Key Themes in Romans


By Tom Creedy

In anticipation of David Garland’s upcoming Tyndale New Testament Commentary on Romans, let’s delve into the significant themes and structure of this foundational epistle.

Key Themes in Romans

Outline of Romans

  • 1:1-7: Greetings and self-introduction
  • 1:8-17: A thematic statement of the gospel
  • 1:18-32: God’s wrath and human disobedience
  • 2:1-29: God’s impartial judgment of both Jew and Gentile
  • 3:1-8: God’s faithfulness to Israel
  • 3:9-20: The universality of sin
  • 3:21-31: Justification by faith for Jews and Gentiles
  • 4:1-25: Abraham as the founder of the people of God and a model of faith
  • 5:1-11: Faith brings peace with God
  • 5:12-21: Adam and Jesus Christ as two types of humanity
  • 6:1-23: Sharing Jesus Christ’s death in baptism and living in obedience
  • 7:1-6: Freedom from the law to serve in the Spirit
  • 7:7-25: The law brings knowledge of sin
  • 8:1-11: The new life of the Spirit
  • 8:12-39: The assurance of glory and the love of God
  • 9:1-5: Paul’s anguish over unbelieving Jews
  • 9:6-29: The pattern of God’s election in Israel’s history
  • 9:30-10:21: Israel’s failure to submit to God’s righteousness
  • 11:1-24: The remnant of Israel and the inclusion of Gentiles
  • 11:25-36: God’s future purpose for Israel and all humanity
  • 12:1-13:14: Moral issues and obedience to the state
  • 14:1-15:13: Disputes over food between strong and weak believers
  • 15:14-33: Paul’s future travel plans
  • 16:1-27: Personal greetings and final blessing

Background and Setting

The New Testament book of Romans serves as both a Christian manifesto and a simple letter, shaped by the circumstances faced by the apostle Paul and the Roman Christians. While it remains a timeless declaration of freedom through Jesus Christ, its core message emphasizes that all humans are born in sin and slavery, but Jesus came to liberate us.

Paul likely wrote this letter to the Roman Christians while in Corinth during the final months of his third evangelistic journey (Ac 20:2). Although en route to Jerusalem, Paul planned to visit Rome and establish his apostolic authority with the church. His aim was to prepare them for his intended visit and provide them with the clearest, most detailed account of the gospel he preached. Paul referred to his message as the “gospel of God” (1:1) because God is its author, with Jesus as its focus.

Themes and Relevance

Paul develops two primary themes in Romans. Firstly, the justification of guilty sinners by God’s grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone. This truth humbles us, as salvation stems from God’s grace rather than our religious works or social status. By the cross, Jesus has made it possible for those of us in the wrong with God to be declared right with Him.

From the profound truth of justification flows a range of additional themes in Paul’s letter, including assurance of salvation (chapter 5), spiritual growth (chapter 6), the purpose of God’s law (chapter 7), the ministry of the Holy Spirit (chapter 8), and our responsibilities as followers of Christ (chapters 12-15).

Secondly, Paul seeks to redefine the people of God. He declares that God’s chosen ones are not defined by lineage or religious rituals but by faith in Jesus. The church in Rome was a diverse community of Jews and Gentiles, with Paul establishing that no distinction exists between them in terms of their standing before God. Jesus’ believers are children of Abraham, partaking in God’s blessings.

Structure and Divisions

The book of Romans naturally falls into four main divisions, each contributing to the overall message:

  1. Why we need God’s salvation (1:18-3:20): Paul reveals that God’s wrath is directed at sinful humans who suppress the truth. Both Jews and Gentiles fall short of God’s demands, highlighting the need for salvation.

  2. The proclamation of the gospel (3:21-8:39): Paul sheds light on the gospel’s redemptive power, which justifies believers through Jesus’ sacrifice. This section explores the blessings enjoyed by God’s people and their union with Christ.

  3. The place of Israel (chapters 9-11): Addressing the mix of Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church, Paul tackles questions regarding God’s promises to Israel and the inclusion of non-Jews. His aim is to foster unity and peace within the church.

  4. Living out the gospel (chapters 12-16): Paul challenges all Christians to live out the implications of the gospel in various aspects of life, including relationships, society, and personal conduct. Romans concludes with individual greetings and a final burst of praise.

The book of Romans holds a vital place in Christian understanding of faith. Martin Luther referred to it as “the chief part of the New Testament” and “the purest gospel.” In Paul’s words, the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to all who believe (1:16).

This blog post is extracted from the study notes of the NIV BST Bible, in anticipation of David Garland’s forthcoming Tyndale New Testament Commentary on Romans. Check out the provided selection of resources on Romans to deepen your Bible study.

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