Paul is close to the end of his ministry by the time he writes this letter to Christians in Rome. For the past 20 years he has been planting churches throughout what is now Turkey and Greece.
He’s on his way back to Jerusalem after his third mission trip. He says his work in the eastern Mediterranean is done. It’s time to go west, into Spain, to the farthest frontier of the Roman Empire.
Side trip to Rome
The city of Rome is on the way, and Paul says he hopes to stop by and spend some time and, apparently, to collect some mission money that will help pay for his trip.
Paul knows it’s a good bet that he’s going to be able to get the help because he already knows more than two dozen members of the church (Romans 16). He’s worked with some of them. He sat in jail with some of them. And he’s related to some of them.
The first theology book
This late into Paul’s ministry, he seems to have a pretty firm grasp on what Christianity is all about. And he puts it in writing. Many Bible scholars call this letter history’s first systematic theology. It’s a concise and eloquent statement about what Christians believe and how Christians behave.
For newcomers to the faith who want to know what Christians believe, some folks point them to the book of Romans. Others recognize that parts of Romans are so complex that they leave even the most educated scholars scratching their heads. So some folks might point the newcomers first to the stories and teachings of Jesus. That might be Christianity 101. Romans would be an advanced course. Not that Paul is a step up from Jesus, but that his ideas are more abstract. No fun parables from Paul. So, at times he’s harder to understand. Although, Jesus had his moments: “Be perfect” (Matthew 5:48, New Living Translation).
Paul of Tarsus apparently wrote the letter with the help of a secretarial scribe named Tertius.
“From: Paul, who serves Christ Jesus as an official messenger” (Romans 1:1).
“I’m Tertius, and I’m the one writing down this letter” (Romans 16:22).
Paul wrote this letter in about AD 57 near the end of his third mission trip. “At the moment I’m on my way to Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25). He was taking with him an offering collected from other churches during his mission trip. Paul wrote to the Romans, “when I’m done delivering this offering that was raised, I’ll leave for Spain and come to visit you along the way” (15:28).
It didn’t work out that way.
He got arrested in Jerusalem and spent the next two years in jail at Caesarea. Weary of waiting for a trial, and afraid he was going to get sent back to Jerusalem for trial by the Jews, he appealed to the emperor’s supreme court in Rome. He was sent there with an armed escort. The book of Acts ends with him in Rome waiting for his trial.
Some Bible experts say Paul was found guilty and beheaded sometime around AD 63. Others speculate Paul was released, went to Spain, and was later arrested and beheaded in Rome in around AD 67.
Paul seemed to be dictating this letter during the end of his third mission trip, while he was on his way back to Jerusalem. His third mission trip took him north into Turkey, west into Greece, then back to Jerusalem, stopping along the way to visit churches.
Destination of letter
“To: Everyone who lives in Rome” (Romans 1:7). Given the content of the letter, Paul seems to be dictating it especially to Christians in Rome.