We are going to present some concepts in the book of Romans that will hopefully correct some common errors that you may find when reading and studying from most Roman commentaries. These commentaries will not be aware of the proper context to approach this book from and they will also have an inaccurate idea of how Paul viewed the Torah. We will also look into some of the beliefs and biases of the Gentiles in this congregation.
We will attempt to place Romans back into its proper historical context and understand that Paul was a Torah observant Jewish Rabbi, trained as a Pharisee in the School of Hillel. Paul viewed his mission to the Gentiles as a service on behalf of Israel. He was not bringing a “new faith” to the non-Jewish world (9.1-5; 10.1; 11.11-14, 25-32) like many think. We have seen many movies based on the false premise that Paul was bringing Christianity to the people.
There have been centuries of non-Jewish interpretation of this book, and most do not have a proper understanding of what the situation was there. Paul did not teach something different than the Torah. Most commentators have little understanding of Paul’s Pharisaical understanding of the Scriptures. They are not familiar with the Jewish methods of interpretation that existed at the time, which predated him.
The Hebraic concepts that Paul tried to pass on are not translated well back into Greek, such as his concept of “erga nomos” which is following the commandments outside of proper faith. This concept did not exist in Greek. Because common Greek was employed, called “koine” Greek, these concepts are lost when translated a second time into English.
Readers today, already immersed in Replacement Theology Christianity, come with a built-in bias towards anything Jewish and the Torah and believe they are “not under the Law” even before they begin. Peter said that Paul’s teachings were hard to understand, even for people who knew the Torah and observed it (2 Pet 3.14-17). He said there would be those who would distort what Paul taught and that is because they were “lawless” and unprincipled.
This does not mean that they disregarded the civil laws of the Romans, but this is in a religious context. He means those who were without God’s law would distort what Paul said when they tried to interpret what Paul was saying. Paul did not teach something different than Torah. He was not the “founder of Christianity” and did not “convert to Christianity” on the road to Damascus.
Christianity, as it is understood by the “Church” today, did not exist at that time. Paul worked to bring the Gentiles into the Faith of Israel as prescribed in Acts 15. This Roman congregation was not founded by Paul. It came into existence after Acts 2 when Jews went to Jerusalem to keep the festival of Shavuot (Acts 2.10). They saw all the signs (tongues of fire, wind, etc) and believed these signs confirmed the fact that Yeshua was the Messiah. Some were filled with the Ruach themselves and went back to Rome with a wondrous story.
They worked within the already existing synagogue system there, just like all other synagogues in the empire did until 70 AD. Jews in first century Rome had the right to worship and function because this was given to them from Julius Caesar because their laws predated Rome. They were exempt from serving in the army, from emperor worship and allowed to function as they saw fit.
Of course, this clashed with the pagan religions in Rome and their “open-mindedness” in regards to idolatry. As a result, these two cultures clashed. The congregation in Rome that Paul deals with is a sub-group of all the congregations in Rome. There was not just one synagogue there, but many. This one, however, believed that Yeshua was the Messiah.
This congregation was not founded by an apostle, so they did not have a proper foundation. Paul was coming to do that, but he addresses existing problems that they had in this book. They had some truth, but they had some incorrect teachings as well.
In this congregation, there were Jews who did not believe that Yeshua was the Messiah but kept the Torah as it applied. Then there were Jews who accepted Yeshua as the promised Messiah and kept the Torah as it applied. In addition, there were non-Jews who had converted to Judaism through circumcision, and later accepted Yeshua, and kept the Torah as it applied. There were also non-Jews who were in the process of converting and now believed, along with Gentiles who were coming straight out of paganism and now believed in Yeshua. The common thread for all these groups was they all kept the Torah as it applied.
This congregation had regular contact with non-believing Jews because they functioned within the framework of the synagogue system. Paul is writing the book to teach the Gentiles proper behavior in the faith of Israel because some of them were coming right out of paganism.
Because they lived in Roman society, they had been immersed in anti-Jewish rhetoric and had little regard for Jews. In this book he would explain to them the role of Israel and Israel’s relationship to the salvation of the Gentiles. He would instruct them about the commandments, purity and food laws and how they were to relate to them (what applied, what did not, etc). He corrected any idea of theirs that these Gentiles “replaced” Israel and will devote several chapters on this, as we will see. He will try to get them to see that non-believing Jews were not their enemy and their faith was in Israel’s Messiah.
He would explain his pattern of going to the Jew first and why that was proper. He would encourage them to see that they were equal to Jewish believers without circumcision, which was a big issue in the first century due to the incorrect teaching coming from believers from the School of Shammai (Acts 15.1; book of Galatians, etc). He would explain to them that their conversion was at Israel’s expense and that they were obligated to help “stumbling” Israel stand and that they had a responsibility to unbelieving Jews.
Paul teaches the concept of the “election” of Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles into the faith of Israel was part of his plan all along. In order for them to be “one” with Israel, they had to obey the Torah, called “the obedience of faith.” In doing this, Paul had to maintain a balance between this obedience to the faith (Torah) and their equal status with the Jewish people without having to become Jews through circumcision and keeping all the Torah commands that applied to Jews in order to be saved. This was a heresy coming from the Jews.
But, the Gentiles were coming up with heresies of their own. They began to think that as long as they didn’t need to be circumcised to be saved and keep the Torah as it applied to Jews, that they had no relation to the Torah or anything else Jewish at all. Paul had to show them that God was going to be faithful to Israel and he was going to be merciful to the Gentiles and that their salvation was “proof” that Yeshua was indeed the Messiah. This was in order to show the Jews “stumbling” over him that faith in Yeshua as Messiah was part of God’s plan and that faith in Yeshua establishes the Torah and does not conflict with it.
There are certain terms that need to be defined so that you may have a proper understanding of the concepts that Paul will be establishing in this book. They are as follows:
(1) Justification is the transforming of the sinner from the state of unrighteousness to righteousness and sonship.
(2) Sanctification means to be set apart for a special purpose.
(3) Salvation is deliverance from danger or suffering, to be preserved and protected from the consequences of sin.
(4) Propitiation means to appease and to satisfy the wrath of God and be satisfied.
(5) Expiation is the removal and the satisfaction of guilt through a substitute.
(6) Remission means to cancel, to pardon, to forgive and diminish.
(7) Redemption means to buy back and to restore.
(8) Reconciliation means to restore a relationship gone wrong by substituting peace.
(9) Regeneration means to be born again from above.
(10) Election is an act of God in eternity past (before the world was-Eph 1.4) when he chose those that would be saved. It is unconditional and does not depend on anything outside of God alone, such as good works or foreseen faith.