Fall SBJT studies significance of Paul’s epistle to the Romans

Communications Staff — November 1, 2007

Like a trumpet in a symphony orchestra, the book of Romans stands out among the annals of God’s inspired words in Scripture, Stephen Wellum wrote in the Fall 2007 Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT).

While all of Scripture is crucial for understanding God’s saving plan in Christ, instruction and edification, Paul’s epistle to the Romans has proven to be one of the most significant books of the Bible throughout the history of the church, Wellum wrote.

“One cannot help but think of the incredible influence Romans had on the thinking of Martin Luther, which helped the spark the Protestant Reformation, or its influence on John Wesley, which was instrumental to his understanding of the gospel, or even its influence on the Swiss neo-orthodox theologian, Karl Barth, who, by reading Romans, turned from his classical liberalism to discover, in his own words: ‘the strange new world within the Bible,’” wrote Wellum, SBJT editor and professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Undeniably, the Epistle to the Romans has played a huge role in the thinking, practice, and life of the church.”
Seven writers contributed to the Fall 2007 SBJT, “The Epistle to the Romans,” including three faculty members at Southern Seminary and one Southern graduate.

John Polhill, senior professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern, addressed the debate of whether Romans is written to address a specific occasion, or situation, or if it is a more general theological treatise.

Polhill urged readers to not fall too sharply on either side, as much of the epistle deals with theological concerns, while other sections are more clearly of an occasional nature. The last three chapters are particularly occasional, and were the focus of Polhill’s article.

“In a sense it (the epistle to the Romans) could be entitled ‘a tale of three cities,’ as the epistle involves three distinct locales: Corinth, from which Paul was writing; Jerusalem, to which Paul was preparing to travel soon; and Rome, which was Paul’s ultimate destination,” Polhill wrote.

“If there is one thing that ties these [final three] chapters together, it is the theme of unity of all believers in Christ. Paul’s reason for delaying his visit to the Romans was his concern for the unity of the church as expressed in the Jerusalem collection.”

Benjamin Merkle, Southern Seminary Ph.D. graduate, made a threefold argument for Romans as the greatest letter ever written. Merkle asserted that Romans is valuable because of its historical impact, theological importance and practical instruction.

Historically, Augustine, Martin Luther and John Wesley have been greatly affected by Paul’s letter to the Romans, Merkle wrote.

“No one can deny the great impact that these three men had in the history of the Christian church,” he wrote. “What we will learn from our study if that the conversion of each of these men is directly linked to Paul’s letter to the church at Rome.”

Romans also possesses profound theological and practical significance, Merkle asserted.

“Romans contains the clearest and most complete expression of the gospel in the Bible,” Merkle wrote. “For eleven chapters Paul systematically explains the sinfulness of mankind, the means by which sinners can be justified, and the certainty Christians can have in the promises of God.

“This letter not only gives us clarity regarding important doctrines, it also gives us unparalleled implications of what such theology means for our daily living. God is not only concerned about what we think but also how we live. Thus, Paul does not stop at the doctrinal level, but also gives us practical admonitions and advice.”

Paul understands the proclamation of Jesus Christ to be the message and interpretive key to the whole of Scripture, Southern professor Mark Seifrid wrote in his article “The Gospel as the revelation of mystery: the witness of the Scriptures to Christ in Romans.”

“As a reading of Romans shows, Paul’s hermeneutic is essentially and profoundly material in nature, bound up with the incarnation, cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” wrote Seifrid, Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor
of New Testament at Southern.

The SBJT contains a sermon by Thomas Schreiner, associate dean for Scripture and Interpretation and James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament at Southern, from Romans 13:8-10.

Discussing Paul’s teaching that loving one another fulfills the law, Schreiner noted that such Christian love includes the keeping of commandments.

“Why is it so important to have commandments in order to love one another? Because love without commandments so easily descends into vagueness or sentimentality,” he wrote. “We can so easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we are loving because we have warm feelings towards other people. Love is easily confused in our society with being ‘nice.’ But ‘niceness’ does not necessarily mean that one is acting in a loving manner. A person can be ‘nice’ and at the same time be guilty of blatantly violating God’s commands.”

The SBJT also includes essays by A.B. Caneday, professor of New Testament studies and biblical theology at Northwestern College in Saint Paul, Minn.; Robert W. Yarbrough, chair of the New Testament department and associate professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.; and Douglas Moo, Blanchard Professor of New Testament at Wheaton Graduate School in Wheaton, Ill.

For more information or to subscribe to the journal, e-mail journaloffice@sbts.edu.

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