I am excited to venture into the depths of this vast ocean of Gospel truth – called the book of Romans. We begin this new series this coming Sunday, January 5. I thought some of you (those of you who are geeks like me) might be interested in doing a little background to help with the context. Context is important. For example, if I yelled out, “Hail, Mary!” it is important to know whether you are in a Catholic worship service or at a football game. The context makes a world of difference in discovering the meaning intended by the author. Here are a few notes to help you prepare for this study. We will dig in further in the upcoming weeks.

Historical Setting

Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey, Corinth, around AD 55

  • Written by Paul, probably late spring, 55 AD, from Corinth near the end of his third missionary journey (i.e beginning of Acts 20 – toward the end of that 3 month period in Greece is where the writing of this letter is placed).
  • In Romans 15:14-33 Paul states that he is planning on coming to Rome after he has finished his present work and has gone to Jerusalem. He plans on stopping at Rome on his way to Spain. (It may well be viewed as a fundraising letter to send his team on to Spain. This is why Paul gives a clear articulation of the gospel he preaches.)
  • Paul has already collected the offering for Jerusalem. He heads to Jerusalem with this offering shortly after this letter to the church in Rome.
  • Paul’s references to Phoebe of Cenchrea, this city was located about 6 miles from Corinth, Romans 16:1 and Gaius Romans 16:23 who may have been the same man as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14.

Church at Rome is made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. References to those who know the law does not necessarily mean they were Jewish, because all who had been believers any length of time were familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures as that was their Bible (i.e letter to the Galatians).

Paul’s own life history is a picture of the antithesis of law righteousness and the glory of God’s righteousness by grace through faith – with the Damascus Road being the dividing line.

Lives will be changed through the study of this book. How do I know?  God has used the message of this epistle to change lives throughout the age of the church (i.e. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Bunyan to name a few).

Key Passage

Romans 1:16-17

Key words:

God: 140 times
law: 78 times
Christ: 66 times
sin: 46 times
Lord: 44 times
faith: 40 times
Jesus: 37 times
Spirit: 35 times
righteousness: 32 times
flesh: 23 times
grace: 21 times


The Author – Paul

Paul turned from Jesus Hater to a Jesus Lover

  • Originally named Saul, after the first king of Israel (who was also from the tribe of Benjamin – a man after the flesh – Philippians 3:4-6)
  • Born in Tarsus (Acts 21:39)
  • Sent to Jerusalem (probably at the age of 13) to be taught by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3)
  • Under Gamaliel, Saul memorized and learned to interpret the Scriptures according to rabbinical tradition. He became a Pharisee.
  • A Roman citizen (Acts 22:28)
  • Changed his name to Paul, which means small, or humble.

Paul’s war against the church

Saul was a zealous legalist, “a Hebrew of the Hebrews”. He was totally committed to the law in every detail (Philippians 3:5-6). Saul would have really been upset when news of this new “sect” filling Jerusalem reached him. He dedicated himself to stamping out this “heresy” (Acts 7:58l 8:3; 9:1-2; 26:9-11). As a member of the Sanhedrin, he was consumed by a passion to imprison and execute Christians (Galatians 1:13).

Paul’s Conversion

While on route to Damascus to persecute believers, he was knocked down and blinded by a heavenly light. Jesus directly confronts this zealot (Acts 9:3-9). Years later Paul would write of this experience (1 Tim. 1:12-15). This conversion was tough for others to believe (Acts 9:26), but we see the new Paul in Acts 9:20-22!  He now preached “the way” in the very synagogues that he had letters sent to – to destroy any of “the way.” (Name changed to Paul, meaning “small”- fitting as this proud man was humbled under the mighty hand of God)

Early Ministry

During the next 3 years in Arabia (see Gal. 1:17-18), the apostle learned much and received direct revelation from the risen Lord Himself. He returned to Damascus (Acts 9:23-25) and then he went back to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-29). Following this, he went back to his home city of Tarsus (Acts 9:30). He remains in Tarsus until Barnabas sends for him to help in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). Together, they had an aggressive teaching ministry there “for a whole year.”

His First Missionary Journey

Barnabas and Paul were sent from Antioch on missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-3). John Mark also accompanied them. However, he departed from them in fear part way through the journey. They left Antioch in Syria and travelled to the Island of Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12). Paul’s first recorded miracle – the blinding of Elymus (Acts 13:11) – occurs here. They continue on to various cities in Galatia (Acts 13:13-14:25). After continual rejection from the Jewish leaders, Paul declares his intention to turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Even though Paul is stoned and left for dead at one point, he continues to preach in Derbe and the surrounding cities (Acts 14:19-22). Finally the team returns to their home and sending and supporting church in Antioch of Syria.

His Role in the Jerusalem Council

Paul goes to the Jerusalem Council regarding Gentile converts (Acts 15:1-35). The council revolved around the question, “Should Gentile converts be forced to submit to the Jewish rite of circumcision?”  Formal letters were drafted and sent to all the local churches informing them of the Jerusalem Council decision. Following this, Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch, where they continue to shepherd and teach and preach the Word (Acts 15:35). Paul probably wrote the epistle to the Galatians at this time.

Second Missionary Journey

Paul and Barnabas have a strong disagreement regarding John Mark (Acts 15:36-39). They part company, with Barnabas and John Mark sailing for Cyprus, and with Paul taking Silas to Galatia (Acts 15:40-41). Timothy joins the team at Lystra (Acts 16:1-5). At Troas, Paul receives his “Macedonian call.” Luke joins the team (Acts 16:6-10).

  • In Macedonia:
    • Philippi
      • Three thrilling salvation stories (Acts 16:11-40)
        • a business woman
        • a demonic girl
        • a prison keeper
    • Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9)
      • 3 weeks at Jason’s house before being forced to leave
    • Berea (Acts 17:10-14)
      • Paul found a group of devout Bible lovers, but again was forced to flee.
  • In Greece:
    • Athens (Acts 17:15-34)
      • Paul goes alone and preaches his famous message on Mars Hill
    • Corinth (Acts 18:1-18)
      • meets Aquila and Priscilla (a Christian couple).
      • Silas and Timothy rejoin Paul
      • Paul remains in Corinth for 18 months (writes 1st and 2nd Thessalonians from here)
  • To Ephesus:
    • (Acts 18:19-21) – remains here a short time, accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla who remain in Ephesus.
  • Returns to his home church in Antioch (Acts 18:22).

Third Missionary Journey

Paul travels back through Galatia to Ephesus (Acts 18:23-19:41). He ministers here in Ephesus for about two and a half years. He writes 1st Corinthians from here. Following a riot, Paul leaves for Macedonia to collect contributions from the churches there, for the relief of the poor saints in Jerusalem (compare 1 Corinthians 16:2 and 2 Corinthians 8-9). 2nd Corinthians is written while Paul passes through Macedonia, in anticipation of his visit to Corinth (Acts 20:1-3).

Paul stops in Corinth, Achaia, for three months. He writes his letter to the Romans from here – this wicked port city. Corinth was a city of lechers, harlots, and fornicators. Remember this setting as you read Romans chapter one. Paul stays at Gaius’ home while in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14 compare with Romans 16:23).

Paul then heads to Jerusalem with the collection; stopping at Troas for Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Acts 20:4-12). It is here that Paul raises Eutychus from the dead. Eutycus had fallen from a third story window after falling asleep during Paul’s message. They then sailed to Miletus and on to Jerusalem, despite the warnings (Acts 20:13-28:31). At Jerusalem, Paul is arrested and eventually taken to Rome.

His Latter Days

While in Rome awaiting trial, Paul had a hired house, where he was guarded. From here he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. It is unclear whether Paul was released later for a time and then re-arrested or if he was eventually moved to a prison under Nero, when Christianity became a crime. Some believe 1 Timothy and Titus were written during a brief time of release. 2 Timothy was written from prison shortly before Paul was beheaded.

Purpose of Writing:

Paul wishes to have his readers first understand and then experience the gospel, to know its glorious release.

He stresses unity from the basis of:

  • the Gospel and its power ( ch. 1-8)
  • the Gospel plan as purposed by God (ch. 9-11)
  • the outworking of the Gospel (12:-15)

Paul possessed a biblical mind that was absolutely saturated with the Word of God. In his writings, he demonstrated a great knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures and his thoughts and teaching continually intersect with the Old Testament writings. The New Covenant revelation from Jesus clarified for him the themes of law and grace, and flesh and spirit. John MacArthur Jr. writes, “The biblical thinking of Paul was combined with a determined and resolute sense of mission which would not be sidetracked or distracted. If beaten, he continued to minister, and if imprisoned, he would start an evangelistic meeting (Acts 16:22-25).

Paul lived with an immense sense of God’s love (Romans 5:5; 8:35, 37) and his life aim was to glorify God (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 10:31).