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James MacKnight, 1795: Romans 1:1-17

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Entrance to a Roman Theatre, 1866

Romans 1:1-17

Studies in Romans

God intervened with a message of faith,
requiring faith over a morally poisoned world.

PAUL, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. 5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 

7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Desire to Visit Rome

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, 10 making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established— 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

13 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. 15 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.


The Just Live by Faith

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

MacKnight Commentary—

The gospel is the answer to a world gone wrong.
Pagan society chose evil, and then promoted that evil as a moral superior option.


PAUL a servant of Jesus Christ, and an apostle called expressly as the other apostles were, and separated by him to preach the good news from God, 2 Which he promised before by his prophets in the holy scriptures, should be preached to the Gentiles, 3 Concerning the coming of his Son to save the world, who, as it was foretold, was born of a woman de­scended from David, the king of Israel, with respect to his flesh, 4 But was declared the Son of God, with great power of evidence, with respect to his holy spiritual na­ture, by his resurrection from the dead, after he had been crucified by the Jewish rulers for calling himself the Son of God, even Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 From whom, since his resurrec­tion, I have received miraculous powers and apostleship, in order that through my preaching him as the Son of God, the obedience of faith may be given to him, among all the Gentiles, on account of his being the Son of God. 6 Among the number of which Gentiles are also ye the called disci­ples of Jesus Christ.

7 Being thus commissioned, I write this letter to all who are in Rome; and more especially to those who are the beloved of God, on ac­count of their faith, to the called seed of Abraham, to the saints by profes­sion:

May grace be multiplied to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.


Desire to Visit Rome

8 And first, I thank my God through Jesus Christ, on account if all of you who have embraced the gospel; that your faith in Jesus Christ is so conspicuous, that it is spoken if throughout the whole Roman em­pire. 9 In saying, I am thankful for your conversion, I speak the truth; for I call God to witness, whom, with the utmost earnestness, I serve in the ministry of the gospel of his Son, that constantly I make affectionate men­tion if you, 10 Always in my prayers, request­ing that by some means, now at length, I may have a prosperous journey to Jerusalem (15:25.) by the will if God, under whose direction I exe­cute my ministry, and then to come to you.

11 For I greatly desire to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift; in order that ye may be esta­blished against the heathens, who wish to bring you back to idolatry, and the Jews, who would subject you to the law. 12 And this is proposed, that I may be comforted together with you, through the mutual faith both if you, whose faith will be confirmed by these gifts, and if me, whose faith will he con­firmed, when I see unbelievers con­verted by these gifts.

13 Now, brethren, lest ye should be surprised that I, who am the apostle of the Gentiles, and who have expressed such a desire to see yon, have never yet preached in Rome, I would not have you ignorant, that oftentimes I purposed to come to you, (though I have been hindered hitherto,)] in order that I might have some fruit of my ministry among you the idolatrous inhabitants of Rome also, even as among the other Gen­tiles.

14Being the apostle of the Gen­tiles, I am bound to preach both to the Greeks, however intelligent, and to the barbarians, both to the philoso­phers, and to the common people. 15 ‘Therefore, notwithstanding your great proficiency in the sciences, I am willing, according to my ability, to preach the gospel even to you unbe­lieving Gentiles, who are in Rome.


The Just Live by Faith

16 For although the learned among you think it foolishness, I am not ashamed if the gospel if Christ, because it is the power of God, (1 Cor. 1:24.) the powerful means which God makes use of for working out salvation to everyone who believeth; to the Jews first, and also to the Gen­tile. 17 First, The gospel is the power of God for salvation, to everyone who believeth; because the righteous ness of God’s appointment by faith, is revealed in it, in order to produce faith in them to whom it is preached. And to this righteousness the Jews cannot object; since it is ‘Written: But the just by faith, shall live.

Augustus Caesar, Vatican Musuem

MacKnight Critical Notes  

Opening Word s, 1:1-7

1:1 Paul, a servant] The original word doulos properly signifies a slave. Here it is a name of honour: For in the East the chief ministers of kings were called douloi slaves. In this sense, Mo­ses is called doulos, the slave, or servant of God, Josh. i. 1. This honourable name, therefore, denotes the high authority which Paul possessed in the kingdom of Christ, as one of his chief’ ministers. 

called to be an apostle] The name apostle was given to different orders of men, Rom. 16:7. note 4. But in its highest sense, it was appropriated to the twelve, whom Christ appointed to be with him, Mark 3:14. and whom, after his resurrection, he sent forth to preach the gospel.

separated unto the gospel of God] We are told; Acts 13:2 that the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them. But this being nothing but a separa­tion of Paul from the teachers at Antioch, to go and preach to the Gentiles, the higher separation mentioned Gal. 1:15 is here meant. The gospel is said to be of God because it is good news from God; than which a greater commendation of the gospel cannot be conceived.

1:2 Which he had promised before by his prophets] The pro­mise in the Scriptures, that the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles, is taken notice of by the apostle, to convince the unbelieving Jews, that in preaching to the Gentiles, Paul did not con­tradict, but fulfilled the ancient revelations.

1:3 Concerning his son Jesus Christ] The gospel is the good news from God, concerning the Coming of his Son to save the world. Where­fore the Son of God is the subject of the gospel, as well as its author.

Who was born of the seed of David] sarx flesh, sometimes denotes the human body, 1 Cor. 7:28. sometimes the human mind, Rom. 7:19. 2 Cor. 7:7. and sometimes the whole man, John 3:6. Here being opposed to the spirit of holiness, it signifies our Lord’s body. For it cannot be thought, that he de­rived his human soul from his mother, because that would imply the divisibility of the soul of the parent. Beza, in his note on this verse, supposing that the word sarx, denotes the formation of our Lord’s body, says, the Holy Ghost took of the substance of Mary’s body, and formed it into a body for our Lord. He adds, that the ancients urged this text against Valentinus, Marcion, and the rest: some of whom affirmed, that our Lord’s body was only imaginary; others, that it was formed of celestial matter, and sent into the body of his mother from heaven. But although the apostle, in this place, speaks only of our Lord’s body, it does not allow, that he had nothing of the human nature but a body. The passages in which he is called a man, and the man Jesus Christ, and our brother, and in which his sufferings are described, imply that he had a real human soul also.

1:4 Declared to be the Son of God] The original word horizo signifies to fix the boundaries of a thing, consequently to make it appear what it is.

with power] Locke understands this of the miraculous power described Eph. 1:19, 20, whereby Jesus was raised from the dead, I rather think power denotes the strength of the evidence by which he was demonstrated to be the Son of God.

by the resurrection from the dead] Here I have supplied the pronoun his, because the scope of the reasoning requires it to be supplied. -Jesus being put to death as a blasphemer, for calling himself Christ the son of the blessed, God would not have raised him from the dead, if he had been an impostor; especially as he had often foretold his own resurrection, and appealed to it as a proof of his being the Son of God, John 2:19. His resurrection therefore was a public testimony, borne by God himself, to the truth of our Lord’s pretensions, which put the matter beyond all doubt. See Heb. 1:5.

1:5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship] Or, from whom we have received grace and apostleship, That is, the grace or favour of apostleship, See Gal. 2:9; Eph. 3:2 where the apostolic office is styled grace. Or, if grace and apostleship are taken separately, apostleship may signify the office, and grace the supernatural endowments bestowed on Paul, to fit him for that office.

for obedience to the faith] Either obedience from a prin­ciple of faith, or faith itself, called obedience simply, chap. 16:19.

for his name] Name here signifies the character of Christ, as the Son of God and Saviour of the world. This name, Paul was appointed to bear, or publish before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel. Acts 9:15. And it is on account of this name, or character, that all men are bound to obey him.

1:7 To all that be in Rome] This epistle being written to persuade the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles to embrace the gos­pel, as exhibiting the only effectual method of salvation, it was fitly addressed to the whole inhabitants of Rome, to the heathens as well as to the Jews and Christians. See verses 13, 14, 15.

beloved of God, called to be saints] These are the honourable appellations which God anciently gave to the Jewish nation, as his people and church. But they now belonged to the disciples of Christ, as the visible church of God, substituted in place of the Jews. By these honourable appellations, therefore, the Christians at Rome were dis­tinguished from the idolatrous inhabitants of the city, and from the unbelieving Jews; the whole being comprehended in the general description, All who are in Rome.

Grace to you] In the apostolic benedictions, grace signifies the influences and fruits of the Spirit, the favour and protection of God, the pardon of sin, the enjoyment of eternal life; all which are called grace, because they are gratuitously bestowed by God.

And peace from God] The usual salutation among the Easterns was Peace be to you, by which they meant every kind of worldly felicity. But in Paul’s writings peace signifies that satisfaction which results from being in friendship with God. Thus Rom. 5:1. Being justi­fled by faith, we have peace with God. It also signifies the happiness of heaven, called, Philip. 4:7. The peace of God, which passeth. all comprehension. In this sense, I think, it is used in the apostolic benedictions, and Rom. 2: 9. Because most of the Roman brethren were unacquainted with Paul, he judged it necessary, in the inscrip­tion of his letter, to assure them that he was an apostle called by Jesus Christ himself, and that he was separated to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, in fulfilment of the promises which God had made by the prophets in the Scriptures, that the gospel should be preached to them. These circumstances he mentioned, to remove the prejudices of the believing, as well as of the unbelieving Jews, who he knew were displeased with him for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Withal, because the church of Rome had not been planted by any apostle, he instructed them in some particulars con­cerning the nature and character of Christ, which it was of great importance for them to know.

Pax Romana by military might, Pax Dei by faith


MacKnight Critical Notes  

A Personal Desire, 1:8-15

1:8 I thank my God through Jesus Christ, for you all] In the beginning of his epistles, Paul generally subjoined to the apostolic benediction, a solemn thanksgiving for the faith, charity, patience, and other virtues of the brethren to whom he wrote, to make them sensible of their happy state, and to lead them to a right improvement of the advantages which they enjoyed as Christians.

That your faith is spoken of] The faith of the Romans, which occasioned so much discourse, was their turning from idols. An event of this kind could not fail to be spoken of with wonder through the whole empire, as there were multitudes of strangers continually coming to Rome from the pro­vinces, who on their return home would report what they had seen. For this the apostle thanked God, because the conversion of the Romans encouraged the inhabitants of other cities to forsake the established idolatry. Besides, Rome being the metropolis of the world, the conversion of so many of its inhabitants brought no, small credit to the evidences of the gospel.

1:9 For God is my witness] The Roman brethren being mostly Jews, this solemn asseveration concerning the mention which the apostle made of them in his prayers, was intended to convince them that their conversion was as much the subject of his thanks­giving to God, as the conversion of the Gentiles.

1:11 That I may impart unto you some spiritual gift] That many of the brethren at Rome were already possessed of spiritual gifts, is evident from Rom. 12 where directions are given them concerning the exercise of these gifts. A number of the Roman brethren having been converted in the east, may have received spiritual gifts from one or other of the apostles; and with respect to the rest, St Paul proposed to enrich some of them with these gifts on his com­ing to Rome.

1:12 mutual faith of both you and me] As often as the apos­tles communicated spiritual gifts to their disciples, it was a new proof to themselves of the divine presence with them, and an additional confirmation of their mission from God in the eyes of others, both of which, no doubt, gave them great joy.

1:14 to the Greeks and to the barbarians] Under the name of Greeks, the Romans were comprehended, because they were now become a learned and polished people. For the meaning of the name barbarian, see 1 Cor. 14:11.

1:15 to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome] The original word, euaggelizo, was first used by the LXX, to signify the publishing of any good news; and having inserted it in their translation of Isa. 60:6. 61:1, where Messiah’s preaching good tid­ings to the poor is foretold, (see Luke 4:21.) the apostles justly appropriated it to the preaching of the gospel, as the best news mankind could hear. In regard that Paul, after acknowledging he was bound to preach the gospel both to the Greeks and to the bar­barians, adds, I am ready to preach the gospel even to you who are in Rome, the idolatrous inhabitants of Rome certainly were included in the expression, you who are in Rome. This verse, therefore, as well as the following, is a proof that the epistle to the Romans was intended, not for the Roman brethren alone, but for unbelievers also, to whom copies of it might be shewn.


MacKnight Critical Notes  

Faith as Theme of Letter, 1:16, 17

1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel] Here the apos­tle insinuates, with great propriety, that the gospel is not an institution like the heathen mysteries, which the keepers concealed from all but the initiated; either because they were ashamed of the infa­mous things practised in them, Ephes. 5:11, 12, or because they thought the only way to render them venerable, was to conceal them; whereas the doctrines and precepts of the gospel being ho­nourable in themselves, and beneficial to society, cannot be too openly published. Perhaps, also, the apostle meant, that notwith­standing the idolatrous Greeks and Romans boasted of their genius and learning, he would boldly preach the gospel even to them, fully assured that it is the power of God unto salvation; a dispensation of religion in which God most effectually exerts his power, for saving everyone who believeth.

To the Jew first] This is said, because, according to Christ’s commandment, the gospel was to be first preached to the Jews, as the keepers of the ancient revelations. See Rom. 15:8.

And also to the Greek] After Alexander’s generals established their empire in Egypt and Asia, the inhabitants of these countries were considered as Greeks, because they generally spake the Greek language; and as the Jews were little acquainted with the other idolatrous nations, they naturally called all the heathens Greeks. Hence, in their language, Jew and Greek comprehended all man­kind.

Basilica Julia, site for Court of the Hundred (inheritance law)


1:17 therein is the righteousness of God revealed] The righteousness of God by faith, is revealed in it, in order to faith.  This translation, which results from constru­ing the words properly, affords a clear sense of a passage, which, in the common translation, is absolutely unintelligible. Besides, it is shewn to be the right translation, by other passages of Scripture, in which the expression, dikaiosune theou dia pisteos righteousness by faith, is found, Rom. 3:22, 9:30. 10:6. Philip. 3:9. Righteousness by faith, is called the righteousness of God, because God hath en­joined faith as the righteousness which he will count to sinners, and hath declared that he will accept and reward it as righteousness, and because it stands in opposition to the righteousness of men, which consists in a sinless obedience to the law of God. For if men gave that obedience, it would be their own righteousness, and they might claim reward as a debt.

revealed] The righteousness of God by faith, was made known to the Jews darkly in the covenant with Abraham, and in the types of the law of Moses; but it is now clearly revealed in the gospel to all mankind.

the just shall live by faith] They who are just by faith, shall live. This translation is agreeable both to the order of the words in the original, and to the apostle’s design; which is to shew, that the doctrine of the gospel concerning righteousness by faith, is attested even by the prophets. Besides, it represents Habakkuk’s meaning more truly than the common translation. For, in the pas­sage from which the quotation is made, Habakkuk describes the different dispositions of the Jews, about the time they were threa­tened by the Chaldeans. Some of their souls were lifted up: they presumptuously trusted in their own wisdom and power, and, con­trary to God’s command, refused to submit to the Chaldeans, and were destroyed. But, the just by faith, they who believed God and obeyed his command, lived. However, as the reward of faith is not confined to the present life, persons who are just, or good, by be­lieving and obeying God, shall certainly live eternally. See Heb. 10:38.

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