from beginning (1:16) to end (15:13) is expressed in the conclusion–that God might give Jews and Gentiles “the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had,” so that together “with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:5-6). The focus of the argument is on what makes such unity possible: God’s righteousness given to Jew and Gentile alike on the basis of faith in Christ Jesus and effected through the gift of the Spirit. This primary issue is surrounded by matters having to do with Paul’s hoped-for relationship with this church at the strategic center of the empire (1:1-15; 15:14-33), followed by a commendation of Phoebe (16:1-2) and greetings to friends (16:3-16), concluding with a final exhortation, greetings, and doxology (16:17-27).
The argument itself is in four major parts (1:16-4:25; 5:12-8:30; 9:1-11:32; 12:1-15:12), each of which concludes on a confessional note that also serves as a transition to the next part (5:1-11; 8:31-39; 11:33-36; 15:13). In turn the parts take up (1) the issue of human sinfulness, showing first its universality (Gentile and Jew alike, with the law offering no advantage to the Jew) and then the effectiveness of Christ in dealing with sin, so that right standing with God is based on faith alone–for which Abraham, the “father of us all” (4:16), serves as exhibit A; (2) how faith in Christ and the gift of the Spirit effect the kind of righteousness that the law intended but could not pull off, since it lacked the power to deal with human sinfulness; (3) how God is faithful despite Jewish unbelief; having a place for both Gentiles and Jews in the new “olive tree” (11:24); (4) what the righteousness effected by Christ and the Spirit (thus apart from the law) looks like in terms of relationships within the believing community and beyond. 
ROMANS 1 COMMENTARY
v.2 “The gospel comes in fulfillment of a promise. In Genesis, God spoke of the heel of the woman’s offspring crushing the serpent (Gen 3:15). Messianic psalms portray the coming deliverer (Pss 45; 72). Jeremiah spoke of a new covenant (Jer 31:31–34). The Old Testament continually points beyond itself to a time of fulfillment, the age to come. God made his promise ‘through his prophets’ in the Old Testament. He entrusted his message to men chosen to speak for him. Beyond that, he allowed his message to be written down. What the prophets wrote became ‘Holy Scriptures.’” 
vv.16-17 “Verses 16–17 are pivotal verses in the New Testament. They state concisely and with unusual clarity a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith. The heart of v.16 is that the gospel is the saving power of God. Salvation is not only initiated by God but is carried through by his power. To say that the gospel is ‘power’ is to acknowledge the dynamic quality of the message. In the proclamation of the gospel God is actively at work in reaching out to the hearts of people. The gospel is God telling of his love to wayward people. It is not a lifeless message but a vibrant encounter for everyone who responds in faith. […] To really hear the gospel is to experience the presence of God.
“The gospel is not simply a display of power but the effective operation of God’s power leading to salvation. It has purpose and direction. The salvation Paul spoke of is more than forgiveness of sin. It includes the full scope of deliverance from the results of Adam’s sin. It involves justification (being set right with God), sanctification (growth in holiness), and glorification (the ultimate transformation into the likeness of Christ; cf. 1 John 3:2). […] Becoming a child of God requires deliverance from what we are as children of Adam. It is not something we can do for ourselves. It requires the power of God himself working through the gospel.
“The gospel does not negate a person’s free will but is God’s power for ‘everyone who believes.’ God does not force himself upon people against their will. For the power of the gospel to effect salvation, the hearer must respond in faith. Our faith is in no way meritorious, but without faith there can be no individual salvation. Paul noted the universal nature of salvation by faith when he added ‘first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.’” 
v.17 “By nature we view righteousness as something we can achieve by our own meritorious action, the result of what we do. The righteousness of God is totally different. It is a right standing before God that has nothing to do with human merit. It is received by faith. […] This radical departure from conventional wisdom had to be ‘revealed.’ It runs contrary to all the basic instincts of fallen human nature. Virtue has, since the beginning of time, been thought of as an achievement by human endeavor. But God’s righteousness is a right standing he freely gives to those who trust in him. 
v.18 “In v.17 Paul wrote that in the gospel ‘a righteousness of God’ is being revealed. Then he added that from heaven the ‘wrath of God’ is being revealed. There is an essential relationship between God’s righteousness and his wrath. If God responded to wickedness with no more than a benign tolerance, his righteousness could be called into question. That which is right necessarily stands over against and defines by contrast that which is wrong. We recognize that divine wrath is not the same as human wrath, which normally is self-centered, vindictive, and intent on harming another. God’s wrath is his divine displeasure with sin.
“Although the wrath of God is primarily eschatological, it is at the same time a present reality. […] Furthermore, vv.24–32 describe divine wrath as currently operative in the lives of the ungodly. That God’s wrath is present does not mean that it will not also be eschatological. God’s present wrath anticipates his final withdrawal from those who do not respond to his love.
“The wrath of God is being revealed against every sort of ‘godlessness and wickedness.’ C. Hodge takes these two terms to mean impiety toward God and unjustness toward humanity. Lack of respect for God leads to a lack of justice for people. […]
“The people of whom Paul spoke were those who by their wicked and sinful lives ‘suppress the truth.’ Truth cannot be changed, but it can be held down or stifled. Wickedness ‘denies … truth its full scope.’ We will learn in the verses that follow that God has revealed to all humans something of his eternal power and nature. Yet people refuse to believe, and as a result their understanding is darkened. To turn willfully against God is to move from light into darkness. The blindness that follows is self-imposed.”
v.20 “Verse 20 explains that certain invisible attributes of God have been clearly perceived since the world began, specifically, his ‘eternal power and divine nature.’ They are understood from what has been made. […] God has revealed himself in nature in such a way as to hold all people responsible. They are ‘without excuse.’ Seeing the beauty and complexity of creation carries with it the responsibility of acknowledging the Creator both as powerful and as living above the natural order. Disbelief requires an act of rebellion against common sense. It displays fallen humanity’s fatal bias against God. Although the created order cannot force a person to believe, it does leave the recipient responsible for not believing.”
vv.24-25 “The word translated desires (epithumia) is the key to this passage. […] It is the desire which makes men do nameless and shameless things. It is the way of life of a man who has become so completely immersed in the world that he has ceased to be aware of God at all.
“It is a terrible thing to talk of God abandoning anyone. And yet there are two reasons for that.
“(i) God gave man free-will, and he respects that free-will. In the last analysis not even he can interfere with it. In Ephesians 4:19 Paul speaks of men who have abandoned themselves to lasciviousness; they have surrendered their whole will to it. Hosea (4:17) has the terrible sentence: ‘Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.’ Before man there stands an open choice; and it has to be so. Without choice there can be no goodness and without choice there can be no love. A coerced goodness is not real goodness; and a coerced love is not love at all. If men deliberately choose to turn their backs on God after he has sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world, not even he can do anything about it.
“When Paul speaks of God abandoning men to uncleanness, the word abandon has no angry irritation in it. Indeed, its main note is not even condemnation and judgment, but wistful, sorrowful regret, as of a lover who has done all that he can and can do no more. It describes exactly the feeling of the father when he saw his son turn back on his home and go out to the far country.
“(ii) And yet in this word abandon there is more than that—there is judgment. It is one of the grim facts of life that the more a man sins the easier it is to sin. He may begin with a kind of shuddering awareness of what he is doing, and end by sinning without a second thought. It is not that God is punishing him; he is bringing punishment upon himself and steadily making himself the slave of sin. The Jews knew this, and they had certain great saying upon this idea. ‘Every fulfillment of duty is rewarded by another; and every transgression is punished by another.’ ‘Whosoever strives to keep himself pure receives the power to do so; and whosoever is impure, to him is the door of vice thrown open.’
“The most terrible thing about sin is just this power to beget sin. It is the awful responsibility of free-will that it can be used in such a way that in the end it is obliterated and a man becomes the slave of sin, self-abandoned to the wrong way. And sin is always a lie, because the sinner thinks that it will make him happy, whereas in the end it ruins life, both for himself and for others, in this world and in the world to come.” 
 ESV: Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008. 2151.
 Fee, Gordon D, and Douglas K. Stuart. How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2002. 317-319.
 Mounce, R. H. (2001, c1995). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (60). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Mounce, R. H. (2001, c1995). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (70). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Mounce, R. H. (2001, c1995). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (73). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Mounce, R. H. (2001, c1995). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (76). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Mounce, R. H. (2001, c1995). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (78). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 The Letter to the Romans. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev.ed. (Ro 1:26). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.