Romans: Summary of All 16 Chapters of the Book


Marko Marina Author Bart Ehrman

Written by Marko Marina, Ph.D.

Author |  Historian

Author |  Historian |  BE Contributor

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Date written: July 10th, 2024

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

One distinguishing feature of the Book of Romans, compared to most of Paul's letters, is that Paul addresses a community he didn’t personally establish. Despite not founding the Roman church, Paul was well-informed about the key issues, particularly the ethnic division between Greek-speaking Gentile believers and Jewish followers of Jesus.

Paul writes to unify these diverse groups, addressing both doctrinal and practical issues. His approach in Romans is pastoral and apologetic, thus aiming to bridge gaps within the Roman church.

What is Romans about in the Bible? In this article, we’ll provide a chapter-by-chapter summary, thus highlighting Paul's key themes and arguments. We'll see how Paul addresses the specific issues facing the Roman church and presents his systematic theology.

However, before that, we’ll take a look at the issues of authorship, and date to reveal key details. 

Romans

What Is Romans About in the Bible: An Overview

The Book of Romans is a foundational text in the New Testament, comprising 16 chapters. It’s traditionally attributed to the Apostle Paul, one of the most influential figures in early Christianity.

The consensus among scholars is that Paul genuinely authored Romans. In his Commentary on Romans, Joseph Fitzmyer notes: “Although the authorship of Romans has been questioned at times in the not-too-distant past, modern students of the letter almost unanimously agree about its Pauline authenticity.” (Affiliate Disclaimer: We may earn commissions on products you purchase through this page at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting our site!)

That makes the Book of Romans one of seven of Paul’s undisputed letters — a compilation of the texts most scholars agree he wrote. 

Romans was written around 56-57 C.E., likely in Corinth, while Paul was preparing for his journey to Jerusalem. It was addressed to the Christian community in Rome. The primary purposes were to address the divisions between Jewish and Gentile believers and to articulate the gospel message clearly.

In broad terms, the Epistle to the Romans can be divided as follows: 

  • Chapters 1-3 address humanity’s universal need for righteousness and the failure to achieve it through the Mosaic Law.
  • Chapters 4-5 discuss how God provides a way for people to attain righteousness apart from the law through faith in the risen Jesus.
  • Chapters 6-8 focus on the new life in Christ, thus emphasizing freedom from sin and life in the Spirit.
  • Chapters 9-11 explore God's plan for Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles.
  • Chapters 12-16 provide practical instructions for living out the faith in community and personal conduct.

Additionally, key themes in Romans include:

  • Justification by faith
  • The universality of sin
  • The role of the law
  • The transformative power of the Holy Spirit

For a more in-depth discussion of the authorship and dating of Romans, readers can refer to our separate articles (here and here) that delve into these topics more extensively. Here, we’ll summarize the content of each chapter to provide a comprehensive overview of this foundational New Testament book.

The Book of Romans: Summary of Each Chapter

Before we delve into a summary of each chapter, let's take a look at a brief overview of the main themes and key verses from each chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. 

Chapter

Theme

Key Verse

1

Introduction and Theme of the Gospel

I am not ashamed of the gospel… (1:16)

2

God’s Righteous Judgment

“For God does not show favoritism.” (2:11)

3

God's Faithfulness and Human Sinfulness

“For all have sinned and fall short…” (3:23)

4

Abraham — an Example of Faith

“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (4:3)

5

Justification Through Faith

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith…” (5:1)

6

Freedom From Sin

“For the wages of sin is death…” (6:23)

7

The Law and Sin

“So, then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law…” (7:25)

8

Life in the Spirit

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation…” (8:1)

9

God’s Sovereign Choice

“It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort…” (9:16)

10

Israel’s Unbelief

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’...” (10:9)

11

The Remnant of Israel

“For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (11:29)

12

Living Sacrifices

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world…” (12:2)

13

Submission to Authorities

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities…” (13:1)

14

The Weak and the Strong

“Accept the one whose faith is weak…” (14:1)

15

Paul’s Ministry and Plans

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement…” (15:5)

16

Greetings and Final Instructions

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions…” (16:17)

With this overall presentation of Romans in mind, we’ll now proceed to a detailed chapter-by-chapter summary. This summary will highlight Paul's theological arguments and practical exhortations aimed at fostering unity and understanding among the diverse members of the Roman church.

Romans 1: Summary

Paul begins his letter by uniquely identifying himself as an apostle devoted to God's gospel, thus emphasizing his authority and total commitment to Christ. He also humbly refers to himself as a “slave of Christ Jesus”.

As Philip Esler notes in his study Conflict and Identity in Romans

"His self-designation (v. 1) is unique among his correspondence in naming him alone as sender and in mentioning his status as an apostle devoted to God's gospel, a feature that implies at the outset that the letter will involve an elucidation of that gospel. This introduction underscores Paul's authority and his total commitment to his mission.”

Furthermore, Paul extends greetings to the Roman church, commends their renowned faith, and expresses his desire to visit them to share spiritual gifts and strengthen their faith. He also outlines the foundational theme of his letter: the righteousness of God revealed through faith.

Romans 2: Summary

In Romans 2, Paul critiques self-righteousness and moral superiority among both Jewish and Gentile believers, emphasizing that God's judgment is impartial and based on actions, not ethnic or religious background.

In his Commentary, James D. G. Dunn describes this chapter as a “spiral argument” aimed at deflating Jewish presumption. Paul dismantles the belief that possessing the law or Jewish heritage grants automatic favor with God, thus asserting that true righteousness comes from living according to God's will.

Romans 3: Summary

In 3rd chapter of Romans, Paul uses a diatribe (a rhetorical style that involves advancing an argument by stating a thesis, having an imaginary opponent raise possible objections to it, and then providing answers to these objections) to address arguments from a hypothetical Jewish interlocutor, demonstrating the universal tendency to evade God's righteousness revealed through Christ.

Robert Jewett, in his Commentary, describes this diatribe as a “brilliant tour de force” that effectively reveals the hypocrisy of those who claim to understand divine glory while evading accountability. 

Paul also asserts that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23), thus highlighting the need for righteousness through faith in the risen Jesus rather than the law. He concludes by emphasizing the equality of all people, both Greeks and Jews, before God.

In the first three chapters, Paul hopes to establish that both Jews and Gentiles have sinned and, therefore, neither is better off than the other. Both must be made righteous through faith in the risen Jesus.

Romans 4: Summary

In Romans 4, Paul addresses the concern that righteousness through faith in Jesus might undermine the Mosaic Law. He asserts that faith and the law coexist harmoniously. Moreover, he views sin as a cosmic power that the law can’t overcome; only faith in the risen Jesus can deliver humanity from its grip.

Moreover, Paul uses Abraham as an example to illustrate that righteousness by faith is not a new concept. Abraham was considered righteous because of his faith long before the Law was given. This demonstrates that faith, not the law, has always been the basis for righteousness. 

Romans 5: Summary

In Chapter 5 of Romans, Paul explores the concept of justification by faith, emphasizing that a right relationship with God comes through faith in the risen Jesus, not by following the Mosaic law. 

As Bart D. Ehrman notes in The New Testament: A Historical Introduction, for Paul, faith means a "trusting acceptance of God’s act of salvation," which implies a wholehearted conviction and commitment rather than mere intellectual assent.

Paul also argues that justification by faith brings profound benefits, including peace with God and the hope of sharing in God's glory. This peace isn’t merely the absence of conflict, but a deep-seated reconciliation with God.

Romans 6: Summary

In this chapter, Paul addresses the transformative power of faith in Christ and its implications for believers' relationship with sin. He begins by refuting the idea that believers should continue sinning to experience more grace, thus emphasizing that those baptized into Christ are symbolically united with his death, breaking the power of sin.

James D. G. Dunn notes that while the grace of Christ overcomes sin and death, according to Paul, believers must actively choose to live under the reign of grace and embody righteousness daily.

Finally, the apostle of the Gentiles asserts that although believers are liberated from sin's dominion, they must continually choose to live righteously, reflecting their new life in Christ.

Romans 7: Summary

In Chapter 7, Paul explores the relationship between the law and sin, and the internal struggle believers face. He asserts that the law isn’t sinful but reveals sin by exposing humanity's inability to achieve righteousness independently.

Scholarly Insights

Romans as Clue for the Social Background of the First Christian Communities.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, historians believed that Christianity began as a movement of the dispossessed, including slaves and impoverished members of society. Friedrich Engels famously remarked: “Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed people... The religion of slaves and emancipated slaves.” However, by the end of the 20th century, this perspective shifted. One significant line of argument was the analysis of names mentioned in Paul's epistles, notably the Book of Romans.

In Romans, 10 individuals have Latin names, such as Lucius (16:21) and Quartus (16:23), which suggests their families might have belonged to the original stock of colonists in Roman colonies. Tertius (16:22), a scribe, and Gaius (16:23), who owned a house large enough to host the Christian group in Corinth, further illustrate the diverse social backgrounds of early Christians.

As Wayne A. Meeks concluded: “The ‘typical’ Christian, the one who most often signals his presence in the letters by one or another small clue, is a free artisan or small trader. Some even in those occupational categories had houses, slaves, the ability to travel, and other signs of wealth... A Pauline congregation generally reflected a fair cross-section of urban society.”

Using the analogy of marriage, Paul explains that believers are released from the law through their union with Christ: “By law, a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him” (7:2).

Paul also vividly describes his internal conflict (living in sin) and concludes that the deliverance from this state comes only through faith in the risen Jesus. 

Romans 8: Summary

Chapter 8 of Romans is a strong exposition on the transformative life believers experience through the Holy Spirit (Greek: “πνεῦμα ἅγιον”). Paul begins with the declaration: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1), thus reassuring believers that their union with Christ absolves them from guilt and sin's penalty.

In his Commentary on Romans, Ernest Best explains: “There is no condemnation for those who are united with Christ Jesus because in Christ Jesus the life-giving law of the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

Paul elaborates that the Holy Spirit empowers believers to live according to God's will. The Spirit liberates believers from sin and death and assures them of their adoption as God's children.

He also speaks of the future glory awaiting believers, thus emphasizing that present sufferings are insignificant compared to the coming glory. This reflects Paul's strong apocalyptic worldview, which envisions Jesus’ imminent return and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth.

Romans 9: Summary

In Chapters 9-11, Paul addresses profound theological questions, particularly the paradox of faith in the God of Israel despite many Jews not believing in Jesus. 

He begins by expressing his deep anguish: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh” (9:2-3).

Paul emphasizes that the covenants, the Law, and God's promises are integral to Jewish identity, yet he is distressed by the fact that so few Jews recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

He then delves into the doctrine of God's sovereign choice. Paul illustrates God's selective process throughout Israel's history with examples such as Isaac and Ishmael, and Jacob and Esau.

Moreover, he underscores that God's mercy and election are based not on human effort or lineage but on his sovereign will, which sets the stage for understanding God's redemptive plan for both Jews and Gentiles.

Romans 10: Summary

In this chapter, Paul expresses his profound concern for the salvation of his fellow Jews, lamenting their misunderstanding of God's righteousness. Despite their zeal for the law, they fail to recognize the righteousness that comes from faith in the risen Jesus.

Franz J. Leenhardt, in  "L'Épître de Paul aux Romains" captures this sentiment, noting that while Paul is severe towards their theological errors, his deep attachment and clear judgment remain. He explains that, for Paul, zeal alone, without discernment, is insufficient and that Israel misuses the law, thinking it allows sinful man to merit grace.

Furthermore, Paul contrasts the righteousness based on the law, requiring complete adherence to commandments, with the righteousness based on faith, accessible to all who believe in Jesus’ resurrection.

Overall, this chapter underscores the apostle's deep sorrow over Israel's unbelief and his desire for them to embrace the righteousness that comes from the faith in the risen Jesus.

Romans 11: Summary

In Chapter 11, Paul explores the mystery of Israel’s partial hardening and the inclusion of the Gentiles in God's redemptive plan. He reassures readers that God has not rejected Israel, using himself as evidence — a faithful Israelite who believes in Christ. 

He also explains that Israel's stumbling has led to Gentile salvation, intended to provoke Israel to jealousy and ultimately lead to their salvation. He uses the metaphor of an olive tree to illustrate this: Gentile believers are grafted into Israel's olive tree, sharing in God's promises.

Paul concludes this chapter of Romans with a doxology (a short hymn of praise to God). He marvels at the depth of God’s wisdom and knowledge in his redemptive plan which eventually includes both the Jews and the Gentiles. 

Romans 12: Summary

In Chapter 12, Paul transitions from theological exposition to practical exhortation. He urges believers to live transformed lives in response to God’s mercy: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship” (12:1).

Paul further instructs believers to resist conforming to the patterns of this world, advocating, instead, for a renewal of the mind to discern and follow God's will. This transformation involves practical expressions of faith, such as humility, sincere love, and harmonious relationships within the Christian community.

Book of Romans

Romans 13: Summary

In this chapter, Paul addresses the Christian's relationship to governing authorities, emphasizing the importance of submission and respect. He begins with a clear directive: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (13:1).

Ernest Best provides the possible context: “Some Christians, believing that Jesus was their king, may have argued that they were free from direction by earthly rulers. As Rome was the central seat of government, the church there may have been especially worried over this problem”.

However, for Paul, a “stable order of civil society which is controlled by government authorities who are God’s agents is something valuable; where there is anarchy everyone suffers. Stability requires that the Christian must accept the existing order of society by cooperating with it in his obedience.”

Romans 14: Summary

In the final chapters of his letter, Paul outlines the way of life that should naturally follow from a relationship with God based on promise and faith. He acknowledges that among believers, there are varying customs regarding dietary practices and the observance of certain days as holier than others.

This diversity likely reflects Rome's character as a “melting pot” of the ancient world, where the churches consisted of people from many different backgrounds, each bringing their unique customs and traditions. 

However, the apostle urges believers to accept one another despite these differences. He emphasizes that those who are strong in faith should not despise those who are weaker, and vice versa.

Furthermore, Paul also stresses that each person should be fully convinced in their mind and act according to their conscience, but they must do so in a way that honors the Lord.

Romans 15: Summary

In Chapter 15, Paul sums up the way of life that should follow from a relationship with God based on promise and faith, stating: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (15:7). He emphasizes that believers should accept one another in all their diversity, refraining from judgment, just as God has accepted them in Christ. This call to mutual acceptance and unity is central to Paul's vision for the Christian community.

Paul also discusses his plans to visit Jerusalem with a collection of money he has gathered from Gentile believers for the poor Jewish believers living in and around Jerusalem. It  is significant for symbolizing the gratitude and solidarity that the Gentiles should have for their Jewish brothers and sisters.

Romans 16: Summary

In the final chapter of Romans, Paul concludes his letter with personal greetings and final instructions to various members of the Roman church. He commends Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae, who likely carried the letter to Rome, and asks the Roman believers to receive her in a manner worthy of the saints.

Paul then sends greetings to many individuals by name, highlighting their contributions and roles within the Christian community. This personal touch underscores the close relationships and the network of support among the early Christians.

Finally, Paul ends with another doxology. He praised God for the revelation of the mystery kept hidden for long ages but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.

Conclusion

The Epistle to the Romans is known as Paul’s masterpiece epistle, famous in evangelical circles for offering the blueprint for salvation known as the “Romans Road.” Romans, with its profound theological insights and practical exhortations, serve as a cornerstone of Christian doctrine and practice.

As we saw, Paul addressed the divisions within the Roman church, articulated the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ, explored the relationship between the law and grace, and emphasized his hope for the future salvation of both the Gentiles and the Jews. 

Moreover, throughout the 16 chapters, Paul systematically presents his theology, emphasizing justification by faith, the universality of sin, and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. His pastoral and apologetic approach aims to unify the diverse community of believers in Rome who were struggling because of their ethnic and social differences. 

Needless to say, there are many other fascinating and significant aspects to this letter, from its historical context to its influence on early Christian thought. We plan to explore these aspects in greater depth in our future articles, providing a comprehensive exploration of this foundational New Testament book.

Additionally, for those interested in a deeper historical analysis of the Gospels, we recommend Dr. Bart D. Ehrman's online lecture series, “The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

In these eight 30-minute lectures, Dr. Ehrman examines the Gospels from a historical perspective, delineating between history and myth. Questions such as "Was Jesus born in Bethlehem?" and "What really happened at his trial and crucifixion?" are explored, providing valuable insights into the historical context of these texts. Don't miss this opportunity to enhance your understanding of the New Testament.

Marko Marina

About the author

Marko Marina is a historian with a Ph.D. in ancient history from the University of Zagreb (Croatia). He is the author of dozens of articles about early Christianity's history. He works as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Zagreb where he teaches courses on the history of Christianity and the Roman Empire. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball and spending quality time with his family and friends.

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