Audience and Predestination in the Letter to the Romans

A perennial question in the interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans is what testimony the letter bears on the issue of predestination.1

Especially in the last few decades, the identity of the letter’s implied audience has also become more of a live question.

Discussing These Difficulties

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Jones, of the Illuminated Word podcast, to discuss both of these issues.

There was a lot more that could have been said than we were able to fit in the time we had.

And for me, the exact contours of Romans’s testimony on each of these issues is still very much an open question—and, therefore, the subject of projects in various stages.

But it was delightful to have the opportunity to chat with Chris through a kind of “interim report” on some of the work I’ve been doing in the letter.

You can listen to our discussion here below or in your favorite podcast player.

In particular, on the issue of

  • Romans’s implied audience, the use of the τε … καί construction in Romans has been discussed. But the regularity of this usage is particularly helpful for understanding the letter’s implied audience (e.g., in 1:13–15).
  • Predestination, there’s quite a lot of exegetical gridlock in the arguments and counterarguments between different positions. But an often overlooked question is “In advance of what (pre-) does this ‘destination’ or ‘appointment’ occur?” (e.g., in 8:28–29). And if we ask this question, Romans might have a surprising answer.

A Resource for Readers

Toward the end of the episode, Chris and I also discuss a free reading guide I created especially for

  • English readers who want to read their Bibles more carefully and
  • Teachers of English Bible readers who want to help their students read more carefully.

The discipline of reading the Bible in its original languages can certainly be invaluable. But that journey’s not for everyone.

So, this guide helps English Bible readers by providing a framework for considering more closely how the English text works.

Get the guide for free, and help encourage closer and more careful Bible reading.


  1. Header image provided by Alex Suprun

Keener on Isaac and Ishmael

Craig Keener has an interesting post on the interaction between Isaac and Ishmael in Gen 21:10. The post mainly outlines the major options for what the text might be suggesting and promises two followups that will discuss “Isaac’s line being Abraham’s heir [as well as] the propriety of Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael away.”

Some Hermann Gunkel Works

Hermann Gunkel Photograph
Hermann Gunkel (Wikimedia Commons)

Several of Hermann Gunkel’s works are openly available online. Among these are:

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 55, no. 3

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Image via Wikipedia

The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 55, no. 3 includes:

  • David W. Chapman and Andreas Köstenberger, “Jewish Intertestamental and Early Rabbinic Literature: An Annotated Bibliographic Resource Updated (Part 2)
  • Abraham Kuruvilla, “The Aqedah (Genesis 22): What Is the Author Doing with What He Is Saying?”
  • Greg Goswell, “The Temple Theme in the Book of Daniel”
  • Charlie Trimm, “Did YHWH Condemn the Nations When He Elected Israel?: YHWH’s Disposition toward Non-Israelites in the Torah”
  • Steve Walton, “What Does ‘Mission’ in Acts Mean in Relation to the ‘Powers That Be’?”
  • Michael D. Fiorello, “The Ethical Implications of Holiness in James 2”

והיתה בריתי בבשׂרכם לברית עולם

Abraham
Image via Wikipedia

In Gen 17:13, God tells Abraham that his whole household was to be circumcised והיתה בריתי בבשׂרכם לברית עולם (and my covenant will be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant). Yet, Paul strongly opposes Gentiles’ submitting to circumcision in connection with their membership in the Christian community (Galatians) and asserts that ὁ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ Ἰουδαῖος, καὶ {ὅτι} περιτομὴ καρδίας ἐν πνεύματι οὐ γράμματι (Rom 2:29; the Jew is one who is such inwardly, and [that] circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit, not by the letter). What then becomes of the בבשׂרכם []ברית עולם (Gen 17:13; everlasting covenant in your [= Abraham’s household’s] flesh)? It is precisely there because of the circumcision of Abraham’s messianic seed (Gal 3:16), ἐν ᾧ καὶ περιετμήθητε περιτομῇ ἀχειροποιήτῳ ἐν τῇ ἀπεκδύσει τοῦ σώματος τῆς σαρκός, ἐν τῇ περιτομῇ τοῦ Χριστοῦ (Col 2:11; in whom you also were circumcised with an unhandmade circumcision in the removal of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah; cf. Gal 3:23–29; Bede, Genesis, 284; Chrysostom, Hom. Col. 6 [NPNF1 13:285]; Cyril of Alexandria, Catena on Genesis [ACCOT 2:56]; Theodore of Mopsuestia, Colossians [ACCNT 9:32]).

Melchizedek’s Bread and Wine

Photograph of medieval canvas "Abraham an...
Abraham and Melchisedek (Image via Wikipedia)

As Abram returns from rescuing Lot (Gen 14:1–16), Melchizedek brings out bread and wine (Gen 14:18), and so, fittingly does the priest do the same whom David says has been appointed in Melchizedek’s order (Ps 110:4; Heb 7:1–26; Augustine, Civ., 16.22 [NPNF1, 2:323]; Augustine, Doctr. chr., 4.21 [NPNF1, 2:590]; Bede, Genesis, 269; Cyprian, Epistles, 62.4 [ANF, 5:359]). Melchizedek is without genealogy (Heb 7:3), and his bread and wine are also without origin. Yet, he brings them to Abram and, in a way, to Abram’s seed (Gal 3:15–29; Heb 7:9–10; cf. Bede, Genesis, 269; Cyprian, Epistles, 62.4 [ANF, 5:359]). The messianic seed, however, brings bread and wine as from himself, and he brings them to those also who are in himself as Abram’s other offspring (Matt 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:14–20; Gal 3:15–29; Heb 2:10–18).