Many weeks could be taken in class studying the Epistle of Paul to the Romans. It is impossible to incorporate all the eternal truths and powerful teachings of Paul the Apostle in this New Testament book in forty minutes.
Romans consists of sixteen chapters and approximately twenty-three pages of material in the English text. It is the first of the fourteen Pauline epistles incorporated into the holy canon of the New Testament. Remember that the original placement of the Pauline epistles was done by size, from largest to smallest, the book of Hebrews being excepted (some scholars feel that Paul did not write the book of Hebrews). The epistles of Paul comprise 173 of the 406 pages (43%) of the New Testament English text.
Understanding The Roman Empire
“The first historic mention of Rome in the Bible is in 1 Maccabees 1:10 [in the Apocrypha], about the year 161 B.C. In the year 65 B.C., when Syria was made a Roman province by Pompey, the Jews were still governed by one of the Asmonaean princes. The next year Pompey himself marched an army into Judea and took Jerusalem. From this time the Jews were practically under the government of Rome…
Some scholars believe that the condition of the Roman empire at the time when Christianity first appeared has often been dwelt upon as affording obvious illustrations of Paul’s expression that the ‘fullness of time had come.’ (Galatians 4:4) As Latter-day Saints we know that this was not ‘the fullness of time’ and there would yet be an apostasy. “The general peace within the limits of the empire, the formation of military roads, the suppression of piracy, the march of the legions, the voyages of the corn fleets, the general increase of traffic, the spread of the Latin language in the West as Greek had already spread in the East, the external unity of the empire, offered facilities hitherto unknown for the spread of a world-wide religion.”(1)
“In the apostolic age the Roman Empire was the one great power of the world. It included everything between the Euphrates, the Danube, the Rhine, the Atlantic, and the Sahara desert… [See Map 13 in the LDS edition of the Bible]
“The Empire included a great variety of peoples. Broadly speaking, the eastern half was Greek, the western Latin; but the Greek language was understood not only throughout the whole of the East, but in a great part of the West as well, and was the language of commerce everywhere… The three largest cities of the Empire were Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch in Syria. In each of these were large Jewish colonies.”(2)
The City of Rome
“The conquests of Pompey [65-63 B.C.] seem to have given rise to the first settlement of Jews at Rome… It is chiefly in connection with Paul’s history that Rome comes before us in the Bible… The city at that time [the time of Paul] must be imagined as a large and irregular mass of buildings unprotected by an outer wall. It had long outgrown the old Servian wall; but the limits of the suburbs cannot be exactly defined… The boast of Augustus [Caesar] is well known, ‘that he found the city of brick, and left it of marble…’ The streets were generally narrow and winding, flanked by densely crowded lodging houses of enormous height. Augustus found it necessary to limit their height to 70 feet… The population of the city has been variously estimated. Probably Gibbon’s estimate of 1,200,000 is nearest the truth. One half of the population consisted, in all probability, of slaves. The larger part of the remainder consisted of pauper citizens supported in idleness by the miserable system of public gratuities. There appears to have been no middle class, and no free industrial population. Side by side with the wretched classes just mentioned was the comparatively small body of the wealthy nobility…”(3)
Justification by Faith
Rome was the largest city in the known world and therefore the epitome of worldly power. Paul the Apostle wanted to teach the Saints living in Rome the real source of power in their lives, that is, increasing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is no question that the members of the Church who were living in Rome were subjected to a face-to-face confrontation with the world–the antithesis of the gospel. Thus Paul asserts “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed through faith on his name; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (JST Romans 1:16, 17)
The scriptures clearly teach that “no unclean thing can dwell with God,” (1 Nephi 10:21) therefore, since all have sinned, all fall short of being able to come back into the presence of God. Since each of us stands unjustified before God, what allows us to ever return to His presence? Throughout Romans, Paul teaches that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice which is His gift of grace to us. Without justification, that is, being reconciled to God, pardoned from punishment for sin, and declared righteous and guiltless, [see Gospel Doctrine manual, p. 151] we would all be lost. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
So Paul, as one of the special witnesses of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, strives throughout the epistle to the Romans, to teach the Saints that the Law of Moses (which many were still asserting was essential to live by) was dead and that through faith in Jesus Christ, thus bringing us to good works, including all the necessary ordinances, would bring us back to God. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) Paul taught.
Abraham, the Archetype
Paul speaks to his listeners in the most profound way he can by drawing upon the tremendous example of Father Abraham. “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:18-22) In other words, Abraham’s tremendous faith in the Lord God of Israel, even Jesus Christ, was what brought about the great blessings he received. He could have never merited the blessings he received by his good or even great works alone. Through faith he was justified and his faith was “imputed to him for righteousness.”
Let it be clear, however, that Abraham had spent his very full lifetime in absolute obedience to the Lord. “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” (Genesis 17:1) Even in this commandment Abraham was obedient.
Works are Still Important
Paul, James, and Nephi all taught that we should remember to continue in obedience and do all that we can in addition to exercising great faith. “Do we then make void the law through faith?” Paul asked. “God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31)
“What doth it profit, my brethren,” James taught, “though a man say he hath faith, and have not works, can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:14-18)
Nephi boldly declared: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23)
In the Doctrine and Covenants we read: “And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.” (D&C 88:38,39)
The summum bonum of the matter is this: exercise great faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, this is the first principle of the Gospel; and be obedient to His commandments, then will we be able to have the full measure of the atonement in our lives and by and by have eternal life. “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” (Moroni 10:32)
Don’t Miss These Passages in Romans
In this brief class it is almost a travesty not to mention or at least quote the following: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:16,17)
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 35, 37-39)
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:11, 12)
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1)
- Smith, William. A Dictionary of the Bible. (hereinafter Smith’s Bible Dictionary) Thomas Nelson Publishers, New York, 1990, pp. 567-68.
- Bible Dictionary in the LDS edition of the Bible, p. 763-64.
- Smith’s Bible Dictionary, p. 570.