I am ready to preach the Gospel to you that are at Rome also; for I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:15b-16)
There is an issue concerning Bible versions in Romans 1:16. The KJV says that Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. The NASB, which I use when I attend the Bible studies that lead to this commentary, has just Gospel. Does this matter? I address this on a different page.
I am not ashamed of the Gospel
It is simply true, of course, that Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel. We should not miss the context of this verse, however. People in Rome were speaking against Paul, especially Jewish believers. Romans 3:8, for example, specifically says that Paul had been slanderously reported to have said, Let us do evil, that good may come. We should look at this because I think we Americans, two thousand years removed, don't understand the problem the Jews had with Paul's Gospel. It was one thing to say the Messiah had come, but quite another to claim he had brought Paul's very strange message.
The Jews were expecting a Messiah. It was shocking that the Messiah would be someone crucified by the Romans, but at least they were expecing a Messiah. So when Paul told them that salvation came through faith in the Messiah, there was at least something reasonable about that. However, when Paul told them that salvation comes through faith in the Messiah apart from the works of the Law, this was simply too much. We all know that the Jews believed that salvation came through the Law, but we don't understand how they saw this as happening.
We think that the Jews believed that salvation came through obeying the Law. Oh, no. We are mistaken. Around A.D. 155, Justin Martyr wrote up a debate he had with a Jew named Trypho. In it he discusses a verse with Trypho that we'll run across as we go further into Romans. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin; that is, having repented of his sins he may receive remission of them from God; and not as you deceive yourselves—and some others who resemble you in this—who say that even though they are sinners, but know God, the Lord will not impute sin to them (Dialogue with Trypho 141). Here Justin tells us that the Jews believed that they could be sinners, but know God through the Law, and God would not impute sin to them. It is clear that Paul saw the Jews as thinking this way, too. He writes:
Behold, you are called a Jew. You rest in the Law, make your boast in God, know his will, and approve the things that are excellent, since you are instructed out of the Law. [You] are confident that you are a guide of the blind, a light to those that are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, and [you] have the form of knowledge and truth in the Law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You that preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? (Rom. 2:17-21)
As we read the verses around this passage, it becomes clear that Paul felt that most—or perhaps all—of these preachers of the Law were hypocrites who did not obey the Law themselves. These Jews were trusting in the Law, but not by obeying it. They were simply God's people, possessors of the Law, and this seems to have been blessing enough to them. Justin says they went so far as to claim that God would not impute sin to them, even if they were sinners (which many Christians today are guilty of saying as well; Justin goes on to explain why this cannot be true. You can read that in Dialogue with Trypho 141). Paul adds, Circumcision does indeed profit you—if you keep the Law. But if you are a breaker of the Law, your circumcision is turned into uncircumcision (Rom. 2:25). Paul would not have needed to make this point if the Jews in Rome already believed it. They did not, however. Their circumcision was enough for them, even without obedience, just as Christian baptism is enough for so many Christians today, even without obedience. This will never do, though. Just as Paul says that those Jews who break the Law turn their circumcision into uncircumcision, so those who do not add virtue, knowledge, and self-control to their faith in Christ have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins (2 Pet. 1:5-8). In other words, their baptism is turned into non-baptism.
Getting back to the subject, these Jews in Rome trusted the Law to mark them out as exceptional, as special to God. Thus, to suggest that the Messiah might save by a faith that is apart from the works of the Law was incomprehensible to them. Was Paul actually suggesting that an uncircumcised man could be saved? Unthinkable! Why, God was going to kill even Moses for not having his sons circumcised!(Ex. 4:24-26). Paul's gospel was extreme and strange to them, and it had led to slanderous things being said about him: Let us do evil that good may come (Rom. 3:8); Let us continue in sin that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1). Paul's Gospel was being mischaracterized and slandered at every turn.
Paul has warmed up a bit in the first fifteen verses, and he proclaims boldly, I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God to everyone who believes, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek. Paul tackles all the issues head-on in that one verse sixteen. I am not apologizing. I am not ashamed of my Gospel. It is powerful to save! He was all the more assertive with this because he knew that the confidence of the Jews, the Law, was not powerful to save. It led them to be circumcised, but it was not delivering them from stealing and adultery. Paul knew that his Gospel did have that power. Sin shall not have dominion over you, he would tell them later, for you are not under Law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14). He was well ready to compare the power of the Law to deliver with the power of grace to deliver. For what the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did, by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3). Paul's Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
Jews and Gentiles
But the Gospel's power is not the only issue Paul tackles in v. 16. He also says, to the Jew first. No problem there; it's what he adds to it: . . . and also of the Greek. The Gospel is also to uncircumcised Gentiles? Oh, yes. He will argue this. Just as he goes on to say that disobedience to the Law will turn circumcision to uncircumcision, so he argues that an uncircumcised man who keeps the righteousness of the Law will see his uncircumcision counted as circumcision (2:26). This, too, is a stunning claim to present to these Jewish believers in Jesus. Truly, the stumbling block has been set in front of them. Will they fall on it and be broken, or will they refuse it, and later it will grind them to powder (Matt. 21:44)?
Paul will never get off this issue for most of the letter to the Romans. He stays on the subject of the Gospel and its relation to the Law and to the Gentiles. In fact, though Romans 9 is commonly used to argue about predestination (Calvinism), it is really not about predestination at all. Yes, it does address predestination, but chapters 9-11 are exclusively about Gentiles being admitted into Israel and what this means for the Jews. Predestination is simply one way among several that Paul used to explain to the Jews the admission of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God.Home