Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9 For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10 asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15 —hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
The Power of the Gospel16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
Introduction and Thesis
In the first sentence Paul claims for himself the identity of a slave. The translation of servant does not capture the fullness of Paul’s claim or the reality in which Paul lives.
“The empire (Rome) was constituted as an economy and polity based on slavery. Its economics, political, and military power depended upon slavery. The majority of the population of Rome would have been slaves…. A slave was one who had lost all personal identity, whose existence was completely determined by the whim of the master (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 17).”
The title Christ is also political in nature. “This name points to the uprising of the oppressed, enslaved, and impoverished and to the bringing down of the high and mighty, the powerful and privileged. This reversal distinguishes a ‘messiah’ from a king or emperor (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 17).”
Theodore Jennings translates Romans 1:3 - “the good news about his son, from the seed of David according to the flesh, but designated son of God in power according to a spirit of holiness through the resurrection from the dead (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 18).”
The dynamic to encounter here the the dichotomy between flesh and spirit. Jennings writes, “For Paul, flesh generally designates either opposition to God (and hence to spirit) or weakness (and so, lack of power). We shall see later that these apparently divergent meanings are in fact closely related. The opposition of spirit and flesh is a theme that Paul will strongly emphasize in this text (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 18-19).”
“Joshua (Jesus) is designated messiah, that is, the one hoped for by Israel who would liberate the people of Israel from imperial dominion. At least for Paul, what had been conceived of as a ‘regional’ messiahship (limited to the liberation of a territory or a people) will be regarded instead as universal in scope and radical in depth (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 21).”
In verse five we first encounter the word faith. Here is where some relearning must be done. The word faith should not be understood as belief or even trust, but should be thought of as faithfulness. It is relational. Faithfulness is what is at stake.
“Faith as faithfulness or loyalty is what is at stake, and this commonsensically entails something like a form of behavior that corresponds to the one to whom one is loyal or faithful. Indeed, in the Greco-Roman world, pistis was regularly associated with a set of mutual obligations that linked together patrons and their clients (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 21).”
We will explore this dynamic of faithfulness through Paul’s letter. It is a key theme for his argument as we will see in verses 16 and 17, the thesis statement for his argument.
Paul understands himself and his readers to be called into a new way of life, a new way of being in relationship with one another, as he writes in verse six, “…including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…”
“But what Paul is concerned with is a calling that extracts one from the existing social and political order by subjecting one to an adherence to a radically disruptive existence and hence a new kind of subjectivity. His subjectivity, as well as that of his (intended) readers, is constituted by and through this disruptive interpolation, this messianic call (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 23).”
The greeting in verse seven could be understood as “generosity and peace…” The word grace has lost much of its currency. Generosity is the business of God and what God has done through Jesus Christ for the sake of the whole world.
Peace is an idea that was controlled by the empire. The famous pax romana, the Roman peace, was a peace won through military victory and brute force. The peace that Paul offers is in the name of Jesus Christ. “It will be a peace not enforced by armies but spread through the proclamation concerning one that empire executed. And it will be enforced not by the death penalty but empowered by the spirit of life (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 25)."
Romans 1:16-17 (NRSV)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
“For I am not ashamed of the glad announcement: it is divine power for salvation (wholeness) for all the faithful, to the Judean first and the Greek. For in it divine justice is disclosed from faithfulness to faithfulness, for as it has been written: the just live through faithfulness (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 27).”
“This wholeness is connected to faithfulness or loyalty. Through loyalty to the divine announcement the world is protected from danger and human well-being is established (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 29).”
“What loyalty engenders is justice. In antiquity the theme of justice is indissolubly linked to the space of the political. When Plato turns to a discussion of the polis (the city) in The Republic, he does so as a discussion precisely of justice. This is not a completely new theme to him. Indeed, in his dialogues he returned again and again to the theme of justice as the principal way of understanding the common life of human beings (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 29).”
“Justice is the only possible basis for social well-being, for the well-being of the city or the body politic. Yet it is said that to just live through faithfulness; indeed, justice comes into being only as faithfulness or loyalty to what God is doing in the world…. As one lives out faithfulness, one is or becomes just (Jennings, Outlaw Justice, 29).”
One of my professors, Dr. Ray Pickett, argues that salvation in scripture is communal, concrete, and cosmic. Salvation is communal in that it restores community. Salvation is concrete in that it takes place in real time, here and now. Salvation is cosmic in that it is for all people, not just for an ethic or cultural group.
Paul’s argument about God’s justice is that it is salvation for all people, the whole world, and that this justice is lived out and experience through faithfulness to God. We will see this argument fleshed out in chapter three after Paul exposes the injustice of both Rome and the Judeans.