I have been reading through Romans this week and noticing how frequently Jew-Gentile themes come up throughout the letter. For example: 1:14-16, 2:9-11, chapters 9-11, chapter 14, 15:8-13, 16:7-8. My leaning: though Romans is more systematic than his other letters (because Paul is laying out his theology to a church he has never met, from which he hopes to receive ministry support), it is still a letter to a particular church, and its content is affected by issues at the church (e.g., division between weaker and stronger Christians in Rome on issues of conscience in chapter 14). Its neither a “timeless treaty” (Melanchthon) nor as ad hoc as his other letters (F.C. Baur).
It seems to me that the presence of Jew-Gentile issues in Romans do not displace Paul’s more fundamental concern of the sinner before God, but rather that more fundamental concern is the very means by which Paul aims to address Jew-Gentile concerns (1:16-17). In other words, the gospel of free grace is the key to racial/ethnic reconciliation and unity in Christ, as well as every other spiritual blessing. If the problem of guilt before God has been dealt with, the problem of enmity toward others cannot help get sucked in as well. This perspective makes chapters 9-11 intelligible within the larger flow of thought, without displacing the obviously central concern in the earlier chapters that Luther grasped so poignantly: how can I as a sinner be justified before God? Why would anyone want to take that question off the table? Its the most important question anyone could ever ask!