ΖΩΗ ΕΚ ΝΕΚΡΩΝ (Romans 11:15)

In Rom 11:15, Paul’s reference to ζωὴ ἐκ νεκρῶν (life from the dead) may refer to bodily resurrection, but it may also be read as metaphorically referring to the restoration of the then hardened portion of Israel into participation in the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant that Paul regards as having come to fruition in Jesus:

I am the apostle to you Gentiles, [Paul] says (11.13); and I make a big fuss of this task to which I’ve been assigned, because, in line with what Deuteronomy said about Israel being made jealous by non-Jewish people coming in to share their privileges, my aim is to make my fellow Jews jealous, and so save some of them (11.13–14). Actually, the word [Paul] uses for ‘my fellow Jews’ is, more literally, ‘my flesh’, in other words ‘my kinsmen according to the flesh’, as in 9.3; but the idea of making the ‘flesh’ jealous, and so saving it, presents to his mind the entire sweep of what he had already said in Romans 5–8 about what God does in the ‘flesh’, about the ultimate importance of no longer being ‘in the flesh’, defined by flesh, but of being in the Spirit and thereby being given resurrection life. This enables him to speak of the restoration of ethnic Jews to membership in the renewed covenant, using the metaphorical language traceable at least as far back as [the valley of dry bones vision in] Ezekiel 37:

For if their casting away means reconciliation for the world, what will their receiving back again be if not life from the dead [Rom 11:15]?

Many have argued that zoe ek nekron here means literal resurrection, suggesting that the restoration of Jews to membership will come all in a rush on the last day, when they will all be raised to life. I am persuaded, however, that Paul does indeed mean it metaphorically, and that what he has in mind here and throughout the passage, is ethnic Jews abandoning their unbelief in the gospel (11.22) and coming to membership in the polemically redefined ‘all Israel’ (Wright 262).

Though apparently unique to this text in Paul among early Christian writings (Wright 263), understanding Ezek 37 as a subtext for Paul’s declaration that the unbelieving Israelites’ restoration would mean ζωὴ ἐκ νεκρῶν (life from the dead) would itself also put the one whom Paul recognized as the new, Davidic shepherd (cf. Rom 1:3; 8:31–39) into the place of the Davidic ruler whom Ezekiel had expected (Ezek 37:24–28).

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N. T. Wright
N. T. Wright

The Textual Originality of Romans 15–16: Additional Evidence

Beyond these general reasons that the perspectives of Baur and others on Rom 15–16 are insufficiently supported, several other pieces of evidence also converge to suggest that these chapters, much in the form in which they appear in the modern, printed editions, are original to Romans.

  1. On Origen’s testimony, Marcion truncated the epistle before the beginning of chapter fifteen (Murray 2.265; cf. Carson, Moo, and Morris 246; Metzger 536). This fact, combined with the observation that Rom 15:1–13 completes the argument begun in Rom 14:1–23 strongly indicates that at least this part of Rom 15–16 is original to Paul.
  2. Since only limited, if any, direct, textual evidence exists for the supposed fifteen-chapter version of the epistle, it seems quite likely that, as authenticity goes for one part of the section of Rom 15–16, so it goes for the whole (Carson, Moo, and Morris 247).
  3. The external manuscript evidence for Rom 15–16 is very strong, and the external, patristic testimony also seems reasonably good. Origen (ca. 185–254) includes this section in his Romans commentary (Bray 353–81, 387), and both Justin Martyr (ca. 100/110-165) and Tertullian (ca. 155/160–240/250) seem to allude to it at various points (Bray 360, 375, 387). With these last two examples, however, some caution must be exercised, since they do provide only allusions to and not direct quotations from Romans (cf. Bray xxii). Moreover, Carson, Moo, and Morris, 246, note that Tertullian, at least, does not quote from Rom 15–16 in places where he might have been expected to do so. Yet, if Tertullian was indeed writing against Marcionism in these texts (Murray 2:264), he may have simply been attempting to construct his argument from texts that the Marcionites themselves would accept.
  4. Finally, and specifically related to the doxology, very little evidence exists for its omission, and one manuscript (G), although it omits the passage, leaves room for its inclusion (Metzger 534–35)].

Based on these factors, it seems that only the doxology’s specific placement may remain somewhat in doubt, and one must admit that discerning its original placement is no simple task. Of the three basic positions in which it appears in different manuscripts (i.e., at the end of one of Romans’ last three chapters), a placement after chapter fourteen (either in addition to or instead of the placement at the end of Rom 16) would interrupt the train of Paul’s argument from 14:1–15:13. This placement could, therefore, perhaps be preferred because it is the hardest reading, and scribes copying Romans would have tended to remove rather than create difficulties in the text. Yet, this reading could also have arisen because the Marcionites used and circulated their version of Romans, which ended with chapter fourteen (Metzger 472). Reading the doxology after Rom 15 has the support of an early third-century manuscript (P46), but this textual basis is very narrow and may merely reflect a scribal idiosyncrasy (cf. Metzger 471, 473). The final placement possibility for the doxology at the end of Rom 16, of the three major possibilities, has perhaps the best breadth and antiquity in its manuscript attestation (e.g., א, B, C, D, cop, eth, it, vg). In the end, therefore, because of the possibility of Marcionite influence in the placement of the doxology after Rom 14, it seems most probable that the doxology originally appeared after Rom 16 and that Rom 15–16 formed the concluding section of Paul’s original composition.

The Textual Originality of Romans 15–16: Responses

The arguments against the authenticity of Rom 15–16 that have been summarized are, however, inadequate for several reasons, which including the following:

  1. Far from a needless repetition of Rom 12:1ff, Rom 15:1–13 actually provides a necessary continuation of Paul’s argument from Rom 14:1–23 (Murray 2:263–65).
  2. When Paul speaks of ministering “from Jerusalem and around as far as Illyricum” (Rom 15:19), he does not indicate Jerusalem to be the chronological starting point and Illyricum to be the ending point of his ministry. Rather, he uses these cities to designate the geographical bounds for the region of his ministry (Murray 2:213–15).
  3. First Clement 5:7 speaks of Paul reaching “the limit of the west.” While Clement may have surmised from Rom 15:25, 28 that Paul actually did reach Spain, this text at least provides ancient testimony to the plausibility of the Spanish mission. In any case, the fact that Paul did not mention Spain in any of his other letters does not invalidate the usage here any more than the destination(s) given in a company’s first bulk marketing mailing is invalidated because that company or its employees have not previously been to that place.
  4. That Aquilla and Priscilla could not have returned to Rome and established a residence there in the interval between the composition of 1 Corinthians [ca. AD 55 (Carson, Moo, and Morris 283)] and the composition of Romans is by no means certain, especially if Romans is dated later in the period of AD 55–59 (cf. Murray 2:267–68). Moreover, Paul’s greeting so many other people in a city he had never visited does not necessarily provide evidence for non-Pauline authorship of this section of the epistle, since Paul may well have met these people elsewhere, have been introduced to them through correspondence, or have known them through others.
  5. Very little manuscript evidence exists for omitting the doxology, and the consistent testimony of the earliest manuscripts is to have the doxology present at some point (Metzger 534). Additionally, hypothesizing a Marcionite origin for the doxology seems quite strange, since Marcion’s text of Romans did not contain it (Murray 2:263).

The Textual Originality of Romans 15–16: Objections

Perhaps the most persistently thorny issues in textual criticism of Romans are related to: (1) the placement of the doxology, which normally appears in Rom 16:25–27 in modern, printed editions and (2) the cohesion of Rom 15–16 with the rest of the epistle. While distinguishable, however, these issues cannot be completely separated from each other, since, at the very least, the doxology appears to be an ending to something.

F. C. Baur is probably the foremost scholar who has denied the authenticity of Rom 15–16 as a whole. Although his full argument for this position is quite lengthy (see Baur 1:352–65), his main reasons for rejecting these chapters authenticity are that:

  1. Romans 15:1–13 is a needless, inferior repetition of Rom 12:1ff, and Paul could hardly be expected to have written the latter section.
  2. Paul could not have considered Jerusalem the starting point for his ministry, as he would seem to do if he were the author of Rom 15:19.
  3. Paul’s mission to Spain is only mentioned here (Rom 15:24, 28) and is, therefore, probably not Pauline.
  4. The list of names in Rom 16 is too extraordinary for Paul.
  5. Priscilla and Aquilla could not have returned to Rome in the interval between what is recorded in 1 Cor 16:19 and the writing of Rom 16:3 (cf. Luther 419 n. 32)

In contrast to Baur’s perspective, Barth seems only to have taken issue with the doxology, while substantially accepting the rest of Rom 15–16 as Pauline. On Harnack’s authority, Barth speculates that the doxology was originally a Marcionite invention, intended to bring closure to a version of the epistle ending abruptly after Rom 14. Therefore, Barth rejects the doxology and accepts as the remainder of the traditional text of Rom 15–16 as original (Barth 523, n. 1).

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Karl Barth
Karl Barth
F. C. Baur
F. C. Baur
Martin Luther
Martin Luther