What is the argument of the Letter to the Romans ? How far does the situation of Paul and/or the Roman church shed light on its interpretation?
A clear line of argument needs to flow through the essay, with each paragraph moving the argument forward by one point.
Follow through the basic argument of the letter.
What is the problem Paul enumerates in 1:18-3:20, and the solution in 3:21-31 (with a biblical example in ch. 4)? What have believers come from, and where have they come to, according to chs. 5-8? How do chs. 9-11 fit in to the whole, and what are they arguing for (some see them as the climax of the letter, others as an afterthought)? What about the later chapters? Is this an abstract account of Paul’s theology, or has he crafted it carefully either in response to his own situation (on the verge of a difficult visit to Jerusalem with the future prospect of a mission in the western empire), or to what he has heard about the Roman church?
1. Read through the text of Romans, trying to plot the basic argument (try and get the broad sweep, without worrying too much about details). Then read R. Morgan, Romans (NT Guide), and read the text again.
2. Revisit difficult passages, with the help of a commentary: e.g. B. Byrne, J. Fitzmyer, J. Ziesler.
3. Read A. Katherine Grieb’s excellent book The Story of Romans.
4. For more detail, read some of the following: A.A. Das, Solving the Romans Debate; K.P. Donfried (ed.), The Romans Debate; M. Reasoner, Romans in Full Circle; K. Stendahl, Final Account; S.K. Stowers, A Rereading of Romans; A. Wedderburn, The Reasons for Romans.