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Harvey, John D. Romans. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017. xxxiii + 429 pp.; Pb.; $29.99. Link to B&H Academic

John Harvey’s Exegetical Guide to Romans joins eight other volumes in the EGGNT series published since 2010. I have previously reviewed Greg Forbes on 1 Peter and have used Chris A. Vlachos’s volume on James (2013). These volumes provide exegetical insights based on the fifth edition of the Greek New Testament for students, teachers and pastors from a wide range of exegetical grammars and commentaries. Harvey contributed Interpreting the Pauline Letters in the Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis series (Kregel, 2012) as well as Listening to the Text: Oral Patterning in Paul’s Letters (ETS Studies 1; Baker, 1998).

In the short introduction to the book of Romans, Harvey lists six commentaries he uses throughout the guide: Cranfield (ICC, 1980); Dunn (WBC, 1988); Jewett (Hermenia, 2007); Moo (NICNT, 1996); Schreiner (BECNT, 1998), and Longenecker (NIGTC, 2017). Imagine having these six exegetical commentaries open on your desk at the same time and reading only the comments on grammar, syntax, and textual criticism. This is essentially what Harvey provides in this book. In addition to the commentaries, Harvey identifies various grammatical and syntactical elements of the text, citing advanced grammars such as Blass, Debrunner, Funk (BDF), Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics (GGBB) and A. T. Robertson.

Harvey’s outline of Romans appears in the introduction and a more detailed outline appears in the appendix. Each section begins with a short paragraph on the structure of the unit followed by a simple syntactical display of the Greek focusing on coordinating clauses. No syntactical or rhetorical features are noted on this display. The bulk of each section is a phrase by phrase analysis of key words, often citing the six commentaries. For example, in Romans 7:9 ἐγὼ δὲ ἔζων χωρὶς νόμου ποτέ (“I was once alive apart from the law,” ESV). Who is the ἐγὼ in this phrase? For Dunn, it is Adam, for Moo it is Israel, for Longenecker and Schreiner it is Paul himself. Harvey lists these three possibilities but does not indicate a preference. In this same phrase the imperfect verb ἔζων is identified as a progressive imperfect and ποτέ is an adverb of time.

As a second example, for the phrase τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν (“your reasonable service”) in Romans 12:1, Harvey points out this noun phrase in in apposition to the preceding infinitival phrase (citing Robertson, BDF and Moule), explains the use of the definite article and the placement of the adjective. He compares Cranfield’s view that λογικν means “consistent with a proper understanding of the truth of God revealed in Christ” with Schreiner’s “eminently reasonable,” Moo’s “true” and Longenecker’s “this is your proper act of worship as rational people.” Harvey comments of lexical issues as well, citing the third edition of Bauer by page and section (for example, BDAG 700c) but also all the major theological dictionaries such as TDNT and he occasionally cites a modern translation.

One of the most valuable contributions of this Exegetical Guide is the “for further study” section following a unit. In fact, these short bibliographies are worth the price of the book. They focus on a particular exegetical problem in the unit which have generated significant secondary literature. For example, after Romans 5:1-11 Harvey collects articles, book sections and monographs on peace (5:1), hope (5:2), and reconciliation (5:11). There is more than a page on the very difficult problem of the identity of “I” in Romans 7. These bibliographies are brief compared to the massive output of scholars over the years, and they are focused on exegetical topics rather than theology or history of interpretation. In all, there are ninety-six of these units, providing students with the basic bibliography for the major interpretative problems in Romans.

Each unit concludes with a few homiletical suggestions. For the most part these are brief outlines showing how the exegesis might be used in a sermon. Harvey’s homiletical suggests look very much like passage outlines.

It is possible someone might look at this books and wonder if they could not do all of this with good Bible Study Software (Logos, BibleWorks, Accordance). The short answer is: no. Since this book is not a reading guide, Greek verbs are only rarely parsed and no vocabulary is glossed. A student might create a reading guide with one of the Bible Software tools, or use a reading guide from another publisher. What Harvey provides is a summary of the exegetical issues for a given phrase, picking out the data from all of the major resources and gathering them into a single paragraph.

This exegetical guide is a valuable tool for doing exegesis in Romans. However, the book does not replace learning koine Greek. For example, in one of the examples above, Harvey identified a word as a “progressive imperfect.” Without taking an intermediate Greek grammar course or the equivalent, the student will not be able to make an interpretive point without knowing what a “progressive imperfect” is. But this common criticism of “reading guides” for the Greek New Testament does not apply here since Harvey’s exegetical guide requires much from the reader in order to fully use the wealth of detail he provides.

This book will be welcome for anyone studying the Greek text of Romans, especially for students working on exegetical papers. But for there is much in this book to help the pastor or Bible teacher to prepare to present the message of Romans to their congregations.

 

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

The first Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” for 2018 is Todd Wilson’s Galatians: Gospel-rooted Living. This 2013 commentary is in the Preaching the Word series from Crossway Books. Todd Wilson is has a PhD from Cambridge University and serves as the senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois. Wilson recently edited Becoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church Leadership (IVP Academic 2016). I happened to attend his paper on Galatians at the 2017 ETS meeting in Providence and found it very stimulating, so I am looking forward to this commentary.

Michael Bird blurbed the book:

“Todd Wilson has written a deeply pastoral and theologically competent commentary on Galatians that is an exemplary effort at Biblical exposition. There are some doozy passages in Galatians, especially on the Law, and Wilson provides a plain explanation and then shows readers how these texts relate to modern Christian living. A wonderful synergy of homiletical energy and honest exegesis.”

For only $1.99 more, you can add Ray Ortlund Jr.’s Proverbs:Wisdom that Works (2012) in the same Preaching the Word series.  Graeme Goldsworthy said “The strength of Ray Ortlund’s study of Proverbs is its Christ-centeredness. The wisdom of Proverbs loses none of its practical value, but rather is given its ultimate fulfillment as an expression of the wisdom of Christ.”

Logos is also offering Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s Acts 1-8 for $9.99. The Lloyd-Jones commentary was originally in six volumes, so Logos will add six separate resources to your library; that works out to $1.67ish per volume.

The giveaway this month is the Crossway D.A. Carson Collection (7 vols.,  $105.99 value). There are several ways to get chances to win this collection, visit the Logos Free Book of the Month for details. The free books (and almost free) books are only available through January 2018.

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.

The Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” for November is volume one of James Montgomery Boice’s Exposition of the Psalms. Volume 1 (Psalms 1–41) is free, volume 2 (Psalms 42–106) is $1.99 and Volume 3 (Psalms 107–150) is $2.99. This is about 1000 pages of exposition for $4.98, less than the price of a Venti Candy Cane Peppermint latte.

Psalms, Vol. 1: Psalms 1–41These are expositional commentaries, rather than exegetical. Boice comments on the English text and only occasionally interacts with other commentaries or scholarship. This is a commentary intended to be read by a layperson or pastor. He is not interested in the origins of the Psalms not does the commentary worry too much about the historical setting beyond what the Psalm header indicates. He says in the introduction, “The sermons appearing in this volume were preached in relatively short segments between the winter of 1989 and the fall of 1991 and were aired on the Bible Study Hour in special winter and summer series in 1992–93.” Boice is a preacher, and his expositions in these three volumes demonstrate his preacher’s heart. You can also get the complete James Montgomery Boice Expositional Commentary series for $99 during the “Twelve Days of Christmas” sale.

Logos also has a giveaway, this month it is the Baker D.A. Carson Collection (15 vols. $262.99 value). I am not sure why they did not choose to make the Boice collection the giveaway this month, but the Carson collection is worth entering the contest.  There are a few ways to get chances in this giveaway, so scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter early and often.

The free books (and almost free) books are only available through December 31, 2017.

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?

 

Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 that the one who is in Christ is to present themselves as a living sacrifice by renewing the way they think about the world. This is in contrast to conforming to the way the world answers the big questions about life.

confusing-street-signThe result of this changed thinking is knowledge “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God. If we do really renew our minds and change the way we think about things, then we can discern the will of God in new situations. The phrase εἰς τo δοκιμάζειν is an articular infinitive used to indicate the purpose of the renewing of our mind, it is for the purpose of discerning the will of God. In a given situation, transformed thinking may very well be radically different than the culturally accepted answer.

Early Christians encountered many ways in which their new found faith called into question the way the Greco-Roman world things. Although Paul will list many examples in Romans 12-15, there are many more issues which will come up as Christianity comes into contact with the world. It cannot be the case that Paul will cover ever potential issue which might arise as more Gentiles commit their lives to Christ. Some things may seem obvious to us. It seems remarkable someone might ask if a Christian is permitted go to a temple, share in a sacred meal and enjoy the company of prostitutes. The Greco-Roman worldview might not object to this behavior, but transforming the way one thinks about marriage and sexual unions will result in a different view.

But the good and perfect will of God may change in a given situation. For example: Should Christians serve in the Roman military? It may possible for someone to serve Rome without worshiping the gods of Rome (on the analogy of Daniel serving Babylon), but is service to the Roman military a proper career for the first century Christian? What about a soldier who converts Christianity, can he continue to serve?

This process of thinking about new ways in which God’s will applies to new situations is a function of the Spirit of God in every generation (one cold ask about serving in the army of a Christian king in the middle ages, or a Chinese Christian who must serve in the army by Chinese law, or an American Christian serving in the modern military. If killing is the issue, can a Christian serve as a police officer, or in an industry which supports the military industry?

Any number of medical ethical issues can be included here, since Christians in the twenty-first century are the first to think through beginning of life, quality of life and end of life issues in ways no other generation of the church needed to think.

These are all important questions which people with renewed minds much continually think through in any given context. When the believer is yielded to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit will continually renew our minds so that we think more clearly about important issues which go beyond the text of the Bible.

What are some other issues which perhaps have changed over the years for Christians with respect to God’s will?

 

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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