Paul’s letter to the Romans provides the New Testament’s most carefully developed exposition of the Christian gospel. It sets out in a progressive and orderly arrangement the theological basis of the message of salvation that Paul preached. But at the same time it is a letter. Although Paul intended his presentation of the gospel to be a means of teaching Christian truth in general, he also had a definite missionary purpose in sending it to the church in Rome.
Paul’s purpose for the Romans
The church in Rome was already well established when Paul wrote this letter to it. Paul did not found the church in Rome, and at the time of writing he had not even visited the city (Rom 1:13; 15:22). The church may have been founded by Roman Jews and proselytes who responded to Peter’s preaching in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and then took their new-found faith back to Rome (Acts 2:10).
Christians from other parts of the Empire who went to live or work in Rome would also have helped to establish the church there (cf. Rom 16:3-15).
At the time of writing, Paul was nearing the end of his third missionary journey. He was in Corinth (Acts 20:2-3; Rom 16:23; cf. 1 Cor 1:14), making final preparations to go to Jerusalem with a gift of money that a number of the Gentile churches had donated to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (Rom 15:25-27; cf. Acts 19:21). Upon completing his work in Jerusalem, Paul intended going to Rome (Rom 15:28).
Rome was the centre of the Empire, and Paul saw that if the Roman church was firmly established in the gospel and keenly aware of its missionary responsibilities, Christianity would spread throughout the Empire. He therefore wrote to help the church understand its mission and to prepare it for the additional teaching he would give when he arrived (Rom 1:10-15; 10:12-17; 15:14-16,29). After spending some time in Rome, Paul wanted to move into the unevangelized regions to the west, till eventually he reached Spain (Rom 15:20,23-24,28).
Another issue that concerned Paul was the tension between Gentile and Jewish Christians in the Roman church. Some years earlier the anti-Jewish feeling in Rome was so strong that the Emperor expelled all Jews from the city (Acts 18:2), but they had now returned. In writing to the church, Paul sometimes spoke specifically to the Jews (Rom 2:17-19; 3:9; 4:1), other times specifically to the Gentiles (Rom 1:13-16; 11:13; 15:14-16). He warned against anti-Jewish feelings in the church (Rom 11:17-24; 15:27), and encouraged Jews and Gentiles to be tolerant of each other (Rom 14:1-23). The gospel is for all people equally, because all are sinners. Whether Jews or Gentiles, they can be saved only by God’s grace (Rom 2:9-11; 3:9,23; 10:12; 11:32; 15:8-9).
Paul sent the letter to Rome with Phoebe, a Christian from a nearby church who was going to Rome at the time. Phoebe was a deacon in the church at Cenchreae, one of the port areas of Corinth (Rom 16:1- 2).