Paul was the theologians theologian, the pastors pastor, the suffering saint whose inspired words have rippled across time becoming mountainous waves within our Christian religion. His trials for Christ shaped him in such a way so that his message of Christ may shape us. This is nowhere more evident than in his epistle to the Romans.
Romans stands apart from every other undoubted letter for two reasons. First because of its unique style; and second because of its unique situation. Romans is the most systematic of Paul’s letters. Meaning, it comes across less like a conversation and more like an essay. He builds towards certain themes in a well constructed manner. This style likely arises out of the situation into which he writes. Paul had never been to Rome. In every other letter Paul is writing to a church he either founded or had a very strong impact upon its growth. To these, He was a spiritual father; encouraging, firm, and acting as a disciplinarian when necessary. But the relationship with Rome was entirely different. He had no ties outside of Christ and no real knowledge of the character or struggles of that specific church.
So then, when one reads Romans, both as a historical text and as a piece of Scripture, one must take into account the tone with which Paul writes. He is not writing to amend a situation but to introduce himself. Furthermore, the time period also plays an important role. Romans was likely one of the last, if not the last, letter written by Paul.
This is why it is considered the magnum opus or crowning achievement of Paul. Romans is the product of years of wrestling through the intricacies of the Gospel. It displays the effort Paul put in towards understanding what role the Old Testament scriptures played in shining a light upon the person who was to be the Christ. The epistle also covers a host of relationship and administrative issues. These were problems Paul experienced time and time again in the multitude of churches he had helped found.
As much as Romans was an introduction, it was also the closing speech of a saint. It was the meat of what he believed, with all the depth and flavor only a lifetime of experience can bring.
If this letter was indeed such an achievement, what did he actually take the time to say?
(Next time we will examine Romans 14)