In this summer study, we read through Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is the only letter Paul wrote to a congregation that he had not yet visited. In this letter, Paul walks us through the fullness of his gospel message. For background on this study, I have used Ben Witherington’s Romans – A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, N. T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone and Justification, Troels Engberg-Pedersen’s Paul and the Stoics, Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Writings of the New Testament, and D. A. Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament. This study covers fifteen weeks.
All of Paul’s other letters are sent to individuals or to churches that he founded and are addressed to the specific needs of that congregation. Paul, however, hasn’t been to Rome, and therefore, this letter serves as an introduction to his teaching.
When we look at the audience and purpose of Paul’s letter, there are three main points to keep in mind: (1) the gospel breaks down all walls, (2) the tension between Jews and Gentiles, and (3) Paul’s future missionary work.
Under the New Persepctive, the question Paul answers is not “What must I do to be saved?” but “How do the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus fit into God’s continuing faithfulness to the promises he made to Abraham to bless all people and all creation through his seed (Gen 12:3)?”
Within the readings this week, Paul tells us that all people can know God through natural revelation and people can know what God requires through the natural law.
The heart of Paul’s argument in this passage is contained in the word “Therefore” in Romans 2:1. Paul’s argument is not about Gentile idolatry, but about holier-than-thou judgments by pious Jewish Christians who seek to set themselves apart.
The Jewish teacher Paul is arguing against presumably believes himself to be a good and faithful follower of Jesus and simply wants the other members of the congregation (and particularly the Gentiles) to obey the rules laid down in Scripture (as the teacher interprets and applies them).
For tonight, think through the argument against Paul’s argument. Think through the position of the Jewish teacher he writes against. Where does the teacher place his trust? What makes him right before God? Why would it have been difficult for the teacher to give up his obedience to the Law?
Two ways to read Romans 4 are: (i) Paul is using Abraham as an example that we come into a right relationship with God through our faith and not the law, or (ii) Paul’s entire argument is based upon God’s promise to Abraham and it fulfillment in Jesus.
Paul’s argument in this section begins with the statement from Genesis 15:6 that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” For tonight, think through what this phrase means. When the Scriptures speak of “Abraham believing God” what exactly is Abraham placing his faith in?
Focusing on Adam and sin in Romans 5 is similar to focusing on the shadows and background of a painting to the detriment of seeing the brightness and centrality of the subject matter. Paul’s proclaims the gospel of the risen Christ and not to answer the question of why we sin.
Do not understand our reconciliation to God through the death of Christ as if He now began to love those whom He formerly hated, in the same way as enemies are reconciled so that they become friends; but we were reconciled unto Him who already loved us, but with whom we were at enmity because sin.
If we seek righteousness through our obedience, once we fail, then justice demands our punishment. But if we seek righteousness through Christ and his victory, then righteousness is immediately ours. And in this reckoning of righteousness, we rejoice not in works, but in the goodness of God.
One of the perspectives from which to read Paul, and particularly Romans, is to see Paul as writing within his contemporary philosophical traditions which would have been well known by both his Greek and Jewish Hellenistic audience. Paul’s teaching on conversion is Stoic in its basic logical shape.
Paul’s argument closely tracks the history of the Israelites in the Exodus. They were delivered out of slavery into freedom, but when tempted they wanted to return to Egypt, and Moses reminds them not to yield to this desire to return to slavery.
An alternative and more ancient way of reading Romans 7:7-25 is that Paul is not speaking autobiographically, but is impersonating Adam in vv.7-13 and impersonating those currently in Adam in vv.14-25.
“No one voluntarily pursues evil or that which he thinks to be evil. To prefer evil to good is not in human nature.” Plato, Protagoras
We sell God short if our salvation is limited to the hereafter. Rather, Paul tells us that the salvation of the Gospel is a very present realized status that we are the very children of God and heirs with Jesus Christ. For if God is with us, then who can be against us?
“For those whom he foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . And those who he predestined he also called, and those who he called he also justified, and those who he justified he also glorified.” Reformed T.U.L.I.P vs. Wesleyan D.A.I.S.Y.
Please re-read the story of the sacrifice of Isaac and think through how it fits within Paul’s concluding argument that our confidence rests in God alone.
At the end of chapter 8, Paul provides a list of things that cannot separate us from God. Paul’s list is not meant to be an exhaustive list. For tonight, read Romans 8:37-39 and think about what else should be added to your list.
But for Paul the question remained as to why his Jewish audience insisted upon obtaining their righteousness through obedience to God’s law and not the Messiah. Why was it that the good morally upright Jews rejected his message, whereas the pagan Gentiles were receptive?
“We do not worship the words of a dead prophet, but we worship the living God.”And so when we approach the Scripture, and particularly the troublesome passages, we necessarily see them as living and not frozen in time because their author lives.
Paul concludes that the Jews rejection of Jesus is not final because God’s promise to his people is irrevocable regardless of their initial rejection. Many theologians of the eariler church also held this hope as to all of humanity.
in Romans 11, Paul quotes God’s advice to Elijah to transition from his lament over why the Jews don’t understand Jesus as the Messiah to his recognition that their rejection isn’t final. Paul also knows the end of the Elijah story where Elisha. Elijah’s successor, is ultimately victorious.
Paul speaks of an inner transformation from the “I” towards God and shows how this metamorphosis demonstrates itself within the community of believers which overcomes all divisions through humility and mutual respect culminating in a zealous love for one another
Secular society teaches us that the goal in life is self-actualization.If we are concerned with self-actualization, then our love cannot be genuine or zealous, we cannot bless those who persecute us, or even rejoice with those who rejoice, because each of these activities is ultimately self-less.
In 17th century England, to be a good Biblical Anglican (as opposed to a Reformed Puritan) was a steadfast belief in the Divine Right of Kings. The unequivocal commands of Scripture required nothing less. (This understanding later influenced many Anglicans to remain loyal to George III.)
What does it look like to have love govern all things. If love is the lens through which to interpret Scripture, how do our Bibles readings change? If love governs our actions, how does our behaviour change? If love dictates our thoughts, how does we change?
The question, therefore, is how can a congregation be reconciled when one faction is denying God’s grace and the other is denying the clear rules of Scripture written in stone? How can the congregation live in peace and togetherness is the question addressed.
Paul’s command to us is not to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals, but it is to live in love and peace and harmony with those with whom we may strongly disagree. For if you only love those who love you, what good is that?
This week, we are going to study everyone in Paul’s farewell.
In commenting on Romans 16:6, Chrysostom says “How is this? A woman again is honored and proclaimed victorious. Again, we men are put to shame. . . . For an honor, we men have in that there are such women amongst us.”
Sergius Bulgakov’s description of the image of God in humans fulfilled can be captured in the movement between Romans 7, with its depiction of the image as an unfulfilled trinitarian potential, and Romans 8 with its depiction of participation in the Divine reality.