2.1.1 Notes on theological reflection


A greeting in a letter of Greek antiquity consisted of three elements: the name of the sender, the name of the recipient and the greeting formula χαίρειν (i.e. greeting)[1]. Paul follows this pattern here, as in his other letters. In doing so he also remains true to his own style, by replacing the usual εἰρήνη with εἰρήνη (grace) and adding χάρις (peace). In this way Paul emphasizes the special nature of his gospel and ties in with the Jewish tradition of blessing. Schreiner sees a meaning here in the order of the terms: “The recipients of God’s grace enjoy his peace.[2]

But the welcome in the Epistle to the Romans is particularly striking because of the more detailed treatment of the gospel (v. 2-6). This makes the greeting the longest and most theologically polished greeting of the apostle. With this thematic treatise Paul makes clear what the letter will be about, namely the gospel as God’s message of salvation for both Jews (v.3) and Gentiles (v.5).[3]


Paul’s identity

The first thing Paul says about himself is that he is (δοῦλος) a bond servant of Christ. δοῦλος Denoted in the OT δοῦλος YHWH a) the key people God has used in His salvation history – patriarchs, prophets, kings and others – (Josh. 14:7; 24:29; 2 Kgs 18:12; Ezra 9:11; Neh 9:14; Ps 105:26) and b) the Jewish worshipers as a whole (Neh 1:6, 11; Ps 19:11, 13; 27:9; 31:16 and others). Here the term emphasizes not so much the status of honor but the relationship of dependence and service to God, the absolute Lord, to whom they belong as property[4]. But where people in the Old Testament and Jews in antiquity gave their devotion and loyalty to YHWH, Paul’s devotion and loyalty is to the Christ. Which raises the question: who is this Christ?

Paul sees himself secondly as an apostle (ἀπόστολος), an authorized messenger and representative of Jesus.[5] κλητὸς in Paul’s case, God’s sovereign calling to service detonates, e.g. Gal 1:15; 1st Cor 1:1 or God’s call to belong to His people e.g. Rom 9:24-25; 1st Cor 1:9-24.[6] The double use of κλητὸς and ἀφορίζειν in our context establishes a parallel to Gal 1:15. From this we can see that Paul here understands his apostleship as the result of God’s calling on his life from the very first moment of his existence (as well as in the prophets in the Old Testament – see Isaiah 49:1, Jeremiah 1:5 and others).[7] Paul not only knows that he is called as an apostle, but he also knows what God has called him to do: He is set apart (ἀφορίζειν) to preach the “gospel” to all Gentile peoples (πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν), i.e. non-Jews (Rom 1:5).[8] Here Paul explains his extreme awareness or inner commitment to this mission (Rom 1:14; 1st Cor 9:16).

The last information about his vocation is found in Rom 1:5. He received “grace and apostleship” (χάριν καὶ ἀποστολήν). Dunn rightly points out that both terms form a hendydion here.[9] In other words, the apostleship in itself is a grace of God – grace is thus understood here as an enabling element for the vocation.[10]


Gospel of God

Paul now deals with the “gospel of God” (εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ). In the New Testament writings the term εὐαγγέλιον stands as technical term for the Christian message – the good news.[11] When using the term “gospel of God” it makes sense to understand God as the source or author of the good news (i.e. genitivus subjectivus), because the content of the good news is already the Son (Rom 1:3).[12] Paul emphasizes that the gospel is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Paul will anchor his good news in the OT.[13]


Jesus, Messiah and Lord

What Paul has to say about the Son, the content of his gospel, is found in verses 3-4, and it can be assumed that Paul is making use of an earlier confession here.[14] In the Old Testament the Son of God is used as a title to indicate the special relationship between Israel as a people and Yahweh (Exod. 4: 22- 23; Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 11:1), on the one hand, and as a title for the king as the representative of Yahweh (2 Sam. 7:14; Pss. 2:7; 72:1), on the other hand. Since the Son is further identified here as the descendant of David (Rom 1,3), it can be assumed that Paul is using the Son of God as the royal title here. Who the Son is is further dealt with here in verses 3 and 4. His pre-existence or incarnation (“has come after the flesh”) as well as his belonging to the Messianic line “from the descendants of David” are confirmed. (Isa 11; Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-18; Ezek 34:23-31; 37:24-28). With the title “Christ” (Rom 1:4) Paul concludes what he has to say about Jesus: He is the expected Messiah.

But the Son is also “instituted Son of God in power” through his resurrection from the dead. Dunn observes here that it makes sense to see “in power” in connection with the noun “Son of God” instead of the verb “to appoint”, for it is not the resurrection that makes Jesus the Son of God (which he already is as Messiah), but after the resurrection he is made the “Son of God in power“. What is meant by this is that through the resurrection Jesus becomes active in another dimension of authority, which he was not before (see Matthew 28:18; 1Cor 15:25; Phil 2:9-11 and others).[15] While the incarnation in the Davidic line legitimizes Jesus as the Messiah (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ), it is the resurrection that confirms him as Lord (Ἰησοῦ … τοῦ ἡμῶν ἡμῶν).

In addition to this theological significance, N.T. Wright sees a deliberate political significance in Paul’s statement:

“Imagine writing to Rome, of all places, the greatest city in the world at that time, the home of the most powerful man in the world, Caesar, whose official title was ‘Son of God’, whose birthday was celebrated as ‘good news’ and who claimed the fidelity, the loyalty of the greatest empire the world had ever seen! But Paul knows exactly what he is doing. Jesus is the true King, the rightful Lord of the world, and it is vital that the Christians in Rome itself know this and live accordingly. In fact, what Paul says about Jesus in this passage, especially in verses 3 and 4, seems almost designed to make an assertion that outshines that of the Emperor. Jesus is the true “Son of God”. He comes from a royal house that is much older than anything that Rome can claim for itself: that of David, a thousand years earlier. “[16]


The recipients in Rome

About the recipients of his letter Paul tells us that they are for the most part non-Jews (Rom 1:6). Whereas in ancient times it was customary to call the followers of a deity “beloved” of that deity, the[17] special thing about the recipients of the letter is that they, like the people of Israel in the Old Testament, are called to be holy. ((Pss 16 [LXX 15],3; 34,9 [LXX 33,10]; 74 [LXX 73],3; 83,3 [LXX 82,4]; Isa 4,3; Dan 7,18, 21, 22, 25, 27; 8,24; Tob 8,15; Wisd Sol 18,9; T. Levi 18.11, 14; T. Iss. 5.4; T. Dan 5.12; cf. e.g., Lev 19,2; 20,7, 26; Num 15,40; Deut 7,6; 14,2; 26,19). This time the term “kalew” connoted the calling to belong to the people of God.[18] This shows the effect of the Gospel of God: to be called to be Jesus (Rom 1:6) means to belong to God’s holy people, even for non-Jews!

[1] See Schreiner, Romans, 76.
[2] ibid.
[3] Dunn, Romans, 5.
[4] Sage, δοῦλος, 847.
[5] Stages, ἀπόστολος, 343.
[6] Wanke, kalew, 597.
[7] See Schreiner, Romans, 78.
[8] Joiner, ibid. 80-81.
[9] Dunn, ibid. 17.
[10] Dunn, ibid.
[11] Strecker, εὐαγγέλιον, 177.
[12] In contrast, Schreiner, ibid. 82.
[13] Carpenter, ibid.
[14] See Schreiner, ibid. 82-84.
[15] Dunn, ibid. 14.
[16] Wright, Romans, Kindle position 153.
[17] See Dunn, ibid. 19.
[18] For the meaning of the word “kalew“, see above.