About Paul’s letter to the *Romans
About the first Christians in Rome
Rome was the most important city in the world at the time of Paul. It had a vast army. That army controlled all the countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. So the rulers of Rome were extremely powerful and wealthy. They employed many people. Many slaves had to work in Rome. And Rome was also an important city for trade.
Paul had not visited Rome at the time when he wrote this letter. Paul wrote most of his letters to churches that he himself had established. But the church at Rome was different. There were already many Christians in Rome long before Paul arrived there.
The Bible and other ancient records help us to understand the history of this important church:
1. About 30 *A.D.. The first Christian church began in Jerusalem, on the day called *Pentecost. On that day, Peter *preached to many visitors to Jerusalem. Among them were ‘visitors from Rome, both *Jews and *Gentiles who believed the *Jewish religion’. Some of these were probably among the 3000 that became Christians (Acts 2:9-11; 2:41). They carried the *gospel to Rome.
2. 49 *A.D.. The *Emperor Claudius ordered *Jews to leave Rome. There had been some trouble among the *Jews. A *Roman called Suetonius wrote that someone called ‘Chrestus’ had caused the trouble. Chrestus may have been a *Jew who caused the trouble. But ‘Chrestus’ may be the same as ‘Christus’ (that is, *Christ). *Jews opposed those who *preached the message about *Christ. So the trouble might have begun at that time.
3. Aquila and Priscilla from Rome were probably Christians before they met Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). Later they probably returned to Rome, after they worked in Corinth and Ephesus. Christians used to gather in their home (Romans 16:3-5).
4. 57 *A.D.. Paul probably wrote this letter about 57 *A.D.. He had not yet visited Rome. But he knew many people in the church at Rome. Many *Gentile as well as *Jewish Christians were already members of the church there. In his letter, Paul says that *Gentile Christians must not consider themselves more important than the *Jewish Christian *brothers (Romans 11:18-20).
5. 60 *A.D.. Paul reached Rome as a prisoner. Christians from Rome met him on the Appian road to go with him to Rome (Acts 28:14-16). Paul spent two years in Rome. Although he was a prisoner, he was able to *preach and to teach (Acts 28:30-31). His plan was to visit Spain (Romans 15:24). But we do not know whether he was able to do this.
6. 64 *A.D.. Christians received the blame for the great fire that the *Emperor Nero himself may have started. The writer Tacitus spoke about great numbers of Christians. He called them ‘enemies of the human family of people’.
7. There is evidence of Christian graves in the catacombs (underground graves in Rome) before 100 *A.D..
1. Paul dictated his letter to Tertius (Romans 16:22). Paul wrote it during his stay in Corinth, probably about 57 *A.D..
2. Paul established churches in many cities. But he was careful not to upset anyone else’s work (Romans 15:20). However, the church in Rome was not the result of the work of any one particular person. So Paul would not be upsetting anyone’s work if he visited Rome. And for many years, Paul had wanted to visit the Christians in Rome. He had completed his work in the east. There were elders (leaders in the church) to take care of the new churches. Paul wanted to visit Rome on his way to Spain (Romans 15:23-24).
3. There were several reasons for the letter:
a) to prepare the church in Rome for his visit.
b) to give a clear explanation of the *gospel.
c) to give the truth about the Christian *faith to any Christians in Rome who had false ideas about it.
d) to give practical advice about how Christians should behave towards each other (chapters 14-15).
e) to give practical advice about how Christians should behave towards their rulers (Romans 13:1-7).
f) to unite *Jewish and *Gentile Christians. In many churches, there had been serious arguments between *Jewish Christians and *Gentile Christians. The *Jewish Christians said that God had given his law in the Bible. So they told the *Gentile Christians to obey it. But the *Gentile Christians said that God had given them freedom. So, they did not want to obey any *Jewish rules or traditions.
g) to urge the Christians in Rome to help Paul in his work. He might need their help in order to continue his journey to Spain (Romans 15:24). And he needed the Christians in Rome to support and to encourage him by their prayers (Romans 15:30-32).