Romans (01): The Gospel
TEXT: Paul, a willing slave, of the Anointed King Jesus, called an apostle, distinguished in service for the Announcement of God, which he promised long before through His prophets in holy scriptures, concerning His Son, of the line of David in terms of biological ancestry, distinguished as Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, out of resurrection of the dead ones, Jesus the Anointed King, our Lord. (Romans 1:1-5, GS trans.)
Let’s Start Where They Were - Imagine that you are a household slave, previously from a tribe conquered by one of the Roman legion. Imagine that you were once a “free,” but you were sold into slavery and are now a blacksmith to a noble Roman family. You have always known that a great god exists above all gods and now other slaves in your household have told you of the Announcement that the true God is redeeming all peoples through god-like man. You have begun to meet with a group that follow “The Way.” Paul wrote the book from Corinth or nearby in about 57 A.D., as evident from the greetings of Gaius, who lived at Corinth (16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14), and of Erastus (16:23; 2 Tim. 4:20). Phoebe (16:1-2), who possibly carried the letter, was from an area near Corinth. Why does Paul address the themes he does? In the first century there was a great displacement of the Jews due to some seditious behavior (Acts 18:2). “[In Corinth Paul] found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.” When Claudius died, Nero permitted refugee Jews back to Rome and it seems they were integrating into the Roman Christian congregations. Paul’s burden for his people is prominent in Romans and the very issues of integration of Jews and Gentiles are clear in Romans. Hence we find replete references to Jews throughout Romans (“Jews” - Rom. 1:16; 2:9f, 17, 28f; 3:1, 9, 29; 9:24; 10:12; “Israel” Rom. 9:6, 27, 31; 10:1, 19, 21; 11:2, 7, 25f; “My people/His people” Rom. 9:25f; 10:21; 11:1f; 15:10).
Let’s Listen to What They Heard - Paul’s emphatic point to frame this letter is the “gospel.” But what is the gospel? Is it like “gospel preaching” or “gospel music” or “gospel fried chicken”? Is it a way to have a personal experience of peace and purpose? What did these first century believers hear. And perhaps more importantly, what did Paul think as he wrote the term. The word “gospel” has two connotations in Paul: one of biblical good news to close the exile (Is. 40-42), the other is quite Roman, as an announcement-celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor in Rome. In the first few verses Paul means the “gospel” is God’s announcement in fulfillment of prophecy of the royal enthronement of Israel’s anointed king, the Lord of the whole world. Jesus was the Davidic King in fulfillment of the Promised Seed (Ps. 110) and the resurrection made clear to the world that He is the Anointed King. "The root of Jesse shall rise to rule the nations; in him shall the nations hope" (Isa. 11.10, cited Rom. 15.12). In a word, the gospel-announcement is that Jesus is Lord.
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more