Asian Social Context
Its Relevance to Christian Theology
Christian Theology is human speech about God; it is always related to concrete historical situations. To put it another way, theology is inseparable from social existence. Theology is not transcendent language; it is interested language, always reflecting the goals and aspirations of a particular people in a definite social setting.
Feuerbach proclaimed the concreteness of reality in its social and political manifestations. The clue to the meaning of the real, he insisted, is not found in philosophical abstractions but in concrete life, its feelings, wants, and needs. He continued and said, “the uncovering of truth, therefore is not identical with the rational investigation of the unfolding of the Absolute Idea, but with analysis of the common experience of humanity, and theology initially is anthropology.
Truth is not “a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth. Here is inevitably and inseparably connected with the society and the truth of Christianity. By limiting humanity to its nature, Feuerbach asserted the social and psychological limitations of all human knowledge. Thus the idea of God is humanity itself projected to infinity.
Evan-Pritchard noted generations of writers on religion, in their sincere search for truth, were only reacting against the religion of their upbringing. Religion and culture coincide fully in tribal societies practically everywhere in the Third World. Culture is the variegated expression of religion. But because religions meet each other always in and through their respective cultural self-manifestations, there result subtle differentiations between religions and cultures.
Tribal and clan societies, given their strong religio-cultural cohesion, are never immune to the danger of intertribal conflicts. Tribalism—often equated with divisive provincialism—can be exploited ideologically by the enemies of social change. So se need to be realized that the values of religious, social and cultural are inseparably bound up each other. Therefore Christian Theology could not leave such values of the time and milieu.
Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, and knowledge of God is self-knowledge. Thus our knowledge of God is to be identified with our consciousness of God in and through our (Asian’s) Social Contextuality. Ideas do not have an existence separate from life but arise out of a frame-work of reality constructed by people.
Black Theology and White Theology do not lie in the absence of a social a priori in the former. Black theologians do theology out of the social matrix of their existence. American theologians have rarely attempted to transcend the social interests of their group by seeking on analysis of the gospel in the light of the consciousness of black people struggling for liberation. But the influence of social realities on theological reflections was particularly obvious in the Methodist and Baptist churches’ relation to the issue of slavery during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and followed immediately by the Revolutionary War.
Today’s human being live in a matrix of political, ecomomic, and social organizations. There is no individual apart from this organizational system. The Church is commissioned with the divine mission to save such a modern man; and therefore the Church cannot divide salvation into individual and social salvations. This means that salvation today should be the “mission of God” to restore a true human being, liberating him from his predicament within evil social institutions and systems.
Social participation on this religious ground has been a great contribution to national development. The mission of God is a cosmic and universal event that transcends national boundaries. A Christian is a responsible citizen of a nation. But we also believe that mankind, ruled by God, is one family of brothers and sister. On the basis of the ecumenical unity and solidarity of humanity, we reject any narrow nationalism that idolizes a nation [by Korean National Council of Churches, Nov. 18, 1974].
God is liberator and who saved his all creatures (including humankind). This is one of the solid doctrine and affirmation of the Christians. Furthermore, the essence of liberation is not limited to issues of social justice and dealing only with socio-economic and political questions. There is the concern for spirituality, reconciliation and wholeness. It is to engage in the struggles of human existence in its totality. It is to strive for the quality and the dignity of human life in relation with one another and in communion with God.
One aspect of theology is an understanding of God’s mission to establish his relationship with people, for he loved them (John 3:16). The God of love related to us lovingly and expects us to be a loving people. This relationship was best established by God himself through Jesus Christ’s life and ministry. His incarnational life reminds us of our solidarity and critical prophetic living in our given context. K. Koyama says, “Theology is talk that takes one’s neighbor seriously.” Love your neighbor as yourself. Asian theology takes its neighborhood seriously. This is theology as understood by Asians.
Dr. M. M. Thomas, of India, said: “Asian Theology is a response to the challenge to make faith relevant to life in the midst of the Asian social revolution.” John England said: “All theology is a discerning of the divine in the human being—the signs of God-in-Jesus Christ in the world—and is a reflection upon and a response to that. So its source is found in every place, time and level of human life.
It is needed to be added here the approach of Inclusivistic. This approach recognizes that God is present and at work in other religions along with Christianity. It accepts the fact that transformations take place in the lives of the individuals and the community when they are in touch with the divine presence. The grace of God is available to/in all religions. God’s love and God’s grace are not exclusive to any particular historical religion.
This Inclusivistic approach is based particularly on the Acts of the Apostles when the Christian movement encountered the Gentile world. In the story of Peter and Cornelius we hear Peter saying, “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:35). In Paul’s speech at Mars Hill, he proclaimed that the unknown God that they worship was a religious act but now they should worship the known God—the resurrected Christ. These particular passages of scripture must be placed within their proper contexts.
This view was elaborated by Justin Martyr. He believes that the grace of God operates outside of the Christian community as well and that all people can receive it. “Christ is the divine Word in whom the whole human race share, and those who live according to the light of their knowledge are Christians, even if they are considered as being godless (I Apology, 46, 1-4).
Up to this point, it is striking that we cannot become Christian without our social contextuality and cultural reality. E.g., in Chinland, in the Kachin, and among Burmese Christians there are social realities and cultural values in their Christianness. Eventhough some / many people do not confess Jesus Christ as Christians do, they are anonymous Christians as Karl Rahner had said, through their meta-cosmic religiousness. It means that being a Christian one cannot abandon his contextual reality. Gandhi had told to one of Christian missionary in India that “Teach your converts to be a little more like your Jesus, and not to be abandoned their Indianness.”
In Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, it is striking that the whole drift of his teaching is social. It can be said that the Kingdom of God includes the context of social values. To go back to Asian reality and Asian theology to be in accordance with its social contextuality, D. T. Niles saw how in “Asian Christianity is a potted plant which needs to be rooted in the cultural soil of the East.” I would like to add here the social context of Asian realities. The earthen vessel has to be broken and the plant allowed growing in the new Asian soil. And also we are alertly aware of the need for indigenization. Kazoh Kita mori indicated:
“Christianity should not be bound by Western forms. The Incarnation is for all nations, embracing all life and thought. Christianity in Asia should be based not on Greek but on Asian ground and Asian Christian should find their depths in their own way. The task of the Church in Asia is to become indigenous, and it is now time for the Church to be understood by its followers and fruits.”
This is the process of the efforts to “give Christianity in Asia an Asian face,” or “to see Christ through Asian eyes,” or “to provide the gospel with an Asian flavor.” So in India there was the Indianization of theology, V. Chakkarai denoted it as “understanding of the meaning of Christ for our situation and bringing the spiritual treasures of our nation to the feet of Christ.” He further said, “Indianization is neither a change in externals nor a translation of the contents of western Christianity in terms of Indian religious thought. It is not only the outer part but also the inward parts that need to be Indianized.”
Bishop K. H. Ting said that “Christianity needs to be de-westernized for China just as in the first century Christianity needed to be de-Judaized for the whole world.” It was not necessary for the Gentiles to become Jews in order to follow Christ. Likewise, Asians need not become westerners for them to become Christians. We also therefore, need not to be devalued our original social and cultural values to become Christians, but need to contextualize them.
Contextualization is not a fad or catch-word but a theological necessity demanded by the incarnational nature of the word. It has to do with how we assess the peculiarity of Third World contexts; and it takes into account the process of secularity, technology, and struggle for human justice, which characterize the historical movement of nations in the Third World.
Obviously it was wrong to measure the fruits of Christian witness merely in terms of the number of people who join the Christian community or by the size of the Christian Church. One can hardly fathom the impact of the gospel upon Southern Asia in the areas of socio-cultural values or the ideologies that shape the society and human development at large.
The religious heritage of nations of Asia is so deep that people find it very difficult to leave it for Christian faith. Therefore interacting with people of other faiths and seeking to understand them are not optional exercises for us and not to make any criticism of the partner’s experience of his deity. We cannot throw the gospel at people from a self-distance on a take-it or—leave-it basis. We must be willing to expose ourselves to others.
The necessary point is obviously shown by the above statements that our Christianness in Asian soil should not leave Asian realities and values of culture and social milieu; for Jesus came to the world not to destroy the Jewish realities but to fulfill it. Likewise Asian Christians need to fulfill our own (first hand-made) heritages of cosmic and meta-cosmic religiousness of our past religious—should be transformed in the light and ways of trans-contextualization and inter-contextualization. In other word, we should do our own theology in the light of Asian Ray and at the same time we should witness our Christianness in a transformed model of fulfilling and promoting our social and cultural contextuality. To be a true Christian in Asia is to be a genuine Asianness—within Asian contextualness. Here I used the words Asianness and contextualness, and they imply the authenticity and the true reality of being genuine Asians.
As I have mentioned in earlier pages that truth is a practical result; that truth is originated in our social and cultural realities and values, i.e., our cultures, customs, and our social milieu. This is the truth that we cannot abolish when we became/come Christians after we are being Christians. We cannot abandon our past social and cultural values in the light of Christian theology and its ethics; instead they became a bi-dimensional value in accordance with the indigenous contexts.
In the context of Myanmar today, Nat worship provides the raw material for world-view to the Christians and Christianity has just to polish it. The Nat worshippers in Myanmar have a unified and integrated world-view. They perceive things in one unit, as they have no dualistic concept of world-view. There is no division of life into the secular and religious but everything is seen as one under the control of the spirits, Nats, which are active in the human world.
There is no rigid separation between the material and spiritual world, the temporal and the non-temporal, time and eternity; the cosmic and meta-cosmic, the “here-and now” and “the here-after.” This original world-view of Nat worship is fundamental to the right understanding of Christian concept of salvation.
Likewise, in Chinland, Nat worshippers have a three-tiered world namely, Vantung (heaven, above); leitung (earth, the intermediate layer); and leinuai (the underworld, or the nether world). Heaven is supposed to be the abode of the Supreme Being, the earth is designed as the place of human beings.
The Karens have a very established and wisely accepted God tradition called Ywa, tradition, (Ywa means God) which is the belief in the existence of the Supreme and Eternal God who is the creator of all things. The Ywa tradition is very similar to the Hebrew concept of Yahweh, both in terminology and concept, it paved the way for the Karens to accept the gospel.
The Kachins also have a concept of a Supreme Being who is completely different from other spiritual beings. They call this Supreme Being by three different names which are self-explanatory of the Supreme Being’s attributes. The first name is Karai Kasang, meaning the Supreme Creator; the second name is Hpan Wa Ning Sang, meaning the Glorious One who creates; and the third name is Chye Wa Ningchyang, meaning the One who knows or Omniscient. The Kachins had a strong belief in the Supreme Being long before they became Christians and the belief enabled them to accept the gospel easily.
The Chins also have a concept of the Supreme God whom they called by several names like Pasian, Pathian, Khuazing, Khuapughi and Pu Vana. These names of God were so well known and so well accepted before Christianity came into the Chins.
In considering the above factors, Christians in Myanmar today have to learn the Theology of human nature relationship from Nat worship.
This is the challenging prophetic mission of the churches in Myanmar to the world at large, which they have to learn from Nat worship. If Myanmar needs a theology of her own which is liberated from the Euro-American oriented theology, then it must take Nat worship as a paradigm since it has been saturated in Myanmar soil ages ago.
Contemporarily all Asian countries (except Japan and S. Korea) are under uncivilized situation, and under darkness before compare to the western developed countries. Meanwhile God is acting among us and promote us in the surface of the whole world now. He uses some Asian theologians as He had used the Jewish prophets and Western theologians. God’s heart is aching now for the sake of Asian darkness. This makes God the theologian par excellence. God’s heart aches because of the deep darkness surrounding the formless and void earth (Gen 1:2).
In answering the question of this subject, the two versions of religious socialism in Asia: 1) Animism or cosmic religiousness and 2) The more sophisticated form represented by the monastic communities of Buddhist (and Hindu, Taoist) origin—a meta-cosmic religiousness are to be related and transformed to Christian theology within the realm of Asian context. To clarify the fact I have mentioned earlier the situation in Myanmar context.
Initially God had placed every humankind in each of our land, soil (i.e., each of our own Garden of Eden) and blessed us with all our contexts. God placed the Jews in the Middle land to be a true Jews; the Westerners in the West to be Westerners; and the Asians in the East to be Asians.
God placed the man [Adam] in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard it (Gen 2:15). Likewise God placed the Asian people in the garden of Asian soil to cultivate it and to guard it. This is the greatest task of us that Asian people to witness the Supreme Being and to establish (to cultivate) his Kingdom (i.e., God’s Kingdom) with our identity of Asianness and our socio-cultural values in our contexts.
Likewise God’s heart is aching through the hearts of Asian theologians today. This aching of heart is the beginning of theology.
Definitions of Phrases & Terminologies
Greek term for action, practical ability or practice, used in Marxism and adopted by Latin American Liberation Theology to denote a combination of action and reflection aimed at the transformation of an oppressive situation. [David F. Ford, The Modern Theologians Vol. 1(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1992), p. 324]
In the theology mentioned usually some elements are underlined. First, the contents of the Christian praxis envisaged is defined by “an option for the poor:” i.e., both social and spiritual) in history and society which defines a “horizon of knowledge.” Second, it is a Praxis of faith. Third, it is communal Praxis, lived and acted out and critically revised within the community of faith. Fourth, it verifies the Christian message in so far as it makes it reality in human society. Finally, since the Spirit of God is present in history, Christian Praxis is an act of discernment and, therefore, a form of knowing (see John 7:17) with dogmatic significance. [Dictionary of Ecumenical Movement (Geneva: WCC, 1991), pp. 815, 816]
Etymologically, “Inculturation” means the insertion of new values into one’s heritage and world-view. This process applies to all human dimensions of life and development. Within contemporary Christianity, inculturation signifies the movement which takes local cultures and their values as the basic instrument and a powerful means for presenting, reformulating and living Christianity. [Dictionary of Ecumenical Movement
3. Soteriology: The doctrine of salvation.
4. Bi-dimensional Soteriology
A doctrine of salvation that maintains a healthy tension between the cosmic now and the meta-cosmic beyond.
5. Cosmic Religiousness
An open-ended spirituality that awaits a transcendented orientation from the meta-cosmic religion. Cosmic Religion: Revolve around cosmic powers—normally rendered as “gos,’ “deities,” “spirits” in English. They refer to natural phenomina (often personified) as well as the spirits of the past heroes and one’s own ancestors, not excluding “departed souls” and “saints” in popular Christianity. [Aloysius P. Pieris S. J., Theology of Liberation in Asia, p. 98.]
6. Meta-cosmic Religion
The salvific beyond attainable within a person through gnosis. It defines its soteriology in terms of a meta-cosmic “beyond” capable of being internalized as the salvific “within” of the human person, either through the agapeic path of redeeming love or through the Gnostic way of liberative knowledge. [Aloysius P. Pieris, S. J., Theology of Liberation in Asia (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 1988), p. 98]
7. Dialectical Process
Critical analysis of mental process / of method of producing something in a series of operation.
8. Gnosis: Knowledge (of Greek origin).
The ruling method / system of holding land of the Middle Ages in Europe.
Contextualization is a dynamic process of the Church’s reflection, in obedience to Christ and his mission in the world, in the interaction of the text as the Word of God and the context as a specific human situation.
It is not a passing fad or a debatable option. It is essentially to our understanding of God’s self-revelation. The incarnation is the ultimate paradigm of the translation of text into context. Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnates as a Jew, identified with a particular culture in history through transcending it. In His life and teaching he is the supreme model of contextualization. [New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1988), pp. 164, 166] (Geneva: WCC, 1991), p. 506]
1. Song, Chong Seng, Doing Theology Today. Mysore: The Christian Literature Society, Wesley Press, 1976.
2. S. J., Aloysius Pius Pieris, Theology of Liberation in Asia. Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 1988.
3. Anderson, Gerald H., Asian Voices in Christian Theology. Mary Knoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1976.
4. Hao, Yap Kim, Doing Theology in a Pluralistic World. Singapore: Kin Keong Printing, 1990.
5. Scott, F. Ernst, The Kingdom of God in the New Testament. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1931.
6. Phillips, James M., & Coote, Robert T., Toward the Twenty-first century in Christian Mission. Grand Rapids, Machigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993.
7. Asian Journal of Theology, Vol. 4, No. 1 (January), 1990.
8. Asian Journal of Theology, Vol. 8, No. 1 (April), 1994.
 Chong Seng Song, Doing Theology Today (Mysore: The Christian Literature Society, Wesley Press, 1976), 17.
 Ibid. 18.
 Ibid. 20.
 Aloysius Pius Pieris, S. J., Theology of Liberation in Asia (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 1988), 97.
 Ibid. 100.
 C. S. Song, Doing Theology Today, 18.
 Ibid. 24.
 Ibid. 28.
 Gerald H. Anderson, Asian Voices in Christian Theology (Mary Knoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1976), 247.
 Yap Kim Hao, “Intercontextualization: Releasing the Theological Frog from underneath Coconut Shell” Asian Journal of Theology Vol. 4, No. 1 (January, 1990), 42.
 Ibid. 45.
 Yap Kim Hao, Doing Theology in a Pluralistic World (Singapore: Kin Keong Printing, 10 Mount Sophia, 1990), 86.
 Ibid. 87.
 Ernst F. Scott, The Kingdom of God in the New Testament (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1931), 54.
 Ibid. Asian Journal of Theology, 37.
 Ibid. 38.
 James M. Phillips & Robert T. Coote, Toward the Twenty-First Century in Christian Mission (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 60.
 Ibid. 63, 64.
 Simon P. K. Enno, “Nat Worship: A Paradigm for Doing Ecumenical Theology in Myanmar,” Asian Journal of Theology Vol. 8, No. 1 (April, 1994), 46.
 Ibid. 47.
 Ibid. 48.
 Ibid. 49, 50.
 C. S. Song, Doing Theology Today, 47.
Reasons of Paul's Writing
the Epistle to the Romans
Before I touch the given text, it is needed to mention first in general the importance of letter to the Romans and its introduction.
Many Christian thinkers have found that Romans is the key to understand the rest of the Bible. John Calvin called it “an open door to understanding all the treasurers of scripture.” William Tyndale said that it shone “light onto the whole Bible.” J. B. Phillips, in his translation of the New Testament, called it “the Gospel according to Paul.” M. Luther, after seeing the meaning of Rom 1:7, wrote: “The whole of scripture took on a new meaning!” He called it “the chief book of the New Testament and the clearest Gospel, so valuable that a Christian should not only know every word of it by heart, but should take it about with him everyday as the daily bread of his soul.”
Scholars have suggested many different answers to the reasons of Paul’s writing to the Romans. For example:
1) Paul hoped that the Roman Christians would help him in the new work which he was planning to do in Spain (Rom 15:24). So he wrote to tell them the Gospel which he preached, in the hope that they would approve and give him the help he needed.
2) Until that time, the center of the Church’s mission had been Antioch, in Syria. Now it was time to extend the Church’s mission to the West, so a new center was needed in the west. Perhaps Paul hoped that Rome might be that center. If so, the Christians there would need to have a good understanding of the Gospel.
3) In those days Rome was the world’s greatest city. If Christians there held the faith strongly, and that same faith was likely to spread throughout the world.
4) Paul wanted to preserve in writing a clear statement of Christian doctrine for the benefit of all Christians. So this is a “handbook of Christian beliefs,” sent to the chief city in the world. (Some scholars think that Paul sent another copy of the same letter to Ephesus, another great city).
5) One of the most likely answers, and one which is particularly helpful when we try to understand Romans 9-16, is Paul wanted to remind the Roman Christians about their unity with one another and with the whole Church of Christ. Perhaps some disagreements had arisen between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome. Romans 14:10 and 1`6:17 may indicate such disagreement. For this reason Paul showed in this letter:
i. that everyone has the same real need (3:22, 23);
ii. that God’s good news is meant for everyone (10:12);
iii. that Gentiles and Jews are indebted to one another (11:30, 31);
iv. that all Christians need one another’s help (12:2-8);
v. that Christians ought to care for one another in practical ways (13:8-10).
We know very little about the Christians at Rome, and this epistle does not give us much
certain information. To know them (Roman Christians) help us to understand the reasons why Paul wrote to the Romans? Scholars have made many different suggestions about the church at Rome. Suggestions are:
a) The first Romans to become Christians were probably Jews who were baptized on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:10). When they returned home, they spread the gospel to their Jewish friends.
b) Rome, like Nairobi or Hong Kong today, was visited by many travelers. Some of these were Christians, who brought their new faith with them. This faith quickly spread among the inhabitants of Rome, many of whom were longing for a better way of life.
c) The new faith was the subject of a lot of argument, especially in the Jewish synagogues. Sometimes these arguments became violent. They even led to rioting, so that the emperor Claudius ordered all Jews to leave the city (Acts 18:2). A Roman historian named Suetonius wrote: “Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because they were causing disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus.” Suetonius know little about the Jews, and even less about Christ, whose name he may just have heard mentioned. He probably wrote “Chrestus” my mistake for “Christus” (which is Latin for Christ).
d) Probably, for some years after that, the only Christians in Rome were Gentiles, i.e., not Jews, but people of other nations. The history and teaching of the Jewish scriptures would have been strange to them, so they developed customs and teachings which were different from those of which Jewish Christians would have approved. For example, they might forget the Jewish background of Jewish life, and the importance of what we now call the Old Testament for the first Christians. They might reject the Jewish Christians’ habit of observing certain rules about their food and about certain days of the year. This did not matter while the Jewish Christians were away from Rome; but after a few years they came back—and then perhaps disagreements and misunderstandings arose between the Gentile Christians and the Jewish minority in the Church. This may have been one of the reasons why Paul wrote this letter.
e) By the time that Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, the Church there was strong. Everybody was talking about how Christianity has spread in the capital city. Another Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote that by the year AD 64 there was a “very great multitude” of Christians in the city. Therefore, Paul may have been eager to introduce himself with this body of Christians.
According to Dr. Alexander Wederburn there are three pairs of factors which are needed
to be borne in mind concerning the reasons for writing Romans.
1) Both the epistolary framework of Romans (its beginning and end)
2) Its theological substance in the middle, both Paul’s situation and the Roman Church’s, both the Jewish and the Gentile sections of the Church,
3) Their particular problems.
Regarding Paul’s own circumstances three destinations are obvious purposes and reasons.
He is probably writing from Corinth during those three months which he spent in Greece, just before sailing east. He mentions three places which he is intending to visit. The first is Jerusalem, taking with him the money which the Greek churches have contributed for the poverty-stricken Christians in Judea (15:25ff.). The second is Rome itself. Having been frustrated in his previous attempts to visit the Christians in Rome, he is confident that this time he will be successful.
Paul was evidently apprehensive about his forthcoming visit to Jerusalem. So he urged the Roman Christians to join him in his prayer-struggle (15:30), not only for his personal safety, that he might be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, but especially for the success of his mission, that his service might be acceptable to the saints there. Many Jewish Christians regarded him with deep suspicion. Some condemned him for disloyalty to his Jewish heritage, since in his evangelization of Gentiles he championed their freedom from the necessity of circumcision and law-observance. For such Jewish Christians, to accept the offering which Paul was taking to Jerusalem would be tantamount to endorsing his liberal policy. The apostle felt the need of support from Rome’s mixed Jewish-Gentile Christian community; he wrote to them to solicit their prayers.
Paul’s immediate destination was Jerusalem, his ultimate destination was Spain. The fact was that his evangelization of the four provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia and Achaia was now completed. But his ambition, which indeed had become his fixed policy, was to evangelize only where Christ was not known. Now, therefore, he put these two things together (the fact and the policy) and concluded that there was no more place for him to work in these regions (15:23). So his sights were set on Spain, to which, so far as he knew, the gospel had not yet penetrated. Surely, he felt the need of fellowship with Roman Christians. Rome was about two thirds of the way from Jerusalem to Spain. He asked therefore if they would assist him on his journey there (15:24), presumably with their encouragement, financial support and prayers.
Paul had not visited Rome before, and because most of the Church members there were not known to him, he saw again the need to establish his apostolic credentials by giving a full account of his gospel.
Paul’s writings to Romans not only deal with his personal situation but also with theological convictions. Rome was a mixed community consisting of both Jews and Gentiles, with Gentiles in the majority (1:5f; 13; 11:13), and that there was considerable conflict between these groups. This conflict is not ethnic, but theological (different convictions about the status of God’s covenant and law, and so about salvation).
As already mentioned, there are two kinds of Christians in Rome. One group is Jewish Christians as representatives of Judaizing Christianity. Since they regarded Christianity as simply part of Judaism and required to observe the Jewish law. On the one side are Gentile Christians (Dr. Wedderburn refers to them as “supporters of a law-free gospel). The “weak in faith” (Jewish Christians) condemned Paul for not doing (observe) the law. Gentile Christians (the strong in faith) on the other hand, were champions of a law-free gospel—and then there were misunderstandings among them. The Jewish Christians were proud of their favoured status, and the Gentile Christians of their freedom, so that Paul saw the need to humble them both.
Out of the above opposite two conceptions Paul wants to give them the real doctrine of Christianity in two paramount themes:
1) The Justification of guilty sinners by God’s grace alone through faith alone, irrespective of either status or works.
2) The people of God are no longer according to descent, circumcision or culture, but according to faith in Jesus, so that all believers are the true children of Abraham. Indeed, the single most important theme of Romans is the equality of Jews and Gentiles.
Perhaps the most important theme which Paul write and why Paul write to the Romans is
mentioned in almost every chapter: that the gospel is for all people, and that it abolishes the distinctions between people. It does so because it is not a Jewish idea, but the message of God himself for all nations (1:1, 5; 16:26). All people need this message because all have sinned (3:23) and can be set right with God only by His grace through (3:23) and can be set right with God only by His grace through faith (3:24; 11:32; 3:22).
Human beings usually tend to think of themselves as belonging to a special group—a race, a nation, etc. But Paul thought of mankind as a unity (5:12-21). Through His work of reconciliation, Christ restored to mankind unity with God and with one another in God’s new family (5:10, 18; 12:5). Christians have a responsibility to live as members of this family who love and care for each other (12:9-16; 13:8-10; 14:13-21). Therefore Paul made it clear that he was writing to all Christians in Rome (1:7; 16:3-16).
Besides the previous reasons, a brief overview of the letter and its argument will shape further light on the intertwining of the related reasons and themes. In 1:1-5 Paul focuses on the person of Jesus Christ, David’s son by descent and powerfully declared God’s Son by the resurrection. In 1:16 he focuses on his work, since the gospel is God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes, “first for the Jews, then for the Gentiles.”
Between these succinct statements of the gospel, Paul seeks to establish a personal relationship with his readers. He is writing to “all in Rome” who are believers, irrespective of their ethnic origin, although he knows that the majority of them are Gentiles. Paul wants to show them how he has been concerning them all that—he thanks God for all of them, he prays for them constantly, he longs to see them, he feels under obligation to preach the gospel in the capital city of the world.
Paul has been eager to teach apparently Christians in Rome the real doctrine of Christian beliefs which has been ambiguous among them. Here he wrote clearly his understandings as follows:
- The Wrath of God (1:18-3:20)
- The Grace of God (3:21-8:39)
- The Plan of God (9 – 11)
- The Will of God (12:1-15:13)
been moral corruptions and religious syncretism. Perhaps Paul might have been eager to send them ethical precepts even though he has never visited them. As he was the first great interpreter of “the mind of Christ” with reference to the ethical problems of early Christianity, the emergence of specific moral problems in the Church at Corinth (which he had faced once) in particular gave him the opportunity to apply to concrete issues. The following theological doctrines to enforce ethical actions are found in his letter to Romans.
The first is Christo-centric. The ground of the new life in Christ is oneness with him. He describes this experience as being “in Christ’” an intimate relation of the Christian with his Lord (Rom 16:3, 9). Second, an ethic of Spirit. He shows that the “Christian life becomes a life in the Spirit” (Rom 8; 7:6). Third, the experience of repentance. “Renewing of the mind” is the equivalent of repentance in Paul’s thought (Rom 12:2). Fourth, an ethics of the Church. Gifts of the Spirit are to be used to serve one another and the Church as a whole (Rom 12:5f.). The kingdom is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
In summary, Paul’s letter to the Romans was written to prepare the way for a visit Paul planned to make to the Church at Rome. His plan was to work among the Christians there for a while and then, with their support, to go on to Spain. He wrote to explain his understanding of the Christian faith and its practical implications for the lives of Christians. His notable explained facts are:
- The holiness and love of God,
- The sinfulness of man,
- The doctrine of justification by faith,
- The purpose of the law of God and
- The power of God’s Spirit in the believer’s life, etc.
Out of reasons why Paul wrote to the Romans his reconciling effort of “the old faith and the new faith” which effects racial preference (discrimination) in Rome appears significantly.
1. Bowen, Roger, A Guide to Romans: TEF Study Guide 11. London: S. P. C. K., 1975.
2. Barnettee, Henlee H., Introducing Christian Ethics. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1961.
3. Barth, Karl, The Epistle to the Romans. Translated by Edwyn C. Hoskyns. London: Oxford University Press, 1950.
4. Stott, John R. W., The Message of Roman. England: Intervarsity Presee, 1994.
5. Good News Bible “Today’s English Version.” UBS, 1976.
 Roger Bowen, A Guide to Romans. TEF Study Guide 11 (London: S. P. C. K. 1975), 3.
 Ibid., 12.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans (Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1994), 32.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 34.
 Ibid., 35.
 Ibid., 36.
 Bowen, 200.
 Ibid., 201.
 Stott, 36.
 Henlee H. Barnetee, Introducing Christian Ethics (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1961), 69.
 Ibid., 70-72.