Paul Recognizes Their Faith
After Paul's introduction in verses 1-7, Paul addresses his audience directly.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.
What did they do that would make them known "throughout the whole world," that is, the Western world? Was Paul greatly exaggerating their fame? If these "Romans" were an obscure group of poor Christians that were meeting in a private home, how would they be such celebrities that they would be known outside their neighborhood in Rome?
How They Became Famous
The answer is found when we realize who they were. As I wrote in my introduction, Paul was writing to the British royal family who had been captured and brought to Rome two years earlier (52 A.D.). The family had been converted to Christ under the ministry of Joseph of Arimathea about 36 or 37 A.D., and Britain had become somewhat of a haven for Christians fleeing Roman persecution.
Romehad been fighting the British for nine years, and Tacitus, the Roman historian of the day, wrote in his Annals, Book XII,
"The [Roman] army then marched against the Silures [British tribe], a naturally fierce people and now full of confidence in the might of Caractacus [Roman name for Caradoc, father of Linus and Claudia], who by many an indecisive and many a successful battle had raised himself far above all the other generals of the Britons." (Annals, p. 238)
He then writes of the decisive Roman victory,
"It was a glorious victory; the wife and daughter of Caractacus were captured, and his brothers too were admitted to surrender." (p. 239)
He then tells us that they were brought to Rome to be paraded in the streets of the capital as a glorious "triumph" of the Emperor Claudius.
"There is seldom safety for the unfortunate, and Caractacus, seeking the protection of Cartismandua, Queen of the Brigantes, was put in chains and delivered up to the conquerors, nine years after the beginning of the war in Britain. His fame had spread thence, and travelled to the neighboring islands and provinces, and was actually celebrated in Italy. All were eager to see the great man, who for so many years had defied our power. Even at Rome the name of Caractacus was no obscure one; and the Emperor, while he exalted his own glory, enhanced the renown of the vanquished." (p. 239)
Caractacus and his family appeared before Claudius himself, where the great British general gave a famous speech that used to be memorized by every British schoolboy in much the same manner that American children had memorized Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Tacitus records the speech in Annals, 12:37,
"Had my government in Britain been directed solely with a view to the preservation of my hereditary domains, or the aggrandizement of my own family, I might long since have entered this city an ally, not a prisoner; nor would you have disdained for a friend a king descended from illustrious ancestors, and the dictator of many nations. My present condition, stripped of its former majesty, is as adverse to myself as it is a cause of triumph to you.
"What then? I was lord over men, horses, arms, wealth; what wonder if at your dictation I refused to resign them? Does it follow that because the Romans aspire to universal domination, every nation is to accept the vassalage they would impose? I am now in your power--betrayed, not conquered. Had I, like others, yielded without resistance, where would have been the name of Caradoc? Where your glory? Oblivion would have buried both in the same tomb. Bid me live. I shall survive forever in history one example at least of Roman clemency."
Claudius was so impressed by the speech that he spared their lives, as Tacitus tells us,
"Upon this the Emperor granted pardon to Caractacus, to his wife, and to his brothers." (p. 240)
Caractacus, or Caradoc, agreed to remain in Rome for seven years and never again to take up arms against Rome. He was true to his word. Though his son Cyllinus was allowed to return to Britain, and a younger son, Cynon, entered a Christian priestly order, the rest of them remained in Rome. Caradoc's daughter, Gladys, was adopted by the Emperor and given the name Claudia, and she then married Senator Rufus Pudens. Their mansion came to be known as the Palatium Britannicum, or "Palace of the Britons."
I have a friend who had his photo taken at the location of this Palace while he was in Rome some years ago. (The photo is reproduced at the end of Chapter 21 of Lessons from Church History, Vol. 1.) Saint Pudenziana's Basilica is built over the remains of this old Palace. (Pudenziana, or Pudentiana, was the daughter of Rufus and Claudia. She was martyred in Rome in the year 107.)
We can see, then, what was behind Paul's statement in Romans 1:8 that their faith was being proclaimed throughout the whole Roman world. They were far more famous than Paul himself, who was, at that time, just an obscure evangelist of a new religion. Upon hearing of this celebrated royal family and their possible family connection with Paul's mother (Rom. 16:13), Paul certainly was motivated to write to them and to pray for them.
God Delays Paul
9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers, making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.
Paul had to finish his missionary journeys in Asia Minor before he could consider going to Rome, Spain, and finally to Britain. By the time he was ready to visit Rome, however, he was arrested in Jerusalem at Pentecost of 58 A.D. and detained there for two years. He was still there when Caradoc's exile ended (in 59) and he returned to Britain. Then a devastatingly fierce war again broke out in Britain, known as the Boadicean War.
If Paul had not been detained, it is possible that he might have been in Britain when this war began. God providentially delayed his trip to Britain for a total of 4-5 years. He arrived in Rome in 61 and spent two years there awaiting trial (Acts 28:30). Only then was he released, whereupon he preached first in Spain and then in Britain in the year 63.
11 For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. 13 And I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far) in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the ethnos.
Paul labored to bring forth "fruit." This is a common theme in Scripture. He knew that the British royal family was a fruit-bearing tree, and he wished to cultivate their "field" to bring forth a greater harvest of fruit. This is, in fact, what he was doing in his epistle. He was sowing the best-quality seed of the Word into their lives, so that they would be strengthened in the faith and in the knowledge of these important principles of Scripture.
Thus we find ourselves to be beneficiaries of Paul's seed as well, for when he committed his thoughts to paper, his words were given to future generations. All of the other apostles preached the Word, but only a few wrote for future generations. All of them did miracles and impacted many lives in their day, but it remains for Paul to be the most influential of the apostles, with the possible exception of John.
Seeds of the Gospel Planted in the Field
In Romans 1:10, 11 the apostle expresses his desire to go to Rome to meet the British royal family in person and to sow some "seed" in that field....
12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.
Paul recognized their faith by the things that had been reported around the Roman world. Because everyone knew they were Christians, it seems likely that their witness before the Emperor Claudius had included their testimony of Jesus Christ, rather than just political and military matters. Furthermore, Paul tells us in Romans 16:7 that they "were in Christ before me." In other words, they had become believers in Christ even before Paul's conversion.
We know that Paul was converted within a few months of Christ's ascension, because 14 years later he was commissioned with Barnabas and sent on his first missionary journey. His commission came immediately after they had gone to Jerusalem with money to help in the time of famine (48 A.D.). Compare Acts 11:27-30 with Gal. 2:1.
Who were Andronicus and Junia? Andronicus means "man of victory." Junia means "youthful." I believe that these were simply other names for Caractacus and his wife. Paul calls them "fellow-prisoners," or literally, "war captives."
They had been converted to Christ through the ministry of Joseph of Arimathea, probably even before the crucifixion of Christ. After all, Joseph was Rome's Minister of Mining, and he owned tin mines in Britain. It is likely that Jesus accompanied his great-uncle on many of his trading ships from Britain to India. There are many artifacts, monuments, and so-called "legends" in Britain which testify of Jesus' presence.
Also, Paul says that Andronicus and Junia were "outstanding among the apostles." In those days it was important that an apostle should be one who had seen Jesus or had been directly commissioned by Him in some way (Gal. 1:15, 16). The first-century idea of an apostle could well indicate that Andronicus and Junia had seen Jesus before His ministry had even begun, and that they had been believers very early, even before the start of Jesus' formal ministry.
Hence, Paul treated them as equals in the faith and desired to increase his own faith by fellowshipping with them.
14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Even as Caractacus and his family had not been ashamed to bear witness of the gospel in the presence of Claudius, the emperor of Rome, so also was Paul not ashamed to do the same.
Of course, Claudius was already dead by the time Paul wrote his epistle. Having come to the throne in 41 A.D., he was poisoned and died October 13, 54 A.D., shortly after Paul had begun his third missionary journey.
From Faith to Faith
17 For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith."
This quotation from Habakkuk 2:4 expresses the theme of Paul's epistle. The phrase, "from faith to faith," shows that there are various levels of faith. Since faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), and hearing is certainly not a one-time event, it is evident that our faith is increased by our ability to hear and by our obedient response to what we have heard.
Even Jesus' disciples said to Him, "Increase our faith" (Luke 17:5), and Jesus told the Canaanite woman, "your faith is great" (Matt. 15:28).
Faith, then, is increased as one learns to hear the voice of God and be led by the Spirit. We see the example of Israel as they left Egypt by faith at Passover. Yet when they arrived at the Mount, they refused to hear (Ex. 20:18-21) when God spoke to them on that day which was later called Pentecost. Though they had faith in regard to Passover, they lacked the faith of Pentecost at that time.
Hence, when it came time to enter the Promised Land at the feast of Tabernacles, they fell short of a Tabernacles Faith. Seeing Israel's example reminds us to grow and develop from faith to faith, so that we do not fall short of the promises of God.