Letters customarily opened with the name of the sender, the sender’s titles (if any were necessary), the name of the addressees and a greeting. For example: “Paul … to the church at … greetings.” Persuasive letters and speeches often began by establishing the speaker’s credibility, what the Greeks called ethos. This beginning did not prove the speaker’s point but disposed the audience to hear him respectfully.
1:1. A slave of someone in high position had more status, authority and freedom than a free commoner; the emperor’s slaves were some of the highest-ranking people in the empire, as the Roman Christians would know. In the Old 1 Testament, prophets from Moses on were generally called “servants” or “slaves” of God.
Paul, who had once been an agent or commissioned messenger (apostle) 2 of the high priest (Acts 9:2), was now a representative for God. The ideas of being “called” and “set apart” go back to Old Testament language for Israel and, more important here, Israel’s prophets.
1:2–3. Paul’s words here would appeal to Jewish readers. “Through his prophets” concurs with the Jewish doctrine of the Old Testament’s inspiration and final authority; “according to the flesh” (NASB) 3 means simply that Jesus was physically descended from David.
1:4. “Spirit of holiness ” was a common Jewish name for the Hol 4y Spirit, the Spirit of God. A regular synagogue 5 prayer regarded the future resurrection 6 of the dead as the ultimate demonstration of God’s power. The phrase “ Son 7 of God ” meant many things to many different people in the ancient world, but it could strike Roman pagans as portraying Jesus as a rival to the emperor; in the Old Testament it referred to the Davidic line, thus ultimately to the promised Jewish king (see 1:3; cf. 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7; 89:27). Paul here regards Jesus’ resurrection as the Spirit’s coronation of him as the Messiah 8 and as humanity’s first taste of the future resurrection and kingdom 9.
1:5–6. The Old Testament promised that a representative remnant from among the nations would turn to God; Isaiah associated this remnant with the mission of the servant (42:6; 49:6; 52:15). Because the Roman church clearly included Jewish Christians, “ Gentiles ” (NIV 10, NASB, NRSV) 11 is better translated here “nations” (KJV 12; cf. TEV) 13; the term was used to mean both “nations,” excluding Israel, and “peoples,” including Israel. Representatives of all Mediterranean cultures resided in the great urban center, Rome.
1:7. “Saints” or “those who have been set apart” goes back to the Old Testament image of God’s people as set apart for himself. Like Paul (see comment on 1:1), they too are “called” (1:6–7); Paul embraces them as fellow heirs in the mission, not as inferiors.
The standard Greek greeting was “greetings” (chairein — Jas 1:1) a Greek term related to “grace” (charis); Jewish people greeted one another with “peace,” and Jewish letters often began, “Greetings and peace.” Paul adapts this standard greeting, a well-wishing, into a Christian prayer: “The grace and peace of God and Jesus be with you.” (On “wish-prayers” see comment on 1 Thess 3:11.) Placing the Father and Jesus on equal footing as providers of grace and peace elevated Jesus above the role given to any mere human in most of Judaism. “Father” was also a title for God in Judaism (usually “our Father”).
1Old Testament *Old Testament. The common modern term for the Hebrew Bible (including Aramaic portions) as defined by the Jewish and Protestant Christian canons; Jewish readers generally call this the Tenach.
2apostle *Apostle. The term applies literally to a sent or commissioned messenger; in Judaism such messengers acted on the full authority of their sender, to the extent that they accurately represented the sender’s message. The closest Old Testament equivalent to God’s “apostles” in this sense was the prophets, although the apostles seem to have added an overseeing and evangelistic function that prophets (both Old Testament and New Testament) did not always incorporate. Those prophets commissioned with special authority to oversee prophetic awakening (e.g., perhaps Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah) or to judge Israel (e.g., Deborah, Samuel) may provide the best Old Testament models.
4Holy Spirit *Holy Spirit. Although used only twice in the Old Testament (Ps 51, Is 63), this term became a standard title for the Spirit of God in New Testament times. Many people believed that the Spirit had been quenched since the completion of the Old Testament and that prophecy continued only in muted form; but the Old Testament had promised an outpouring of the Spirit in the end, when the Messiah would come. Jewish people especially associated the Spirit with prophecy and divine illumination or insight, and many also (especially the Essenes) associated it with God purifying his people in the end time. The New Testament includes both uses, although it also speaks of the Spirit as a person like the Father and Son (especially in John), which Judaism did not do.
6resurrection *Resurrection. Although some scholars earlier in the twentieth century derived the idea of Jesus’ resurrection from Greek mystery cults, it is now widely understood that early Christian belief shared little in common with the Mysteries’ myths, which simply reenacted a seasonal revivification of fertility. Rather, Jesus’ resurrection was rooted in a Jewish hope, which in turn was rooted in notions of God’s covenant, promise and justice from early in Israel’s history. Most Palestinian Jews believed that God would resurrect the bodies of the dead (at least the righteous, and many believed also the wicked), at the end of the age (Dan 12:2). There was, however, never any thought that one person would rise ahead of everyone else; thus Jesus’ resurrection, as an inauguration of the future kingdom within history, caught even the disciples by surprise.
7Son of God *Son of God. The term was applied generically to all Israel (Ex 4:22) but specifically to the Davidic king (2 Sam 7:14), especially (following 2 Samuel) the ultimate restorer (Ps 2:7; 89:27). Although most Jewish texts from the time of Jesus do not use it to designate the Messiah, some do (Essene interpreters of 2 Sam 7:14).
8Messiah *Messiah. The rendering of a Hebrew term meaning “anointed one,” equivalent to the original sense of the Greek term translated “ Christ.” In the Old Testament, different kinds of people were anointed, and some of the Dead Sea Scrolls mention two main anointed ones in the end time, a king and a priest. But the common expectation reflected in the biblical Psalms and Prophets was that one of David’s royal descendants would take the throne again when God reestablished his kingdom for Israel. Most people believed that God would somehow have to intervene to put down Roman rule so the Messiah’s kingdom could be secure; many seem to have thought this intervention would be accomplished through force of arms. Various messianic figures arose in first-century Palestine, expecting a miraculous intervention from God; all were crushed by the Romans. (Jesus was the only one claimed to have been resurrected; he was also one of the only messiahs claiming Davidic descent, proof of which became difficult for any claimants arising after a.d. 70.)
9kingdom *Kingdom. This term means “rule,” “reign” or “authority” (not a king’s people or land, as connotations of the English term could imply). Jewish people recognized that God rules the universe now, but they prayed for the day when he would rule the world unchallenged by idolatry and disobedience. The coming of this future aspect of God’s reign was generally associated with the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead. Because Jesus came and will come again, Christians believe that the kingdom has been inaugurated but awaits consummation or completion. “Kingdom of heaven” is another way (Matthew’s usual way) of saying “kingdom of God.” “Heaven” was a standard Jewish way of saying “God” (as in Lk 15:21).