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Bible Study Helps: Romans

Nov 13, 2018

The book of Romans is in many ways the magnum opus of the Apostle Paul. In its 16 chapters so many vital Christian truths and teachings are to be found. And its impact throughout Christian history has been immense. At the beginning of his 14-volume set of expository sermons on Romans Martyn Lloyd-Jones said this:

It has been the universal opinion in the Christian church throughout the centuries that Romans is the Epistle above all which deals with fundamentals, and if you look at the history of the church I think you will see that has been borne out time and time again. There is a sense in which we can say quite truthfully that the epistle to the Romans has, possibly, played a more important and a more crucial part in the history of the church than any other single book in the whole of the Bible.

Augustine came to saving faith in Jesus Christ by reading Romans. The book of course had a profound effect on Luther as he struggled to find peace with God. John Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” while reading Luther’s commentary on Romans. Karl Barth shook off the theological liberalism of his day as he studied Romans.

Catholic commentator Joseph Fitzmyer said this about the letter:

The role that Romans has played in the history of Christianity manifests that it is the most important of the Pauline writings, if not of the entire NT. The impact that this letter has had on the history of the Christian church is incalculable. Generation after generation of commentators over the ages have sought to interpret it and make it intelligible for people of their age. The commentaries on it in books and articles over the centuries make clear the contribution that the study of this letter has made to the history of Christianity. In fact, one can almost write the history of Christian theology by surveying the ways in which Romans has been interpreted.

Or as R. C. Sproul put it, “Paul’s epistle to the Romans was his magnum opus. In it we have the most extensive exposition of the New Testament gospel anywhere in the Bible.” One last quote: in his 1200-page commentary on Romans (to which he also wrote a separate 500-page introductory volume), Richard Longenecker says this in his opening paragraph:

Paul’s letter to believers in Jesus in Rome has always been highly regarded within the Christian church. It has been, in fact, the most highly acclaimed writing of the NT throughout the entire course of Christian history. It is so because it has been, in very large measure, the heartland of Christian thought, life, and proclamation.

Let me here say a few brief words about the book and then offer some recommended reading. Usually Paul sends letters to those who he had first preached the gospel to. This is not true of Romans. We do not know who helped found the church there, but Paul was eager to get there.

The book was most likely written by Paul while he was in Corinth, probably during the winter of 57-58 AD. A broad-brush outline of Romans as found in the ESV Study Bible is helpful, and it runs as follows:

The Gospel as the Revelation of God’s Righteousness (1:1–17)
God’s Righteousness in His Wrath against Sinners (1:18–3:20)
The Saving Righteousness of God (3:21–4:25)
Hope as a Result of Righteousness by Faith (5:1–8:39)
God’s Righteousness to Israel and to the Gentiles (9:1–11:36)
God’s Righteousness in Everyday Life (12:1–15:13)
The Extension of God’s Righteousness through Paul’s Mission (15:14–16:23)
Final Summary of the Gospel of God’s Righteousness (16:25–27)

Or if you prefer a much simpler outline featuring alliteration, J. Vernon McGee put it this way:

1. Salutation 1:1-17
2. Sin 1:1-3:20
3. Salvation 3:21-5:11
4. Sanctification 5:1-6:23
5. Struggle 7
6. Spirit-filled living 8:1-27
7. Security 8:28-39
8. Segregation 9-11
9. Sacrifice & service 12, 13
10. Separation 14, 15
11. Salutation 16

Romans commentaries – expository, devotional

Boice, James Montgomery, Romans, 4 vols. (1992-1995)
Hughes, R. Kent, Romans (PTW, 1991)
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Romans, 14 vols. (Banner of Truth, 1970-2003)
Sproul, R. C., Romans (Crossway, 2009)

Romans commentaries – academic, scholarly

Image of The Letter to the Romans (New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT))
The Letter to the Romans (New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)) by Douglas J. Moo Amazon logo

Barrett, C. K., The Epistle to the Romans (BNTC, 1957)
Bird, Michael, Romans (SGBC, 2016)
Bruce, F. F., The Epistle to the Romans (TNTC, 1963)
Dunn, James, Romans, 2 vols. (WBC, 1988)
Edwards, James, Romans (NIBC, 1992)
Fitzmyer, Joseph, Romans (AB, 1993)
Harrison, Everett, Romans (EBC)
Kruse, Colin, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (PNTC, 2012)
Longenecker, Richard, The Epistle to the Romans (NIGTC, 2016)
Matera, Frank, Romans (Paideia, 2010)
Moo, Douglas, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT, 1996)
Moo, Douglas, The Letter to the Romans, 2nd ed. (NICNT, 1996, 2018)
Moo, Douglas, Romans (NIVAC, 2000)
Morris, Leon, The Epistle to the Romans (PNTC, 1988)
Murray, John, Epistle to the Romans (NICNT, 1959, 1965)
Nygren, Anders, Commentary on Romans (Fortress, 1952)
Osborne, Grant, Romans (IVPNTC, 2004)
Schreiner, Thomas, Romans (BECNT, 1998)
Stott, John, The Message of Romans (BST, 1994)
Thielman, Frank, Romans (ZECNT, 2018)
Witherington, Ben, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Eerdmans, 2004)
Wright, N. T., The Letter to the Romans (NIB, 2002)
Wright, N. T., Paul for Everyone: Romans (2004)

Studies on Romans

Kirk, J. R. Daniel, Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God (Eerdmans, 2008)
Longenecker, Richard, Introducing Romans (Eerdmans, 2011)
Soderlund, Sven and N. T. Wright, eds., Romans and the People of God (Eerdmans, 1999)
Thiselton, Anthony, Discovering Romans: Content, Interpretation, Reception (Eerdmans, 2016)

I suppose I owe it to my readers to highlight a few of the above volumes that I think are superlative and essential additions to your library. As to academic commentaries, they would have to include Kruse, Longenecker, Moo, Schreiner, and Thielman. For something a bit less lengthy and demanding, but still top-notch, Stott never disappoints.

As for the expository studies, no one can go beyond Lloyd-Jones and his 14 volumes. See more on that here: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/02/27/5000-pages-on-romans-by-the-doctor/

And a word about the two Moo NICNT volumes. He first wrote it in 1996, and a brand-new second edition has just appeared. The first edition is just over 1000 pages, while the revised version is around 1200 pages. But it is not cheap. Often revisions are not worth buying as there is not much difference. Here we seem to have a fair amount of actual revision. If you have the first volume, and are considering dishing out some hard-earned money for the second, well, all I can say is, pray about it!

Happy reading and studying.

(Australians can find most of these volumes at Koorong: www.koorong.com/ )

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3 Responses to Bible Study Helps: Romans

  • Thanks for your articles, Bill. I’ve been reading them almost daily since I came across your website.

    Paul had a lot to say about the Jewish people in Romans – maybe up to a quarter of the book. Here’s a small sample:

    “What advantage is there in being a Jew … Much in every way” (3:1-2).
    “Theirs are the covenants … and the promises” (11:4)
    “They are loved on account of the patriarchs” (11:28)
    “Christ has become a servant of the Jews … to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs” (15:8)
    “All Israel will be saved” (11:26)

    So it’s incomprehensible that for much of church history, the official attitude towards the Jewish people has been atrocious. For example, this is from Martin Luther:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Jews_and_Their_Lies

    And this wasn’t an aberration – it was mainstream Christian thought for over a millenium. See:

    https://www.amazon.com/Our-Hands-Are-Stained-Blood/dp/1560430680bibi

    As Christians who read the Bible, we know that the Jewish leaders perscuted the early Christians. But most of us aren’t aware that the boot has been firmly on the other foot ever since, with repeated perscutions and pogroms through the centuries.

    Contrast this to Paul’s attitude: “I wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” (9:3-4)

  • Bill,

    The book on Romans has been so useful to many Christians like myself because it has helped us to discriminate between “deception” from a “disagreement of opinion.” I believe many Christians and their Christian churches/institutes in the west have accepted “deception” by believing it is only a “disagreement of opinion.” The Christian churches have had “disagreement of opinion” over a church name, worship styles, baptism, music, but none of these things have affected Christians from being unified with Christ and them bearing a witness to Christ in the world. This is unlike the “deception” of a legal same-sex marriage which has been identified by some religious leaders and churches as a “good disagreement,” as if they don’t understand the meaning of “deception” is a sin.

    Christians and Christian churches must bear witness to the world about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit including the truth about the penalty of sin is death because evil, abomination and wickedness separates people from the love of God/Christ/Holy Spirit for eternity. Therefore, people need to repent of their sins in order to be in a right relationship with God/Christ/Holy Spirit. A Christian and a Christian church should put on the full amour of God in order to protect themselves from the “deception” of sin including acceptable sins such as secular morality. Sins aren’t the fruit of the spirit nor a gift from God, and it leads people away from the love of God/Christ/Holy Spirit, such as abuse, adultery, cheating, coveting, deception, devil/pagan worship, drunkenness, fornication, envy, greed, lust, lying, sexual immorality, murder, prostitution, rape, slander, sodomy, and stealing.

    Christians and their Christian Churches/institutions have been warned about the deception of the devil, so it is impossible to have a “good disagreement” about a legal same-sex marriage. A civil registered marriage practice is based on a legal contract/consent for a no fault divorce law for fees. This is equivalent to the roman marriage or dejure marriage which are a deception for Christians and for their Christian Churches and institutions because the truth about man-woman “one flesh” was designed by the Creator in the beginning without a legal state marriage certificate nor a public wedding ceremony according to Jesus in Matt 19: 4-6.

    I want the ABS census and other legal documents to not accept deception, because the germanic marriage based on man-woman cohabitation and the Judeao-Christian marriage based on man-woman “one flesh” aren’t the same practice as a civil registered marriage, dejure marriage or roman marriage. The Australian government doesn’t force deception on mothers who have had a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) to identify this with a legal abortion practice. I now want government authorities to identify my relationship as “man-woman “one flesh” (marriage) with a status of “Independence” or “Ind” from 2017 amended Marriage Act. This will allow Christians as well as secular people a right to ignore/reject the deception of a civil registered marriage between 2 people, as well as the no fault divorce law which replaced God’s laws on adultery and breaking a man-woman “one flesh” (marriage) oath. This diversity of relationships and status on legal forms doesn’t affect people from having their right to a civil registered marriage contract/consent, as their relationship is still regulated (controlled) by government authorities for a fee, and the courts can still punish them with a fee in a no fault divorce. The defacto (marriage) can still receive all their legal marriage benefits without having a legal contract/ consent. They can still freely ignore/reject the 2017 amended Marriage Act, and this doesn’t prevent them from gaining access to the no fault divorce law because they can still identify as a “legal spouse.” Christians and their Christian Churches/institutions shouldn’t deceive the next generation of children to believe in the new civil registered marriage practice between 2 people because of the harm of adultery and the harmful practice of breaking a man-woman “one flesh” (marriage) oath. They should reject this type of legal “deception” in order to support and protect future generations in freely obeying God’s commandments/laws including “honour their father and mother.” It is time for Christians and their Christian Churches/institutions in the west to be a light in the world by rejecting “deception” by speaking the truth in Christ’s love. John the Baptist lost his head over King’s Herod’s adulterous marriage, but would the leaders in the Christian churches today be prepared to lose their head over exposing the “deception” of same-sex marriage or have they accepted a “deep/good disagreement of opinion” on the Marriage Law in Australia been redefined between 2 people?

  • A few years back we had a delegation from Greece come to Australia because they had discovered that the Australian Greek culture was more Greek than the modern Greeks. This is what sometimes happens when people are removed from their homeland and culture. Maintaining their cultural roots can become more imperative under those circumstances. I read Romans for years before the penny dropped that the Roman Jews, who Paul was writing to, were more Jewish than the Jews in Israel. Paul was not writing to the Roman culture but an enclave of Jewish culture within Rome and just like Jewish people around the world, a proportion had seen the truth of Christianity. It is not until chapter three that you see this if reading from another culture. It is not for no reason that Romans starts out on the common ground of Christian and Jewish morality and denigrates the sexual immorality that had been fashionable in Rome but which many Romans were starting to see the problems with. The shame is that people who are not from Jewish roots read what Paul says about the law and take it to mean that there no longer is any law, despite what Paul said in chapter one, instead of what Paul was doing and that was correcting the problems with Jewish thinking. It is not until you read Romans with a good grounding in Old Testament teaching and knowledge of who Paul was writing to that the truth of Romans becomes evident.

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