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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Literary Genre.

Formally, Romans is identical to most other Pauline letters, including a salutation (identifying sender and recipients), a thanksgiving (clarifying the relationship between writer and reader and previewing the contents of the letter), a body (offering the substance of Paul's communication), and a farewell (including a final blessing and, if ch. 16 is genuine, personal greetings). In numerous other ways, however, Romans is different—as one might expect, knowing that it is the only Pauline letter written to a church neither founded by the apostle or his assistants, nor visited by him (note e.g. the lengthy self-descriptions in 1:1–6 and 15:16–21 , and the deferential language of 1:11–13 and 15:22–4 ). The hallmark of Paul's other letters is their contingency; characteristically, the deal with specific issues that arose within a particular Pauline church (e.g. 1 Cor 1:11 : ‘For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you’; 1 Cor 7:1: ‘Now concerning the matters about which you wrote…’). Reading these letters is not unlike overhearing one side of a conversation. Clearly, this analogy does not apply to Romans, which is more declamation than dialogue. The letter does not address in any obvious way the Roman church's own problems. It is a single, extended theological argument, not a seriatim discussion of pastoral concerns. It thus is a letter more in form than in function. For this reason, Romans is categorized as, for example, an ‘epistle’ (as distinct, according to Deissmann (1927: 220), from a non-literary ‘letter’), a ‘Greek letter-essay’ (Stirewalt 1977 ), an ‘essay-letter’ (Fitzmyer 1993 ), or an ‘ambassadorial letter’ (Jewett, cited by Fitzmyer 1993: 68–9). All such labels make the point that Romans was commissioned to a somewhat different service than the other Pauline letters. To what service, exactly, is one of the perennial issues of Pauline scholarship.

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