Of all the works of theology that have been written since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, none have been as important or more influential than a letter St Paul wrote to Christians in Rome in the mid-50s AD and which is preserved in the New Testament. The Church’s greatest theologians have all been massively influenced by it and there is still a constant flow of books all seeking to interpret, explain, and apply it. It is frequently read in Church services all over the world.
This was not quite as straightforward as it might sound. Apart from being a demanding task in its own right, the Church at this time was still trying to make its mind up whether it wanted Gentiles to be members at all and, if they were to be allowed to join the Church, on what basis they should be admitted.
It is very easy today to forget that the Church started as small sect within Judaism in
Some thought that it was very simple. Gentiles could join the Church if they also lived as the Jewish believers did obeying the Old Testament commandments. God hadn’t changed his mind, they believed, and what God had required of people in the Old Testament still applied to anyone who wanted to serve him. Yes, Jesus was God’s Son and believing in him was essential, but you still had to keep the Ten Commandments.
The reason Paul became so unpopular was he suggested an alternative and that was that the Gentiles did not have to keep the Old Testament Law, and while it was ok for Jewish believers to go on observing it if they wanted to, it wasn’t this that established a relationship with God, a relationship which would ultimately save them. This was explosive stuff. Jews had died in the past because of their obedience to the Law and the last thing the Jewish believers wanted was for fellow Jews to think that the new faith in Jesus was an attack on the Law and all their history. All sorts of rumours circulated about what Paul did or did not teach and believe.
Paul believed that
Paul begins by declaring where he stands on the issue of who can become a member of the Church. The Christian message is for everyone who has faith in Jesus whether Jew or Gentile. It is faith in Jesus, he declares, that matters most not your birth or behaviour. It is a very simple message, but one that many people found it hard to accept then and still find it hard to accept today.