Greetings (1: 1-15) and The Gospel as revelation of God’s Righteousness (1: 16-17)

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Romans 1:1-17

These 17 verses are the Introdution to the letter. The section can be sub-divided into three sub-sections but we should note here that this introduction is the longest of all of Paul’s letters. In part, as we already noted, it is because Paul was not the founder of the church in Rome. As he explains in chapter 15:20, “…I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news , not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation”.

In other words, the church in Rome was someone else’s foundation – not Paul’s – and we do not know whose. Thus, he needed to establish the basis for writing to them.

The Salutation: 1-7

This is a long and formal salutation. In Greek, the seven verses are one sentence of ninety words!

The beginning of the letter is typical of all letter beginnings in the Greco-Roman period. First, there is the identity of the sender – here, it is Paul. We have noted that this letter is undoubtedly Pauline, from both internal and external evidence. It was not uncommon – indeed, it was very common – for unknown writers to write in the name of famous individuals. A lot of the  pseudepigraphal literature was written in the Greco-Roman period.

So, the writer is Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus. What is translated servant is the Greek doulos, normally used for slave.

In modern society the word slave carries a stigma and negative
connotations. Paul saw himself as a servant so totally committed to his master to the extent of losing his free-will. The bond between Paul and Jesus was similar to that of a slave to his master – he only obeyed his master’s bidding.

In the same verse, Paul continues to introduce himself as not only a slave, but he was called. Jesus called him – which reminds us of Jesus calling his disciples. He did not see himself as the initiator, but one who heeded a call. In fact, like the Twelve, Paul saw himself as called to be an apostle.

In Greek apostolos from which we get the term apostle means “one who is sent” – from the verb apostelein, meaning “to send”. In the early church, the term was reserved for the twelve disciples. Today, the term is often also used in a generic sense, to mean anyone who is sent to proclaim the gospel.

Paul never saw himself sent in the generic sense. He saw himself as one of that special group of the Twelve. In 1 Corinthians 9:1 he wrote: “…Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?…” What Paul is asserting here is that, like the Twelve, he too saw Jesus, a qualification for the title of apostle.

So, Paul was called to be an apostle. That was the purpose or the mission of his call. Every Christian needs to be sure of one’s call because all believers are indeed called. When Jesus called us to follow him, he also designated a mission for the call. What is it? Everyone needs to find that out.

The next thing Paul says, is that he was set apart. The common term we use for setting apart is consecration. A church – the building – for example, is set apart, or consecrated for worship. It may not be used for commerce, for example. In the same way, Jesus’ followers are set apart for service to Jesus.

Paul says he was set apart for the gospel of God.

The Gospel is the translation of the Greek Euangelion which means Good News. Note, that Paul here says it is the Good News of God. In his time, good news often meant proclamations from the emperor, for example news of victory in military campaigns, or the birth of an heir. Paul distinguishes the Good News of God from all other proclamations.

What is this Good News of God? It is the whole message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is what the whole epistle to the Romans is all about.

Furthermore, Paul says this gospel was promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. Holy Scriptures is a reference to the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament. Paul is saying here that the gospel message goes back long before the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem and that the prophetic message was part of the salvation history.

As a matter of fact, after the fall of mankind following the disobedience of our first ancestors, God promised to “put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen.3:15).