This paper is written to outline and explain the critical issues concerning introductory material for the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. This introductory material will include when the letter is written, to whom the letter is written, and what the purpose of the letter is. Each of these will be present in the following manner: first, the major positions will be presented; second, the author’s preferred view will be chosen; and, finally, this preferred view will be defended and primary support will be given. This paper will help one gain an overview of each position and see explanation and defense of the most probable view of each subject mentioned above.
Concerning the date that the book of Romans was written, most scholars place Paul’s letter somewhere between A.D. 54 and A.D. 59; though, there are differences of opinions concerning the exact date of the book’s writing. Ben Witherington places the date during the spring of A.D. 57 seeing Paul’s three-month winter stay in Corinth prior to his trip to Jerusalem as the most ideal time. Richard N. Longenecker compiled a list of all the possible dates, showing that others see Romans being written shortly before 1 Corinthians, placing it between 52 and 54 A.D. Longenecker lists the possibilities, “(1) ‘in the first three months of 55,’ (2) ‘in the winter of 55-56 or 56-57,” (3) ‘during the early days of A.D. 57,’ (4) ‘at the beginning of either 57 or 58,’ (5) ‘in the first quarter of A.D. 59, but a year or two earlier is possible.” Longenecker concludes that the book of Romans it was written during the winter of 57-58.
The date of writing is inextricably linked to the location Paul was writing from. To determine the date, one must use other known dates of Paul’s location. One scholar places Paul in Corinth due to the evidence inside of the letter. This evidence concerns a man in Romans 16:23 named Gaius whose name is possibly mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14 as one whom Paul baptized. Also, there is a reference to Erastus (Rom.16:23), “who is the city’s director of public works.” There has been archaeological evidence of an Erastus of political power found in Corinth. These two evidences seem to place Paul in Corinth during the time of the writing of Romans.
In order to find that date that Paul was in Corinth one must examine Paul’s travels seen in the book of Acts. In Acts 18:2 Luke recounts; “There [at Corinth] he [Paul] met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudia had ordered all of the Jews to leave Rome.” This is a reference to the Edict of Claudius in A.D. 49 showing that Paul began his ministry in Corinth shortly after this Edict. Paul gives reference to a collection for Jerusalem seen in 1 Cor. 16:1-4 and continued in 2 Cor. 8-9. This collection is also mentioned in the book of Romans 15:25-32, showing that the writing of these letters was close. Paul most likely wrote the letter to Rome shortly after writing 2 Corinthians, which was written somewhere around 54-58 A.D. This places the writing of Romans somewhere around 55-59 A.D.
To whom was the letter of Romans written has been a commonly debated topic amongst scholars. Some scholars examine internal textual evidence, others examine external evidence from history and other writings, and still others use a balance of the two. Ferdinand Christian Baur seems to see Romans directed against the Peterine party of early Christians. In contention to Baur, a Danish scholar Johannes Munck insists that the church at Rome was “composed entirely of Gentile Christians without any Jewish component at all.” These two views have other scholars who fall into these two camps. Then there are those who believe that there was a mixed group of believers. Even amongst those who hold to a “mixed group” theory there is some variety. For instance, Witherington sees Romans written to Gentiles with Jews possibly overhearing. Colin Kruse sees the book being specifically written to Gentiles and Jews of which there are a majority Gentile and minority Jewish.
Scripturally, there is clear evidence that the audience in Rome was Gentile. This is found in Romans 11:13 where Paul says, “I am talking to you Gentiles.” Then, it seems he also references Jews in Romans 7:1 when he says, “I am speaking to those who know the law.” Though this quote is not explicitly written to the Jews, it can be implied because it is clear elsewhere in Romans Paul connects those who know the law with the Jews. Then, in Romans 16 Paul presents a list of names of which fifty percent are Jewish.  This mixing of Gentile and Jewish believers can be explained by the historical events and date of writing proposed previously. The Edict of Claudius was from 49-54 A.D. This Edict expelled most of the Jews and Jewish Christians from Rome, leaving the church to be primarily Gentile. One can assume that this Gentile Christian population grew greatly while their Jewish counterpart was absent from Rome. This is seen most clearly seen in the historical fact that Rome became the center of Christianity. Thus, when the Edict was lifted in 54 A.D., the Jewish Christians returned to a Gentile majority church. Paul was then writing to a Gentile majority and Jewish minority Church.
The purpose for Paul writing the book of Romans varies greatly among scholars. The differing positions are based upon many factors. Some scholars see Paul writing Romans as a theological treatise while others see Romans as a summation of Paul’s earlier teaching. Still, others see Romans as an encyclical letter for the churches. These three viewpoints are based upon the content of the letter and an explanation for the shortened manuscripts of Romans that have been found. Furthermore, there are scholars who view Romans as Paul’s last will and testament. Others see it as a brief prepared originally for Paul’s defense at Jerusalem. Some of these scholars have gone so far to rename Romans, the letter to Jerusalem. Yet, there are a few scholars who see this letter as Paul’s self-introduction to the church and his attempt to solicit funds for a mission to Spain. But, if the whole letter were written to solicit money, one might see a longer treatise on money like the one in 1 Cor. or see the letter specifically focused such as Philemon. In a similar vein some scholars see Paul as establishing the church at Rome as an apostolic church. 
While the previous positions seem to be based upon Paul’s own consciousness and ministry, the following positions are based upon conditions existing amongst the Christians at Rome. F.C. Baur sees Paul writing the letter to oppose Jewish Particularism and proclaim Christian Universalism. Others see Romans closely linked to the book of Galatians and thus propose that Paul was writing to counter the claims of the Judaizers. Then, some scholars focus on chapters 14-15 and see Paul attempting to effect the reconciliation between the strong and the weak. Still, some scholars reflecting on the Roman government and focusing on chapter 13 see Paul giving counsel regarding the relation of Christians to civil government. There are scholars who hold that Paul was defending against criticism and misrepresentations of himself. Concluding on these content-based arguments, some scholars see this book as separate letters written on different occasions for different purposes.
To determine Paul’s purpose for writing the book of Romans one must take into account not simply the content, nor just the context; but one must combine the historical context and the literary content of Romans. As mentioned previously, the events of Paul’s letter include a Jewish minority coming back to a church that is Gentile majority. This event has great impact upon the purpose of the letter because prior to the Edict of Claudius the church at Rome was composed of a Jewish majority. After the Edict the Jewish believers come back to Rome and encounter a Gentile majority church. This encounter brings them to despair concerning their Jewish brothers and sisters salvation. For they conclude that the Gospel had failed because it had not converted God’s promised people, Israel (Rom. 8-9). In the voicing of this belief the Gentiles arrogantly proclaim that this is indeed the fact and that now is the time of the Gentiles (Rom. 11:17-24).
The purpose of the letter to the Romans can be seen as a rhetorical attempt by Paul to show that the Gospel has not failed Israel and that the Gentiles have nothing to boast in but Jesus. This purpose finds it origin in the works of scholar John W. Taylor. Seeing the purpose laid out in full one must test this purpose against the text of the Book of Romans.
Thus, the book can be laid out in this manner:
1. Ch. 1-4. Paul is showing how both Jew and Gentile are equally guilty before God.
2. Ch. 5-8. Paul is attempting to show how all of humanity is opposed to God.
3. Ch. 9. Paul climaxes his argument showing that God is not obligated by some special claim to save Israel but God’s grace and election are the only reason Israel can ever be saved.
4. Ch. 10. Paul shows how Israel has failed to believe God and that it is not God who has failed.
5. Ch. 11. God is seen as being brought to Israel by the light of the Gentiles.
6. Ch. 12-15. After placing both Jews and Gentiles on equal footing before God Paul calls them to be recommitted to God and united as one under Christ.
7. Ch. 16. Paul closes with greetings to both Jews and Gentiles and a call to urgency.
As one surveys the book of Romans there will be an abundance of additional evidence to support the purpose that has been proposed. Though there are many positions concerning the time, audience, and purpose of the book of Romans, it is possible to come to a solid position if one takes into account all of the differing factors. The time of writing was slightly after the writing of the book of 2 Corinthians and after the Edict of Claudius was lifted, placing it somewhere around 55-59 A.D. The audience was a Gentile majority and a Jewish minority based upon evidence from both history and the text. Finally, Paul was writing during a time when the Jewish believers believed the Gospel to have failed in saving Israel and during a time when the Gentiles, in their arrogance, thought it was God’s time for them. Paul is writing to demolish both of these beliefs and place their hope in “the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Ben Witherington III with Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to The Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Press, 2004) 7.
Richard N. Longenecker, Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul’s Most Famous Letter, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011) 50.
Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012) 12.
Longenecker, Introducing Romans, 46.
Longenecker, Introducing Romans, 77.
Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 2.
Longenecker, Introducing Romans, 94-110.
ESV Romans 1:16