The view taken in this thesis is that the theme of Romans is basically
the relationship of Jew and Gentile in the purpose of God. The letter should
be understood as Paul's response to a division in the Christian community at
Rome. The Roman Christians did not form a united church of Jews and Gentiles, because the 'Kulturkampf' prevalent in first century Rome, as in many other cities at that time, prevented them from expressing their common faith in a united fellowship.
In the Introduction we note that scholars have generally tended to
interpret Romans as a theological'treatise and have made little attempt to
relate its contents to a specific historical situation. In Chapter I we
find that apart from the length of the letter, there is nothing in its format to authorise the interpretation of it in a manner distinct from the other
When Romans is viewed as a theological treatise, there is a tendency
to regard chs.i-viii as the essence of the letter, and chs.ix-xi as an
appendix. But a study of the connections between iii:1-8 and ix:l.ff. shows
that Paul has had the themes of chs.ix-xi in mind since the beginning of the
letter, and that this is a carefully constructed document. Support for the
latter is found in Paul's use of questions and objections at decisive stages
in his argument. These are not merely rhetorical or theoretical, - but reflect for the most part problems in the Christian community at Rome. Thus
chs.vi-vii deal with antinomianism and chs.ix-xi with anti-Judaism. When
chs.ix-xi are seen to be addressed to a specific problem at Rome, instead of
being considered as an appendix, they emerge as the climax of the letter.
In chs.ix-xi Paul lays the theological foundations on which in chs.
xiv-xv he bases his exhortation to Jewish and Gentile Christians for mutual
acceptance. In this section (ix-xi) as in most of the letter the argument
is primarily directed against Gentile Christians. These consider themselves
as the 'elect' over against the Jews as the 'rejected'. They think of them¬
selves as the 'strong' and despise their fellow Jewish Christians because
they are 'weak'. Paul's use of Old Testament quotations in ch.xv:8.ff.
clearly implies that the basic cause for the division among the Christians
at Rome was, as suggested, the conflict between Jew and Gentile. When we
interpret the letter in the light of what we know of the situation that existed at Rome, and of Paul's teaching in ch3.ix-xi, we axe able to give relevance and coherence to the whole of its contents.
In i:18-ii:29 Paul discusses the theme of Jew and Gentile in such a
way as to show that, in the Divine judgement, these distinctions in which
men boast are not really significant. Paul deliberately blurs the distinction between Jew and' Gentile (cf. ii:28.f.). This suggests that he wishes to
counteract the emphasis of those in Rome who stress such distinctions. In
iii:21.ff. Paul shows that the revelation of God's righteousness in Christ
means that real unity between Jew and Gentile is now possible. By the fact
that Christ has fulfilled the Law and that salvation is to be found through
faith in Him, He has removed the barrier which the Law created between men.
In ch.iv by means of the Abraham tradition Paul maintains that the
Covenant was always intended to include all nations and that therefore all
Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles, may truly call Abraham 'father'. The
emphasis upon human solidarity in Adam and in Christ in ch.v can be seen as
another attempt to minimize distinctions between Jew and Gentile. Although
chs.v-viii are not so obviously related to the Jew-Gentile question, the fact that the Law plays a dominant role in this section means that they are
closely related to the suggested theme. The way in which Paul upholds the
goodness of the Law in ch.vii, relates the Law and the Spirit in ch.viii and
interprets it Christologically in ch.x:4.f. suggests that his purpose is to
demonstrate the continuity in the Divine purpose both in the history of Israel and in the Christ event.
Although the theme of Jew and Gentile in the purpose of God was a
vital issue at Jerusalem., Romans is best understood as directed to a specific
situation at Rome. The presentation of the argument in which Paul at various
points actually warns against antinomianism etc., means that it is most unlikely that it was directed to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Nor is this a
circular letter intended for all the Gentile churches; the omission of the
name Rome in some manuscripts is no proof that Paul intended to write a general circular letter. It is also incorrect to describe Romans as an assertion of Paul's apostolic authority. This view is not in accord with Paxil's
understanding of his apostleship, and the deficiency of the Roman Christians
was not that they lacked apostolic foundation. Despite the fact that Paul mentions his future visit to Rome en route for Spain, this is also not a
sufficient reason to account for the writing of the letter.
From a survey of the various interpretations it is apparent that it is
desirable to establish an equivalence between the purpose of the letter,
Paul's visit to Jerusalem and his future visit to Rome. It is also necessary
to posit a problem of sufficient magnitude to account for the composition of
a letter of such theological profundity. Because the division between Jew and
Gentile was not simply a local issue but one affecting the whole church and
because the weaknesses of the Gentile Christians at Rome were symptomatic of Gentile Christianity in general, Paul felt obliged to undertake a discussion
of the purpose of God for both Jew and Gentile in the old and new aeon. This
explains the frequent use of the Old Testament and the almost continuous discussion of the Law throughout the letter. Faced with Gentile Christians who
regarded the Jews as rejected and who were lacking in an appreciation of the
purpose of God, Paul was forced to undertake an exposition of the Christ
event that gave positive meaning to the election of Israel; this he did by
interpreting the Christ .event as the annulling fulfilment of the Old Covenant.