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In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Daniel Kirk joins Pete and Jared to explain the major themes in the book of Romans, why the Romans Road view of salvation is insufficient, and how a focus on God’s righteousness through Jesus Christ shaped Paul’s vision of harmony between Jews and Gentiles. Join them as they explore the following questions (and more!):

  • What are the major themes, or the big picture, of Romans?
  • Was Paul talking about individual salvation?
  • How does Paul address the challenge of Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles living together in community?
  • Does Paul think God can be considered faithful if Israel doesn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah?
  • How do the early chapters of Romans introduce readers to the tension that will play out later in the book?
  • What kind of questions does Paul wrestle with throughout Romans?
  • What does it look like to read Romans through a communal lens rather than a lens of individualistic salvation (i.e. Romans Road)?
  • What exactly is “the gospel” that Paul is talking about in Romans?
  • Why is the idea of God being faithful through Jesus transformative to Paul?
  • What does Paul think is the “righteousness” or “faithfulness” of God?
  • How can a reframing of the righteousness of God show us how to reimagine the Christian life?

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Daniel Kirk you can share.

  • How do these two communities live together? As you go through the letter, what you realize is that this question of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles permeates the letter. — @jrdkirk
  • “What do we say about God? Can God be faithful if Israel doesn’t believe?” [Paul] is wrestling with those questions in light of some very tangible on-the-ground concerns, specifically about how Jesus followers and Gentile Jesus followers are going to live together. — @jrdkirk
  • So many readings of Romans are so entrenched in individualistic models of salvation: “How do I get to be right with God?” [But] it’s about these groups of people and what God does for humanity, what God has done for Israel, and how the Gentiles participate. — @jrdkirk
  • One thing to be aware of in Romans is that this is the letter in which resurrection appears everywhere. It’s at the heart of whatever it is that Paul wants to communicate here. — @jrdkirk
  • The very beginning of this letter is setting the stage for us to have our ideas of what God’s faithfulness is, what it means for God to be good, what it means for God to be right—to have that completely shaped and formed by the person and work of Jesus who was raised from the dead. — @jrdkirk
  • What is it that shows that God is righteous? What is it that shows that God is faithful? It’s not that we have faith, so that then God can save us and that’s the demonstration of God’s righteousness. — @jrdkirk
  • The thing that shows that God is faithful is his sending of Jesus, his raising of Jesus from the dead, and ultimately, God’s continuing faithfulness when he raises those from the dead who are also in Christ. — @jrdkirk
  • What Paul was trying to lay out in Romans is: this is how you understand Jesus, this is how you understand the story of Israel in light of what God has done in Jesus—so that we can affirm that God is in fact righteous and hasn’t abandoned Israel or hasn’t given up on that storyline in order to do something completely different. — @jrdkirk
  • Israel not coming in in droves to respond to the idea that Jesus is Messiah, and Paul has an idea of what the solution to that problem is. So he’s laying out this case of like, “Nope, God has been righteous, God has been faithful.” And that’s the point. — @jrdkirk
  • It’s the spirit of the resurrected Jesus that’s going to allow us to be the people of God in a new way—which is the death of the body of sin, a new life by the Spirit, and that we get to embody Jesus’s life here and now. And that is what God is going to vindicate in the end. — @jrdkirk
  • Knowing that God is righteous gives Paul the tools he needs to say God is still righteous. And Israel is going to experience that through their own kind of metaphorical resurrection as a people to be God’s people and be declared God’s faithful children again. — @jrdkirk
  • This reframing [of] what the righteousness of God is and understanding how it’s focused, laser-like, on the death and resurrection of Jesus—I do think that changes everything. Not just for how to read Romans, but for a lot of what we imagine the Christian life to be. — @jrdkirk

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Pete  

You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared  

And I’m Jared Byas.

Pete  

Hey everyone, welcome to this episode of the podcast! Our topic today is: Romans Is Not What You Think It Is. 

No, it’s not. And our guest today is our good friend Daniel Kirk.

Jared  

Daniel Kirk. He’s an award-winning New Testament scholar, author, he has a PhD from Duke, and most importantly, he lives in Dallas. But—

Pete  

Why is that important? 

Jared  

Because it’s in Texas. 

Pete  

Okay. 

Jared  

That’s important, Pete. You know nothing about me.

Pete  

Do you—Do you even watch the news? Do you have any idea what’s happening in the world?

[Both laughing]

Jared  

Okay, no, but seriously—

Pete  

Anyway, yeah…

Jared  

Most importantly, he has a new book out. 

Pete  

Yeah. 

Jared  

Called Romans for Normal People. 

Pete  

Wow! What a great title.

Jared  

I know. It’s fantastic. 

Pete  

He can’t just take…Oh, wait. He did it for us.

Jared  

He did it for us. 

Pete  

That’s right, yeah.

Jared  

That’s right. So Romans for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Misunderstood, Problematic, and Prooftexted Letter in the Bible.

Pete  

And if you want an accessible introduction to the book of Romans, that’s the book to read: Romans for Normal People.

Jared  

That’s it. It’s officially released, you can buy it wherever you get books. We’re really excited for readers to get this new look at a book that I think is wielded against others. Maybe…

Pete  

Yeah. It’s a weapon, the book. 

Jared  

A little weaponized.

Pete  

Yeah. 

Jared  

So, don’t forget to leave a review. Go buy it wherever you can get books. 

Pete  

Yeah!

Jared  

Alright, let’s jump into this episode.

Daniel  

[Teaser clip of Daniel speaking over jaunty music] “I think we should take seriously when we read Romans that Paul is saying all these things because God does have a problem, and that problem is Israel not coming in in droves to respond to the idea that Jesus is Messiah. So he’s laying out this case of like, “Nope, God has been righteous. God has been faithful.” And that’s the point.”

[Jaunty music ends] [Ad break]

Jared  

Well, welcome, Daniel, to this episode of the podcast. We’re excited to have you.

Daniel  

Thank you. It’s great to be here with you guys.

Jared  

We have a lot to talk about today. 

Pete  

Yeah. 

Jared  

The book of Romans. 

Pete  

We’re going to cover Romans.

Jared  

We’re gonna go down the road…

Daniel  

[Sarcastically] We can do that in 40 minutes. Easily!

Jared  

We’re gonna go down the road of Romans.

Pete  

The Romans road. 

Jared  

That’s right. 

Pete  

That’s right. 

Daniel

[Sighs]

Jared  

Oh, okay. We want to start…

Daniel  

I confess to presenting the Romans road to salvation to my Intervarsity chapter when I was in college. 

Pete  

Okay well, that happens. That happens.

Jared  

All right, we absolve you.

Daniel  

Thank you. I was wondering if there was absolution on this show. Thank you, guys. Thank you.

Jared  

We want to start with—just give us the bigger, the big picture of the book of Romans. What’s the purpose here?

Daniel  

Okay. I gotta say first, when you ask this question, it’s actually I think one of the more difficult letters to answer that question about: What’s Romans all about? Part of the difficulty is that it’s been answered in so many ways that there’s a lot of assumptions, part of the difficulty is  just that Paul hasn’t been there. So he’s not directly talking to them in some of the same ways that we see in his other letters. So, you know, we kind of have to ferret our way around the letter and see what he tells us, and what he’s trying to accomplish in this letter with the church that he’s writing to.

I think that one of the better places to go, I think there’s a few places that are complementary, but sort of starting at the back. When you come to chapters 12 through 15, that’s when Paul really starts focusing on what the life together is that he’s hoping this, this letter will help uphold. And when you get to chapters 14 and 15 specifically, he starts addressing potential tensions in the community. Tensions that seem to fall along the lines of Jewish ways of practice that include keeping dietary kosher laws, circumcision, keeping certain Sabbath days holy, versus a less law-observant way of being a Jesus follower that would be more typical of probably Gentile converts. So that’s what he’s trying to work out on the ground, is how do these two communities live together? And as you go through the letter, what you realize is that this question of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, it permeates the letter. 

There’s some sections where you don’t see it as directly, but he’s in a situation where he’s the missionary to the Gentiles. I think the gospel, the Jesus story has been around long enough, that he’s starting to see that Jewish people by and large aren’t necessarily coming in. Like, if you read the book of Acts, what you see all the time is he goes to the synagogue, nobody wants it, he goes to the Gentiles next door. I don’t know if, how much you see that reflected in Paul’s letters themselves, but it kind of gives you a taste of the fact that there’s this growing community of people who were not Jewish, and yet they’re participating in this story—it’s about the Jewish God, fulfilling the Jewish Scriptures, with Jesus who’s the Jewish Messiah. And so Paul is trying to work out in this letter, “How is it that we can say that Jesus is the culmination of God’s faithfulness to Israel despite the fact that Jewish people by and large aren’t flocking to this message or flocking to Jesus as Messiah? And then what do we do about that in these communities that are popping up where you’ve got a bunch of Gentiles worshiping the God of Israel?”

So you know, answering those questions about, you know, what do we say about God? Can God be faithful if Israel doesn’t believe? I think he’s wrestling with those questions in light of some very tangible on the ground concerns, specifically, actually, about how Jesus followers and Gentile Jesus followers are going to live together. And anyway, that, I think that also bubbles around some conflict he’s having with the church in Jerusalem. So again, hard to pin down in one thing, but if you keep Jews and Gentiles living together, Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles trying to figure out life together, I think that you’ll stay pretty close to where Paul’s heart is in this letter.

Pete  

And so the, the actual tensions are more in the latter part of the book and the earlier chapters, would you say, they warm us up to that? Is that it? I mean, is that—all the tensions that Paul is dealing with there, that seems to be a major concern of his.

Daniel  

Yeah, in a certain way I think that’s right, because it’s very on the ground and practical in chapter 15. Yeah. And as that chapter unfolds — Paul’s like, “Also, I’m really worried about going to Jerusalem, where there’s the law keeping Jewish Christians who don’t seem very happy with me.” So there’s a very tangible, specific, you know, how do we live together in church stuff in chapters 14 and 15. In chapters 9 through 11, there’s this whole long discussion about what does it mean for Israel? What does it mean about God that the Jewish people, by and large, are not flocking to Jesus as Messiah? So it’s kind of like the theological underpinning for that later conversation about, “Well, how should we live together? And what does that mean?” And in chapters 1 through 8 is, I think, Paul is laying out this case for a reimagination of what it looks like for God to be faithful to Israel, given that you have this deep conviction that Jesus is the means, the mechanism of that faithfulness, that the way that God does it is the death and resurrection, and that, again, Israel as a whole isn’t coming in and recognizing and clinging to Jesus as Messiah.

Pete  

Well, let me, let me ask a question that I think would be a big one that people might have concerns about. But just with all that we’re talking about up to this point, maybe a way of talking about the basic gist of Romans is more big picture communities-oriented than individual people in the church of Rome-oriented. In other words, his focus is not how individuals get saved, it’s how Jews and Gentiles can live together.

Daniel  

Yeah, I think that is a fair kind of reframing. Especially because so many readings of Romans are so entrenched in individualistic models of salvation, right? “How do, how do I get to be right with God?” And you know, “God justifies me with the death of Jesus” and all this. So I think that if you take that and say, “Okay, it’s about these groups of people and what God does for humanity, what God has done for Israel, how the Gentiles participate,” I think if you hold that communal idea, it helps create space for getting a better handle on what Paul’s doing than a lot of what we sometimes bring with us to the text.

Jared  

Okay, so, let’s go back then. Because if we’re saying that Romans is about the relationship between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, who now somehow have to meld their backgrounds and experiences of God, and theologies, and different gods, and all of that together in this one community…Let’s go back and maybe look at some key passages, because again, that would not have been my tradition, I would not have read Romans that way, it would have been very much that Romans is written to individual Christians on how to live a better Christian life and/or be saved. So maybe we can take some of these key passages and reorient them. What would it look like to read some of these through that lens rather than the lens maybe that I grew up with?

Daniel  

So often when people are thinking about what Romans is about, they go to Romans 1:16-17. It’s the verse that goes, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel, for it’s the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes: to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” There’s that Jew/Greek thing, “For the righteousness of God has revealed in it from faith to faith; as it’s written, the righteous will live by faith.” And there’s a lot of good reasons for honing in on that passage, not the least of which is that its language is picked up and reiterated at several key junctures in the letter: chapter 3, when Paul’s talking about how the death of Jesus works, there’s some of that gets picked up in chapter 8, when Paul has this big vision of the end and final justification, and some of it gets picked up in chapter 10, when Paul is really getting into how it is that Scripture anticipates his gospel and why, you know, as he’s wrestling with the Jewish rejection of the gospel.

So, there’s a really good reason for looking at those verses, because of the way they set the stage for what comes later. In terms of how ancient letters usually worked: often it would be the…closer to the beginning of the letter, the letter opening, where some of the main concerns would be laid out. So I always like to go back to the very first 6 or 7 verses of the letter, and the reason why I think that’s helpful is that it puts some specifics and some details on verses 16 and 17. So, for example, he already talks about the gospel, like, what is the gospel that he’s talking about in Romans? He’s like, “Well, this is what was promised by the prophets.” Alright, and so, we’re going to be seeing a lot of scripture in Romans. Romans contains over half of Paul’s references to the Bible. And it’s a “Son who was born of David’s seed, according to the flesh, but who was then set aside or appointed God’s Son, by the resurrection from the dead.” So, one thing to be aware of in Romans is that, this is the letter in which resurrection appears everywhere. It’s at the heart of whatever it is that Paul wants to communicate here. And you can contrast that with Galatians, if you want to, which only has one reference to resurrection in the whole letter, but is otherwise, interestingly, similar.

So the gospel is about Jesus who is the Messiah because he’s David’s son, and then he talks about that his calling as an apostle is to bring about the obedience of faith, right? So going out to the faith or faithfulness among the Gentiles for the sake of his name. So things that are laid out here early are that Paul’s mission is to go out to those who aren’t Jewish. And then this claim, almost an offhand claim that seems, that it’s for the sake of God’s name that the Gentiles are included. In other words, in this letter where Paul is going to be really wrestling with how can God be faithful to Israel if Israel isn’t coming in in droves into this new people, right? Where the question is, “How can God be faithful if that’s what’s happening?” Paul actually starts off by saying, “The only way that God’s name can be vindicated, the only way for God to do what God said God was going to do, is if the Gentiles actually get to come in and be part of this family as well.” So he’s already laying the groundwork for a lot of the things that are, that are coming up later. 

So when you come to verses 16, and 17, and it says, “This gospel is the power of God to salvation,” we already know what that power is encapsulated in. It’s the resurrection of Jesus by the Spirit. Like this is, there’s like a very tangible, very specific expression of power, that’s going to be good news in this letter. And then other things in here that scholars have been wrestling with for the last 20 or 30 years have to do with what it means to say that this revelation comes “out of” faith or “from” faith. And specifically, the question is, is this talking about like, God’s righteousness coming because we believe God? Or because God is faithful to us? Or because Christ is faithful to God? So when it says, “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith,” there’s a really great argument to be made, that what Paul is talking about is, in fact, God’s faithfulness in Jesus going to death on the cross and being raised again. And that is what goes out unto salvation to the Gentiles, and also to the Jewish people.

So this final phrase as it’s written, “The righteous one will live by faith,” in this sort of reading, what I would argue is that that quotation from Habakkuk 2:4 is an encapsulation of what Paul has already said to us in the beginning, which is, “Jesus is the one who’s raised from the dead. He is the righteous one.” And it’s because of either God’s faithfulness to Jesus, or God’s faithfulness to God’s people, or maybe even because of Jesus being faithful to God. But that whole cluster of faithfulness that’s shown in the cross, that is why Jesus is raised. And that’s what the righteousness of God looks like. That’s what the faithfulness of God looks like. So the very beginning of this letter is setting the stage for us to have our ideas of what God’s faithfulness is, what it means for God to be good, what it means for God to be right, to have that completely shaped and formed by the person and work of Jesus who was raised from the dead.

[Ad break]

Jared  

So just to clarify, verse 17 is sort of the climactic, “the righteous will live by faith,” it gets turned on its head in some ways, it’s more like saying, “The righteous will live by God’s faithfulness.” Right? The “faithfulness,” just to clarify, is God’s faithfulness, not our response or something like that. That if we have faith, then we are saved. But rather, it’s God’s faithfulness to God’s people, God’s faithfulness to Jesus, Jesus’s faithfulness to God—whatever iteration that is, it doesn’t include individuals having faith and that’s how we’re saved.

Daniel  

Um, at that point, at least. You know, because there is the idea that it comes from faith and goes out unto faith as well. Right? So the righteousness of God is revealed from faith, and then it goes unto faith of the people. So I do think that Paul is looking for that to stir up the response of faith or faithfulness in us. But what is it that shows that God is righteous? What is it that shows that God is faithful? It’s not that we have faith, so that then God can save us and that’s the demonstration of God’s righteousness. The thing that shows that God is faithful is his sending of Jesus, his raising of Jesus from the dead, and ultimately, God’s continuing faithfulness when he raises those from the dead who are also in Christ.

Pete  

So I mean, one thing, one big thing, a theme I’m hearing from you, Daniel, is that this is really, I mean, a big part of Romans is, “Let me explain to you what God has done.” And how that paints a big picture which is very theocentric, and also very Christ-centered. That seems to be Paul laying out this big vision for what all of this means, what the resurrection implies, what it means, what the implications are, and not your…Basically, God’s faithfulness, not our faith. Not that the latter part is dismissed in Romans, but that’s just not as much of a focus perhaps as some people would normally think.

Daniel  

Yeah, that’s not the story. That’s our response to the story, right? And Paul is really laying out the story here. And this vision of God being faithful in Jesus, it’s transformative for him, right? It’s changing for Paul what it means for us to be faithful people, right? And this is why he’s going to go into, you know, why isn’t the law part of this whole, you know, what’s required of Christians now and all this, right? It’s not because if you read the Old Testament right, then you’re going to see that the law never mattered in the first place. It’s that once the death and resurrection of Jesus are the way that God shows God’s self to be faithful to the people, that changes everything for him.

And, you know, kind of ironically, you know, having cut my theological teeth in Presbyterian Reformed world, one of the things that’s kind of ironic about some strands of Christian theology is that we actually kind of make the same mistake that Paul is trying to correct by using our own sort of systems. We’ll say things like, “Well, the only way that God can justify us is, you know, if we are perfectly obedient, if we are completely sinless. We weren’t, so Jesus had to come and do all of the good things that we couldn’t do, so that his whole record of, you know, lifelong obedience to God can be accepted instead of our life of sinfulness. Blah, blah, blah.” And what we’ve done is we’ve just created our own version of there’s this external measure outside of the gospel that has to be fulfilled. God looked at that and went, “Yeah, well, okay, I’m gonna send Jesus to take care of that problem.” And what’s happening there is we’re giving sort of a Christian-colored interpretation of what we assumed the problem was. And what Paul is saying you have to do is actually set aside everything you think God has to do in order to be righteous and holy, even if it comes from the finger of God and the Ten Commandments itself, and look at what God actually did. What God actually did was send Jesus and raised him from the dead, and it’s in light of that, that we have to understand what the promises were that God has been making throughout scriptures and throughout history.

Pete  

Okay, I would love to get to Chapter 3, at least the latter part of Chapter 3. Before we do that, too, I don’t want to go down rabbit trails. But if you have quick answers to these, the passages that we’re just looking at. In verse 16, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel.” Why does Paul say that? What’s he ashamed about?

Daniel  

Yeah, I mean, I think that there’s probably a fairly large framework of the idea of, like, if you’ve been faithful to God, you won’t be ashamed. You know, “Let me not be ashamed, let not my enemies triumph over me,” you know, these kinds of prayers to God that you see throughout the scriptures of Israel. And I think that that’s kind of what he’s getting at is that if you’ve been rightly faithful to God, the expectation is that you will be vindicated. And you see the stuff in the prophets and in the psalms, and I think that what Paul is getting at is, like, it’s all part of reframing what we hope God is going to do, and what we hope God is going to respond to in terms of, you know, human action and activity. So inasmuch as this is all part of like this big story, and there’s going to be a final judgment and divine approval, or if someone you know, is faithless to God, and they get put to shame before their enemies or all that. I think it’s drawing on that narrative and some of its dynamics and Paul saying, “No, this is the real thing.”

Pete  

Okay, so a lot happening there in those few words. So, the other thing is earlier in the salutation, he says, “The Gospel concerning his Son who is descended from David according to the flesh, and was declared to be Son of God.” Now, you might expect Paul to say, “By virtue of his virgin birth,” but he leaves all that “Declaring him to be son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness, by resurrection from the dead.” It seems—I don’t know if this is a warranted conclusion or not—it seems that for Paul, Jesus’s lordship is a function of his resurrection, not before. Is that overreading Paul? Is it expecting too much from a quick introduction? Or is there something to that?

Daniel  

No, I think that’s right. You know, Psalm 110, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool under your feet.” That is one of the most important passages throughout the early Christian tradition for interpreting the resurrection and how it is that Jesus is Lord, even though he was crucified. So, you know, Paul doesn’t generally talk about the life of Jesus and I would say that he thinks of the resurrection of Jesus’s enthronement. And like David received the Spirit when he was anointed to be king, actually he received it before he was enthroned. But you know, there’s that constellation of if you’re the king, you’re the one who is sort of exercising God’s lordship on the earth on God’s behalf, and you possess the Spirit of God, you have the power and wisdom to do this. That whole cluster is applied to Jesus here at his resurrection. I think for Paul, that’s true. And then other narratives in the New Testament, you know, push some of that stuff further back by having Jesus receive the Spirit at his baptism in Mark, and then when you get birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, then the Spirit is involved and Jesus receives that royal title through that as well. But you know, I think an important thing to note just if you read through the Old Testament, if you’re looking at this whole “Son of God” idea, it’s very much a title of a royal figure or of Israel or somebody who otherwise is ruling the world for God. And I think that’s how Paul uses it as well.

Pete  

Cool. Okay. Chapter 3, and I bring this up, because I mean, we could talk like this for days, right? Going through each verse and talking about Romans. But chapter three is sort of an important chapter because, in part because it’s fairly well known, especially where Paul says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And that’s in a context that begins, I guess, probably in verse 21 of Chapter 3. Could you walk us through some of the language that Paul uses there and help us, maybe, reframe this passage to be beyond, you know, the Romans Road and individual salvation and things like that?

Daniel  

Sure. So first thing to say is that it starts with the phrase, “But now without the Law, the righteousness of God has been revealed.” So, again, this is part of the way that Paul was setting the context for how Jews and Gentiles are both, you know, part of this family. And the surprise, as Paul was arguing for it, that law-keeping is not part of how the story unfolds. But the Law does have a role. Its role is to witness beyond itself. So righteousness is revealed without the Law, but it’s been witnessed to by the Law and the prophets. So we’ve got God’s righteousness being born witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. And then again, we have this idea that it is through the faith of Jesus Christ. So, God’s righteousness is not made known by me believing in Jesus, right? This is how I think most translations have handled this and how it’s largely been read. But it’s not that God’s righteous through my believing in Jesus, but through Jesus being faithful. And—

Pete  

Before you go on, because this is really important, Daniel. This is in verse 22, it says “The righteousness of God has been disclosed and is attested by the Law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” That’s how I think most English translations would put it. You’re reading that differently. 

Daniel  

Yes, right. 

Pete  

Just translate that verse differently so people can really grab at what you’re saying here, because I think this is a really revolutionary point.

Daniel  

Yeah, I alluded to this a little earlier. But the idea is like with this phrase, okay, if you were to translate the Greek literally, it says, “The righteousness of God is revealed through the faith of Jesus Christ.” And so the question is, how is the word faith related to Jesus Christ? Is Jesus the object of faith, the one we believe in? Or is he the subject of faith? Is he the one who is faithful? Right? So back when Pete was my mentor and guide in seminary, one day we all ran to our seminary mailboxes and were delighted to find a book in there called The Worship of the English Puritans. And I was very excited to get this book because I knew a lot of people who were worshiping the English Puritans, and I was glad to have a book that would chronicle how this worship of the Puritans, you know, took root in people’s hearts. Unfortunately, it was actually a book about how the English Puritans themselves worshiped God. So I was very, very disappointed.

But the point is, with this phrase, “the worship of the English Puritans,” this is kind of like this phrase, “the faith of Jesus Christ.” And it can work two ways. Either worship of the English Puritans, like they’re the ones worshiping, or they could be the subjects of worship, how the English Puritans worshiped God. So just like that disappointing book title for me, scholars have been arguing that “faith of Jesus Christ” should be better thought of as “the faith that Jesus himself had.” So how is God’s righteousness revealed? It’s revealed through Jesus’s faithfulness: Jesus’s faithfulness to God, Jesus’s faithfulness in going to death on the cross. And then that righteousness is revealed for everyone who believes. So then we in turn have faith or exercise our faithfulness to God through participating in the story.

Pete  

And “righteousness,” the righteousness of God is…Well explain that. 

Daniel  

[Chuckles] Oh, you want that one too, huh?

Pete  

Yeah, well, we’re right here man!

Daniel  

Yeah!

Pete  

This is it!

Daniel  

It’s all the things! 

Pete  

Okay, I think if you get this—this is my narrow non-New Testament scholar opinion—if you get this, I think you get a lot of Romans. That’s my opinion.

Daniel  

Yeah.

Pete  

So what’s the righteousness of God? Is it like God’s perfection or something like that?

Daniel  

My take on the righteousness of God is that, righteousness of God is that God has fulfilled the promises that God has made. That what God told Israel God was going to do, God has done. It’s God standing by God’s word, which in this context of Romans, Paul is working out as that Jesus is the fulfillment of what was promised beforehand in the Scriptures. You know, the question of whether or not God is just—Paul actually kind of tackles this head on at the beginning of Chapter 3, where he’s like, “Well, you know, God is faithful, even though people are faithless.” So this whole idea of God being faithful is really critical. And then he cites Psalm 50, where it says, “Speaking of God so that you might be justified in your words.” So the idea is that God has done what God said God was gonna do. What Paul was trying to get to lay out in Romans is, this is how you understand Jesus. This is how you understand the story of Israel in light of what God has done in Jesus so that we can affirm that God is in fact righteous and hasn’t abandoned Israel or hasn’t given up on that storyline in order to do something completely different. If you have this—If your takeaway from, “God sent Jesus and now the Gentiles are there, so God must have given up on Israel,” if that’s your takeaway of the story, Paul is saying, then the god you’re worshiping isn’t righteous, isn’t just at all. So we’ve got to, you have to hold together this faithfulness to Israel, in order to understand that God is in fact righteous in what he’s done in Jesus.

[Ad break]

Jared  

I want to clarify one more time, not to beat a dead horse. But I do think that this is very paradigm-shifting for people. And that is understanding righteousness and faith in Romans Chapter 3. Kind of, let’s do a side by side comparison. Because what I grew up hearing is even in, I think, the NIV says, like “The righteousness that’s given.” So it’s not even God’s righteousness. That’s not even in there. It just says, “The righteousness is given,” which is like, my righteousness. So I get righteousness when I have faith in Jesus Christ by believing in him. That’s how I would read that passage. And so that colors all the other times in Romans and anywhere else in the New Testament, I see the word righteousness. I think it’s talking about me getting to be righteous. And then I think about faith in Jesus Christ as what I have to do to get that rightness. And what I’m hearing you two talk about—I keep thinking of that song, “This Song Isn’t Even About You.” Like—

Pete  

[Laughing]

Jared  

These two words aren’t even about me. It’s not about me getting righteousness, or me having faith in Jesus Christ. It’s actually all about what God and what Jesus are up to and Paul is trying to get the readers to understand how this works, and that is God is shown to be right. Right? Righteousness. God is shown to act rightly.

Pete  

Just.

Jared  

Justly. 

Pete  

Yeah. 

Jared  

Which was in question. We don’t know if God’s gonna act justly! There’s a lot of things, exile and all that, like, where is God’s justice in all this? So we know that God has acted justly by what? By Jesus Christ’s faithfulness to God. And that interaction is the gospel. Which again, it’s not about me. And so that, just, am I hearing that right, first of all? And secondly, how does that—maybe, in the last handful of minutes we have—how does that color the rest of Romans for how we’re approaching this book? Because that is, I think I agree with Pete, that’s very paradigm-shifting.

Daniel  

Yes, that is completely correct. First of all, it’s about God. And I think we should take seriously when we read Romans that Paul is saying all these things because God does have a problem. And that problem is Israel not coming in in droves to respond to the idea that Jesus is Messiah, and Paul has an idea of what the solution to that problem is. So he’s laying out this case of like, “Nope, God has been righteous, God has been faithful.” And that’s the point. And the mechanism of that righteousness is Jesus’s faithfulness, and very specifically in going to death on the cross. Because that is—well, it does a couple of things. It is about sacrifice. It is about Israel, the place where the Law is at its most powerful, you know, so he’s kind of under the Law. And there’s some cosmic powers that Paul sees Jesus undoing through the crucifixion.

So the idea that this is about God being faithful, and it’s about that faithfulness being shown in Jesus going to death on the cross—that’s the gospel. And then there’s, “Oh, yeah, it also has to include people. Yes, of course.” But that means this worldwide thing where Jews and Gentiles both come and get forgiveness and learn this way of life, which is, you know, self-giving love and imitation of Jesus our older brother. So the, I think once you’ve put that out there, then as you keep going through the letter, there’s talk about Abraham. And you get a story about how circumcision isn’t the way that Abraham is marked as God’s person, but it’s this faith, but it’s faith in God who gives life to the dead. So you know, Paul is trying to retell all of these stories as if what really matters is that God is trying to tell you that when the crucified and resurrected Messiah comes along, that is what God’s faithfulness looks like. And, you know, in chapter 6 through 8, it’s about overcoming the powers of sin, death, and Law. And it’s the resurrected Jesus and the spirit of the resurrected Jesus that’s going to allow us to be the people of God in a new way. Which is the death of the body of sin, a new life by the Spirit, and that we get to, in that way, embody Jesus’s life here and now. And that is what God is going to vindicate in the end. If God vindicated Jesus in his faithfulness like that, then God is going to be righteous to vindicate us like that as well.

So then, you know, there’s these questions about, “Well, what about Israel?” And Paul agonizes over that in 9 through 11. But he’s starting with the idea that God’s faithfulness has already been made known. It’s been made known in Jesus. And so, there’s this critical, pivotal moment where Paul says that if they’ve, for some reason, maybe temporarily been rejected by God, their acceptance is going to be life from the dead. He is seeing Israel play out the same story that Jesus played out, which is the rejected and dead son whom God did not give up on, but raised again from the dead. So knowing that God is righteous, and that righteousness is made known through the death and resurrection of Jesus, gives Paul the tools he needs to say God is still righteous. And Israel is going to experience that through their own kind of metaphorical resurrection as a people to be God’s people and be declared God’s faithful children again.

And then he brings it down to the ground in chapters 12 through 15, where people are living together. And because God’s righteousness has been known in Christ without the Law, then there could be this creative reimagining of what life and community is like where we’re loving each other, where we are considering one another more important than ourselves, where we’re living like Jesus and laying down what’s ours so that our brothers and sisters can live and we can trust that this is actually the people that God is building. That if God is righteous in giving us Jesus and raising him from the dead, God is going to be righteous in the construction of this community of those who are united to Jesus, and that if we have to be faithful through giving up our own lives for the sake of our sisters and brothers, we can know that God will will bring new life not only to those communities, but to us as a people. So yeah, I think that this reframing what the righteousness of God is, understanding how it’s focused laser-like on the death and resurrection of Jesus, I do think that changes everything. Not just for how to read Romans, but for a lot of what we imagine the Christian life to be.

Pete  

Mhmm. Well, we don’t have much time left here, Daniel. One last thing, and we can be very brief here. But getting back to Romans 3. And I want to raise this because you’re the first person who ever said this to me. And it was a long—we’ve known each other for probably 25 years and I remember—this is a long time ago, and it really made an impact on me. And this is back in chapter three, where he says, “For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You said to me, I’m virtually quoting you, and you have to stand by it or you’ll embarrass me here on the podcast.

Daniel  

[Laughing] Shoot!

Pete  

You said that, “If you want to understand Paul, change the word ‘all’ to ‘both’.” Do you remember that?

Daniel  

Wow, I said a pretty profound thing for a young man.

Pete  

That was really profound, because by that you meant when we read, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” we naturally read that in terms of an individualistic mindset. 

Daniel  

[Hums in agreement]

Pete  

Paul doesn’t seem to be interested in that here. So “all” really means, he means “both groups.” Right? 

Daniel  

Right.

Pete  

Both the Jews and Gentiles. And so when he says there’s no distinction—Again, it’s not like God doesn’t show partiality to individuals. It’s God doesn’t show partiality to one of those groups. Right? Those groups both have the same standing before God in a way, even though Paul goes on to sort of backpedal a little bit later about how, “Yeah, the Jews are here first, you’re grafted on, don’t get cocky, Gentiles.” Right?

Daniel  

Right.

Pete  

But still, it’s the idea is that what Jesus…The righteousness of God in Christ’s faithfulness is something that everybody needs.

Daniel  

Yes. And in this context, like, one of the things that, maybe is hardest for us to remember is that the Jews were the insiders. It’s been not like that for so much of the church’s history. But right? They were the ones who were here first and sort of had a right to, in that sense, you feel like have a right to say, “No, that’s not how the story goes.” And so Paul’s, in these chapters specifically saying, “When Scripture says, you know, ‘there is none righteous, not even one,’ the people who read that were actually Jewish.” So, you know, yeah, sure, Gentiles are sinners but Scripture wraps us all up in this. So that means that, again, the Law doesn’t distinguish the Jewish people as those who have it right. It distinguishes the Jewish people as the ones who have the witness to what God is doing and that all, both Jews and Gentiles still fall short of God’s glory.

Jared  

Well, I think we have to end there, because my brain can’t take any more.

Pete  

[Sarcastically] Well, there’s nothing else interesting in Romans anyway. 

Jared  

Oh, no, no, no. I mean, yeah, we’re done. 

Pete  

Yeah, we’re done with it. 

Jared  

We’re done with Romans, never to come back. 

Daniel  

But you know, there’s actually more interesting stuff in Romans, but you’re gonna have to read the book to find out.

Jared  

Boom!

Pete  

The book of Romans? 

Jared  

The book of Romans for Normal People! Oh my goodness.

Pete  

[It dawns on Pete that Daniel was talking about his own book] Oh, your commentary! 

Daniel

Romans for Normal People…

Pete

Romans for Normal People. Oh that’s right, you’re the one who wrote that! Oh, I forgot all about that.

Jared  

We don’t want people to read the Bible, we want them to read our books. 

Pete  

Yeah, right.

Jared  

Sheesh…

Daniel  

Right? 

Jared  

Excellent. 

Pete  

Amen.

Jared  

Well, thank you so much. First of all, thank you for coming on. And secondly, thank you for writing that book for us. We are so excited to bring that out into the world!

Daniel  

Yeah, I’m delighted to have it out in the world. Thank you guys.

Pete  

Alrighty. Thanks, Daniel.

Outro  

[Outro music plays] You’ve just made it through another episode of The Bible for Normal People! Thanks to our listeners who support us each week by rating the podcast, leaving a review, and telling others about our show. We couldn’t have made this amazing episode without the help of our Producers Group: Terrance L. Speak, Brett Davidson, Brian Watson, Olumuyiwa Oluwasanmi, Jack Wilhelm, Stephen McConnell, Joan Lovell, Michael Jack, Jesse Kramer, and Nathan Kelley! As always, you can support the podcast at patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3/month you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. This episode was brought to you by The Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Prescott, Savannah Locke, Stephanie Speight, Tessa Stultz, Nick Striegel, Stephen Henning, Haley Warren, Jessica Shao, and Natalie Weyand!

[Outro music ends. Beep signals start of bloopers] 

Pete  

We do all sorts of weird stuff in college, don’t we? So…yours are just…

[All laughing]

Jared  

For normal people it’s not, you know, Romans Road related…

[Beep signaling end of episode]
Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

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