Romans 1, Part 3
Oct 07, 2010
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?
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.
Rome had 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. I have recorded his short speech in Volume 1, chapter 7 of Lessons in Church History.
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. On 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.
(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 even 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 and he returned to Britain in 59. 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 four years. He arrived in Rome in 61 and spent two years 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 were fruit-bearing trees, 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.
This is the third part of a series titled "Romans 1." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones