Here's a video on Romans 1 that goes along with the notes below:
It is almost universally agreed that Paul wrote Romans from the city of Corinth as he wintered there on his third missionary journey as described in Acts 20.
It’s an extremely important book, and John Chrysostom from the 5th century had this book read to him once every week for many years.
Romans was written anywhere from 54 to 60 AD. Not the first of Paul’s epistles, but it’s always placed first even in manuscripts where the book of James follows Acts. When Pauline letters begin it always starts with Romans and that’s probably because of its length and it is such a comprehensive doctrinal treatise of major Christian theological issues.
The epistle was written to a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles.
It is unknown who founded the church at Rome since Paul had not been there yet, but it could have been founded by some of the foreigners that were converted in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
As for the content of this epistle, Adam Clarke says, “God had rejected the unbelieving Jews, and had substituted in their place a society of believers in Christ, collected indifferently from Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, in an epistle directed to Roman believers, the point to be endeavored after by St. Paul was to reconcile the Jewish converts to the opinion that the Gentiles were admitted by God to a parity of religious situation with themselves, and that without their being obliged to keep the law of Moses.”
Joseph Benson says, “St. Paul’s chief design in this epistle was to show, 1. That neither the Gentiles by the law of nature, nor the Jews by the law of Moses, could obtain justification before God; and that therefore it was necessary for both to seek it from the free mercy of God by faith. 2. That God has an absolute right to show mercy on what terms he pleases; and to withhold it from those who will not accept it on his own terms.”
You can divide the book of Romans several different ways, and these aren’t right or wrong but are helpful to get a good high-level overview of the book:
1-8 How the Gospel saves
9-11 How the Gospel relates to Israel
12-16 How the Gospel affects conduct
Romans 1-4 – Justification
Romans 5-7 – Sanctification
Romans 8 – Glorification
Romans 9-11 – God’s Plan for Israel
Romans 12-16 – God’s Will for the Church
1:1 – Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God
The KJV translates this word δουλος rightfully as servant, which Paul uses over 25 times in his writings. Just like Jesus took on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7) we are, as believers, servants of God.
“called an apostle” – God’s calling and appointment are the source of Paul’s authority.
“apostle” – Lit. “a sent one.”
“separated to” – Not just separated from his past life, but his life given to the gospel. We aren’t just separated from things but separated to God.
“God” – The word “God” appears 153 times in Romans. The main subject of this epistle is God.
1:2 – (which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)
The plan of God in the Gospel was spoken of throughout the Scriptures. This wasn’t a “Plan B” or anything like that. It was ALWAYS God’s intent to establish a new covenant with ALL people and create the church of faith. There are several very clear OT passages that point to this such as Hosea 2:23 which is quoted in Romans 9 making that same point and Romans 10:20 which quotes Isaiah 65.
Starting with this verse 2 through verse 6 is a short parenthetical passage that is fairly common in Paul’s writings.
1:3 – concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh –
“Which was made” means “having come”. This specifically refers to the humanity of Jesus, but also tells us He is more than a man otherwise there would be no need to say He came according to the flesh. Because, obviously, He is eternal in the Spirit.
1:4 – and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
The word for “declared” means “manifest and complete exhibition of the subject as to render it unquestionable.” As Adam Clarke says, “The resurrection of Christ from the dead was such a manifest proof of our Lord's innocence, the truth of his doctrine, and the fulfilment of all that the prophets had spoken, as to leave no doubt on any considerate and candid mind.”
1:5-6 – by whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:
The faith among all nations speaks to the fact that there is ONE faith ONCE delivered (Jude 3) and ONE name under Heaven whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). All people are invited, or called to believe in Jesus Christ.
1:7 – to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This was written to believers, and it’s amazing that the Bible calls us saints which literally means holy-ones. In spite of all our sin, because of the imputation of Christ’s righteous on us, we are called saints by God. The Catholic church’s tradition of designating people they like as saints has no basis in Scripture. If you are a believer you are a saint in God’s eyes.
1:8-9 – First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers
Paul was most thankful for the testimony produced by the lives of these people. “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” – Rome was a center of violence and debauchery, yet these believers were standing strong and their faith was acknowledged by others.
1:10-11 making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established
Read Acts 27 and 28 for the very difficult journey Paul had to eventually come to Rome, but he did make it there. He wanted to give them some spiritual gift, which he explains in the next verse as mutual comfort in the faith that they all share. This is a very important reason for the necessity of believers to gather as often as possible.
1:12-13 – that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. 13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
Even Paul had some frustration it seems with God’s timing. He wanted to go to Rome sooner but God said, “not yet.”
1:14 – I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
Lit. Debtor means he’s “obligated, or bound by duty.” Being a servant of Christ made Paul a servant of all.
1:15-17 - So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
He's very eager to preach the gospel, just as we should be! This is a great verse, and we should remember the power of the gospel.
Adam Clarke says, “To the Jew first — Not only the Jews have the first offer of this Gospel, but they have the greatest need of it; being so deeply fallen, and having sinned against such glorious privileges, they are much more culpable than the Gentiles, who never had the light of a Divine revelation.”
“And also to the Greek — Though the salvation of God has hitherto been apparently confined to the Jewish people, yet it shall be so no longer, for the Gospel of Christ is sent to the Gentiles as well as the Jews; God having put no difference between them; and Jesus Christ having tasted death for EVERY man.”
“The just shall live by faith” is originally from Habakkuk 2:4 and it’s quoted in the NT here, and Galatians 3:11, and in Hebrews 10:38 which, by the way, is an argument for Paul being the author of Hebrews (though I have doubts about that).
Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith. Our Christian life begins with faith, and is sustained with faith, not works (cf. Galatians 3:3 “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”). This is the big theme of this book of Romans, the gospel message, and verse 17 transitions into the body of the message.
1:18 - For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
So now we move into the argument of the need of the whole world for the gospel, because of the universal wickedness of mankind. Because of all of our sin we have earned God’s wrath. We could say that, through wickedness people hinder the truth, or suppress the truth as some Bible versions render it. And that’s absolutely true! People love their sin.
Also note the contrast of the righteousness of God in v. 17 with the wrath of God here in v. 18. The righteousness and wrath are both revealed. They are not learned through intellect, which the next couple verses explain.
1:19-20 - because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.
Guess what? There’s not a person on the planet that needs to be shown proof of God in order to believe in Him. God does not believe in atheists. Nobody will stand before God on the day of judgment and have an excuse. Nobody will say, “Gee I had no idea.” Everyone has knowledge of God and His creation. He has written His law on our hearts and on and on. People don’t need proof of God, they need to humble themselves and acknowledge Him as Lord.
1:21-22 - because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools
Though God has made Himself known, people still reject Him. Verse 22 is perfectly descriptive of all non-Christian philosophy. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. 20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain (1 Cor. 3:19-20).
The seemingly most brilliant wisdom and philosophy in the world is nothing if it doesn’t put Christ first.
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Like 2 Peter 3 says, people are willingly ignorant in order to suppress truth and reject God.
1:23 - and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
This describes all false religions (golden calf), but seems to me today that this is especially descriptive of the evolution religion that worships nature and vain imaginations of what nature can do on its own.
On the next few verses G. Campbell Morgan says, “The apostle then declared the fact of Gentile judgment. Its principle is evident in the threefold expression, ‘God gave them up’. He gave them up in order that their bodies should be dishonored. This issued in the degradation of their spirit, which, acting under the influence of deified physical powers, became the force of vile passions, which, in turn, reacted on the body in all manner of unseemliness. Thus again the issue was a reprobate mind, a mind that had lost its true balance and perspective, and was characterized by all the evil things which the apostle names. The Wrath of God is thus evidenced in the corruption following the sin of refusing to act on the measure of light received.”
1:24-27 - Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 6 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
So what is described in the previous verses leading up to this? Unrighteousness, suppression of truth, not giving God the glory, vanity and foolishness, idolatry, which all describe rejection of God. WHEREFORE – verse 24 starts out – God “gave them up”. “Gave them up” is mentioned twice in these verses then in verse 28 it says “gave them over”. So because of mankind’s rejection of truth, God allowed them to pursue their desires which is most clearly seen in homosexuality which is such a vile thing that shows the depth of wickedness that people are capable of.
Albert Barnes says, “The sin which is here specified is what was the shameful sin of Sodom, and which from that has been called sodomy. It would scarcely be credible that man had been guilty of a crime so base and so degrading, unless there was ample and full testimony to it. Perhaps there is no sin which so deeply shows the depravity of man as this; none which would so much induce one ‘to hang his head, and blush to think himself a man.’”
Note that verse 27 says they received in themselves that recompense of their error. Homosexuality, that desire and action, is the punishment. Obviously there’s eternal punishment, but you look at the high suicide rate, the abuse, the disease and other problems that this gross unnatural lifestyle produces and the punishment is pretty clear.
Homosexuals (men) ave. age of death – 41, only 1% reach age 65, 3% reach 55, 3 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 14 times more likely to get syphilis, 23 times more likely to get venereal disease, 1000 times more likely to get AIDS, 50 times more likely to get murdered, 60 times more likely to commit suicide.
Also see Leviticus 18:22 and note that God’s view of this has never changed, it is always something abhorrent to Him.
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
A reprobate mind would be a debased mind, a depraved mind, a mind that God had rejected.
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
So there’s a clear link and causation between all these things listed here and homosexuality listed above. There’s no break.
However, all these things listed here are sins that we all are susceptible to. We aren’t immune from such temptation.
We should call out and expose sin, but also stay close to God in prayer and worship to avoid hypocrisy.
All this evil that exists, and the judgment of God against it, is the major theme in this book for our need for the gospel. We need faith in Jesus Christ, and we need to live in that faith!