An Alternative Suggestion for the Purpose of Romans -- By: Walter B. Russell III

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 145:578 (Apr 1988)
Article: An Alternative Suggestion for the Purpose of Romans
Author: Walter B. Russell III


An Alternative Suggestion for the Purpose of Romans

Walter B. Russell III

Assistant Professor of New Testament
Graduate School of Religion, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia

This article seeks to demonstrate that Western scholarship has for centuries been setting forth a coherent purpose statement for the Epistle to the Romans that is uniformly self-confirming, yet contextually questionable.

A brief glance at some of the most influential recent European and American commentators on Romans should validate that they have been insensitive to Paul’s typical outlook, associations, and expectations. By examining their treatment of the epistle’s troublesome Jew/Gentile issue, it may be demonstrated that they have confused their own concerns with Paul’s. An alternative purpose statement that appears closer to Paul’s own life setting will be suggested and briefly validated.

The Prevailing Purpose Statement for Romans

Of the many significant recent commentaries on Romans available in English, those by C. K. Barrett,1 C. E. B. Cranfield,2

Ernst Käsemann,3 and John Murray4 are representative of the Protestant interpretive tradition in the West. As expected, there is a high degree of agreement among these commentators concerning the purpose of Romans. Cranfield, who is particularly thorough in his treatment, sets forth a fourfold purpose for Romans that is representative of the other commentators and encompasses their statements.5 Cranfield considers that Paul wrote an explanatory letter to inform the Romans of his visit in the near future (15:22–25), to inform them of his Spanish plans and secure or prepare the way for securing their assistance (15:14–21), to ask for their prayers for himself (15:30–32), and to introduce himself to them at the same time as the apostle to the Gentiles via the most appropriate way he knew—”to set before them a serious and orderly summary of the gospel as he had come to understand it.”6

The basic problem that all interpreters of Romans must wrestle with is how to integrate the straightforward sense of purpose that Paul exhibited in 1:1–16 and 15:14...

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