Romans, Paul’s Doctoral Thesis

I’ve reached the book of Romans in this year’s journey through the Bible. When you start the trip at the very beginning rather than make a lot of small side trips here and there, which is not to say there is something wrong with that, you inevitably pick up a larger picture, you gain a greater sense of the full structure of the vast history of what God has done in and with creation and mankind. You recall the old story of three blind men touching an elephant in different places, an animal they had never previously encountered and then trying to explain what the animal looked like. Without knowing how God has dealt with mankind, and inversely, how mankind has dealt with God since the beginning, it is most difficult, to say the least, what He is trying to accomplish among us. So the symmetry of the layout of the 66 book of the Bible is a beautiful thing and I love how Romans pick up right after the Book of Acts which ends with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, still given much freedom but under house arrest. Then his letter to the Romans begins even though it was written some years before when he expressed his desire to someday visit them and impart some spiritual gift. (1:11)

In my opinion (and in my meager reading) the greatest book to come out of Christendom is John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion. First published as a small tract in 1536 it grew to a fully developed treatise of Christian thought and Theology in its successive publications. Reading the Ford Lewis Battels’ edition (see my Resources page for a link) is an awesome experience in the study of Scripture and how Calvin’s insight of the Word is so remarkable in the sixteenth century. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but almost.

But Paul’s letter to the Romans is the penultimate Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is quite fitting that this letter begins the Epistles section of the New Testament, and to come immediately after the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. This dissertation of the theology of Christianity, foundation, in all it nuance, how faith works, and the works it performs, is the cornerstone of Christianity itself. From this letter all the other Epistles in the New Testament gain a foothold in the mission Jesus gave His disciples before ascending into Heaven:

“These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:45 – 49

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18 – 20

In this letter Paul pours all the great learning amassed in his Hebrew days and those days after the road of Damascus when he went away for fourteen years, no doubt to study the Scriptures in minute detail to see how they all applied to Jesus Christ.

So Romans is a catechism on steroids, it is the primer for the new Christian. It is a textbook for the advanced studies student. It is brilliant! It is one of the best books to learn by outlining. If you want to know what Paul meant in the verses around 7:13 – 7:21 if he was talking about the before salvation person or that after born again person, outline the book and it will be obvious. That’s just one of my favorite examples.

Romans should be a letter all Christians should read often and cherish. It is the book Martin Luther read that captured his spirit, salvation by faith alone. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Read it and learn the real purpose of the Law. Read about one big beautiful promise because of which people from all nations of the earth could be blessed through Abraham, not just Israel. Also read and wonder about God’s own choice like the potter making the jars to keep and discard if you have ears to hear. This is an awesome book.

While I recuperate from surgery I’ll try to post some thoughts on topics from Romans that strike me as important to the church and the world.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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