Now we take a run through the world of "word studies." A note of caution here, the late Biblical scholar James Barr rightly cautioned to pastors to remember that words are always conditioned by their context and, therefore, their meaning is not always the same as the dry dictionary definition we find in many books like Vine's. This will become very important when we discuss the so-called New Perspective on Paul and the understanding of "justification."
If you have a good modern work on word studies like Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words or the "Bible Knowledge Word Study" set compiled by the good folks at Dallas Theological Seminary then you can run through Romans 1:1-12 and learn a lot.
For example, Paul refers to himself as a "slave" or "bond servant" of Christ Jesus. How do we interpret that today so that it makes sense to the average lay person? Most westerners associate the term "slave" with the abomination of African slavery in this country and the overwhelming majority of both the churched and un-churched have no idea what a "bond servant" is or was. Moreover, can you accurately define "Christ"? So, what to do?
The Bible Knowledge Word Study (and the study notes to the NET Bible found free at Bible.org) state:
"1:1 Servant (doulos)--This word has the idea of "one who is solely committed to another, slave, subject"
Christ (Christou)--Literally, "one who has been anointed"...a title for Jesus, the Messiah. The Messiah was to deliver Israel from Gentile domination.
So, I translate 1:1a as "Paul, one solely committed to Jesus the deliverer..."
The translation makes much more sense esp. to someone who is unfamiliar with the basics of the Christian faith. You may ask, "what is Jesus delivering someone from?" That will come later.
Next, in 1:1b we have "called as an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God" (NASB).
According to Mounce, apostolos broadly refers to a "messenger, delegate," or "sent one." In classical Greek, apostolos referred to a person of merit sent as an envoy or on behalf of a master in an administrative role. (p.26)
If we read on then we find "Within Paul's letters, where the term is found more frequently than in any other part of the NT, apostolos...(refers) to an honored group of believers with special status as God's messengers or envoys..." (p.27).
We find that Paul sometimes uses "apostle" as a term of authority and other times generally to remind others of their mission.
Now, what about "the Gospel"? Literally it means "good news" but so of what? That will come later.
Thus, it is proper to render Romans 1:1
"Paul, one solely committed to Jesus the deliverer, called to be His messenger, set apart for the good news of God."
Next we tackle the area of historical background studies and how they help illuminate the message of Scripture.
Check back soon.