Due to centuries of non-Jewish domination and interpretation of the book of Romans (and the entire "New Testament") modern readers do not have a proper understanding of the situation with the Roman congregation, along with Paul's concerns. People incorrectly view Paul as someone that taught something other than Judaism and the Torah - often calling him the "founder of Christianity." In reality, Paul was a Torah-observant rabbi and Pharisee, who diligently worked to bring gentiles into the faith of Israel in the way prescribed by the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), and his (correct) understanding of the Shema and Torah.
THE CONGREGATION AT ROME
The congregation at Rome, unlike the others read about in the "New Testament," was not founded by Paul or one of the other apostles. The Roman assembly developed following the events of Acts, chapter 2. At that time, Jews from around the empire came to Jerusalem for Shavuot. Many had the "tongues of fire" descend upon them. Contrary to certain opinions, this was not a unique event, nor the start of some new religion. Rather, this was a sign from God further confirming the validity of the Messiahship of Yeshua and a continuation of the Sinai covenant and faith of Israel. This will be discussed in the textual analysis of Romans.
Among the Jews receiving the Ruach haKodesh (Holy Spirit) in Acts 2 were some from the city of Rome, who then returned home to begin a congregation and "spread the faith." As discussed in the background articles to this study, this new group existed within the framework of the synagogue system in Rome. This was true of all congregations in the empire until the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, after which a definite split began to occur between Jews who believed in Yeshua, and those who did not. Paul's letter to "the Romans," is addressed to such a synagogue-based "sub-community," that believed Yeshua was the Messiah.
With Rome being far from Jerusalem, and the center of the pagan Roman empire, there was an early influx of gentiles into this congregation. As mentioned, the Roman congregation lacked the apostolic foundation of the others. If we examine the pattern seen in the "New Testament," Paul always followed the same pattern for establishing all new congregations. He began with the restoration of Israel in each location first, by preaching to the Jews in the synagogue. Only after doing this, would the message be extended to the gentiles.
His pattern was always, "to the Jew first" (Romans 1:16).
This had not happened in Rome however. As we will see, Paul in his letter, planned to implement this pattern upon his arrival. This is why we see him telling the believers there that he is coming to bring them the gospel so that they will be properly established (Romans 1:11-15). Although the Roman congregation had some truth about Messiah, certain incorrect teachings and practices were creeping in, due to the lack of this authoritative foundation.
THE INTENDED AUDIENCE
Paul's letter was no doubt read aloud to the congregation. It would seem that the leadership of this group may have been mostly in the hands of Jewish believers (or established gentile converts to Judaism that had then accepted Yeshua as Messiah).
The body of congregants however, was no doubt a "mixed bag," including:
If this weren't complex enough, it is important to remember that this group was meeting within the framework of the synagogue system, therefore they were in regular contact and discussion with non-believing Jews. This point is overlooked in almost all studies, yet is critical to understanding where Paul is coming from.
Whether they met on the Sabbath in the synagogue(s) along with these non-believing Jews, or privately in homes, this was all done under the authority of the Synagogue. As mentioned in the background material to this study, there were no "new religions" formed, as this was not allowed by Rome. Only the Jews had the right to assemble and worship their own God. Historically, all Roman writers of the time referred to this "Yeshua movement" as a sub-group within Judaism (as does the "New Testament.")
Therefore, although the letter was to be shared by the entire congregation (and all could learn from it), a key to comprehending Romans is to understand who the intended audience is. As we will see, much of the letter of Romans is written by Paul to address gentile believers who do not understand their role in the faith of Israel, or God's eternal salvation plan for the world.
THE PURPOSE OF THE LETTER
Paul is writing primarily to establish proper behavior for the gentiles coming into the faith of Israel. As mentioned, many of these gentiles were coming into their Messianic faith directly from a pagan background, which (as shown in the background material) had little regard, if not even contempt, for anything "Jewish."
The greater purpose of Paul's letter to the Romans was to explain (to the gentiles in the congregation):
Broken down into greater detail, we will see that Paul's message to the gentiles includes understanding:
Furthermore, Paul teaches that the "Yes" response of believing Israel AND the "No" response of non-believing Israel, both precede the "Yes" of those grafted in. The believing "root" and the grafted in "branches," must now recognize their responsibility to those of Israel who initially said "No."
THE SHEMA - FOUNDATION TO PAUL'S TEACHING
A key to discerning Paul's teachings, is his own understanding of the "Shema:"
Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
The first verse of the Shema comes from Deuteronomy 6:4. The second verse comes from Oral Torah, that accounts these as words spoken by Jacob to his sons, shortly before his death. "Hear O Israel," corresponds to "Hear O Jacob," words spoken to Jacob by his sons, to reassure him that God's kingdom would indeed come one day and his decendents were to play an important role.
The Shema is sung/said as a prayer anticipating the establishment of the Kingdom of God. The essential theme to the Shema is that of harmony and unification. It is a time when the Name of God will be one, God and creation are brought back together, the lost tribes (Ephraim) are reunited to Judah, righteous gentiles come together with faithful Israel into the faith of Israel, and the Messiah (bridegroom) and the Shekinah (bride) are joined together.
(These concepts will be developed throughout this study. A more detailed discussion will be presented in our Revelation study.)
Paul is teaching the election of Israel, along with the inclusion of gentiles into the faith of Israel, as "God is One" (i.e., the Shema). The basis of his teaching is that Jews and gentiles will honor God together as one "body" or "building." For the gentiles this is to be done through obedience to a specific teaching (the obedience of faith, mentioned at the beginning of the letter).
THE SHEMA IN EPHESIANS CHAPTER 2:
Paul gives a similar message to gentile followers of Yeshua in another one of his letters, where he pictures them as being equal to Jewish believers. Paul considers them both to be the "building materials" of a spiritual Holy Temple. (Comments are interjected within the chapter text):
PAUL'S DIFFICULT TASK
The problem Paul is facing in writing the Romans letter, is that he has to balance the teaching of the gentile's obedience of faith while maintaining the truth of their equal standing through faith alone. (i.e., Gentiles do not have to become Jews to be saved, because, "God is One," yet as new (gentile) members of the faith of Israel, they do have a relationship with God's Torah that they did not have before.)
As mentioned in the background material to this study there are heresies on "both sides of the aisle," for Paul to combat. The early problem was that some Jews were teaching that gentiles had to take on all the Torah first (become Jews) before being considered as true believers. Later, certain gentiles were entertaining the idea that they had no need for the Torah (or anything "Jewish.") This latter falsehood is the one Paul faces in Rome.
Paul's desire in Romans is that the faithfulness of God to Israel would be followed by mercy of God to the gentiles. He knows that great numbers of gentiles coming to faith in the God of Israel would be proof to those Jews still "stumbling" over Yeshua, of the validity of His Messiahship (and of Paul's ministry!) The unbelieving Jews would then see that faith in Yeshua establishes Torah (Romans 3:31) and does not conflict with it. Paul hopes that by this process, all Israel would be saved.
If we were to outline Paul's view of salvation history (past and future), it would look like this:
RETURN TO THE ROMANS INDEX