Praying and meditating before going to sleep last night, the Lord asked me a strange question – have you considered Rome and Romans? The apostle Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans, that much I knew. I had read and studied, even taught about the book of Romans, but had I ever considered – really considered who these people were, that the book was originally addressed to?
Well, no, I can’t say that I had. Weren’t they all Christians who lived in Rome? That’s about all I could remember. I guess to instigate more study on my part, the Lord told me a little bit about these people.
Some were immigrants to the city. Some were natives. Some were Jewish. Some were not. Some were born there. Some were not. Rome was a “melting pot” (like America) of many ethnicities, cultures, traditions, religions, societal level, education, morals and ethics.
Some had parents who had immigrated there from Israel, others had grandparents who had immigrated there from Israel, and those parents and grandparents were orthodox Jews who kept the Jewish traditions. Thus, their adult children were not integrated into the pagan Roman culture.
But for many or most of the others, they had been integrated into the local culture, politics, business, religion, society, legal and moral systems.
Into this multi-faceted Roman society came the Gospel. How? What happened next? That’s all the Lord told me. It’s as if He was smiling, knowing my love of Bible study and innate curiosity would take over from there. And of course it has.
So this morning I looked in my NIV at Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans, to see who he addressed and why he said he was writing. That gave me a little information — he didn’t know these people but he planned to come there for a visit. He wanted to impart some spiritual gift to them, to make them strong, and for them to mutually encourage each other. He also wanted a harvest from among them, I assume he meant new believers.
Of course, he wanted them to know who he was before he arrived, and what he believed, so they would know he was legitimate. Okay, so far, so good.
But those introductory verses didn’t describe the Roman believers to me very well, so I went to the internet to see if I could find a bit of historical information. I did, and this information will help me understand why Paul included all he did in his Epistle to the Romans as I begin a new read and study of it.
If you like history too, keep reading. The following is from the online Catholic Encyclopedia, April 11, 2008:
After the sixth decade B.C. many Hebrews had settled at Rome, in the Trastevere quarter and that of the Porta Capena, and soon they became a financial power. They were incessantly making proselytes, especially among the women of the upper classes. The names of thirteen synagogues are known as existing (though not all at the same time) at Rome during the Imperial Period. Thus was the way prepared for the Gospel, whereby Rome, already mistress of the world, was to be given a new sublimer and more lasting, title to that dominion — the dominion over the souls of all mankind.
Even on the Day of Pentecost, “Roman strangers” (advenœ Romani, Acts 2:10) were present at Jerusalem, and they surely must have carried the good news to their fellow-citizens at Rome.
Ancient tradition assigns to the year 42 the first coming of St. Peter to Rome, though, according to the pseudo-Clementine Epistles, St. Barnabas was the first to preach the Gospel in the Eternal City. Under Claudius (c. A.D. 50), the name of Christ had become such an occasion of discord among the Hebrews of Rome that the emperor drove them all out of the city, though they were not long in returning. About ten years later Paul also arrived, a prisoner, and exercised a vigorous apostolate during his sojourn. The Christians were numerous at that time, even at the imperial Court. The burning of the city — by order of Nero, who wished to effect a thorough renovation — was the pretext for the first official persecution of the Christian name. Moreover, it was very natural that persecution, which had been occasional, should in course of time have become general and systematic; hence it is unnecessary to transfer the date of the Apostles’ martyrdom from the year 67, assigned by tradition, to the year 64 (see PETER, SAINT; PAUL, SAINT). Domitian’s reign took its victims both from among the opponents of absolutism and from the Christians; among them some who were of very exalted rank — Titus Flavius Clemens, Acilius Glabrio (Cemetery of Priscilla), and Flavia Domitilla, a relative of the emperor. It must have been then, too, that St. John, according to a very ancient legend (Tertullian), was brought to Rome.”