Bible Study of Romans 1:8-17

Rom 1:8. 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 (see James 1:17), 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 High-priest through whom all the blessings of the Father are conveyed to us (see 1 Tim 2:5-6; Heb 9:11-14).

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.

Concerning the thanksgiving: I’m reminded of what St Thomas Aquinas wrote in his famous commentary:  “For it is necessary that in all affairs we begin by giving thanks: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Th 5:18); indeed, a person is not worthy to receive a blessing if he does not express thanks for past blessings: ‘The hope of an ungrateful man will melt like wintry frost’ (Wis 16:29), and ‘to the place where the streams flow, there they return’ (Ec 1:7), because to the source whence blessings come they return, namely, by giving thanks, to flow again by repeated blessings.
 

But we need God’s blessings in all we seek or do; consequently, before all else thanks should be given” (Lect. 5, #75).

Rom 1:9. 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;
Rom 1:10. 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; Phil 1:8; 1 Thess 2:5, 10).

Whom I serve, i.e., whom I worship, venerate (λατρευω = latreou). The service here meant was the preaching of the Gospel. The phrasing here, which emphasizes worship, should be seen in close connection with St Paul’s earlier description of himself as a “slave” (Greek: dolous, Rom 1:1). Hebrew had a single word בעבדה (= ‛ăbôdâh) to denote both slavery/service and worship /ministry (compare Ex 1:13-14 with Ex 3:12).

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).

Concerning God is my witness: St Thomas Aquinas wrote: “But since, as Augustine says, it is the same to say ‘God is my witness’ and ‘I swear by God’ the Apostle seems to be acting against the Lord’s command: ‘I say to you, do not swear at all’ (Mt 5:34); ‘Aove all, my brethren, do not swear’ (James 5:12).

“However, as Augustine also says, the meaning of Sacred Scripture is gathered from the actions of the saints.  For it is the same Spirit Who inspired the sacred Scriptures: ‘Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God’ (2 Pt 1:21) and Who moves holy men to act: ‘All who are led by the Spirit are sons of God’ (Rom 8:14).

“Consequently, if Paul is found to swear, it shows that the Lord’s sord and that of the Apostle James are not to be understood as indicating that an oath is absolutely unlawful, but that men should strive as far as possible not to use oaths as though they were something good and desirable of their very nature.  And this on account of the dange involved in frequent swearing, namely, the possibility of perjury due to a slip of the tongue.  Sirach says: ‘Do not accustom your mouth to oaths for many are tripped by them’ (23:9).  Also because it seems contrary to the reverence we owe to God for one to call God as witness without necessity.  For this reason the Apostle neve made an oath except in writing, when a man speaks with greater deliberation and caution” (lect. 5, #80-82)

Rom 1:11. 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 (charisma) 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.

Aquinas: I long to see you: ‘I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus’ 9Phil 1:8), not for a trifling reason as in worldly friendship, but that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, not as its author but as its minister: ‘One should regard us as stewards of the mysteries of God’ (1 Cor 4:2); and this to strengthen you in the faith you have received: ‘When you have been converted, strengthen your brethren’ (lk 22:32)

Rom 1:12. 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.

Aquinas: “For it is a mutual source of consolation to be one in the faith.” (Lect 5, #88).

Father Bernardine de Piconio: That I may be comforted together in you.  The Prelate may gather from verse 11 what is the real end and motive of Visitations: To impart unto you some spiritual graceThe visitor is the bearer and distributor of the gifts of God.  His office is to confirm in faith and good works.  This is a source of mutual consolation to the Pastor and the flock.  The sheep are consoled and edified by the Shepherd’s fructifying faith; the shepherd, by the faith of his flock, which he has himself increased and strengthened.  In such visitations there is nothing vain and purposeless, no secular and worldly rejoicing, no curious sight-seeing, no lordly and arrogant display.  All is ordered according to the spirit and the will of God to the spiritual profit and advancements of the subjects (Exposition of the Letters of St Paul, Vol. 1).

Near the end of the letter St Paul will say that he shall come to them in the fullness of  Christ’s blessings, but then he immediately asks for their prayers on their behalf: that I may come to you with joy, by the will of God, and may be refreshed with you (Rom 15:32). I will put into modern terms what I think St Paul’s point is in these passages: The ordained priesthood needs the priesthood of all the faithful and vice versa.

Point to Ponder: “Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it” (CCC 900). See also CCC 901-913.

Rom 1:13. 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.

As we will learn later in the letter, St Paul’s primary concern in his ministry was to preach where Christ “is not named” (i.e., known and believed in).  This was at least part of the reason for his unfulfilled desire: “And I have so preached this gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man a foundation.   But as it is written: They to whom he was not spoken of shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.  For which cause also, I was hindered very much from coming to you and have been kept away till now (Rom 15:20-22)..

Rom 1:14. To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor;
Rom 1:15. 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.

St Paul is in debt to all men because it was for their sake that he himself received mercy from God: “A faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.  But for this cause have I obtained mercy: that in me first Christ Jesus might shew forth all patience, for the information of them that shall believe in him unto life everlasting” (1 Tim 1:15-16). See also, 2 Cor 4:1-5

POINT TO PONDER: “it is impossible to live according to the heart of Jesus Christ and not to know that we are sent, as he was, ‘to save all sinners’ (1 Tim 1:15), with the clear realization that we ourselves need to trust in the mercy of God more and more every day. As a result, we will foster in ourselves a vehement desire to be co-redeemers with Christ, to save all souls with him” (St Josemaría Escrivá, Christ Is Passing By, 121)

THE THEME OF THE EPISTLE

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 God’s power for producing salvation everywhere. See Introduction,IX. 2.

Rom 1:16. 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.”

POINT TO PONDER: I am not ashamed of the gospel. This statement recalls our Lord’s words in Mk 8:38 & Lk 9:26.  Behind St Paul’s statement are probably the experiences of ridicule and suffering he faced as a result of preaching the “foolishness of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18, 23). Indeed, rather than be ashamed of the gospel and the afflictions it bring, he boasts in them (Rom 5:2-3). In light of the power and the salvation it brings, ridicule and afflictions are of no ultimate consequence (2 Tim 1:8). Writing around 1850 Father MacEvilly had this to say concerning this passage of Romans: He is ready and not ashamed to preach the scandal and folly of the cross even at Rome, where learning and science were united with the greatest dissoluteness of morals; where honours and riches alone were held in estimation; and where, consequently, the mysterious and humbling truths of the Gospel, as well as its precepts of self-denial, must prove particularly foolish and distasteful. It is the same situation we face today.

Rom 1:17. 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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