It is not known when or by whom the Roman church was established. There were Jews from Rome in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when the church was first established. It could be that converts of that day returned to Rome and began the church at that time. There is also the possibility that when the church was scattered by the persecution after Stephen’s death that someone took the gospel to Rome. Since Paul greeted some of his prior acquaintances, the church may have reached Rome through the relocation of Christians who had moved to that city from other churches.
There were some Jewish Christians in the Roman church but most of the members were Gentiles. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, had felt a great need to visit and minister to them because of the Gentiles involved in that church but he had been hindered from making that trip.
While he was in Corinth during the winter of A. D. 57 and spring of A. D. 58 collecting the contribution for the church at Jerusalem, Paul learned that Phoebe was going to Rome. This was an excellent opportunity for him to write the letter and get it delivered soon.
The church at Antioch had been Paul’s home base as he had traveled in that part of the world. He wanted to spread his area of work to lands much farther away and he considered Rome to be an ideal city to base his work in that area.
Judaizing teachers had caused much harm to the churches of Galatia, Corinth and other places. Paul used this letter to warn the Romans that they could expect the same type of problem and to give them instructions on how to deal with it when it did occur.
Since Paul was not known as well in Rome as in some of the other churches, he gave a more detailed introduction of himself than that found in his other letters. He began by explaining that he was a bondservant, one who was totally in subjection to his Master, Jesus Christ.
Paul immediately made himself known as an apostle. He explained that his authority as an apostle had come directly from Christ, who was resurrected from the dead. His mission was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the resurrected Son of God.
The Christians at Rome were recognized as saints—those who are called out of the world by the gospel and have obeyed its commands. (There are those who designate certain individuals as saints if they have exhibited certain moral or benevolent qualities far above their peers.) According to Paul, all Christians are saints.