PAUL IN ROME

16 When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. 17 After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our [fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I ]requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.” 21 They said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.” 23 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. 24 Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. 25 And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26 saying,

‘Go to this people and say,
“You will keep on hearing, ]but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
27 For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’ 28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.” 29 [[When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.]

30 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered. (Acts28:14-30)

In Acts 19 we read that Paul had purposed in his spirit that after his work at Jerusalem was completed, “I must see Rome” (v23). Four chapters later, after his hearing before the Sanhedrin, Luke reports that the Lord stood at Paul’s side and told him “As you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” (23:11). That same Lord will have known how Rome would become an important centre of Christianity, humanly speaking through the conversion of a future emperor Constantine a few centuries later.  It is appropriate that the apostle’s Magnus Opus should be his letter to the Roman Church, whom at the time (mid-50s) he described as “full of goodness and filled with all knowledge” (Rom15:14). And they were to enjoy the presence of Paul in their vicinity for the next two years as the apostle was permitted to stay in his own rented accommodation, “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered”.

What would be truly enlightening would be to know the apostle’s assessment of the Roman Church a century later. What we do know from the writing of  Irenaeus (130-202)  and Church historian Eusebius (263-339) is that the churches of the mid-second century in Rome and throughout the world were broadly united in their doctrine, the implications of which I covered in a previous post.  Of course, Paul’s own influence on future Christianity was probably greater than anyone’s, apart from its Founder, largely through his pastoral letters enshrined in the New Testament. Indeed, for many Christians Christ’s teaching in the Gospels is interpreted through the prism of their particular understanding of Pauline theology, at least where that is possible, for they sometimes appear to be contradictory. A part of this process is to show that when Paul is rightly interpreted such is not the case, starting with an examination of his epistle to the Romans in the posts that follow.

A final point concerning the quoted narrative: Whenever Paul arrives somewhere new to preach the gospel he always seeks to obtain the hearing of the Jews first, and Rome was no exception (v17). For he knew that the Jews were originally intended to be the “children of the Kingdom” (Mt8:11-12). But having quoted from Isaiah concerning Israel’s hardness of heart and unbelief he adds “ let it be known to you (Jews) that this salvation of God has now been sent to the Gentiles; (v28). This reaffirms that to which I have been testifying (contrary to Augustine’s assertions) that the privileges of gospel salvation were entirely new and had never been the sole means by which the soul could be saved from perdition. Rather it was and is the means by which those elected to benefit from it (which now included Gentiles as a result of Jewish unbelief – Rom11:11) through cleansing of sin and empowerment of spirit may become God’s royal priesthood on Earth and Christ’s corporate partner through eternity.