The Missiological Purpose of Romans

in Research

Why did Paul write his epistle to the Romans? What was the Apostle’s original purpose? New Testament scholars have intensely debated this question in recent years. So much so that some have even despaired of ever identifying a single convincing reason or set of purposes for Romans. Traditionally, Paul’s epistle to Rome has been considered a theological masterpiece, a “compendium of Christian doctrine” (Luther and Melanchton). The view that Romans is to be understood as an exposition and summary of Paul’s fundamental theology has been common in the history of interpretation. It is the premise of this paper that Paul’s basic intent was more missiological than theological, that even the doctrinal teachings of Romans carry a missionary thrust.

It is true that Romans gives a more comprehensive treatment of doctrinal themes than any of Paul’s other letters. In logical and somewhat chronological order, the inspired Apostle lays out a number of great doctrines of the Christian faith: man’s sinful depravity, the gospel of God, justification by faith, righteousness with God, sanctification, predestination, glorification, and so on. But it does not follow that Romans is thus designed and primarily intended to be a teaching summary of Paul’s timeless theology. Thomas Schreiner demonstrates convincingly, I believe, that in Romans a number of “central Pauline teachings are missing or only spoken of in a glacing way” (1998, 15-16; see also Leon Morris 1995, 8). Thus Romans is not to be seen as merely an abstract theological treatise.

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