“…our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters…There are some things in them that are hard to understand…”
– Peter (2 Peter 3:15-16)
The Christian churches meeting throughout the city of Rome were the original recipients of Paul’s letter. While many churches had been planted by the apostles, including many planted under Paul’s leadership to non-Jewish Gentiles, no one is exactly sure who planted the church in Rome. We are told that there were “visitors from Rome” (Acts 2:10) who were among those saved when Peter preached about Jesus at the Pentecost holiday in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit fell. The general consensus is that, most likely, some of the people who were from the city of Rome and present at the Pentecost holiday (Acts 2:1-41) in Jerusalem became Christians and brought the message of Jesus with them upon their return home.
Perhaps the reason Paul’s letter is so lengthy is for the simple fact that he had never been to the city of Rome and had few close, personal relationships with people in the church at Rome, though he does mention a few at the end of his letter.
In Romans 15:14-33, Paul summarized his ministry to that point and outlined his missional strategy for the future. Paul was called of God to bring the gospel to non-Jews, and had spent roughly 20 years evangelizing Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece (Achaia), and he felt that his work there was largely completed. His hope was to travel to Rome to encourage the church there and also raise financial and spiritual support so that he could then set up a new missions outpost in Spain. In Romans 15:23-24, Paul says, “But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.”
It is possible, if not probably, that Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome in 57 AD. A guide to the Bible says, “For three months he stayed in the province of Achaia (the ‘Greece’ of Acts 20:3), and probably in the city of Corinth. The clues lie in Paul’s mention of Phoebe, Gaius and Erastus in his greetings (16:1, 23). Phoebe may be taking the letter to Rome with her when she travels there on business. She comes from Cenchrea—the eastern port of Corinth. We know that Gaius was baptized by Paul in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14), and an inscription has been found in Corinth for someone called Erastus.”7
The Christians in Rome likely gathered as house churches (Romans 16:4-5). The size of their gatherings would have ranged from small to large, depending upon the size of the home or other building each group was able to secure as was common for the first Christians.
Having been to some of the archaeological locations that the New Testament was written to in modern day Greece, Israel, and Turkey, the homes we saw ranged in size much like they do today, with larger homes and nice neighborhoods having large rooms for parties of perhaps a few hundred. Therefore, when we think of early house churches the range in size could be quite large from meeting to meeting.
The mention of Jews and Gentiles throughout Romans indicates that both groups worshipped together as Christians. Furthermore, “The leaders are people like Priscilla and Aquila, Aristobulus and Narcissus, whom Paul greets at the end of his letter (16:3–5, 10–11)… Paul mentions twenty-six people by name. Some are men and women converted through his ministry, others are people with whom he has been in prison and others are his friends or relatives. Some are well placed in society, while others have slave names. Nine of them are women and Paul especially values their care and hard work.”8
To find the free Romans study guide for individuals and small groups, hear Pastor Mark’s entire sermon series on Romans, or find a free mountain of Bible teaching visit realfaith.com or download the Real Faith app.
- Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, 1st Augsburg books ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 565.
8. Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, 1st Augsburg books ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 565.