Abraham BelievedIn Romans 4 Paul illustrates his statement claim that God will justify all those who are in Christ Jesus by faith, no works. Like Galatians, he uses the well-known story of Abraham in order to show that the father of the Jewish people was himself made right with God without submitting to ritual (like circumcision) or keeping the Law.

Abraham was a prototype of righteousness in Second Temple Judaism. He perfectly kept the Law according to Sirach, a wisdom text written about 200 B.C.

Sirach 44:19–21 (NRSV) Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory. 20 He kept the law of the Most High, and entered into a covenant with him; he certified the covenant in his flesh, and when he was tested he proved faithful. 21 Therefore the Lord assured him with an oath that the nations would be blessed through his offspring; that he would make him as numerous as the dust of the earth, and exalt his offspring like the stars, and give them an inheritance from sea to sea and from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth.

Jubilees 23:10 For Abraham was perfect in all of his actions with the LORD and was pleasing through righteousness all of the days of his life. (OTP 2:100)

Another reason for using Abraham in both Galatians and Romans is Paul’s opponents may have used Abraham as an example for the Gentiles. Abraham was a Gentile who was righteous before God. Why did God declare him righteous? They might answer because he obeyed God by not withholding his only son (Genesis 22) and because he submitted to the sign of the covenant, circumcision.

Paul’s main point in Romans 4 is simple. In Genesis 15:6 God declared Abraham righteous, before he was given the sign of the covenant (Gen 17) and long before the Law was given. For Paul, Gentiles are declared righteous just as Abraham was, by faith.

Are there other factors which may account for why Paul used Abraham as an analogy in Romans 4?

Justification refers to God rendering a final verdict on the sinner. At the (future) final judgment, God will declare we are righteous, on the basis of the gracious gift of Jesus on the cross (in 3:20 the verb is future passive, although in the negative, no one will be justified by the Law). In other places, the same verb is in the perfect tense, looking back on the cross and its effects on the believer today. The verb in Romans 3 is in the present tense (present passive participle), we are being justified at the present time.

Image result for pay the ransomJustification is effected by God’s grace, as a gift. By definition, a gift is something given freely. If you try to pay for a gift, then it is no longer a gift and you run the risk of insulting the giver. By combining justification with grace (χάρις), Paul focuses attention on God as the one who bestows a gift on humans out of his gracious character. Grace is “God’s goodwill in action” often (but not always) in his gift of salvation (Kruse, Romans, 185).

Justification is also “through redemption in Christ Jesus.” The noun (ἀπολύτρωσις) is associated with paying a price in order to buy a slave or paying a ransom to win the freedom of a kidnapped person. There is an inscription dating before 100 B.C. which Moulton translated as “offering money for the ransom of other citizens, he showed himself gracious at every welcoming of those who from time to time safely returned.” (Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum15 325: τισὶν δὲ τῶν πολειτῶν ε[ἰς] λύτρα προτιθεὶς (sc. χρήματα) ἔδειξεν ἑαυτὸν πρὸς πᾶσαν ἀπάντησιν τῶν σωζομένων εὐομείλητον. See MM 554, Moulton, “Lexical Notes from the Papyri,” The Expositor VIII 1.3 (March 1911), 475-481).

In this case an offering of money was publically presented as an act of grace (a free gift) to redeem citizens who had been taken captive by “barbarian invaders.” We cannot know the motivation for this benefactor’s gracious act on behalf of his fellow citizens. Presumably he did this for his own glory since he had his gracious deed inscribed on a monument.

In this metaphor for salvation, God is like a gracious benefactor who paid for the ransom to gain the freedom of those enslaved to sin. All of humanity was in rebellion against God, in a sense “captured by the enemy.” Beginning in Romans 1:18 Paul described God’s wrath as deserved because humans have provoked God by their rebellion and hypocrisy, so that all people fall under God’s just wrath. Now in Romans 3:3, God acts on behalf of rebellious humanity and obtains their freedom from their real enemy.

This section is brief, but forms a theologically rich transition in the book of Romans. Having proven both Jew and Gentile stand before God condemned, Paul will now begin his argument that God himself has acted decisively to provide righteousness from God apart from the Law.

1john-4Romans 3:21-26 is one long sentence in Greek, although English translations usually break it up into several smaller sentences to assist readers to catch the flow of Paul’s thought. Several scholars have identified verses 24-26 as “early Christian confessional material.” Paul may have selected (and adapted) a well-known element of worship to support his thesis that God has provided righteousness through faith by means of the death of Jesus. There are several words Paul does not normally use (such as propitiation), implying he is adapting some existing confession of faith. However, since these verses are critically important to the argument of Romans, it seems unlikely

In contrast to his wrath (1:18), God is now revealing his righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ (v. 21-22). One problem with this paragraph is a single Greek word (δικαιοσύνη) can be translated as either righteousness or justice, two words with distinct meanings in English. Christianity tends to think of righteousness as a moral state (as opposed to sinfulness). Paul will use the word with that sense elsewhere, but here there is a contrast with the wrath of God toward those who have suppressed the clear revelation of God and rebelled against him.

Rather than venting wrath, God is now revealing how his justice will be satisfied. Humans are guilty of rebellion against God therefore ought to be found guilty when they stand before God as a righteous judge. But the death of Jesus serves as a propitiation, a sacrifice which turns aside wrath. Although this word is not particularly common in modern Christianity, both Jewish and Gentiles would have been familiar with a sacrifice which turns aside the wrath of a god. God is pleased with the sacrifice of Jesus and gives justice (δικαιοσύνη) for the sinner on the basis of that sacrifice.

A second problem is the meaning of the phrase “faith in Jesus” in the NIV and ESV. The Greek does not have the preposition “in” so Paul may be referring to the faithfulness of Jesus in submitting to his death on the cross. This is a technical grammatical discussion and quite controversial in recent years. Usually the “new perspective on Paul” argues Paul meant the “faithfulness of Jesus” since the next phrase is “for all who believe.” If both phrases refer to our faith, then there is an awkward repetition. There are several other places in Paul’s letters where he uses a similar phrase and each might be interpreted as the faithful act of Jesus submitting to the Cross.

The traditional view is represented by the NIV and ESV is that the sinner’s faith in Jesus makes them right with God. When the sinner responds to God’s gracious offer of salvation, then they are “declared righteous” (justified) by God. This gets a bit ahead since the next two chapters of the book of Romans deal with how a sinner can be declared righteous by God.

There are several possible solutions in addition to these two popular suggestions. Paul does say “all who believe” (v. 22) and “received by faith” (v. 25), so even if Paul meant faithful act of Christ submitting to the cross in verse 22a, he is still clear that salvation is by God’s grace through our faith and not through works of the Law.

I have far more to say about justification as we move through chapters 4 and 5, but for now I want to focus on the shift from the wrath of God to the righteousness or justice of God. If Paul is right in his description of the total inability of humans to respond to God, then how does his solution in Romans 3:21-26 “solve the problem”? How does the offering of Jesus satisfy the justice of God? Or to put it another way, how can we as Christians incorporate Paul’s view of propitiation into our theology and worship?

The final part of Paul’s claim that all humans are under the power of sin is a scriptural argument based in a series of verses strung together. The NIV translates the key phrase as “under the power of sin,” although the Greek is simple “under sin” (ESV, ὑφʼ ἁμαρτίαν). Both Jew and Gentiles alike are under controlled by sin and therefore are under the righteous wrath of God. This would be deeply offensive to some Jews who read this letter (Byrne, Romans, 118)!

chainsListing scripture to make a point is a rabbinic style of teaching, sometimes called a catena (see for example, Steve Moyise, “The Catena of Romans 3:10-18,” ET 106 (1995): 367-370). The list has an intentional structure, beginning and ending with similar words (on one), and the internal structure, sins of speech are grouped in vv. 13-15, sins of violence are grouped in vv. 15-17 (Moo, Romans, 202). One problem with this list is that read in their original context, none of these verses actually say there are no righteous people at all. If the words “no one is righteous” come from Eccl 7:20, Kruse argues the comment is on the fate of both the wise and the foolish (Kruse, Romans, 167).

In fact, the rest of the verses are in a context which specifically distinguishes the righteous from the wicked. Psalm 5:9 is specifically talking about the wicked; the verse does not say there are righteous (in contrast to the wicked). In two citations wicked Jewish people are in mind, on two Gentiles are in mind, and in the others the reference is general.

What has Paul done with this list of Old Testament texts? He has selected a series of verses which indicate there were wicked people within Israel. The “wicked” in the texts are other Israelites, not the Gentile nations.

Is Paul out of step with Second Temple Judaism in this condemnation of Jewish sin? There are quite a few pessimistic texts in the Hebrew Bible (Isa 59:12-15; 64:5-12, Ezra 9:6-15; Neh 9:16-38, Dan 9:4-19) as well as other Second Temple writers (Tobit 3:1-6; Jub. 23:16-21; 4 Ezra 7:22-24; 1QH 1:25-27, 29-31, 1 QS 11:9-10).

Jubilees 23:16-17 And in this generation children will reproach their parents and their elders on account of sin, and on account of injustice, and on account of the words of their mouth, and on account of great evil which they will do, and on account of their forsaking the covenant which the LORD made between them and himself so that they might be careful and observe all of his commandments and his ordinances and all of his law without turning aside to the right or left.  For they all did evil and every mouth speaks of sin and all of their deeds (are) polluted and abominable. And all of their ways (are) contamination and pollution and corruption.

1 QHa 1:25-27 (Sukenik Col. I; = 4Q432 2) How will a man count his sin? How will he defend his iniquities? How will an unjust respond to a just judgment? To you, you, God of knowledge, belong all the works of justice and the foundation of truth; but to the sons of Adam belongs the service of iniquity and the deeds of deception.

1QS 11:9-10  However, I belong to evil humankind, to the assembly of unfaithful flesh; my failings, my iniquities, my sins, {…} with the depravities of my heart, belong to the assembly of worms and of those who walk in darkness.

Paul is therefore in good company when he describes all humans, from idol-worshipping Gentiles to Jews who are making an effort to keep God’s law as sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. Like the Qumran community Paul would agree humans “belong to the assembly of worms and of those who walk in darkness.”

The modern world seems split on the issue. Some books and movies seem to present humans as flawed, but improving. Perhaps humans can grow (evolve) out of the evil that seems so prevalent today (as in Star Trek or Doctor Who). Humans will make the right choice they are given an opportunity and are generally good people. On the other hand, there vivid representations of the darker side of humanity. Humans are twisted and evil (Fargo, Pulp Fiction).

So which is it? Are we flawed but improving? Or are we deeply evil, just one circumstance away from shockingly evil actions?

How can modern Christianity express a biblical view of humanity to a world which does not considered itself flawed?

PrintLogos Bible Software is offering Craig Keener’s Cascade Commentary on Romans for free during the month of October. This is one of the best resources Logos has offered in a while. I already have both books in my Logos library (and Fee as a physical book).

Unlike some of Keener’s other commentaries, this book is a rather slender 211 pages plus indices. But do not let the size of the book fool you, Keener’s commentary is an excellent exegetical commentary which is extremely useful for preaching and teaching the book of Romans. As he says in the introduction, Keener has included “only a fraction of my research documentation in the notes for interested readers to follow up” (xi).

I overlooked this short commentary when I offered my Top Five Romans Commentaries several years ago, but have read most of it while preparing for my Romans course this fall and would certainly consider this a highly recommended commentary for pastors or laymen interested in the important exegetical discussions for key passages in Romans. For more in depth work on Romans, I recommend Douglas Moo (NICNT) and Richard Longenecker (NIGTC).

Fee RevelationFor only $1.99 you can add Gordon Fee’s Cascade Commentary on Revelation. I reviewed this commentary when it was first published, you can read the details here, but I said at that time “Fee’s commentary is an exegetical commentary and his goal is to read the text in order to determine the author’s original intent. . . Fee’s commentary is useful and can be used by pastor and layman alike, although the specialist will find it lacking in the sorts of details we have come to expect from the mammoth exegetical commentaries of Aune or Beale.”

As always Logos is giving away the other four published Cascade Commentaries in the Logos library. Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.


York Bloggers Gathering to Carnival

Randy McCracken (@randalmccracken) hosts the September Biblical Studies Carnival at Bible Study with Randy. Randy is a first time host, so be gentle.

Randy hails from the ancient city of York, England, a city Randy points out is the “very city where Constantine himself was proclaimed Emperor.” He has a nice collection of posts concerning the “trending topic of plagiarism” in biblical scholarship. This is the reason I have extra quote marks in this paragraph, just in case.

Jim West’s Alt-Carnival brings you posts from all seven continents, although Antarctica is severely under-represented.

If you use FlipBoard to read blogs, consider following my Biblical Studies magazine. The Web-based version is OK, but Flipboard is an essential app for your iOS device. I use it on my iPad for news and other special interests. You can also follow me on twitter, @plong42 (or click the link in the sidebar).

The next few carnivals will be hosted by:

I have included a link to the site hosting as well as a twitter account so you can nominate posts during the month by sending them directly to the host. If you do not have a twitter account, contact the host via their blog.

Jim West Looking for Bloggers in Antarctica

Jim West Looking for Bloggers in Antarctica

As always I am looking for volunteers for the the 2017 Carnival Season. There are several people who have hosted in the past that could take a month, don’t wait for me to ask you (or beg you) to participate.

Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of BibliBlogs.

Please email me or direct message on Twitter (@plong42). You can also leave a comment with your contact info and I will get back to you.


forsythe-parallelsForsythe, Ralph. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: A Parallel Comparison of the Four Gospels. Passageway Press, 2016. 464 pp; Pb; $30.   Link to Passageway Press

Reading the four gospels horizontally is an important interpretive strategy. There are so many parallel passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke that these three Gospels are described the “synoptic Gospels.” By reading the parallels scholars make observations about which Gospel was written first and how each synoptic Gospel treats its sources. For some of these details, see my previous posts, Is There a Synoptic Problem? and Why Study The Synoptic Problem? One of the advantages of reading the parallels horizontally is that the differences between the writers becomes more apparent, as do the similarities.

The best way to study the Synoptic Problem is with a Greek synopsis. Kurt Aland’s Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum is the standard scholarly synopsis of the Gospels in Greek, although Huck’s Synopsis of the First Three Gospels is also very useful (and less expensive). Most editions of the Greek New Testament list the Synoptic parallels for each section (or pericope). For many Bible students, these Greek resources are not useful, but English translations sometimes obscure the Gospel parallels. For this reason, an English parallel Gospel is usually called a “harmony of the Gospels” since the parallel columns harmonize the differences between the Gospels and attempt to give a chronologically accurate life of Jesus.

The earliest attempt to harmonize the four gospels was by Tatian. His Diatessaron (through the four) Augustine wrote a harmony of the Gospels (De consensu evangeliorum). A. T. Roberson’s harmony (Harper & Row, 1922) revised the earlier work of John Broadus (1893) using the Revised Version. More recently, Robert Thomas and Stan Gundry edited harmonies using the NASB (1986) and NIV (1987). Thomas and Gundry included brief essays introducing source and redaction criticism. Orville E. Daniel also produced a harmony using the NIV (Baker 1987, second edition 1996).

Since there are a number of English Gospel harmonies already available, Ralph Forsythe must explain why his arrangement of the Gospels is different. In the introduction, Forsythe indicates a major distinctive of his book is the inclusion of John as a fourth column. This is not unique, since Robertson (for example) includes John as well. In Forsythe’s arrangement, all four columns are always present, so that a story appearing in only two gospels appear in parallel, while the other two columns are blank. If a story is unique to a Gospel, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan or the most of John’s gospel, three columns are blank. Other harmonies print unique stores without columns, which may be a better use of space.

Forsythe begins by dividing the Gospels into 175 sections. By way of comparison, Robertson had 184 sections, Daniel had 188, and Thomas and Gundry had 258. Although he provides a list of his sections with an index of page numbers in the book, he does not number the sections as most harmonies do. One of the reasons for Forythe’s shorter list is his lumping of the Sermon on the Mount into a single unit; the other harmonies break the Sermon up into many sub-sections.

Where Matthew deviates from the order of events in Mark, Forsythe copies the text of Matthew so that it is in parallel with Mark. For example, Mark 2:23-27 and Luke 6:1-5 are chronologically parallel, so Forsythe copies Matthew 12:1-13 to the same set of columns (pg. 111-2). Yet Matthew 12:1-13 also appears on page 139 without any parallels at all. The same is the case for Luke 7:1-10, which is included as parallels to Matt 8:5-13 and John 4:46-54, but then turns up again on page 128. These copied texts are in italics and usually there is a brief note explaining the move. Forsythe’s primary motivation is chronological order rather than placing clear parallels together.

Any attempt to create a parallel Gospel will encounter stories may or may not be parallel. Like most harmonies, Forsythe places the rejection at Nazareth in Matthew 13:53 in parallel with Mark 6:1. But should Luke 4:16-30 be included as a parallel story? The fifth edition of the UBS Greek New Testament lists all three as parallels, Forsythe does not include Luke. The very next pericope is the Sending of the Twelve (Matthew 10:1, 5-15; Mark 6:6b-12; Luke 9:1-16). Forsythe includes Mark and Luke in his parallel columns, but omits the parallels in Matthew. In fact, Matthew 10:1, 5-15 is shown in parallel to the selection of the Twelve in Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16. The only real parallel is Matthew 10:2-4, the rest ought to be moved to Mark 6:6b. Since he often deviates from Aland’s list of pericopae, wit would have been useful for Forsythe to include more commentary on his method for placing some texts as parallels, and others not.

Most troublesome is the assumption the Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (beginning in Luke 6:17) are not true synoptic parallels. It is one of the foundational assumptions of source and redaction criticism that Matthew and Luke share a common source, whether this is Q (from Quelle, the German word for source) or a less structured sayings tradition. Forsythe has separated Matthew from Luke for chronology reasons, even when there are clear parallels (for example, Matthew 7:1-6 and Luke 6:37-42). In this book Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount appears alone over the four columns as does the Sermon on the Plain. It is impossible to trace parallels in this arrangement of the text. Since one of the main reasons for using a synopsis or harmony is to trace the variations between these two sermons, Forsythe’s arrangement renders this book less useful.

There are a few other problems with this book. First, there are a few misspelled words (Tation for Tatian, page II). Second, Forsythe claims the “older copy of Mark’s Gospel” was found at “St. Katherine’s monastery” and is now housed at the British Museum. This refers to Codex Sinaiticus, dated to the mid fourth century. The Chester Beatty papyri date to about A.D. 250, P.45 contains Mark 4-9 and 11-12. Perhaps he meant “oldest complete Gospel of Mark.” Less important are the illustrations, inserted to fill pages when there are no parallels. These are all old, public domain illustrations and maps which do not add much to the usefulness of the book. Since he insists on having all four columns on the page at once, there are some pages will only a single column with text. Perhaps following the model of Robertson would have made this a small, handier volume. Finally, Forsythe uses the Berean Study Bible, available from Bible Hub. This translation is not under copyright so it could be used without paying a fee (as would be the case with the NIV or ESV).

Given the method used in arranging the Gospel parallels, it is difficult to recommend this volume over any of the competing harmonies of the Gospels already available.

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

heart_circumcision_gwen_mehargSecond Temple period Judaism considered circumcision to be an important boundary marker. It was one of the key definitions of what it meant to be a Jewish person. Circumcision was a practice dating back to Abraham (Gen 17:9-14) and was intended as a physical sign of the covenant God made with Abraham to bless the whole world through his descendants. One of the factors in the Maccabean Revolt was a prohibition on circumcision of boys on the either day. At the time, some families did not perform the ritual in order to allow their sons opportunity in the Hellenistic world, but the Hasmoneans insisted on circumcision as a non-negotiable boundary marker.

Paul contrasts physical circumcision with an inward, spiritual circumcision (Romans 2:28-29). Even in the Old Testament there is a recognition that circumcision is of no value unless accompanied by obedience (Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 9:26). This “spiritualized circumcision” is found in a number of Second Temple texts. For example:

Jubilees 1:23 But after this they will return to me in all uprighteousness and with all of (their) heart and soul. And I shall cut off the foreskin of their heart and the foreskin of the heart of their descendants. And I shall create for them a holy spirit, and I shall purify them so that they will not turn away from following me from that day and forever.

Odes of Solomon 11:1-3 My heart was pruned and its flower appeared, then grace sprang up in it, and it produced fruits for the Lord. 2 For the Most High circumcised me by his Holy Spirit, then he uncovered my inward being toward him, and filled me with his love. 3 And his circumcising became my salvation, and I ran in the Way in his peace, in the Way of truth.

1QS 5:5 No one should walk in the stubbornness of his heart in order to go astray following his heart 5 and his eyes and the musings of his inclination. Instead he should circumcise in the Community the foreskin of his tendency and of his stiff neck in order to lay a foundation of truth for Israel, for the Community of the eternal 6 covenant.

4Q434 Frag. 1 i:3 (4QBarki Napshia) 4QBless, Oh my Soula   In the abundance of his mercy he has favoured the needy and has opened their eyes so that they see his paths, and their ear[s] so that they hear 4 his teaching. He has circumcised the foreskin of their hearts and has saved them because of his grace and has set their feet firm on the path.

In Ephesians 2:11, Paul refers to the Jewish practice as “circumcision made in the flesh by hands” (ἐν σαρκὶ χειροποιήτου). In Colossians 2:11 Paul says those who are in Christ have been circumcised “with a circumcision made without hands… the circumcision of Christ.”

What is quite remarkable is Paul’s claim that someone could keep the requirements of the Law yet remain uncircumcised and be “regarded as circumcised.” By saying this, Paul is saying a Jew who is circumcised and does not keep the Law is “no better than a Gentile” (Kruse, Romans, 143). This is a radical statement in the context of Second Temple Judaism: A Gentile could (potentially) be closer to righteousness than a circumcised Gentile. There is nothing similar to this in the literature of the Second Temple (Barrett, Romans, 59).

Going a bit further, Paul says the uncircumcised law-keeper will condemn the Jew, even though the Jew is part of God’s covenant as demonstrated by obedience to circumcision. Scholars fret over who these Gentiles may be, I suggest this is similar to Jesus saying Sodom will “rise in judgment over Bethsaida and Korazim.” The worst sinners in history will be better than someone who was so close to the truth yet ultimately rejected it.

Circumcision therefore is “a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (vv. 28-29). The “circumcision of the heart” is achieved by the action of the Holy Spirit, hinting at the activity of the Holy Spirit in salvation. What matters with respect to salvation is that the Holy Spirit has made the dead sinner alive again in Christ, not that the sinner was partially obedient to the Law.

The physical requirements of the Law are of no value if they are not accompanied by a real change of heart. Paul says that if a person tries to keep the law and fails he is not a Jew, the Law was not designed to provide salvation.  There are several implications which may follow from this. If the physical ritual did not really make a person right before God, could someone not practice the ritual and still be right with God? Paul certainly says this for Gentiles in Galatians, but for him to suggest this might be considered too radical for first century Jews. Is there any analogous practice or ritual in a modern Christian context which promises too much with respect to salvation?

The Law-keeping Jew is guilty of the very sins of which he accuses the Gentiles, and is therefore under God’s judgment. A Jewish opponent in the Second Temple period may have thought that circumcision and keeping the Law was sufficient to avoid the wrath of God being revealed (1:18). In this paragraph, Paul continues to engage a hypothetical dialogue partner who might think obedience to key boundary markers of Judaism will be of some benefit on the Day of Judgment. Paul argues here it is not at all sufficient to avoid judgment, since being circumcised means nothing if the righteous requirements of the Law are not fully kept.

RomansBut did Jewish in the Second Temple Period rely on the Law for salvation? One of the challenges of the New Perspective on Paul is the traditional reading of Judaism as a “works for salvation” religion. Pharisees are often described as legalists who were always trying to justify themselves or boasted about their personal holiness before God. This impression does come from some texts in the Gospels. Jesus condemns the Pharisees in Matthew 23 as making the Law a heavy burden for people and in Luke 18 a Pharisee in a parable boasts about his fastidious law-keeping in his prayer at the Temple.

But as E. P. Sanders famously declared, the Judaism of the Second Temple period was not a “works for salvation” religion at all. God’s gracious choice of Israel as his people and his gift of the covenant was want made the Jews God’s people and their appropriate response was keeping the Law. No Jew thought they were earning salvation by keeping the Law, it was simply their responsibility as God’s chosen people. Sanders pointed out that the common legalistic view of Judaism had more to do with Luther’s response to Roman Catholicism and the subsequent Reformation theology than Paul’s dialogue with Jews in Romans.

Yet Paul seems to claim here his opponent relies on the law and boasts in God. It is true some streams of Second Temple Judaism did see the Law as a guarantee of salvation. 2 Baruch was written about thirty years after Romans as a response to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The writer of this apocalypse seems to say keeping God’s statutes will preserve the Jewish people, implying the recent destruction of Jerusalem was the result of unfaithfulness.

2 Baruch 48:22-23 In you we have put our trust, because, behold, your Law is with us and we know that we do not fall as long as we keep your statutes. We shall always be blessed; at least, we did not mingle with the nations.

The Greek verb Paul uses in Romans 2:17 translated “rely” (ἐπαναπαύομαι) has the sense of comfort or support, sometimes “rest.” To rely on the Law is to think of it as providing security. Certainly the 2 Baruch quote above supports Jewish reliance on the Law for their blessing and security. Even in the Old Testament, there was always an “if” to the Mosiac covenant; if you keep the Law you will be blessed. The alternative was the curse of the Law, non-blessing and eventually exile from the Law.

This reliance on the Law is combined with boasting in God. Jeremiah 9:23-24 and Deuteronomy 4:7-8 both celebrate the special relationship between God and Israel. Paul agrees the Law is “the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (v. 20), but one cannot rely on the Law when God’s judges because (as he will argue in this paragraph), not even the Jews who possess the Law keep the Law. After all, the Jews are still in exile and they are not experiencing the blessing of God!

What is Paul doing in Romans 2? Is he over-stating the Jewish boast in the Law? Is he making a straw-man argument against Judaism? Even if he is, this over-reliance on religion seems to be a very applicable point to contemporary church. Even if Paul was not addressing a specific thread of Judaism in his day, this condemnation of boasting may very well speak powerfully to the church today.

blind-justiceThis salvation or judgment is for the Jew first and also the Greek, “God shows no partiality.” Having already said Salvation is for the Jew first and then the Greek, Paul now says both Jews and Greeks will be held accountable equally when God judges their works.

Paul describes God as impartiality (προσωπολημψία) in Gal 2:6; Eph 6:9 and Col 3:25, and the word is sometimes included in sin lists (Polycarp, 6:1). The word is derived from πρόσωπον λαμβάνω and only appears in Christian writing and is related to ἀπροσωπολήμπτως, 1 Peter 1:17 (K. Berger, “προσωπολημψία, ας, ἡ” pages 3:179-80 in EDNT).

In the LXX this and similar phrases are used to translate the Hebrew phrase nāśā’ pānîm, “lift up a face.” This is a sign of favor; if a king “lifted your head” he was extending a favor. God does not “lift the head” to show partiality in his judgments. In the Pauline literature, God’s impartiality means he saves both Jews and Greeks on an equal basis, the Jews do not have an advantage as God’s chosen people, nor do the Greeks have a disadvantage because they were outside the covenant given to Israel.

That God is a fair, impartial judge is found frequently in the Second Temple Period, often using similar phrases to Paul’s in Romans 2:11.

1 Enoch 63:8 On the day of our hardship and our tribulation he is not saving us; and we have no chance to become believers. For our Lord is faithful in all his works, his judgments, and his righteousness; and his judgments have no respect of persons.

2 Baruch 44:4 For you see that he whom we serve is righteous and that our Creator is impartial.

Psalms of Solomon 2:16-18 For you have rewarded the sinners according to their actions, and according to their extremely wicked sins. You have exposed their sins, that your judgment might be evident; you have obliterated their memory from the earth. God is a righteous judge and he will not be impressed by appearances.

These verses indicate God is an impartial judge with respect to judging sin. Does that impartiality also extend to salvation? For most Second Temple Jewish writers, Gentiles were going to be punished, although some may respond to God and find salvation in Israel. But this would be a very small percentage of Gentiles.

In the New Testament, Peter’s experience with Cornelius illustrates this well. After Peter preaches the Gospel to Peter, he realizes that God’s impartiality extends even to the Gentiles, a remarkable statement for a Second Temple period Jew (Acts 10:34). Peter was unwilling to share the Gospel with a gentile until God specifically commanded him to go to Cornelius. Even then, it was only after Cornelius received the Holy Spirit that Peter realizes God does not show partiality with respect to salvation.

Paul’s claim that both Jews and Gentiles will be treated the same with respect to God’s justice might have been a surprise to a Jewish reader of Romans. Surely the Jews have advantages over Gentiles as God’s people. How radical is Paul’s claim that both Jews and Gentiles will face an impartial God, either for judgment or salvation?

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Christian Theology

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