A Commentary by John Stott
Paul’s two main themes – the integrity of the gospel committed to him and the solidarity of Jews and Gentiles in the messianic community – are already apparent in the first half of the letter’s first chapter.
Paul calls the good news ‘ the gospel of God’ (1) because he is its author, and ‘the gospel of his Son’ (9) because he is its substance. In verses 1-5 he focuses on the person of Jesus Christ, David’s son by descent and powerfully declared God’s Son by the resurrection. In verse 16 he focuses on his work, since the gospel is God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes, ‘first for the Jew, then for the Gentile’.
In between these succinct statements of the gospel, Paul seeks to establish a personal relationship with his readers. He is writing to ‘all in Rome’ who are believers (7), irrespective of their ethnic origin, although he knows that the majority of them are Gentiles (13). He thanks God for all of them, he prays for them constantly, he longs to see them, and he has tried many times (so far unsuccessfully) to visit them (8-13). He feels under obligation to preach the gospel in the capital city of the world. Indeed, he is eager to do so, because in the gospel God’s righteous way of ‘righteoussing’ the unrighteous had been revealed (14-17).
The wrath of God. (1:18-3:20).
The revelation of God’s righteousness in the gospel is necessary because of the revelation of his wrath against unrighteousness (18). The wrath of God, his pure and perfect antagonism to evil, is directed against all those who deliberately suppress what they know to be true and right, in order to go their own way. For everybody has some knowledge of God and of goodness, whether through the created world (19f.), or through conscience (32), or through the moral law written on human hearts (2:12ff.) or through the law of Moses committed to the Jews (2:17ff.).
The apostle thus divides the human race into three sections – depraved pagan society (1:18-32), critical moralizers whether Jews or gentiles (2:1-16), and well-instructed, self-confident Jews (2:17-3:8). He then concludes by accusing the whole human race (3:9-20). In each case his argument is the same, that nobody lives up to the knowledge which he or she has. Even the special privileges of the Jews do not exempt them from divine judgment. No, ‘Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin’ (3:9), ‘for God does not show favouritism’ (2:11). All human beings are sinful, guilty and without excuse before God. The picture is one of unrelieved darkness.
Tomorrow: A brief overview of Romans (continued).