Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Romans 1-4

Let's attempt a brief written-on-a-cocktail-napkin discussion of Romans 1-4, my bedtime-reading hobby-horse for the last few weeks. In some places it is profitable to outline. [Outline headings go as follows: I (A) (i) (a).] In other places it is best just to write things out normally. Such is Paul.

I. Superscription --- Introduction to the Letter [1:1-1:7]

(A) Paul identifies himself to the Romans as

(i) a slave of Christ Jesus

(ii) a called apostle who is set apart for the purpose of preaching the gospel.

(B) Concerning this gospel:

(i) Paul claims that its contents were announced through the prophets of holy scripture, i.e., what we call the OT canon. In other words, Paul indicates a certain type of continuity between the OT and the gospel.

(ii) The contents in (i) consist of no less than God's Son

(a) God's Son came through the House of David in terms of human progeny, but was appointed as Son-of-God-in-power [whatever the dative means] through the agency of the Holy Spirit in connection with the resurrection.

(b) God's Son is "our Lord" [and hence He is due the worship and esteem reserved for God].

(c) Through God's Son "we" received grace and the apostolic office

(d) Through God's Son the Roman Christians are called into the obedience-of-faith [whatever that exactly means]

(e) God's Son, along with God the Father, are the bestowers of grace and peace to the Roman Christians.

II. Paul States His Plans To Visit Rome [1:8-1:16a]

(A) The fact that some in Rome believe is known "in all the world" [a bit of delightful hyperbole here!] allows Paul to thank God through Jesus Christ.

(B) In Paul's prayers:

(i) Paul states that he makes frequent mention of the Romans.

(ii) Paul states that he asks [beseeches] God to open up an opportunity for him to go to Rome.

(a) One reason is that Paul longs to see them so that he might impart to them a spiritual gift, not only for their strengthening, but also indirectly for his strengthing through the faith of the Roman believers.

(b) Another reason is that Paul might "have/bear fruit" from the Romans just has he has from other Gentile communities.

(iii) Paul states that he has greatly desired to visit Rome, but has been hindered up to the time at which the epistle is written.

(iv) Paul's ministry is to both Greeks and non-Greeks, to both the wise and the foolish --- to all of these groups he is a debtor, a slave to the gospel he was commissioned to preach, and, as the Roman communion consists of representatives from some or all of these groups, his desire is to preach the gospel to the Romans as well.

(v) And why in IIB(iv) does Paul have the desire to preach the gospel to the Romans, who reside in the seat of secular power, who hold to the scandal of a man "hung from a tree" when the visible might of the heart of the imperium surrounds them?

Answer: Because Paul is not ashamed of the gospel.

Let's now break from outline format.

And why is Paul not ashamed of this gospel, which, by earthly standards, is something of which we should be ashamed?

Answer: Because the gospel is the very power of God unto salvation for all believers. That is, the gospel is God's saving power for all who believe. And, with the gospel being God's saving power, there is no room for shame on its behalf.

But what makes the gospel the very power of God unto salvation for all who believe?

Answer: What makes the gospel God's saving power for all who believe is the fact that the gospel reveals the righteousness-of-God, a righteousness that is wholly by faith.

But in turn, what is the righteousness-of-God? What sort of genitive is God here?

Answer: The righteousness-of-God is that righteousness which comes from God; God bestows righteousness [or, more formally, a status of being righteous] upon all who believe: he who is righteous-by-faith shall indeed live. When I believed the gospel, despite my sinful state and rebellion to God, God declared me righteous, so that, even though I still sin and am sinful, God sees me as righteous.

To argue for this interpretation of the genitive, the rest if Rom 1-4 will have to be outlined.

To summarize 1:16-17 so far:

Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because it is God's saving power for all those who believe, and the gospel is God's saving power for all those who believe because in it God reveals the righteousness that he bestows on those who believe, a righteousness that is wholly by faith.

Let's turn to 1:18. Here, Paul is about to now begin what I see as an argument as to why the righteousness that God bestows must be wholly by faith. The gist of the argument is that God's wrath is being revealed to all men.

Regarding the "all men" just mentioned: Paul argues that Gentiles and those from the past are under condemnation, and Paul then turns his condemnatory statements towards the Jews themselves [either in 2:1 or 2:17]. The Jews, unlike the Gentiles, have God's revelation, knowing God's Law and standards, and they were to be the light unto the world --- yet even with these and other advantages they fall under God's condemnation, for they too have sinned, and God, being righteous and hating sin, must punish sin. Paul's argument climaxes with the dreary state of the human condition relative to the judgement of God in 3:10-18: there is no one who is righteous, not as much as one man, etc. The Jews who had the advantages stated earlier are condemned for not keeping God's Law; arguing from greater to lesser, the Gentiles as well therefore stand condemned, and the argument that all men are fundamentally unrighteous by God's exacting standards is thus complete. That is, no man can, by his own merits and keeping of God's standards, put God into the "owe" column.

The human condition, left to itself, is truly hopeless. Man cannot do a thing about it: works are excluded. Thus, the righteousness of God described in 1:17 cannot be obtained by the best efforts of men, and hence the righteousness of God, as Paul states, must be a righteousness that is wholly by faith, and nothing but faith.

Thus, up to 3:20 Paul has made the following argument:

I'm not ashamed of the gospel since the gospel is God's saving power for all those who believe. In turn the gospel is God's saving power for all those who believe because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed [i.e. the bestowing of a righteous status], and this righteousness is wholly by faith. And in turn, this righteousnes is not merely wholly by faith, but, even more strongly, it needs to necessarily be wholly by faith, because both Jew and Gentile alike are utterly sinful and condemned in God's eyes, their works availing them for naught in terms of God's standard of righteousness.

And now, at 3:21, after his brutal assessment [or God's assessment to be more accurate] of the state of mankind, Paul states the following regarding the righteousness of God:

(1) It was made manifest apart from [the] law.
(2) It was testified to by the law and the prophets [what we would call the OT].
(3) It is through faith in Jesus Christ [or through Christ's faithfulness if one takes the genitive differently] for all those who believe, and the righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ [or through Christ's faithfulness] instead of through something else because relative to sinning and not meeting God's standard, all men, without distinction, are in the same sorry boat.

I view 22b-23 as parenthetical, which seems to be the most natural reading. If I'm correct, I read 22a and 24 together stating: "A righteousness of God that is through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe, being freely justified by his grace, a grace that comes from the redemptive activities of Christ." [I've given a loose amplified paraphrase here from the Greek that seems to capture the sense well enough.]

Our justification is free --- God has accomplished it for us through the person and work of Christ.

Also note that Paul seems in 3:21-26 to be connecting the righteousness of God with freely-given justification --- a justification that is entirely apart from works. Yet, given the fact that the Christian still sins [7:14-25], and given that Paul later intimately connects justification-apart-from-works with the psalm-quote discussing the blessedness of the man (i) whose lawless deeds are forgiven, (ii) sins are covered, and (iii) will in no way have sin reckoned to him by God, it seems to me beyond any exegetical doubt that Paul views the righteousness of God first mentioned in 1:17 as a forensic declaration. This completely runs contrary to my intuition, but such is the gospel.

As an interesting side point, Paul seems to indicate in 3:25-26 that God's redemption was for the purpose of showing forth His righteousness, so that [or: for the purpose of] He might be shown to be righteous [among other things].

Moving to 3:27, Paul mentions the following items in connection with justification:

(1) A ground for boasting, given 3:21-26, is entirely excluded, on account of "the law of faith." This seems to mean that, because our faith is reckoned as righteousness as compared to our acts, we cannot feel as if we have made God a debtor to us.

(2) Justification is through faith --- not through [as in (1)] works of the law. As it seems that faith and works are mutually exclusive yet exhaustive grounds for justification, saying that justification is through faith alone [even though the Greek for alone doesn't appear in the text] appears to be exactly correct here, for Paul explicitly shuts out the good works of men.

(3) Justification through faith is not contrary, says Paul, to the law, by which he seems to mean the OT writings. Rather, he states, justification by faith affirms or upholds the law. If this interpretation is correct, then Paul seems to indicate an important continuity between the OT writings and the gospel.

In short, nobody can make a claim before God.

But turning to Romans 4, what about Abraham, the greatest of the Jews? Rabbinic writings portray Abraham's faith and belief in God as a meritorious work by which he earned God's favor. Does not at least Abraham violate Paul's words that boasting is completely excluded? If Abraham is a counterexample to Paul's claim that boasting and merit are excluded, then perhaps others are counterexamples as well, and the righteousness of God is not wholly by faith. In other words, Abraham might be the detail that, upon being thrust into the forefront, undermines Paul's earlier arguments for the sinfulness of all men and their wretched standing before God's eyes.

So, Paul turns to the case of Abraham, the father of the Jews, and a case for merit if there ever was one.

In 4:1-8, Paul states that, were Abraham justified by his acts, he would have grounds for boasting, though not in God's eyes, and the reason for this is the familiar Genesis 15:6: "And Abram believed God, ahd it was reckoned to him as righteousness." This passage was used by various Rabbis around Paul's time as a prooftext for Abram's faith being meriotorious or earning of God's favor. Paul claims that, no, the Rabbis are wrong.

In turn, Paul's argument that the Rabbis are wrong consists in stating the principle that the reward in the case of works is not reckoned according to grace but to what is owed, whereas the one who looks to God [Who justifies the ungodly] has his faith credited as righteousness. For myself, I'm not quite sure what Paul is getting at here.

Note too [as stated before] that Paul links the righteousness reckoned to a man apart from works with the forgiveness of sin and the fact that God will in no way [double negative via aorist subjunctive] reckon sin to the man. Hence, justification, the forgiveness of sins, and the permanent acquital of a man are linked together into one concept by Paul.

4:9-12: The gist here is that Abram was [in Paul's eyes] justified, declared righteous in God's sight, while uncircumcised. He had saving faith even before receiving the covenant sign of circumcision. Hence, with his justification preceding his Rabbinically-argued merit in receiving such a sign, the case that Abraham is an example of merit receives another blow.

4:13-25: We've talked about justification by faith, but what is "faith" ? In the course of presenting an argument against Abraham's somehow earning [or partially earning] a righteousness before God, Paul illustrates what faith is by pointing to Abraham's example:

(1) When indications pointed otherwise regarding bringing forth a son, such as Abraham's age and the barrenness of Sarah's womb, Abraham still believed God's promise to make him the father of many nations.
(2) In fact, Abraham's trust in God was strengthened because it was God making the promise, and God keeps His promises.

On a personal note, this is the example to follow. For I know I am a sinner. I may not appear so outwardly, but I know in the truest sense that I have done wrong, thought wrong, spoken what is evil, etc. My condition, made painfully explicit by knowledge of God's standards, is hopeless. Yet, some two millenia ago, God did something about this through both the crucifixion as well as the resurrection. So while my situation often seems and feels hopeless, I still trust that God is a God who justifies the ungodly apart from works, for, if I am justified through works or partly through works, I am condemned.

In summary of Chapter 4, Paul has argued that Abraham, the greatest possible case for merit that can be made, still was justified on the basis of his faith. And, arguing from the greatest to all that is lesser, the Jews, if they are to be justified, can also only be justified by faith. Arguing from the Jews to we Gentiles, if the Jews are justified by faith, then we certainly too are justified by faith.

This completes the brief summary of Paul's argument that not even Abraham has grounds for making a claim on God.

Thus, looking back over Rom 1-4, Paul has set forth his reasons for not being ashamed of the gospel, and delineated [if we let Paul speak for himself and not our prior intuitions or philosophies] quite clearly what the righteousness of God is, a righteousness that is freely given to all who believe. He has also defended his claim that this righteousness of God is wholly by faith.

That seems to be the structure of Rom 1-4 in very broad brushstrokes.


Blogger Oddball Pastor said...

PP said: "(1) A ground for boasting, given 3:21-26, is entirely excluded, on account of "the law of faith." This seems to mean that, because our faith is reckoned as righteousness as compared to our acts, we cannot feel as if we have made God a debtor to us."

I agree with what you say, but wonder if you may not have stated it strongly enough. It isn't just that we can't feel that God is ourdebtor,its that he is in fact not ourdebtor. The issue is objective, not subjective. There is no ground for boasting, not "no gorund for feeling like we can boast."

PP said: "In turn, Paul's argument that the Rabbis are wrong consists in stating the principle that the reward in the case of works is not reckoned according to grace but to what is owed, whereas the one who looks to God [Who justifies the ungodly] has his faith credited as righteousness. For myself, I'm not quite sure what Paul is getting at here."

I think what Paul is saying is that, as a amtter of principle, works by definition the one for whom you have worked in your debt. This is not only the effect, but the express goal of works. By contrast, if we look to God to justify us, without any effort on our part to jsutify ourselves, allowng God to do by grace through faith what oherwise we woud be trying to coerce God to do by obligation through works, then we are jsutified. We don't have to make ourselves godly by our works.

As for the nature of faith, I like how you have described it. It coheres well with the definition of Herews 11:1

Thursday, September 01, 2005 5:36:00 AM  
Blogger steve said...

Fine analytical outline.

Of course, we know the wheels will come off once the PP gets to Rom 9! :-)

At that point I'll avert my eyes since I'm squeamish at the sight of blood! :-)

Thursday, September 01, 2005 5:59:00 AM  
Blogger steve said...

They may be "very broad brushstrokes, but they're pure Da Vinci!

Thursday, September 01, 2005 2:32:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...


You had two main points:

(1) When I said that a ground for boasting is entirely excluded, I was merely taking my cue from Paul. At least in my eyes, I was making a fully objective statement. But just to reassure you: it is a fact that we have no ground for viewing God as a debtor because Paul's argument [which includes me and you and everybody else] indicates as such.

(2) When I said that I wasn't quite sure what Paul was getting at, what I should've said was something like "I'm not sure how Paul sees this as supporting his argument."

To clarify: At the beginning of Rom 4, Paul is attempting to argue that not even Abraham has a ground for boasting before God --- Abraham, the best hope for merit if there was one, in fact has no merit and must [just like the rest of us] have his faith reckoned as righteousness. At least Paul wants to argue as such as the Rabbinic interpretatoins.

Paul quotes Gen 15:6 --- a passage Rabbinically viewed as a prooftext for the contra-Pauline claim that Abraham's faith was meritorious --- as in the sense of saying to the Rabbis that they got Gen 15:6 wrong. Then in Rom 4:4 Paul states the principle that the reward in the case of works is not reckoned according to grace but to what is owed, whereas the one who looks to God [Who justifies the ungodly] has his faith credited as righteousness. Now personally, I understand what Paul is saying here, but what I don't understand [yet if ever] is just how this is a good argument for Paul's point. It looks to me as if Paul is merely stating a general principle about reward and merit, but this doesn't have anything [so far as I can tell] to do with whether Abraham truly merited righteousness or not. I'm in the uncomfortable position of viewing 4:4 as a big non sequitur, which makes a mere Bible student such as myself feel uncomfortably precocious.

Thursday, September 01, 2005 4:50:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Steve --- if we're going to use a painting analogy, the "broad brushstrokes" are more like those of a West Side gangbanger spraypainting his gang logo on one of the Chicago Transit Authority underpasses.

Thursday, September 01, 2005 4:53:00 PM  

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