Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans is one of the most difficult and, consequently, controversial, documents of the New Testament.

Its main purpose is to establish the relationship between Covenant Judaism and New Covenant Christianity and so, to a certain extent, it is actually of more interest to Jews than to Christians. Its main message in this regard - significant, given subsequent anti Semitism - is that the Jews need not become Christians to be "saved".

The central contention of the Epistle is that the "law" is a necessary but not sufficient condition for salvation. Observance must be extended from the letter to the spirit and the spirit of the law is love.

Although the language of "law" and "works" presents some interpretative difficulties, the main message of Paul about the relationship between the two is clear enough but in lecturing on Romans in 1517, Martin Luther thought that he had simultaneously found a resolution of his antipathy to indulgences and his feelings of worthlessness. In properly emphasising the idea of salvation as gift rather than something deserved, he extended the idea to mean that "good works" (works of "the law") were of non effect. This led to an extended period of Protestant/Catholic controversy now almost passed, except for the residual Evangelical notion of being "saved". Paul regards salvation as a process which is not complete until death.

The other concern in Romans which gripped 16th Century controversialists was the passage relating to the Christian and the civil sovereign. Paul is often depicted with a sword because he, both for tactical and moral reasons, supported the idea of a strong civic authority to keep order. This was taken to mean the confirmation of the trend towards absolute monarchy.

The commentary we are using is that of James Dunn (see Appendix 1).


Dunn, James D.G.: Romans: The People's Bible Commentary, Bible Reading Fellowship, 2001. Buy this book from

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