How to Read Romans

Part 1: Romans 1–4


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Romans is Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. These videos from The Bible Project provide an overview of the books. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Romans, discover what it teaches us, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this first video about Romans 1–4. 




Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the book at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: All people have fallen short of God’s standard.


Observe: As you watched the video, what observations did you make about Romans 1–4? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters.)
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Where an observation determines what the book says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the book means. We’ve asked what the book says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) All people have fallen short of God’s standard. (Interpretation) Everyone sins and needs a savior.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Romans 1–4? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes.)
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Contextualization looks at how the book fits into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: The entire Bible highlights the sin of humanity. Adam and Eve began the sin saga and Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and the Israelites followed in their steps. Jesus came, died, and rose again to stop sin and death. Now, those who put their trust in Jesus find freedom from sin, as explained in Romans.


Contextualize: What themes does Romans 1–4 seem to establish? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this book applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: If I follow Christ, He sets me free from sin and death. Though I still disobey God, I do not need to despair when I sin. Instead, I can confess, repent, and obey. When I lose my temper with a frustrating coworker, I can confess that sin to God and other Christians, apologize to my coworker, and seek patience rather than anger. 


Apply: How does the truth from Romans 1–4 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week?
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As you finish this first section on Romans 1–4, thank God for how He’s speaking to you so far. Ask Him to continue to teach you as you dive into the next part of the story in Romans 5–16.


 
Part 2: Romans 5–16


The previous section of this post focused on Romans 1–4. This final session covers Romans 5–16. As with the last section, the goal of this post is to help you navigate the story of Romans, see what it teaches us and how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and, finally, to apply it to our lives.




Now that you have an overview of  Romans in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Romans. Read Paul's description of life in the Spirit from Romans 8:1–11. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Romans 8:1–11.  


Romans 8:1-11 (ESV)

Life in the Spirit

1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.6For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Remember that observation asks the basic who, what, where, and when questions. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. 

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Romans 8:1–11? (Consider the major characters, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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We've asked what these verses say about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What do they mean? What is the main message of Romans 8:1–11? How does it connect with the main message of Romans? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 


Contextualize: What themes does Romans 8:1–11 present? How do those themes connect with the rest of Romans? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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Application considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives.  Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.


Apply: How does the truth from this passage affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some practical ways you can live out the truths found in these verses this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 


Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Romans, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Romans this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.