Saturday, March 4, 2017

What Romans is All About (2)

So in my journey through Romans these past few weeks, reading big chunks of it at a time, the following has struck me:

- the core of Romans, what it is all about, is the power of sin and the power of Christ and the Spirit to overcome it. This is the chief concern of Romans 1-8.
- Romans 1-2 lays out the effect of sin in the world, among both Jews and Gentiles, bleakly proposing the prospect of God's terrifying judgment against humanity.
- Romans 3-5 lays out the joyous news that through death and resurrection Jesus Christ save us from that judgement ("justification by faith") and the power to do that is Christ's alone. Sin so besets us, its power so permeates our every effort to live a righteous life that we fail (see also Romans 7). Neither Jew with the law nor Gentile without the law can do a single thing to overcome the power of sin.
- Romans 6 begins to chart what is developed further in Romans 8: the power of Christ is not only to cancel the effects of sin with respect to God's just judgment but also to begin to lead us to live a righteous life. But this life is possible only through the new law of the Spirit. The old law of the flesh has been found wanting (with a hint that even God has been surprised that the law given so graciously to the Jews has not enabled them to live righteously.
- So Romans 8 could be the joyous, hopeful, encouraging ending to Paul's letter (with concluding greetings in Romans 16). But ...
- Paul wants to make two further points:
- Romans 9-11 is Appendix 1: if Romans 1-8 is the case, that the power of Christ is for all, Gentiles and Jews, what about the Jews? This appendix deals with that question.
- Romans 12-15 is Appendix 2 and answers the question what does the law of the Spirit mean in the practicalities of living in the Roman Empire.

What do you think?


Paul W said...

This is very helpful as an overview, as I'm preaching through Romans regularly. One of the hardest things to do is to keep the forest in view with each passage and not get lost in the trees! One question: what do you make of Douglas Campbell's provocative thesis that much of Rom 1-3 is Paul doing "speech in character and that it doesn't reflect Paul's gospel? Although I don't agree with a lot of his thesis, wrestling with it helped me preach good news from these chapters.

Jean said...

Yep probably also a lot of these chapters address practicalities on the grafting or in today's language 'merger' of Jew and Gentile into one body. FYI if you want a good response when discussing differences in opinion regarding the eating of food translate that into a modern equivalent; different viewpoints about what music, hymns/modern worship songs are used. Only the context of the study respecting non-crucial differences saved my, okay on purpose cheeky remark, from provoking an argument.a

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Paul
I think I can see why Doug does that - aspects of Romans 2 in particular are a bit unPaul-like. But I am not convinced - I think we need to see a pattern of Paul doing that in Romans. He does that in 1 Corinthians (posing questions which we now think are Corinthian questions he responds to) but there is a pattern there.

Bryden Black said...

Helpful indeed Peter to have the wood + the trees clearly before us. But I think chs 9-11 are no appendix. Nor should we perhaps see chs 12ff as an “appendix”.

9-11 are in fact integral to the Gospel, that Gospel which is of the demonstration and declaration of God’s Righteousness in Jesus the Messiah of Israel, for the Jew first and also for the Greek/Gentile. For the faith of Abraham, fulfilled in the faithful obedience of Jesus, is archetypal for all (sorts of folk), in the conquest of sin’s pollution of all. Just so, the climax of the entire eleven chapters at 11:32, which sees our “hope”, ANY hope, is never separated from God’s love in Christ, God’s faithfulness, the true foundation/premise of all our faith, hope and love.

As for 12ff. In classic Pauline mode, he “exhorts” us all to now live in the grace, righteousness, joy and peace of the Holy Spirit, who indwells this New Temple abode of Yahweh’s, God’s People, since Jesus’ Body is that Temple. The “obedience of faith” (1:5, 16:26) is to be expressed in all those classic concrete examples of the day. And ours too!

That is, the entire logic and flow of Paul’s theological argument is tighter than any talk of appendices will allow, I suggest.

Peter Carrell said...

Agreed as far as the literary flow goes but my thesis is that the great theological blow Paul strikes concerns the power of sin being vanquished; and relative to that 9-11 is an appendix, and 12-15 is a different kind of appendix (how then, in the light of Romans 8 as climax, shall we live?

Bryden Black said...

Ok Peter; if the great blow is as you say that the power of sin has been conquered, a question then-a really basic question:
How is it that sin continues among the original People to whom God gave "the oracles etc"? How come they remain unvanquished in their disobedience, their unfaithfulness? That's kind of ... well; basic, don't you think?! Sin still reigns among Israel after the flesh ... Oops!

Peter Carrell said...

Not only a basic question, Bryden, but a great one.
It might be that a failure to answer satisfactorily blows my thesis out of the water!
It might be that Paul (a) names and elucidates the depth and strength of the power of sin (deeper than something Moses' Law can cope with, both rules to obey and rituals to remedy), stronger than any cocky Jew or Gentile with their respective confident philosophies recognises, ensnaring even a great and pure Jew such as Paul in its deathly grip; (b) names and elucidates the one power which is greater, the power of the gospel of salvation of the crucified and risen Christ, the fulfilment of Mosaic ritual, the atonement which actually atones, the resurrection which raises others from death, the from-which-flowing-Spirit giving life and strength to obey; BUT (c) does not settle the question, how come then that Spirit-filled and empowered Christians do not reach perfection and maturity in this life?

Bryden Black said...

Now we’re into it Peter! I’m sure you know John Robinson’s Wrestling with Romans (1979). Well; that is what these replies to my own question/observation throw us into—a due “wrestling”!

First off, I resonate deeply with your own observations (a) and (b). These motifs are surely there in the milieu of Romans. But are they the real driving force of the actual argument? Especially when we invoke such language as “righteousness” and “faithfulness”? For deep within such language is (a) the character of God, and (b) that character demonstrated and declared in the covenant of God with his People, and the history of that covenant. In other words, your (c) does not take into account the essentially eschatological nature of the way in which the New Covenant/the Covenant’s fulfilment (3:21-26) is realized. And chs 9-11 has at least that vital element to it: the original human partner to the Covenant has yet to acknowledge its fulfilment; why so? how so? It will in hope nonetheless now become played out in the rest of the economy (I paraphrase); God shall ensure that it will be so, and universally so, for God to be God at all, God of all ...

The book-ends of “the obedience of faith” do I sense play a helpful role in “Paul’s Gospel”, in determining what it is. And while we may truthfully say Jesus is now the faithful human covenant partner alongside Yahweh, there’s still more: he is so “on our behalf”—the famous hyper—which thereafter implies our due participation in that obedience of faith (hence the logic of chs 5 ➔ 6). The Gospel ain’t done till we’re singing too (if you see what I mean!). But that is part of what your (c) is angling for after all, I suspect. But it’s not the whole of 9-11, which is universal (Greek and Jew, Jew and Greek) faithful acclamation of the Messiah of Yahweh, Israel’s due telos—in the form of 3:21ff, which is truly scandalous (to borrow from 1 Cor, Gal 3-4), and mysteriously effective for “all” ‘in Zion’ (11:27). Just so the climax of 11:33-36. I am convinced many a commentator has not plumbed the depths (pun intended) adequately of the very form and substance of this paean of praise, especially as it may throw light on the meaning of what is before it. For why these particular selections for Paul, to underscore 11:33, as his concluding climax?! [The “gift” of course is the driver of John Barclay’s Pauline rendering however! And part of my own trinitarian endeavour too!]

So Peter; your thesis is not exactly torpedoed, to sink out of sight. I sense it requires expanding somehow; and the expansion must take in the ongoing logic of 9-11 as it completes, and duly so, 1-8. To make it a mere “appendix” short-changes “Paul’s Gospel”, the fulness of God’s mercy in the entire economy of salvation.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bryden
Precisely "the obedience of faith" requires engagement with the problem, for all humanity, of how we might obey by overcoming the power which makes us disobey. So Paul, according to my possibly torpedoed, possibly armour-plated thesis, tackles that great - the greatest of all - problem and applies the good story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to this philosophical, anthropological chestnut and, voila, Jesus dies that we might live, bears the weight and wages of sin, expiates and propitiates, securing our righteousness through his faithfulness, but Paul stops not with that, and presses on to the glorious climax of Chapter 8: the Spirit is unleashed to work all things together for good. All a gift of the merciful God. And, if the point is not clear, Paul outlines and underlines in Appendix 1, ch. 9-11, how the gift which is all from God is for all, Jews and Gentiles, though he has already stated such earlier in the book.

There is no shortchanging of the gospel of power over sin by spending an appendix of time on the scope of the same.

Bryden Black said...

Peter; I’d pursue instead an exegetical approach, especially for such a NT scholar as yourself:

1. Paul did not write with chapters and verses.
2. If “nothing can separate”, then why the immediate cry of “I wish I myself were accursed” -given that Jesus the Covenant Mediator is already accursed?! So ch.8 continues straight into ch.9. Why?
3. If the logical chain of 8:29-30 is to hold, then what of those who were indeed so called - Israel.
4. For, what of the entire use of eklektoi etc. - 1:6-7, 8:33, and on into chs 9-11?
5. How do you not permit supercessionism under your thesis? For 9-11 explicitly denies it.

That’s for starters. For the Gospel’s main focus is not the negative power of ‘sin’, but the positive character of the Righteous God; and thereafter how that character is shown in his world and among his people. True, sin is an alien power in this world; but that’s not the main text; rather, sin is the exploitative subtext of a power which is only parasitic upon the main. Yet; what is the main when sin remains the blinding power of God’s elect?!

Peter Carrell said...

Torpedoed, Bryden, but in a good and soundly exegetical way!

Bryden Black said...

Just some more wrestling .... For how do your legitimate motifs become part of 9-11; perhaps?

Bryden Black said...

Wow Peter; you are really practising those tough wrestling holds now with these latest comments/questions!

Many commentators of the past have indeed followed your lead and have seen 1-8 as the main body of Paul’s argument. However, just about every commentator since say 1970s has shifted the debate, concluding the argument at ch.11, with 12:1-2 as the key turning point (hence my own take on 12:1-2 BTW). And I am persuaded! Everything as always depends upon the sorts of questions posed, and the very way we pose them ... Cf. Therefore above ...

Meanwhile, your latest comments. To be sure; the language of “called/chosen/elected”, “loved/hated”, “hardened”, “remnant”, “consign/shut up”, plus the very chains of 8:29-30 AND 10:14-17—all these forms of speech indicate a view of Deity which is hard to grasp. But why? Well; for one thing (avoiding for the moment Paul’s own response, 9:19ff, let alone 1 Cor 1-4) our appreciation of cause-effect is really very limited. Aquinas has much helpful stuff here. His point is that the manner of divine ‘causation’ in creating-and-sustaining at all at all is unlike anything we may know. Creation ex nihilo is just what we creatures cannot/may not get behind! So the kind of ‘relationship’ God has with his creation is ‘superabundantly free’, and barely a “cause” at all, even those of the efficient and teleological kind, which we try to use nonetheless, analogically. Add to this our own creation imago Dei plus the fall, and things really get awkward: we are beholden to get a purchase upon things ala deity, yet our very perversity has twisted that purchase ...! All of which throws a bit of a spanner in the works when we talk - have to talk - about human faith and freedom, and our response even to grace/mercy. For, as you point out, “the power of sin” gives rise to the state of total depravity (NB: this does not mean things are as bad as they ever might be; but that every-thing/every-sphere is polluted by this power of sin. My own take: the Image essentially remains; but is fundamentally marred - NB the etymology of each qualifier!)

All this however is only one thread of this section, chs 9-11. The real point is Israel after the flesh and God’s Righteousness (1:16-17), that Righteousness which should be evident among His People; but it ain’t - yet! All of which permits, makes space for something else in the economy: the true fulfilment of that Abrahamic promise, albeit in a curious way. [Sure; I’m still reading Romans with half an eye in Galatians! YET many miss the key point of Rom 4 as a basic link in the chain of argument! NB Wright’s paper, reprinted as ch.33 in Pauline Perspectives (2013), 554ff.] At least; that’s my ‘reading’ of the main text, with other subtexts to be sure!! Clearer now ...?!

Peter Carrell said...

Helpful indeed, Bryden, though I am still left wondering from Romans 9-11 whether all are saved, in the end. The mercy of God, yes, beyond our ken, is inexhaustible.

Bryden Black said...


My response is twofold;
1. What might we make of similarly 1 Cor 15:22 in context?
2. What if we 'read' both 1 Cor 15 and Rom 11:32 as archetypal/collective solidarity language?
So that Rom 11 = God has consigned "all types, Jew and Greek"???

Lastly, the overall testimony of Scripture does not favour apokatastasis, the reconciliation of all things. For again: what does "all" exactly mean, in e.g. Eph/Col? And what effect might just Rom 10:4-21 have???!!!

Peter Carrell said...

A weakness with universalism is that it has not been universally received by the universal church!
So, am inclined to agree with you, Bryden!

Bryden Black said...

So Peter, a summary of ‘my’ “wood + trees” so far under this thread.

1. Romans is about the Righteousness of God;
2. That Righteousness is firstly demonstrated and declared in the covenant relationship Yahweh has with his People;
3. Then that righteousness is also to be demonstrated and declared among God’s People themselves. The OT Scriptures are full of this language. I quote from my series of sermons, “Who Are We?” - 1. We are the People of God:

As well as these two key covenant expressions, of Promise and of Torah, the OT uses four major words that characterise the covenant relationship between God and Israel:

1. Hesed: variously translated “mercy” or “grace” (KJV), “steadfast love” (NRSV/ESV), “love” (NIV)
2. Emet: variously translated “faithfulness” (NRSV/NIV/ESV), “truth” (KJ), “constancy” (JB)
3. Mispat: translated as “justice” or “judgment”, enacted by a shophet or “judge”
4. Sedaqah/sedeq: translated “righteousness” or “righteous” = conformity to a two-way relationship, i.e. the covt itself.

Typically, the first two describe God himself, while the second two Israel’s authentic response, especially among Israelites themselves. Yet the second pair also describe God’s actions towards Israel or individual Israelites, arising from the Covenant relationship. Again and again we see this in the Book of Psalms. [ends]

Even the language of “wrath” has this covenantal provenance IMHO. E.g. Deut 27. And if it be objected that Rom 1:18ff has a background in Wisdom 12ff, which it surely does, then Wisdom’s revelation is akin to Rom 10:18, etc...! After all, as with Second Isaiah frequently, we’ve a cosmic law court setting here, so typical of the OT (e.g. Deut 32:1).

The only ‘alien’ in this covenantal calculus is your “power of sin”. And you are surely right to conclude as you do: ONLY the death and resurrection of the Messiah of Israel may remove this polluting power; no ‘scheme/schema’ of any Jewish or Gentile kind may do so - Rom 3:21ff. Yet even here “righteousness” language drives the solution.

So; 4. How may folk get involved in this “rescue”?
5. Faith is the sole means of our incorporation/participation in this eschatological deliverance from the power of sin. For by faith not any works of the law as any “reward” might we receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit, by whom Jesus baptizes us into himself, his Person and his work (Rom 6, 1 Cor 12, Col 2, Eph 2, Gal 3-4).
6. Just so, the People of God are those who in faith become his People in the Messiah, whose Body they are, and whose Temple they are through the Spirit of God. [Just so “Who Are We?” 1-5!]
7. Rom 14:17 is the crux - though perhaps not quite as we heard it last year from CM, whose NON contextual reading prevailed, and so with avoidance of Rom 6 and 12:1-2, let alone therefore 1:18ff, which he simply omitted!!! (cf. after all 3:21ff and 5:1-5).
8. Paul’s language in 15:8-21 (with rich cultic, because covenantal, overtones) is his hortatory conclusion, seeking their help in his next missionary endeavour.
9. And just so he still seeks to proclaim his Gospel, seeking the response of faith - coz that’s the way it is! [despite our own incapacity to grasp God’s sovereignty, even and especially the sovereignty of divine merciful grace]


Father Ron said...

Saint Paul's greaqt conundrum remains unanswered:

"Why do I not do the things I ought to do? Why do I do the things I ought not to do? BUT, thanks be to God for the victory IN OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST?"

Herein, assuredly, lies the great mystery of God's love in God's plan of salvation
The victory is not in ourselves but in Christ!