Friday, January 20, 2012


Why does Paul write the Epistle to the Romans? Unlike many other NT epistles, it is not very clear that there is a specific false teaching, or false teacher or group of false teachers that Paul is gunning for. It is possible that he is contributing his penny's worth to a debate among the Roman Christians (in which case, likely a debate between Jewish Christians and Gentilic Christians). But I wonder if Paul, excited by the prospect of visiting the great city, is taking the opportunity to offer his maturing (if not mature) thinking on the gospel. After all, as an intellectual Jew called to preach to Gentiles, as a scholar of the Hebrew scriptures reckoning with the spreading flame of the gospel beyond Israel, Paul at some point had to confront with honesty and rigour the questions Romans addresses: what is God's vast eternal plan? How do the Jews figure in this plan? Who may be saved and how might they be saved? What now is the point and purpose of the Law? How are Christians to live in a post-Law, Gentile-including dispensation?

But the gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ so we also find in Romans a concerted effort to explain the role and significance of the man Jesus of Nazareth 'descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord' (1:3-4).


Father Ron Smith said...

It ought to be very well-known by theologians who are 'on the ball', that Paul was speaking here to a mainly jewish audience. Context is quite important when quoting Scripture (cf.Abingdon).

Of course, Paul was warning them about the excesses of the local 'pagan culture' in Rome, which at that time was rampant.

If you are trying, Peter, to connect the excesses of pagan culture with today's understanding of the authenticity of homosexuals as Christians, you really are out of touch with the reality.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron

No. Where I am going with this series of posts on Romans is not towards discussion of pagan culture in Rome in relation to homosexuality then or now. The issues that interest me in Romans are bigger and broader than that, and concern the heart of the message of the church as it speaks to itself and communicates with the world.

Andy S said...

Doesn't Faith mean we turn our eyes toward God and seek (however imperfectly) to serve his purposes and not follow our own will?

Don't we mature and grow in the Faith if that is what we earnestly seek? We would all be works in progress

And isn't easy to be distracted by every day banalities as we proceed.

I might see in Romans as a warning about turning our faces from God and about Salvation coming when we turn back towards him - as individuals and as a Nation.

As for Fr Ron's "excesses of the local 'pagan culture' in Rome" may I suggest that if Romans contemporary with Paul were to see our 21st century Western lifestyles they might be astounded by our excesses and decadence. I don't mean in sexual matters particularly though no doubt we are excessive in that area of our culture but in things - replacing Iphones the instant a new model becomes available or Christmas decorations, how much of our resources as a Nation went into those do you suppose? And to what purpose? Watch the video of the Helicopter raising a "Christmas tree" in Auckland and crashing to earth and ask yourself why?

Then open your eyes to the schizophrenic searching the gutters for cigarette butts and ponder your helplessness in doing anything to alleviate his torment.

And look to God for guidance through prayer

Andrew Reid said...

"A penny's worth"? More like a million dollars! :)
There seem to be a few purposes that we can glean from the text:
- Paul wishes to encourage them and build them up by this letter, until he is able to do in person (1:10-12)
- Paul recognises the strategic importance of the Roman church and wants to ensure they are well grounded in the gospel (1:13-15).
- Paul takes his responsibility as a minister to ALL the Gentiles seriously, and wants to remind them of the gospel they have believed in, even though they are complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another (15:14-16).
- Paul wants the Roman church to assist him on his planned mission trip to Spain, and introduces himself and his gospel to them (15:23-29).
- There seem to be a number of issues causing confusion and problems among the Roman church, even if they are not threatening immediate schism or error - relationships b/w Jewish and Gentile believers, following Christ in a pagan culture (idols, government), "strong" vs "weak" believers.

The key question to ask is why Paul gives such a full exposition of the gospel compared to his other letters (especially Ephesians, which is not written for a particular conflict or circumstance either)? It may be because he hasn't had the opportunity to share it personally with them, and/or because he knows the Roman church has been grounded well in the basics (note how many of his former fellow workers have ended up in Rome in ch. 16) and he wants to give them greater depth. His thinking and reflection on the gospel is certainly deeper than in his other letters, but let's be careful not to head down the "this is the best and fullest summary of the gospel from Paul, so we can downplay the other letters" road. Many courses and techniques for introducing the Christian faith suffer a bit from Roman-itis, ie too much Romans and not enough other gospel perspectives.