Lecture 6: Romans
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I. Key Places as Background for Romans
Paul’s letter to the Romans, the next in chronological order in our survey of his epistles, is perhaps the most famous and undoubtedly the most influential in the history of Christianity of all his writings. When we introduced a little bit about the influence of Paul down through the centuries in our introductory lecture to his life and letters, we noted how thinkers such as Augustin and Luther, Calvin and Bart to which could be added Westley and many others, were profoundly transformed, perhaps more so by Paul than by any other biblical author and in each case, it was the Epistle to the Romans that had a disproportionate large influence in their thinking and spiritual transformation. In a large part, this is due to the fact that Romans reads like the most systematic exposition of Paul’s Gospel. It is the largest of Paul’s letter’s, it is the one that puts forward the most detail and in logical order the main tenants of Paul’s understanding of the Christian faith, the nature of God, his creation of humanity, human plight and the solution to the plight in Jesus Christ with the life long journey of discipleship combining in one day in the body and ultimate glorification.
We may be reminded that Paul had not yet visited Rome. This is in chronological order, the first church to which he writes that he had not personally founded. He will eventually get to Rome and he expresses his desire in the opening and closing of this letter to come to visit the church in the capital, the largest most influential city in the Empire of that day. However, he will get there in a way that wasn’t expected, as a prisoner. This letter was most likely written from Corinth or very close to the turning home point of Paul’s third missionary journey. Because of the names that appear in Romans chapter 16, Phoebe in the church of Cenchreae, a coastal town very near Corinth. Because of Erastus, the director of public works in verse 24 whom we discussed earlier in conjunction with 1st Corinthians. Paul discloses that he was getting ready to set sail for Jerusalem after returning to revisit several of the cities previously visited on this missionary journey.
The archaeology of Rome and nearby areas reveals many exciting ruins of the city that once was. On the very road that once formed the Appian Way, the major highway into Rome from the south, we see some of the very large grave stones of the wealthy, erected in the Roman period. There are still elaborate mile markers along this Appian Way. Paul would not have seen the coliseum, for it was built a decade or so after he had died; it is perhaps Rome’s most famous architectural monument and forms an object lesson of the power of Rome, the magnificence and grandeur of it exploits, particularly from a worldly point of view. The ruins of the coliseum reveal the basement level area in which both animals and humans were kept before being released to fight one another on the stadium floor above. It reminds us that at least by the mid-60s and the prosecution instigated by Nero, Rome was no friend to Christianity and even a decade earlier when Paul wrote to the Romans, many of his statements must be read as implicitly countering the grandiose claims of the Roman emperor. When Paul says that Jesus is Lord, this meant that Caesar was not, etc.
Also from slightly after Paul’s life time, an arch was erected to celebrate and immortalize Titus’ victory over the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel in AD 70 and on one of the inside panels of the archway, one can see craved in relief into the stone, a very detailed picture of Jewish soldiers being led as prisoners of war, chained to each other, still carrying the seven branch candelabra and also copies of their Torah scrolls so precious to them. The Roman forum, the Latin word for market place, just as the Greeks had their agora, still discloses ruins of countless buildings in a comparative small and condensed area, reminiscent of the closely built quarters of ancient urban centers. There are still ruins of the Roman senate in the time of the republic which came to an end with the transition of power from Julius Caesar to Octavian, who took the name of Augustus Caesar, already several decades for the Christian era and before what we now count as AD. In the days of the Republic, there was a very genuine democratic law making debate holding function for the elected delegates, but in the Empire from Octavian onward, more and more the senate became a figurehead or rubberstamp, gathering simply to do the emperor’s bidding. There are still ruins of the temple to Caster and Prolix, seafaring gods and coincidental a name for the ship that brought Paul to Rome. There is also the ancient ruin of the temple to the god, Saturn. This reminds us of the Roman pantheon of gods for every walk of life. An ancient Roman race track existed on the palatine hill where the emperors had their summer palaces. There is a traditional site of Paul’s Roman imprisonment, not when he was under house arrest at the end of the Book of Acts but when he finally lost his life under Nero, sometime between the years AD 64 – 68. There are also ruins of the dungeons of those times of persecution.
So Paul wrote to a church he did not found and a people he did not know and to a situation that doesn’t disclose any major influence of false teachings as in Galatians or 2nd Corinthians or any reports of major scandals or wide spread immaturity as in 1st Corinthians or a particularly pronounced concern in a discrete theological area such as eschatology with Thessalonian Epistles. So Paul developed what is called the most systematic exposition of his Gospel and that he uses as in any of his letters the classic Hellenistic writing form, yet his words occupy a much longer portion of a scroll than the conventional Hellenistic letter. Again to remind ourselves the key background written from Corinth in route to Jerusalem in hopes of then coming to Rome and continuing onto Spain.
Before one is convinced that this is an utterly timeless and purely abstract rendering of the Gospel, however, we must recall a few key historical events preceding Paul penning of this Epistle in AD 56 or 57. Prior to Nero’s reign beginning in AD 54, the emperor on the throne was Claudius and in AD 49, we learned from the Roman historian of the 2nd century, Suetonius, that Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome because of a riot instigated by someone known as Chrestus, only one letter different in Latin from the word for Christ and thus leading many scholars to assume that Suetonius gives a somewhat garbled reference to Jewish people being expelled or perhaps only Jewish Christians, but nevertheless a significant body of people were expelled because of hostiles between Christians and non-Christians Jews.
In ancient empires like Rome, all legal edicts expired when the term of an emperor expired until his successor renewed them which Nero did not. So after Claudius’ death in AD 54, Nero allowed Jews to return. Upon the return of Christian Jewish leaders, they may have wanted whatever positions they left behind, back again. This sudden influx of visitors, in any case, returning members of a quite different ethnic group, one which is often in tension with another does not normally make for smooth transitions. The whole emphasizes that permeate so many sections of Rome, therefore the unity of the Jews and gentiles in Christ, while timelessly true does become particularly appropriate for the setting of Paul penning this letter. And so we find, as already mentioned, a very pure illustration of the Hellenistic letter writing genre, an introduction and thanksgiving, followed by a very lengthy body with the larger portion from chapter 1:16 to the end of chapter 11, being a very orderly and structured articulation of Paul’s understanding of the theory of the Gospel, followed in 12:1 – 15:13 by his exhortation material or ethical out working of that Gospel within another disproportionate long section by conventional standards of a conclusion, combining more information and repetition of information given earlier on, tucked into his thanksgiving prayer of his personal travel plans and concluding with a whole chapter of greetings with by far the largest number of people greeted of any church he ever addresses. This surprisingly at first glance and to date, one of only three churches he will write which he did not personally found. As a result, in more liberal circles and in a slightly older era of modern scholarship and because there are some uncertainties in the manuscript in a few instances about just where the letter to the Romans ended, the suggestion had become popular at one time to imagine Roman 16 as not originally part of what Paul wrote to Rome and perhaps as well, the misplaced ending of some other letter, the most commonly suggestion was the Ephesians since the letter to the Ephesians where Paul did spend the most time at, lacks personal greetings of the like one would expect.
But today, the tide has turned and the majority of scholars recognize that Romans 16 by textual manuscript’s standards is most likely to have formed part of the original autographs and an integral part of what Paul conceived of in his writings from the outset. How then could he greet so many in a church he had not previously met? Well, we have a clue from the first person greeted in 16:3 with Priscilla and Aquila who were precisely among some of the Roman and Christian Jews evicted from Rome during the time of the final five years of Claudius’ reign. From the information we learn scattered about the Book of Acts, Paul meets up with these fellow tentmakers elsewhere on more than one occasion even though originally they had come from Rome. This suggests that perhaps many, if not all of those greeted in Romans 16 were people Paul had met outside of Rome who by Ad 56 or 57 were now living in Rome, perhaps many of them were returning exiles or people who simply had personal or business reasons for being away from Rome even though they had lived there all along. And because Paul had not been to Rome before, he wanted to form as many bridges as possible to those who didn’t know him through those who did, in order to gain the most favorable possible audience for his message.
III. Outline (Chapters 1-3)
If we go back to the body of the letter and unpack it in more detail, we see that after the introductory material a thesis sentence can be identified in verses 16 – 17 of chapter 1. Here we read, ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘the righteous will live by faith.’’ The Gospel is being revealed, the good news of Jesus Christ which is the proclamation of Jesus as King against all others including the Roman Emperor, especially. Jervis, in an article on discipleship in the New Testament edited by Richard Longnecker, unpacks the emphasis particular unique to Romans of what it means to be a true follower of this Jesus, a true adherent to this Gospel and speaks of it in terms of ‘God Likeness,’ not in taking on the eternal or ontological attributes of God but growing increasingly in likeness to his moral characteristics. God’s righteousness which refers first of all to his own character as completely holy and just is something that believers by faith trust in Jesus is credited to them as it righteousness was accredited to Abraham because of his faith. Paul returned to this point in Romans 4 just as he had already introduced it in Galatians 3. But God’s righteousness is not merely a legal fiction credited to the undeserving but is also the character of the believers as the Spirit comes to live within them over a life time and they are increasingly conformed and transformed into the likeness of Christ themselves.
This is a theme which we saw in 2nd Corinthians, chapter 4, but as we unpack first negatively in 1:18 – 3:20 and then positively in 3:21 to the end of chapter 5. This appropriation of righteousness which can also be described both in Romans and in Galatians as justification; this is by faith and not by works, certainly not the works of the Torah. A wonderful promise and offer to those who come to Christ, the righteous will live by faith as predicted already in Habakkuk 2:4. But before Paul proceeds to unpack this theme, he speaks of another quite different attribute of God also being revealed in verse 18, God’s wrath, his holy and righteous anger and judgment meted out against sin. Why move backwards in the history of the human race, so to speak, before unpacking his message of salvation? Quite simply, before the message of salvation is meaningful to anyone, they must agree that there is some plight from which they need to be saved or rescued and so with meticulous care from 1:18 – 3:20, Paul demonstrates the universal sinfulness of humanity. He begins with the easier or more obvious part of his case, the sinfulness of gentiles, non-Jews who for the most part never had access to God’s revealed Law at Mt Sinai. Does this mean that they cannot be held accountable for their sins? No, because Paul goes on in 1:19 – 20 what may be known about is plain to them because God has made it plain to them and in verse 20 what he means; from the intricacy and design and function of creation, one should be able to deduce a creator, an argument that Christians have used ever sense. And even in the age of evolution and great scientific arrogance to claim to have known and to be able to know in many circles that no God exists and the universe just burst forth with the so-called big bang. The logic remains compelling as opponents of what has become known as the intelligent design movement. They are pointing irreducibly complex structures in the universe from the earliest moments of its origin. It simply cannot adequately be accounted for by natural selection or the idea of abandon forces of time plus space plus chance as Frances Shafer loved to summarize Darwinian atheistic evolution.
The gentiles are accountable as well because as Paul puts it at the end of chapter 1 in the final verse, there is a moral argument to God’s existence. Anthropologists of the previous generations loves to point out that no single culture around the world had exactly the same set of moral principles as any other. And Paul is not arguing here that all people and all cultures are conscience of all of God’s moral law. He describes in the intervening materials how they suppressed this information and therefore degraded themselves, but what is far more fascinating is the more unintended by product of the past century of anthropological investigation around the world is the simple fact that no culture is avoid of moral consciousness. Where does morality come from in the first place even if no two cultures disagree on what is right or wrong? In the famous words of Mark Twain, ‘man is the only animal that blushes or needs to.’ Only the Judeo Christian claims that God has made humanity of all creation uniquely in his image and thus morally accountable that can explain this distinction. But the theologians have therefore come to call or at times natural revelation which holds the gentiles accountable despite the litany of vices that occupy most verses 21 – 31.
Summed up theologically as idolatry and paradigmatically illustrated in the ethically realm was sexual immorality, interestingly he uses terminology in verse 24. The NIV translates the first expression as sexual impurity which usually refers to heterosexual sin and then goes on in 26 – 28 to describe homosexual sin, neither permitted as acceptable but neither put forward as somehow worse than the other. It would not be surprising if the average Jew listening to the Epistle to the Romans being read, would at this point with a bit of smugness be replying, ‘that’s right!’ That’s a good characterization of the sins of the gentile world. But in chapters 2 – 3:20 explicitly by chapter 2:17 and possibly implicitly already by verse 1; Paul turns to the Jew and refuses to let them off the hook any more than he did the gentile. The Jews, if anything, are that much more accountable when they break the Law because they have had a special revelation of God, the written Law in tablets of stones given to Moses at Mt Sinai, the Hebrew Scriptures. As long as they keep it perfectly, they have no problem, but when they break it, they too have a sin problem. Once partially managed until the time of the promise would come through the regular sacrificial system in the Jerusalem temple but now with the coming of Christ, fulfilled in the person of Jesus and there requiring faith in Jesus and being a disciple to him. That’s the gist of 2:1 – 3:20 which climaxes in 3:9 – 20 with ten separate quotations or allusions to Old Testament text of stress that no one, included Jews, can live a sinless life so all have the identical plight.
IV. Outline (Chapters 4)
In one of the great transitions of Scripture in verse 3:21, returns to the thesis of the revelation of God in the Gospel and begins but now apart from the Law, through which the righteousness of God has been made known. Though this is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets and therefore can be spoken of that to which they have testified. 3:21 – 31 unpacks this thesis, using in particular three key terms which we think of today as technical theological terms but in Paul’s world they were simple well-known metaphors of everyday life. Justification, the metaphor from the law court, the declaration of freedom to leave the courtroom because a penalty had been paid, a sentence had been served after a crime had been committed. Redemption, the metaphor form the slave market, a price paid to redeem, to buy a slaves freedom and last but not least, propitiation, a term that has no simple equivalent in 21st century commonly used English. It refers to a metaphor from the temples of both Jewish and Greco-Roman of the sacrifice offered to appease a god’s wrath. Chapter’s 4 & 5 then unpack the nature of this salvation, this justification, redemption and propitiation. In chapter 4, by returning to the logic Paul had already employed in Galatians 3, that it was by faith in the more amorphous promises of God to the Israelite people beginning with the founder of their nation, Abraham, already in Genesis 12 and with God’s pronouncement in Genesis 15 in that it was Abraham’s faith, his belief was credited to him as righteousness.
Thus now in the age of the fulfillment of those promises to Abraham after the parenthetical period of the Law of Moses, salvation is again by faith. Justification is once more utterly apart from Torah obedience as anything meritorious. But in Romans, more so than in Galatians, the conclusion that Paul emphasizes from all of this is that if it is apart from Torah obedience, then the need to be circumcised, the unique privilege of that nation, the nation of Israel was given the law of circumcision to set it apart along with other laws as the uniquely elect people of God, is no longer needed. The Gospel is for Jew and Gentile alike on exactly equal terms and promised exactly equal blessings.
V. Outline Chapters 4-5)
Many commentators today will take chapter 5 with chapter 6 – 8 where Paul moves from the initiation of a person into the Christian life, the beginning of their justification or their redemption or propitiation. Moving on to the nature of ongoing transformation incumbent upon them, what Paul will call sanctification, a life of holy living, increasingly be conformed to God’s image. Older commentators and a large slot of church history saw, however, chapter 5 as furthering Paul’s unpacking the benefits of justification including not merely legal standing with God as stressed by the justification metaphor, but a right relationship with God, beginning that experience of reconciliation, a term that occurs in 5:1 – 11 which we discussed briefly in considering 2nd Corinthians chapter 5. It is interestingly also that it was in this section that Paul gives the first hint in Romans that the Christian life will involve suffering, as he does in the identical context of his first reference to God’s love being poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit in verse 5. The two go hand in hand and are not antithetical as so many people would assume. It is perhaps right to see chapter 5 as transitional but still having significant impact on our understanding of justification and the beginning of a saved life.
To try to illustrate the nature of this contrast between the old life and the new, Paul turns in the second half of Roman 5 to a contrast between the first Adam, the first human, which is what the word ‘Adam’ means and then Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the second or last Adam, imagery he expands on in 1st Corinthians as well. The Christ who did everything correct where Adam did it wrong; therefore making it possible to begin the reversal of the cruse on the human race and indeed on the cosmos. As one unpacks the similarities and differences that Paul outlines between Adam and Christ in this typological comparison of verses 12 – 21, we see on the one hand that both men were solitary individuals, that is not to deny the existence of Eve or Jesus’ disciples but nearly that it was their actions and the actions of their followers which in fact affected the entire race of humanity for generations to come and in each case, one action, the initial sin of Adam and certainly of Eve as well and the redemption or justification brought by Christ as the crucifixion was the key to defecting and affecting the future of whole human race. But the differences out way the similarities. In the case of the first human couple and in the case of Christ, it was the provision of salvation. In the case of the fall of humanity in the Garden, it was one sin that separated them from God whereas by the time of the coming of Jesus there were many in human history that precipitated the need for a Saviour. And whereas Paul affirms without exception, it was the initial sin that guaranteed that all would be born with the sin nature and would freely choose to act upon that nature in 5:12 and thus definitely be condemned. Christ’s cross work does not automatically save all of humanity rather as we read in 5:17, how much more for those who received God’s abundant provision of grace and the gift of righteous, will reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. How then can Paul in the next verse (18) write consequently as one wrong act resulted in the condemnation for all people, one righteous act resulted in the justification and for life for all and in the answer must be, he means the opportunity for life for all. But as the preceding verse made explicit already, there must be the act of reception on the part of fallen humanity.
VI. Outline (Chapters 6-8)
By chapters 6 – 8, there is no disagreement, Paul has turned from justification to sanctification; there is no disagreement here that Paul has turned to the subject of sanctification and to the topic of Christian growth. F. F. Bruce’s simple outline remains as good as any, that in these chapters, there are three main freedoms, explicated one per chapter: the Christian’s freedom from sin, in chapter 6, freedom from the Law in chapter 7 and freedom from death in chapter 8. Chapter 6 contains two main parts, verses 1 – 10 are dominated by indicative statements about the way believers have died to sin by virtue of being united with Christ. The first four verses describe that union as concurrent with baptism; baptism in the earliest stages of church history always refer to water baptism unless specifically qualified in some other way. Does this mean baptism is a requirement for salvation or in some way automatically insures salvation? Surely not since 1st Corinthians 10:2, Paul can talk about those who were baptized into the ministry of Moses and yet fell and was judged in the wilderness, but no doubt because in the earliest periods of church history, before the development of infant baptism, people were baptized shortly after, their professions of faith were realistic. One can use baptism as a meconomy, a figure of speech where one element of a complex of events closely related to a larger more all-encompassing event stands for – that larger whole. Just as we speak of pledging allegiance to a flag as a metonymy for an entire nation.
Verse11 and following however, imperatives and commands dominate, creating what some have called the indicative, leading to the imperative or the paradoxical slogan, ‘become what you are.’ If we have died with Christ symbolically in baptism then we must demonstrate that by continually putting to death the sinful nature which can so often still painfully enmesh us in Godless living. Not paying careful attention to one or the other of these two parts of chapter 6 can lead some Christians to an inflated estimation of the amount of sanctification that is attainable in this life and thus speak of Christian perfection. Or ultimately to play down the amount of transformation that is possible and indeed desirable and even expected. Put the two parts of the chapter together and we have a powerful but balanced understanding of the progress of holiness which should form part of the normal Christian life. A similar balance is needed in understanding the freedom from the Law which chapter 7 explicates. There was a time when Paul says that he was alive apart from the Law and he appears to be speaking not merely for himself but for all humans, certainly gentiles but even Jews as well. There were those who thought that they were doing just fine under the law as we saw in Galatians 1, but then the Law came in and sin revived because again to recall the logic of Galatians at this time from chapter 3. From that which was already sinful was now declared to people to be against God’s righteous standard. Their unconscious and unwitting sins became transgressions. It was not that the Law itself was sinful but that it allowed for sin personified or at least reified as a kind of power took on a life of its own.
In 7:14 – 25, Paul shifts from speaking in past tense verbs to present tense verbs and yet continues to talk about a tension in a person’s life by which knowing what is good and wanting to do what is good doesn’t actually lead to that. And knowing what is bad and evil, sinful and lawless; nevertheless is not able to prevent a person committing those sinful lawless acts. There has never been consensus agreement in the entire history of the church. As to whether Paul is talking here due to the switch to the present tense about his Christian life or whether he is still talking about his existence as a pre-Christian Jew, perhaps paradigmatic, one way or another of all humanity outside of Christ. The strongest argument in favor of the later approach is precisely the strong language Paul using to speak of the plight of this representative ‘I’ or the ego in Paul that regular finds himself in tension to what he knows to be God’s will in which he delights. Language such as verse 23 of being made a prisoner of the law of sin or of the second half of verse 25 being a slave to God’s law. Could be too strong, many have said, to characterize the Christian for whom 8:1 which is also unambiguously true. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because (verse 2) the law of the Spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. On the other hand, it is arguable that only when one fully understands the complete extend of God’s demands with the Holy Spirit living in a person to full empower them to desire God’s righteous standard and when they yield themselves to that power fully able to enable them to keep God’s law, can the tension as described in 7:14 and following, be as strong as it is. Or to put it more prosaically, once we had no power but to sin, to choose to do that sooner or later to displease God where as of now, we have the power in the spirit for a way out. But with the freedom God has given us, we can still choose our old nature and to sin. Once we had no choice but to sin, but now we have a choice and so Paul’s is demanding us to choose well. But again, requires us to say that a lively and ongoing debate will probably continue until the Lord comes back over the problem of the ‘I’ in verses 14 – 25.
The final chapter in this trio then turns to the theme, freedom from death. Whatever the existential tension in a believer, she can or he can be guaranteed ultimate total victory over spiritual death and thus over sin in a glorified body but experience substantial healing, even in this life and being controlled more so than not by the spirit rather than by the flesh. Verses 1 & 30 frame the body of chapter 8 and 31 – 39 is a ringing conclusion as to the promised victory Christians can count on.
Verse 1 says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And verse 30 speaks of the unbreakable chain link that those who God predestined, in which he also called. Those that he called, he also justified, and he also glorified; these terms will be further explained. The point to be made here, to use mathematical language; the set of all those of whom anyone of these verbs may be predicated is exactly co-terminus with the set or sets of those verbs that can be predicated. If a guarantee for those who begin with the first link in the chain will make it to the last link. But what do the terms mean? Particular what does predestination mean? A divide that has bedeviled Christianity from the outset, and perhaps even exacerbated at the time of the Reformation as also with Calvin in the late 1500s and Arminius in the 1600s who took polar opposite perspectives. For Calvin and his spiritual followers ever since, God’s sovereignty is more powerful and logically more important than human freedom and therefore predestination can be viewed as God’s free sovereign choice from all eternity past over those whom he will effectually call, call not merely in terms of invite but drawing that person to himself to a point he would guaranteed to freely respond with faith in Christ. For Jacob Arminius, John Calvin eliminated free will while he denied that he was doing so and therefore human freedom had to be viewed as logically and chronologically prior. Predestination for Arminius and his spiritual descendants simply referred to fore knowledge, knowledge in advance. Why then does Paul use two different words, two different links in the chain? Because of what he adds in verse 29; not nearly as God fore knew as predestined but he also predestined them to be conformed to the image of his Son. It is that sanctifying work. For the Arminian it sets predestination off in simple fore knowledge. On the other hand, the Calvinists replies with language similar to that fore knowledge at times in the Old Testament which has the stronger sense of prior choice, and therefore, they too can at times agree that it is the sanctifying peace that sets predestination apart from fore knowledge without in any way threatening their system. Who is right? If we were a bit more modest, we would concede that we simply do not have enough data in this text or perhaps the entire descriptor to fall down simply on one side verses the other.
God’s sovereignty and human free choice are recurring themes in the whole of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. John Carson in his book, ‘Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility’, has demonstrated how a dozen or so key passages in both Testaments doesn’t give logical or chronological priority to either in ways which seems oxymoronic or at least paradoxical to the human mind and apparently it leaves the biblical writer without any sense of contradiction. The very first of these, being the most fascinating in Genesis 15:20 where Joseph reunited with their brothers after dealing with their father, Jacob’s death. Now having to deal with their fear that perhaps he may exact fear upon them, says, ‘you meant this for evil but God meant it for good.’ Not that you meant it for evil and God brought some good out of it, nor that God meant it for good all along but allowed you to do a bit of evil at the same time but one and the same time, two completely free agents were accomplishing the same thing through the same events of different objectives. Perhaps, we should coin a term like others have done and call Paul’s perspective ‘Calminian’. Or perhaps we should adopt something from many medieval theologians, particularly in the Roman Catholic tradition, as represented today by leading Arminian and Calvinist thinkers, intriguingly; such as William L Craig and Alvin Plantica respectively. The view known as middle knowledge, that God’s omniscient knowledge is so great so to extend not only to knowing in advance that could happen once he created the world but to knowing that would happen on any conceivable scenario of creating any possible world, but then electing to create one configuration of events that we know of our universe with its current time and space limitations. This may well the best we can do with finite fallen minds to create a system that fully allows for God’s sovereignty and in no way for it to be compromised and yet acknowledges the very real nature of human free choices.
VII. Outline (Chapters 9-11)
Be that as it may, Paul is not finished. He turns in chapters 9 – 11 to what at first glance seems to be largely unrelated to the topic. And thus, much like those who would call 2nd Corinthians 2 – 7 a digression in that letter. There are those who have seen Roman 9 – 11 as digressive. One can easily imagine that with the ringing triumphant ending in chapter 8 that nothing can separate the true believer from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. That Paul would have concluded his theological exposition of the Gospel and ready to turn to the topics in chapter 12 with the ethical out workings of the Gospel. In fact, there is a very logical explanation for the contents of Romans 9 - 11 of this particular context. Any Jew or gentile listening to Paul’s exposition of the Gospel thus could be forgiven for asking him or herself, ‘if this message is truly God’s good news, the combination of the promises of the God of Israel to his covenant people as Paul claimed. Why, already within twenty five years or so from the death of this Jesus, why have so many Jews rejected this message?’ And chapters 9, 10 and 11 roughly speaking, can be seen from one point of view to give three answers to that question. In short, without wanting to have any hint of anti-Semitism or animas, sadly, tragically, in a way that hurt Paul to such a degree that he would wish in 9:3 that he could be dammed if it would save all of his co-religionists. Sadly, the fact that the majority of ethnic Israelites of religious Jews had thus far rejected the Gospel, should not call into question its divine origin because more often than not, even in Israel’s history and inspired accounts of it, only a small amount of them had been faithful.
What went so horrible wrong then? Can it be seen as the answer to the follow up question to which chapter 10 referenced by the last few verses of chapter? The answer in essence as 9:32 puts it this, they pursued God’s righteousness, not by faith but by works as the Law itself was never meant to be a means of salvation but the outgrowth of it. Will it always be this bleak for ethnic Israel, can this be seen as the follow up question to chapter 10 to which chapter 11 answers, resoundingly ‘no’? This is only for a time to give room for an emphatic answer to the gentile mission. But at the end of this age of the new covenant, all Israel, a term that doesn’t mean every Jewish person who has ever lived but the general prevailing trend of a given age will be saved. There will be a massive out-pouring of faith at some time just prior to Christ’s return.
Intriguingly, as we unpack these three chapters in more detail, Paul has by no means completed his discussion of predestination, begun in chapter 8. In fact chapter 9 elaborates on predestination in detail more so than anywhere else in Scripture. Historically, three approaches, perhaps the only logically possible three approaches have competed for acceptance. There is what is called, double predestination, which says that believers and unbelievers destinies are determined in advance by God in a symmetrically fashion at his initiative. Among Protestants, it is the Calvinistic tradition, best known for adhering to this perspective. Wesleyans, of whom Methodists are the direct descendants today, have taken the opposite perspective, that in fact as for Arminius in an earlier era, there is no predestination in the sense of God sovereignly choosing people in advance of and apart from any initiating behavior of their own. People freely choose God or reject God and it is God’s simple foreknowledge of what those choices will be that enables him to arrange circumstances to see that people’s free will is in fact carried out. If one wants to call that predestination, fine, but it is not predestination in the Calvinistic sense. Believers and unbelievers destiny is determined by their own initiatives as a logically prior element.
Paradoxically, there is a third option which both of the other two groups believe to be largely contradictory. This was held by both Augustine and in the days of the reformation, Luther. It is what’s called single predestination where believers are saved at God’s initiative, but unbelievers are dammed by their own initiative. And whatever logically difficulties this may impose, it is certainly true that throughout Scripture, no one merit’s salvation through their own works and no one is excusable or not be accountable for their damnation because God simply did it to them. Does Romans 9 shed any light on this debate? Paul uses a number of illustrations of God’s sovereign free choices from the Old Testament. He talks about how only one of Abraham’s two sons was the descendant from whom the line of the promise was chosen and the same was attained when Isaac became the father of twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Apart from any biological descent he also uses the example of Pharaoh whose heart was hardened in order that God’s mercy might be displaced on all the earth. But what is important to observe about these Old Testament examples, nothing is ever said in the Hebrew Scriptures about God predestining or electing these individual’s eternal destinies. Indeed, it is temporal blessings or cruses which are in view and moreover, it is the representative headship of each of these individuals as determinative of the entire peoples who lead or come from them. Theologians have a ‘cooperate election’ which is most to the forefront.
But when Paul refers to the present Christian age, it does seem that he begins to speak of individual, eternal election. Chapter 9:22 – 24 reads, ‘what if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, who he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?’ What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, which he prepared in advance for glory of which he called individual Christians? Not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles, individuals chosen out from these larger groups, and in light of the Gospel message, Paul had just articulated, it’s had to limit his discussion in this context to any merely temporal blessings. This is eternal destruction and glory about which he pontificates. Does he then become a double predestinarian here?
Intriguingly, C.E.B Cranfield in his major international critical commentary on Romans, points out as one recent articulate exponent of single predestination, that there is a subtle lack of symmetry in this passage between those who are called the objects of wrath and those who are called the objects of mercy. And those who are prepared for destruction are described using simply a passive voice verb which in fact a form is equally seemingly prepared themselves for destruction. But on either reading, no agent is explicitly in view and secondly they are simply prepared, whereas the objects of mercy are prepared in advance. There is an extra emphasis there of chorological priority not present with the objects of wrath. And there is an explicit agent directly expressed, ‘God’, as the subject of active voice verb of preparing in advance whether it is largely explicable to our fallen and finite minds, then perhaps single predestination is what Paul has in view and if we turn to a home spun illustration of what might be called a double archway of Christian experience. Consider a person coming to faith along the lines of the grand older colonial or antebellum church doorway with the text inscribed across the doorway for all to see, ‘whosoever will, may enter here.’ But for those who choose to do and enter the church building and turn around and look at that same archway from inside see another text inscribed, ‘elect before the foundation of the world.’ Tom Shiner in his Pauline theology helpfully points out that predestination is a doctrine best understood and best taught retrospectively and therefore he discusses it toward the end of his systematic theory not at the beginning as is so often the case. After the fact, after a Christian has shared his testimony and reflected on his or her experience and realize that if a genuine conversion has occurred, it is a commitment that has been freely made.
Nevertheless, retrospectively, Christians regularly have to confess that there were people, circumstances and events that they in no way orchestrated that made them uniquely open to accepting the Gospel message at precisely the time in which they did. Is this not God’s sovereign initiating election? Divine sovereignty, human responsibility simultaneously and we may subordinate neither to the other much less jettison one for the sake of the other. In so we come by faith, in the Christian dispensation by faith confessing Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9). The same confession that increasingly the Roman Emperors would require and therefore is implicitly a statement that Jesus is Lord as Tom Wright as so often stressed, and that Caesar is not. Or that any other emperor or human ruler or figure or founder of any religion or world view or ideology or any other impersonal competitive philosophical religious world system can be said to be Lord, true and worthy of worship, worthy of serving, even the biblical religion of the Old Testament apart from faith in Christ now that the Messiah has come and that’s implicitly the setup for chapter 11 with the elaborate olive branch metaphor of branches broken off and other graphed in, the olive tree of God’s people.
Perhaps the following information on the destinies of the Jews and of the gentiles will help make some additional sense of this chapter. Prior to the Cross of Christ, the right way of living, the perspective described for the Jewish people was living by faith in the promises of God. The wrong way was treating the laws as a means of salvation, what we saw in 9:32. In between the Cross and whenever Christ returns, the right way for Jews and for Gentiles to come to God is by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The wrong way is to reject him. One day, closely associated with the return of Christ, the full measure of gentiles will have come in and all Israel will be saved. Here, there will no longer be those who are following the wrong way and the last grouping of Jewish people will follow the right way and accept Christ. For the gentiles on the other hand, Romans 2:14 and 15, at least suggest, hypothetically and some in Christian history would argue that a small number known only to God by his mercy may well have indeed come by faith in God as best as they could understand him. But the vast majority appears to have been separated from God’s special revelation and because of what we read in Romans 1:18-32 suppressing the knowledge of God that was available but choosing the wicked behavior that would keep them separate from him. Between the Cross and Christ’s return, the right and wrongly remain identical for Jews as also for gentiles, but one day there will come when the full number of gentiles will be complete and from that point, short though it may be until the completion of the age, no more gentiles will follow the right way and this seems to be contemporaneous with the time in which all Israel will be saved.
There are a relative percentage of people falling into one category or another at any given time, according to Paul’s elaborate metaphor. Although there may often been a remnant of Jews who has responded to faith in God compared to the gentiles who did. There were more living by faith and certainly more gentiles separated from God’s special revelation, but now, sadly, in the middle of the first century and has been the case ever sense, gentiles with rare exceptions have been more open to the Gospel than Jews. But one day just short of Christ’s return there will be no more gentiles that will trust in Christ and there will be a wide spread outpouring of faith in Jesus as their Messiah among Jewish people. And believers rightly long for that day to come quickly.
It’s worth unpacking the implications of this understanding of Romans 11:25 and following, just a bit more. What is intriguing, even if we understand that all Israel means in a very literal sense, virtually all Jews alive at the time of the end. Nothing is said here about the land or the nation. Ethic Jews could come to faith in every country which they live and those Old Testament promises, even if interpreted literally, though most of Christian history hasn’t taken them as such, about a return to the land, seemingly more wide spread than anything occurred in Old Testament times. Such a return is always accompanied, Ezekiel 37 being the most famous and classic example with the metaphor with the dried bones taking on flesh again. That return is always accompanied by the return to faithful Godly living. Thus, the fascination in some quarters with the fact that the past half century, there have been ethic Jews living in the land of Israel, in a way that has not been true for the previous nineteen centuries. This is at best, a prelude to the fulfillment to these Old Testament prophecies; however today’s current spiritual signs are not promising. There are substantial numbers of atheistic Jews, who are Jews ethically only and many more whose faith in the reformed Jewish tradition is so liberal and removed from the religion of the Old Testament that they do not look for any coming spiritual Messiah at all. And even if all this were to change, let’s never forget as Garry Berge has pointed out in a pair of books on the question of who has the right to the Promised Land today. That when the Israelite or anyone else believing themselves to be heirs of God’s covenant with Moses are living in God’s fashion they will obey God’s laws and one of the recurring laws throughout the Hebrew Scripture is justice for the foreigner or alien living in the land, not evicting them from that property. That occurred once and only once with the Canaanite nation and the time of Joshua and was never again replicated in that wide spread fashion. Christians, therefore, should never support any regime from any political perspective in the land that historically Old Testament Israelites owned but always apply the Biblical principle for justice for all people who may dwell in the land.
VIII. Outline (Chapters 12-16)
Finally, we come to the ‘therefore’ that marks the turning point between chapters 1 – 12 and 12 – 15 and moves us from the theology to the ethics of the Gospel. Here we may see four broad subdivisions and we want to suggest that the order is not a random one. Each flows logically from the former. Paul begins from the broadest form of transformation which is incumbent on all believers, offering our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God and not being conformed to the patterns of this world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds, the physical and the spiritual and tangible and the intangible, the body and the mental, the entire person dedicated to and transformed. And even as we highlighted in 1st Thessalonians 4, this is what enables us to know God’s will. This indeed is the very heart of what is God’s will, moral obedience, growth in Christ likeness, even as Jarvis put it, ‘in God’s likeness.’ But then, we are to more on, we are to seek God’s specific will for our lives, perhaps this may distinguish us in a small way from every other human who ever lives.
But notice the topics to which Paul turns, the second occurrence, the spiritual gifts, we saw them in 1st Corinthians 12 – 14. And in Verses 3 – 8 of Romans 12 declares, once you have made that fundamental commitment of a transformed person, then understand your spiritual gifts and use them whole-heartedly for service to God and for his people. You see in Paul’s world, very few people ask the question, ‘who should I marry? Or what job should I take? Or where should I live? Although freedoms for some are beginning to come in each of these areas, some commonly understood how circumstances in life largely dictated these choices. The question however that humans of any culture and of any era always ask, involve how God has uniquely wired them. To use a modern metaphor, how has he gifted them? And whether the use of those gifts have ever had any connection with an occupation in which they receive remuneration. There are always opportunities among the communities of God’s people in their work in the World to exercise one’s gifts.
For most the disparate subsection of the ethical portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans, spans 12:9 – 13 and 14 and yet key teachings about love, verses 9 to the end of the chapter and certainly 13:8 – 10, perhaps by implication to the end of that chapter as well highlight the central feature is love. If love is at one level is the main idea or unifying theme of this material; then it’s fascinating to see the identical sequence that we saw in 1st Corinthians 12 and 13. Is Paul again, implying that without love, the spiritual gifts are worthless? And therefore after one has identified one’s gifts and look for places to exercise them, the third mandate of applying the will of God and living out an ethical life is to exercise those gifts in love. Tucked into the middle of this section is the interesting position of the call to bless those who persecute you, to not repay evil for evil, but to repay evil with good which is certain a dramatic application of Jesus’ principles from the sermon on the mount, to love ones enemies. That in 12:14 – 21 right next to the seemingly contrary command in 13:1 – 7 to submit to the governing authorities who at times have to wage war, that is to not to bear the sword in vain in 13:4 and while there are ways for even pacifists to explain this text. Perhaps the best understanding of the contrast between the end of 12 and beginning of 13 is to see the end of 12 as the Christian responsibility and the beginning of 13 and the government’s responsibility. Of course when a Christian has to live as a cooperative citizen in a government, he or she is torn and yet Paul knew the stories from the Hebrew Scriptures of Moses and the midwives, of Daniel’s disobedience to Nebuchadnezzar’s decrees; and most likely by this time, he would have heard the stories of Peter and others standing up against the Sanhedrin, saying that we must obey God rather than humans when even the laws of the governing authorities come into conflict with God’s laws. So that 13:1 is not absolute, but given priority when such conflicts occur.
But even for those who adopt a just war view, even for those who recognize the majority of times, Christians should bent over backwards to summit to the governing authorities, even though they may be unjust as Nero’s regime in Rome which certainly was, but not nearly as unjust as it would be a decade later when persecution started. There is, nevertheless, a very challenging question, can the world in looking at Christians participating as citizens under their government but also as members of worshiping serving local Christian communities, tell any difference between the two? Does the church unflaggingly work to bless those who persecute, to love one’s enemies, to repay evil with good, even if some of its members may believe they have the responsibility during times of war, to fight for their countries, a question well worth pondering?
The final main section of the ethics of the Gospel covers much of chapters 14 & 15 and turns back to the theme of Christian tolerance in those morally neutral areas already discussed when we looked at 1st Corinthians 8 – 10. And as we saw the conclusion of that section, it seems to be a swing of the pendulum in three movements, beginning with freedom then turning to restraint but concluding with freedom. In 14:1 – 18, the primary emphasis is to accept one another whether one chooses to eat, in this case, perhaps meat sacrificed to idols but in more Jewish circles, that which once was not kosher or not. 14:10 makes it very clear that judging one’s Christian Brother or Sister and treating them with contempt is inappropriate. Each person must answer to his or her own conscience because each person individually (verse 12) will give an account of their choices to God. But then 14:19 – 15:6 turns to emphasize the voluntary restraint that is often incumbent on believers. Don’t destroy the work of God for the sake of food (14:20). We who are strong are to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves (15:1) etc. But 15:7 – 13 returns to the theme of the first major section, accept one another; that will lead to the fulfillment of the prophecies and praise, even among the gentiles. That will commend the Christian witness best to those wrongly have come to the conviction by observation that Christianity is a religion that is not about restriction but rather about liberation. And then we notice that Paul concludes, for him in an elaborate section of his person travel plans and closing greetings in the latter half of chapter 15 and all of chapter 16.
In addition to the remarks, we have already made, we add two more; noting 15:23 as we for-shallow the lecture in 2nd Corinthians once again, Paul is concerns always to press on to the area that is yet evangelized. How desperately, we still need that in our world today. In that list of people commended and greeted in chapter 16, we see the unusually large number of women, including one who is a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea, a key leadership role, if not the highest in Paul’s ecclesiology. Again, we will come back in an entire discreet lecture and deal with the question of gender roles. It’s certain worth observing the counter cultural prominent role of key female leaders, including beyond Priscilla who for some reason is named first in verse 3 which was not the common order of first mentioned the husband and then the wife in the ancient world and described as a co-worker with Paul, including that intriguing figure, identified as a woman in contemporary scholarship as she was consistently in the earlier centuries of church history who is call an apostle, obviously not one of the twelve, but an apostle in that broader sense we discussed in looking at 1st Corinthians 12 of someone sent on a mission, a missionary or church planter and numerous other feminine names such as Tryphena and Tryphosa and Persus in verse 12 who are women who had worked very hard in the Lord. The full range of debate between communitarians and egalitarians will not be solved by Romans 16 any more than were solved by Galatians 3:28. But in each instance, when we read the text to the historical background, not against what we might imagine Paul would have said or hope what he would have said where he writings in the 21 century. We cannot, honestly conclude anything else other than the Gospel was amazingly liberating for women and well as for men.
A rich epistle rightly likened to the Gospel of John, out of the Gospels discussing primarily the plan of salvation, the nature of the Christian life, the priorities of the obedience to God, the liberation that he makes possible, not to any effort or anything we could do to merit it. But solely of his loving and lavish grace that calls us to bow in worship to gratitude and lifelong commitment to his service, come what may, however hard that may turn out to be.