Paul to the Romans (continued)
In Romans we find Paul’s only extended theoretical treatment of sin,
setting out the universal need of salvation, for both gentiles and Jews.
Romans is also important for his analysis of the subjective aspect of sin;
thus sin is not only alienation from God, but conflict and division within.
In chapter 7 he explores the paradoxical self-destructiveness of
“self-help” remedies for sin; human willing does not prevail because the
will is powerless under the control of sin.
Romans 1:28-29 28And
since [the gentiles] did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to
a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29They were
filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness,
malice. . . .
Romans 2:17-24 17But if you call yourself a
Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God
. . . , 21you, then, that teach others, will you not
teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?
. . .
Romans 3:23 . . . [In summary,] all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God . . . .
Romans 7:15-20 15I do not understand my own
actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I
hate. . . . 18I can will what is right, but I
cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I
do not want is what I do. . . .
Romans 1:18 - 3:20, and 5:12 - 7:25.
In Romans, Paul employs an array of metaphors to express the
inexpressible, the mystery of what God does for us in Christ. Justification by faith,
earlier making its appearance in Galatians and Philippians (and mentioned
in 1 Corinthians 6:11), is given classic statement in Romans 3:21-26,
where it exhibits clearly the features to which we have earlier called attention.
Getting right with God:
|Excludes works of the law (3:21);|
|Depends on faith (3:22);|
|Is bestowed freely as a gift (3:24); and|
|Flows from the redemptive act of the cross
Later parts of Romans make clear:
|That faith involves a participation with Christ in
his death and resurrection (6:1-11); and|
|That justification bears fruit in virtue
(6:12-15; 12:1 - 15:13).|
Galatians 2:15-21; Philippians 3:9-11.
Justification by Faith is important in itself, but one suspects that
it appears in Romans, at least in part, because of a potential threat of
rigorist influence in Rome—whether directly connected with
the work of the rigorists in Antioch and Galatia or not.
|Two other metaphors for getting right with God appear in Romans
3:21-26: (a) redemption (3:24), a metaphor from the slave market,
where a benevolent person purchases a slave and then awards the slave his
or her freedom outright; and (b) expiation, or means of
atonement (3:25), language from sacrifice in the Temple. Surely no reader would miss the vicarious meaning of
Christ’s death here.
Compare 1 Corinthians 1:30; and 6:20 (“For you were bought with a
price . . . .”)
|Metaphors reminiscent of new or restored relationships with other
persons include adoption into the family of God; and the reconciliation
of those who have been estranged. In a stunning extension of the adoption
metaphor, Paul has the whole created world participating with God’s
children in their liberation from futility and decay (Romans 8:19-23). Even the
term salvation is rooted in metaphor, suggesting notions of rescue from peril or
restoration to health.
Romans 8:14-18, 23. Romans 5:10-11.
Romans 1:16; 10:1, 10; 11:11; 13:11; compare 8:24.
. . . 24They are now justified by his grace as a
gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom
God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective
through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his
divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it
was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he
justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
Romans 5:1, 10 1Therefore, since we are
justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ
. . . . 10For if while we were enemies, we were
reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having
been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.
Romans 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery
to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of
adoption. . . .
Romans 8:19-23 19For the creation waits with
eager longing for the revealing of the children of God
. . . . 21The creation itself will be set free
from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the
children of God.
Compare 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.
Compare Galatians 4:5.
Theologizing about Christ
Concerning the exalted status of
Jesus Christ, Paul breaks no new ground in Romans, but presupposes and puts to use the Christology worked out
in his earlier letters:
1 Corinthians 8:4-6 6. . .
One God, the Father, . . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through
whom are all things . . . .
Galatians 4:4 . . . God sent
forth his Son . . . .
Philippians 2:5-11 6. . .
Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God as
something to be exploited . . . .
2 Corinthians 5:19 . . . In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself
. . . .
2 Corinthians 8:9 Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he
became poor . . . .
As he had done earlier in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, Paul here in
Romans links his theologizing about Christ with his atonement theory. Note
especially Romans 5:8, where the death of Christ shows not only the love
of Christ but also the love of God (compare Romans 8:39). It may be that
in Romans the focus is on what Christ had done for the believer,
i.e. salvation, rather than the conceptualization of who has done
it. At the same time, we ought not to overlook Paul’s almost ecstatic
utterance in Romans 9:5, “ . . . Christ, who is God over
all, blessed for ever” [RSV, alternate translation].
Romans 5:6-8 6For
while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the
ungodly. . . . 8But God proves his love for us
in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Romans 8:3 [God sent] his own Son in the likeness of
sinful flesh . . . .
Romans 8:32 [God] did not withhold his own Son, but
gave him up for all of us . . . .
Romans 8:39 [Nothing] will be able to separate us from
the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Also of some interest is the Christology of Romans 1:3-4, possibly a
fragment of an early Christian creed. We might
anachronistically call it “adoptionist” since it could be read to
imply that Christ was not always the Son of God, but was designated Son
of God in power at the time of the resurrection.
Romans 1:3-4 3 . . . [God’s
Son] was descended from David according to the flesh 4and
was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of
holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . .
The Holy Spirit
While the presence and work of the Holy Spirit are by no means
neglected in Paul’s earlier letters, we do have in Romans 8:1-27 a
sustained discussion of the Holy Spirit, unlike what we have anywhere else
in the letters. The apostle makes it clear that the Holy Spirit gives us
access to the spiritual treasures of renewal (Romans 8:10-11). The
possible an intimate relationship to God such as children have with their
father (Romans 8:14-17), and even assists us in our praying (8:26-27).
1 Corinthians 12 and 14; Galatians 3:2-5; 4:6, 29; 5:5, 16-25; 6:8; Philippians 1:19;
2; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 3:3-6, 17-18.
. . . He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to
your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Romans 8:15-16 15. . . When we cry,
“Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness
with our spirit that we are children of God . . . .
Romans 8:26-27 26Likewise the Spirit helps
us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that
very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And
God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because
the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Paul exercises considerable freedom in the way he uses, almost interchangeably,
the terms Spirit, Spirit of God, and Spirit of Christ. He uses variously (in
8:9-11) such phrases as
|“Since the Spirit of God dwells in you,”
|“Anyone who does not have the Spirit of
Christ does not belong to him,” or|
|“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from
the dead dwells in you,” or|
|“Through his Spirit that dwells in you.”|
Elsewhere, Holy Spirit, e.g. Romans 14:17; 15:13.
While the fourth century doctrine of the Trinity does not solve many
theological problems, it does make this interchangeability somewhat more
Israel, Past and Future
It was an embarrassment to the early Christians that they had not
succeeded in persuading the Jewish community to become followers of Jesus.
In Romans 9 - 11, Paul takes his turn at bat. If he does not
quite strike out, he does ground out weakly to the pitcher. He makes three
mostly unsuccessful attempts in as many chapters to explain Israel’s
resistance: Did God predestine Israel to be unresponsive? or was there a
failure of the missionary proclamation? or did God plan it this way to
allow for the entrance of the gentiles?
Chapter 10 shows Paul’s missionary intuitions to good advantage, but
even here he never quite closes the gap between Divine providence on the
one hand and the empirical reality of historic Judaism on the other. The
• The proclamation that the crucified Jesus was the Messiah of Israel did not
quite match the prevailing national aspirations of the Jews;
| • If it was a choice between Torah as the
fundamental postulate, or the crucified Jesus as the fundamental postulate, Jews would
choose Torah; and
| • On the Christian side, the gentile mission if
it was to succeed could not carry (what it regarded as) the excess baggage
of Torah obligations, so that practically speaking Christ was the end
of the law, as Paul was obliged to concede.
Not many seriously observant Jews in that day or this would
respond positively to Paul’s claim that Christ was the end of the
law (Romans 10:4).
To be sure, end [Greek, telos] may mean either the
termination of the law or its goal; but most Jews, looking at the
non-observant gentile mission, would conclude that the law was no longer
binding for Christians, and thus, terminated.
Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law so
that there may be righteousness [or, justification] for everyone who
Despite what might appear to be anti-Jewish sentiments in these
chapters, Paul speaks with affection and admiration for his Jewish
. . . 3I could wish that I myself were accursed
and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred
according to the flesh.
Romans 9:21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to
make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for
Romans 10:12-13 12For there is no
distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is
generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Romans 11:12 Now if [the Jews’] stumbling means
riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how
much more will their full inclusion mean!
Paul offers advice on moral questions in an extensive section of the
letter, Romans 12:1 to 15:14. As in Galatians, love/agapê is the
controlling moral principle, especially Romans 12:14–21, which is
sometimes called “the little Sermon on the Mount” in Paul.
14:1–15:6 is devoted mostly to the situation of the person who is weak
in faith and whose scruples should not be offended.
We also find an extensive catalog of vices in Romans 1:26-32.
Compare 1 Corinthians 8.
The section on the believer and the state is of interest because
it illustrates the danger in taking contingent moral injunctions as moral
absolutes. The requirement of submission to the ruling authorities (in
this case, to Rome) as instituted by God may have been a sincere moral
conviction of Paul. In any case, such a statement would not have done any
harm to his cause with his Roman readers, and it might have given him some
protection against accusations of propagating an illegal religion, at
whatever time he might hope to arrive in Rome. The claim of the emperor’s divine
institution becomes less plausible if we reflect that the emperor who was
beginning his reign at about the time Romans was written would have been
none other than the corrupt and dissolute Nero! And we do not need to be
reminded that it was Romans 13:1 which provided justification
for the official German church to cooperate with Hitler’s despotism in
the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Nero came to power as the result of a plot to poison Claudius, his
predecessor, and, ironically, was the one who unleashed an atrociously cruel
persecution of Christians in Rome, in the course of which Paul may well have
met his death.
In sum, we may still benefit from heeding Paul’s admonitions about
love/agapê, surely a moral absolute if there ever was one; but we
may also benefit by distinguishing between this moral absolute and
contingent moral injunctions.
Romans 12:14, 17 14Bless
those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. . . .
17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what
is noble in the sight of all.
Romans 13:1 Let every person be subject to the
governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and
those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.
Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one
another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
As Paul brings Romans to a close, he reiterates his intention to make a
visit to Rome, but explains that his obligation to complete the collection
requires him first to make a . . .
Third Jerusalem Visit
With the completion of the collection and its delivery to Jerusalem,
Paul will be free to visit the Christians in Rome, in the hope that
they will speed him on his journey to Spain.
Romans 15:23-28 23But
now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have
for many years, to come to you 24when I go to Spain. For I do
hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have
enjoyed your company for a little while. 25At present, however,
I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the
saints . . . . 28So, when I have completed
this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out
by way of you to Spain . . . .
But then, the scent goes cold: the story, AS PAUL TELLS
IT . . . , ends.
Romans 15:22-32; compare 1:10-15.
What the Letters Do not Tell Us
Adhering as rigorously as possible to the letters alone as the sources for
reconstructing what Paul did and said, we regrettably reach the end of the
line. It was a good ride, and we say farewell. From this point, we have no
answers; only questions.
|Did Paul finally reach Jerusalem, to deliver the collection which he
had gathered from the churches?|
|If he did reach Jerusalem, how was the collection received by the
|Did Paul reach Rome?|
|Did Paul reach Spain?|
The letters do not say.
Clement of Rome, writing in the last decade of the first century, declared
that Paul had reached the limits of the west, i.e., Spain, and with Peter
had borne witness by his death, presumably in Rome (see 1 Clement 5). We do not know whether
Clement is an independent authority for travel to Spain, or whether his
reference to Paul’s “reaching the limits of the west” is an
inference from Romans 15:24, 28.
As earlier noted, we date Philippians and Philemon to an Ephesian rather
than a Roman imprisonment.
Where We’ve Been,
... What We’ve Done
The reader will probably have noted already from the abundance of
material included in the present studies that we are by no means
impoverished by restricting ourselves to evidence from the letters. The
accompanying chart illustrates this point.
Click cumulative Sequence Chart 4.
|Further, the reader, we hope, is fully aware of the provisional character
of the present reconstruction. There is hardly a point at which the data
are interpreted and put into sequential order where alternatives are not
possible and plausible. For example, it is difficult to imagine that students of Paul
will soon reach consensus on the date of Galatians or the identification
of the H-Letter in 2 Corinthians (chapters 10–13).
The conclusions here offered have been reached on the basis of the
interpretation of particular passages as well as consideration of the larger
picture. Because of the
provisional character of this reconstruction, and by the nature of the web medium,
the view of Paul proposed here is an
invitation for suggestions from readers toward refinement and improvement.
Click on Discussion Forum.
February 11, 2003
button below to continue, Closing Months (5).