Reference: Rome, Romans
The city of Rome is in some respects the most celebrated on earth; as it was long the mistress of the heathen world, and has since been for many centuries the chief ecclesiastical capital of the nominal Christian world. It was situated on the river Tiber about fifteen miles from the Mediterranean, in the plain now called the Campagna di Roma. At the period of its greatest glory its walls were nearly twenty miles in circumference, and enclosed the famous seven hills of which their poets speak, Re 17:9. It surpassed all other cities in the magnificence of its structures, filled with paintings and sculptures; and contained, it is thought, two millions of inhabitants. Famous for its progress in the arts and in luxury, it was still more renowned for is conquests; and there was scarcely a nation then known whose spoils and captive princes had not contributed to swell the pomp and pride of the imperial city. The idols of all conquered nations were admitted among the thousands there worshipped; and the people were full of superstition, and in morals exceedingly corrupt. The painful representation of the sins of heathenism given by Paul in his letter to the Romans, Ro 1:21-32, has been fully confirmed by their own writers.
Rome was founded by Romulus 752 B. C., and governed for a time by kings. After the expulsion of Tarquin, B.C. 509, it was governed by two consuls, elected annually; and this form of government continued several centuries and indeed after the real power had passed into the hands of a sovereign. Julius Caesar first acquired the sovereign power, though he refused the name of emperor. His nephew Octavius, afterwards Augustus, took the name of emperor about 30 B. C. In his reign our Saviour was born. The succeeding Roman emperors, who ruled over the larger part of the then known world, were mostly distinguished for their cruelties, debaucheries, and licentiousness; until Constantine embraced Christianity and made it the religion of his empire. By transferring the seat of his empire to Constantinople, A. D. 328, he gave a fatal blow to the power and influence of Rome; which thenceforth continued to be only the ecclesiastical metropolis of the western church. But as such she acquired afterwards, under the popes, an immense power, which still continues in Catholic countries; but which has received its death-wound through Protestantism, and the consequent enlightening of the popular mind. At the present day, Rome is rendered especially interesting by the magnificent ruins of its former greatness, temples, pillars, public baths, aqueducts, triumphal arches, and amphitheaters. It retains also its preeminence as a treasure house of the fine arts. It has three hundred and sixty churches, among which is St. Peters, the largest in the world, and many others truly gorgeous. It contains also large libraries, including that of the Vatican; numerous galleries and museums full of the choicest paintings and sculptures, besides palaces, villas, schools, and hospitals. Yet it groans under priestly tyranny, and perpetuates the superstition, immorality, and misery of pagan Rome.
In the books of the Old Testament no direct allusion is apparently made to Rome, or to the Roman power, except in the prophetic visions of Daniel, Da 2:33,40; 7:7,19. Up to the time when the canon of the Old Testament was closed, before B. C. 400, the Romans had not so far extended their conquests as to bring them in contact with the Jews. But in the books of the Maccabees and in the New Testament they are often mentioned. The first alliance between the Jews and Romans was made by Judas Maccabeus, B. C. 162. This was renewed by his brother Jonathan, B. C. 144. After this time, the Romans had much to do with Judea, not only under the Herods, but also when reduced to the form of a Roman province; until at last they utterly exterminated the Jews from the country. They took the city of Jerusalem not less than three times: first under Pompey, B. C. 63; again under Sosius, B. C. 33; and lastly under Titus, A. D. 70, when both the city and temple were destroyed. See JUDEA.
There were thousands of Jews resident at Rome, where a part of the city was anciently, as now, appropriated to them, and where they were usually allowed the free exercise of their national religion. Among these, and among the Romans themselves, the gospel was early introduced, perhaps by those who were at Jerusalem at the Pentecost, Ac 2:10. Under Claudius, about A. D. 50, both Jews and Christians were expelled from Rome and among them apparently Aquila and Priscilla, Ac 18:2; Ro 16:3. At the time of Paul's epistle, A. D. 58, the faith of the Christian church at Rome was everywhere celebrated, Ro 1:8; 16:27. In A. D. 64, another fierce persecution against Christians in that city was instituted by Nero. These persecutions were followed by others more or less severe, with intervals of repose, making ten in all before the time of Constantine. At this period the corruption of doctrine and of practice, which had previously appeared in the church, began to spread more rapidly; and by degrees the papal apostasy, with its fatal perversions of the truth as it is in Christ, became enthroned at Rome according to the predictions of Paul, Peter, and John.
The arena of the Coliseum, whose majestic ruins are now the most impressive monument of the ancient mistress of the world, was the theatre of many a conflict of Christian martyrs with wild beasts; and its sands drank the blood of thousands of unresisting victims, men, women, and children, who met a violent death-some tremblingly, some triumphantly, but all resolutely-rather than deny the Lord Jesus Christ. The Coliseum was erected for gladiatorial shows, by the labors of fifteen thousand men for ten years. It was an elliptical structure, 620 feet long and 513 broad; with an arena 290 feet by 180, surrounded by tiers on tiers of seats, the upper and outer circle being 160 feet from the ground. The vast amphitheatre is said to have contained seats for eighty thousand spectators; and its ruins will long stand, a melancholy proof of the cruelty of heathenism.
THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS was written by Paul during the three months he remained at Corinth, A. D. 58, before going to Jerusalem, Ro 15:25. Compare Ac 20:2-3,16; Ro 16:23; 1Co 1:14; 2Ti 4:20. It is the most important systematic, and argumentative of the epistles of Paul. Its immediate occasion seems to have been the misunderstanding which existed between Jewish and Gentile converts, not only at Rome, but everywhere. The Jew felt himself in privilege superior to the Gentile; who, on the other hand, did not allow this superiority, and was vexed by the assertion of it. In reference to this, in the first five chapters, the apostle proves that the entire human race is depraved and under condemnation-that neither Gentile nor Jew has any privilege of birth or personal merit, but that each receives all benefits through the mere sovereign grace of God, Christ alone being our justification. He then proceeds to exhibit Christ as our sanctification; and answers the objections made to the doctrine of gratuitous justification, that it tends to encourage sin, and that God has no right to treat mankind in this way. In Ro 10-11, he applies all this to the Jews. In the remainder of the epistle, which is hortatory, the apostle lays down many practical rules of conduct, which are of the highest moment to all Christians.