Just how the message about Jesus Christ first reached Rome is not explicitly revealed in the biblical account. On the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Jews and proselytes from various parts of the Greco-Roman world heard Peter’s testimony. Among them were persons from Rome. (Acts 2:9-11) It is likely that a number of them believed what they heard, were among the some 3,000 who were then baptized, and, in time, returned to the city. (Acts 2:41)
The book of Acts indicates that it was common for Jews and others to travel extensively throughout the Roman Empire. Apollos, for example, came to Ephesus (the ruins of which city are located on what is now the western coast of Turkey) from Alexandria in Egypt and later headed for Corinth in Greece. (Acts 18:24, 27; 19:1)
Many of the believers in Rome at the time Paul wrote his letter may have become disciples in other cities and later either returned or moved to the capital of the empire. Evidence to this effect is that Paul personally knew quite a number of the believers in Rome even though he had never visited there. (Romans 16:3-15) Among those whom he knew were Aquila and Priscilla (Prisca). When Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, this Jewish couple moved to Corinth, where Paul met them, worked with them in the same trade, and lived with them. (Acts 18:1-3) They appear already to have been believers, for no reference is made to their coming to believe in Jesus Christ through Paul’s ministry. When the apostle wrote his letter to the Romans, Aquila and Priscilla were again residing in Rome, for the decree of Claudius had ceased to be in force and Nero was then ruling.
As the case of Aquila and Priscilla illustrates, believing Jews, proselytes, and God fearers continued to go to the synagogues and used the opportunity to share the message about Christ with others. After Aquila and Priscilla heard Apollos at the synagogue in Ephesus speak boldly about Jesus, they assisted him to gain a better understanding about the Son of God. Apollos, though well-versed in the holy writings, only knew about the baptism of John and so needed to learn more. (Acts 18:24-26) Jewish believers continued to live according to the requirements of the law, observing the Sabbath, adhering to the dietary restrictions, and faithfully conducting themselves according to other legal requirements. (Acts 21:20-24) So their life as believers was markedly different from that of non-Jewish Christians.
During the period the decree of Claudius was in effect, the community of believers in Rome would have consisted of non-Jews. After the Jews were allowed to return and Jewish believers did so, non-Jewish believers may have outnumbered their Jewish brothers and sisters. These developments may have contributed toward later problems in living harmoniously as an integrated congregation of Christians. Based on his experience with Jewish and non-Jewish Christians and the information fellow believers who were then living in Rome had earlier shared with him, Paul, under the guidance of God’s spirit, could write a letter well-suited to their needs. One of those needs appears to have been for all of them to increase in their appreciation for one another as part of a united, loving community of believers.
Internal evidence in the letter itself and specifics in the book of Acts make it possible to establish the place and the approximate time Paul dictated his letter to the Romans. Phoebe, who was heading for Rome from Cenchreae, appears to have been the one to whom the apostle entrusted the letter for delivery. (Romans 16:1) Cenchreae served as the nearby port for Corinth when shipments were made to eastern harbors. Furthermore, Paul referred to Gaius (evidently the Gaius who was from Corinth) as his host and Erastus the city steward. (Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14) So it is likely that Paul was then in Corinth and planned to travel to Jerusalem to deliver a contribution from believers in Macedonia and Greece for poverty-stricken Jewish believers in Judea. (Romans 15:25, 26, 30, 31)
During Paul’s first stay in Corinth, Gallio served a term as proconsul of Achaia. An ancient fragmentary inscription from Delphi mentions Gallio and provides enough information to place his term as running either from 51 to 52 CE or from 52 to 53 CE. After Paul left Corinth, he set sail from Cenchreae for Syria, making a stopover in Ephesus and then continuing his journey to Caesarea. From there he went up to “greet the congregation” (apparently the one in Jerusalem) and then went to Syrian Antioch. Thereafter Paul continued his activity in Asia Minor, remaining over two years in Ephesus alone before returning to Greece for a three months’ stay. (Acts 18:18-23; 19:8-10; 20:1-3, 31) It would appear that he then dictated his letter to the Romans, and a date of about 56 CE would fit the specifics in the biblical account.
Another line of evidence involves the time Festus became governor of Judea. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem during the time Felix occupied this position and remained confined in Caesarea for two years. (Acts 24:27) While the exact date when Festus assumed the office is not known, the range of commonly suggested dates is between 58 and 61 CE.