Category Archives: Background to Romans

Background to Romans

Just to clarify all my posts from this weekend…

I took a class called “Background to Romans” at my seminary on Friday and Saturday (May 5th and 6t). It was an awesome experience and I was enlightened to many of the historical realities of 1st century Christians living in the Romans Empire.

All of the previous posts on this subject of the “Background to Romans” are attributed to Dr. Bruce Lowe. He has done his doctoral work on the Background to Romans and offered to teach a 1 hour course on the topic in order for the seminary student to get to know him and vice versa.

It was all very good and the material was excellent. I will probably go back and clean up or clarify some of my notes as time permits. But I hope that some of this information was insightful and informative.

Enjoy the reading if you haven’t looked through my past entries on this topic.

In Christ and In Defense of the Faith,

Tips for Teaching/Preaching Romans

1 ) Reminder

The hardest part about preaching (/teaching)…

The first 50 years!

Time spent in Preperation… A good rule of thumb

One hour preparation per minute spent in preaching/teaching

The first thing to be done in Preaching…

Understand the passage (as well as you can)

The end of the first step…

Develop the “big idea”

The very end of the first step…

Develop points arising from your “big idea”

A great way to structure things…

Explanation, Illustration, Application

2 ) Seek help

a. Criticism before you preach!!
Ongoing criticism – always be open to improve

3 ) 10 Confessions of a Reformed Bore

a. “The more I say, the less people remember.”
“I don’t stick to the big idea.”
“I think big words are impressive.”
“I fail to use succinct sentences.”
“I forget that people love to hear about people.”
“I confess I worry that my sermon notes will be marked by my old English teacher.”
“I confess I can’t be bothered repeating myself.”
“My stories are dull because they are told in the past tense.”
“I forget to illustrate the obvious.”
“I keep putting the cart before the horse.” In other words, “Say what you are going to say, then say it, then

4 ) Application to Romans

1. In so far as the background to Romans helps you to understand Romans better, Praise God!…

2. But don’t forget that there are other ‘tools’ available…

3. Don’t forget the rules above…

Roman Attitudes to Jews

Almost all of the Roman views were negative…

1 ) The Sabbath – taking one day off ever seven days was considered lazy

2 ) Circumcision – Having a long foreskin was deemed glorious

3 ) Food Laws – [See quotes below]

4 ) Serperate – They always banded together and didn’t integrate well into the culture unless they didn’t want to be part of their own people

General Information/Evidence

…if is logical that what the sea brings forth should be wholesome and well-perfected, since the sea sends us air that is healthful because of its lightness and purity. ‘You are right,’ said Lamprias, ‘but let us add a little to our speculations. My grandfather used to say on every occasion, in derision of the Jews, that what they abstained from was precisely the most legitimate meat.’ (Plutarch, Mor. 669)

“The Jews apparently abominate pork because barbarians especially abhor skin diseases like lepra’ (Plutarch, Mor. 670)

“I believe the feast of the Sabbath is not completely unrelated to Dyionysus” (671)

“Some who have had a father who reveres the Sabbath, worship nothing but the clouds, and the divinity of the heavens, and see no difference between eating swine’s flesh, from which their father abstained and that of man; and in time they take to circumcision. Having been wont to flout the laws of Rome, they learn and practice and revere the Jewish law, and all that Moses handed down in his secret tome, forbidding to point the way to any not worshipping the same rite!” (Juvenal)

“Along with other superstitions of the civil theology Seneca also censures the sacred institution of the Jews, especially the Sabbath. He declares that their practice is inexpedient, because by introducing one day of rest in every seven they lose in idleness almost a seventh of their life, and by failing to act in times of urgency they often suffer loss.” (Juvenal)

“You know what a big crowd it is, how they stick together, how influential they are in informal assemblies… But to resist this barbaric superstition was an act of firmness, to defy the crowd of Jews, when sometimes in our assemblies they were hot with passion, for the welfare of the state was an act of the greatest seriousness… [Israel is a state] so given to suspicion and calumny!… Jews and Syrians, themselves peoples born to be slaves. (Cicero)

“They sit apart at meals and they sleep apart, and although as a race, they are prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; yet among themselves nothing is unlawful!” (Tacitus)

“For Liber established festive rites for a joyous nature, while the ways of the Jews are preposterous and mean” (Tacitus)

Issues in Paul’s letter to the Romans…

Romans 1,3,11

Romans 1:14-16 – “14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

Romans 3:27-31 – “27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what law? On that of works? No, but on the law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”

Romans 11:13,17-20 – “13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry… 17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.“ 20 [&]… they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.”

What’s the application?

1 ) Cultural bias can be the underlying reason for spiritually justified racism.

2 ) Remembering God’s overarching plan – is a useful humbler.

3 ) When our denomination triumphs over another, don’t get proud!

The Etiquette of Boasting

Pliny the younger (61-112 A.D.)
Plutarch (50-120 A.D.)

10 different ways to praise oneself inoffensively…

1 ) Defending your good name or answering a charge

2 ) Unfortunate

3 ) Contrast

4 ) Blending the praises of his audience with his own

5 ) Praise another

6 ) Amending the praise

7) Throw in certain minor shortcomings, failures, or faults

8 ) Exhort, his hearers and inspire them with emulation and ambition

9 ) To overawe and restrain the hearer and to humble and subdue the headstrong and rash

10 ) Important issues are at stake, it is no disservice to counteract it, or rather to divert the hearer’s purpose to a better course by pointing out the difference… Such praise is the best shown for what it is when true praise is set beside it…

Some examples:

2 Cor. 11:19-24 – “21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! What anyone else dares to boast about-– I am speaking as a fool– I also dare to boast about.”

Paul is using the 10th reason because he simply has to help the Corinthians understand what is at stake and to steer them away from them.

2 Cor. 10:8,12-14,17,18 – “13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. 14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ.”

Paul is talking about the Super Apostles and point out that they cannot come into a church that Paul, himself, has been assigned to. Who are they?

2 Cor. 1:12-15 – “Now this is our boast:: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace. 13 For we do not write to you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul is showing them that there is a higher purpose in his boasting for the Corinthian’s sake. Paul wants them to realize that when the Super Apostles come around and start boasting, the Corinthians will have as much or more to boast about Paul in order that the Christians inCorinth will not be lead away into heresy.

Boasting in Romans…

Romans 2:17,22-24 – “23 You who boast about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.””

Romans 3:27-31 – “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what law? On that of works? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”

Romans 5:1-4 – “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, LET US HAVE peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And LET US rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but LET US boast in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not shame us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

For Romans 5, Paul is encouraging us to boast in each other to push one another one to glory and hope and continued obedience.

What are the implications?

1) Confidence in God’s people – it is something leaders should inspire

a. The church is the pennacle and center of God’s creation

2) Godly leaders should put themselves on the line for the sake of others

3) Christians should boast in the Lord.

a. Relational reciprocity – we honor Christ in the eyes of others when we share the Gospel and tell others about our Jesus and what He has done for us

4) Boasting over other groups of people is not on!

a. The words “arrogant” and “Christian” don’t go together

The Argument of Romans 1-5

Put the story line in order

1) Yet some say this is just political!

2) With pressure mounting globally, this is not an issue that is likely to go away

3) Perhaps Al Gore being involved doesn’t help!

4) Does CO2 cause global warming?

5) Ice core sampling seems to say that it is

6) When all is said however, one thing is clear:

7) The subject before us today is a serious one:

In order

7) The subject before us today is a serious one:

4) Does CO2 cause global warming?

5) Ice core sampling seems to say that it is

1) Yet some say this is just political!

3) Perhaps Al Gore being involved doesn’t help!

6) When all is said however, one thing is clear:

2) With pressure mounting globally, this is not an issue that is likely to go away


1) Introduction

2) Proof

3) Refutation

4) Conclusion

a. Summary

b. Indignation

c. Appeal

d. (+ Example from the past)

Introduction and Proof

The gospel is more honorable, how so?

It brings in God’s righteousness here & now

  1. salvation to every believer, and
  2. wrath to every unbeliever.

PROOF#1: as it is written, “He who from faith is righteous shall live.” (Rom 1:17)

PROOF#2: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. (Rom 1:18ff)

One way to proof is to quote an “authoritative” document. Paul does this in Romans 1:17. The second proof though is the other side of verse 17. The wrath! The wrath of God is being revealed NOW. That’s the other reason the Gospel is righteous and honorable.

Thus, that is Paul’s proof that his position is correct. Next we would expect Paul to refute his opponent’s argument.


  • Imitating a debate with an opponent. Why? Because it fits the Rhetorical structure noted above for the next step of “refutation.”
  • The gospel is more honorable, how so? It honors God by bringing his righteousness, (OPPOSITE). Paul shows that his opponent’s position fails to bring the righteousness of God that has been promised. Paul’s position does bring it to the here and now.
  • (3:1-20 – answering the opponents complaints)

The two parts that are expected in a refutation are found in Romans 2 and Romans 3. Showing that your position is better than your opponents and then answering their objections


Romans 3:21-5:21.

This is Paul’s conclusion:

Romans 3:21-26: the Summary
Romans 3:27-31: the Indignation

Romans 5:1-11: the Appeal

Romans 4:1-25 & 5:12-21: the Examples from the Past

Interesting to note that the Appeal is found between the two examples.

Also, Romans 5:1 should be translated “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, LET US HAVE peace with God.” This fits perfectly with the rhetorical argumentation because he is APPEALING to his audience at this point in Romans 1-5.

Some things to learn:

1) Paul’s argument in Romans 2 is driven by the Jew’s own emphasis.

2) There is a Biblical basis for us to produce well structured talks.

3) Christians need the gospel afresh, and to be urged afresh towards it!

4) Paul’s argument here is very legal.

Romans 7

Who is the “I” in Romans 7?

Many say that Paul is talking about a Christian? Others conclude that a non-Christian must be in view. But Both views doing seem to mesh with the other claims about what a Christian or a non-Christian can do or cannot do.



A bolder form of figure, which in Cicero‘s opinion de­mands greater effort, is impersonation, or ‘proswpopoii5a‘ . This is a device which lends wonderful variety and animation to oratory. By this means we display the inner thoughts of our adversaries as though they were talking with themselves (but we shall only carry con­viction if we represent them as uttering what they may reasonably be supposed to have had in their minds); or without sacrifice of credibility we may introduce conversations between ourselves and others, or of others among themselves, and put words of advice, reproach, complaint, praise or pity into the mouths of appropriate persons

Paul is using the technique of impersonation. Paul is dropping hints when he starts the passage of “I”…

But who?

The answer: A Gentile Proselyte

Romans 7:1, “Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?”

So, what are the implications?

Christians won’t struggle like the man in Romans 7 (?)

                                                                        The World to Come



            This World

There is overlap right now. But we must note that we will always have some principle of “this world” because we are living in the already/not yet. Therefore we can read some of our Christian lives into Romans 7. But we must be careful not to do this in full. Because…

Second point, the struggle of Romans 7 is not inevitable.

We cannot take Romans 7 as a Christian viewpoint ‘only’ because it will lead to a defeatist mentality.

Romans 7 is not trying to be about a Christian or a non-Christian. Instead, it is dealing with a person who is part of God’s people before Christ comes and before the Spirit is given and the New Creation breaks into the world and the overlap above begins.

Lastly, the Law can (but not necessarily should) be used evangelistically.

Dr Paul vs. Dr Phil

Christianity has been captured by stoicism all too often. They believed that reason was divine and that if you think the right way, things will work out for you the way you want or the way it should.

Christianity has taken the idea of sanctification and adopting stoicism as the way to make things right. But the point of Christianity is that God’s Spirit will change us and make new creatures progressively.  Now, there is nothing wrong with thinking and Christianity is a thoughtful religion. But we cannot know or understand properly without the Spirit of God.

Acts 6:5 tells us that Stephen was chosen because he was filled with the Spirit. We must ask God to fill us will His Spirit, knowing that God has given us the Spirit of Christ in order to change us! Romans 12 gives us many things that are hard to change, but all of this is encompassed in what Paul has shown us in Romans 6, 7, and 8 about the Spirit and the mind. Without the Spirit, we cannot change ourselves at all.

Backing up…  Romans 10:2 says – that the Jews have a zeal that is not based on Knowledge. Thus, Paul is telling the Roman Christians that the Jews are ignoramuses. 

Paul then goes from this zeal/jealousy of the Jews and tells the Gentiles (Romans 11) that the mystery of Israel’s salvation is going to be through God making them jealous and desiring of the things that God has given to the Gentiles.

From Romans 7 all the way up till Romans 11, Paul has been deconstructing this idea of knowledge and its link with divinity. And it reaches its climax in the Doxology at the end of Romans 11 where Paul tells the Roman Christians that no one has known the mind of the Lord and no one has been His counselor. 

Therefore, we must always remember that it is by Faith, and not mere knowledge, that we are given the wisdom of God. What DOESN’T this mean? It doesn’t mean that we promote gain by intellectualism.

What DOES this mean? 

1)     “Thinking your way into change” is more Stoic than it is Christian!

2)     We need God’s Spirit to Change! … Faith!

3)     Knowing and doing God’s will is the most important sort of understanding!

A Velvet Glove on Predestination

Noting our 5 devices of speech, Romans 8 ends with Paul’s device of raising our emotions for the purpose of giving his readers confidence.

So, what is it that Paul is trying to deal with by transitioning so hard into Romans 9? He has just been dealing with the security and strength of God towards all those who are united to Christ and then moves straight into dealing with sadness and grief for those who are not united to Christ and ultimately on the road to damnation.

But, disregarding this connection just mentioned, let’s look at what Cicero has to say about compassion/pity as a solution…“‘Conquestio (lament or complaint) is a passage seeking to arouse the pity of the audience. In this the first necessity is to make the auditor’s spirit gentle and merciful that he may be more easily moved by the conquestio. This ought to be done by the use of “commonplaces” which set forth the power of fortune over all men and the weakness of the human race. When such a passage is delivered gravely and sententiously, the spirit of man is greatly abased and prepared for pity, for in viewing the misfortune of another he will contemplate his own weakness.’ (Cicero, Inv. 1.54.106)”

At the end of Romans 8, Paul is asking all sorts of questions in order to prepare his reader to pity the Jewish people!

Therefore, when Romans 9 comes Paul is able to begin dealing with Israel in more detail. But what is the purpose of predestination in the chapter?

This is the purpose… Predestination vindicates God and His own actions throughout history and tells us why it is that Israel has become what it has become. John Piper calls it the “Justification of God.”But once again, this does follow up on the concept up pity and helps Paul’s audience gain more pity for the Jewish people so that the Gentiles have the right mindset to go where he is going next. What does this mean?

1) Paul believes in a sovereign God who chooses and saves… (Romans 8!)

2) But why does he choose to present the bleak position of the non-elect in Romans 9? (Vindicate God? YES, Triumphalism? NO)

3) From gospel debt to pastoral challenge

4) …beginning to try and stir pity!

This passage is meant to give a greater concern and pity for others because of the sadness of their lives. That, were it not for the grace of God, you yourself would be no better off than the other people who have these sad lives and destiny towards death.

Rhetoric – Good or Evil?

The next part of my Seminary class is on the topic of Rhetoric….

Dr. Lowe mentioned the great people of history (both good and bad characters), such as Hitler or Martin Luther King, and how their ability to orate using rhetoric left people longing to hear what they would say next with each pause of breath during their speeches.

When we look at what Paul said in 1 Cor. 2 we see that Paul was not emphasising rhetoric because of the situation in Corinth. Read 1 Cor. 2:1-5.

But in the letter to the Romans, Paul actually does make use of Rhetorical structures throughout the letter.

Thus, 5 devices of Speech are presented in Romans…

1) Impersonation in Romans 2…

A bolder form of figure, which in Cicero’s opinion de­mands greater effort, is impersonation, or proswpopoii<a. This is a device which lends wonderful variety and animation to oratory. By this means we display the inner thoughts of our adversaries as though they were talking with themselves (but we shall only carry con­viction if we represent them as uttering what they may reasonably be supposed to have had in their minds); or without sacrifice of credibility we may introduce conversations between ourselves and others, or of others among themselves, and put words of advice, reproach, complaint, praise or pity into the mouths of appropriate persons.

Read Romans 2:1-4,17

At this point in the letter Paul is dealing with the Jews through the means of impersonation. He’s also bating the Gentiles to set them up for Romans 11 when he condemns anyone for looking down on the Jews and thinking that they are better then them. Romans 11:19-21, “19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”

2) Questions… Romans 6-7

What is more common than to ask or enquire? For both terms are used indifferently, although the one seems to imply a desire for knowledge, and the other a desire to prove something. But whichever term we use, the thing which they represent admits a variety of figures. We will begin with those which serve (1) to increase the force and cogency of proof to which I assign the first place. A simple question may be illustrated by the line: But who are you and from what shores are come?” On the other hand, a question involves a figure, whenever it is employed not to get information, but to (2) emphasize our point, as in the following examples : … ” How long, Catiline, will you abuse our patience ? ” and ” Do you not see that your plots are all laid bare ? ” with the whole passage that follows. How much greater is the fire of his words as they stand than if he had said, “You have abused our patience a long time,” and “Your plots are all laid bare.” We may also (3) ask what cannot be denied, as ” Was Gaius Fidiculanius Falcula, I ask you, brought to justice?” Or we may put a question to which it is (4) difficult to reply, as in the common forms, How is it possible ?” “How can that be?” Or we may ask a question with a view to (5) throw odium on the person to whom it is addressed, as in the words placed by Seneca in the mouth of Medea: ” What lands dost bid me seek ? ” Or our aim may be (6) to excite pity, as is the case with the question asked by Sinon in Virgil: ” Alas, what lands, he cried, What seas can now receive me?” Or (7) to embarrass our opponent and to deprive him of the power to feign ignorance of our meaning, as Asinius does in the following sentence: ” Do you hear ? The will which we impugn is the work of a madman, not of one who lacked natural affection.” In fact questions admit of infinite variety. They may (8) serve our indignation, … (9) express wonder, … (10) a sharp command, as in: Will they not rush to arms and follow forth From all the city ? ” Or we may (11) ask ourselves, as in the phrase of Terence, “What, then, shall I do ?” …Further, there is the practice of putting the question and answering it oneself, which may have quite a pleasing effect… (12) in the pro Caelio. ” Some one will say, ‘ Is this your moral discipline? Is this the training you would give young men ?’ ” with the whole passage that follows. Then comes his reply, ” Gentlemen, if there were any man with such vigour of mind, with such innate virtue and self-control, etc.” A different method is (13) to ask a question and not to wait for a reply, but to subjoin the reply at once yourself. For example, ” Had you no house ? Yes, you had one. Had you money and to spare ? No, you were in actual want.” This is a figure which some call suggestion.

Read Romans 3:1-10

3) Stirring of Emotion… Romans 8

Accumulation of words and sentences identical in meaning may also be regarded under the head of amplification. For although the climax is not in this case reached by a series of steps, it is none the less attained by the piling up of words. Take the following example: “What was that sword of yours doing, Tubero, the sword you drew on the field of Pharsalus? Against whose body did you aim its point? What meant those arms you bore? Against who were your thoughts, you eyes, your hand, your fiery courage directed on that day? What passion, what desire were yours?” This passage recalls the figure styled sunaqroismo/j by the Greeks, but in that figure it is a number of different things that are accumulated. (Quint. Orat. 8.4.26-27)

As an example… Romans 8:35-39

4) Intensifying Emotion… Romans 9

The figures best adapted for intensifying emotion consist chiefly in simulation. For we may feign that we are angry, glad, afraid, filled with wonder, grief or indignation, or that we wish something, and so on. Hence we get passages like the following: ” I am free, I breathe again,” or, ” It is well,” or, ” What madness is this ? ” or, ” Alas ! for these degenerate days ! ” or, ” Woe is me ; for though all my tears are shed my grief still clings to me deep-rooted in my heart,” or, ” Gape now, wide earth.”

See Romans 9:1-5

Paul seems to be aware of the device (which is typically used as a faking device), but his introductory words of bearing witness in the Spirit and speaking the truth is said in order to stear away from the Romans Christians thinking that he is ‘only’ using a device. Instead, Paul uses the elements of this 4th device, but he wants them to know that it is real and true!

5) Advantage… Romans 1

Deliberative speeches are either of the kind in which the question concerns a choice between two courses of action, or of the kind in which a choice among several is considered. …The orator who gives counsel will throughout his speech properly set up Advantage as his aim, so that the complete economy of his entire speech may be directed to it. Advantage in political deliberation has two aspects : Security and Honor. …The Honorable is divided into the Right and the Praiseworthy. The Right is that which is done in accord with Virtue and Duty. Subheads under the Right are Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Temperance (Rhet. Her. 3.2.2)

See Romans 1:16-17

Paul first says that his Gospel is honorable. Then he gives two reasons. It is the power of God for salvation and His righteousness is revealed. From there Paul launches into chapter 2 and takes an advantage over both the Jews and the Gentiles.

Those are the 5 devices of Speech Paul uses in Romans. And that’s it for my class tonight. More tomorrow morning starting at 9:00 AM

So what does this mean for us?

So, if we see Romans in light of Relational Reciprocity?

1) Paul is culturally sensative
2) Raul is wise
3) Romans is about the Gospel
4) Romans is about relationships
5) Romans can teach us about missionary service (even wise support raising!)

As I said in the previous post, Paul is doing something that was culturally acceptable. Paul was interested in raising funds for a trip to Spain. Paul was an Apostle to the Gentile (his relationship to the Roman church). Paul is giving a great gift to the Romans by giving them the Gospel in light of their needs.