Romans in Conclusion

The Letter to the Romans is one of the most influential books of the New Testament. It is the apostle Paul, the most prolific New Testament author, at the height of his powers. There are many iconic verses from Romans such as 1:16, 3:23, 8:37, 12:1 and many more. Even though this book is a perennial focus of study and research, there is a key passage in it that little attention is paid to, even among Pauline scholars[1]. That passage is Romans 15:7-13 and the reason why it matters so much is that it is the conclusion to Paul’s main message in Romans[2]. It says,

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”

And again it is said,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”

And again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (ESV)

Now it would be impossible for me, to comprehensively set out how Romans 15:7-13 encapsulates the entire message of the letter. That message, as summarized in that passage, is uniting Jews and Gentiles through hope in the Messiah Jesus to the glory of God. I will only briefly discuss how various major themes and ideas through the letter coalesce in the passage.

In order to explain how it is the climax of the letter, we need a brief overview of the structure of the letter. Romans is Paul’s longest and, theologically speaking, densest letter. Therefore, it is broken up into manageable segments in order to follow his complex argument. There are roughly four major sections which are chapters 1-4, 5-8, 9-11 and 12-16. Basically, 15:7-13 sums up what he had been saying from the very beginning. The remaining verses 15:14-16:27 function as an epilogue[3].

Now in Romans he is speaking to a largely Gentile audience but there is obviously a significant number of Jewish Christians as well. Because of this, there are differences he is attempting to resolve through his letter. Paul’s main goal is to bring both camps together in Christ. So when he famously talks about justification in chapters 1-4 as well as 5-8, it is not simply as a niche theological topic, but it is in service of his greater goal of unifying Jewish and Gentile believers. So the thesis of his letter, which he again famously states in 1:16-17, is that both Jew and Gentile are equally justified before God and saved from his judgment by faith in the Messiah. In Romans 5-8 the apostle talks about how generous God’s gift of the Messiah is to all those in the Messiah. This includes being justified with him and having an equal share in the inheritance God has given his exalted Son (Romans 8:17 and 8:32-34.) It is on this basis he concludes that believers should “welcome one another [i.e. referring to Jews and Gentiles] as Christ has welcomed you” in 15:7.

Having successfully argued that Gentiles through the Messiah are unreservedly welcome into God’s family, in chapters 9-11 he deals with that being used as a basis to discriminate against or disregard those who are members of God’s original people. Specifically, he deals with the allegation that God’s covenant with Israel has failed because they have failed to embrace the gospel. It is in this section that he appeals to Scripture the most to show the covenant has not failed. Rather, it has actually been fulfilled in the Messiah Jesus, whom the faithful remnant in Israel believes in, and through whom God’s mercy has been extended to the Gentiles. The argument in those middle chapters is what is specifically summed up in Romans 15:8 and in 15:9-12 he also heavily cites the scriptures to make his point.

So from Romans 1-11, Paul has argued that through the Messiah both Jews and Gentiles have equal standing in God’s family. Having therefore established that theological bedrock, he can now offer in Romans 12:1-15:6 practical directions on how to actually live out that unity and resolve the particular issues that cause division. These final chapters seem mundane but they are actually what Paul really wanted to talk about. Since he was a stranger to the Roman church, they were therefore unfamiliar with his preaching and teaching, so he had to carefully lay the groundwork of chapters 1-11 so he could address the Romans with authority.

In Romans 15:7 he calls for a generous welcome to all to “the glory of God.” God’s glory and glory in general is another major theme of Romans. According to Paul, humanity’s chief sin is failing to glorify God that is, not properly honouring him as the one exalted above all (Romans 1:19-23.) He charges both Jews and Gentiles as equally guilty of this sin (Romans 3:9.) In 15:9-12 he refers to various prophecies about Gentiles, people who the God of Israel was not their God, praising him along with his people. This is why he was eager, to put it mildly, for the two groups to get along with one another because that is how God is glorified by all people as he ought to be. All this was made possible by the Jewish Messiah generously receiving Gentile believers. Again, it is for this reason Jews and Gentiles are to be united in him.

Another important piece of evidence that Romans 15:7-13 is the climactic conclusion of the letter is how the passage is structurally connected with the very beginning of the letter. The passage is an example of a literary device known as “inclusio.” It is where an author brackets a section with similar material at the beginning and the end to indicate that material is a cohesive whole. Romans 1:1-5 and 15:7-13 form an inclusio[4].

In Romans 1:2, he talks about his gospel being “promised beforehand” and in 15:8 he says those “promises given to the patriarchs” are confirmed in Christ. He also says in verse 2 that these promises are in “the holy Scriptures.” Now in 15:9-12, he cites Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, 2 Samuel 22:50 and Isaiah 11:10, which represent the three main divisions of Israel’s scriptures, the Writings, the Law and the Prophets[5]. (Paul mostly quotes from the Greek Old Testament.)

Furthermore, in Romans 1:3 Paul says Jesus “descended from David” and later in 15:12 he refers to him as “the root of Jesse.” Jesse was the father of King David so this is a clear reference to Jesus’ royal lineage. These are also clear messianic references which reinforce the significance of him being called “Messiah” several times in Romans 1:1, 4 and 15:7. This goes to show Paul had a messianic understanding of the Old Testament. To him Jesus as the Messiah was the fulfilment of Israel’s scriptures, which meant the inclusion of Gentiles as members of God’s people. So when in Romans 15:9-12, he talks about the Messiah’s prophesied rule over the nations, which he presents as a reality in 1:3-4, it actually explains the motivation he gives for his mission in 1:5 to bring about “obedience” to the Messiah among “all the nations” [6]. He believes that as a servant of the Messiah, his ministry is also in fulfilment of the scriptures[7].

In Romans 1:5 he says he is called to preach “faith” in the Lord Jesus and 15:13 he prays they will be filled with “all joy and peace in believing.” Now in 1:4 Paul states the justification for faith in Jesus. He says his messianic claims were vindicated “in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” This parallels his prayer in 15:13, which ends with the line “so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” That “hope” in 15:13 is in 1:4 “his resurrection from the dead” which is by the power of the Spirit. He explains this in passages like Romans 4:23-25, 8:10-11 and 8:18-23.

There are others important themes in the letter represented in Romans 15:7-13 such as “mercy”, “joy” and “peace.” The connections we have already made, such as the nature of Jewish and Gentile identity, can be further elaborated. All this is to say it is hard to understate the significance of this passage. It is indeed the climax of Romans[8]. It not only has implications for how we understand Paul, shifting the centre of old debates surrounding him, but also re-evaluating our view of Scripture and the mission of the church. J.R. Wagner provides a wonderful summary of the epistle as it is condensed in Romans 15:7-13:

Here, in the climax of the entire epistle, Paul presents a compelling vision of the church as a community of redeemed Jews and Gentiles, praising God together for his faithfulness and mercy. At the center of this community stands the Christ, whose ministry to the Jews vindicates God’s truthfulness and fulfills the promises made to the patriarchs, and whose ministry to the Gentiles displays the mercy of God and brings God glory. The Christ sings God’s praises among the Gentiles and calls them to join in the worship of the people of God. It is he who unites Jews and Gentiles who hope in him into a single community that exists for the glory of God. In light of what the Messiah has done, how can the Roman Christians not welcome one another with open arms?[9]

How can we not welcome one another today?

[1] Scott Hafemann, Eschatology and Ethics – The Future of Israel and the Nations in Romans 15:1-13, pp. 161-192, Tyndale Bulletin 51.2, 2000.

[2] Craig Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary – New Testament, p. 453, IVP Academic, 2014.

[3] F.F. Bruce, Romans – Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 514, e-book version, Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

[4] Joshua W. Jipp, Christ is King – Paul’s Royal Ideology, pp. 5 & 178, Fortress Press, 2015.

[5] Thomas Schreiner, Romans – Baker’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, pp. 1829-1830, Baker Academic, e-book edition, 2003.

[6] R. Jewett and R. Kotansky, Romans, A Commentary, Hermeneia, pp. 886-899, Fortress Press, 2006.

[7] F.F. Bruce, Romans – Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, pp. 510-511, e-book version, Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

[8] N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant – Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, p. 235, T&T Clark, 1991.

[9] J.R. Wagner, The Christ, Servant of Jew and Gentile – A Fresh Approach to Romans 15:8-9, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 116, No. 3 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 473-485.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s