Background of Romans

What Is the Book of Romans About?

Time: 7 Minutes

Hey Friend!

Our editorial team wrote this book introduction for you. We hope it helps you find your bearings in the Bible story, and inspires you to open this book of the Bible!

Romans is a complex letter that plunges into some of the trickiest questions regarding what it means to be saved by Jesus and how sinners become righteous. However, Romans also gives us a clear, straightforward explanation of the gospel—the good news that is the foundation for our faith and our hope. Romans tells God’s people about our one salvation in Jesus Christ, the righteousness we have by faith, and the loving relationship we share as one family.

Romans is one of the longest letters (or epistles) in the New Testament. When we read any epistle, it is helpful to imagine the heading of an email with the fields: “From,” “To,” and “Subject.” New Testament letters typically include all these things: an author, an audience, and a situation. To understand the epistles, it is helpful to first identify these details.

The letter to the Romans is “from” Paul (Romans 1:1-6). Prompted and led by God’s Spirit, Paul dictated the letter, which was copied down by his secretary, Tertius (Romans 16:22). Paul probably wrote Romans while he was on his third missionary journey and living with his friend, Gaius, in Corinth (Romans 16:23).

Romans was written “to” all the Christians in the city of Rome (Romans 1:7). Paul had not yet been to Rome, though he planned to travel there after delivering donations for the Christian church in Jerusalem. The book of Romans is the least personal of Paul’s letters because he writes to a church he has not met face-to-face.

The “subject line” of Romans might read “Re: One Salvation by Faith in Jesus.” Paul introduces this topic in Romans 1:16-17 and returns to it throughout his letter. Here’s the situation in Rome, and why Paul wrote so extensively about salvation by faith alone in Jesus.

Jewish followers of Jesus most likely founded the church in Rome. These Jewish Christians were banished from the city after conflict arose between them and their Jewish neighbors (Acts 18:2). Because these Jewish Christians left, the Roman church mostly included Gentiles or non-Jewish believers. These Gentile Christians were not circumcised, did not observe Jewish laws regarding food, and did not practice Jewish traditions in worship—all they knew of religion was faith in Jesus Christ. As Jewish believers trickled back to Rome, questions inevitably arose about what Christian worship should look like and how followers of Jesus should understand the Old Testament law and their salvation.

In Romans, Paul carefully explains the gospel (or good news) about how God has saved sinners from his wrath through Jesus, and about the righteousness that God gives fully and freely to those who trust in Jesus.

In Romans, Paul carefully explains the gospel (or good news) about how God has saved sinners from his wrath through Jesus, and about the righteousness that God gives fully and freely to those who trust in Jesus.

Paul tackles the thorny issues of traditions and practices by showing how Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are the same. They are both sinners (Romans 3:9-20 and Romans 5:12-19). They are both saved by Jesus’ death and resurrection alone (Romans 5:6-11). They are both made righteous by God through faith and not by law-keeping (Romans 3:21-26). And they both enjoy the hope of new life in Christ as one church (Romans 5:1-2). Paul emphatically teaches that there are no longer Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians—only children of God united in Christ. They are all a new family.

Paul points to Jesus as the fulfillment or completion of the Old Testament laws and practices. Jesus has done what we could never do (Romans 8:3-4). Jesus kept God’s law perfectly, yet he willingly suffered and died to pay for the consequence of sins that were not his own.

Because of Jesus, two things are true for everyone who trusts in him. First, we are no longer condemned for sin, and we are given new life in the Spirit (Romans 8:1, 9-11). Second, we are no longer slaves to our sinful desires and habits. We are free to love God and to obey his commands (Romans 6:1-7).

As Christians, we still wonder about the Old Testament foundation of our faith. The letter to the Romans helps us understand how the whole story of the Bible fits together and how the ancient laws relate to our faith in Jesus. The letter to the Romans helps us appreciate the righteousness we have by faith in Jesus alone. Read Romans to understand more about how God has provided salvation for his people, what that salvation means, and how we can live as his righteous family.