Survey of Romans

Lesson ▪ 2002-03
Tags: Romans
Excerpted from God’s Righteousness Revealed: An Exposition of Romans

Not surprisingly, the epistle to the Romans has received attention from countless commentators and expositors. As Christians we often quote its verses and passages. Many of us are acquainted with the “Romans Road” approach to presenting the gospel to an unbeliever. We all recognize the book’s theological and spiritual significance. Yet, how well do we really understand its purpose, argument, and structure? It is the purpose of this lesson to cater to the modern mind by providing the sort of introduction that the book of Romans might have if it were published today.


The apostle Paul identifies himself clearly as the author of Romans (1:1). Virtually no scholars deny Paul’s authorship of Romans, something that cannot be said of other epistles bearing his name. Of course, Paul did not physically write the document. That task was left to an amanuensis1 named Tertius (16:22). On the whole, the historical elements of Romans harmonize quite well with the account of Paul’s ministry in the book of Acts, confirming Pauline authorship (see Circumstances & Date of Writing).


Believers in Rome

To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:7).

So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also (1:15).

Of good spiritual reputation

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world (1:8).

See also personal references in chap. 16, many of which commend Roman believers for their faithful service to Christ.

A mixture of Jews and Gentiles, the latter in the majority

Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles (1:13).

Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law (2:17-18).

Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? (7:1).

For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office (11:13).


As readers of the book of Romans today we are most likely to consider it a theological document of sorts. What we most recall of its contents is probably its doctrinal discussion. In fact, it is the longest of Paul’s writings, and it contains a significant amount of theology. Nevertheless, we misunderstand the book if we refer to it as a theological treatise, neglecting the fact that it is a letter written in a specific historical situation.

Romans is not a systematic summary of all of Paul’s theology. He developed certain doctrines more fully elsewhere.2 The epistle has a pragmatic flavor as well: Not only does it contain several chapters of practical exhortations (chaps. 12-15), its theological content addressed specific issues in the life of the Roman church(es). So how should we perceive the book of Romans? It is a letter written for several purposes, some of which were temporary, and some of which are of enduring theological significance (see Purposes).

Circumstances & Date of Writing

Paul most likely wrote the epistle to the Romans from Corinth toward the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 20:2-3 identifies a three-month stay in Greece). Support for this view is strong, including the following elements:

  • Paul has not yet visited Rome at the time of writing (1:10ff).
  • Paul’s ministry is at an advanced stage; he has evangelized from Jerusalem to Illyricum (15:19).
  • Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, planning to deliver an offering collected in Macedonia and Achaia (15:26ff; cf. Acts 20:16, 22).
  • Paul recommends Phoebe, a woman from Cenchrea, a port near Corinth (16:1).
  • Paul sends greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, who had served in Corinth and Ephesus (16:3-5; cf. Acts 18:1-3; 18:18-19).
  • Paul sends greetings from Epaenetus, “the firstruits of Achaia [i.e., where Corinth was located] to Christ” (16:5).
  • Paul sends greetings from Gaius, whose name coincides with that of a member of the church at Corinth (16:23; cf. 1 Cor. 1:14).

Assuming the accuracy of this hypothesis, Paul wrote the epistle somewhere in the late 50s AD:

  • Miller: 55-58 AD (4: 224)
  • Moo: 56-58 AD (3)
  • Witmer: 57-58 AD (436)


The letter to the Romans develops a number of doctrinal topics. Recurring words such as sin, grace, law, righteousness, Gentiles, and Israel are indicative of its content. The following table lists some of the epistle’s most prominent themes:3

sin and condemnation

justification by faith

  • righteous, righteousness: 41 occurrences (e.g., 3:20-22; 9:30-31; 10:3-4)
  • forms of the word justify: 17 occurrences (e.g., 3:20, 24, 28; 5:1)

law and grace

the Holy Spirit and sanctification

  • holy or holiness: 16 occurrences (e.g., 6:19, 22)

relationship of Jews and Gentiles

  • Gentile or Gentiles: 26 occurrences (e.g., 11:11-13; 15:8-12)
  • Jew or Jews: 11 occurrences (e.g., 1:16; 2:9-11; 10:12-13)
  • Israel, Israelite, or Israelites 14 occurrences (e.g., 10:1; 11:25-26)

the gospel

  • gospel: 13 occurrences (e.g., 1:15-17; 15:15-16, 18-20)

Looking at the big picture of Romans, one theme—the gospel’s revelation of God’s righteousness—encompasses all others. In fact, this theme is the principle around which the entire letter is organized (see Structure).


Paul wrote the letter to the Romans for both practical and doctrinal reasons:

  • to explain his failure to visit Rome (1:13-15; 15:18-22, 25-27)
  • to prepare the church(es) for his eventual coming (1:9-12; 15:23-24, 28-32)4
  • to resolve conflicts between Jews and Gentiles (e.g., 2:9-11; 3:27-31; 7:1-6; 9:1-11:32)5
  • to declare God’s gracious work in man’s salvation (e.g., 3:19-26; 5:18-21)


I.    Introduction to the Epistle (1:1-17)

The Gospel: Theological Foundations

II.   God’s Righteousness Revealed in Condemnation of Sin (1:18-3:20)

The Need for the Gospel: Sin’s Universal Dominion

A.   Sin’s Dominion over the Gentile (1:18-32)
B.   Sin’s Dominion over the Moralist (2:1-16)
C.   Sin’s Dominion over the Jew (2:17-3:8)
D.   Sin’s Dominion over All Mankind (3:9-20)

III.  God’s Righteousness Revealed in Justification by Faith (3:21-5:21)

The Essence of the Gospel: Justification by Faith

A.   Justification by Faith Explained (3:21-31)
B.   Justification by Faith Illustrated (4:1-25)
C.   Justification by Faith Applied (5:1-11)
D.   Justification by Faith Contrasted (5:12-21)

IV.  God’s Righteousness Revealed in Sanctification by the Spirit (6:1-8:39)

The Hope of the Gospel: Sanctification by the Spirit

A.   Identification with Christ (6:1-14)
B.   Enslavement to God (6:15-23)
C.   Deliverance from the Law (7:1-6)
D.   Sin’s Exploitation of the Law (7:7-25)
E.   [no title or subdivision assigned to this passage] (8:1-39)

V.   God’s Righteousness Revealed in Sovereign Election (9:1-11:36)

[no subtitle or subdivision assigned to this passage]

The Gospel: Practical Applications

VI.  God’s Righteousness Revealed in Consecrated Living (12:1-15:13)

[no subtitle assigned to this passage]

A.   The Principle of Consecration (12:1-2)
B.   The Practice of Consecration (12:3-15:13)

1.   Spiritual Gifts (12:3-8)
2.   Relationships (12:9-21)
3.   Civil Authority (13:1-7)
4.   [no title assigned to this passage] (13:8-11)
5.   Christian Community (14:1-15:13)

VII.      Conclusion of the Epistle (15:14-16:27)

[no subdivision assigned to this passage]


1 An amanuensis is “one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript.”
2 For example, Ephesians contains Paul’s most profound teaching on the nature of the New Testament church, and 1 Thessalonians deals more extensively with the Lord’s return.
3 Word counts are based on the text of the King James Version.
4 Paul aimed to secure the Romans’ support for his eventual mission to Spain; in addition, he sought their prayer support during his upcoming ministry in Judea. E. F. Harrison explains, “since Paul hoped to go beyond Rome even as far as Spain, he evidently expected to have in the Roman church a base of missionary operation comparable to Antioch in the East. If this was to be realized, he needed to share with the church a rather complete exposition of the gospel he had been preaching for over twenty years. By putting this exposition in writing and sending it ahead, he would give the Christian community in Rome an opportunity to digest the message and be ready to share in the extension of the gospel to the West.”
5 Tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians escalated for several reasons: (1) Gentiles displaced Jews as leaders in the Roman church(es) when Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2). (2) Jewish believers were more attached to the Mosaic law than their Gentile counterparts (7:1ff; 14:1ff). (3) The expansion of the Christian faith among the Gentiles called into question Israel’s status as God’s chosen people (9:1-11:32).
6 This outline was developed through analysis of the biblical text and comparison of outlines in a number of sources. It bears greatest resemblance to those of Witmer (438) and E. F. Harrison.