The letter to the Romans
Who is the Author?
The scholarly consensus is that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans. Even a sceptical scholar like Bart Ehrman states:
“Finally, there are seven letters that virtually all scholars agree were written by Paul himself: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. These ‘undisputed’ epistles are similar in terms of writing style, vocabulary, and theology. In addition, the issues that they address can plausibly be situated in the early Christian movement of the 40s and 50s of the Common Era, when Paul was active as an apostle and missionary.”Bart Ehrman (2000, 2nd ed)
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.] we will address Paul’s other letters elsewhere, but critics such as this are unanimous on the book of Romans.
C. E. B. Cranfield, in the introduction to his commentary on Romans, says: “
“The denial of Paul’s authorship of Romans by such critics … is now rightly relegated to a place among the curiosities of NT scholarship. Today no responsible criticism disputes its Pauline origin. The evidence of its use in the Apostolic Fathers is clear, and before the end of the second century it is listed and cited as Paul’s. Every extant early list of NT books includes it among his letters. The external evidence of authenticity could indeed hardly be stronger; and it is altogether borne out by the internal evidence, linguistic, stylistic, literary, historical and theological”.Cranfield, C. E. B. The Epistle to the Romans 1–8 (Vol. 1), International Critical Commentary Series. King’s Lynn: T&T Clark Ltd, 2004, pp. 1–2
There is some significant internal evidence for Paul being the author of his letter to the Romans. In letters, unlike biographies, naming who the letter came from was a bit different. Greco-roman biographies such as Plutarch didn’t attribute his name to his biographies, however, when Pliny wrote to the emperor on what to do with the Christians he addressed from whom it came and it was clear whom it was to by name.
With all this said, the biggest giveaway is Paul, in his letter scholars are unanimous on puts his name and positioning within the Christian world in the introduction of the letter!
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ”.Romans 1:1–7
So we say Paul wrote Romans right? Well not strictly, wording is important here. See this passage
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
21 Timothy, my co-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my fellow Jews.
22 I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.
Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.Romans 16:20–24
Who is Tertius? Well it’s no big secret, he’s Paul’s scribe and he’s saying hello! We know in first century culture to orally transmit your words to a scribe was common practice, that’s how they distributed multiple letters of Paul and the gospels. So this could very well reveal the practice of Paul, especially when he wrote this letter, but perhaps more of his letters.
Manuscript evidence for Paul’s authorship
Papyrus 10 is a single leaf of text preserved of Romans 1:1-7 with only part of verse six missing. This is found all the way down in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt and is widely accepted as a copy, far from the original which was written by a scribe (perhaps a bit weak on the old knowledge of Greek). It was discovered by Grenfell & Hunt, the famous archaeologists. It’s size is 25.1 x 19.9cm and it is stored at the Houghton Library and of the Alexandrian text-type tradition. This is dated after the turn of the 3rd century (Sometime not far from 300AD) and is an important manuscript evidence, almost a bonus as it’s incredibly unlikely anything survives. This further attests to the authorship of Paul, bearing his name in verse 1.
Muratorian fragment (170 AD)
This document dating to the late second century gives us Paul’s stamp of the letters he has written according to early church tradition
“As for the Epistles of (40-1) Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent. (42) First of all, to the Corinthians, prohibiting their heretical schisms; (43) next, to the Galatians, against circumcision; (44-6) then to the Romans he wrote at length, explaining the order (or, plan) of the Scriptures, and also that Christ is their principle (or, main theme). It is necessary (47) for us to discuss these one by one, since the blessed (48) apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor (49-50)”
Tertullian of Carthage 220AD
Around a similar time Tertullian writes on the book of Romans, he makes reference to Paul’s mentioning in verse one of Paul being called to be an “Apostle for Christ”
“…so that, rebuked, and terrified, and already wounded with mourning, he therefore-the moderate nature of his fault permitting it-subsequently received pardon, than that you should interpret that (pardon as granted) to an incestuous fornicator? For this you had been bound to read, even if not in an Epistle, yet impressed upon the very character of the apostle, by (his) modesty more clearly than by the instrumentality of a pen: not to steep, to wit, Paul, the “apostle of Christ”Tertullian, church leader
Here church fathers make reference to Paul passing on commands or writing letters. It is an additional factor for all Paul’s epistles that he was known as someone who wrote, taught truth and passed on commands, given an authority the first disciples did not possess. See two references below to this.
Ignatius wrote to the Romans ca. 105-107 AD: “I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, but I am the very least [of believers]: they were free,”
Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians ca. 115 AD: “For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter,”
Audience, Location & purpose
During the winter of 57–58 A.D., Paul was in the Greek city of Corinth. From Corinth, he wrote the longest single letter in the New Testament, which he addressed to “God’s beloved in Rome” (1:7). Like most New Testament letters, this letter is known by the name of the recipients, the Romans. Paul’s letters tended to be written in response to specific crises, but Romans is remarkably devoid of this kind of specificity, addressing broad questions of theology rather than specific questions of contemporary practice. Whereas other Pauline letters—2 Corinthians, for instance—are full of impassioned rhetoric and personal pleas, Romans is written in a solemn and restrained tone. Scholars see Romans as a summary of Paul’s thought, composed as his career moved toward its conclusion. But it is also true that, as opposed to the Corinthian church, the Roman church was not founded by Paul himself. At the time when he wrote Romans, Paul had never visited Rome, although Chapter 16 of Romans does indicate that he had acquaintances there. Writing to a community largely composed of strangers, then, Paul may have felt compelled to use the restrained and magisterial declarations of Roman style, rather than the impassioned pleas and parental sternness that permeate his letters to the churches at Corinth.
23 But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. 24 I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey. 25 But before I come, I must go to Jerusalem to take a gift to the believers there. 26 For you see, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. 27 They were glad to do this because they feel they owe a real debt to them. Since the Gentiles received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem, they feel the least they can do in return is to help them financially. 28 As soon as I have delivered this money and completed this good deed of theirs, I will come to see you on my way to Spain.Romans 15:23-28
Romans 15:23-28 shows us when Paul wrote the book. He had collected a gift from the Christians of Achaia and Macedonia, and he was taking it to Jerusalem. Acts chapters 20 and 21 have an account of that journey. In addition, Romans 16:1-2 shows that a woman called Phoebe from Cenchreae probably took the letter to Rome. Phoebe was a deacon of the church in Cenchreae, a port to the east of Corinth (Acts 18:18), and would have been able to convey the letter to Rome after passing through Corinth and taking a ship from Corinth’s west port.[ Paul probably wrote the letter during the three months when he stayed at Corinth in Greece at the house of Gaius, and transcribed by Tertius, his amanuensis (scribe essentially) (Acts 20:2-3; 1 Corinthians 16:6).
This was probably in the year 57 or 58 AD. Just a few weeks earlier, Paul wrote the Book of 2 Corinthians to prepare Corinth’s church for his return there. About a year previously, Paul had written the Book of 1 Corinthians. So, in a period of only about 12 months, Paul wrote three of his most important books. He also worked extremely hard during this period to declare God’s message in the regions then called Asia, Macedonia and Achaia.
Additionally, Erastus, mentioned in Romans 16:23, also lived in Corinth, being the city’s commissioner for public works and city treasurer at various times, again indicates that the letter was written in Corinth.
If 2 Peter is written in the first century (though sceptical scholars have been known to attribute it to someone in the second century) this passage would bear the mark that Peter endorses Paul writing letters also
:“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”2 Peter 3:15-17
The precise time at which it was written is not mentioned in the epistle, but it was obviously written when the collection for Jerusalem had been assembled and Paul was about to “go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints”, that is, at the close of his second visit to Greece, during the winter preceding his last visit to that city. [Rom 15:25; cf. Acts 19:21; Acts 20:2–3, 20:16; 1 Cor 16:1–4] The majority of scholars writing on Romans propose the letter was written in late 55/early 56 or late 56/early 57.[Early 55 and early 58 both have some support, while German New Testament sceptical scholar Gerd Lüdemann argues for a date as early as 51/52 (or 54/55), following on from Knox, who proposed 53/54. Though, Lüdemann is the only serious challenge to the consensus of mid to late 50s.
What was the acceptance rate of Romans as canonical? Ignatius and Polycarp use Acts very early on but heretics like Marcion want nothing to do with it (Valentinus was willing however. Generally there is a strong church acknowledgement of the book of Romans unquestionably from the church fathers and absolutely no doubt in modern scholars minds.
See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)
It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
- Ig = Ignatius
- Po = Polycarp
- M = Marcion
- Va = Valentinus
- JM = Justin Martyr
- IR = Irenaeus
- C = Clement of Alexandria
- T = Tertullian
- MC = Muratorian Canon
- O = Origen
- E = Eusebius
- CS = Codex Sinaiticus
- A = Athanasius
- D = Didymus the Blind
- P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
- V = Latin vulgate
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml
Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.2 Peter 1:16
2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrectionActs 1:21-22
One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)John 19:34-35
“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.Acts 2:32
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!Acts 3:15
We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”Acts 5:32
“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”Acts 10:39-43
[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.Romans 9:1
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.1 Corinthians 15:3-9
And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:1 Peter 5:1
Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name.
“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.Caius, Church leader
How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected.
So these summarised standards are these:
- Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
- Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
- Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
- Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
- Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?
Paul was called to be an Apostle in Christ (Romans 1:1-7) and we know in the lead disciples added nothing to what he was teaching, they affirm Paul as correct (1 Corinthians 15:3-7 & Galatians 1:17 – 2:6). Peter affirms Paul’s writing also (2 Peter 3:15-17). Paul can be well established as an apostolic witness and author. Church fathers have accepted him and used him since within the first century and without silence onwards.
Again this is where Galatians (1:17 – 2:6) and what is said here comes into play. The Apostles Peter and James added nothing to his teaching so they certainly saw his teaching as orthodox. Romans falls in line with Gospel teaching and runs as a summary and clarity on Christian teaching and whole testament teaching.
As expressed in the lists on the church fathers, there is unanimous agreement outside of the sceptics generally that Romans is widely agreed upon. In Eusebius’ acceptance rates, Romans was never in doubt.
Paul, writing in Romans very much is providing clarity to a place he has not been to, so instead, he packages the Christian theology into one detailed letter. What Paul is writing would be relevant to any church covering core Christian theology and doctrine.
Paul would be considered Inspired with the openings of his ministry in Acts 9 when he was converted. There he is called to the gentile nations as he opens with in many of his letters. He claims to be sent by God as an Apostle with the mandate also of the Apostles (Galatians 1:17 – 2:6; 2 Peter 3:15-17) and is considered by the church Canonical, with it being in all the Christian lists of New Testament books. They could additionally as with all New Testament books recognise the ring of truth within that shows the readers of the text that it is inspired.