Recently, I linked to a blog post by Jonathan Brown where he outlines why he thinks Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans. It inspired me to do the same, but in less space. I thought it would be a useful to do an exercise where I condense my answer into two paragraphs or less. This is my answer and I’d like to hear yours as well:
The Jewish-Gentile division in the church of Rome threatened the stability of Paul’s mission to Spain. In order to secure support from the Roman Christians he had to realign their allegiances. He decides to approach the problem by reshaping their self-identities around their Christ-identity. In order to do this he must convince his readers that all–Jew and Gentile–were once part of the old, Adamic humanity but now those who are Christians–Jew and Gentile–are part of the new, Messianic humanity.
This epistle addresses the Adamic problem including Jews and Gentiles. Paul uses this problem to show the glory of the salvation found in those who have followed Abraham’s model of faith which is now encapsulated in those who call Christ “Lord”. This leads to an exhortation to live as people who are part of the new humanity which includes everything from not being a slave to sin to obeying the government that God currently has in power. The goal is to make sure that the readers walk away seeing themselves as this new people in order to relieve the tensions between their old Jewish-Gentile identities.
Is a bit vague, sure? I still think it is a useful exercise. What would you say differently?
Great challenge, Brian. Mine appears manyana.
On your attempt, here, I’d lose the whole Spain bit, for starters. Rome’s problems were more than reason enough for Paul to care about writing to help Rome.
This could be a worthwhile subtraction but I wonder if the Spain bit is meaningful because Paul didn’t found the church in Rome and therefore doesn’t expesd the same “jurisdiction” (for lack of a better word) as he does over churches that are his direct responsibility. He may have felt obligated to write because he knew he was going to need their partnership for his Spanish mission.
ummmmmmmmm. the joke is on all of us. Paul did not write Romans. His secretary did. Booya! ha! Romans 16:22.
Ha! Ok, then why did he dictate Romans?!
I don’t see any reason why Spain *should* have leveraged Paul’s motive for writing to Rome, but by all means speculate as you like. 😉
Yep, that’s a really good try at “200 words or less”! The only thing that makes me slightly uneasy about focusing on Rom 1-8 is that 9-11 seems to drop off the end somewhere a bit. I’m also with you on incorporating something about Spain and Paul’s missional aganda as it’s explicitly stated in the letter. Good stuff 🙂
Funny place to ask, but, do you know any good books on love, the love of God, God as love etc.? I’ve a book token I must use within the next few hours (I forgot about it) and I’d like something to help me explore either human or God’s love a bit more systematically. Thanks!
Bill: What would biblical studies be without speculation! 🙂
Jonathan: I think 9-11 is under the Jew-Gentile “division” category of the letter. Actually, I’d agree that it is the climax of the epistle. As regards books on the love of God I cannot think of anything. Sorry! 😦
Bill Heroman wrote his out here: http://www.billheroman.com/2010/08/why-did-paul-write-romans.html
Brian, I am fascinated by this exercise.
I agree with your friend Bill that Spain should probably be subtracted from the equation because I fail to see – no doubt my own shortcoming – a strong enough connection between what was going on in Rome and how that effect the stability of his mission to Spain.
My own thinking on the subject has a lot to do with the early Christians eschatological belief that when the Gospel reached the ends of the earth then Christ would consummate all things. Rome was essentially the hub of the Mediterranean world (indeed, the civilized world or Roman world) and so Paul felt it the most strategic place to set up base. Thus the urgent need to set that church (of all churches!) doctrinally on the straight and narrow.
I realize I can’t go too far with this because Paul is also writing the very specific issues in mind, centrally, How can God be Righteous if not all Israel are being saved?
So I don’t really know… but that’s where I’d begin I suppose (then again, maybe if I re-wrote that sentence it would come out completely different 🙂 )
That is an interesting take on his mission to Spain. It is very Lukan! Do you know of any literature that addresses this as a possible motivation for Paul?
Derek, from a jewish (or even a limited knowledge of places much beyond the perimeters of the larger Mediteranian world) perspective, wasn’t Rome considered the ends of the earth in some sense?
I should add that if Acts 1.8 is a sort of “outline” for that book the ending in chapter 28 with Paul in Rome as the “uttermost parts” would align with your question for Derek.
Our weekly Bible Study group at Paarl Methodist (South Africa) has just completed a study of Romans by the Yale Divinity School. Absolutely fascinating – especially the background.
BTW The painting you included isn’t quite accurate unless it was Paul ending off a letter in his own handwriting. He had somebody to write his letters for him.
Did Paul ever reach Spain? A definite answer cannot be given. We do, however, have the following early testimonies:
“Paul, having taught righteousness to the whole world, having gone to the limits of the West, and having given testimony before the rulers, thus was removed from the world and taken up into the Holy Place, having become the outstanding model of endurance” (Clement of Rome, I Corinthians V.vii). The expression “the limits of the West,” most naturally refers to the western part of Europe; and in the present context, probably to Spain. This is especially true when, as in the present case, such a statement is made by someone who is writing from Rome.
Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 12-13: New Testament commentary : Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. New Testament Commentary (492). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Brian, I’m curious if you’ve ever encountered the work of Mark Nanos on Romans 13.1-7? His book, The Mystery of Romans, is really fascinating. I agree very much with your assessment of “Why Paul wrote (or dictated) Romans,” except for the bit about “obeying the government that God currently has in power.” I think Nanos’ explanation, which is that in Romans 13.1-7 Paul is concerned with the Gentile Christians acceptance of the authority of the Jewish leaders in the Synagogues, fits in very nicely with the reasons you outlined above for Paul’s writing of the letter.
I have not interacted with Nanos’ work, but thank you for highlighting that. It has peaked my interest!
Why not simply read the works of St. John Chrysostom and other Church Father writings on this subject?
Any particular works from the Fathers that you’d recommend?
come on guys! the discussion is just cool.
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