Paul’s Purpose in Writing Romans -- By: Philip R. Williams

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 128:509 (Jan 1971)
Article: Paul’s Purpose in Writing Romans
Author: Philip R. Williams

Paul’s Purpose in Writing Romans

Philip R. Williams

[Philip R. Williams, Assistant Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

Surprisingly, we receive very diverse answers when we ask what Paul’s purpose was in writing the Epistle to the Romans. Leenhardt says: “When Paul writes to Rome his mind is full of his Spanish scheme [i.e., his plans to go to Spain]. If we feel that the letter is to be judged in the light of this close relation to a new evangelistic plan, we shall not wish to seek the motivation of its themes in the special situation of the church to which it is addressed.”1 Then he supposes that though this epistle alone of all Paul’s epistles contains no direct reference to the church, its purpose is to give Paul’s treatment of ecclesiology.2 Harrison agrees with Leenhardt (in part) that the epistle was written to gain the favor and cooperation of the Roman church in his intended evangelization of Spain.3 According to Dods, “the letter is a justification of the Apostle’s mission to the Gentiles.”4 Shedd’s view is that “the main object of Paul is, to furnish the Roman Church with a comprehensive statement of evangelistic doctrine,” and further, that the epistle is a polemic against legalism, both Jewish and Gentile.5 And we could go on. Rather, let us turn to the epistle itself.

It will be helpful to ascertain, as far as possible, the makeup of the church at Rome. Merely to read the epistle is to see that one segment of the church was Gentile and one segment Jewish. At the very beginning Paul identifies himself as the apostle to the Gentiles, “among whom are ye also…” (1:5–6). In 1:13, he expresses his desire to have fruit “among you also, even as among other Gentiles.” In 1:18–32, he describes the sins of the Gentiles, and shows them to be guilty before God. Again, he writes: “I speak to you Gentiles…” (11:13). One aspect of his exhortation in 14:1–23 seems clearly to be addressed to Gentiles. He declares in 15:14–16 that he was writing boldly to them because God had called him to be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. These passages make it evident that there was a Gentile segment in...

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