The Book of Romans
The event that split history into “before” and “after” and changed the world took place about thirty years before Paul wrote this letter. The event – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – took place in a remote corner of the extensive Roman Empire: the province of Judea in Palestine. Hardly anyone noticed, certainly no one in busy powerful Rome.
And when this letter arrived in Rome, hardly anyone read it, certainly no one of influence. There was much to read in Rome – imperial decrees, exquisite poetry, finely crafted moral philosophy – and much of it was world-class. And yet in no time, this letter left all those other writings in the dust. Paul’s letter to the Romans has had a far larger impact on its readers than the volumes of all those Roman writers put together.
The quick rise of this letter to a peak of influence is extraordinary, written as it was by an obscure Roman citizen without connections. But when we read it for ourselves, we begin to realize that it is the letter itself that is truly extraordinary and that no obscurity in writers or readers could have kept it obscure for long.
The letter to the Romans is a piece of exuberant and passionate thinking. This is the glorious life of the mind enlisted in the service of God. Paul takes the well-witnessed and devout fact of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and thinks through its implications. How does it happen that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, world history took a new direction and at the same moment the life of every man, woman and child on the planet was eternally affected? What is God up to? What does it mean that Jesus saves? What’s behind all this and where is it going?
These are the questions that drive Paul’s thinking. Paul’s mind is supple and capacious. He takes logic and argument, poetry and imagination, Scripture and prayer, creation and history and experience, and weaves them into this letter that has become the premier document of Christian theology.