The Setting Of Romans In The Ministry Of Paul -- By: John Polhill

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 11:3 (Fall 2007)
Article: The Setting Of Romans In The Ministry Of Paul
Author: John Polhill

The Setting Of Romans In The Ministry Of Paul

John Polhill

John Polhill is Senior Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Polhill has also studied at Harvard Divinity School; the University of St. Andrews; Princeton Theological Seminary; and the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to contributing to numerous journals, reference works, and denominational publications, he has authored Acts in the New American Commentary series (Broadman and Holman,1992) and Paul and His Letters (Broadman and Holman, 1999). A devoted churchman, Dr. Polhill has served as pastor of congregations in Virginia, Kentucky, and Massachusetts.


Perhaps the most discussed issue in Romans scholarship is whether it should be understood as an occasional epistle or as a theological treatise.1 Did Paul design his epistle as an introduction to his primary doctrinal convictions for this church that he had never visited, or is his letter treating specific issues within the congregation that he knew needed to be addressed? One probably should not draw the lines too sharply. Much of the epistle deals with theological concerns, although it is scarcely a “systematic theology.” One must turn to other of Paul’s epistles for more thorough treatment of some important doctrines such as Christology and ecclesiology. On the other hand, some portions of the epistle focus on matters of a more occasional nature, especially the final three chapters. By design this article concerns primarily issues of the occasion for the letter in an attempt to place it within the total context of Paul’s ministry. In a sense it could be entitled “a tale of three cities,” as the epistle involves three distinct locales: Corinth, from which Paul was writing; Jerusalem, to which Paul was preparing to travel soon; and Rome, which was Paul’s ultimate destination.

Place And Time Of Writing

All the evidence indicates that Paul wrote the Roman epistle from Corinth toward the end of his third missionary journey. The date would have been the winter of A.D. 56-57. Paul had established the work in Corinth at the end of his second missionary journey, at that time spending eighteen or more months there (Acts 18:1–18). The relationship between Paul and Corinth seems to have deteriorated during the course of his third mission, which was mainly spent in Ephesus. He seems to have made a brief second visit to Corinth at this time, probably going by sea to Corinth from Ephesus and back. Acts does not mention this visit, but Paul implied its existence in his second letter to Corinth, where he spoke of a “painful” visit with them (

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