Romans 1:14

I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

In what sense was Paul a debtor to these groups of people? I can't find any context in the immediate verses around this passage.

4 Answers 4


There is nothing wrong with the other answers I only mention that this phrase perfectly aligns with the Roman world and Paul's sense of debt to give them the gospel, as Hodge points out:

The Romans, whose city was called “an epitome of the world,” belonged exclusively neither to the one class nor to the other. Some were wise and some unwise, some Greeks and some barbarians. (Hodge, C. (1882). A commentary on the Epistle to the Romans,pp. 39–40)

Once good description of how much Paul really truly was a debtor on not just a random feeling he had is found here:

When Moses had received the tables written with the finger of God, and the pattern of the Tabernacle for Israel, he was bound, he was a debtor, both to God and to Israel, to deliver those tables and that pattern, as given to him by God. To Paul, the risen, glorified Christ Himself had given the gospel by especial “revelation” (Gal. 1:11, 12); and Paul, as we know, was especially to go to the Gentiles, (as Peter, James and John were to go to the circumcision). Just as definitely as Moses received the Law for Israel, so Paul received the gospel for us, and he was a debtor, both to God and to us, till he had that gospel committed to all. (Newell, W. R. (n.d.). Romans Verse-by-Verse ,p. 12)


For what it's worth, my observation of the context is that the debt is derived from his call to preach the gospel (see verses 11-13 & verses 15-17) to the groups listed. Particularly note in verse 1 how Paul views himself as a servant of Christ (some versions 'bondservant'). His debt was primarily to Christ who had purchased the apostle's life with the blood shed at the cross, and secondarily to the designated groups that Paul had been assigned to serve through his apostolic calling. It can often be helpful with this sort of issue to check out a few different translations or commentaries as that can reveal some of the underlying complexity of the original language even if you have no or little knowledge of it - for instance:

Both to Greeks and to barbarians (to the cultured and to the uncultured), both to the wise and the foolish, I have an obligation to discharge and a duty to perform and a debt to pay. - Romans 1:14 (Amplified Bible)

Perhaps the first two variant meanings (an obligation to discharge and a duty to perform) are a little less confusing?

  • 2
    The NIV also understands "debtor" as meaning "obligation". I think the debt being referred to is stated in the next verse "So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also." He's saying he has a "debt" to preach the gospel to everyone. Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 19:47
  • @davidbrainerd your comment is really an answer so If you answered the question why not vote on it?
    – BYE
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 21:21
  • @bruisedreed I checked out Hermenuetics SE and you're probably right!
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 21:34
  • @CecilBeckum Please stop with the voting comments, they are noise.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 18:23
  • +1 - It is unexplained why good answers all over this site languish with zero votes or less
    – Mike
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 7:18

Paul was convinced, that Jesus had called him specifically to carry the Gospel to the Gentile Nations:

All Scripture is quoted from the New Revised King James translation.

Acts 9:15 and 16 But Yahushua said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

Paul would therefore accept that because Jesus wanted to include the Gentiles, they were the reason Jesus called him. Therefore his salvation was owing to the Gentile world.

It seems to me, that if this was his motive for preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, that it was a powerful motive.

  • 1
    +1 - It is unexplained why good answers all over this site languish with zero votes or less.
    – Mike
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 7:19

Since Jesus came to save all mankind, both Jews and non-Jews (Paul is so emphatic and frequent in stating that, especially in Romans, that I will not bother your eyes with superfluous quotes), and since He willed to affect this salvation through giving His apostles His grace of preaching and converting both Jews and non-Jews, then Paul, an apostle who has received this divine grace is, in virtue of this reception, under the obligation to dispense this grace and co-work with this grace with a purpose of converting all nations, Greeks included. In this sense, Paul is a debtor of Greeks, together with all the rest whom he preached.

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