Introduction to the New Testament (1915) [Chapter 9]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Epistle of Romans


A) About the author of the chapter:

Louis Berkhof “graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1900 …

In 1902 he went to Princeton University for two years earning a B.D. degree …

In 1906 he was appointed to the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary. He assumed the presidency of the seminary in 1931 …” [1]


B) Chapter Summary:


“This Epistle consists of two clearly marked but very unequal parts, viz, the doctrinal (1:1—11:36) and the practical part (12:1—16: 27).”1

“I. The Doctrinal Part, 1: 1—11: 36. In this part we have first the introduction, containing the address, the customary thanksgiving and prayer, and an expression of the apostles desire to preach the gospel also at Rome, 1: 1-15.

In the following two verses the apostle states his theme: “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith,” 1:16, 17.

After announcing this he describes the sinful state of the Gentiles, points out that the Jews are likewise guilty, and declares that their prerogatives do not exempt them from punishment but rather increase their guilt, 1: 18—3: 20.

He then defines the righteousness which God has provided without the works of the law, and proves that this is revealed in the Old Testament, is the basis of a Christian experience that is rich in spiritual fruits, and proceeds on the same principle of moral government on which God dealt with Adam, 3:21—5 : 21.

Next he replies to the objections that on his doctrine men may continue in sin and yet be saved; that his teaching releases men from moral obligation; and that it makes the law of God an evil thing, 6:1—7:25.

In the following chapter he shows that on the basis of man’s justification by faith his complete sanctification and final glorification is assured, 8:1-39.

Having stated the way of salvation through faith, he now points out that this does not conflict with the promises given to Israel by showing that these pertained only to the elect among them; that the rejection of Israel is due to their refusal of the way of salvation; that it is not a complete rejection; and that in the end the Jews will be converted and will turn to God, 9:1—11: 36.”2

“II. The Practical Part, 12:1—16: 27. The apostle admonishes the Christians at Rome that they be devoted to God and love one another, 12:1-21. He desires that they willingly subject themselves to the civil authorities and meet all their obligations, 13:1-14. He enjoins upon them due regard for the weakness of others in matters of indifference, and the proper use of their Christian liberty, 14:1-23. Then he holds up to them Christ as their great example, and speaks of his purpose to visit Rome, 15: 1-33. Finally he sends a long list of greetings to Rome and closes his epistle with a doxology, 16:1-27.”3



“1. The characteristic feature of this Epistle is found in the fact that it is the most systematic writing of the apostle, an elaborate treatment of a single theme with appropriate practical exhortations. It contains a careful and rather full statement of what Paul himself calls, “my Gospel,” 2:16; 16: 25. His Gospel is that man is justified by faith and not by the works of the law. In harmony with this theme the contents of the Epistle are Soteriological rather than Christological.”4

“2. The style of the Epistle is described by Sanday and Headlam in the following words: “This Epistle, like all the others of the group (I and II Cor. and Gal.), is characterized by a remarkable energy and vivacity. It is calm in the sense that it is not aggressive and that the rush of words is always well under control. Still there is a rush of words rising repeatedly to passages of splendid
eloquence; but the eloquence is spontaneous, the outcome of strongly moved feeling; there is nothing about it of labored oratory. The language is rapid, terse, incisive; the argument is conducted by a quick cut and thrust of dialectic; it reminds us of a fencer with his eye always on his antagonist.”
Intern. Grit. Comm., Romans p. LV.”5


“We find the first direct evidence for his authorship in the Apostolicon of Marcion. The letter is further ascribed to Paul by the Muratori canon, and is quoted as his by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and a host
of others. The Epistle itself claims to have been written by Paul, and this claim is borne out by the contents …”6

“The authenticity of this great letter, along with that of the Epistles to the Corinthians and to the Galatians has been well-nigh universally admitted.”7

The Church at Rome

“There are three theories respecting the origin of the church at Rome.

a. According to a tradition dating from the fourth, and probably from the third century, that found general acceptance in the Roman Catholic church, the congregation at Rome was founded by Peter in A. D. 42 (Jerome and Eusebius) or in A. D. 44 (Acts 12:17) …

b. … the Roman Jews that were in Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost, Acts 2:10, and witnessed the extraordinary phenomena that accompanied the descent of the Holy Spirit …

c. … there was at that time a lively intercommunication between Syria and Rome, and it is certainly not improbable that some Gentile Christians, filled with the spirit of evangelization, set out from here for the capital of the world. Or if not from here, some such persons may have gone forth from the other centers of Christianity, established, by Paul on his missionary journeys.”p.79

“… though there was a Jewish constituency in the church at Rome, it consisted primarily of Gentile Christians, so that in ministering to it also Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles. It seems almost certain, however, that a legalistic tendency had sprung up in the congregation, but this tendency may have been characteristically Roman rather than specifically Judaistic.”8


“a. According to some the purpose of the letter is dogmatic, the Epistle containing a systematic exposition of the doctrine of salvation. But if Paul meant to give in it nothing but an objective statement of the truth, the question may be asked, why he should send it to Rome, and not to some
other church.

b. Others affirm that the aim of the Epistle is controversial, Paul giving an exposition of the truth with special reference to the opposition of Judaeism to his gospel. Now we need not doubt that there is a polemic element in this Epistle, but the question may well be raised, whether the apostle did not combat legalism in general rather than Judaeism.

c. Still others believe that the purpose of the letter is conciliatory, aiming at the unity of Jew and Gentile in the church at Rome. This theory also contains an element of truth, for Paul certainly was very solicitous about that unity, when he wrote this Epistle; but it is a mistake to regard the promotion of it as his sole purpose in writing.”9

“2. Time and Place. As to the time, when Paul wrote this Epistle, we can infer from 1: 13 that he had not yet been in Rome, and from 15: 25 that he was still a free man. Therefore he must have written it before Pentecost of A. D. 58, for then he was taken captive at Jerusalem. On the other hand it is clear from 15:19-21 that the apostle has finished his task in the East and is now about to
transfer his ministry to the West. Hence it follows that he composed this letter at the end of his third missionary journey, i. e. in the fall of A. D. 57, or in the spring of A. D. 58. This also agrees with the fact that the apostle in the Epistles to the Corinthians (116: 1-4; II 8, 9) is still occupied with the collection for the saints at Jerusalem, while this work is finished, when he writes to the Romans, 15:25.”10


“Touching the integrity of the Epistle to the Romans two questions have arisen: 1. Is the doxology, 16: 25-27, in the right place, or does it belong between 14: 23 and 15:1, or is it spurious? And 2. Are the chapters 15 and 16 genuine or spurious?”p.81

“1. The place of the doxology at the end of chapter 16 was doubted as early as the days of Origen. External testimony favors it, since it is found there in most of the MSS, while some have it at the end of chapter 14, and a few, in both places.”11

“The 15th chapter is regarded by some as spurious, (1) because it is not found in the canon of Marcion; and (2) since the appellative applied to Christ in verse 8 is considered very strange as coming from Paul; the expression in verse 19 is not characterized by the usual Pauline modesty; and the verses 24, 28, 29 are held to be in conflict with 1:10-15, because they imply that Paul merely desired to pay a short visit to Rome, when he was on his way to Spain. But the first argument has little weight, since Marcion omits many other parts of the New Testament, and several that are generally admitted to be genuine; and the difficulties mentioned under (2) easily yield to exegesis.”12

“A far greater number of scholars reject chapter 16, (1) because Marcions canon does not contain it; (2) since it is contrary to the apostles custom to end his letters with so many greetings; and (3) because Paul was not in a position to know so many persons at Rome. To the first argument we need not reply again (cf. above) ; and as far as the greetings are concerned, it may be that Paul intentionally greeted so many persons at Rome to bring out clearly that, though he had not founded the church there, he was not a stranger to it, and to cultivate a certain familiarity. It deserves our attention that the only other Epistle in which we find a list of greetings is that to the Colossian church, which was like the church of Rome, in that it was not founded by the apostle. And taking in consideration the extensive travels of Paul in the East, and the constant movement of people in all parts of the empire to and from Rome, it causes no surprise that so many of the apostles acquaintances were in the capital.”13

Canonical Significance

“The Epistle to the Romans is one of the best attested writings of the New Testament. Its canonicity was never doubted by the Church, and it has been remarkably free from the attacks of Rationalism up to the present time. Before the beginning of the third century there are nineteen witnesses to the canonicity of the letter, including some of the apostolic fathers, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Justin Martyr, the Muratori Canon, Marcion, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian. Both friends and foes of Christianity accepted it as authoritative.”14

“It is the most systematic of all the writings of Paul, containing a profound and comprehensive statement of the way of salvation, a statement made with special reference to the legalistically inclined Romans. That salvation can be had through faith only, and not by the works of the law, not by one’s works of morality, on which the man of the Roman type was inclined to place his reliance, is at once the great central doctrine of this epistle and its permanent lesson for all ages.”15

*Editor’s Note: This chapter utilises the Eerdmans, 1915 version of the book. As such, page numbers may differ from that of previous chapters.

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