Romans 1:18-2:29, pt.2

Tonight we will continue with our discussion of Romans with vv. 1:18-2:29.  As you read through these verses, keep in mind that Paul is building his argument that will climax in Chapters 9-11 when he brings together God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham and our faithfulness in sharing in the promised blessing. And it is only after the completion of this argument that Paul, in chapters 12-15, will discuss what a Christian community and a Christian life look like.  For the readings tonight, think through the following two alternative perspectives:

One way of reading Romans 1:18-28 is that the heart of Paul’s argument in this passage is contained in the word “Therefore” in Romans 2:1: “Therefore, you have no excuse, O man, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him, you condemn yourself.” Throughout the second part of chapter 1, Paul uses the third person pronoun “them.”  As seen in Wisdom 12:23-14:31, Paul is making a typical Jewish argument against the idolatry and sexual immorality of those Gentiles. The question in the diatribe form of Romans is whether Paul himself is making the argument or whether Paul is taking on the persona of a Jewish critic of the Gentiles.  Because Paul’s argument can be reduced to the statement “You know how those people are” it appears that Paul is taking on the persona of his opponent in a discussion. If the Gospel is about tearing down the separation between Jew and Gentile, on its face, Romans 1:18-28 appears to build-up the wall.  A good pious Jew (as Paul himself was prior to Damascus) would wholeheartedly agree with the argument of Romans 1:18-28 that those immoral Gentiles are clearly under God’s judgment. In Romans 2:1, however, Paul, having set-up the self-righteousness of his hearers, reverses the argument, and says to the pious Jew: “But you too are under judgment.” One way of reading this passage is that Paul’s argument in 1:18-2:16 (and even extending into chapter 3) is not about Gentile idolatry and its consequences, but about holier-than-thou judgments by pious Jewish Christians who, like the Jews in Galatia or some members of the Corinthian community, seek to set themselves apart. 

Another issue potentially raised in the readings is the extent that non-Jews (and non-Christians) can come to know God. Gentiles can only rightfully come under judgment if they know they are being disobedient. Paul, drawing on his philosophical contemporaries, says that God is “clearly perceived” through natural observation. Rom. 1:20. The Gentiles are under judgment because, despite knowing God through this natural revelation, they are still engaged in idolatry. Rom. 1:21.  Paul appears to teach that anyone can know God even without the specific revelation of Scripture.  In modern thought, the issue is framed as inclusivism (a person be saved by Christ without having a specific articulable belief in Jesus) versus exclusivism (a person must actually have an articulable faith in Jesus to be saved).  Therefore, the issue is raised as to whether an inclusivist understanding forms the basis of Paul’s argument.

I’m looking forward to this evening. Dinner is at 6.  The menu is chicken cacciatore. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here.

The heavens declare the glory of God, *
   and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another, *
   and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language, *
   and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
   and their message to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19:1-4 

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