Introduction

What is the Book of Romans About?

Read this 4-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read Romans!

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Historical Context

The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome.

From Bibles.net: Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Romans for your good and to lead you into joy.

He probably did this while he was in Corinth on his third missionary journey, in AD 57 (Acts 20:2–3).

The Setting of Romans

c. AD 57

Paul probably wrote Romans from Corinth during his third missionary journey (Acts 20:2-3). Rome was the epicenter of the powerful Roman Empire, ruling over many of the great ancient centers of Western civilization. Paul has established the church at Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-11).

—ESV Global Study Bible  

Rome was the capital and most important city of the Roman Empire. It was founded in 753 BC, but is not mentioned in Scripture until New Testament times. Rome is located along the banks of the Tiber River, about fifteen miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Until an artificial harbor was built at nearby Ostia, Rome’s main harbor was Puteoli, some hundred and fifty miles away. In Paul’s day, the city had a population of over one million people, many of whom were slaves. Rome boasted magnificent buildings, such as the Emperor’s palace, the Circus Maximus, and the Forum, but its beauty was marred by the slums in which so many lived. According to tradition, Paul was martyred outside Rome on the Ostian Way during Nero’s reign (AD 54-68). Some of those converted on the Day of Pentecost probably founded the church at Rome (Acts 2:10). Paul longed to visit the Roman church, but had been prevented from doing so (Acts 1:13). In God’s providence, Paul’s inability to visit Rome gave the world this inspired masterpiece of gospel doctrine.  

—John MacArthur 

Source: Taken from Romans: Grace, Truth, and Redemption by John MacArthur Copyright ©2007 by John MacArthur. Used by permission of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. www.harpercollinschristian.com

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Books
Message Series

Exposition of the Book of Romans by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Check out this extensive message series by Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson, which walks us through the book of Romans so we might patiently learn from each part of this incredible letter. Through Sinclair’s gentle and insightful preaching, you will come to understand the gospel more fully, but also be changed by it, and led to worship God for who he is and what he has done for you in Jesus.

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Romans Dictionary

As you read through Romans, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) Bible.

To have faith or to trust that something is true. The Bible tells us that we can believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and trust him to keep his promise to forgive sins. We show that we believe that God loves us and wants what is best for us by obeying his commands.

The Greek word that means “God’s Chosen One.” “Messiah” is the Hebrew word meaning the same thing. Jesus was the Christ.

An assembly or gathering. The word church is used to refer both to local groups of believers in Christ (church) as well as to all believers (Church).

(1) To find someone guilty of doing something wrong and to declare or pronounce a punishment. (2) To be against or disapprove of something because it is wrong.

Something a person owes someone else—usually money. In the Lord’s Prayer, the word debt means sins or wrongdoing, and the word debtor means someone who sins against us.

All people who are not Jewish.

(1) Great beauty, splendor, honor, or magnificence that can be seen or sensed. The Israelites saw the glory of the Lord in the cloud that filled the tabernacle. The shepherds saw the glory of the Lord when the angels told them Jesus had been born. (2) To praise; to be proud or happy; to boast.

(1) Literally, “good news.” The good news of the Bible is that God sent his Son, Jesus, to take the punishment for sin and then raised him from the dead so that any person who believes may have new life. (2) The story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ told in the first four books of the New Testament. The books are also called the four Gospels.

Love and kindness shown to someone who does not deserve it—especially the forgiveness God shows to us. We don’t deserve God’s grace because we sin against him. God showed grace to all people by sending his Son, Jesus, to be our Savior. God’s grace allows us to become members of his family (see Ephesians 2:8). God’s grace also helps us live as God wants us to (see Acts 20:32). A person cannot earn God’s grace by trying to be good; it is God’s free gift.

Someone who has the right to receive the property or position of another person when that person dies. In Bible times, the heir was usually a son. The Bible says that anyone who is a member of God’s family is his heir. God will never die, but because we are his children, God keeps on giving us great love, care, and kindness.

(1) All the rules God gave to help people to know and love him and to live happily with each other. The Ten Commandments are part of God’s law. (2) The first five books of the Bible. These five books are often called the Law. (3) The entire Old Testament. Sometimes the Old Testament is referred to as the Law. (4) Any rule that must be obeyed, whether it was decided by God or by people. (5) God’s rules in the Old Testament plus other rules added by Jewish religious leaders. (6) The conscience of an unbeliever who knows he or she has not followed his or her own moral code (see Romans 2:14-16).

A father, either of a family or a nation. The word usually refers to either Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob—the founders of the Hebrew nation. Jacob’s sons and David are also called patriarchs.

To help people who have been enemies become friends. In the New Testament, the word usually refers to bringing God and people together again through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Sin separates people from God, but by dying, Jesus took the punishment for sin. When a person comes to know and love Jesus, he or she learns to love God instead of being his enemy. When this happens, the person is reconciled to God.

A small part that is left. In the Old Testament, remnant usually refers to the few Israelite people who remained faithful worshipers of God after their exile in Babylon.

Thinking and doing what is correct (or right) and holy. God is righteous because he does only what is perfect and holy. A person who has accepted Jesus as Savior is looked at by God as being free from the guilt of sin, so God sees that person as being righteous. People who are members of God’s family show their love for him by doing what is correct and holy, living in righteous ways.

A city in Italy, the capital of the Roman Republic and Empire.

One of God’s people. The New Testament says that all Christians are saints. Paul often addressed his letters “to the saints.”

(1) To be rescued (or delivered) from evil. (2) To be kept from danger or death. In the New Testament, salvation usually means to be rescued from the guilt and power of sin. By his death and resurrection, Jesus brings salvation to people who believe in him.

Literally, “writing.” The Bible. Before the New Testament was written down, Scripture meant the Old Testament. After the New Testament was written down, Christians began calling both the Old and New Testaments Scripture.

A servant who is owned by his or her master and who could be bought or sold like property. People became slaves if they were defeated in battle by an enemy or if they were unable to pay their debts. A slave had to do whatever the master ordered.

To go against the rights of someone else. We trespass against people when we do something unfair to them or when we break laws made to protect people. We trespass against God when we break his laws. In the Bible, another word for trespass is “sin.”

Very great anger.

(1) One of the hills on which the city of Jerusalem was built (Mount Zion). (2) The entire city of Jerusalem. (3) Another name for the nation of Israel. (4) Another name for heaven.

Dictionary Source

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions

We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?

Insights

The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Romans.

Romans is widely regarded as the most complete summary of the gospel message and Christian doctrine found in any single biblical book. It is certainly Paul’s most extended and concentrated presentation of God’s saving work in Christ. 

. . . 

One approach to discovering what is most central in Romans is to note which significant nouns are used most frequently. God (153 times). He is the subject around whom the entire epistle revolves. Romans lifts our gaze from the tyranny of our self-absorption to the grandeur of a God of kindness (Romans 2:4), faithfulness (Romans 3:3), truth (Romans 3:4), righteousness (Romans 3:5), and glory (Romans 3:7), to name just a few of his attributes. Yes, he is severe in judgment (Romans 11:22), yet through faith he is so dear that his people know him as “Abba” (Romans 8:15), their caring heavenly Father. They have “peace with God,” they stand in his grace, and they “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1–2). 

—Robert W. Yarbrough 

Source: Content adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible by Crossway. This article first appeared on Crossway.org; used with permission.

The best candidate for the theme of Romans, I would argue, is the “gospel.” Paul highlights this concept in the opening and closing sections of the letter (Romans 1:1, 2, 9, 15; 15:16, 19). And it is the key word in his own statement of the letter’s theme: “I am not ashamed of the gospel…” (Romans 1:16 NIV). We require a theme as broad as the gospel to encompass the diversity of topics the apostle handles in the letter. Moreover, as I have argued, Romans grows out of Paul’s missionary situation, and the gospel he preaches is the heart of that missionary work.

—Douglas J. Moo

Source: Taken from The NIV Application Commentary: Romans by Douglas J. Moo Copyright © 2009 by Douglas J. Moo. Used by permission of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. www.harpercollinschristian.com

Paul maintains that the true Israel and the genuine Davidic king is Jesus the Messiah. God’s saving promises for Israel and the gentiles have become a reality in him. God’s saving promises are now being realized because God has raised Jesus from the dead and appointed him as the messianic king. The reference to the resurrection signals that the new age has come and that God has begun to fulfill his promises to his people. Since God through Jesus Christ is now fulfilling his promises for worldwide blessing, it is hardly surprising that Paul’s mission is to bring about the obedience of faith among all peoples. In doing so, he brings honor to Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of all. 

—Thomas S. Schreiner 

Source: Schreiner, Thomas S. Romans. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018.

As most Christians know, Romans is “doctrinal.” That description scares many off, who are afraid that Romans will be both dry and difficult. It is certainly difficult at times. And preachers and teachers—to our shame—can sometimes make it pretty dry too. But think about what Romans teaches us: what human beings really are like and what they need, what God has done to provide a way of escape from our estrangement and mortality, and what a lifestyle that grows out of a Christian worldview looks like. Such topics should certainly not be dry or boring! 

In fact, Romans is one of the most interesting and engaging books in the Bible—precisely because it shapes the way we think about so much of the universe we inhabit. I am convinced that the contemporary church desperately needs to grapple with what is going on in Romans…Thus far we have talked about Romans as a great doctrinal treatise, which it is. But we will badly misunderstand that doctrine unless we root it in the specific setting of the first-century church. Paul did not sit down one day and decide to write a textbook on doctrine. He wrote a letter. He wrote it to a specific church to handle some problems the church was facing. As we will argue below, those circumstances combined to turn Romans into a book that tackles basic issues of the Christian worldview. 

—Douglas J. Moo

Source: Taken from The NIV Application Commentary: Romans by Douglas J. Moo Copyright © 2009 by Douglas J. Moo. Used by permission of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. www.harpercollinschristian.com

Unfortunately, many Christians might think that once they become Christians, the gospel is completely behind them. So rather than focusing on the gospel, they assume the gospel and focus on relatively peripheral issues. But the gospel continues to be central good news for Christians—not merely because God will rescue you from hell and because you can enjoy the pleasures of heaven. It’s good news because you can enjoy God himself like you never could in your shackles of sin.[1] And you don’t need to try to earn God’s favor. You can’t. You should live a certain way (Titus 3:1–2) because of the gospel (Titus 3:3–7), not to placate God or put him in your debt. As Jerry Bridges shrewdly observed, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”[2] The glorious message of Paul’s letter to the Romans is that the gospel reveals how God is righteously righteousing unrighteous individuals—both Jews and Gentiles—at this stage in the history of salvation. 

1. See John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), especially 13, 15, 47.

2. Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, 2nd ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), 19. 

—Andrew Naselli 

Source: Content adapted from Romans by Andrew David Naselli. This article first appeared on Crossway.org; used with permission.

In Romans 6, Paul reveals the secret of a life of victory: living in Christ—dead to sin but alive to God! This tells us how we can lead Christian lives. Self, we have learned, was a condemned thing, unable to be good, never righteous (see Romans 3). Now when self becomes a Christian and tries to live a Christian life, it finds this to be impossible. But we are saved by faith; we cannot live by our own efforts.  

This sad truth is revealed in Romans 7, which tells us why we cannot live a victorious life. Mark every “I” in this chapter, and you will find it is used more than 30 times in the 25 verses. Although “I” tries, it finds only defeat. Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas, a famous New Testament scholar, said, “It is not hard to live a Christian life; it is impossible.”  

Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20 NIV). Listen to the words of the man who tries to live by his own effort. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25 NIV).  

Finally, “I” finds that there is One who is sufficient. Struggling yields to power, defeat is changed to victory, misery is transformed into joy. When “I” goes out, Christ comes in.  

—Henrietta Mears  

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

If the most terrifying news in the world is that we have fallen under the condemnation of our Creator and that he is bound by his own righteous character to preserve the worth of his glory by pouring out his wrath on our sin . . . 

. . . Then the best news in all the world (the gospel!) is that God has decreed and enacted a way of salvation that also upholds the worth of his glory, the honor of his Son, and the eternal salvation of his elect. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. 

—John Piper

Source: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org.

Romans Playlist

Discover music inspired by the message and content of the book of Romans.

No Not One
by Casting Crowns | Praise & Worship 
We Are the Lord’s
by Sing Scripture | Pop
Gospel Music
by 116 feat. Shai Linne | Rap 
Beneath the Waters
by Hillsong Worship | Praise & Worship
Romans 8 Live
by Immanuel Nashville | Album
Songs from the Book of Romans
by Sovereign Grace Music | Album
A Debtor to Mercy
by Sovereign Grace Music feat. Bob Kauflin | Hymn
Romans 11 (Doxology)
by Andrew Peterson | Praise & Worship
No Longer Slaves
by I AM THEY | Contemporary 
One Step at a Time
by Sovereign Grace Music feat. Bob Kauflin | Contemporary
More Than Conquerors
by Rend Collective | Pop 
Thank You Jesus for the Blood
by Charity Gayle | Praise & Worship