Romans is a letter written in Greek, the international language of the first century A.D., by Paul to the saints in Rome, probably in the winter or spring of A.D. 55—56.It may have been written in Corinth, just before the journey described in Acts 20 and 21. (Romans 16:23 mentions Gaius, who is perhaps the same person mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14 as a resident of Corinth.) Romans 16:22 says that Romans was written by Tertius, but that does not necessarily mean that Paul did not write it. It was common at the time to use scribes to write letters, much as businesspeople often have their secretaries write letters today. Sometimes the person sending the letter would give instructions to the scribe, who would then compose a letter and have it approved before sending. This was a common practice for simple matters, but it is unlikely that something as long and complicated as Romans would have been written this way. Latin writers had a shorthand system that could be used to take dictation, but this was not common, and we have no evidence that a similar system existed in Greek (though it may have), so it is unlikely that the letter was composed in this way. Sometimes, though rarely, authors dictated and scribes wrote down in longhand what they said. Even though this occurred only occasionally, it is quite possible that Romans was composed this way, for this method was used when the subject matter was difficult and it was important that no mistakes be made. In such a case, the author might dictate from a set of notes or an outline of some sort and review the completed letter with the scribe once or more to see that it was the way it should be. Another possibility is that Paul wrote Romans as a letter to several churches, and Tertius was assigned to write a version for each church, inserting the proper references into the text where they were appropriate and adding a list of greetings and other particular matters at the end. This is quite possible and would explain the difficulty of knowing whether Paul was addressing a congregation composed primarily of gentiles or of Jews, a problem that confronts everyone who reads this letter carefully.
One objection to the last explanation is that Paul was the apostle to the gentiles and did not address Jews particularly. That designation, however, seems to be more a geographic designation than a description of whom he taught. After all, to be called on a mission to Italy today is not to be called to teach only those who come from Italy, but to teach those who are in Italy, regardless of their background. Thus, to be called as an apostle to the gentiles would be to be called to teach those who lived among “the nations,” as the gentiles were called, not necessarily to teach only those who were not of the house of Israel.
In the end we have no way to know how the letter was composed. But it makes no difference. There is no doubt that it is an authentic letter of Paul, so whether it was written in shorthand or longhand, dictated, or rewritten for several congregations matters little. Some scholars dispute the authorship of various scriptural books. For example, many question whether Paul wrote Hebrews. But no one seriously questions whether Paul is the author of the letter to the Romans. As the LDS Dictionary points out, the letter was written from Corinth to the members in Rome in the mid to late 50s of the first century, and it is the fifth of Paul’s extant letters. The books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians seem to have been written before Romans.
It is not uncommon to hear it said that Paul’s style is poor, that he is not a particularly good writer. If that means his letters do not usually conform to the stylistic standards of his day, the standards of classical literary training, it is accurate. But good style is not confined to the style that was common in the schools of Paul’s day. Paul has a wide vocabulary and he uses it carefully. He varies his style to suit the subject matter, sometimes using a style similar to what the rabbis used, and sometimes using a style like that found in some of the religious texts that were popular at the time, like Wisdom (also called Wisdom of Solomon). Occasionally he uses the style of Greek rhetoricians, the literary style. Paul’s style has much in common with what the Puritans later called plain style. Its grace comes from its simplicity and straightforwardness.
Calling Paul's writing simple may strike many as laughable, but it is accurate. He writes about what are often complicated issues in as simple and straightforward a way as he can without falsifying. The complexity is as much a result of the ideas as it is of the style; for the most part, Paul avoids ornamenting his sentences except with the truth.
On the other hand, as you will see in some of the notes that follow, Paul is not an unsophisticated writer. He knows various literary devices (probably from being a careful listener and reader rather than from formal training in rhetoric), and he uses them effectively and unselfconsciously. Where these literary devices help us understand his point, we will look at how he uses them. Paul is also sophisticated about the ideas of his time. Though there is little reason to believe that he had much classical training, he did receive a good formal Jewish education and, as we will see, he knows many of the ideas of his culture well enough to use them in his letters.
In most of his previous letters, Paul was concerned about particular problems that had arisen in the churches to which he was writing. First Thessalonians is a letter of gratitude and exhortation more than a letter of correction, but 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians are responses to particular problems of misunderstanding and even apostasy. Paul writes about such things as a too-anxious expectation of the second coming, comfort in the face of persecution, and confusion about—even wholesale defection back to—the Jewish law. In each case Paul writes to congregations he knows personally, congregations created by his missionary work.
However, when Paul writes to the Romans, he writes to those whom he has never visited. As is obvious in the first sixteen verses of chapter 16, Paul knows some individuals in the congregation(s) in Rome. Nevertheless, though he discusses such things as the relation of Jews and gentiles within the church, he does not do so as we would expect him to if he were writing about a particular problem in Rome. He gives no details of any such problems but speaks only generally, perhaps taking up the issue of Jews and gentiles as part of a larger discussion because he knows that the congregation in Rome has large groups of both Jews and gentiles. Thus Romans is a doctrinal exposition rather than a response to a particular problem among the saints in Rome. Nevertheless, as a doctrinal exposition, Paul’s letter is not merely an abstract treatise. As he writes, Paul refers to specific errors that people make, explains doctrines in a detailed manner, and uses specific scriptures and examples to explain and justify his teaching.
As we read Romans, it is crucial to remember that Paul is addressing an audience of believers. As a result, we cannot use Romans to decide, for example, whether baptism is required of Christ’s followers, because the issue of baptism is not raised in the letter. Nor can we infer an answer about baptism from what Paul says about the law, because he is usually speaking of the Mosaic law in particular and because the audience he was addressing would already have completed whatever prerequisites there were for being counted a Christian. Historical and other scriptural evidence indicates that baptism was required of all early converts to Christianity. Presumably, then, all those to whom Paul is speaking in this letter have been baptized. Consequently, the letter to the Romans could tell us that baptism and similar rites are not required of believers only if it specifically said so, but it does not. I cannot emphasize this point enough: Paul is writing to and for those who are already converted to Christianity. He is preaching to believers to help them understand what it means to be a believer, what they must do and be now that they are converted. Contrary to what some contemporary Protestant ministers teach, Paul is not telling us what one must do to become a Christian.
Paul speaks about a variety of topics in the letter to the Romans. In chapters 9—11, for example, he explains the relation between the house of Israel and the gentiles. Each of the various topics that Paul deals with falls within his overall purpose, which he announces in verses 16 and 17 of chapter 1. Consider the following paraphrase of that message: The preaching of the gospel (and presumably the conversions that result from that preaching) exhibits God’s power to save all, first the Jew and then the gentile (as is the case in the early church), and the preaching of the gospel exhibits this power because the gospel reveals God’s justice and uprightness to those who are faithful, making them more faithful.
Romans is similar to the message that Paul later delivers to the Ephesians:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11—22)
We who were formerly separated—Jews on one side, gentiles on the other—by the fact that the former had the law of Moses and the latter did not, have now been brought together in faith by Jesus Christ. Having been brought together, we can now grow to be a temple of and in the Lord. Thus it is faith in Jesus Christ that we must preach, and it is faith in Jesus Christ that saves us, not the law of Moses. As Nephi tells us, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).1
Paul’s letter to the Romans begins by explaining that all, Jew and gentile, are fallen. All are condemned because of their disobedience to the law, and future obedience to the law cannot make up for past disobedience (see chapters 1—7). That important message is one we must understand if we are to comprehend the importance of repentance and what it means to live by the Spirit. However, that idea is only one part of Paul’s message. After insisting that obedience to the law cannot save us, Paul goes on to explain how faith in Jesus Christ can overcome the problem that obedience alone cannot (see chapter 8), namely, our separation from God and our consequent inability to do good. Then, perhaps because of the mixed congregation of Jews and gentiles in Rome, Paul digresses briefly to discuss what this means with regard to the Jews and their relation to the gentiles (see chapters 9—11). Finally, having explained how faith does what mere obedience cannot, Paul explains the place and importance of obedience to the Christian life (see chapters 12—15). He finishes by adding some personal notes directed to the congregation as a whole (see chapter 15) and to specific individuals in Rome (see chapter 16).
The following outline shows the overall structure of the book of Romans:
1. The gospel message (1—11): the gospel has the power to save all (1—8)
a. God’s righteousness assures that those who are faithful will be saved (1:18—4)
i. All are under condemnation because of sin (1:18—3:20)
ii. The atonement applies to all equally (3:21—4)
b. God's love assures the faithful of salvation (5—8)
i. The Christian life is possible through the Holy Ghost (8)
ii. Transition to the next major section (which is 12—15)
c. A doctrinal digression: the relation of the Jews to the gentiles; salvation by faith does not contradict God’s promises to Israel (9—11)
2. A Christian’s obligations to obedience (12—15)
3. Paul’s messages to individual persons (15:13—16:27)
As we read particular passages in Romans, it is helpful to remember this structure and to recall the place of a given passage in that structure. Paul discusses different topics at different times in the letter, but we cannot take what he teaches in one place out of its context in the letter as a whole without changing the meaning of the teaching. Neither can we read one part of the letter as if it were separate from the rest.
Following is the format I have used for my notes and reflections on Romans 1: The Greek text is divided into paragraphs according to the paragraphing of the United Bible Societies’ The Greek New Testament,2 the Greek text on which I have relied. Each major section of one or more paragraphs begins with two columns, the King James Version in the left-hand column and my alternate translation in the right. (Recall that the alternate translation is provided only as an aid to understanding the language of the KJV; it is not intended to stand on its own.)
Within the exegesis of each section I proceed verse by verse, commenting on the words and phrases within verses in chronological order. The beginning of the exegesis of each verse is marked by the verse number, and the words or phrases I discuss appear before the paragraph that begins the discussion. The KJV provides the anchor point for my exegesis, so the words and phrases are from that translation.
The exegesis of each verse is followed by a comparison of the KJV with the Joseph Smith Translation of the verse. If the Prophet Joseph made no revision, that is noted. Words in the revision that have been added to the KJV or changed in some way are underlined, and deletions are marked by two slashes (//) at the point where the deletion occurs.
I hope many will find this commentary helpful to their scripture study. Some may use it only as a reference book. A few may read the work in its entirety. In either case, the point of this work is to help us approach the book of Romans and other scriptures with renewed interest and insight.
After you read whatever portion of my translation and commentary you find helpful, and after you have done whatever other studying of scripture you want to do, I recommend that you finish by reading out loud the King James translation of the passages you have been studying. As a letter, Romans was meant to be read out loud, so reading it that way may give you a better sense of its meaning and how its parts connect to each other. Studying in some detail the construction and meaning of part of Romans will help you read the letter as a whole better—with more meaning—and reading out loud the passages from it that you are studying will often help you better understand what may have been unclear before. Reading out loud may also give you a sense of the passage or letter as a whole, a sense that is sometimes lost when we focus carefully on a small passage or set of passages but that is absolutely essential to understanding Paul’s message.
In addition, be sure to read the notes at the bottom of each page in your Bible. Look up the cross-references and the relevant scriptures in the Topical Guide. Compare the emendations made by Joseph Smith to the KJV text and think about the differences these changes make in the meaning. Use the footnotes about Greek words together with this commentary and any other useful translations or commentaries available as study aids; use them to help you understand what Paul means but not to replace reading the letter itself. In short, study the book of Romans and all other scripture with at least as much diligence and care as you might use to study any other good book. (If you have ever had a class in Shakespeare or one in which you learned to read other great literature, many of the study techniques you learned there will help you study the scriptures too. The scriptures are, after all, also the greatest literature.)
My experience tells me that when people study with real intent and seriousness of purpose and heart, they are rewarded. Though spending Sunday afternoon carefully studying the scriptures may not be as easy as just reading through them quickly, it is far more rewarding and, therefore, even far more enjoyable. Truly study the scriptures and you will discover over and over again why the gospel is indeed the good news.
1. The word after usually means “following in time.” That meaning yields one possible and common reading of the passage: first we do all that we can, then Christ’s grace completes what must be done if we are to be saved. However, the fact that Christ’s grace was exhibited in his crucifixion and resurrection, which antedate our works, complicates that reading, though it does not make it impossible. Christ accomplished his act of grace before we did anything. One can also read the word after to indicate the relative importance of the two things mentioned, as in the phrase after all is said and done. Such a use suggests the insufficiency of what comes first and the fulness or sufficiency of what comes after. I think the latter meaning is more informative as an understanding of 2 Nephi 25:23: we are saved by grace, which is more important than our works.
2. See The Greek New Testament, 4th ed., rev. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1993).