Structure of Romans – the whole letter

This is part of a series of posts on Romans. Click here for the contents page.

Now that we have considered whom Paul is addressing in different sections of the letter, we will next consider the overall structure of the letter.

In my analysis, I believe there to be an overall structure of the whole letter of Romans. As we will see, the structure will help us to understand the letter, so considering the structure is not just an academic exercise.

The overall structure is in the form of a chiasm, which is a structure used throughout the Bible.

Here is my outline of the structure of Romans as a whole:

structure-of-romans

The first and last sections (labelled A1 and A2) match. The same is true for the B and C sections.

How have I reached the view that this is the structure? There are two main reasons. Firstly, as demonstrated below, there are significant similarities between corresponding parts in the structure (i.e. the A1 and A2 sections, etc.). Secondly, as will be shown in later posts, each of at least the two C sections and the D section has its own internal chiastic structure, with corresponding internal sections having their own similarities. Many of those internal sections have a chiastic structure of their own too!

The arrangement of the parts of the letter in which Paul provides instruction fits with this structure. As we will see, Paul’s instruction specifically to the Jews (i.e. the ethnic Israelites) in the church appears in the middle of the D section in chapter 6, at the very centre of the letter. Paul’s instruction to the Gentiles slots in at the end of the C2 section, as Paul changes from addressing the ethnic Israelites to briefly address the Gentiles. The B2 section is the part of the letter in which Paul instructs the united church. The A sections are also addressed to the church as a whole, but are not focussed on Paul giving instruction.

I will now work through various structural aspects to demonstrate the structure I have proposed. Each section will be shown with its pair (e.g. the A1 and A2 sections) to show similarities between them. A discussion of detail follows each pair of sections.

structure-of-romans-a-sections

“Obedience” (A sections) is only otherwise referred to in 6:16 and 5:19 (both in the central D section), showing that this is a key theme of these parts of the letter. (The extensive instruction in the B2 section can be seen as a detailed explanation of what ‘the obedience of faith’ looks like.) Paul gives “thanks” only in the A sections. “Gentiles” are referred to various times in the A sections, but never in the B2 or D sections. Paul does not wish for “peace” to his readers outside the A sections.

Structure of Romans - B sections.PNG

The word translated “thoughts” and “opinions” in Romans 1:21 and 14:1 is not used anywhere else in Romans. “Glorifying God” only once mentioned outside the B sections – just after the B2 section in 15:9. “Giving thanks” is only referred to in the B sections, apart from Paul himself giving thanks in the A sections (see previous paragraph). “Lusts” is only referred to in the B and D sections. Outside the B sections, “body”/”bodies” is only otherwise referred to in the C1 section (a single reference to Abraham’s body) and the D section (8 times). “Evil” appears 11 times in the B sections, but only four times outside the B sections. “Judge” (or similar) only appears three times outside the B sections (in 3:4-7), where it refers to God’s judgement – in the B sections, it refers instead to people’s judgement of other people. “Condemn” (or similar) only appears in the B and D sections. “Honour” only appears once outside the B sections (in 9:21 – ‘vessel for honourable use’). “Conscience” only appears once outside the B sections – in 9:1. “Light”, “darkness”, “teach”, “steal”, “commit adultery” and “praise” only appear in the B sections. “Blaspheme” only appears once outside the B sections, in 3:8.

structure-of-romans-c-sections

“Abraham” is not mentioned outside the C sections. “Seed” (offspring) is only mentioned once outside the C sections, in 1:3 (‘seed of David’). The concept of “righteousness by faith” appears only in the C sections. The phrase “the righteousness of God” appears only in the C sections. The concept of there being no distinction between Jew and Gentile appears only in the C sections, and the word “distinction” is only used in these two places in the whole letter. The topic of “not by works” appears only in the C sections. “Mouth” appears only once outside the C sections, in 15:6. “Feet” appears only once outside the C sections, in 16:20. “Eyes” does not appear outside the C sections. “‘According to the flesh” appears outside the C sections only in Romans 8, which contrasts living “according to the flesh” to living “according to the Spirit”. These points help to demonstrate that the C sections are related, and are distinct from the central D section. There are particularly strong similarities between the C sections. We will consider the implications of this in later posts.

structure-of-romans-d-section

In the next post, we will look at the internal structure of the central D section (Romans 5-8).

This was first published at the Predestination Station, where comments can be made.

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20 thoughts on “Structure of Romans – the whole letter

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