Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 1:8–15—Paul’s thanksgiving, purpose for writing, and plan to visit.

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you,
because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.
9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son,
that without ceasing I mention you
10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will
I may now at last succeed in coming to you.
11 For I long to see you,
that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—
12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith,
both yours and mine.
13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,
that I have often intended to come to you
(but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you
as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.
14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,
both to the wise and to the foolish.
15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul’s heartfelt concern for the believers in Rome comes alive in these verses. So does his sincere devotion to “my God.” And in one inconspicuous phrase in verse 11 we may discover an important clue to Paul’s purpose in this epistle.

An apostle with a pastor’s heart, Paul thanks God for the Roman Christians’ faith. “Traditionally this part of a letter was concerned with the health and well-being of the recipients, but in this case it is concerned with their faith” (Colin Kruse). Paul may engage in some well-intentioned exaggeration in saying their “faith is proclaimed in all the world.” Genuine though their faith is, its fame is likely due to the location. Christians around the Mediterranean would have welcomed news of fellow believers worshiping God in the capital city of the Roman Empire.

The praying, worshiping apostle
So committed is Paul to praying for them and planning to visit them that verses 9 and 10 take the form of an oath with God as his witness. His prayer for them is “without ceasing” and “always.” Every time he prays, which is regular and often, he prays for them. Paul knows that his ministry goes nowhere unless unless God acts, and God acts in response to prayer.

Paul’s reverential heart shines in verse 9 with the verb “serve,” also meaning “to worship” (for the noun, see 12:1). Paul views his ministry as “worshipful service.” The phrase “with my spirit” means that Paul’s ministry engages his “deepest” person (Douglas Moo).

Deciphering “some spiritual gift”
A cursory reading of verse 11 suggests Paul’s desire to impart one or more of the gifts he lists in chapter 12. There are reasons to doubt this, however. Although some scholars resort to this interpretation, they do so reluctantly because the idea seems out of place here. Moo points out that Paul nowhere else combines “spiritual” (pneuma) and “gift” (charisma) to refer to that kind of gift. In fact, only here does Paul combine the two words, says Richard Longenecker.

An alternative interpretation regards this gift to be the epistle itself—especially Paul’s rendition of the gospel in the epistle. As Joseph Fitzmyer suggests, Paul is sharing the gospel now in this letter, “and in due time he will share himself” when he visits. Kruse finds similar expressions in 1 Corinthians 9:11 and Romans 15:27. “And if Paul’s letter to the Romans foreshadows in writing the sort of spiritual gift he wanted to impart in person, then that gift is a reminder of the content of the gospel he proclaims (Rom. 15:15–16).”

Longenecker’s proposal
Longenecker extends this line of interpretation by building on positions advocated by James Denney and Gordon Fee. What Longenecker adds to the discussion is his proposal that Paul’s spiritual gift is the Christian message the apostle developed for proclamation in his mission to Gentiles. Paul thinks this message—he calls it “my gospel” in 2:16 and 16:25—will be particularly helpful to the predominantly Gentile believers in Rome, Longenecker says.

I will spell out a bit further what I understand Longenecker to suggest, because I think his perspective on Paul’s teaching contributes significantly to our understanding of Romans.

Perceiving verse 11 to be an important interpretive key to the body of the epistle, Longenecker proposes that the focus of Romans is found primarily in Paul’s theological exposition of chapters 5–8. These chapters in particular, along with the “love ethic” material in chapters 12 and 13, Longenecker regards as Paul’s spiritual gift to the Roman believers.

The apostle seems to have been aware that the content and form of his presentation of the gospel, especially in those chapters, differs from what the Roman Christians had been taught. Their understanding of the gospel, Longenecker reasons, “had probably been extensively influenced by Jewish Christian theology, language, and practices.” To be clear, this Jerusalem-centered teaching they had received was authentic; it was not the false teaching of Judaizers.

If Longenecker is correct in his assessment of this background, he is also right in supposing that what these believers had heard about Paul’s teaching made them a bit wary and suspicious. So we can understand why Paul would seek to establish common ground with them in his salutation, as I noted previously, and by complimenting them on their faith in this thanksgiving section.

Longenecker points out that the message Paul lays out in 1:16–4:25 clarifies and develops what the Roman Christians already had been taught about the gospel from a Jewish Christian perspective. There Paul warns against reliance on works of the law and clarifies Jewish Christian themes of “righteousness,” “faith,” and “faithfulness.” Then for his gift to this mainly Gentile audience, Paul shifts in chapters 5–8 to themes of “peace” and “reconciliation” with God, believers’ transition from “death” to “life,” and their status “in Christ” and “in the Spirit.”

Finally, Longenecker regards the word some to express Paul’s understandable reticence to go into more detail about his spiritual gift in this opening section of his letter. That detail will unfold in the epistle’s body and in Paul’s hoped-for visit. This gift, Paul was convinced, would strengthen them in faith and service.

Mutual encouragement
Chapter 16 reveals that Paul does have some dear friends in Rome he longs to see. In verse 12 he tactfully recognizes that the Roman believers have something to offer him as well. His visit will be for mutual benefit. He also hopes to “reap some harvest” among them (verse 13), evidently by strengthening their understanding of the gospel and by preaching to the unsaved in Rome (verses 13 and 15).

In the epistle’s closing, he will expand these thoughts, including his desire for their assistance in his missionary outreach to Spain (15:14–32). Paul will make it to Rome eventually, but not in a way he could have foreseen. He will go in chains, and about 10 years from now he will die there.

Paul’s Gentile focus
Here and in chapter 15 we see more evidence that most of the believers in Rome are Gentiles. He is “under obligation” to them in the sense he feels the call of duty as apostle to the Gentiles (verse 5). “Obligation to him who died produces obligation to those for whom he died” (P. S. Minear, cited by Fitzmyer).

The phrase “Greeks and barbarians” is Paul’s way of categorizing the entirety of Gentiles. Greeks comprised much of humanity, as Fitzmyer notes: “After the conquest of Alexander the name was used to denote also non-Greek peoples who spoke Greek and shared Greek culture and education.” The New Testament is of course written in Greek. Here barbarians has an objective, non-pejorative meaning. It designates all non-Greek-speaking Gentiles.

“Wise and unwise” is not a parallel description of Greeks and barbarians, but simply a way of classifying all people. Everett Harrison comments, “The wise are perishing in the midst of their worldly wisdom (1 Cor 1:18–21), and the foolish in their abject simplicity. Both need the gospel.” You are a barbarian in pursuit of biblical wisdom if you are not Greek, not Jewish, and are reading this!