Small Group Tools
Contemporary Comments 2016
The Apostle Paul in Rome
Romans 15:20–27; Acts 28:17–31; Philippians 1:12; Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1; Romans 15:14
October 7, 2017
Rome. It’s the capital of Italy and a sprawling cosmopolitan city with almost 3,000 years of art, culture, and architecture for you to enjoy. For around $1,300 you can catch a flight from the US to this ancient city where 3-star hotels run about $130 per night (5-star rooms average almost $400 per night). If you want to journey into the past, plan a vacation to Rome.
One of the greatest sites in Rome is the 50,000 seat Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. This giant gladiatorial arena was built in AD 80 with tiered seating and an underground complex where animals were caged and stage sets prepared. To celebrate it’s opening, Titus held games that lasted 100 days and nights, during which about 5,000 animals were slaughtered. Not to be outdone, Trajan later held a 117-day killing spree that involved 9,000 gladiators and 10,000 animals. 
When Paul wrote the book of Romans, the topic of this week’s Sabbath school lesson, the Roman Empire was the dominant political and military force in the world. The population of Rome at the time was about 1 million, making it one of the largest Mediterranean cities in the ancient world. Rome was the center of politics and government for the Roman Empire, so it had many similarities to Washington D.C. in the US.
Rome was a wealthy city with several economic classes—slaves, free individuals, Roman citizens, and different nobles (military and political). It was known for decadence and immorality and was heavily influenced by Greek Mythology and the practice of Emperor worship. Most Romans were polytheistic which filled the city with lots of temples, shrines, and places of worship. The city was fairly tolerant of different religions during the time of Paul and many “outsiders” lived in Rome, including Christians and Jews.
If you were to visit a Christian church in Rome during the time of Paul, there was no central building, but believers met in many different homes. Many scholars believe Christianity came to Rome through Jews who were converted at the time of Pentecost when Peter preached a moving sermon.
Of course, problems went downhill for Christians and Jews in Rome since the government was tolerant of many religions … so long as you included the worship of Caesar. When Jews were expelled from Rome during the time of Claudius, the Gentile church grew. When Claudius died, the Jews returned to find a very different church, which created a lot of conflict. This is the context for the book of Romans.