As I continue to immerse myself in the Book of Romans (among other things that make me sweat and feel physical pain instead of that other kind), my brain hurts. 

There is other good news in addition to the gospel good news.  I learned how to wash my hair when my noodle-like arms cannot bear to be lifted an hour after boxing.

3.       Paul wrote to a church in Rome that was experiencing a time of relative peace, yet they were a people and a church that he felt needed a healthy dose of basic gospel doctrine.  Communicating with what appears to be a firmly established collection of believer in Rome, according to Keck, Paul was writing from a port near Corinth (16:1) and was at a pivotal juncture in his mission (15:19-23).  Further, he was on the cusp of concluding his work in the East and being freed for his outright new venture to Spain.[1]  Near Corinth, Paul likely encountered a diverse array of people and practices—from rough and tough sailors and conscionable merchants to affluent idolaters and enslaved Christians.  The city was like modern day Vegas; it was a hotbed of sexual immorality, idol worship and downright gross and unrighteous behavior.  So when Paul wrote all about the sinfulness of humanity and the solution to it in God’s grace (5:1-19; 6:1), he knew that of which he spoke as he was witnessing it first-hand daily. 
Paul had made acquaintances with pretty much all circumstances of the Christians at Rome and found that it was in desperate need of attention.  While it is possible that there were both pagan converts and Jews who, with remaining prejudices, believed in Jesus as the true Messiah in Rome, it is perhaps more plausible that the audience was entirely Gentile.  The former possibility is perhaps explained by the contentious dynamic created by the gentile claims of equal privileges with the Jews and said Jews who said, “no way” unless the gentile converts became circumcised (2:27).  Paul could have been writing to the collective in Rome to adjust preconceptions and settle these differences.  However, as the reconstruction of Das so persuasively states, “Paul directly addresses his audience in Romans 15:15-16 and boldly justifies his writing to ‘you’ Romans because of his calling as a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.”  According to Das, the logic in those verses through verse 18 repeatedly assume that the Romans are themselves Gentiles and thus, the rightful recipients of Paul’s ministry.[2] 
I found the reconstruction ridiculously compelling, to the point my head is now spinning from picturing the intended audience of Romans devoid of a single Jew.
4.       Chapters 1-4 of Romans encompasses Paul’s initial case-building that the entire world is guilty before God, yet the primary role of humanity is to be worshippers (i.e. foundation for ministry), sharing the gospel and teaching that our righteousness comes only by faith in Jesus Christ apart from anything we can do to earn it. Chapters 5-8 are instrumental in teaching that we are completely reconciled with God through Jesus and they also addresses our spiritual lives.  We are freed from sin and made alive through Jesus, as our sin natures were crucified with him when we were baptized into his death.  Romans 9-11 deals with a final assurance from Paul that God’s purposes in redemption (of Israel, the world) will be accomplished; Chapters 12-15 is a charge and encouragement for us in how we should be living today – through faith, as forgiven believers.  It a conclusion for the unity of a body of believers.
In Keck’s intro, the setting and purpose of Roman’s is one if the key themes mentioned.  Without question, this will be the most challenging to my current understanding of the book, as I always read through the two-fold questioning lens of “to whom is the author writing” (my jury is still officially out) and “what message is the author trying to convey.”  Because I have not yet landed on those final answers, it is going to be the most time intensive part of this study.  Keck surmises that “most” of the people in Rome were Gentiles (p.30) and that Paul was writing to garner support for his next mission to Spain, but he could not count on it if everyone was squabbling over legalistic issues, and he knew full well that those issues were caused at the core by a lack of understanding the gospel.  Work needed to be done there before work could be done elsewhere.
From a theological perspective, Keck also explains that another key theme is the role of Scripture in Romans.  The difficulty I may have with this theme is as Keck states: it is unevenly distributed throughout the book (I am a bigger fan of consistency, black and white, inclusios, neat and tidy formats…) but noticeably prominent in the early chapters (1-4) and the seemingly most difficult chapters, 9-11.  As also stated, “Paul rewords the text and uses various versions to ‘fit’ his points better.”[3]  That creative license with which Paul takes liberties is sometimes not the most conducive to quick and easy understanding.  Finally, “because Paul does not read scripture in light of the historical circumstances in which it was written, his interpretive moves often appear arbitrary to those who simply assume that every text must be read in light of its historical context.  Following Paul’s theologizing by means of scripture may well be as much of a challenge as understanding his ideas.[4]
And all God’s people said, “Amen, Keck.”  Seriously.



[1]Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 30.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005.
 
[2] Das, A. Andrew.  Reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Das: The Gentile-Encoded Audience of Romans.  Pages 32-33.  Print.
[3]Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 38.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005.
 
[4]Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 30.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005.