Introductory Message on the Epistle to the Romans
Those are the four questions Paul answers in the four divisions. The introduction covers the first seventeen verses of chapter 1. Then follow the four main divisions:
1. Condemnation, or the wrath of God revealed (1:18-3:20). Each main division of Romans has a distinct beginning and ending, plainly indicated. He starts in verse 18 of chapter 1 with the wrath of God revealed! And in verses 19 to 20 of chapter 3 he closes with the world condemned.
2. Salvation, or the righteousness of God revealed (3:21-8:39). Note the righteousness of God beginning this new division. He concludes with a statement of God's love. "Now is the righteousness of God revealed" - justification, sanctification, preservation - and he closes with the assertion that not a thing in this world can ever separate a saved man from the love of God!
3. Vindication, or the wisdom of God revealed (9:1-11:36). Paul could wish he were accursed for the sake of his brethren. This is a change in thought. "Why is Israel rejected?" is the new thought Paul explains in the ninth chapter. Israel was God's elected people; and the promises of God are not vain. But Israel is rejected temporarily because the people rejected God (chapter 10). In the eleventh chapter comes a promise of reception, "life from the dead" (Romans 11:15), when "all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:26). Paul explained why God has set Israel aside: the Jews are "enemies for your sakes," that is, for Gentile Christians. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Romans 11:29). God has set aside Israel as a nation, but God has not changed His mind. He has shut Israel up in unbelief in order that He might reach the entire Gentile world. With this explanation, Paul vindicates God.
4. Exhortation, or the will of God revealed (12:1-15:33). Paul starts with the words, "I beseech you," and proceeds to tell the how to "walk," to live their doctrine. The first three words of 16:17 are also "I beseech you." An outline of this section could be stated this way:
chapter 12 - transformation in the individual life.
chapter 13 - subjection to the nation and its rulers.
chapter 14 - consideration of the weaker brother within the Christian community.
Chapter 15 - exemplification of daily conduct in the life of Paul as he faced the changing conditions of life.
Every one of these four divisions deals with a specific subject, answers a great question, and at the end makes a revelation of God: the wrath of God revealed; the righteousness of God revealed; the wisdom of God revealed; and the will of God revealed.
Paul's dealing with these great subjects led him to exclaim (in essence). "What a wise God He is! To Him belongs the glory through Jesus Christ forever" (Romans 16:27).
A General Survey of the Epistle
Sometimes when studying a book, one becomes so engrossed with the details that the great comprehensive argument is lost from view. Or, in the tour of a city, one may concentrate on one location and not experience the city as a whole. But if an airplane ride is taken over the city, a view emerges of the entire city. This chapter will be a quick tour of Romans, viewing the major divisions.
The opening seventeen verses of the book contain three aspects.
First Paul saluted them (1-7). This salutation is longer and more lofty than those in the other epistles of Paul. But there was a reason. The Roman church was the only church to which Paul wrote that he had neither founded nor visited. This letter required more dignity, a little more claim to his apostolic authority. Second, Paul expressed his personal feelings for the church (81-15) and revealed his heart. Third, Paul stated his theme (16-17). A skillful transition from the personal element to the formal, dogmatic discussion. Paul now was ready to discuss the gospel. "So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also" (v. 15). Without stopping he says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel." Then he launched into his dogmatic treatise. That is the last of anything personal at all until the end of the book.
Some say this book of Romans is a letter; others say it is a treatise. But it is both; it is a letter that contains a treatise. Paul writes in a personal manner up to the fifteenth verse. At the sixteenth and seventeenth verses Paul shifts over to the treatise. In chapter 15 he again takes up the personal element. By joining the two sections, one can see a letter. When the other section is put in, the result is a treatise inside a letter. So much then for the introduction.
The second division begins at verse 18 and extends to 3:20. It begins with the wrath of God and ends with "every mouth closed and the whole world guilty before God." There is no more distinct section in any book that Paul ever wrote then this one. There are four assertions in this section:
The Heathen World Condemned (1:18-32).
Paul starts out with condemnation for the heathen world, one of the most terrible sections in all the Bible, in the deepest sense of the word "terrible". In fact, there are items in that section not pleasant to read in public. But this description of godless man at his worst is not an exaggeration. When the first chapter of Romans was read at a gathering in India, an educated Indian commented, "The man that wrote that book certainly knew India." The fact is that the God who gave this Book knows men!
The Moral Man Condemned (2:1-16)
Paul turns to another category of man: "Thou that judgest." That is exactly what the moral man does. He sets up his standard of morality and says, "It may be true that these heathen are lost, but I am not lost. I don't do what they do." Paul turns to him and condemns him: "For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things." It may be that the moral man does not practice all the things that the heathen man does, but that awful catalog at the end of the first chapter describes things which are in every man. Even the moral man practices some of them.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 4 - "The Whole World Condemned")