But despite numerous problems, a great many modern scholars hold the version now found in the NT as original. However the original text of Romans is far from being a settled issue.
The Textual History of the Letter to the Romans, by Harry Gamble Jr. (1977), still represents the definitive and most comprehensive work on the manuscript record --- in terms of the body of evidence presented.
Gamble cites, on page 13, a Benedictine scholar who characterized Romans in 1908 as,
“… the most debated and yet, for all that, the most obscure in the entire New Testament.”
Gamble laments that in the ensuing decades “the obscurity has not been relieved” and if anything, he writes, “the situation is even more beclouded now” with the addition of new evidence and hypotheses. (p. 13)
In relation to an early fourteen-chapter form, Gamble writes,
In relation to the omission of the two addresses to Rome at 1:7 and 1:15 in some manuscripts, Gamble again,“We have now canvassed all the evidence for the existence at one time of a form of Romans in fourteen chapters. The evidence is geographically widespread … and this form of the letter can be traced back with confidence at least as far as the second century … “ (p. 33)
Gamble is clear that the textual history of Romans alone is not sufficient to reach a solution, and that other methodologies including literary criticism will be necessary to “proceed beyond the current impasse.” (p. 13)“It may be said further that these two omissions belong initially to the fourteen-chapter form of the text.” (p. 33).
Agreed. Interpolations, redactions, and the combining of texts do not always --- or perhaps not even in most cases --- leave a trail in the manuscript record.
By the time of the earliest surviving manuscripts, the textual evidence for Romans is too muddy to tell the whole story. But from the manuscript record one can conclude that Romans was manipulated at an early stage in the portions that now constitute the first chapter and the last two chapters.
Along with the troubling and messy manuscript record, many scholars have proposed a wide variety of interpolations. IMO, Romans is the most “messed with” of all the (generally considered) authentic letters of Paul. 1/
Identifying and making arguments for specific interpolations are beyond the intention of this post, however, before getting to my primary point, I’ll carve away some portions of the letter.
IMO, much or all of verses 1:1 - 1:15 and 15:14 - 15:33 are related sections representing an early-catholic interpolation. This beginning and ending are the only places where any mention is made of a visit to Rome, and I believe these verses introduce several apologetic aspects.
Paul is not specifically identified in chapter 16 as the source, but it is widely assumed that Paul was the author with Tertius as amanuensis. I believe chapter 16 was used as a letter of introduction by Pauline operators after Paul had died or retired --- composed by his followers perhaps around the time of the writing of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.
The remaining text may contain additional interpolations; however, in much of the text it seems clear that Paul was promoting the very same arguments he made in his letter to the Galatians. Many investigators have recognized the profound thematic similarities between Galatians and Romans, but have not taken this observation farther to a related possible conclusion.
Was Paul writing to the Galatians in both letters? Might the original core of the letter Romans be more accurately titled, “Second Galatians”?
The earlier, received letter to the Galatians reveals divisions within the congregations. Perhaps Paul still saw an opportunity to salvage his efforts. Perhaps, after some time to gain perspective, Paul wasn’t ready to give up on his Galatians, nor on his foothold in this region of Asia Minor, even after being caught in an embarrassing lie (Romans 3:7).
Paul’s narrative in Romans provides extensive arguments and evidence in support of his all-important position on the superiority of faith in his Jesus Christ, over reliance on the flesh and on the Mosaic laws. In addition, it seems that Paul wove numerous rationalizations for his lie into his narrative --- including the concept of forgiveness --- some quite subtle and incorporated into unrelated arguments. (e.g. Romans 3:4-12, 3:23-24, 4:7-8, 7:21-25, 8:1, 11:32, and 14:13)
Of Paul’s generally accepted letters sent to his congregations, only Galatians involves significant arguments over circumcision for believers. The issue is mentioned only in passing in 1 Corinthians (7:18-19). And after his problem with the Galatians, Paul provided nothing more than a relatively brief reminder and preventative mention to his generous and supportive Philippians (3:1-9). The thorny issue of circumcision among Paul’s followers seems to have been contained in Asia Minor during Paul’s period of activity.
Perhaps Paul recognized that at least some among the Galatians had likely gone “full-monty” Jewish, and that many others held their Jewish friends and neighbors in high esteem. Hence, in trying to win-back his Galatians in the text of Romans, Paul somewhat softened his stance towards the Jews by taking a more respectful tone, recognizing that the Galatians would likely maintain their association with their Jewish friends. It seems that Paul even hoped of winning over some of the Jews to his side.
Granted, this is highly speculative. Other than arguments by some that the text of Romans was originally written, or later used, as a “general” or “circular” letter or treatise, I’m not aware of any significant support in the scholarship for a Galatian address for a core text. I’m proposing this solution for consideration --- any fatal flaws?
1/ The combining of several letters by the final compiler of 2 Corinthians, some out of chronological sequence, is a different issue.