Epistle to the Romans

Romans is the most systematic presentation of the Christian faith in the Bible.





Romans was written by the Apostle Paul.


Historically, Romans has been considered a single argument by Paul in which he makes a few major points in sequence. Thus most scholars have broken Romans up into large blocks – usually 5 – and assigned a major theme to them. This has caused problems, as the general schema has had difficulty explaining the reason for the order of, or inclusion of, some of the content – especially chapters 9-11. There also has not been any consensus on what the blocks should be, the most difficult issue is in the categorization of chapter 5, whether it is part of the preceding section, of the following, or whether it should be split in half and divided amongst both. The table below shows three popular divisions of Romans, and it shows the schema for a new emerging schema that is focused on alternation. This new schema argues that Paul is developing a single argument about universal salvation, but is stopping at key points to consider and address possible Jewish responses to what he has just said. Once Paul has addressed those issues, he returns to the thread of his argument. These alternations are called “G” sections (the main argument) and “H” (the Jewish considerations).

The table below also shows this structure:

Ch Verse Classic Majority^[1]^ Minority Alternation 1 1-17 Introduction Introduction Introduction Introduction 18-32 Sin Justification by Faith Sin G People are without excuse 2 1-29 H Despite the Law, Jews are without excuse 3 1-20 21-26 Righteousness Justification by faith G Justification is by faith in Christ 27-31 H Even Abraham was justified by faith, not works 4 1-25 5 1-11 Hope of Salvation G Eternal life is found in Christ alone 12-21 From Plight to Salvation H All those in Adam, even Jews, die apart from Christ 6 1-23 Sanctification G Obedience flows from union with Christ 7 1-15 H The Law will not bring about obedience 8 1-39 G Those in Christ are elected, adopted, assured 9 1-33 Israel - Unbelief and Grace Defence: Problem of Israel Salvation of Israel H Those privileges are not secured by racial descent 10 1-21 11 1-36 12 1-21 Moral Teaching Christian Conduct Law of the Spirit G The righteous life is structured by love 13 1-14 14 1-23 H Food and sabbath rules do not structure life 15 1-13 14-32 Paul's ministry to the gentiles 16 1-23 Greetings and conclusion Greetings and conclusion Greetings and conclusion Greetings and conclusion


Romans was not written to expound Paul’s Christology in the same way that, for example, Colossians is.^[2]^ In his opening, Paul defines the gospel in terms of who Jesus is – his human and divine natures (Rom 1:1-4). After that, however, the focus settles on Jesus’ works rather than his identity.^[3]^ Regardless, it is possible to discern Paul’s Christology within the letter, and to see how his logic relies on his understanding of the nature of Christ.

Titles of Jesus

Though the titles that Paul gives Jesus are not the only source of his Christology, they contribute much to understanging how Paul understood Jesus.

Son of God

In Romans, Jesus is often referred to as God’s son.^[4]^ In the OT, the concept refers to both Israel and the King, but in 1st C Jewish thought it mostly applied to the expected Messiah.^ [5]^ Apart from Rom 1:3-4, every time Jesus is referred to as ‘God’s Son’ it is God who is the main topic of the passage, not Jesus.^[6]^ This suggests that Paul is using the phrase as a commonly accepted way of referring to Jesus, rather than actively teaching a doctrine of Jesus’ identity as God’s son. That is, Paul and the Romans both accept that Jesus is God’s Son, so there is no need for him to teach the fact.

The various ‘Son of God’ passage are revealing as to how Paul sees Jesus’ relationship to the Father. God’s Gospel is about Jesus (Rom 1:9) and his great act of reconciliation is through Jesus (Rom 5:10) whom he sent (Rom 8:3) as a sacrifice (Rom 8:32). God also predestined those who would believe in Jesus (Rom 8:29). These passages show God taking the initiative, and Jesus the Son submitting to him.

In Romans, Jesus is given the specific title ‘Son of God’ only once (Rom 1:4), which makes it difficult to determine whether Paul means something different to ‘the Son’. The context gives some help, Rom 1:3-4 reads ‘his Son who … was declared with power to be the Son of God’ (HCSB). Moo points out that this is tautological unless ‘Son of God’ is different in meaning to ‘son’.^[7]^ It is probable that Paul is deliberately connecting the Messianic title ‘Son of God’ with the divine ‘God’s Son’, showing that the Son was declared to be both Son and Messiah.

Son of David

In Rom 1:3-4, Jesus is also called "David’s descendant" – referring to King David. Like 'Son of God,' this phrase is a common Jewish title for the expected Messiah. Given Paul’s preference for using 'Christ' to refer to Jesus as the Messiah, it is most likely that he is deliberately highlighting Jesus' humanity, and his natural descent from the man David.


Christos (Grk. ???????, Christ or Messiah) is Paul's preferred title for declaring Jesus’ Messianic status. Some have suggested that the meaning of 'Christ' had faded and had effectively become Jesus' 'last name.' This view fails to take into account the many times that ‘Jesus Christ’ is rendered ‘Christ Jesus’ or that ‘Christ’ appears independently, or with a definite article (? ???????). Along with Paul's use of 'Son of God' and 'Son of David,' it seems apparent that the full Messianic meaning of the title is being used. The title highlights the fact that Jesus fulfills Jewish prophetic expectations, and also the nature of those expectations – kingship and rescuing. Both of these aspects of the Work of Christ are further developed in Romans – the salvation from sin won on the cross, and the triumph over evil and dominion over the world displayed in the resurrection.


Lord is the most obscure, and the most potent of the titles given to Jesus in Romans. The number of times and variety in which Jesus is referred to as ‘Lord’ (approx. 44) shows that this is a significant concept in Romans. Paul sees this title as so intrinsic in the identity of Jesus, that he regularly uses the title alone as a proper name, referring to Jesus.^[8]^ The title holds different meanings to ‘Christ’, as shown by the number of times that Jesus is referred to as ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’. ^[9]^

The frequent uses of the phrase ‘our Lord’ shows that ‘Lord’ is, at the very least, a description of Jesus’ authority and dominion.^[10]^ The use of ‘our’ shows his exclusive authority over the Church – ‘Christ is our Lord, not Caesar or sin or any other power’. There is also the implication that there are other powers that hold authority over other people – ‘Christ is our Lord, but sin is your lord’. This is an individual authority – Jesus is Lord over the individual Christian. In Romans, part of salvation is accepting Jesus’ personal authority as Lord (Rom 10:9) which implies wilful submission to him. Secondly, Jesus’ Lordship is also not just over individuals who have accepted him, but over the whole world, whether they recognise him or not. This is shown in the fact that he will judge the world (Rom 2:16).

However, Paul’s use of Lord to describe Jesus is also strong evidence for his divinity. ?????? (kurios – Lord) is the standard Greek translation for the Hebrew ???? (YHWH – God’s name), and is used as such in OT quotes in Romans.^ [11]^ When ‘Lord’ is used in a Jewish, or Jewish-aware context, the word often implies ‘God’. In a Roman context, the word also refers to the common claims of authority and semi-divinity made by Roman rulers (?????? ?????? – Caesar is Lord).^[12]^ One of the most powerful uses of this title is Rom 10:9-13. Paul states that salvation requires recognition of Jesus as Lord, and then quotes Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. As in other OT quotes, ‘Lord’ is translating, the original Hebrew ???? (YHWH, God). Paul is clearly linking Jesus and God together. Rom 10:1 shows that Paul is talking about Jews, and Rom 10:13-14 implies that they do not know the one whom they need to call on in order to be saved. Since the Jews knew the name of YHWH, as revealed in the OT, Paul is clearly assuming that there is a name for God that has been revealed, but is not known to the Jews – the name of Jesus.


Jesus’ humanity is not a major theme in Romans, but it is obvious that Paul saw him as fully human. Firstly, as Paul introduces his Gospel in Rom 1:1-6, he describes Jesus as having a ‘human nature’ which is further described as being a biological descendent of David (Rom 1:3). Secondly, in Romans 5:12-19, Paul comparesAdam to Jesus, calling each of them ‘one man’. Here Paul is arguing that Jesus’ death counters the sin of Adam, and the humanity of Jesus is a critical part of his logic. This point is further expounded in Rom 8:3. This passage is contentious because Paul describes Jesus as being ‘in the image of sinful flesh’ (????????? ?????? ????????). The language of ‘image’ has been used to justify Gnostic and docetic readings of Paul, which argue that Jesus was not truly human, but only ’’seemed to be’’. However, this reading conflicts with Rom 1:3 and Rom 5:12-19 as discussed above. It seems that Paul chose the ‘image’ language, not to distance Jesus from full humanity, but to distance him from ’’sinful’’ humanity.^[13]^ Thus, while Jesus was truly human, he was ’’flesh’’ but not ’’sinful flesh’’.


Jesus’ divinity is a much stronger theme in Romans than his humanity. Strong evidence for this is Paul’s use of the title ‘Lord’ (??????), the implications of divinity that the title held for both Jews and Gentiles, and the way that he applied OT texts about God to Jesus (see discussion above). There are other indications that, while not conclusive by themselves, build a picture of Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ divinity.

Finally, the ‘sending’ language that Paul uses shows that Jesus is not a normal human. Since God sent his son to take on the form of flesh (Rom 8:3), this shows that Jesus existed before his human birth. Of course, this is not proof that Jesus is part of the eternal trinity, but it is further evidence that he is more than human.

There are a few circumstances where the Greek grammar is ambiguous, but viable interpretations indicate that Paul is calling Jesus ‘God’. The first is Rom 9:5. Some translators argue that this passage should be rendered “… of Christ. May God who is over all be forever blessed”. However, most modern translators and almost all ancient authors prefer “… Christ who is God over all, forever blessed”. Moo argues that the style supports the second translation, and that it is unlikely that Paul would have added in an independent doxology (“May God who is over all be forever blessed”) that had no connection to the subject of the previous passage (Christ). ^[14]^ Thus the most common translation (“… Christ who is God over all, forever blessed”) is the most likely.

The second text is Rom 1:7. Most modern translations render this passage “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. However, ‘the Father’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ could be written in apposition to ‘God’, making the passage “from God: The Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. This possibility is less likely, but both passages suggest that either Paul saw Jesus as very closely intertwined with God, or he was very careless with his Greek grammar in these passages. Considering the quality and precision of Paul’s Greek in the rest of Romans and his other letters, it is unlikely that he was accidentally ambiguous. Also, considering his history as a persecutor of the Church for blasphemy, and the Jewish background of his audience, it is very unlikely that Paul would have been careless with his language when talking about the identity of God.

Though a number of these points are inconclusive or ambiguous, the bulk of them taken together shows that Paul saw Jesus as being in the very nature of God (Phil 2:6).


The sign of the New Covenant

The Spirit is introduced very early in Romans. Paul’s introduction of his Gospel about Christ states that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by the ‘Spirit of Holiness’ (Rom 1:4). This connection introduces the spirit as in integral part of God’s salvation plan through Jesus, and of how Jesus is presented in Romans. Paul’s second reference to the Spirit comes in reference to Judaism (Rom 2:29). This passage refers to Old Testament prophesies that looked forward to the New Covenant when the people of God would have their hearts circumcised, and the Spirit of God would dwell in them (Deut 10.16; 30.6; Jer 31.34, Ezek 11.19; 36.26-7; 37.1-14). Thus Paul sees the work of the Spirit in Christians as a fulfillment of these prophesies, and a major sign of the New Covenant. Paul is also drawing a contrast between the Spirit and the written Law, saying that true Judaism is from the Spirit, not the Law. Apart from Rom 5:5 (which will be discussed later), the next reference to the Spirit (Rom 7:5-6) continues the contrast between the Law and the Spirit, and introduces two large sections developing those themes; Rom 7:7-25 and Rom 8:1-13. This small passage further develops the idea that the central place that the Law filled in the Old Covenant is being filled by the Spirit in the New Covenant.

Assurance in the New Covenant

Rom 8 again raises the contrast between Spirit and Law, arguing that Christians are no longer part of the old age of sin and death, but the new age of the Spirit. The exact role of the OT law in this passage is disputed,^[15]^ but it is clear that the condemnation of the Old Covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant of the Spirit. While the word ‘Spirit’ occurs very often in Rom 8, the main theme of the passage is ’’Christian assurance’’.^ [16]^. Paul’s discussion of the Spirit is predominantly focused in the Spirit’s role in providing assurance to God’s people. In this chapter, the Spirit is the sign that a person is a follower of God. Those who have the spirit are God’s, and those who do not are not (Rom 8:9). Here the Spirit is described as both the Spirit of Jesus, and of God who raised Jesus from the dead. Hence, if someone possesses the Spirit, they are inhabited by the power that raised Jesus, and are assured of their own resurrection (8:11).

The Spirit is also the means of our adoption as sons of God and co-heirs with Christ, and is constantly assuring us of that fact, and allowing us to call upon God as our Father (8:15-17). This is what Paul is referring to as the ’’first fruits’’ of the Spirit ‘as we wait adoption’ (8:23), implying that the adoption process of is not fully finished. The final ‘stages’ of our adoption will come in the resurrection when God’s children are finally revealed (8:19). As the Spirit gives us the right to call on God as ‘Father’, he also gives us the means and ability through prayer. Even when we do not know what to pray, the indwelling Spirit intercedes for us (8:27).

Power of the New Covenant

Apart from assurance, the Spirit also empowers God’s children. Rom 5:5 describes the affect of the Spirit on the believer whom he inhabits. The spirit is a source of hope and confidence, either (depending on how you read the Greek grammar) convincing us of God’s love for us or filling us with love for God (possibly both). Rom 15:30 shows the Spirit filling us with love for other people as well. In Rom 15:13 the power of the Spirit not only fills us with love, but also joy and peace – echoing the themes introduces in Rom 5:1-5.

Not only does the Spirit empower God’s people to have love, joy and peace, but he also empowers God’s mission of salvation. In Rom 15:18-19, Paul’s describes the Spirit as the power that is behind the signs and miracles, which accompanies his mission of preaching the Gospel. In Rom 15:16, the power of the Holy Spirit is working through the ministry of Paul and others to sanctify Gentiles so that they might be God’s holy people, set apart for him.

Ethics of the New Covenant

Rom 14:17 continues the theme of the New Covenant, with Paul switching to the language of ‘the Kingdom of God’ that is more familiar on the lips of Jesus. Here he shows that righteousness, peace and joy are all part of the new Kingdom, which is identified with the Spirit. The context also links the Spirit-filled New Covenant with ethical behavior, since Paul is using his teaching about the nature of the Kingdom of God to underline his ethical teaching. Rom 8 also shows this. As he teaches of the Spirit’s work in assurance, Paul starts to spell out the ethical implications. As people who are freed from the sinful nature into the Spirit, God’s children are to live according to the Spirit and not the sinful nature (Rom 8:5-8, 12). This anchors the ethical teaching of chapters 12-15 in the indwelling of the Spirit, and the New Covenant. Rom 9:1 shows the Spirit working with Paul’s conscience, hinting at a further empowerment of the Spirit, as he helps us to discern the right way to live in the New Covenant.


  1. ? Favoured by Moo
  2. ? This article has been partially derived from lectures by Dr. Phillip Kern at Moore Theological College, Sydney
  3. ? For example Rom 3:21-26; 5:1, 11- 21; 6:11, 23; 8:1-2
  4. ? Rom 1:3-4, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32
  5. ? Cf. 2 Sam 7:14, Psalm 2:7. See Köstenberger, Andreas J., John. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. 83 ff.
  6. ? Rom 1:3, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32.
  7. ? Moo, Douglas J., The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. 44 ff.
  8. ? Rom 9:28; 10:12; 12:11; 14:4-8
  9. ? Rom 1:7, 13:14; 14:14; 15:6; 15:30
  10. ? Rom 4:24; 5:1, 11, 21, 23; 7:25; 8:39; 15:6; 16:18, 20.
  11. ? Rom 4:8; 9:29; 10:16; 11:3, 34; 12:19; 14:11; 15:11
  12. ? Edwards, Ruth B., Discovering John. London: SPCK, 2003. 71 ff.
  13. ? Moo 479
  14. ? Moo 565 ff.
  15. ? Moo 473-474
  16. ? Moo 468


  • Thomas Schreiner, Romans. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 1998.
  • Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans, 1996.
  • Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1988.
  • Gerald Bray, ed. Romans. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. IVP, 1998.
  • F. F. Bruce, Romans. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. IVP, 2008. (reprint from 1986)
  • Stephen Westerholm, Understanding Paul: The Early Christian Worldview of the Letter to the Romans, 2nd ed. Baker Academic, 2004.

On Chapter 9