The Argument of Romans

Jason Dulle

 A literary argument is that which traces the flow of an author's thought, following his line of reasoning from the beginning of the treatise to its conclusion. The object is to understand both the macro and micro-structure of the author's work, and thereby allowing each particular element of the argument to be understood in terms of the intended goal of the argument.

The following is such an argument on the epistle to the Romans. I have attempted to trace Paul's train of thought in this theologically rich letter. It proceeds in chronological order, interpreting the text as it flows. This argument, as in all other arguments, attempts to answer the questions pertaining to why the author advances a particular subject or phrase, and how the occasioning of this subject or phrase advances his argument.


Paul began his epistle identifying himself as both a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, the prophesied Son of David (1:1-2). The resurrected Christ gave Paul his office and ministry to the Gentiles, giving Him the authority to write such an epistle to the church in Rome (1:3-6).

Following a greeting to the church (1:7), Paul thanked God for them and communicated his desire to visit Rome and minister the gospel there as he had in every other place (1:8-15). He was not ashamed of this gospel because it had the power to bring salvation to both the Jew and Gentile, bringing righteousness to all who would believe (1:16-17).

Paul began the body of his epistle by proving that the Gentiles are sinners before God. Although God has revealed His truth to them, they have suppressed it, resulting in the darkness of their inner man and rebellion against God to the point of worshipping animals (1:18-23). As a result God gave them over to do the desires of their heart (1:24, 26): idolatry (1:25), lesbianism (1:26), and homosexuality (1:27). Seeing that they had no desire to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a depraved mind to do every sort of evil (1:28-31).

Paul specifically addressed the Jewish element at Rome arguing that if God judged the Gentiles who suppressed the revelation they had received, they should not believe that they will escape the judgment of God simply because they have received the Law of Moses. These Jews were judging others for things that they themselves did, thinking they would escape God's judgment because of their ethnicity (2:1-3). Paul warned that they were storing up God's wrath against themselves because they would not repent for their sins (2:4-5). God rewards or punishes individuals based upon their works, not their ethnic background or their knowledge of the Law (2:6-13). Paul argued that the Gentile's conscience would serve as the basis for their judgment (2:14-16), as would the Law serve for the judgment of the Jew.

Paul continued to condemn the Jew for feeling superior to the Gentiles because of their entrustment to the special revelation of the Law, all the while they played the hypocrite by not living as the Law demanded (2:17-22). They were dishonoring God and giving reason to the Gentiles to blaspheme God (2:23-24). Some thought that being circumcised justified their actions, but Paul made it clear that the Law only had value to those who lived by it, not to those who simply possessed it (2:25). If the uncircumcised lived by the Law, his actions would make it as though he was circumcised, and he would be able to judge the circumcised who only profess the Law (2:26-27). True Jewishness is not only physical lineage from the patriarchs or one who is circumcised, but one whose heart is circumcised and whose praise comes from God rather than men (2:28-29). Thus Paul proved that the Jew is as much a sinner as is the Gentile

Paul anticipated the Jew's reaction to his belittling of the Jewish lineage to match that of the Gentiles, so insisted that there are advantages to being a physical, circumcised Jew (3:1-2a). One of the advantages was that they received the word of God (3:2b). This was special revelation not revealed to any other people, above and beyond the revelation of creation and conscience. Just because the Jews didn't believe God's words, God is still true and faithful (3:3-4).

Some believed that since God's righteousness is made evident when people commit unrighteousness, God would not be able to punish people for their sins because their sin showed God's righteousness. Paul argued that if this was so, God could not judge the world (3:5-7). Some went so far as to allege that Paul taught that people should sin to bring about good (3:8).

The Jews may have had an advantage as it pertains to the special revelation of God's word, but this did not make them any better than the Gentiles, as Paul had already proved (3:9).

Indeed, as it is written in the OT, all men are unfaithful to God and spiritually dead; Jew and Gentile alike (3:10-18). The Law served to demonstrate the Jew's sinfulness to Him, thus putting him in the "same camp" as the Gentiles as it pertains to their ability to boast before God (3:19-20). God's righteousness comes to an individual apart from the Law to those who believe on Jesus (3:21-23a).. God doesn't distinguish between Jew and Gentile in this matter because both are sinner's (23b-24), but justifies them both freely through their faith in the redemption Christ provided, which showed his righteousness as He passed over the sins committed before Calvary in order to demonstrate His righteousness in this age (3:25-26).

Since righteousness does not come by the principle of works (Law), but by the principle of faith (New Covenant), no one could boast before God (3:27). Righteousness is given to both Jew and Gentile apart from the works of the Law (3:28). Since there is only one God, the Gentiles must be serving the same God as are the Jews, proving that both must be justified in the same way, i.e. faith (3:29-30). There is not one way for the Jew to be justified and another for the Gentile. Anticipating that some might accuse him of antinomianism because of his emphasis on faith instead of the Law (works), Paul quickly added that this doctrine does not make the principle of law void, but establishes law (the law of faith) (3:31).

To prove to the Jew that one is justified by faith in God apart from the Law, Paul documented from the Law the experience of two of the most prominent figures in Judaism: Abraham, David. Abraham, who lived before the Law was justified by God apart from any works, when he believed God (4:1-4). David, who lived under the Law even attested to the fact that God imputes righteousness apart from works (4:5-8). This blessing was not limited to the Jews, for Abraham was justified before he was circumcised, while he was still like all other Gentiles (4:9-10). God declared him to be righteous because of his faith, not circumcision, so that he could be the father to all who would believe whether they be Jew or Gentile (4:11-12). The people who live by the Law are not recipients of the promise God made to Abraham, because the promise came about as a result of Abraham's faith, not the Law of Moses, so that no one group would be heirs (4:13-17). Abraham was fully persuaded that God would perform what He said He would do, and it was credited to Him for righteousness (4:18-22). The Romans were to follow this same example of faith by believing in Jesus and His work (4:23-24).

Having completed his argument that justification is for all and is received by faith apart from the works of the Law, Paul spoke of the Roman's present state of justification and its benefits (5:1-4). They received this gift from God while still ungodly (5:6-8), and as a result of their justification are saved from God's future wrath (5:9-11).

To emphasize why they needed, and the means by which the received such justification Paul compared and contrasted Adam to Christ. Sin rules over us because of our union with Adam, bringing spiritual death and eternal condemnation. Jesus Christ, however, came to reverse the consequences of Adam's disobedience, bringing spiritual life and justification effecting both our present and future relationship to God (5:12-19). Our natural sinfulness because of our union with Adam was increased by the law, but where sin abounded, God's grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20-21).

Knowing that some would misunderstand the implications of justification and new life through Christ apart from the law, Paul addressed the idea that Christians should continue to sin so that we might receive more grace (Romans 6). To oppose such a doctrine that seemed like a logical inference from Paul's prior statements, he explained how we received our justification and spiritual life, and the implications of our new position in God. It was argued that we cannot continue to sin because we have been unified with Christ and have received of His grace. Whereas before we were only unified with Adam, now we are unified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, by means of baptism. Because of our union with Him through the new birth, whatever can be said of Christ can also be said of us. Just as He died to sin, but lives to righteousness, likewise we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to righteousness, experiencing a new life. Sin has no more power over us because we are "in Him," and sin has no power over Him. Sin could only control us as long as we were in Adam, but it cannot control those who have died, been buried, and resurrected with Christ through baptism. Now we live in new life, being enslaved to righteousness as we await the bodily resurrection.

Paul used the analogy of the marriage covenant to explain this concept, and further his defense that grace (New Covenant) is superior to the Law (7:1-6). Just as a spouse is freed from the bonds of marriage when their partner dies, and can then marry another person, so likewise we have died to the law and to the dominion of sin so that we might serve God in the spirit. The law actually increased the desire to sin and brought people into bondage, whereas grace allowed them to serve God in the Spirit. (7:5-6). In case some would think the Law was evil because it produced evil desires in those who were under it, Paul quickly added that the Law was good, but that it brought spiritual death because it defined sin and increased our natural desire to break God's laws (7:7-13). Because of their fallen nature, the Law would not allow them to perform their mind's desire to obey it (7:13-23). The only solution to this dilemma was Jesus Christ (7:24-25).

Whereas the Law brought condemnation in that it did not give those under it the ability to keep its commands, those who are in Christ receive no condemnation (8:1). The Spirit makes them free from sin and death, which the Law agitated and increased, and allowed them to follow the righteous requirements of the Law (8:2-4). In order to please God they needed to keep following the Spirit, to Whom their allegiance was made, and cease following their fleshly nature (8:5-15).

Because they were God's children, Paul assured them that the sufferings they were enduring for the moment in the future would be turned to glory, both in the earth and in themselves (8:16-23). They were to wait for this redemption through hope (8:24-25).

Just as hope sufficed their groanings for redemption, the Spirit helped them in their weaknesses by interceding on their behalves, working out everything for their good, and assuring their ultimate salvation (8:26-30). In case the Romans still might think God would not deliver them from their distresses, Paul argued that if God gave them Christ, He would surely give them all else (8:31-32). As a result they could not be condemned or separated from Christ's love (8:31-39).

Now Paul turned his attention toward Israel's relationship to God, explaining both their past, present, and future. He prefaced his teaching by explaining his deep desire for their salvation, lest any think he was being anti-Semitic (9:1-5). Because some Jews thought that Israel's present rejection by God meant that He was not fulfilling the promises that He made to them, Paul explained that the promises were not made to every Israelite, but only those who have faith (9:6-8). Not everyone who descended from Abraham was an Israelite (as Abraham had other children besides the promised seed), but God used His eclectic power in choosing only those who came through the lineage of Isaac and Jacob to be the promised seed (9:9-12). In case some thought God's eclectic power apart from man's works was unjust, Paul gave Pharaoh, and the analogy of the potter and the clay, as an example to show that God has the prerogative to do what He will, and that man has no right to question God's eclectic power (9:13-24). God used this power in choosing to turn to the Gentiles to grant them salvation, and yet still save a remnant of Israel (9:25-29). The reason for this rejection of national Israel and subsequent turn toward the Gentiles was that the Jews attempted to gain righteousness by the works of the Law instead of by faith in God (9:30-10:4).

To explain why the Jews missed God's righteousness by attempting to gain righteousness by the Law, Paul explained that the nature of the Law was opposed to faith, being a works covenant at heart (10:5). The way to receive God's righteousness is strictly through faith (10:6-13). Men are able to receive this righteousness when its message is delivered by preachers (10:14-17). Although Israel heard this message they rejected it, and now God has turned to the Gentiles (10:18-21).

To stop the Gentiles from boasting against the Israelites because the former are now the people God has chosen to deal with, while rejecting the latter, Paul turned his attention past the church-age to deal with the future of Israel. He already insisted that not all of Israel has been rejected, but now he also assured the Roman believers that God has not cast unbelieving Israel off forever either, as the Scriptures attested to (11:1-4). The remnant had been saved by God's grace and the others were hardened (11:5-10). Their fall is only temporary so that the Gentiles can come to salvation (11:11-12). Paul argued that if their fall has brought about the glory of God, their renewal to a place of prominence will be even better (11:13-16). Using the analogy of the vine and branches, Paul noted that the unbelieving Jews were cut off, and the believing Jews were grafted in, but if the Gentiles wanted to boast themselves against the Jews they should beware because God could purge them from the vine and graft the Jews back in again, who held the position in the first place (11:17-24).

He concluded his topic of Israel's choosing, present rejection, and future restoration by discussing when God will turn back to Israel, and how the Gentiles were to view the Jews at this present time. The Jews would remained hardened only until the full amount of Gentiles have been saved, and then will turn back to the Jews to bring them salvation (11:25-27). Even though the Jews are presently enemies to the gospel, they are still God's elect and would again receive mercy, even as did the Gentiles (11:28-31). As a result they should not be hated. Paul finished with a praise to God for His plan in assigning all to disobedience so He can have mercy on all, Jew and Gentile alike (11:32-33).

Based upon all that Paul had taught, he turned his attention to the effects these teachings should have upon the Romans' way of living. He exhorted them to give themselves wholly to God (12:1-2), act in humility understanding that everyone has their own gifts from God (12:3-8), love in truth (12:9-10), be fervent in the Lord, enduring persecution (12:11-14), having empathy toward one another (12:15), and repaying evil with good (12:16-21).

In regards to civil government, Paul taught that they were to fully submit to it, seeing that it was ordained by God to keep order in the world (13:1-8a). After exalting love as the fulfillment of the Law (8b-10), Paul exhorted the Romans to be spiritually alert in this time, not making any provisions for the lusts of the flesh (13:11-14).

Because of tensions between the Jews and Gentiles over areas of Christian liberty as it pertained to eating meat, drinking wine, and observing certain days, Paul commanded that there be no disputing over differing opinions. The first thing they should be concerned about is that what they are doing is acceptable before the Lord (14:2-13a), and secondly they should make sure that what they are doing will not make another brother lose faith in Christ (14:13b-23). Instead of focusing on what was pleasing to the self Paul encouraged them to seek the edification of the body of Christ, holding up Christ's life as their example (15:1-6). Instead of rejecting one another over differences of opinion, the Jews and Gentiles were to accept each other, seeing that both groups of people are involved in God's plan (15:7-13).

Although Paul was convinced of the churches spiritual maturity, he wrote to them to explain his reason for not coming to them sooner, and expressed his future travel plans, which included a trip to Rome (15:17-24). This trip would take place after he delivered the collection he was gathering to the saints at Jerusalem (15:25-29); a trip that Paul asked the Romans to help him with in prayer (15:30-33).

Having finished his exhortations and commands, Paul finished his epistle by sending greetings to many individuals at the church in Rome (16:1-16), warning of false-teachers (16:17-20), sending greeting from his fellow-laborers (16:21), and giving glory to the God who was able to strengthen the church, and disclosed the mystery of the church to bring many to faith (16:25-27).

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