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Myers, Ben. The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Lexham Classics; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. xvi +147 pp.; Hb. $15.99  Link to Lexham Press

Ben Myers is a research fellow of the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University in Australia and director of the Millis Institute at Christian Heritage College. This short devotional reading of the Apostles’ Creed began as a sermon series Leichhardt United Church in Sydney. This brief book on the Apostles’ Creed is a very basic introduction to the deep and mysterious depths of the Gospel. As Myers confessions in to final chapter, just as “no one has yet breathed all the air” no mind has yet to grasp the creed in all of its fullness. This guide is a first step for a believer seeking to understand the historic faith of the church.

Myers does not focus attention on the origin in the creed in its present form, he is simply not interested historical details in this book. He begins with Hippolytus’s description of a baptism in On the Apostolic Tradition. Before the candidates receive baptism, they are asked if they believe the three sections of the creed. From this Myers suggest the creed was used as a catechism for new believers (p. 4). The creed was memorized and served as the basis for further instruction. But more than an ancient confession of faith, Myers thinks this rule of faith functions as a part of the baptismal declaration of faith, a “threefold immersion into the life of God” (p. 5). The creed was both teaching and a “pledge of allegiance” which provides a framework for Christian thinking and Christian commitment.

Myers moves through the Apostle’s Creed in a series of twenty-three short chapters. Some chapters reflect on only a single word (I, Believe and Amen); most discuss a phrase of the creed. Most only treat a few words, the longest combine a few phrases (“He descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead” and “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”). Each chapter connects the theology of the creed to the canon of Scripture. Although he does not often set the creed into the context of the Hebrew Bible, the creedal statements do stand on the foundation of the New Testament. The exception to this is the chapter “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit” and “born of the Virgin Mary.” Myers (rightly) sees the virgin birth in the light of the series of miraculous births in the Hebrew Bible.

My main criticism of the book is this lack of interest in the roots of the creed in the Hebrew Bible. For example, in the chapter on “Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord,” Myers focuses on the final two words, “our Lord.” This emphasis is important since the earliest Christian confession was “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9, 1 Cor 12:3, Phil 2:5-11). But this chapter overlooks the both Christ as well as the “God’s only son.” Both of these titles rooted in the Hebrew Bible, Christ is Messiah and “son of God” is a messianic phrase as well (Psalm 2, for example). The same criticism applies to the chapters on “God the Father” and “Almighty.” Despite the fact the term is drawn from the Hebrew Bible, there is no reference to the Hebrew Scripture in the chapter. Perhaps this is simply a result of Myers looking forward from the creed to the history of the church rather than back to the sources for each line. In fact, grounding each line of the creed to the Hebrew Bible would make an interesting companion volume to this book.

Myers also connects these creedal statements to church writers who comment on the theological importance of each line. He often cites Augustine, Irenaeus, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa (along with Karl Barth and Jorge Luis Borges once each). The historical reception of the creedal statements demonstrate how the words of the creed continued to resonate with each generation of the church.

This is a small “trim size” book (5×7 inches) and many of the 147 pages full-page illustrations. Since no chapter is more than a few pages long, the book is ideal for devotional reading or used in a small group Bible study. The brevity of the chapters allow for further discussion and contemplation of each phrase of the Apostles’ Creed. The book can be read in an afternoon but it is best read slowly, with an open Bible and prayerful, open heart.

This guide to the Apostles’ Creed is a theologically rich and historically aware meditation on heart of biblical Christianity.

 

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Lee, John A. L. Basics of Greek Accents. Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan, 2018. 110 pp. pb; $14.99. Link to Zondervan

Rarely does an introductory grammar devote much attention to Greek accents. For example Croy (Eerdmans 1999) lists five common rules occupying about a half-page. Although other rules exist and should not be ignored, Croy suggests they are best learned as they are encountered. In his extremely popular beginning grammar published by Zondervan, Mounce relegates the rules for accents to the “advanced information” section and only describes the three accents. For the rules, he suggests students consult his arcane Morphology of Biblical Greek. J. W. Wenham’s Elements of New Testament Greek (Cambridge, 1965) states accents “are to be completely ignored except on rare occasions (which will be mentioned as they arise)” (23). Someone might argue Greek accents are unimportant sine they do not appear in the earliest manuscripts (this was the opinion of an author who submitted an article to a journal I edit). On the other hand, D. A. Carson attempted to rehabilitate Greek accents in his Greek Accents: A Student Manual (Paternoster, 1981; Baker 1985). With 38 lessons over 167 pages (plus exercises), most students of New Testament Greek will slip into despair before mastering accents. At 472 pages (and $245 retail) it is unlikely anyone outside of a Ph.D. student will track down and read Probert’s Ancient Greek Accentuation (Oxford, 2006). Probert did publish a shorter guide (Bristol Classical Press, 2003), a mere 160 pages on ancient Greek accents.

John Lee’s new Basics of Greet Accents falls squarely between the view “accents are not all that important” and Carson’s manual. Lee is a Senior Research Fellow (honorary) attached to the Ancient History Department at Macquarie University where this little book had its origin. Lee suggestions “true competence in Greek cannot be attained without competence in Greek accents” (7). As someone who works regularly in the Greek New Testament, there is some truth to the statement. Greek simply looks wrong if it is printed without accents, and it is very difficult to pronounce properly unless the student pays attention to how the word is accented.

There are eight lessons in this manual, although the eighth contains advanced information rarely encountered in the New Testament (accenting optative, Epic and lesbian dialects, etc.) The first chapter covers the basic rules found in most basic grammars, Lessons 2, 3 and 5 deal with verbs, nouns and adjectives. Lesson 4 focuses on “function words” (demonstratives, articles, etc.)  Lessons 6 and 7 deal with contractions and enclitics. Each lesson has several examples for class discussion followed by an in-class exercise and a homework assignment. Each section has six lines of unaccented Greek words, the student should employ the rules and provide accents for each word. Later lessons contain a short paragraph. I looked over a few examples, and immediately went looking for the answer key in the back of the book (pages 73-85).

The book concludes with four examples drawn from ancient Greek manuscripts: Homer, Iliad 8.433, 435-47 (first or second century papyri); LXX Isaiah 13:3-8 (sixth century Codex Marchalianus); Romans 14:22-23, 16:25-27 (Michigan Ms. 34, fourteenth century); Demosthenes, On the Crown, 119-120 (an 1807 manuscript). Lee provides a photograph of the manuscript followed by a few paragraph of comments and a transcription. This wide range of dates allows the student to track the development of accents and other diacritical marks. These four illustrations are fascinating although I would have preferred additional examples from New Testament papyri given the target audience of this book. It would also be useful for Zondervan to host high resolution photographs for professors to use in a classroom.

Conclusion. Basics of Greet Accents is a handy guide to accents and is an inexpensive add-on to any first year course in biblical Greek. Most New Testament scholars will find this book a helpful refresher and set of exercise to sharpen Greek skills.

NB: Thanks to Zondervan for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Cranfield, C. E. B. Romans (Shorter Commentary). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 406 pp. Pb; $40.   Link to Eerdmans

Cranfield’s 1975 commentary on Romans in the International Critical Commentary series is one of the best exegetical commentaries available at the time. N. T. Wright praised the ICC volume as “the finest work on Romans to appear this century” and F. F. Bruce thought it was “well worthy to take its place alongside the really great commentaries on Romans.” But the two-volume commentary was expensive and the dense exegesis of the Greek text made it difficult for many to use.

Eerdmans originally published this abridged single volume in 1985. In the preface of the commentary Cranfield described the commentary as shorter, less detailed and Greekless. In addition, the shorter commentary does not have any footnotes to secondary literature (other commentaries and articles) and very few references to historic interpreters of the book of Romans.

In the body of the commentary Cranfield breaks each verse into phrases, identical to the ICC volume except the phrases are in English. The Shorter Commentary often follows the ICC verbatim with respect to comments on the text. Cranfield uses his own translation of Romans, which is identical to the fifth impression of the first volume and third impression of the second volume of the original ICC commentary.

The original commentary was known for offering a variety of solutions to several of the more troubling exegetical problems in Romans. For example, in Romans 5:12, Cranfield offers six alternatives for understanding the phrase ἐφʼ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον, “in whom all sinned.” His ICC commentary has more than five pages of discussion including references to ancient commentaries and one quotation in German. The shorter commentary covers the same six possibilities with only one reference to Augustine in passing and no citations of any secondary sources.

It is fair to question the relevance of a commentary on Romans published in 1985, based on a commentary published in 1975. The commentary reflects the state of Pauline studies before E. P. Sanders and the ongoing debate over the so-called New Perspective on Paul. In fact, there is nothing new about Cranfield’s perspective on Paul. Both his ICC volume and this shorter commentary are excellent examples of the best exegesis behind the traditional view of Paul.

But as with other volumes in the Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series, this Shorter Commentary on Romans is worthy of staying in print. Cranfield’s commentary is an example of a master exegete who seeks to shed light on the text of Romans so those who are preaching and teaching the book can better communicate God’s word. For a busy pastor, Cranfield’s ICC volume might be difficult to use and priced out of their range, but this single volume commentary distills the larger commentary and will be of value to anyone working in Romans.

It is good Eerdmans recognizes the value of older commentaries. As the series preface observes, these commentaries have been used by pastors, teachers, seminary students, and are cited literary thousands of times by later works.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Osborne, Grant R.  Romans: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 542 pp.; Pb.  $26.99  Link to Lexham Press

Grant Osborne is perhaps best known for his The Hermeneutical Spiral, a standard textbook for a generation of pastors and teachers. He serves as the series editor for the IVP New Testament Commentary and contributed the Romans commentary for that series (2004). This is the first volume of a series of New Testament commentaries written by Osborne and published by Lexham Press in both print and Logos Library editions. As of December 2017, six of the commentaries have been published.

In the series preface, Osborne describes three goals for his commentaries. First, they may be used for devotional Scripture reading. Since the commentaries are based on the NIV translation a reader can use this commentary as a supplement to their daily Bible reading. Second, these commentaries may be used in Church Bible studies, perhaps in a small group or Sunday school context. Third, these commentaries will serve as aids for pastors and teachers as they prepare sermons on the text of the Bible. Osborne says he wants “to help pastors faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.” As he writes these commentaries, Osborne draws on his own experience as a pastor and interim pastor. He goal is academic respectable but intended for the layperson. Osborne attempts to balance a deep reading of the text with a practical application for the Bible student.

In the seventeen-page introduction Osborne argues for a more or less tradition view of the date and origin of the book of Romans. Paul wrote the book about A.D. 57 from Corinth just before he returned to Jerusalem to deliver the collection. The Roman church was founded by Jews returning home after Pentecost, but most of these leaders were expelled in A.D. 49 by Claudius. When they returned in A.D. 54, they found the churches were now predominantly Gentile. Osborne sees the issues in Romans 14:1-15:13 as real tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers in the Roman churches. The main purpose of Romans is preparation for a new phase of Paul’s ministry in the western half of the Empire. A second reason for writing the letter was to gain prayer support for the delivery of the collection (15:31). But the third reason Osborne offers for the writing of Romans may be more dominant: Paul wants to bring unity to a church in conflict.

Osborne includes a short theology of Romans, briefly discussing what the letter says about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The election of the believer and the Christian walk. With respect to the election of the believer, Osborne refers to Romans 9-11, but refers readers to his exposition of 8:28 and the end of Romans 10 to allow “readers to decide for themselves” (17). In the commentary on Romans 8:28 he briefly compares Calvin and Arminius on the definition of foreknowledge and predestination, concluding that he find the Arminian view “more faithful to all the biblical data.” In his comments on Romans 10 Osborne does not engage with Calvinist or Arminian theology, preferring to let Scripture speak for itself. He says “salvation is available for ‘anyone’ who is willing to believe” (318).

The body of the commentary covers paragraphs of Romans in each chapter. For example, Romans 6:1-14 is a sixteen pages chapter. 6:15-23 is a ten-page chapter. The commentary chapter is then divided into units covering each verse in the section. Occasionally Osborne will refer to a Greek word, but these only appear in transliteration and do not distract readers who have not studied Greek. Occasionally he corrects the NIV (for example, pages 113 and 361, gar is not translated in the NIV). Footnotes are rare in the commentary, occasionally pointing to another scholar for additional information or to a series of cross-references. The commentary concludes with a glossary of key terms (indicated by bold in the text), a short bibliography, Subject/Author index and a Scripture index.

Osborne excels in summarizing important theological points which arise in the text and gently suggesting his own view. For example, a classic problem for interpreters of Romans is the phrase “in whom all sinned” in Romans 5:12. He offers five options, three of which are viable options. He suggests mediate imputation (the Arminian view) is the best understanding of Paul’s phrase. With respect to the “I” in Romans 7, Osborne offers four options before suggesting it is best to see “Paul as using himself as an example of all humanity” (200). Commenting on Israel’s national future in 11:25-36, Osborne he makes three clear points which offer the reader an overview of this controversial topic.

One major difference between this commentary and his 2004 IVP commentary is the complete lack of reference to the work of other scholars. There are several places in this commentary which are identical to Osborne’s 2004 commentary (the first paragraph of the introduction to each book for example). His comments on Romans 16:18 are virtually identical as well. Often the general text is the same, but in-text citations have been removed. For example, commenting on Romans 11:25, page 205 of the 2004 IVP Commentary has “The in part could modify Israel (so Barrett 1957; Käsemann 1980; Morris 1988), page 362 of this 2017 commentary has “The ‘in part’ could modify ‘Israel’” with no reference to Barrett, Käsemann or Morris. The Lexham commentary does not indicate it is a revision of the IVP commentary, but in many case it is a lightly edited version of the 2004 commentary. This may not detract from the value of the commentary, since Osborne has in fact re-written most of the commentary to fit the style of the new series.

Osborne’s Romans commentary is available in print or in the Logos library. The Logos version of the book utilizes all of the features of the Logos Bible Software and is available on every version of the software. Users can float over cross-references to read the text; footnotes function similarly. Clicking a reference will take you to that Scripture in your preferred translation. The electronic version is tagged with real page numbers so the commentary can be cited in the same way as the real book.

Conclusion. Osborne has succeeded (again) in his goal of providing a scholarly yet readable commentary on the important book of Romans. The commentary is irenic, never passionately arguing for an Arminian position or violently rejecting the Calvinist view.

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

When Paul arrived in Philippi in late A.D. 49 the city was one of the most important cities in Eastern Macedonia. Luke refers to Philippi as a “first city” in the region (Acts 16:12). The old Greek city of Philippi was founded in 350 B.C. By Philip II. The Greek city was conquered by the Romans in 86 B.C. and by 42 B.C. it could be described as a “small settlement” (ECM 1151).

Marc Anthony began to settle retired veterans from the 23rd Legion in 42 B.C. after he defeated Cassius and Brutus. After the battle of Actium, Augustus re-founded the city in 31 B.C. as Colonia Iuilia Augusta Philippiensis. There were at least 1000 colonists settled in the city. The city was originally populated by “veterans of Antony’s praetorian guard who had lost their claims to land in Italy” (ABD 5:314).

As a colony, Philippi was considered an extension of Rome. The citizens enjoyed Roman citizenship and ius Italicum, a legal status which permitted self-government and tax-exemption to its citizens. Thessalonica was a free city, but Philippi had a higher status as a colony.

The total population of Philippi at the time of time of Paul’s visit was nearly 10,000 with slaves making up about 20% of the population (Verhoef, Philippi, 9, 12). Verhoef suggests the eleven named individuals associated with Philippi implies there were as few as 33 adult members in a city of 10,000.

Religious life in first century Philippi was similar to most Greco-Roman cities. Although it was not as ancient as many Greek cities, Philippi was “rich with pagan connections” (Keener, Acts, 3:2381). On the Acropolis above the city there are “more than 90 sculptures represent Diana, goddess of the hunt” (Verhoef, Philippi). These 90 or so figurines represent around 50 per cent of the total number of pictures and inscriptions that have been found at the acropolis. Consequently Diana must have been incredibly important in the life of the Philippians” (62).

Lynn Cohick suggests several factors which make Philippians fertile ground for Empire studies (“Philippians” in Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not). First, inscriptional evidence indicates that the imperial cult was present in first century Philippi (169). Second, there is a great deal of citizenship language in Philippians as well as the usual “Jesus is Lord.” Third, there are studies on Philippians that describe Paul as “colonialist and imperialist” as well as those who see Paul as critiquing the Empire. Cohick concludes that if Paul is anti-imperial, it is part of his Jewish context. Certainly there is a challenge to the power of Rome, but that is not very different than any Jew living in the middle of the first century. There were two temples dedicated to Imperial Cult, although it is difficult to know how influential the imperial cult was in first century Philippi.

In the mid first century, the city was populated with “relatively privileged core of Roman veterans and their descendants” as well as Greeks descended from the original inhabitants of the region (ABD 5:315). The Roman veterans owned agricultural estates worked by slaves.

At the time of Paul’s visit to the city, Philippi was a moderately sized Greek city with a strong Roman influence.

humble-sign

In order to define how we ought to think of one another, Paul redefines how we related to one another. First, he says we ought to think with humility. The ESV “more highly than we ought” is a translation of a single Greek word (ὑπερφρονέω). It used only here in the New Testament. Although it can be used in a positive sense of “excel in intelligence” it is usually negative, “to be haughty” (BDAG).

Second, we ought to consider one another with sober judgment. The noun (σωφρονέω) has the sense of reasonable, sensible action. Paul uses this same word in 2 Cor 5:13 with the sense of “be in my right mind.” Grammatically this phrase is an articular infinitive expressing purpose (εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν), modifying another infinitive. We are to think of others first because it is the right way to think. To put ourselves first would be non-sensible thinking, something to be avoided.

In Rom 1:18–32 Paul argued humans have lost some of their rationality when they reject the clear revelation of God existence and attributes. No he is able to say to those who are “in Christ” that they can think reasonably and sensibly, but the outcome of that sensible thinking his service to others.

Third, Paul uses the phrase “according to the measure of faith given to us.” This can be taken several ways in the context of spiritual gifts. The verb (μερίζω) refers to dividing something up and allotting or distributing it to a group. For example in Mark 6:41 Jesus divides the fish and bread amongst the disciples to distribute to the crowd.  With this in mind, some have argued God has given varying levels of spiritual gifts to individuals so that some have more (and are held more responsible) and some have less (and are therefore less responsible) for how they use that gift.

The problem is some individuals will appear to have more faith than others. This would naturally lead to an inequality in the body of Christ. In addition it implies that someone with less faith is somehow less able to serve God. But that is not the way faith works in the Pauline letters. In 1 Cor 10:13 the word is used to describe God assigning an “area of influence” for believers, so that the believer exercises their gifts in the area to which God has called them to work. In this view, all are given the same thing (the Holy Spirit and his enablement to do ministry), but the area of that influence varies.

It is better to understand the word measure as the standard by which each individual this judge. In this view, a person is the judge by the measure of faith they have been giving rather than the measure of faith another person has been given.  “Paul defines ‘sober-mindedness’ as the refusal to impose the standard of one’s own relationship with God onto others” (Jewett, 742).

This is radically different than the way the Greco-Roman world thought. Jewett cites Aristotle, who thought humans “should make themselves immortal through the exercise of reason” (Jewett, 741). Sober mindedness is a kind of “divine element in humankind.” But for Paul, our ability to think rationally is part of the image of God and is corrupted by sin.

Humans often think rationally, but it is inconsistent, twisted and (to use Paul’s metaphor), less-than-sober. What is an example of applying “humble thinking” to how the children of God relate to their world? If Jewett is right and humble-mindedness is “impose the standard of one’s own relationship with God onto others” – how does that work in an evangelical community where the preaching of the Gospel is a key value?

 

In order to be a living sacrifice, the believer must completely change the way they think about everything. There are two parts to this change of thinking.

obedienceFirst, Paul says the believer is to “not be conformed” to the image of this world. The verb συσχηματίζω refers to being molded into another form, or guided by something else (BDAG). This is a compound word with σχῆμα “The term σχῆμα denotes the outward structure or form that may be known by the senses” (TDNT 7:954-58).

The “pattern of this world” is the way a culture thinks, the Greco-Roman worldview. This would include how a Gentile thinks about the gods, how daily life is regulated by placate the gods, relying on magic or divination when making decisions, etc. The average Roman would think about the Roman empire and the claims made by the emperor quite differently than a Christian view of empires based on the Hebrew Bible. The pursuit of honor in the Roman culture effects how and why a person decides to act in any given situation.

Second, the believer must be “transformed by the renewal of our minds.” The verb μεταμορφόω refer to both outward physical changes (such as the transfiguration, Matthew 17:2) and inward spiritual changes (BDAG). It is used of the change of the physical body in glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). In Romans 12:2 the word refers to an inward spiritual change of the believer by the power of the Spirit. The verb is a passive imperative, suggesting that it is God who does the actual transforming of our minds so that we begin to think differently (Kruse, Romans, 464).

The key to this metamorphosis is the “renewing” of our minds. Paul may have coined the word ἀνακαίνωσις, both the noun and the verb (2 Cor 4:16; Col 3:10) do not appear outside of Christian literature (Jewett, Romans, 733). The word combines the more common καινόω, “to make new” with ἀνα to form a word which means to make something new again, to return it to a pristine state prior to it becoming “unnew.” In Ephesians 4:21-24 Paul describes this process as putting off the old man and putting on the new (Cf. Col 3).

Paul argued in Romans 1 that Gentiles are futile in their thinking and ignorant of the way things really are. But the one who is in Christ has been enlightened, renewed so that they can “think about how they think,” renewing their minds in Christ Jesus.

For example, they would have fully accepted gods had some control over their life, they may have made sacrifices or performed rituals to ensure good luck on a journey, they may have believed people could curse them, or even purchased magical amulets to protect themselves from such curses.

Paul is describing a change in the way we think about everything in life! For example: this new way of thinking includes how people relate to one another. Instead of trying to use people to get ahead in the pursuit of honor and shame, people ought to serve one another in sincerity of love. Instead of seeking revenge, we ought to pray for our enemies.

Those who are in Christ have been set free from the Law of sin and Death (8:1-4). Condemnation refers to a “the punishment following sentence” (BDAG). This is a rare word, only used in the New Testament here and Romans 5:16 and 5:18. In Romans 5, condemnation was the result of the first Adam’s rebellion against God. In that case, God acts as judge, finds Adam guilty and gives him the appropriate punishment for his rebellion, death.

In Wisdom literature, this word can have the sense of people getting what they deserve. For example, in Wisdom 4:16, “The righteous who have died will condemn (κατακρίνω) the ungodly who are living, and youth that is quickly perfected will condemn (κατακρίνω) the prolonged old age of the unrighteous” (NRSV). Someone who persecutes the righteous will “get their comeuppance” and be persecuted themselves in the final judgment.

But Paul’s use here does not have the idea of recompense “but rather the principle of correspondence of deed and condition” (EDNT 2:260). The result of Adam’s sin was death because that was the natural result of his rebellion. In fact, God promised Adam that he would die if he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Those who were under the law were also under the condemnation of the Law. The point of Romans 7 is all those under the law fell short of the righteous requirements of the law and were therefore condemned by it.

God accomplished what the law could not by sending his son. Law may refer to the Mosaic Law, keeping to the context of Romans 7:1-12 or as a “principle” as in 7:21 (the “sin principle”). James Dunn and N. T. Wright argue Paul is consistently contrasting the Mosaic Law (or at least the boundary markers of the Law) in Romans 7 and it makes sense he should continue to contrast the written code (7:6) and the law of the Spirit. Although the Law promised life to those who kept it perfectly, it was powerless to deal with the real problem facing humanity, the problem of sin.

Colin Kruse argues the second view is preferable since it makes Romans 8:1 a continuation of 7:21-25. There is a principle at work in the people who desire to do what is good, but find themselves doing what they know to be wrong. The person who is in Christ is freed from the sin principle (7:25) and is not able to be punished for that sin principle because it has been fulfilled by Christ.

God dealt with the problem of sin by sending his Son. That God could send his son Jesus into the world implies the pre-existence of Jesus. There are other texts in the Pauline literature which describe Jesus as sent by God (Phil 2:5-11, Gal 4:4). Although this is not yet the detailed Christology in John, there is evidence that Paul considered Jesus to have existed before his incarnation.

The son was sent into the world in the “likeness of sinful flesh.” This very careful statement, since Paul does not say Jesus came in the same sort of flesh human have, since that flesh is corrupted by sin. Jesus was real human, but not a fallen human.

This incarnation was necessary in order to fulfill the righteous requirement (δικαίωμα) of the law. If the law is the Mosaic Law, the Jesus kept the Law perfectly. This does not mean Jesus did ever break the cleanliness laws, but that when he naturally encountered uncleanliness he would have followed the Law’s directions for treating that breach. There is a difference between choosing to break the Sabbath and inadvertently coming into contact with a person who was unclean.

If the law is the ‘sin principle,” then Jesus was able to live a human life without succumbing to temptation. As the second Adam, Jesus was tempted and did not rebel against God. These are not mutually exclusive, since breaking the Law means succumbing to the sin principle (as Adam did).

If we who are in Christ are no longer under the condemnation of the Law, what are the ramifications for our relationship with God? How do we live not that we are no longer under the threat of the “wrath of God” (Romans 1:18)?

In the first five chapters of Romans, Paul has shown that no one is able to merit salvation by their good works. Even Abraham failed to merit salvation, so God credited him with righteousness” (Romans 4:3). In Romans 5:12-21 Paul makes the case that God has declared righteous those who have believed in Jesus,

In Romans 6:1–4 Paul describes the believer as united with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. If it is true grace increases where sin abounds, should we sin so that grace will about all the more? (6:1-2). Paul asks this rhetorical question to expose a potential problem with his view of grace and justification. As he did earlier in the book, he answers his question with a strong negative, “by no means!”

The question concerns remaining or abiding in sin (a present subjunctive, ἐπιμένω). It is possible Paul is not talking about sin in general, but a specific sin in which the Christian continues to commit despite their understanding it as a sin. For example, a Roman man might decide that because they are saved by God’s grace through faith, going to a prostitute at a pagan temple does not “count” as a sin. Since that is a conscious choice and a regular practice, the person is choosing to remain in a sin. The question is not, “should we ever sin?” but should be persistently sin.

Where there people actually sinning so that grace might abound? It is always possible Paul is raising a hypothetical objection to his argument up through chapter 5. “Someone might say” may mean Paul could imagine this objection, so he answers it before it arises.

However, there seem to have been at least some early Christians who did in fact “sin that grace may abound.” In Jude 4, for example, there were people who used the grace of God as a license to sin. Revelation 2:20 implies some Christians in Thyatira were teaching people they could participate in banquets at pagan temples (cf. Rev 2:14-15). Certainly the congregation in Corinth struggled with how Christianity affects how the believer lives in a Gentile world.

With respect to the modern church, it seems strange someone might think they could consciously break a clear principle of God and think they were not offending God with their rebellion. It is possible the issue is breaking the Jewish boundary markers. A Gentile Christian could break Sabbath or food laws without any fear of it being a sin before God.

But there are some behaviors which clearly offend the general revelation of God so that no one, Jew or Gentile, could do them and not consider them sin!

  • As an extreme example, someone could not say, “the Law says do not murder, I am not under the Law, so I am going to kill people for fun.” No one in the Jewish or Greek world think murder is ever permissible.
  • A less absurd example is adultery. The Law does forbid adultery, but a Gentile might not consider than command applicable to going to a prostitute or using a slave for sexual pleasure.
  • More troublesome would be eating meat sacrificed to idols. This may not be expressly forbidden in the Law, but it was certainly Jewish practice in the first century. Could a Gentile eat meat purchased from the temples, with the full knowledge this meat was sacrificed to a God and not have that “count” as sin?

Whether this is a real or potential objection, Paul’s response is one of the most important elements of Pauline theology: our total identification with Jesus the death, burial and resurrection has serious ethical implications. If we are in Christ, we are no longer what we were. If that is true, can no longer live the same way because everything has changed in Christ.

Paul deals with a potential objection from his dialogue partner, a Jewish person who has tried to keep the Law but now discovers he is just as guilty as the Gentile. If the Jews have spectacularly failed to keep the Law and are enslaved to the “power of sin” in the same way the Gentiles are, what advantage is there to being a Jew?

If it is the case that God chose Israel as his people and gave to them the Law, then their failure may appear to make God’s plan in the Old Testament out to be a failure. This is a problem some readers will have when they read the Old Testament, Israel spectacularly fails in their calling to be the light to the Gentiles; they cannot even “save themselves.”

Image result for Jewish scriptureFor Paul, being Jewish is still of great advantage, Paul will return to this in Romans 9:4-5 in much more detail, here he only gives a short answer.

Paul says first, the Jewish people were entrusted with the “oracles of God” (τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ). The word translated “first” (πρῶτος) can mean first in a sequence. The ESV translates this as “to begin with…” implying the first of a series. There is no “second” item in the list, so commentators think Paul started the list, dropped it until chapter 9. But the word can also mean “of first importance.” In this view, the oracles of God are the most important advantage the Jewish people were given.

The oracles are sayings, but Acts 7:38 uses the same word for the law that was given to Moses (living oracles, λόγια ζῶντα). In Hebrews 5:12 the writer chides his readers for not having understood the “the basic principles of the oracles of God” yet. The phrase is used in 1 Peter 4:11 for words given through the Holy Spirit. In each example the logia of God are the “very words of God” given in the Law and Prophets (Kruse, Romans, 160).

Does Jewish unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? If the Jews were given the “very words of God” and failed to respond properly to them, perhaps God is not obligated to be faithful toward them.

By way of analogy, if someone acts rude and offensively toward you, sometimes it is socially acceptable to be rude back to them. Since they have broken politeness, you are no longer obligated to be polite. (Someone might react to a spouse who cheats by cheating themselves, since one covenant partner has been unfaithful, the other is released from their own commitment to faithfulness). (If you get pranked, the proper response to prank back?)

Paul’s response to this question is no, God is not released from his covenant with Israel because Israel was unfaithful. To use an analogy from Hosea and the marriage metaphor, Israel was an unfaithful partner who behaved abominably toward God’s loving kindness. Yet God has not divorced his unfaithful spouse, but is in the process of wooing them back to the relationship they had at the beginning in the wilderness.

Even though Israel was an unfaithful covenant partner, God is the ideal example of a faithful covenant partner and will fulfill his side of the covenant regardless of the rebellion of his partner.

In this verse he says only some Jews were unfaithful. Although Romans 9-11 indicates that Israel as a whole failed, there was always a righteous remnant that was faithful to the covenant. Yet even the righteous remnant failed to wholly keep the Law! Therefore Paul can conclude there is no one who can please God (Law-Keeping Jews or righteous Gentiles).

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Christian Theology

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