David Couchman
David Couchman is the Director of Focus and the producer of the 'God: new evidence,' 'God and the Big Bang,' 'After Life?' and 'Jesus Myths' video series. More...

Digital Evangelism blog

Teaching through a Bible Book: Paul's letter to the Romans - an outline

This is intended as a worked example of the kind of 'top-down' planning (from Bible to book to individual message) described in 'The Teaching Program of the local church' and 'An example of a possible four year plan.' What is important is the principle of working downwards from the overall structure of the whole book, rather than simply beginning from chapter 1 verse 1 and proceeding by a series of convenient, but exegetically inappropriate, divisions.

Paul's letter to the Romans breaks down into four natural sections: the introduction, a doctrinal section, a practical section, and the conclusion. In the following analysis we start by indicating these four major sections and giving a brief outline of their content. We then break each major section down to its next level, once again giving a short description of the content of each major subsection. Based on this analysis we have then suggested a division into appropriate passages for messages, with a one-sentence outline of the passage for each message. The individual messages are numbered from 1 to 25. In one case (the introduction) a message occupies a whole major section of the book. Generally, however, each sub-section involves several messages. For one section (on justification, chapters 3-5), we have provided a more detailed worked example of outlines for the four individual messages.

In order to break the Romans series into two terms (as described in the example four year plan), it would probably be best to have a first series of 12 messages going through to the end of chapter seven, and then a following series of thirteen messages which go the end of the book. This would mean dividing in the middle of one of the subsections, but as the start of chapter eight picks up a new theme, this would not be too much of a problem.


Introduction: chapter 1 verses 1-17

Paul, as a servant of God set aside to proclaim the Good News to the non-Jewish world, greets the Romans with a prayer that God will grant them grace and peace, and with a desire to minister God's life-giving message among them in order to strengthen them spiritually and to prepare the way for his planned visit

  1. Introduction to the book: chapter 1 verses 1-7

2. Doctrine - we are declared right with God by faith: chapter 1 verse 18 to chapter 11 verse 36

Paul praises God because of his gracious provision for the universal need of humanity through Jesus Christ. God declares people right with him because they have faith in Jesus Christ, even though Israel has rejected God's provision.

2.a Condemnation - we all need to be made right with God: 1:18-3:20

In ourselves, we are not right with God, and in fact we are under God's condemnation. The only answer to this is for God to declare us right with him because we have faith in Jesus Christ.

  1. Humanity rejects God, and is not right with God, chapter 1 verses 18-22
  2. God condemns humanity based on His own standards, chapter 2 verses 1-16
  3. Jews are not right with God either, Romans chapter 2 verse 17 - chapter 3 verse 8
  4. Summary - no-one is right with God, chapter 3 verses 8-20

2.b God declares us right with him: 3:21-5:21

God declares everyone who believes right with him through faith. (Paul gives the example of Abraham.) This gives us the hope of eternal salvation with Christ as our head. A more detailed breakdown of the individual messages on Romans chapters 3-5 is included on a separate page.

  1. How we can be made right with God? Chapter 3 verses 21-31
  2. The example of Abraham, chapter 4 verses 1-25
  3. The benefits that come from being made right with God, chapter 5 verses 1-11
  4. Death through Adam, life through Christ, chapter 5 verses 12-21

2.c Sanctification - God makes us in fact what he declares us to be through faith: 6:1-8:49

God frees us from the power of sin and the Law and assures us of victory through the work of His Spirit.

  1. The believer in Jesus Christ is separated from sin, which no longer rules over him or her, chapter 6 verses 1-23
  2. The believer is dead to the Law, chapter 7 verses 1-6
  3. The Law reveals sin and sin, not the Law, leads to death, chapter 7 verses 7-25
  4. The believer, free from condemnation, is spiritually alive, chapter 8 verses 1-11
  5. The believer is responsible not to live according to the flesh, chapter 8 verses 12-30
  6. The believer's security in Christ, chapter 8 verses 31-39

2.d Vindication - Israel rejects what God offers: 9:1-11:36

Israel rejected God's offer to make them right with him through faith in Christ. Nevertheless God shows himself to be faithful to the promises he made to the nation of Israel.

  1. God's rejection of Israel is not inconsistent with his promises, chapter 9 verses 1-29
  2. Israel has deliberately rejected Jesus and the Old Testament teaching about him, Romans chapter 9 verse 30 to chapter 10 verse 21
  3. God's rejection of Israel is neither complete nor final, chapter 11 verses 1-36

3. Practical - how should we live in the light of what God has done? chapter 12 verse 1 to chapter 15 verse 13

The believer must honor God and love Christ as Christ loved us. This is to be worked out in our relationships with other Christians, the State and everyone else, both weak and strong.

3.a Our duties towards other believers and everyone else: 12:1-21

The believer must consecrate his life to God, loving other believers and everyone.

  1. The foundations of conduct: living sacrifice and non-conformity to the world, chapter 12 verses 1-2
  2. How to behave towards the wider community, chapter 12 verses 3-21

3.b Our duties toward the State and towards everyone: 13:1-14

Paul urges believers in Jesus Christ to act responsibly toward the State and everyone, by loving them and by being spiritually awake as they realize that Christ's coming day of salvation is near.

  1. Submission to the Government and love to everyone: chapter 13 verses 1-14

3.c Our duties toward the weak and the strong: 14:1-15:13

Paul urges believers in Jesus Christ to act responsibly toward one another through love by forbearing one another, accepting one another, and by the strong helping the weak just as Christ served them for God's sake.

  1. Mutual forbearance, chapter 14 verses 1-12
  2. The strong should not hinder the weak, but we should help one another, chapter 14 verse 13 to chapter 15 verse 13

4. Conclusion: chapter 15 verse 14 to chapter 16 verse 27

As a minister of Christ to the non-Jewish world, Paul expresses his desire to visit the Roman Christian,s and concludes his letter with personal greetings, pastoral counsel against false teachers, and a benediction which entrusts the Romans to God's wise care.

4.a Paul's reason for writing and his desire to visit Rome: 15:14-33

Paul's reason for writing this letter is to justify his boldness toward them because he was appointed a minister of Christ to the non-Jewish world. Paul's hope of visiting the Romans will finally be achieved although he must go to Jerusalem first; he therefore asks for their prayers for him, and prays for them to experience God's peace.

  1. Paul writes boldly because he is a minister, but he intends to visit the Romans, chapter 15 verses 14-33

4.b Paul's greetings, warning, and blessing: 16:1-27

Paul extends greetings to various believers in Rome, and through a pastoral warning urges them all to be on guard against trouble-makers. He closes the letter by praying for God's blessing on them.

  1. Final greetings and closing, chapter 16 verses 1-27

This outline is based on material on the very helpful Bible.org web site.