Romans: The Greatest Letter Ever Written
22 July 2015 Inspirational Readings
Romans and the Early Church
The letter to the Romans has had a significant place throughout the history of the church. Since early in the Christian era, the church has recognized the importance of this letter. The position it occupies in the New Testament indicates that the early church saw it as the most significant letter that Paul wrote. Paul’s letter to the Romans stands first among all his letters, not just because it is the longest, but it is the most ordered, complete, and comprehensive statement from his pen. Paul had written at least five letters prior to writing Romans (1 and 2 Thessalonians, Galatians, and 1 and 2 Corinthians). Most likely the letter has that position due to content, not age. Because of its content, Romans has had a remarkable influence on the early life of the church and its theology.
This influence of Romans on the early church can be seen in the writings of one of the great thinkers of the early church, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul. Irenaeus, who lived in the latter part of the second century, had a true affinity for Paul’s teachings. Irenaeus’ doctrine of salvation was centered in Christ’s life and death, and he emphasized the importance of the Holy Spirit as the means of living the Christian life. Irenaeus’ answer to the question of why Christ came from heaven was “that He might destroy sin, overcome death, and give life to man” (Against Heresies, III, 18, 7). Like Paul, Irenaeus saw the coming of Christ in the flesh as absolutely essential to salvation. On the basis of Romans 8:3-4, Irenaeus stated, “The law, being spiritual, merely displayed sin for what it is; it did not destroy it, for sin did not hold sway over spirit but over man. For He who was to destroy sin and redeem man from guilt had to enter into the very condition of man” (Ibid., V, 15). Irenaeus’ teaching on salvation and the Christian life reflects the strong influence of Romans on the thinking of one of the most creative thinkers in the second-century church, who in turn has greatly impacted the belief and life of the Christian church.