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If you want to get into an argument, post something on the apostle Paul—especially the book of Romans.

Well, I don’t [really] want to get into an argument, but here it goes anyway.

As I read Romans, I don’t walk away thinking, “My, what a carefully planned out letter.” I think more, “Paul is winging it.”

I know that might not seem very reverent, especially since Romans is often thought of as the primo example of Paul at his difficult yet nevertheless logically consistent best, where he once and for all lays out the basics of the gospel for all to hear and for all time.

Not that Romans is a jumbled mess—may it never be (see what I did there?)—but to me Romans reads more like Paul is in creative-problem-solving mode for Roman Christians facing a pressing problem (how Jews and Gentiles make up one people of God) than Paul sitting in his study writing a theological treatise intended for wider publication.

Here’s what I mean. Look at how Paul uses the Old Testament, which he does throughout the letter. It doesn’t take long before you get the impression that Paul is riffing, For example:

1. Abraham was declared righteous by faith (Genesis 15) before the command to circumcision (Genesis 17) and long before the Law of Moses. Hence, according to Paul, Abraham models that it’s always been about faith and not law keeping as the mark of being the true people of God (Romans 4). This is somewhat of a forced, selective, reading of the Abraham story (especially as he is hailed as a law keeper before Moses in Genesis 26:4-5).

2. Paul claims that, all along, Gentiles have been called by God right alongside of Jews and supports that claim by a string of Old Testament citations (Romans 9:25-29). But those passages (from Hosea and Isaiah) are not referring to Gentile inclusion but the restoration of repentant Israel.

3. To support his claim that Christ is the “end” (better “culmination” or “completion”) of the law, Paul pits two passages from Torah against each other. Leviticus 18:5, which speaks of obedience to Torah, is a “righteousness that comes from the law.” But the “righteousness that comes by faith” is about Christ, which Paul sees in Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (Romans 10:4-13). The problem is that the passage in Deuteronomy is about as strong a language as one can find about the dire consequences for not keeping the Law of Moses. Paul bypasses the clear meaning of that text—Torah obedience—in favor of a creative Christ-centered reading that marginalizes Torah obedience.

4. In Romans 11:26-27, Paul cites Isaiah 59:20-21 but changes one crucial word to allow him to make his theological point. In context, Isaiah speaks of God (the Deliverer) coming to Zion (Israel) to deliver them from Babylonian captivity. Paul, however, uses this passage to speak of a different kind of deliverance that will come not to Zion but out of Zion—meaning (I think) that the deliverance of both Jews and Gentiles originates with a Jewish Jesus.

We could go on.

Paul appeals to the Old Testament in order to support what is hardly an obvious notion to Jews at the time: that Jesus, a crucified and risen son of a working-class family, is the long-hoped for Jewish messiah and that Gentiles as Gentiles are full and equal partners along with Jews in this messianic age—meaning the only requirement is faith/trust in Jesus and not “zeal” for Torah (Romans 10:2-4).

Preaching that message is one thing. Saying, as Paul does relentlessly in Romans, that that message is already encoded into the Old Testament (provided one reads against the grain and/or beneath the surface) is something else altogether. Hence, Paul’s necessarily creative handling of Israel’s scriptures and traditions.

Paul's take on Gentiles and Jews

Making this sort of argument raised an even deeper problem: If encoded in the Old Testament is the gospel of Jesus—where Torah is decentered and the door is flung open to the Gentiles without their needing to uphold things like circumcision and dietary laws (both of which are commanded in the Old Testament)—then what’s so special about being a Jew?

Paul’s passionate argument for Jesus is too good: it puts Jesus in the place of Torah as central to God’s plan, thus calling into question the central place Torah plays in Israel’s scriptures and traditions. He has painted himself into a corner that he knows he has to get out of, especially if he hopes to keep his Jewish audience on board. Two examples:

First, in chapters 1-2, Paul passionately levels the playing field between Jews and Gentiles, that neither has the upper hand. In fact “real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal” (Romans 2:29). With this kind of rhetoric, Paul is right to voice an anticipated question (3:1): “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much, in every way.” His answer (3:2) seems inadequate for truly answering the objection: “For in the first place, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God [Torah].”

OK, they have the Bible. Anything else? There is no “in the second and third place.” And then he flips back in verse 9 to say that Jews really aren’t better off at all, since “both Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin.” It’s not really clear where Paul stands on the true advantage of Jews have now that Jesus is raised from the dead.

Second, in chapter 6 Paul talks about the power of sin to which the unbeliever is enslaved, and from which one is freed by the gospel. In 7:1-7, however, Paul uses the same rhetoric to describe not sin but the Law of Moses—to which one is enslaved and from which we are “discharged” and given “new life of the Spirit” rather than being “slaves . . under the written code” (7:6). So it seems that sin and Law are two sides of the same coin for Paul, which is a shocking argument from a Jewish point of view.

And so Paul anticipates this objection and asks yet another rhetorical question (7:7), “What then should we say? That the law is sin?” Paul answers, “By no means!” but commentators (at least the ones I’ve read) see in the following verses (8-13) a rather unsatisfying attempt by Paul to extricate himself from he seems to have just done, namely equating law and sin, and thus potentially throwing the Old Testament under the bus. (It doesn’t help Paul’s case that earlier, in 5:20, he sums up the law’s value as revealing the depth of sin rather than being a solution.)

Paul has a few other such moments in the letter where he seems to be backpedaling. By the force of his excitement to preach the gospel, perhaps Paul ran ahead of himself.

Think about it. The more airtight Paul makes his argument (by citing the Old Testament) that it has been God’s plan all along to show no partiality (2:11; 3:21-31) to Jews, the more Jewish followers of Jesus might want to ask, “So, was all that back then about keeping the covenant just a big smokescreen? And what about all those Jews over the centuries who lived their lives according to Torah, some of whom were martyred—does that mean nothing?”

Paul’s argument threatened to call into question the very faithfulness, justice, and righteousness of God. “If this is the kind of about-face God can pull, is this God trustworthy?” Which is to ask, “Is this God at all?”

And so Paul finds himself having to defend God against that charge. His hand is forced by the resurrection of Jesus and he has to work it through—sometimes more clear and compelling, sometimes less so.

What’s my point?

I have no problem reading the book of Romans and watching Paul work through—from the ground up, not the top down—a thorny problem caused by a crucified and risen messiah and the implications that has for both Jews and Gentiles.

I find a connection to Paul by seeing him work through the implications of the gospel, which is both born out of the scriptures and traditions of Judaism and that also moves in an utterly unexpected direction.

I like watching Paul deal with paradox and mystery and get tied up a bit trying to explain it. That tells us something about the nature of scripture that models that process and the nature of Christian faith.

******

I teach Romans now and then at Eastern (including this semester), and for those interested, here are the text books I use.

Luke Timothy Johnson, Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary . Johnson’s commentary is short, to the point, and a great undergraduate introduction to the scholarly conversation on Romans. Some of my students think it’s a bit dry, but what do they know.

Katherine Grieb, The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness. Grieb’s book complements Johnson in that both see Romans not as a theological treatise but “a sustained argument or the righteousness of God that is identified with and demonstrated by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, understood primarily as his willingness to suffer death on the cross” (p. ix).

J. R. Daniel Kirk, Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God. This academic but lucidly written volume pushes my students to grapple with some pretty serious Romans scholarship, but more importantly helps them see the centrality of the resurrection for Paul’s thinking: “In Romans, the resurrection of Jesus becomes Paul’s key for demonstrating that the promises contained in the Scriptures have been fulfilled in the Christ event. Once we recognize that the gospel is couched in terms of the scriptually-attested resurrection of Jesus, we have the map we need for finding our way through Romans” (p. 8).

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.

No Comments

  • gapaul says:

    So good, so helpful, thanks for posting.

  • gapaul says:

    So good, so helpful, thanks for posting.

  • I’m of the mind that virtually any “theologizing” done in the Bible is basically someone trying to make sense of something after the fact. I don’t know the extent Paul is winging it – taking serious liberties with the OT is par for the course – but I definitely think the questions dealt with are his own questions as well, if not primarily. How can Gentiles who don’t have the Law have the promised Spirit? How are they justified? How is it that what are primarily promises to Israel are bringing in far more Gentiles than Jews? Does election count for nothing? How can this possibly be happening?

    He’s trying to make sense of all this and, as you pointed out, not unduly alienate anyone from Christ. “What, did I say the Law was bad? No, no, no! Come on, guys. The Law is great! Really. We all love it. But, you know, we’re all sinners, so, let’s just say functionally that the Law is a curse and an administration of death and if you’re hoping to be justified by it, you’re basically signing up for God’s judgment. I mean, it’s great, you know, the Law. Really big fan. Really big fan. But, um, it’s also the primary tool in the hands of the Accuser to destroy the elect.”

  • Phil Ledgerwood says:

    I’m of the mind that virtually any “theologizing” done in the Bible is basically someone trying to make sense of something after the fact. I don’t know the extent Paul is winging it – taking serious liberties with the OT is par for the course – but I definitely think the questions dealt with are his own questions as well, if not primarily. How can Gentiles who don’t have the Law have the promised Spirit? How are they justified? How is it that what are primarily promises to Israel are bringing in far more Gentiles than Jews? Does election count for nothing? How can this possibly be happening?

    He’s trying to make sense of all this and, as you pointed out, not unduly alienate anyone from Christ. “What, did I say the Law was bad? No, no, no! Come on, guys. The Law is great! Really. We all love it. But, you know, we’re all sinners, so, let’s just say functionally that the Law is a curse and an administration of death and if you’re hoping to be justified by it, you’re basically signing up for God’s judgment. I mean, it’s great, you know, the Law. Really big fan. Really big fan. But, um, it’s also the primary tool in the hands of the Accuser to destroy the elect.”

  • Joshua Steiner says:

    Very good article.

    Have you looked at N.T. Wright’s solution to the issue? He thinks that the reading of Romans 1-3 as simply being about how Jew and Gentile are on a level-playing field is a vast oversimplification to Paul’s argument and that a more nuanced reading would suggest that Paul has something more in mind. The key to interpreting the passage is in Romans 2, where Paul affirms the role of the Torah-observant Jew– the guide to the blind, a bringer of light in the darkness, etc. and then accuses them of falling short of this role. So the argument is not simply that Jews too are sinners; the argument is that the Jews who boast of their election have forgotten their purpose and have become sinners themselves. So Paul has to introduce a new solution, not by denying that the Jews ever had special status [they were entrusted with the oracles of God], and this solution is that Jesus the Messiah is put forth as an atonement for sin and is the revelation of God’s righteousness apart from the Law.

    I wonder if that solves the inconsistency in Paul’s thought?

  • Joshua Steiner says:

    Very good article.

    Have you looked at N.T. Wright’s solution to the issue? He thinks that the reading of Romans 1-3 as simply being about how Jew and Gentile are on a level-playing field is a vast oversimplification to Paul’s argument and that a more nuanced reading would suggest that Paul has something more in mind. The key to interpreting the passage is in Romans 2, where Paul affirms the role of the Torah-observant Jew– the guide to the blind, a bringer of light in the darkness, etc. and then accuses them of falling short of this role. So the argument is not simply that Jews too are sinners; the argument is that the Jews who boast of their election have forgotten their purpose and have become sinners themselves. So Paul has to introduce a new solution, not by denying that the Jews ever had special status [they were entrusted with the oracles of God], and this solution is that Jesus the Messiah is put forth as an atonement for sin and is the revelation of God’s righteousness apart from the Law.

    I wonder if that solves the inconsistency in Paul’s thought?

  • Piet de Groot says:

    I wish you could share your teachings in mp3.

  • Piet de Groot says:

    I wish you could share your teachings in mp3.

  • Barbara Bryan says:

    You’ve clearly and helpfully juxtaposed OT theology within Paul’s NT writing. I completely understand and appreciate his myriad commas running through eight to ten verses before there is a period. When one thinks that way–largely stream of consciousness–one writes that way naturally. It is so worth working through Paul’s passages to reach those periods and stop to reflect what ALL that meant.

  • Barbara Bryan says:

    You’ve clearly and helpfully juxtaposed OT theology within Paul’s NT writing. I completely understand and appreciate his myriad commas running through eight to ten verses before there is a period. When one thinks that way–largely stream of consciousness–one writes that way naturally. It is so worth working through Paul’s passages to reach those periods and stop to reflect what ALL that meant.

  • Andrew Holubeck says:

    I’ve found Arlund Hultgren’s Commentary on Romans to be an amazing resource. An overarching theme in his analysis is that Paul was writing with an eye toward a future trip to Spain. It’s a very thorough commentary that addresses some of the more contemporary discussions about Paul. Also, fellow Lutherans will appreciate the Lutheran lens through which Hultgren views this epistle.

  • Andrew Holubeck says:

    I’ve found Arlund Hultgren’s Commentary on Romans to be an amazing resource. An overarching theme in his analysis is that Paul was writing with an eye toward a future trip to Spain. It’s a very thorough commentary that addresses some of the more contemporary discussions about Paul. Also, fellow Lutherans will appreciate the Lutheran lens through which Hultgren views this epistle.

  • Tim says:

    Luke Timothy Johnson is indeed a bit dry, but he’s good at what he does. I also enjoy that he sometimes conveys a #dealwithit attitude in his writing.

  • Tim says:

    Luke Timothy Johnson is indeed a bit dry, but he’s good at what he does. I also enjoy that he sometimes conveys a #dealwithit attitude in his writing.

  • Trevor Magee says:

    I have just read your yellow book twice plus I am leading our home group through it, which means I am a bit of a fan. So, here is the thing. If the human Paul was winging it and therefore his theology is a bit flawed, how come his letters are escalated by the church fathers & everyone else since then as “the word” of God? Was God winging it too? Unlikely as he is all knowing, infallible & unchanging. Why do we have to elevate any human writings to become holy scripture, why can’t they be simply seen as they are? And how in the world can people be dogmatic about passages of scripture that are imperfect? It is no wonder the neo-atheists are having a field day. Wouldn’t it be better if all of these books, poems & letters we call the Bible were viewed as separate inspired works by humans to tell the story of God?

    • Gary says:

      Neo-atheists aren’t really having a field day. I know a number of atheists and how they are treated by the statistically predominant believers in their lives is definitely not a field day. Would it be better if books, poems, etc.? It would be better, if people were better. Simply.

    • Andrew Dowling says:

      The traditional Rabbinic (and I’m committing the sin of simplifying a pretty wide spectrum) understanding is more in line with the writings being “inspired” as giving special insights about God . . .not the more modern assertion that the words are literally “God’s words.”

  • Trevor Magee says:

    I have just read your yellow book twice plus I am leading our home group through it, which means I am a bit of a fan. So, here is the thing. If the human Paul was winging it and therefore his theology is a bit flawed, how come his letters are escalated by the church fathers & everyone else since then as “the word” of God? Was God winging it too? Unlikely as he is all knowing, infallible & unchanging. Why do we have to elevate any human writings to become holy scripture, why can’t they be simply seen as they are? And how in the world can people be dogmatic about passages of scripture that are imperfect? It is no wonder the neo-atheists are having a field day. Wouldn’t it be better if all of these books, poems & letters we call the Bible were viewed as separate inspired works by humans to tell the story of God?

    • Gary says:

      Neo-atheists aren’t really having a field day. I know a number of atheists and how they are treated by the statistically predominant believers in their lives is definitely not a field day. Would it be better if books, poems, etc.? It would be better, if people were better. Simply.

    • Andrew Dowling says:

      The traditional Rabbinic (and I’m committing the sin of simplifying a pretty wide spectrum) understanding is more in line with the writings being “inspired” as giving special insights about God . . .not the more modern assertion that the words are literally “God’s words.”

  • Hill Roberts says:

    Why do I always feel like an idiot when I read something as insightful as Pete’s posts and then all the usually deep comments? Why? Because I am. I’ve always struggled with Ps back-and-forth-ness in his writings and especially in Rom. Just make up your mind will ya, Paul! And the way he butchers the OT texts are well, enlightening when it comes to pulling the chocks out from under my simplistic historic-grammatical hermeneutics. Seems P never got that memo. Still and all, apparently he “got written up” then for his hermeneutics just like folks do now that don’t toe their sect’s line.

  • Hill Roberts says:

    Why do I always feel like an idiot when I read something as insightful as Pete’s posts and then all the usually deep comments? Why? Because I am. I’ve always struggled with Ps back-and-forth-ness in his writings and especially in Rom. Just make up your mind will ya, Paul! And the way he butchers the OT texts are well, enlightening when it comes to pulling the chocks out from under my simplistic historic-grammatical hermeneutics. Seems P never got that memo. Still and all, apparently he “got written up” then for his hermeneutics just like folks do now that don’t toe their sect’s line.

  • Jonathan Sullivan says:

    interesting…I don’t think Paul’s theology is in any way flawed. I also don’t think that was implied in this article. God’s story as told through the Old Testament is simply complex and intricate. I do often think of Paul as someone who knows so much that he’s literally bubbling over with insight…and working hard to compress it into a short letter. It seems like there should be a 12-volume commentary by Paul out there somewhere…and all we have are these precious few letters. Although if we did have that, I probably wouldn’t be commenting on your blog speculating on Romans.

  • Jonathan Sullivan says:

    interesting…I don’t think Paul’s theology is in any way flawed. I also don’t think that was implied in this article. God’s story as told through the Old Testament is simply complex and intricate. I do often think of Paul as someone who knows so much that he’s literally bubbling over with insight…and working hard to compress it into a short letter. It seems like there should be a 12-volume commentary by Paul out there somewhere…and all we have are these precious few letters. Although if we did have that, I probably wouldn’t be commenting on your blog speculating on Romans.

  • Wayne McLaughlin says:

    Since he was writing from Corinth, it’s possible that the loud glossolalia was interrupting his train of thought.

  • Wayne McLaughlin says:

    Since he was writing from Corinth, it’s possible that the loud glossolalia was interrupting his train of thought.

  • Mike H says:

    Any thoughts on Doug Campbell’s work on Romans and the use of diatribe?

  • Mike H says:

    Any thoughts on Doug Campbell’s work on Romans and the use of diatribe?

  • Great job Peter! Finally, an Evangelical is making plain admissions about Paul’s scrambled use of the OT and putting them all together in a single post! So I guess there is some open division between “Peter [Enns]” and Paul (unlike the divisiveness between Peter and Paul that the author of Acts tries to cover up. *smile*)

    Peter, haven’t you also composed previous pieces on the way not just Paul, but the authors of the Gospels lifted OT passages out of their original context?

    Makes you wonder why the authors of the NT had to keep bending things to make them look like they were pointing straight at Jesus. Could it be a fanatical frame of mind?

    Google: Paul fanaticus extremis

    There are two posts on Paul there, that show just how his fanaticism led him down wrong and insultingly divisive paths.

  • Great job Peter! Finally, an Evangelical is making plain admissions about Paul’s scrambled use of the OT and putting them all together in a single post! So I guess there is some open division between “Peter [Enns]” and Paul (unlike the divisiveness between Peter and Paul that the author of Acts tries to cover up. *smile*)

    Peter, haven’t you also composed previous pieces on the way not just Paul, but the authors of the Gospels lifted OT passages out of their original context?

    Makes you wonder why the authors of the NT had to keep bending things to make them look like they were pointing straight at Jesus. Could it be a fanatical frame of mind?

    Google: Paul fanaticus extremis

    There are two posts on Paul there, that show just how his fanaticism led him down wrong and insultingly divisive paths.

  • Paul D. says:

    It’s somewhat amusing to say Paul is logically consistent when scholars and theologians can’t agree on what exactly he means. There are widely divergent views on Romans, for example. Compare Douglas Campbell’s exegesis to N. T. Wright’s, or a true critical scholar like J.C. O’Neill or Heikki Räisänen.

    • Veritas says:

      Even Peter said that Paul was difficult to understand, but language is a rather imperfect way of communicating, just ask spouses. How we long for the Vulcan mind meld….the edited version of course

  • Paul D. says:

    It’s somewhat amusing to say Paul is logically consistent when scholars and theologians can’t agree on what exactly he means. There are widely divergent views on Romans, for example. Compare Douglas Campbell’s exegesis to N. T. Wright’s, or a true critical scholar like J.C. O’Neill or Heikki Räisänen.

    • Veritas says:

      Even Peter said that Paul was difficult to understand, but language is a rather imperfect way of communicating, just ask spouses. How we long for the Vulcan mind meld….the edited version of course

  • John Franklin says:

    Was keeping Torah all for nothing question is a good question. Christine Hayes, in her recent book, “What’s Divine about Divine Law?” makes Paul a devotee of Philo’s understanding of law in order to overcome this messy Jewish problem Paul has gotten himself into. How could a true Jew not give central place to the law; hence Paul is more Greek than Jew. Yet Paul’s autobiographic description (Phil. 3:4-6) sounds pretty Jewish to me.

  • John Franklin says:

    Was keeping Torah all for nothing question is a good question. Christine Hayes, in her recent book, “What’s Divine about Divine Law?” makes Paul a devotee of Philo’s understanding of law in order to overcome this messy Jewish problem Paul has gotten himself into. How could a true Jew not give central place to the law; hence Paul is more Greek than Jew. Yet Paul’s autobiographic description (Phil. 3:4-6) sounds pretty Jewish to me.

  • Derek says:

    Hey Pete, did you ever read Douglas Moo’s “Epistle to the Romans” commentary? I’ve heard only good things about it (not just from conservatives).

  • Derek says:

    Hey Pete, did you ever read Douglas Moo’s “Epistle to the Romans” commentary? I’ve heard only good things about it (not just from conservatives).

  • berryfriesen says:

    Pete, your post so helpfully captures the feeling I’ve often had in reading Romans. Thank you!

    Yet at points you overstate your case. I hear Paul saying throughout and rather consistently that YHWH has called “just” those who believe YHWH’s rather far-fetched promise: refusal to conform to the norms of imperial power and a commitment to life as a vulnerable, stateless community is our salvation. Those few who first heard and visualized this promise rightly cherish their inheritance and witness, but that was only the beginning. This justice of YHWH is meant for all.

  • Pete, your post so helpfully captures the feeling I’ve often had in reading Romans. Thank you!

    Yet at points you overstate your case. I hear Paul saying throughout and rather consistently that YHWH has called “just” those who believe YHWH’s rather far-fetched promise: refusal to conform to the norms of imperial power and a commitment to life as a vulnerable, stateless community is our salvation. Those few who first heard and visualized this promise rightly cherish their inheritance and witness, but that was only the beginning. This justice of YHWH is meant for all.

  • Josh says:

    Wish I was in your Romans class Pete. Looks like fun learning time.

  • Josh says:

    Wish I was in your Romans class Pete. Looks like fun learning time.

  • Brian Millhollon says:

    Very well done Pete. Absolutely love it!

  • Brian Millhollon says:

    Very well done Pete. Absolutely love it!

  • charlesburchfield says:

    I take great personal comfort in this from Romans:
    Romans 8.28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who
    have been called according to his purpose.
    in my humble opinion this is the heart of the good news of the Gospel. *~!!!]:D

  • I take great personal comfort in this from Romans:
    Romans 8.28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who
    have been called according to his purpose.
    in my humble opinion this is the heart of the good news of the Gospel. *~!!!]:D

  • Ross says:

    Thanks for the post. Maybe there’s an opening for the “Humanity of Paul” here and he’s not just another interlocutor for God, who actually wrote the bible. I had understood that he was the fourth person of the trinity!

  • Ross says:

    Thanks for the post. Maybe there’s an opening for the “Humanity of Paul” here and he’s not just another interlocutor for God, who actually wrote the bible. I had understood that he was the fourth person of the trinity!

  • Andrew Dowling says:

    Looking at Paul’s arguments it’s no surprise that Paul’s thought (see Galatians) didn’t really find much favor with the Jewish-Christian communities led by James and co. But those communities got obliterated in the two Roman-Jewish wars and Gentile Christian church spread forth from the shoulders of Paul.

  • Andrew Dowling says:

    Looking at Paul’s arguments it’s no surprise that Paul’s thought (see Galatians) didn’t really find much favor with the Jewish-Christian communities led by James and co. But those communities got obliterated in the two Roman-Jewish wars and Gentile Christian church spread forth from the shoulders of Paul.

  • danieltb says:

    re: “Backpedaling” in Romans 7?
    Paul was addressing Jewish believers (“those who know the Law” [Ro 7:1]–Gentiles don’t [Ro 2:14]) he’d assumed already knew, and would therefore have already been prepared to agree with, his premise that a Jew was obligated to serve through Torah only so long as he lived. In fact, this is a view held to by Orthodox Jews to this very day:

    Niddah 61b
    Our Rabbis taught: A garment in which kil’ayim4 was lost5 may not be sold to an idolater,6 nor may one make of it a packsaddle for an ass, but it may be made into7 a shroud for a corpse. R. Joseph observed: THIS8 IMPLIES THAT THE COMMANDMENTS WILL BE ABOLISHED IN THE HEREAFTER.9 Said Abaye (or as some say R. Dimi) to him: But did not R. Manni10 in the name of R. Jannai state, ‘This8 was learnt only in regard to the time of the lamentations11 but for burial12 this is forbidden’?13
    — The other replied: But was it not stated in connection with it, ‘R.
    Johanan ruled: Even for burial’? AND THEREBY R. JOHANAN FOLLOWED HIS PREVIOUSLY EXPRESSED VIEW, FOR R. JOHANAN STATED: ‘WHAT IS THE PURPORT OF THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT, FREE14 AMONG THE DEAD?15 AS SOON AS A MAN DIES HE IS FREE FROM THE COMMANDMENTS’.
    (Note: Some of the traditions preserved in the Talmud predate Christ–Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, I believe it was, once said Jesus’s NT words were the earliest known attestation of the traditions we understand were later recorded in the Talmud–and, apparently, the tradition that Jews were obligated to serve only so long as they lived was among those which had been around in Paul’s day.)

    Granted, Paul uses different bases (from the Torah, Itself), but his and the Talmud’s (from the Psalms) conclusions are the same: the Law is binding on Jews only so long as they live. Being that this is the case, and seeing that we share with Christ in His death when we believe in Him (we are counted as “in Christ” and “crucified with Christ”), the Jewish believer is no longer under obligation to serve through Law but is brought under obligation to serve through the Spirit of Grace. The Jewish believers in Rome would, therefore, not necessarily have seen all of Paul’s 7:1-6 explanation of liberty in such a light so as to necessitate Paul “backpedaling”.

    Also, consider: Paul had certainly been through the circuit of this argument many times before–he would probably not have been doing theology “on” as much of “the fly” as you seem to be hoping (no offense intended) he was.

    re: “Slaves” [Ro 7:6]
    I think “that which held us captive” [Ro 7:6] is actually that which we are “free” [Ro 8:2] from: the body of sin and death with its law of sin and death [Ro 6:6, 7:23]; however, since we have died, this also means that, according to the Law [Ro 7:1-6; Gal 2:19], we are released from the Law so that we are not only “dead to sin” but also “dead to the Law”–one necessitates the other.

  • username_daniel says:

    re: “Backpedaling” in Romans 7?
    Paul was addressing Jewish believers (“…brothers… who know the Law…” [Ro 7:1]–Gentiles were set forth as not knowing the Law [Ro 2:14]) he’d assumed would already have known (“…do you not know…?” [Ro 7:1]), and would therefore have been disposed to agree with, his assertion that Jews are only under the authority of the Law as long as they qualify as the “living”. This is actually a view held by Orthodox Jews to this very day:

    Niddah 61b
    Our Rabbis taught: A garment in which kil’ayim4 was lost5 may not be sold to an idolater,6 nor may one make of it a packsaddle for an ass, but it may be made into7 a shroud for a corpse. R. Joseph observed: THIS8 IMPLIES THAT THE COMMANDMENTS WILL BE ABOLISHED IN THE HEREAFTER.9 Said Abaye (or as some say R. Dimi) to him: But did not R. Manni10 in the name of R. Jannai state, ‘This8 was learnt only in regard to the time of the lamentations11 but for burial12 this is forbidden’?13 — The other replied: But was it not stated in connection with it, ‘R. Johanan ruled: Even for burial’? AND THEREBY R. JOHANAN FOLLOWED HIS PREVIOUSLY EXPRESSED VIEW, FOR R. JOHANAN STATED: ‘WHAT IS THE PURPORT OF THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT, FREE14 AMONG THE DEAD?15 AS SOON AS A MAN DIES HE IS FREE FROM THE COMMANDMENTS’.
    (Note: Some of the traditions preserved in the Talmud predate Christ–Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, I believe it was, once said Jesus’s NT words were the earliest known attestation of the traditions we understand were later recorded in the Talmud–and, apparently, the tradition that Jews were obligated to serve only so long as they qualified as the “living” was among those which had already been around in Paul’s day.)
    Here is the doctrine being discussed by two Orthodox rabbis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Odhy5eq5qqY

    Granted, Paul uses different bases (Torah, Itself) to reach his conclusions, but his and the Talmud’s (based on the Psalms) are one and the same: Jews are under the authority of the Torah as a method of service only as long as they qualify as the “living”. As I said before, it seems the Jewish believers being addressed in Ro 7 ought already to have known this to be true; their only problem would’ve been in failing to comprehend faith in Christ had qualified them as the “dead”.
    In other words, I don’t agree that they would’ve interpreted all of Paul’s 7:1-6 explanation of liberty from Law in such a way as would’ve forced Paul into “backpedaling” (even if his Ro 7:7, 8 point about the Law arousing sinful passions in those who are “in the flesh” [Ro 7:5, 8:9] obviously required a bit of explaining).
    Consider also: Paul had certainly been through this argument before–would most likely not have been doing theology “on” as much of “the fly” as you (no offense intended) seem to be hoping he was doing it.

    re: “Slaves” [Ro 7:6]
    A “captive” [Ro 7:6] is what a “liberated” [Ro 8:2] man is not: “that which held us captive” must refer (not to the Law but) to the body of sin and death in which dwelt the law of sin and death whereby Paul’s inward man had formerly been “taken captive” [Jn 8:31-34; Ro 6:6, 7:14, 23, 24]; that said, I agree that, as even the Law dictates (and as explained above) [Ro 7:1-6; Gal 2:19], as soon as these Jews qualified as the “dead” (“through the body of Christ” [Ro 7:4]) they became qualified as “dead to / free from the Law” (the satisfaction of the former condition having brought the latter into effect).

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