A letter, not a compendium of theology: Paul writes to the Romans

This post is in the series Rite Reading. The first of two posts on Romans.

Rome’s chariot race track was already an established feature in Paul’s day.

Romans is Paul’s longest letter (just beating 1 Corinthians to the punch). It’s worth noting that this is why it comes first in the New Testament: Paul’s letters are organised in order of decreasing length. The Sunday lectionary contains readings from all its chapters except 2 and 3, so we need to spend a bit of time on it.

The number of readings reflects both its length, and the way it has been thought of, especially since the Reformation, as the most important of Paul’s letters, and a kind of compendium of his thought. Despite that long tradition, most people nowadays go at least part way to accepting that it is a response to specific circumstances, just like Paul’s other letters. It is written for a particular situation, not as a timeless treatise of theology. Different scholars give more or less weight to a whole range of different reasons, so I am going simply to outline my own speculation, which I think helps make sense of the letter’s content.

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