A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

The Macrostructure of Paul’s epistle to the Romans

Romans, as one of the most oft debated books of the Bible, suffers from a plethora of interpretations that can often times confuse the would be Bible Student more than inform. While I feel there are many reasons for this. In principle, I think tactics to try to understand Romans fall generally under the very broad frameworks that expand beyond the book of Romans (such as Paul’s theology, the grand Biblical narrative, etc.) or to the minutiae of the text of Roman’s. The former doesn’t really take Roman’s on its own terms; the latter struggles with making sense of everything. Thus, while discerning a macrostructure in Romans entails pulling both from the details within the text and from the larger story that transcends the epistle, I feel that a focus on the structure on the letter to the Romans is the most optimal way to get into the thought of Romans.

One fatal mistake I feel in understanding Romans in the tendency of people familiar with rhetoric to outline the thesis as simply Romans 1:16-17. This treats the topic of God’s wrath in 1:18, with a similar structure to v. 17, as simply a secondary point that is not really at the heart of the Gospel. Instead, I think it is more appropriate to take 1:16-18 as a whole as Paul’s overarching thesis, where God’s wrath is in fact an integral part of the power of the Gospel and Paul’s argument.

Given that, I think that Paul’s argues in reverse ordering, arguing about God’s wrath, then God’s righteousness, and then God’s power in the Gospel. The breakdown is as follows:

Romans 1:19-3:20 – The Wrath of God

Romans 3:21-5:21 – The Righteousness of God

Romans 6:1-8:39 – The Power of God

Furthermore, the discussion of God’s wrath serves as necessary to demonstrate the revelation of God’s righteousness in the following section. Both ideas also, with more emphasis given to the latter, becomes important in the final section on God’s power. In other words, God’s works from two particular points of revelation, God’s punishment of the sinful world and the righteousness of God in Christ to develop an general view of soteriology and eschatology in chapters 6-8.

One caution needs to be added. These argument while universal, are not focused upon timeless, abstract, spiritual realities. Instead, it is focused upon the very particular reality of God being the God of Israel, and yet somehow also being God of the Gentiles (perhaps even a “mystery” as to how this universality works out). Therefore, there is a particular Jewish flavor in Paul’s statements, but it is a movement towards a more universal view of God’s relationship to the world, while preserving the Jewish particularity. Thus, the discussion on nomos in chapters 7 and 8 is about Torah.

While painting a broad overview of God’s wrath, righteousness, and salvation, Paul quickly sidestepped some objections littered through chapters 1-8, particularly concentrated in chapters 3, 6, and 7. All those objections seems to be rooted in Israel’s historic relationship with God. Having developed a broadened view, Paul must use his conclusions drawn through 1-8 in discussing Israel’s history and future more specifically to show that his interpretation does not make God unfaithful. Broadly speaking, each chapter focuses has one of the three themes as its focus:

Romans 9 – God’s wrath in relationship to Israel

Romans 10 – God’s righteousness in relationship to Israel

Romans 11 – God’s power in relationship to Israel

One might say that Romans 9-11 is Paul’s attempt to validate his statement of “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” in 1:16 of the thesis. However, I am currently mixed on that point as 9-11 seems to be focused centrally on Israel, whereas the discussion of Gentiles seems to be a minor and overlooked point till the middle of chapter 11.

Finally, as Paul moves into chapters 12-15, he gets into what is known as the ethical section. What is most characteristic about this section is the relative lack of language that is particular to Israel’s distinct culture and life, after Paul spent 11 chapters make repeated references to various parts of Israel’s life, such as the patriarchs and the Torah. It seems more broad and general, as if Paul is speaking in a universal way.

Comparing the three sections with each other, Paul seems to be moving towards a general view of soteriology in Romans 1-8, but is engaged in the Jewish particularity. Romans 9-11 is steeped in that particularity and there is relatively little development of God’s universal work until the end of the section. Finally, 12-15 is broad and universal with only scant reference to Jewish particularity.

With having that flow of thought and focus in mind, I believe that the meaning of Paul’s letter to the Romans will become more apparent when the purpose of Paul’s communication is discerned, which I will write on in another post.


December 27, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The Limitations and Proper Usage of Rhetorical Criticism

In preparation for what I hope to be a continuing series of posts (much as my friend Michael Halcomb has done with the Gospel of Mark) on my most studied book of the Bible, Romans, I am going to be doing a few preliminary posts on some issues that I feel need some addressing separately.

Before I go diving into a piece by piece study of Romans. Considering my education up to this point, perhaps the most fitting point to start is on the topic of Rhetorical Criticism based upon my exposure to and engagement with the work of Ben Witherington. Here goes for only my second real research paper ever in the field of Biblical Studies.

Thanks to Michael for the info on Scribd. Makes things a whole lot easier! And now I changed my notes to those blessed footnotes instead of those wretched, God-forsaken endnotes.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Revisiting the question “Did Paul think the Torah had failed?”

A while back, I wrote a post on whether Paul in Romans though the Torah had “failed” or not. While much of what I said previously I still think stands, I feel it is proper to add more of a substantive answer that can also give us a peak into the relationship between Old and New Testament.

I would answer the question with “Yes, but…” In Romans 5:20, Paul describes the increase of sin when the law entered (taking the hina clause as describe a result, and not purpose). If the seemingly obvious purpose of the Law was to regulate human behavior and move them towards holiness (an important aspect of the Torah), then it did indeed fail to accomplish that purpose. The book of Judges itself shows how idolatry in Israel was rampant, despite the prohibition against it in the Decalogue. Paul goes on to attempt to demonstrate, how with the Torah in place, sin actually increased in Romans 7:5-6. His answer is that the Torah actually had the reverse effect of what it was intended for, that it aroused sinful passions, not deadened them.

If Paul’s answer wasn’t in any way negative in regards to the Torah’s effects, then he would probably have not felt any compulsion to address the hypothetical objection of 7:7 (“Is the law sin?”). Paul’s negative view on the Torah forces him to give an apologetic defense of his view to fellow Jewish brethren. If Paul had no view of failure or negativity towards the Torah tiself, then what occasions Romans 7:7?

But it is in Romans 7 where the “but” part of the answer begins to form. His concluson is that “The Torah is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (7:12).  He makes a differentiation between the sinful passions and and the Torah. To put into different terms, the essense of the Torah itself was not the problem. However when put into the world of sin, it failed to restrain evil, but instead fostered in the increase of evil. There were other factors involved that derailed the Torah’s purpose, most particularly death (also represented be flesh, conveying mortality).

Nevertheless, this apologetic defense still leaves the Torah as failing its purpose, as it was incomplete to perform the task at hand. However, Paul is not content to simply throw away the Torah, as he so emphatically proclaims in Romans 3:31. How then can he still place value upon the Torah that failed?

The answer is had in finding a solution to the problems that derailed the Torah’s purpose. Paul’s literary cry of desperation in 7:24 seeks the solutionto the problem of the mortal body, to which the answer is Jesus. Moving into 8:3, Paul proclaims the condemnation of “sin in the flesh” (keeping in mind the connotations of mortality in the usage of sarx) that leads to (again, taking the hina clause as a result clause) “the righteous requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled” (8:4). It is at this point that Paul’s view on the Torah is revealed. It is a failure on its own, but as it is joined with Jesus (the one who was raised from the dead) and the Spirit (who raised Jesus and will raise us from the dead) it achieves its purpose.

This interpretation doesn’t allow for either of the extreme answers regarding the question of the relationship between the Torah and the Old Covenant with Jesus and the New Covenant. Both the idea that the Old is superceded by the new (frequently leading to antinominianism), and that the New is merely a continuation of the Old is and subject to the Old (treading the path towards legalism) are both rejected with a few Greek letters. If the Torah was superceded,  then 8:4 makes little sense. If Jesus and Paul’s message was subject to the constraints of the Torah, then how could it possibly solve the problems that plagued the Torah’s goal?

The relationship between the Torah and Jesus is that He completes where the Torah lacks (compare with plerwsai in Matthew 5:17). To be more specific, I would say that message and gospel of Christ acts as a balance with the Torah, to delegitimize extreme interpretations of the Torah by itself and to provide the necessary “stuff” (like a trust in the defeat of death in resurrection) to make obedience to proper Torah interpretations possible. In Paul’s terms, the Torah provided knowledge of sin but not necessarily knowledge of what is righteous, whereas many of Israel derived righteous deeds from the Torah (Romans 10:3, Phillipians 3:9) and thus made extreme interpretations necessary (and doubly impossible).

Our view of Jesus then isn’t in laying down a distinctly new path. Rather, he offers a corrective. To borrow from on of Ken Collin’s books on John Wesley, Jesus provides the path of “holy love.” Holiness is to be in tension with love, with the Old Testament emphasized holiness (although not excluding love), whereas Jesus brings love into the picture to correct the extremities of particular interpetations of the holiness aspect. However, Jesus is not getting rid of the old aspects of holiness and saying that “love is all that matters,” but rather that holiness that was already present in Israel must be brought into tension with compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. Thus, neither legalism (holiness to its extreme) nor antinomianism (using love as a pretense to reject any specific moral and ethical considerations) work within the Christian faith.

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 21 Comments

Discontinuity of Election between Judaism and Paul

As I trek out to try to read (again) Judgement & Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul by VanLaningham, I feel there is one important note to make in the relation between Judaism and Paul.

While there is definitely some continuity between the Jewish Scripture’s view on election and Early Judaism with Paul, Paul himself gives a reason to attribute as least some discontinuity. In Romans 11:1-4, Paul speaks of the remnant that God preserves from those who did not commit idolatry in worshipping Baal. In verse 5, Paul affirms that there is a remnant that remains at the present. However, Paul explicitly speaks of the choice being by grace and, as he continues in verse 6, “no longer by works.” Paul offers a clear contrast there, as if to say that election now differs from election then.

However one is to interpret Paul’s precise understanding of election and its relationship to justification and eternal life, there is for Paul a discontinuity between election in the Old Testament AND with Israel’s view (as seen in Romans 9:31), allowing that Israel may refer to specific groups and not every Jewish sect. In other words, reading pre-Christian primary source material of Judaism may offer some light to the situation,  one must be ready to draw a line in the sand and say that Paul offers a different view in some manner (at least with some of the prominent Jewish views) beyond merely adding Jesus as the Messiah.

January 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Isaiah 56:1-2: God’s righteousness

Pivotal to the interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans is the text of Isaiah 56:1-2. In Romans 3:21 speaks of God’s righteousness being revealed and attested to by the Torah and the Prophets. Isaiah 56:1-2 is probably the most influential text on Paul’s assertion.  But how one interprets God’s righteousness affects one’s view of Romans.

Thus says the LORD, “Preserve justice and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come And My righteousness to be revealed. How blessed is the man who does this, And the son of man who takes hold of it; Who keeps from profaning the sabbath, And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”  – Isaiah 56:1-2 (NASB)

The doublet bolded above is critical to the interpretation of God’s righteousness. The two ideas of a doublet frequently have some relation to each other, though they need not be exactly synonymous. On one hand, one might interpret the revealing of God’s righteousness as being synonymous with God’s salvation. For instance, NT Wright interprets God’s righteousness as being God’s covenant faithfulness, which fits perfectly within the idea of salvation. However, I would propose a different semantic relation, where the second line is a means for the fulfillment for the first line. In other words, the revealing of His righteousness is how God brings about salvation.

Isaiah 1:27 speaks of redemption being accomplished by justice and righteousness. Assuming First Isaiah (although I do not buy into the different authors of Isaiah) has continuity with Deutero-Isaiah, then we perhaps interpret the command to keep justice and to do righteousness in 56:1 as being related to the salvation that is spoken of, where salvation/redemption is not merely conditioned upon justice and righteousness, but is obtained through those qualities.

Secondly, it is doubtful that oracle intends to use “righteousness” in such a fluid manner in 56:1, where the first usage is ethical whereas the second is referring to faithfulness. While the word could encompass both usages, it is more likely that the revealing of God’s righteousness is directly related to the call to be just and righteous. So coming about full circle, the second line of the bolded doublet seems more fitting to be the means of the salvation spoken of in the first line, instead of merely a synonymous saying.

Looking at verse 2, this seems to be the best conclusion. The doublet “How blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who takes hold of it”, seem to form a chiasmus with the previous doublet. At first, one might want to associate those two statements as referring to the command to preserve justice and do righteousness. However, upon a closer look at “the son of man who takes hold of it”, it might refer to the trust in God for salvation. The same verb is used in 56:4, where the eunuch is told “to hold fast My covenant.” Interpreting this not as faithfulness to the covenant per se, but as reliance or trust in God to fulfill His covenant, this gives further meaning to 56:2. If the second line of the doublet is regarding God’s covenant faithfulness, which naturally correspondsto salvation, then the first line of the doublet of refers to the doing of righteousness. It can be seen as follows

A – My salvation is about to coome

B –       And My righteousnes to be revealed

B’ –      Blessed is the man who does this (righteousness)

A’ – And the son of man who takes hold of it (God’s covenant promising salvation)

If 56:1b-2a really forms a chiasmus, then “My righteousness to be revealed” indicates an ethical quality to be obeyed by the people of Israel (and the eunuchs and foreigners spoken in the later verses).

Also, in indicating the happiness of the people who hold does righteousness, it is related to the presumably happy state that would come from salvation, hence the obedience to God’s righteous ways would be seen as a means for the salvation that is to be had. Incidentally, Isaiah 55:8-13 seems to indicate God revealing His ways as being the cause of the upcoming joy to be had.

Finally, 56:2b also forms a doublet, that might also be said to form a chiasmus with 56:2a. The Sabbath is said to be the sign given by God to His people of His covenant with them (Exodus 31:13-17), so that observance of the sabbath is associated with God’s covenant. On the other hand, the one who “keeps his hand from evil” naturally fits with the idea of doing righteousness. So the chiasmus of 56:2 would be as follows:

A – How blessed is the man who does this (righteousness)

B –      And the son of man who takes hold of it (God’s covenant that promises salvation)

B’ –     Who keeps from profaning the sabbath (a sign of the covenant)

A’ – And keeps his hand from doing any evil (righteousness)

In the end, there seems to be two parallel trains of thought being developed in 56:1-2.

Salvation about to come -> Hold to God’s covenant -> Observe the sign of the covenant

Righteousness to be revealed -> Do righteousness -> Keep hands from evil

The latter train of thought is directly related to the command of “Preserve justice and do righteousness.” So the commandment can be seen as the reason for hope that God’s salvation will come. In the end then, God’s righteousness does not refer to some faithfulness of the part of God, but rather the way of living Israel was to have, that God himself would bring to the world (Isaiah 55:8-11). This then, naturally, fits within Paul proclaiming in Romans that Jesus is the revelation of God’s righteous ways, through whom redemption is accomplished.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Romans, justification, and faith

“Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.” – Romans 4:4-5

This passage is often viewed as the contrast of polar opposites, where the first is those who do not trust in the gospel but rely upon their works, whereas the second only trust in God. Such a view presents an almost antinomian view, where justification is only had in the absence of works.

I would contend, however, that neither are not justified in the eyes of God, but it displays the difference in the moment of their Christian lives. The person who works as God calls is justified because that is what is due to them. It is declaration of reality. They do what is righteous, so they are in fact called righteous.

The latter represents Luther’s simul iustus et peccator (“At Once Justified and Sinner”). But it is not the descriptor of all those who place their trust in God. Rather, it is the trust of the convert, one could say. One humbled by their own offensiveness to God, and comes to God realizing their own reliance upon God with nothing of their own to stand upon. This person too is also justified.

But these two seem to contradict each other at first blush. Why would God justify the ungodly if He also justifies those who do what is right? Because at the heart of this is a confidence of God that those who do not work but trust (and rely upon) Him will become like those who work. God is calling this particular sinner righteous because he will become righteous because of his trust. It is a recognition of the soon to be realized potential of the current sinner.

Chapter 3 centers upon the idea that in Jesus Christ, there is a revealing of God’s righteous nature through the faith/trust that Jesus had (“faith of Christ”, not “faith in Christ”) for those who have faith (3:21-22). Justification is said to be had because of grace, through the “redemption of Jesus Christ” (3:24), which could be undersood as “the freedom that comes by way of Jesus Christ.”

As we move forward to chapter 6, Paul expresses the freedom from service to sin to service to righteousness (6:15-23). Why? Because of the trust that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we too will be raised from the dead (6:1-11), drawing the conclusion that we should not let sin reign as we live in our bodies that will inevitably die (6:12-14). Later in Romans 10:9-10, Paul expresses that faith in the resurrection of Jesus leads to righteousness.

For Paul, faith in the power of God as revealed in Jesus is the grounds of hope for freedom from sin. But Jesus also reveals the way to live righteously based upon trust in God, giving tangible direction (instead of a list of laws) to fellow human beings who trust in God. So for the sinner who trusts in God, there is a foundation for hope that while they are still so greiviously prone to sin, because of their trust, they will become free from their offensive ways and begin to do what pleases God. This human potential, made possible only by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and the sinner’s trust in God who raised Jesus from the dead, is the grounds for the declaration of righteousness. God sees what the person will become. It is not a covering of one’s sinfulness, nor is it really a judicial fiction, nor is it a forgiveness per se (forgiveness, as Paul goes on to talk about in 4:6-8, is grounded upon the justification), but it is a realization of who the person will become (or already is).

It isn’t a Catholic justification either, where it entails both the declaration of righteousness and making righteous. For Paul, such an idea would become needlessly redundant, as trust in God for him is the grounds for the righteous life. The sinner is made righteous by faith in God’s power, not by some other process that justification for Catholic theology would entail (this is not to exclude any important role of the Holy Spirit in the process of sanctification).

This makes faith’s importance not as a sufficent condition for salvation, but rather a necessary means of salvation (faith/trust alone not being enough, but conviction and repentance of sin being necessary on the part the person). Faith is no longer detached from salvation and justification as the tendency has been to do in Christian theology (especially in Protestant circles), but rather faith is intimitately bound up with salvation and justification. Justification also isn’t taken in a sense that is detached from its natural understanding of uprightness. It doesn’t  lead to an antinomian view of justification either, where a person need not mature as a Christian. Nor must another concept be crammed into the word that is foreign to its basic meaning, as a Catholic interpretation does.

In the end, God is graceful because he calls a person righteous before they are in actions. God credits to them what will be a future reality, but not a present one. One might even say that God reciprocates the trust the sinner has in God.

January 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

A modern interpretive paradigm for Romans 6:15-23 and socio-political application

As I finish making preparations for my sermon tomorrow, I noticed a certain principle that Paul seems to be trying to establish, albeit from a more ancient context.

The question the hypothetical Jewish objector brings up is the question of whether one will still commit sin because the Torah is no longer the primary mode of God’s work with His people, but rather grace? In other words, if people don’t have a specific external code to govern behavior, wouldn’t one just continue to sin. The objection is raised in light of the fact that Paul had in 1-14 argued that it is through Jesus and his resurrection that we ourselves commit ourselves to death and so commit ourselves to live for God..

Paul’s response is that one who submits themselves to someone as a servant (or slave), one will be obedient to them. Implied here is a notion of repentance. Furthermore, Paul goes on to say that they become obedient from the heart. In other words, the person is internally motivated to obey God, not merely to having an external force in the Torah to bring about obedience.

Basically, it is the principle of external control vs. internal submission. The former, being used in the way of the Torah, did not make things better. As a matter of fact, Paul says that during the Torah, sin increased. That is not to say the Torah was the cause of it. One could well say that if there was no Torah, things would have gotten even worse more quickly. That seems to be implied in a contrast between pre-Noahic flood civilization vs post. The latter did get worse, but not like the former times that lead to the flood. The main difference that can be attributed to the difference is the Torah.

But when one is internally motivated to submit, it is effective and there isn’t a need for external control. 1 Timothy 1:8-10 kind of falls in line with this.

How does this apply to the socio-political scene? Quite simply, one can not expect for real progress to be made by attempting to control a people. It is best suited for preventing things from spiraling out of control, but if one attempts to try to force a system of working upon a group, it will not be effective in the long run. The Torah didn’t make Israel a righteous nation. Nor did Communism’s state run economy make for a prosperous nation. Nor did the US government’s attempt to try to mandate certain types of loans, such as sub-prime loans. As a matter of the fact for two of those instances, one could say it made things even worse.

Using an external control on someone can work if they fear the probability of getting punished for their actions and if the punishments are strong enough to dissuade someone. However, they will still attempt to find a way of getting around it. And if effective enforcement subsides, so will the obedience to the rules set forth. Furthermore, the control might not be enough motivation. Matter of fact, such a control may incite them and cause a strong counter reaction (maybe with violence). It may cause even worse disobedience. Paul speaks about such in the Torah in chapter 7, where through it the sinful nature was aroused. Beyond all that, one must in fact be knowledgeable enough to know what is effective control and what isn’t. God is, and so the Torah was successful in restraining Israel more so than the rest of the world (but not making them a righteous nation). However, people aren’t. And if they are not careful, their attempts can destroy.

One must be internally motivated for one to in fact do what is truly good. External force doesn’t create this motivation, but it only creates temporary submission so far as the controls are effective enough. This is good for restraining murderers, thieves, rapists, etc. but not so much for where we want specific types of actions to occur.

For the United States, this means that the people have to change if things for the US is going to get better (although, quite honestly, the US is very well off, no matter how much one might complain about the economy or what the numbers on growth say). But it is not something that looks to happen anytime soon, because it is much easier to look to the President and Congress to make things better because it seems to offer an easier hope, even though it is a false hope.

Control would also be ineffective in trying to put a restraint on the spread homosexuality, where one can not effectively prevent certain behaviors that happen in private even if one protected marriage. And if one could get into the privacy, it might incite a strong counter reaction where things in fact would get more polarized and worse.

But for Christians, we trust in the expansion of God’s Kingdom, which makes a call to and woos the hearts of people through Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, through Scripture, and through a holy Church.

September 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Back to Romans we go – Romans 6:1-7

This was the Scripture passage for my sermon this past Sunday, but I think there a few significant exegetical points to bring out here.

First off, in order to grasp the passage correctly, one must understanding the hypothetical objection of Romans 6:1. It is often times read as “Shouldn’t we just keep on sinning then so that we can receive more grace?” If we read it that way, we would see Paul’s response being based around some power of God to supernaturally free the person, making it impossible for one to keep on sinning. In that case, a true believer wouldn’t take a license to sin. But this seems to be an awkward response, nor does the rest of his response seem fitting to the objection. If the question is of freedom to sin because of grace, then the imperative of verse 13 makes no sense in context. Why implore people to stop their sinning if they think grace allows them to sin? Furthermore, there is no seemingly sharp response by Paul as we see with the hypocrisy of many Israelites in chapter 2, in 3:8 where something similar to license is falsely attributed to Paul, or in 9:19-20.

Rather, the more proper understanding of the verse would be along the lines of “Will we keep on sinning resulting in the increasing of grace?” This interpretation fits much better within the context of both chapter 5 and 6. In chapter 5, Paul talks about the Torah and how it came and yet sin still increased, but grace did along with it. The picture is bleak under the Torah alone, which has been the central topic for Paul thus far. As he pressed on in chapter 7 and 8, he goes on to say the Torah is not capable of freeing from sin. But at this point, he hasn’t established the weakness of the Law formally yet. He has merely said that “the transgression” of Adam (a metonymy for the effects therof, including personal disobedience) increased. Instead, the solution Paul proposes for the problem of sin is Jesus. Through him the many can be made righteous.

But for the objector, why does he accept the premise of Paul’s argument? He has said the Torah did not solve the problem of sin. What hope is there then? Wouldn’t the logical solution be that sin will continue to increase? It is here that Paul explains the reason why Jesus is the hope to erradicate the reign of sin in death and to inaugurate a reign of grace through righteousness.

In order to understand the thrust of Paul’s argument though, it is critical that one understands even further Paul’s argument in chapter 5. For Paul, death seems to be the root of the problem (different from the original cause), not sin in and of itself as he writes that sin reigns in death. If we go to verse 12, the first part attributes death to sin entering into the world through Adam. But the second part of the verse is up for translation. Typically, it is translated as “and so all died because all sinned,” making the second half of the passage follow the same pattern of the entrance of sin and death into the world. In other words, sin is the cause of death. But I would contend Paul sees it as a cycle, and that verse 12 can and should be translated as “and so all died, based upon which all sinned.” The first statement is not the effect, but rather the second. So if death is the root of sin in the present world, then by removing death one can uproot the problem of sin. And for Paul, this is through Jesus Christ our Lord (5:21).

So that sets us up for 6:2-10. Christian baptism was done in the name of Jesus (and probably the Trinitarian formula of Matthew 28, but that is another topic for another day), so one could see the union that might be seen with Jesu when one was baptized. However, if indeed Romans 3 is centered around Jesus being the objection of our emulation in order to become like God in His righteous nature, then I would propose there is sort of a mimetic quality here also. Implicit to Paul’s writing is the tradition of Jesus himself where he was baptized. And so, being baptized and in the name of the Messiah also meant one was essentially walking the path that he himself walked. One was taking the first step that Jesus did. So the union here is not necessarily some union purely within the spiritual reality. I would contend that meaning of being “baptized into the Messiah Jesus” is not “one is joined spiritually with the Messiah Jesus” so much as “one is moving the direction of one’s life into what Jesus did.” It is accepting Jesus’ direction as our own.

So a proper interpretation then follows that “baptism into His death” then is to take upon Jesus’ life as reality for ourself. In other words, he accepted the reality of death and so those who are “baptized into him” also accept that reality. There is perhaps a further echo of tradition in Jesus’ response to James and John’s request to sit next to Jesus in His glory. He responds by asking if they can be baptized with the baptism he is going to face, that is of death, and then goes on to tell them that they will indeed face it after they affirmatively they can. Not to mention the echos of other Jesus traditions such as “one must bear his cross and follow me.” So at the center of Paul’s thinking here is that one is follow the path that Jesus followed. Verses 10-11 affirm this as Paul speaks of Jesus dying to sin, but living for God and thus they should do the same.

But this is not the thrust of Paul’s argument. Merely committing oneself to follow in Jesus’ footsteps to death is not a sufficient solution. After all, it is the problem of death itself that brings about sin. Committing to face death would then cause more problems rather than less. We see that in Peter as he commits to die with Jesus but yet when the time comes, he denies Jesus three times. There needs to be a further hope, and that is where Paul takes it.

If one follows Jesus’ life, and so one follows Jesus to death, and if Jesus was resurrected, then the hope would be that one would also have the same type of resurrection that Jesus did. That is what Paul says in verses 4-5. The answer seems to be implied then. If the death brought about by Adam is the cause of sin throughout the whole world, then the rising from death brought about in Jesus is the cause of righteousness coming to the world.

So it is in verse 6 that Paul writes the participle phrase literally translated as “knowing this.” The present participle there can take be the participle of means and would be translated “By knowing this.” If that is true, then Paul is saying that it is in knowing we will follow Jesus in his resurrection that we are no longer slaves of sin. If one commits oneself to go even to death to do what is right and one trusts in the resurrection, one wouldn’t follow the example of Peter when the time came but instead actually follow Jesus’ righteous example. 1 Peter 4:1 exhibits similar thinking, and if it is indeed from the hand of Peter (or at least his mouth to a transcriber), perhaps this is first hand experience. And Romans 6:7 teaches the same principle as 1 Peter 4:1 does. And the meaning of verse 7 is not some sort of metaphorical or spiritual death to sin, but rather one who has committed oneself to death is as good as dead and a dead person does not sin, so nor does one who no longer fears death.

So, Paul establishes the hope of grace reigning through righteousness based upon the resurrection of Jesus. The method then of freedom is not in some spiritual sense, but rather in the psychological sense. In faith in the power of God to raise us just as we believed God raised Jesus, we ourselves can be set free from our concerns about death, and so be set free from the sin it causes. We can let go of our own concerns and life because we trust that God will take our life into His hands and restore it by His glory.

September 25, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The Temple, God’s glory and righteousness, and Romans 3:21-26

Two posts in a day and back to Romans we go 🙂

One of the things that would have lead to the feeling of exile to Israelites, at least as Wright proposes, is the fact that the Temple did not display God’s splendor and glory that was spoken of in the first Temple. God was not with His people then. The presence of the cloud above the ark was not there, God was not leading them or protecting them (hence, pagan Roman occupation) as He did the Jews of Egyptian exile by the cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

This works, I think, in the background of what Paul in Romans 3:21-26. In verse 25, the Greek word hilasterion can be translated either as “propitiation” (as many translations do) or as the “mercy seat.” The mercy seat was the place above the ark where atonement was made. But particulary interesting also is that above the mercy seat, God was present in a cloud of smoke. So Paul may well have intended two different meanings in referring to Jesus as the hilasterion/mercy seat: the place where atonement is made for the sins of Israel and the place where God is present.

Look back to 23, where it is said “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” If we take this to refering not to some notion of “heaven” and a final “glorification” (although I would say that glorification in Romans has little to do with “heaven”), we can perhaps see this as a description of both the Gentile’s lack of God’s presence and the present Jewish state of exile, as exemplified in the Temple being empty of God’s glory/presence. Because of the rampant sin of both Gentiles and Jews (who were shown not to be immune to that because of the previous examples of Jewish sin as quoted from the Old Testament in 10-18), God was nowhere to be found in the world.

So the implication by calling Jesus the mercy seat is that he is in fact saying that God’s glory as returned to the world, and by implication the Israeli “exile” has ended. But the meaning cuts deeper than that and serves as the basis for Paul’s claim that the works of the Torah is not sufficient for justification. If Jesus is the place of God’s presence and not the Temple, then the Torah, which became centered around the Temple, is no longer sufficent to follow God since He has shown He is no longer present in the Temple. In fact, obedience is now to be centered around Jesus, not Torah. Furthermore, by identifying Jesus as the mercy seat, the Temple is shown to be empty since the mercy seat contained in it is not the “real” one.

However, Paul’s thinking is even deeper than that. There is another strain of thinking that the Torah endorses and that Jesus preaches, the emulation of God. “You shall be holy, as I am holy” and “Be complete as your heavenly Father is complete.” So if God was present in Jesus, then God’s holiness and God’s completeness are present in Jesus. Or, as Paul writes in 21, God’s righteousness is revealed. Therefore, Paul is pressing the notion of Jesus as a mercy seat where God’s glory is present in order to show that Jesus is indeed the very example people must follow in order to become like God, the very revelation of God’s own righteous nature.

If one looks to Isaiah 51:4-5, the expecation was for God’s law (torah) to come forth from God, for God’s righteousness to soon come. God’s justice will serve as a “light of the peoples.” Now obviously, the Torah had already been given, so the expectation in Isaiah would not have been merely a rehashing of the Torah, but some form of a new law (though not necessarily to the exclusion or rejection of the Torah). So Jesus serves as the fulfillment of this expectation.

If Jesus is the very example of God’s righteousness in human form, then it follows that the actual revealing of God’s righteousness comes not from the believe of another person in Jesus, but something contained within Jesus, his faith/trust in God. The genitive then is taken as a subjective genitive (“the faith of Christ” not “faith in Christ”). So, the pathway to emulating God’s righteousness was in the faith that Jesus himself contained. The emulation of faith is made explicit elsewhere in Romans 4:12 and the example of Abraham. Incidentally, Isaiah 51:1-2 tells those pursuing righteousness to look back to the example of Abraham. So if Romans 4:12 is in part derived from Isaiah 51:1-2 and Romans 3:21-26 has Isaiah 51:4-5 in the background, then it is not a huge leap to make Jesus’ own faith as the direction one must pursue to obtain righteousness.

But how could this righteousness be potentially followed by others? The redemption in Jesus spoken of in verse 24. The mercy seat of Jesus, which replaces the mercy seat of the Torah, makes it possible that God could still be righteous and yet declare righteous the one who has the trust of Jesus (verse 26). Having a mere example to follow after is one thing, but as Paul talks about in Romans 5 and 7, death has a stranglehold that causes sin to expand, even when the Torah that had some righteous commands, was given. So then, through death and resurrection, Jesus provides freedom from that (Romans 6) and so provides redemption.

Justification, resurrection, redemption, atonement, and even faith all then neatly fit in together. Redemption was the language of coming out slavery, associated with exile. Exile would be had for those who were vindicated (or justified by) by God, which goes hand in hand with the notion of resurrection in Daniel 12. Atonement was the means by which the forgiveness of sins would be obtained, which would stand for the release of exile because sin was the cause of exile. And then faith/trust was in part (not to reduce faith down to a mere set lists of ideas or to intellectual beliefs) based upon the notion of resurrection (Romans 10:9).

One final note that I could not include in the post so far. Paul writes that God displayed Jesus as a mercy seat, by His own forbearance in overlooking the sins of the people. This hearkens back to the fact that the mercy seat and the holy of holiness and the ark were not to be approached without the proper atonement and absolution of guilt. But in Jesus, God overlooks the sin (he does not put them to death for being in Jesus’, the mercy seat, presence) and allows the people to see Jesus as a demonstration of His righteous nature.

Of course, I have to give credit to Wright for giving me the framework in which to be able to interpret Romans in this way.

August 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Romans 8:1-17 and the Spirit of Christ

Many commentators have noted that in Romans 8:9, there is sort of a Trinitarian formula in that a) the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all mentioned and b) that there seems to be an implicit unity because the the Spirit (Spirit of God at verse 11 indicates) and the Spirit of the Christ are synonymous.

I would call into question the second premise as being the meaning of Paul here. If the “Spirit of Christ/the Messiah” is simply another name for the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of God, then we have here a rather stale, redundant, pointlessly convoluted logical argument by Paul. But if we see it as the Messiah’s own spirit (in other words, the Messiah’s own presence) then Paul’s argumentation is essentially the illustration of 8:1-2.

In 8:1-2, in Jesus the Messiah there is no condemnation because in the Messiah, once again, the Spirit of life’s guiding (law) overcomes the guiding of sin and overcomes death. I think crucial to Paul’s thinking is that the Spirit itself only does this in conjunction with our presence in the Messiah (Romans 6:1-4 and 7:4 probably serves as the background for the union between believer and Jesus). In the Old Testament, the Spirit was given to many people, and yet we never get the impression of the victory obtained under Jesus was ever obtained prior to.

We find in verse 3 that the source of victory was not in the Spirit of God, but the Son who came in form of the body and as a offering for sin, and thus condemning (compare to 8:1; figurative for putting to death) sin in His body. The result is that people who acknowledge the Torah is good but couldn’t obey it (refer back to chapter 7), could now do so, and then by the guidance of the Spirit. To speak metaphorically, the Son tills the ground in which the Spirit can then be planted.

At which point, Paul then goes on to contrast the flesh (which should refer to morality and per se some sinful nature) and the Spirit (which as we see in verse 2 is spoken of as immortality) and how the former can not obey God’s Torah (refer back to 7:5).

This sets up for Romans 8:9-11, in which there are four premises provided.

1) You are in the Spirit in the Spirit is in you

2) You are not the Messiah’s if the Spirit of the Messiah is not in you

3) If the Messiah is in you, the Spirit (not our spirit) is life due to righteousness even though the body is dead because of sin

4) If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus is in you, we to will be raised

Each premise builds up on the previous one made, and this is vindicated by the use of de (“moreover”, “now”) before each statement. So in verse 9, Paul is stating that one may have the Spirit, but that is not sufficient. One must also have the Messiah’s spirit with them to belong to Him (genitive, literally “of him”). It is important that we see the genitive as referring not per se to ownership, but as a partitive genitive (“part of”).

Paul’s second proposition is essentially tautological, used to prove a point by its self-evident validity. One may have the Spirit, but if one doesn’t have the Messiah’s spirit present within them, they are not a part of (or “in”) the Messiah. If we take “the Spirit of the Messiah” to be synonymous with the Holy Spirit, then it loses its tautological meaning and it becomes just some abstract dogmatic statement. Or one might suggest a plenary meaning in which “the Spirit of the Messiah” refers both to the Holy Spirit and the Messiah by nature of their trinitarian unity, but this too subtle to be effective communication and ignores the language of the first 4 verses in which the Spirit and the Son are, for purposes of this discussion, seen as distinct.

Then we move forward to the third proposition. First off, this serves as further proof that the “the Spirit of the Messiah” should be taken to prefer to the presence of the Messiah, as Paul then condenses it to just the title, as if “the spirit of the Messiah” and “the Messiah” are synonymous. The conclusion to be drawn is that the Spirit “is life” or rather a source of life because of righteousness. In other words, because the Messiah is a part of the believer and he has condemned/put to death sin by his body, this leads to the righteous obedience within the person (cf. 2 Corintihans 5:21). So in the third premise the Spirit, serves the hope for life, in spite of death that the body faces, because the Messiah has changed the person so as to make the Spirit’s leading productive.

This leads to the fourth premise, which is essentially the conclusion to the anticipated state in the third conclusion in which there is a death to be faced, but the Spirit may be seen as a source of life. The fouth premise essentially explains how the Spirit becomes a source of life, in that he will raise us up from the dead just exactly as God did through Christ (also through the “Spirit of holiness”; Romans 1:4).

It becomes important that the fourth premise is built up on the third and is not an independent propositional phrase. In other words, one can not interpret the mere presence of the Spirit as the foundation for life, but only when the Spirit is joined with the presence of the Messiah.

And all this leads up to the conclusion drawn in 12-13. That one must strive to follow the Spirit so as to live. This exhortation makes no sense if merely the presence of the Holy Spirit was equivalent to being lead by the Holy Spirit and was as such sufficient for hope of life. It then serves as another reason why “the Spirit of the Messiah” can not simply be another name for the Holy Spirit, but the very distinct presence of the Son. It is only in Him that the Spirit can then guide us and then give us life, and so it is only in that case that the Spirit can testify that we are children (literally “sons”) of God just like the Son, Jesus the Messiah.

This fits within the overall theme of Romans, in which it is in following the example Jesus and his trust in God (chapter 3), being joined to Jesus (chapter 7), and putting on the Lord Jesus the Messiah (chapter 13) that one can have the hope for vindication (literally “justification”) and the hope of resurrected life by the Spirit (which goes hand and hand with vindication). And all this is summed up by Paul in verse 17, “heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so that we may glorified with him” (cf. 1 Peter 4:1).

August 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment