I recently started a class on Romans. Here are my class notes and the class audio:
Romans 1:1-7 – Introduction and Salutation
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus ChristRomans 1:1-7
“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus…”
Paul begins his letter by introducing himself as a bond-servant of Christ Jesus. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Kings, prophets, priests, and Israelites were all called servants of God. In Paul's case, he is a servant of Christ Jesus instead of being a servant to the flesh or to sin as he was when he was a Pharisee.
Paul claims he is a servant to Jesus the Messiah. As I'll point out in a few moments, these first few verses are an appeal to Paul's Jewish audience. They are the primary audience of a major portion of Romans because it is their bias towards the Gentile believers that Paul is going to address.
This reference to Jesus as the Messiah also sets the stage for his dependence upon Isaiah throughout this epistle. The Exodus, and Isaiah's Second Exodus, is one of the major themes Paul falls back on in the book.
“…called as an apostle…”
God called Paul to be an apostle like the prophets, priests, and kings before him. Being called or elected by God is always instrumental; it is for the betterment of all. God does not call people to the exclusion of others, but for the benefit of others.
Since his apostleship was something to which God called him, no one at Rome could question the validity of it. It wasn't something he desired for himself to benefit himself, but it was an office for God handpicked him.
“…set apart for the gospel of God,”
Paul's gospel came from God, and it included both Jews and Gentiles. Unlike how some within the congregation thought, both Jew and Gentile were equals in the eyes of God without the need to be follow any fleshy ordinances of the Old Covenant.
“which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,”
The Hebrew Scriptures foresaw the gospel of God. As we move through the book, we'll see that the gospel (or good news) of God relates to the fulfillment of promises made to the fathers in Jesus. Individuals appropriate these blessings through faith.
Paul's reliance on the Holy Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures) permeates all of his speeches and writings. The Holy Scriptures contain these promises, and it is through the covenant made to the fathers that the fulfillment would come. Christ, in this way, is the goal of the law as Paul would say in Romans 10.
“concerning His Son…”
The Roman church would be familiar with the title “son of god” being used to describe Caesar. This title used by Paul is not only a reference to the deity of Christ, but it doubles as a subversive attack on the Empire.
“…who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,”
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many other of the prophets looked to the lineage of David for the Messiah. Matthew and Luke both take time to establish Jesus' lineage before proceeding with their accounts of Jesus' baptism and ministry.
In Matthew's account, he relies on sets of fourteen to prove Jesus' right to David's throne. David's name in Hebrew (DVD) carries with it the numerical equivalent of 14 (4+6+4) and would be immediately recognizable by Matthew's audience. Throughout that book, many, including demons, recognize Jesus as the Son of David, the Messiah.
The expression “according to the flesh” is a reference to Jesus' ability to depend upon earthly things for His kingship. He could have, theoretically, laid hold of his claim to the throne, rally the people, and rebel against Rome. Jesus, however, had a higher claim in mind.
“who was declared the Son of God with power…”
Jesus' Sonship was declared or made manifest through the power of God. The power of God to declare both Jew and Gentile sons of God is the gospel (Romans 1:16). The adoption as sons is one of the major themes of the climax of Romans in chapters 8-9.
“…by the resurrection from the dead…”
Resurrection is another major theme in Romans. In chapter 5, it is the opposite of what came through Adam. Just as death was imputed to all through sin, life is imputed to all through faith.
Jesus' resurrection was physical, but it was also a transformation from one mode of existence (according to the flesh) to another (according to the Spirit). In appropriating Christ's righteousness through faith, one dies to the flesh and is made alive in the Spirit as well.
“…according to the Spirit of holiness…”
“According to the Spirit” is the opposite of “according to the flesh” from the previous verse. This introduces one of the major themes in Romans: flesh versus Spirit. Another way to word this would be to say “man's righteousness versus imputed righteousness.”
“…Jesus Christ our Lord,”
Once more, Paul calls on the name of Jesus, but he adds an expression: Lord. In his life, Paul may have been among those that cried “we have no king but Caesar,” but with his conversion, Paul only recognized Jesus as Lord.
“through whom we have received grace and apostleship…”
One qualification of being an apostle was to witness the resurrection of Jesus. Unlike the other apostles, God chose Paul later, and He saw Jesus on the road to Damascus. Like the other apostles, God chose him because of His grace, and it was not to serve themselves but everyone else.
“…to bring about the obedience of faith…”
Faith and obedience are always coupled together. The obedience of faith differs from the obedience of works in that one is a reaction to justification, while the other is an attempt to work towards justification. The apostle Paul frames the entire book between two statements about the obedience of faith.
“…among all the Gentiles for His name's sake,”
Paul was selected to be the apostle to the Gentiles. On behalf of the Gentiles, he travelled to Jerusalem to argue their case. On one occasion, he had to stand up to Peter for leading some away in making the Gentile Christians feel inferior to the Jewish Christians.
“among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ”
Just as Paul, who definitely didn't deserve it, was called to be an apostle, the saints in Rome were also called by the gospel. This calling is instrumental. It is not the exclusion of others, but it was given for their inclusion. Specifically, the Gentiles were called so that unbelieving Israel would be grafted in again. Abraham was called, but he was called to be a blessing to everyone else; he was not called to be the sole receiver of the blessing.
“to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints…”
They were called to be ἅγιος (hagios) or “holy” as the Spirit within them was holy (Romans 1:4). It was this Spirit that was quickening them and had allowed them to be partakers in Christ's death and resurrection.
“…Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”
Paul places both the Gentiles and the Jews on equal ground here when he says “God our Father.” As we will see in Romans 8, both Jew and Gentile were adopted in order that neither could claim superiority over the other.