11 For I long to see you, so that I may share a certain spiritual gift with you so that you may be strengthened, 12 and that is to receive mutual encouragement among you–through the faith you have one with another, and my [faith]. 13 But I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that often I have planned to come to you, yet I have been hindered until now, in order that I may have some fruit among you even as also among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am obligated to both Greek and Barbarian, to both wise and foolish, 15 so, as for me, I am eager to preach the gospel even to you in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and the Greek, 17 for in it the righteousness of God is revealed, from faith unto faith, just as it is written, “but the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Again, because of copyright, I have attempted a translation of the Greek. Feel free to compare it against your favorite version–there shouldn’t be too much variation in meaning. Let’s see if we can hit the highlights of this passage without making this blog article too long. Please make use of the comments to add insights or ask questions to dig deeper.
Continuing the thought of verse 10, where he spoke of his prayer that he would be able to visit the church in Rome, Paul really stresses how much he wants to spend time with them. He says he wants to be there so that he can encourage and strengthen the church, and also that they may share (and build off of) one another’s faith. I don’t think the “spiritual gift” (Greek: charisma pneumatikon) he speaks of is one of the gifts of the Spirit discussed in 1 Corinthians 12-14. I think verse 12 explains what that gift is (and I’ve tried to bring that out in the translation): the mutual sharing of faith leading to the edification of the saints.
The way he speaks in verse 13 about not wanting the church there to be “unaware” (Greek: agnoeô) of his desire to visit them leads me to think perhaps they were feeling neglected by the apostle. Paul seems so anxious that they know how much the church has been on his heart, and how much he has wanted to spend time with them. Perhaps they felt it strange that, being the capital city of the Roman Empire, Paul would have placed a greater priority on visiting them. Or perhaps someone was spreading rumors suggesting Paul didn’t want to go there–we can only speculate. The fact is, Paul really looked forward to seeing them so he could “have some fruit” among them. Other translations render this along the lines of “reaping a harvest.” While this is a possible translation, I think it sounds too much as if Paul is wanting to make converts out of the church, which, I think would not be his primary motivation. Preachers don’t often visit churches to convert the saints! That’s not to say there might not be unbelievers there that would benefit from his gospel message, but the impression I get from the passage is that Paul wants to strengthen the church–to water what someone else had sown. And the fruit Paul would bear among them would be a church of healthy Christians. “Even as also among the rest of the Gentiles” again hints that he wants to be sure these Christians don’t feel left out. While the church is clearly a mix of Jews and Gentiles, as noted before, the church was probably at that time primarily Gentile.
Verses 14-15 give us, I think, an idea of how the Roman Christians were perceived. The term “barbarian” was used in ancient Greece as a derogatory name for those who were unsophisticated. The Athenians used it of the Spartans, for example. The term is actually an onomatopoeia, since to the high-minded Athenians, the Spartan’s language sounded like sheep: “baabaabaa”–hence barbaros, “barbarian.” From this, I would infer that among Gentiles, the Gentile Roman Christians were considered sophisticated, especially compared to some of the other Gentile churches (e.g., in Spain). Paul’s point is that the gospel message is for both wise and foolish, for the well-educated, and the lowly rural person. The New York sophisticate, and the Southern “red-neck.”
And it is the universal application of the gospel that enables Paul to preach the gospel without shame. If the gospel can be equally applied to all types of Gentile, it can most assuredly be applied across the board to both Jew and Gentile. Indeed, it is the power of God for the salvation of all types of Gentile, as well the Jew–whoever believes. There are no race or class distinctions in the gospel. In the following verses and chapters, Paul will demonstrate why this is the case. The Jews were certainly the first to whom the gospel message came, since Jesus came first to the household of Israel (Matthew 15:22-26), and then Peter and the other apostles first ministered among the Jewish people. But it was clear both within Jesus’ time, and within the ministry of Peter, that the intention was to include the Gentiles (Matthew 15:27; John 10:16)–and this became more apparent with Paul’s conversion and subsequent ministry.
Verse 17 was the passage that convicted Luther of his misunderstanding of the righteousness of God. He had previously seen the righteousness of God as that righteousness by which God judged and condemned him. However, he rightly understood Romans 1:17 to be saying that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God which is given by faith and leads to a deepening faith. The double prepositional phrase (“by faith unto faith”–Greek ek pisteôs eis pistin) I take to be Paul’s way of underscoring that this is all a work of grace by faith. He then quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to reinforce his point: “but the righteous man shall live by faith.”
The Habakkuk 2:4 quotation is not a precise quotation of the Hebrew. Indeed, if we look at the opening chapters of Habakkuk, we see that 2:4 is part of God’s response to the prophet’s complaint that the wicked seem to be getting away with their wickedness, and God is not saving His people from them. God appeals to the prophet to be patient. The proud man’s soul is not upright within him; but the righteous man shall live by his faith (Hebrew: beemûnâtô). Why is Paul’s quotation different? And why does Paul use the passage in a way that is seemingly different from the original intent?
First, I believe most, if not all, of Paul’s OT quotations are from memory. In this instance, it happens that dropping the pronoun “his” from the Hebrew doesn’t alter the meaning of the passage, so his quotation still matches the original sense of the Hebrew. Whether he accidently omitted the pronoun, or whether that was the way he memorized the passage, it’s hard to say. But as Christians we believe that this was the way the Lord intended Paul to write it, and so we can be satisfied with that. As to the meaning, I think it’s simply true that sometimes Paul intends his readers to import the meaning of an OT passage into what he’s saying, and other times he’s just pulling a familiar OT quotation to help make his point. In this instance, I think Paul is using Habakkuk 2:4 not for it’s original meaning (feel free to discuss in the comments if you disagree), but because it was a well-known passage whose words seemed to sum up what he was trying to say.
A thought from the passage: Do you find yourself gravitating to certain types of people when sharing the gospel? Not that you are consciously prejudiced, but do you consider some to be more “difficult”–or perhaps you think of some people as too “different” for you to reach with the gospel message? Consider what Paul says about the power of the gospel to save people from all walks of life. Remember that it is not you that saves, but it is God through the gospel’s power.
That was a bit of a marathon, but I thought it important to keep these verses together. If you feel like I’ve skated over some good points in the text, or gone over something too quickly, or you disagree with something I’ve said, please use the comments! I will be happy to interact, and others are free to join in the discussion.