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.
Chris Tilling has a very fine two-part lecture on Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans (part 1, part 2).
In particular, the lecture addresses several ways in which Barth’s commentary is likely to evoke criticism from New Testament scholars. On the other hand, Tilling also sketches some things that New Testament scholars can learn from Barth about both Romans and doing theology.
Several of the contributions look quite interesting. One in particular touches on the theme of Romans’s audience, which will be the focus of my spring seminar.
This is Arland Hultgren’s essay on “Paul, Romans, and the Christians at Rome.” According to the journal’s abstract,
As with any work, it is important to understand who the key figures are—the writer, the audience, and the context. This article sets out the basic structure of the Letter to the Romans by keying in the three major elements of this work: Paul as the writer, the Christians in Rome as the audience, and the culture and structure of the city of Rome as its context.
The Greek word gar occurs 144 times in Romans and 1,041 times in the entire New Testament. However, many instances of this connective defy easy definition, and the English translation for is often inadequate …. Sarah H. Casson argues that gar offers vital guidance to the coherence of Romans. The book applies the cognitive approach of relevance theory to show how gar functions as an indispensable guide for tracing the significant points of Paul’s argument, helping resolve questions about the coherence of sections, as well as smaller-scale exegetical problems. The work engages with key debates regarding the purpose of Romans and challenges some recent influential interpretations.
In the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 62.2 (353–69), Greg Goswell contemplates “Reading Romans after the Book of Acts.” According to the abstract,
The Acts-Romans sequence, such as found in the Latin manuscript tradition and familiar to readers of the English Bible, is hermeneutically significant and fruitful. Early readers had good reason to place the books together, for the visit of Paul to Rome (Acts 28) is the one anticipated in the next chapter (Romans 1). The Letter to the Romans appears to pick up and develop key themes in the preceding book, and prefixing Romans with Acts promotes a certain reading strategy for the head-letter of the Pauline corpus. The adjoining of Acts and Romans suggests that the accusations made against Paul in the final chapters of Acts (and summed up in Acts 21:28) set the agenda for Romans, in which Paul shows that he does not speak against the people, the law, and the temple. Paul’s gospel proclaims that God will be faithful to the promises made to Abraham, so that Jewish privileges are preserved, the law is exonerated, and a community consisting of believing Jews and believing Gentiles is brought into being.
This collection of essays by Carol A. Newsom explores the indispensable role that rhetoric and hermeneutics play in the production and reception of biblical and Second Temple literature. Some of the essays are methodological and programmatic, while others provide extended case studies. Because rhetoric is, as Kenneth Burke put it, “a strategy for encompassing a situation,” the analysis of rhetoric illumines the ways in which texts engage particular historical moments, shape and reshape communities, and even construct new models of self and agency. The essays in this book not only explore how ancient texts hermeneutically engage existing traditions but also how they themselves have become the objects of hermeneutical transformation in contexts ranging from ancient sectarian Judaism to the politics of post-World War I and II Germany and America to modern film criticism and feminist re-reading.
The monograph’s central argument is that Paul is thoroughly indebted to the language and logic of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible lament in his letter to the Romans. Crisler employs both biblical scholarship on lament in the Hebrew Bible and Richard B. Hays’s well-known criteria for detecting quotations, allusions, and echoes of antecedent biblical texts in Paul’s writings. [Crisler’s] thesis that “the experience of OT lamenters is echoed in Romans, and those echoes largely shape the way Paul discusses suffering in the letter.” … More explanation on the choice of texts and their relationship to each other and Romans as a whole would improve the monograph. Nonetheless, Reading Romans as Lament contributes to the ongoing discussion of Paul’s metonymic recall not only of Jewish Scriptures but also the lament genre. (1, 4)
reprises much of [Capes’s] foundational work, Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017 ), and argues that Paul’s appropriation of “YHWH texts” with reference to Jesus represents a remarkable development in earliest Christianity and can only indicate that Paul regarded Jesus as fully divine. (1)
Kugler citiques Capes’s sketch of Second Temple Jewish monotheism (3) but also acknowledges the debt that discussions of early high Christology owe to Capes’s work (1).