Background to Romans



            Read through the entire book of Romans, preferably in one sitting, treating it as if it was a letter you recently received from a friend. This will give you an overall feel for what the book is about.

            Then read through the book again, but this time jot down:

          Frequently repeated words, phrases or ideas

          The people mentioned in the book

          The events mentioned in the book, which might help us date the book

          The locations mentioned in the book. Place these on the provided blank map.

Class Discussion:

1.         Who did you find mentioned in the book? Are they mentioned elsewhere in the Bible?

2.         What locations are mentioned in the book?

3.         What events are mentioned? Are these events mentioned elsewhere in the Bible?

Dating the Letter to the Romans

            The letter to the Romans was written by Paul while he was in Corinth. He mentions currently staying in Gaius’ home (Romans 16:23). Gaius lived in Corinth (I Corinthians 1:14). It was after Paul had taught heavily in Asia (Romans 15:19). Thus, this letter was written when Paul stayed in Corinth for three months after being in Ephesus and then later Macedonia (Acts 20:2-3). The letter is typically dated to be written around A.D. 57-58 at the end of what is usually called Paul’s third journey.

            The collection for the saints, mentioned in the Corinthian letters, was completed and ready to be delivered (Romans 15:25-26).

erastusinscription.jpgFigure 1 Leon Mauldin at the Erastus inscription in Corinth. Taken by Johnny Felker.

            Paul mentions in Romans 16:23 that Erastus was the city treasurer. An inscription has been found in Corinth that says, “Erastus, the commissioner of public works, laid this pavement at his own expense.” (See Figure 1).

            Apparently Paul asked Phoebe to deliver his letter to Rome (Romans 16:1-2). Cenchrea is a small town very close to Corinth. From Corinth Paul then headed north, back to Macedonia, an unexpected direction for someone going to Jerusalem, to avoid a plot on his life (Acts 20:3).


            The city of Roman was the center of the empire that currently ruled the known world. Scholars estimate that it’s population was about one million.

            Unlike many of the other churches to whom Paul wrote, Paul did not have a hand in starting this particular work. The church there had a good reputation (Romans 1:8) and was in existence for a number of years before Paul wrote to them (Romans 15:23).

            The church is mostly composed of Gentile people (Romans 1:13; 11:13), but there were those who had converted from Judaism there as well (Romans 2:17-23; 7:1). Philo mentioned that there were many Jews in Rome, brought there from earlier battles. Most were no longer slaves because “being made captive in war, and brought into Italy, they were set at liberty by their masters, neither were they compelled to change the rites of their fathers” [Philo, Leta. Ad Caium]. The church in Rome appears to have been a large congregation because Tacitus, a Roman historian, referred to the Christians in A.D. 64, during Nero’s persecution, as being “an immense multitude” [Annals 15.44].

Class Discussion:

1.         List the people mentioned in Romans.

2.         During class, mark the location and travels of the people mentioned in Romans on the map. Use different colors for each person.

About the Letter

            The letter to the Romans is considered one of the more difficult letters to understand. In part it is because Paul tackles some difficult subjects. But greater is the fact that many of the things taught by Paul in this letter are not answers that people generally expect. “It cannot be denied, that one reason why the epistles of Paul have been regarded as so difficult has been an unwillingness to admit the truth of the plain doctrines which he teaches. The heart is by nature opposed to them, and comes to believe them with great reluctance. This feeling will account for no small part of the difficulties felt in regard to this epistle” [Albert Barnes, Barne’s Notes].

            Another cause for difficulty is that people make a great many assumptions about things that Paul did not say. They go beyond the words and insert their own assumption. Many difficulties could be avoided if people would just stick with what Paul actually did say.

Blank Map of the Mediterranean Region