The Epistle to the Romans is the longest of Paul’s epistles and is regarded by many people as his greatest. This epistle contains his most complete explanation of the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ rather than by the performances of the law of Moses. It contains many teachings about the doctrines of salvation and the practical application of those doctrines to daily life. Through their study of this book, students can gain a greater appreciation of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and of the hope and peace that all people may find in Christ.
The Apostle Paul is the author of the Epistle to the Romans (see Romans 1:1). In writing this epistle, Paul used the assistance of a scribe, Tertius, who wrote his own greeting to the Roman Saints near the conclusion of the epistle (see Romans 16:22).
Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans from Corinth near the end of his third missionary journey. Several clues suggest that Paul wrote this epistle during the three months he stayed in Corinth (see Acts 20:2–3; the term Greece in these verses refers to Corinth), possibly between A.D. 55 and 56. (See Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles.”)
The Epistle to the Romans is addressed to members of the Church in Rome (see Romans 1:7). The origins of the Church in Rome are unknown but probably date to soon after the day of Pentecost, when Jews visiting from Rome heard Peter preach (see Acts 2:10). Though Paul had not yet been to Rome, he wrote greetings to specific Saints he knew either by prior acquaintance or through others who had lived in Rome, such as Priscilla and Aquila (see Acts 18:1–2, 18; Romans 16:1–16, 21).
There seem to be at least three main reasons why Paul sent the Epistle to the Romans:
(1) To prepare for his future arrival in Rome. For years Paul had wanted to preach the gospel in Rome (see Acts 19:21; Romans 1:15; 15:23). He also hoped the Church in Rome would serve as a base from which he could serve a mission to Spain (see Romans 15:22–24, 28).
(2) To clarify and defend his teachings. Paul faced repeated opposition from individuals who misunderstood or distorted his teachings about the law of Moses and faith in Christ (see Acts 13:45; 15:1–2; 21:27–28; Romans 3:8; 2 Peter 3:15–16). Paul evidently had reason to suspect that such misunderstandings had reached the Church members in Rome, so he wrote to alleviate any concerns before he arrived.
(3) To promote unity between Jewish and Gentile members of the Church. Not long before Paul wrote this epistle, Jewish Christians who had been expelled from Rome by the emperor Claudius (see Acts 18:2) began returning to Rome and to predominantly Gentile Christian congregations. This situation may have given rise to some of the tensions and problems between Jewish and Gentile Christians. As “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), Paul sought to integrate Gentile converts into the Church; yet as a Jew (see Romans 11:1), Paul also felt a great desire for his own people to accept the gospel. Paul promoted Church unity by teaching how doctrines of the gospel apply to all Saints (see Romans 3:21–4:25; 11:13–36; 14:1–15:13).
After an opening greeting, the epistle begins with a statement of its theme: “The gospel of Christ … is the power of God unto salvation” to all who “live by faith” in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16–17).
Though the Epistle to the Romans has played an important role in Christian history, it has also unfortunately been “the source of more doctrinal misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and mischief than any other Biblical book,” according to Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 2:211). Even among early Christians, Paul’s writings were regarded as “hard to be understood,” and his teachings were sometimes distorted and misrepresented (2 Peter 3:15–16).
Romans 1–3 Paul explains the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul defines the plight of sinfulness that faces all mankind and teaches that God’s solution to this problem for all people is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. By faithfully accepting the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be justified (forgiven) and receive salvation.
Romans 4–8 Paul cites the example of Abraham to illustrate the doctrine of justification by faith. He expounds doctrines of salvation and teaches how those doctrines affect the lives of all who have faith in Christ.
Romans 9–16 Paul writes about Israel’s elect status, present rejection of the gospel, and eventual salvation. Paul counsels Jewish and Gentile Church members to live the gospel so there will be peace and unity in the Church. He pleads for the Saints in Rome to continue to keep the commandments.