Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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Paul's letter to the Romans is among his longest and most difficult writings. It is usually dated by scholars to the mid- or late fifties of the first century (ce). The Roman church was not founded by Paul, so this is not a letter written to deal with problems and crises arising in his own territory. It is more likely that Paul wrote to the ‘saints’ in Rome (1: 7) to explain to them what he believed, for the letter is an exposition of what Paul saw as the gospel of Christ: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith’ (1: 16–17). The citation from the Hebrew Bible (Hab. 2: 4) indicates the highly intertextual nature of Paul's writings (cf. Gal. 3: 11 for a similar use of Hab. 2: 4).112 In discourse after lengthy discourse Paul waxes lyrical about how the righteousness of God is revealed in and through faith (2–8). Highlighting faith allows Paul to denigrate human actions as against God's. This enables him to put both Jew and Gentile on an equal footing of sinfulness before God, so that only divine grace which nurtures faith can justify either Jew or Gentile. Paul's dismissal of Jewish law (3: 20) de-centres Jews and Jewishness: ‘for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (3: 22–3). God's righteousness, then, is neither manifested by the law nor its observance, but ‘by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe’ (3: 22). His argument that Abraham was justified by faith is based on his interpretation of Gen. 15: 6 (4: 1–5); it should be noted that the Epistle of James uses precisely the same text of Genesis to argue the opposite point about justification by works (Jas. 2: 18–26). 5–8 offer the meaning of the gospel for Paul himself: ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (5: 1–2). The argument about sin in 6–7 has been very influential as a way of understanding human psychology. In 8 Paul confesses his own faith: ‘For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (8: 38–9). 13: 1–7 sets out Paul's view of the politics of his time, which has had profound subsequent effects on some Christian attitudes. For Paul ‘the powers that be are ordained of God…are God's ministers’ (13: 1, 6), so to resist them is to resist God's ordinance. Though Paul may well have been trying to restrain particular enthusiasts in the context of the all-embracing Roman empire, it is possible that this doctrine of political conformity may have influenced the German Lutheran Church in the twentieth century to the point of aiding the rise of Hitler.113 Certainly, to see Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the rest as agents of God shows the danger of applying specific ideas to a general context.114 But in writing to the Romans, and due to face the Roman magistrates (Acts 26–8), Paul may have felt the need for caution and a touch of Realpolitik. The Apocalypse has a quite different view of ‘the powers that be’. 13: 11–14 is a passage that had a very strong influence on Augustine when he was trying to reconcile his calling as a Christian with his strong sexual feelings (Confessions, viii). 15: 14–32 provides a good example of Paul's obsessive egotism. Commentators differ on whether the concluding salutations of 16 should be regarded as the work of Paul; the doxology of 16: 25–7 is usually assigned to another writer. It should be noted that the list of fellow-workers in 16: 1–23 includes a considerable number of women (Phebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, the mother of Rufus, Julia, etc.): the earliest Christian communities attracted a great number of women (the gospels also make women close companions of Jesus, especially in relation to the resurrection), so, despite how the churches subsequently developed, we must assume that the gospel held much appeal for women in the Roman empire.

Chapter.  1417 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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