Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education
Did you know that, unlike most of his epistles, Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans during his third evangelistic journey before he ever visited the city of Rome?
House churches had developed in the Roman Empire’s capital city possibly beginning with observant Jews who had traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost and had returned as Christians (Acts 2:10). During the persecution of Acts 8:1, some Christians may have fled to Rome. Other Christians may have migrated there for business or personal reasons. Somehow congregations had formed among believers. Paul had wanted to visit them even before he wrote them but was prevented doing so more than once (Romans 1:11-15). One reason he wrote this letter was to introduce himself and prepare them for his coming after he delivered a gift from churches in Greece to Judean Christians enduring drought and famine. However, he did not arrive in Rome until about three years after writing them due to his arrest in Jerusalem. While there, Jesus informed him he would indeed stand before Caesar in Rome just as he had testified in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11; 27:24).
Paul believed his work on the eastern side of the Roman Mediterranean world had been accomplished sufficiently (Rom 15:22-23). He wanted to preach in the capital city as he had in scores of other cities and towns during his various evangelistic journeys. Long before Horace Greeley made his proverbial admonition to “Go west young man,” Paul wanted to travel west to visit the brethren and churches in Rome to solidify them in the faith as well as to disseminate the faith to other parts of the empire from its capital. Rome was a city of one to four million people, about half of whom were slaves. The conclusion of his Epistle to the Romans greets many people Paul knew there including relatives (Romans 16:13), but there were many more yet-unknown brethren Paul intended to meet and serve.
Paul did indeed travel to Rome but not in the way he had planned. He arrived as a prisoner who of necessity had appealed to Caesar, employing the right of every Roman citizen to a fair trial. He spent about two years in Rome under a form of house arrest but afterward evidently was released and traveled further to spread the gospel, perhaps even to Spain as he had planned (Rom 15:24, 28). Finally, tradition states he was rearrested, returned to Rome for retrial and was beheaded. Paul’s testimony in Rome was sealed in his blood.