A Study of Romans 1:1-17

Read Romans 1:1-17. Note: by default all scripture links are to the NABRE. The Summary below is divided into two parts (1:1-15 & 1:16-17). 


A Summary of Romans 1:1-15~To begin a letter with a salutation or greeting of the writer to the one written to was an invariable rule in ancient times. Sometimes these inscriptions developed the titles and credentials of the writer; sometimes those of the person or people addressed. St. Paul also observes this custom in his Epistles. The introductory part, however, of the Pauline letters usually consists of two members: the inscription or salutation, and an act of thanksgiving to God for the benefits conferred on the Church to which he is writing. The Introduction to the present Epistle (Rom 1:1-15) is an illustration of this customaryopening.

As St. Paul had not been in any sense, either directly or indirectly, the founder of the Church in Rome, and was unknown to the majority of its members, he thought it needful to preface this letter with a most solemn and unusually long inscription (Rom 1:1-7) which would explain to the Roman Christians why he was writing to them, and why he could dare to speak with so much authority. Hence in verse Rom 1:1 he indicates his Apostolic charge, his duty as a messenger of Christ; in Rom 1:2-4 he directs attention to the dignity and gravity of the Gospel preaching, because of its divine origin and sublime subject-matter; and in Rom 1:5-6 he refers to the universality of his Apostolate which embraces also the Romans. The inscription is terminated (Rom 1:7) with the usual prayer for grace and peace in behalf of those to whom the Epistle is directed.

The second part of the Introduction (Rom 1:8-15) is an act of thankfulness to God for the faith of the Romans, which was celebrated in all the world (Rom 1:8). Paul’s good will toward them is manifest from his unceasing prayers in their behalf, and from his long cherished desire to see them (Rom 1:9-13). This desire to visit the Roman Christians, he says, came from his vocation, which made him a debtor to all men, and which, consequently, constrained him to wish to preach the Gospel to the Romans also (Rom 1:14-15).


A Summary of Romans 1:16-17~In these two verses St. Paul proposes the theme which he intends to develop in this Epistle, namely, that justification comes from faith in Christ, and not from the works of the Law. Being the Apostle of the Gentiles, and a debtor to all by reason of his vocation, he is not ashamed of the Gospel, but ready to announce it also to the Romans; for it is Gods power for producing salvation everywhere. See Part 4 of the Introduction you received. (since this is only a sample lesson you have not yet received the introductory material).

For Further Study and Discussion

Helpful Information and a Suggestion to All. In his letters St Paul sometimes uses the opening address (e.g. Rom 1:1-7) and, almost always the prayer of thanksgiving (e.g., Rom 1:8-15) to highlight certain themes he will be dealing with in the body of the letter. Read this footnote to Romans 1:1-7 in the NABRE and on a slip of paper list the the major themes it identifies. Consult the various footnotes to verses 8-15 and do the same. Use this slip of paper as a bookmark and consult it often as you read through Romans (or, better, keep a notebook).

Lectionary Link: Part of today’s reading (Rom 1:1-7) is read on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A, in conjunction with Isaiah 7:10-14 and Matt 1:18-24. What is a major theme connecting these three readings?

1 Points to Ponder~Slave/Service. (Rom 1:1): The theme of slavery/service looms large in this letter. How did St Paul act as servant/slave of Jesus Christ on behalf of others (see Rom 1:8-15; 15:14-33. What are some of the ways in which we are called upon to serve the Lord and our fellow man?  One may wish to read Rom 6:5-7:6; 12:9-21; 13:1-9; 15:7-13.

2 Points to Ponder~Obedience (Rom 1:5): “The obedience of faith” (Rom 13:26 see Rom 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) “is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals,” and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him. To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving “joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it.” To bring about an ever deeper understanding of revelation the same Holy Spirit constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts. (Vat. II., Dog. Const. on Div. Rev., 5).

Note: The translation used in the commentary is that of Fr. Callan’s. Links are to the NABRE. Text in red are my additions, as are “discussion prompts” and catechism references.

1. Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

The first thing necessary in writing to the Romans—a community which he had not founded—was that Paul should make known his credentials. He therefore states at the outset the divine authority that is behind his Apostolate. 

 Paul. The Apostle probably assumed this name for the first time in Cyprus when he converted the Proconsul Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7-12), perhaps, as St. Jerome says (in his commentary on Philemon), in honor of his victory in making so great a convert. St. Thomas and others, however, think he was called both Paul and Saul from his infancy; the latter being his Jewish, and the former his Latin name. As Tarsus, the Apostle’s birth place, was under the Roman Empire, it seems not improbable that he should have been given a Latin, as well as a Jewish name, from the beginning. It seems unlikely (pace St Jerome) that St Paul would have been so ostentatious as to “honor his victory in making so great a convert” as to adopt the name Paulus from the Proconsul Sergius Paulus Gallio. 

 A servant, i.e., a slave (δοῦλος = doulos) consecrated to the service of Jesus Christ. St. Paul calls himself the servant or slave of Jesus Christ just as the Prophets had styled themselves servants of Yahweh (cf. Amos 3:7; Isa. 42:19; Ezek 32:24, etc.). This is the first time that “servant of Jesus Christ” stands at the head of an Epistle; but it occurs again in Philip1:1; James 1:1; Jude 1; 2 Peter 1:1.

Called to be an apostle, i.e., called by a special vocation (κλητός= klētos) to go and preach the Gospel.

The term “apostle” means one sent, as a messenger, a commissioned agent. Thus all the Apostles were messengers sent by Christ to announce the kingdom of God, to proclaim the good tidings of redemption and salvation. St. Paul was equal in dignity to the twelve, because like them, he was called and instructed immediately by Christ Himself (Gal 1:1).

 Catechism: 2, 858-60,

 Separated. The Greek Fathers see in this word an allusion to divine predestination, as in Gal1:15. It is more probable, however, to say with the Latin Fathers that the term here simply means that Paul was set apart, or especially chosen and consecrated by God, when he received his revelation to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Everywhere in the New Testament, except Gal 1:15, the term αφωρισμενος (asphorismentos; derived from aphorizō) simply means to set apart from other duties and human relations, to reserve for the Apostolate (Acts 13:2). Father Cornely understands “separated” here to refer to Paul’s preparation by natural and supernatural gifts. It may be that St Paul is here playing with his former status as a Pharisee. The word aphorismenotos-“one set apart”-is identical in meaning to the Grecianized Hebrew word  Φαρισαῖος = Pharisaios, (i.e., Pharisee) which is itself derived from the Hebrew פּרשׁ = pârâsh. In Philippians 3:5 St Paul describes himself as Being circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. According to the law, a Pharisee. Whatever St Paul’s upbringing and former life may have been, after his experience on the Damascus Road this former Pharisee (separated one) came to realize that God had separated me from (his) mother’s womb and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son…(Gal 1:15-16).

The gospel of God, i.e., the good tidings, of which God is the Author and Revealer through His divine Son, and which are destined to lead man to God. Paul’s call and separation were from God for the purpose of preaching and spreading the Gospel of God.

2. Which he had promised before, by his prophets, in the holy scriptures,

Which he had promised, etc. By these words St. Paul intended to show the Romans that he was not teaching something new or false, but merely announcing the fulfillment of what had been foretold throughout the Old Testament. The entire Old Testament was ordained to the New Testament, and consequently to Christ, the principal subject of the latter. The term prophets here means simply those who announce the future, and embraces all the seers, both great and small, of the Old Testament. The Scriptures are called holy (ἅγιος = hagios) because inspired by God.

St Paul will employ important arguments from Scripture in Rom 4:1-25 and Rom 9:1-11:36. Although he doesn’t say it explicitly, the context of Rom 15:3-4 indicates that one of the reasons for the existence of the OT Scripture is so that we might be instructed in how to serve others.

3. Concerning his Son, who was made to him of the seed of David, according to the flesh,
4. Who was predestinated the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of sanctification, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead;

Note: Father Callan deals with these two verses together in summary fashion before commenting on them individually. I will reproduce the verses again, individually, after his summary.

These two verses are of very great importance. They cause much difficulty and have been variously interpreted. In them is summed up the whole content of the Gospel preached by St. Paul and foretold by Almighty God,—the object of which Gospel is the Son of God, who, though eternal with the Father, took human nature from the seed of David, and by His powerful Resurrection from the dead, was manifested and constituted, in the eyes of men, the powerful Son of God. 

3. Concerning his Son, who was made to him of the seed of David, according to the flesh,

Concerning his Son. This shows that the object of the Gospel was chiefly Christ, as foretold by the Prophets, but more clearly preached by Paul. The words, περι του υιου αυτου, indicate that the Son of God was a Divine Person existing anterior to all time and personally distinct from His Father; while the words, of the seed of David, etc., show that this same Divine Person, existing prior to His incarnation, and personally distinct from His Father, took flesh in time from a descendant of David, and thus, according to His human nature, was made or generated, without the intervention of any man, from Mary, His Blessed Mother, who was of the line and family of David. It was a universal belief among the Jews that the Messiah should be “the Son of David” ; this for them was His most characteristic title (cf. Acts 2:29; Acts 13:34 ff.; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 3:7). From the present verse, therefore, it is clear that the Son of God is distinct from the Father, that He is one person, and that He has two natures, one divine and one human. Cf. Phil 2:6-9. Concerning his Son suggests that the “Son”was pre-existent and distinct from the Father since His  Son was “made to Him of the seed of David”, i.e., in some sense born into a different relationship with the Father. This different relationship  relates to the Son’s undergoing a human birth.

4. Who was predestinated the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of sanctification, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead;

Our Lord’s Resurrection in time from the dead marked Him in the sight of men as a Divine Person, as the true Son of God.

Who, some think, refers to the seed of David, to the human nature of Christ, which from eternity was predestinated to be the Son of God, inasmuch as it would be united in time with the Person of the Word of God (a Lapide, MacEv., etc.) ; others understand the reference to be to the Second Divine Person, who, on account of His spirit of sanctity, was constituted the Son of God with regard to men, in the capacity of Messiah, and who, after His Resurrection was exalted in His humanity. In other words, after His Resurrection this Second Divine Person was distinguished as the powerful Son of God, or the Son of God as exercising His power by raising Himself from the dead, in opposition to His state of humiliation in the flesh (cf. Cornely, Lagrange). Although, as a Divine Person, Christ was always the Son of God, still it was by His Resurrection from the dead in particular that He was manifested and constituted such before men.
Predestinated. The Greek has ορισθεντος, which, according to the Greek Fathers, means declared, manifested; but which is better and more literally rendered by marked out, distinguished, constituted (Cornely, Lagrange). It seems more natural to unite ορισθεντος with Son of God, than with in power; and thus the meaning would be that the Second Divine Person was manifested, or constituted, marked out, by His Resurrection, as the powerful Son of God. 

In power, i.e., by the exercise of divine power, especially in the Resurrection.

The spirit of sanctification. Better, “The holiness of his spirit.” By “sanctification” St. Paul means to indicate the sanctity which was proper to Christ as the Son of God, not necessarily the Holy Spirit- The term αγιωσυνης; means sanctity or holiness; St. Paul uses πνευματι αγιω to express the Holy Ghost. Note that the word “spirit” in not capitalized here by modern translations, indicating that the referent is not the Holy Spirit. The term “spirit can have a number of meanings in the Bible; here it refers to the character(distinguishing feature, attribute) of Jesus.

By the resurrection, etc. Since there is question here of an event already accomplished, the allusion seems to be rather to Christ’s own Resurrection (Lagrange) than to the general resurrection of the dead, embracing also that of Christ (Cornely). The Resurrection was the principal miracle by which Christ in the eyes of men was manifested or constituted the powerful Son of God, i.e., the Son of God as exercising divine power in His human nature.

Our Lord Jesus Christ. These words are in apposition with Son of God, as is evident from the Greek, του ορισθεντος υιου θεου (Who was predestinated the Son of God). The title Son of God, as applied to our Saviour, occurs 68 times in St. Paul and about 20 times in the rest of the New Testament.

5. By whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith, in all nations, for his name;

It is through Christ, the Son of God, risen from the dead that St. Paul received from God the grace and authority to preach the Gospel in all nations.

By whom. Better, “Through whom,” i.e., through Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, who is the agent through whom God dispenses powers to the Apostles.

We have received, etc. Although speaking in the plural, Paul is here referring directly, if not exclusively, to himself, who has been given the special grace and mission to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Rom 15:5; Gal 1:15; Eph 3:8).

For obedience, etc. The purpose of the grace and mission conferred on St. Paul was to lead all nations, i.e., all the Gentiles, to embrace and obey the teachings of the faith of Christ.

For his name, i.e., for the glory of Christ, that also the pagans might know and love Him. The phrase His name, The name, in the Old and in the New Testament, stands for the person (cf. Acts 11:15-16; Acts 21:13).

6. Among whom are you also the called of Jesus Christ:

Among whom, etc. Here the Apostle tells the Romans that they, being largely converts to the faith from paganism, are also embraced in his Apostolate to the Gentile world. This is a proof that most of the Roman Christians when St. Paul wrote his letter were of Gentile origin. The called of Jesus Christ, i.e., a part or portion of the faithful of Christ. There is no question here of the Romans having been called by Christ, as St. Paul was, but only of their belonging to the number of the faithful who are Christ’s by faith in the Gospel.

7. To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

To all, etc. Paul addresses all the Christians at Rome, rich and poor, master and slave, Jew and Gentile. He calls them beloved of God, i.e., objects of God’s favor and love, by which they have been called to the faith of Christ.

Called to be saints, i.e., consecrated in a special manner by their vocation as Christians to the service of God, as belonging to Christ and as participating through grace in His divine life.

Grace . . . peace, etc. This form of well-wishing, which occurs in nearly all the Epistles of St. Paul, is found nowhere before the Apostle, and therefore seems to have been his own creation (Lagrange). Grace, in its proper sense, is a special gift of God by which one is made holy and agreeable in God’s sight, and is rendered a participant of the divine nature, a brother of Christ, and heir to the glory of the Father in heaven. Peace with God insures interior tranquility of mind and soul, and is one of the most precious effects of grace. St. Paul here speaks of these eminent gifts as coming from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, thus placing the latter on a level with the former, but not identifying the two as persons.

8. First I give thanks to my God, through Jesus Christ, for you all, because your faith is spoken of in the whole world.

After his rather lengthy greeting to the Roman Christians, in which the foundations of the Gospel and his own Apostolic authority are indicated, St. Paul first thanks God the Father, the source of all good and blessings, for their splendid faith which is known everywhere. His gratitude is expressed through Jesus Christ, because our Lord is the medium, the channel, the Mediator and great Highpriest through whom all the blessings of the Father are conveyed to us.

For you all shows that the faith of the Roman community as a whole was beyond reproach. Cornely thinks the faith of the Romans was superior to that of all other Churches, and the model of them all; but this can hardly be gathered from St. Paul’s words, which perhaps have reference more to the importance of the Roman Christians as residents of the Capital of the Empire, than to the superior excellence of their faith over that of any or all others.

9. For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make a commemoration of you;
10. Always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may have a prosperous journey, by the will of God, to come unto you.

God is my witness. As Paul was generally unknown to the Romans he refers to God as witness of the truth of his words (2 Cor 1:23; Philip 1:8; 1 Thess 2:5, 10).

Whom I serve, i.e., whom I worship, venerate (λατρευω). The service here meant was the preaching of the Gospel.

In my spirit, i.e., not only in exterior corporal service, but especially interiorly according to the spirit (St. Thomas).

In the gospel of his Son, i.e., in preaching the Gospel, of which the object was the Son of God.

That without ceasing, etc., i.e., in his frequent prayers Paul always remembered them and prayed that he might see them. By thus showing his great affection for the Romans and his desire to visit them, St. Paul hopes to gain their good will and confidence as an aid to his future work among them and in the West. When writing these words he little thought that when finally he should arrive in Rome, it would be as a prisoner (Acts 28).

11. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual grace, to strengthen you:

St. Paul desired to visit the Roman Christians for the sake of the mutual help that would result from his visit, and for the purpose of strengthening them in their faith. This shows he was not going to preach a new Gospel to them. 

Some spiritual grace, i.e., some interior grace, such as is spoken of later in Rom 5:15, 16; 6:23. The term χαρισμα here does not mean gratiæ gratis datæ, such as tongues, prophesies and the like, of which there is question in 1 Cor 12 and 14 (Lagrange). The Apostle wishes to communicate some spiritual help to the Romans, and thus assist in confirming them in the faith in which they had already been well instructed by St. Peter.

12. That is to say, that I may be comforted together in you, by that which is common to us both, your faith and mine.

Here St. Paul modestly tells the Romans that his purpose in wishing to visit them is not only to give them some spiritual help and consolation, but also to receive from them some edification and consolation for himself as a result of their mutual faith; the benefit will be reciprocal.

13. And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that I have often purposed to come unto you, (and have been hindered hitherto), that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

Hindered, by his many labors. It is not necessary to seek a supernatural cause for this hindrance, as in Acts 16:6, or an intervention by Satan, as in 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Cor 12:7. The Apostle’s visit to Rome had been delayed by his many labors in the East (Rom 15:22).

Some fruit means some further increase in their faith. The words, as among other Gentiles, show that the composition of the Roman Church at this time was mainly Gentile.. 

14. To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor;
15. So (as much as is in me) I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are at Rome. 

The Greeks, i.e., those who spoke the Greek language, and who were consequently regarded as people of education and culture. The Romans are here embraced in the term “Greeks,” because at this time Greek was spoken throughout the Empire. All others were considered as barbarians.

The wise and the unwise seems to refer to individuals rather than to nations, because even among the civilized and cultured peoples there were foolish and unlettered persons. To all mankind, therefore, St. Paul, on account of the grace of his Apostolate, felt morally obliged, so far as he could, to preach the Gospel.

16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and to the Greek.

I am not ashamed, etc. Paul assures his readers that, in spite of the learning, riches, power, culture and elegance of Rome, he is not ashamed to preach there the doctrines of the Gospel, which to the pagans were ignorance and foolishness. He will not appeal by the graces of style, but by force of the truths which the Gospel contains. These truths have a divine, compelling force, because they draw their efficacy from God.

The power of God, i.e., the instrument through which God exercises His power to save men, by remitting their sins and giving them grace and eternal life.

To every one that believeth. These words show the universality of the Gospel’s saving force, on condition, of course, that it be accepted and believed, and that its teachings be put into practice. Faith is the foundation and root of all justification, and without it no one can please God and have part in His rewards.

To the Jew first, etc., i.e., the Gospel was first, in order of time, preached to the Jews, who prided themselves on their knowledge of the Scriptures, and then to the Greeks, who boasted of their learning and culture. According to the common interpretation the placing of the Jews first here indicates not only that they heard the Gospel first in order of time, but also that they received it first, in consequence of their privileges and the promises God made to them (cf. Rom 3:1-2; 9:4-5; 11:16-20; Acts 13:46).

The Jews called all Gentiles “Greeks,” and the Greeks considered the Jews, and all who did not speak the Greek tongue, as “barbarians.”

17. For the justice of God is revealed therein, from faith unto faith, as it is written: The just man liveth by faith.

The justice of God, i.e., the justice or justification given by God to man, which has its root and foundation in faith, and renders man holy and pleasing in God’s sight. This justification must be preceded, in the first instance, not by the habit, but by an act of faith.

Is revealed therein, i.e., justification is made manifest through the Gospel, inasmuch as it is a gift of God which before was hidden, but is now made known to the world. Before the Gospel it was not altogether clear just how justification was to be obtained, whether, namely, by faith in the Redeemer to come, or through the observance of the Law of Moses. But now the Gospel has made it entirely plain that justification comes through faith, and is extended to all who believe, be they Jews or Gentiles.

From faith unto faith. These words are variously understood. According to Calmet, Lagrange, etc., they refer to progress in faith. The justice of God is revealed in the Gospel, and takes its beginning in man from faith, as from its root, and increases and develops in faith. Cornely understands the words to refer to the extension of the faith among the believers, in omnes credentes; i.e., the justice of God, manifested through the Gospel, is not restricted to the Jews, but is extended to all those who believe in Christ, of whatever nationality they may be.

It is written, etc., to show that faith, even in the Old Testament, was the source of justification, St. Paul now cites one of the ancient Prophets. The words quoted are from Hab 2:4. Literally they express the manner in which the Jews, under the Chaldeans, should conduct themselves: they should live by faith in the promise of a deliverer (Cyrus) given them by Almighty God; and thus through patient expectation, accompanied by good works, they would at length be freed. Likewise, says the Apostle, applying the spiritual meaning of the Prophet’s words, he who is just by virtue of the faith revealed in the Gospel will, by good works and patient confidence in God’s promises, live and continually increase in faith and spirituality, unto life everlasting. In the application of these words of the Prophet, St. Paul makes the Babylonian captivity a figure of the state of sin, “and the law of the Israelites a symbol of that of good Christians” (Calmet).

The just man liveth by faith. With the Prophet there was question in these words of life granted in recompense of one’s faith; but with St. Paul there is question of the source of man’s justice: faith is the source, i.e., the foundation, of the spiritual life of the just man. Justice comes from faith, and not from the works of the Law, the Apostle means to say (St. Chrys., Cajetan, Lagr., etc.).

The citation of Habacuc (Habakkuk) is from the Septuagint, although not literal. The Hebrew reads, “in his faithfulness,” instead of “by faith,” but the meaning is the same.

St. Paul in these verses (16, 17) has stated his thesis, that justification comes not from wisdom or learning, nor from the observance of the Law, but from faith.

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2 Responses to A Study of Romans 1:1-17

  1. Pingback: St Joe’s Online Bible Study Group: The New Testament Letters | stjoeofoblog

  2. Pingback: St Joe’s Online Bible Study Group: The New Testament Letters | stjoeofoblog

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