Chapter 1 (The Book of Romans: A Universal Gospel)

Chapter 1:What Is Romans About?

What is the main point of the book of Romans? Have you spent much time thinking about that question? Have you read the book with that focus in mind? Do you even think it of much importance at all to do so? If you answer “no” to the last question, then you can probably safely put away this book right now, for that is the main inquiry of this study. We want to know what the main focus and argument of the book of Romans is.

There are a lot of commentaries on the book of Romans that you can read if you want, and some are very good. This book is not a commentary on the epistle to the Romans in the sense of a verse by verse study of all the content of the book. You will have to look elsewhere for that. Of course, there will be considerable overlap in what I am doing here and what you will find in a traditional commentary. I will naturally take some time to consider various particular verses and sections of the book in the way a commentary does. And, on the other hand, a traditional commentary will also often spend time looking at the book as a whole before delving into its verse by verse study.

However, we are going to be spending much more of our time focused on working through and developing the overall picture of the book as a whole. Our studies of particular parts will primarily come into the picture so far as those parts play an important role in developing our understanding of the whole or as they demonstrate how a grasp of the whole can help us understand individual parts.

There is a back and forth relationship between the whole and the parts that should be appreciated by the student of any literature, and especially of the sacred literature of God’s word. And within that sacred body, it would probably be fair to say that such a theologically significant book as Romans will demonstrate that important interplay between part and whole to an even greater extent than average.

If you have never thought much about any of the individual parts of the book of Romans (unlikely if you are reading this book, I hope), then you will have difficulty trying to form an overarching view of the whole of the book. Any view of the whole presupposes some measure of awareness of the parts. But on the other hand, an understanding of the parts cannot be very fully reached without placing those parts into their proper role within the whole picture of which each part forms but one section. It is very important to understand this second element of the interpretation process.

Today, we tend as a rule to specialize and focus more and more narrowly on some expertise or other. This is true of the fields of medicine, law, science, and many other professions. The field of Biblical studies is also characterized by this tendency oftentimes. This specialization and particularization can help us, but if it overshadows the much needed ability to step back and see the view of the whole picture, then we will become rather one-sided and will suffer in our understanding of God’s word, which will always lead also to suffering in practice and life.

So then, it seems to me that the need in our time is more to be found in the skill of seeing the whole, of putting the parts together into one picture. This can be harder to do for it requires an awareness of all the parts and then the ability to bring them all together into one unified whole. This constructive work is a step beyond looking at isolated parts, but it is so very important. Scientific theories are much more difficult to construct than isolated individual rules, but they are very important for the overall advancement of science. It is very similar in Biblical interpretation.

So far as this book is concerned, then, such will be the focus. My task will be to help the reader see the main point of the book of Romans as it is developed from the first to the last chapter of this great epistle. I hope that after you finish this study, you will be able to look upon the book of Romans as one single whole with one central message and be able to place any single part into its proper context in that whole.

We will not make any attempt at being exhaustive in laying forth the treasures of this book. Nobody has or will be exhaustive, and our study will necessarily pass over some wonderful points that simply don’t fall into our focus at the present. Nonetheless, I will take time to stop and look in some more detail at a few passages throughout the book that I think have a special part to play in the development of our view of the whole. Even these passages, though, will not be treated so as to try to bring out every point of truth that they contain, but rather to grasp the basic points of those passages and place them in the context of the flow of the book as a whole.

So that is what I aim to do and what I invite the reader to explore with me. What is the main point of the book of Romans? How does Paul develop that main point from beginning to end? How does each passage and section of the book fit into that whole picture? Does the book even have such a single and unifying purpose? I certainly think it does, and I hope that the reader will be able to see it also by the time we are done. And I hope that it will enrich his experience and understanding of God’s most precious and holy word, for these are words of life to our souls, as I hope the reader also knows and feels within.

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