Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: Romans

John Kubasak

Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: Romans

For the first in the Deep Dive series into St. Paul’s letters, there is no better starting point than Romans. This is St. Paul’s longest and most developed letter; Scott Hahn calls it “the gospel according to St. Paul.” Biblical scholars connect the dots between Romans 15 and Acts 15 & 20, concluding that Paul wrote it in late A.D. 57 or early 58 while staying in Corinth (Ignatius Study Bible pg. 255).  

I will cover some of the many themes but be sure to pick up your Bible and read the letter. There’s bound to be something the Holy Spirit will stir up in you better than any article or commentary could. Still, for the passages that require a little bit of digging, I do recommend having a trustworthy commentary for greater detail. (see the resources at the end of the post)


Natural Law

The theological concept of natural law (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1954-1960) can be distilled to what Paul writes to the Romans: “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (1:19-20). God is discernible in nature! Fr. Robert Spitzer, the Jesuit physicist/philosopher, has some great material on coming to know God through nature (see the Magis Center website).  

To draw a parallel to a commandment: in one sense, we do not need the commandment “you shall not kill” to know that murder is wrong. A basic sense of right and wrong is etched in the human heart. With our fallen nature, however, that human heart is prone to corruption and sin. The section of the Catechism noted above does not forget concupiscence. While the natural law is good and comes from God, humanity needed a far stronger intervention.  



One of the debates that rages in the Catholic Church today is the morality of homosexual acts. The orthodox position on such acts has not changed; the stark reality of paragraph #2357 in the Catechism makes this clear. The acts themselves are ones against nature and intrinsically (that is, from their very essence) disordered. The people who engage in these acts? They are sinners beloved by God, like the rest of the human race, with the same dignity as children of God.  

This is a difficult topic for many Catholics today as well as a cultural lightning rod.  Because the issue is such a contested one, it’s important to get a solid understanding of Catholic teaching. For a good take on the subject that mentions Romans 1, check out this video from Trent Horn.  


Big Theological Words, Luther, and Apologetics

St. Paul talks about righteousness and justification in the first several chapters of Romans. I confess, these big theological words have eluded my understanding more than once.  This was the central issue during Martin Luther and his rebellion against the Catholic Church: how can one be saved? That is, how do we as sinners get restored in our relationship with God (justification)? St. Paul goes into depth here, noting that Christ restored us into a right relationship through His sacrifice on the cross. The Ignatius Study Bible sums justification up well: 

“the death of Christ (Rom 5:9)… frees us from sin (Acts 13:39; Rom 6:7) through the free gift of grace (Rom 3:24). This grace is received by faith (Rom 3:26; 5:1) in the liturgical context of baptism (1 Cor 6:11). When God acquits the sinner, He also adopts the sinner as one of his own children… that makes us holy and righteous in His sight (Rom 5:19) (CCC 654, 1987-95).” – Word Study: Justification, pg. 260

In the Catechism, the section on justification (#1987-1995) references Romans five times. I recommend delving into the particulars of justification, especially utilizing all the great resources Catholic Answers has on their website. There is also the apologetic question of salvation by faith alone (sola fide). The direct connection to Romans is that Martin Luther added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 in the German translation of his bible. That is, the word did not come from the Greek text. If a Protestant evangelist has ever knocked on your door, this is likely one of the questions he/she asked!

Apologetics aside, make sure to notice the most important aspect of justification: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). The Catechism cites St. Augustine, who commented that “the justification of the wicked is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth” (#1994). The earth will eventually pass away, but the gift of salvation is eternal. Take this to prayer: consider the vastness of space, the depth of the oceans, and towering mountain ranges. God’s redemption of you and me is greater than those!  


Fulfillment of all Promises

Paul’s audience in Rome was a mix of Jew and Gentile. The Jews have a special role as God’s Chosen People. They were also prophesied to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6).  

St. Paul is telling them: take a second and consider. The promise that God made to Abraham is being fulfilled in our time. Everything the prophets said, the centuries of longing on the part of the Jews, and God’s covenant has been fulfilled! The Gentiles are no longer enemies but fellow heirs. The light that came from Israel is Christ (John 8:12) and He came for the whole world.   


Chapter 8, the most Quotable Chapter

If you read only one chapter in Romans, turn to chapter 8. Here are some of the highlights: 

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (v. 5)  St. Paul warns us to be wary of our relationship with worldly pleasures. Why? We are so easily overtaken by them! He echoes Our Lord, who taught that “you cannot serve both God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).  

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (v. 11) There aren’t two Spirits; we do not get sealed with the substitute teacher-version of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that raised the dead, multiplied the loaves, cured diseases, and cast out demons is in all the baptized.  

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (v. 18) This is no idle statement from Paul, who was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, imprisoned, and had his life constantly threatened throughout his apostolic career.  

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (v. 28) A very popular verse, for it encapsulates the mystery of God’s will. Even the most awful circumstance, God intends to bring good out of it.  

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (v. 35-39)  So deep is our union with Christ—and we have the sacraments as intimate encounters with Jesus—that nothing Paul listed can take us away from Our Lord. The only thing that can take me away from Jesus? Me. 


Resources for Further Study

Romans has some incredible verses that strike right at our hearts. Other things are more difficult to understand. I hope every reader would investigate the difficulties by immersing themselves into solidly Catholic resources.  

I strongly recommend staying away from any Catholic commentary that strays into heterodox speculation, regardless of whether it was written by a Catholic or not. Solidly orthodox series like the Navarre Bible Commentary series, the Ignatius Study Bible, and the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture are the best places to start.  

For audio, the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology has a free, 9-part audio course on Romans featuring Scott Hahn, John Bergsma, and Brant Pitre. (just sign up for a free account to gain access)  

There are many other websites with great information. One of the most intriguing is this unique collection of sources from Church Fathers and saints: the Catena Bible. It lists patristic and scholastic commentaries verse by verse.