Friday, November 28, 2008

Questions for a theology of Romans 1-11

I was a little disappointed when Dunn's Theology of Paul the Apostle came out, as I was with Stephen Westerholm's Preface to the Study of Paul, that they both focus primarily on Romans and Dunn's outline looks a lot like a systematic theology outline. I think a really sophisticated Pauline theology would need to have a chronological component that traced possible developments in Paul's theology (like the Pauline Theology series published by the Pauline Epistles section of SBL) and induce its categories from Paul more than from our Christian logic (God, humanity, sin, Christ...).

Some of the Pauline theologies of the last couple years are a little more appropriate in outline, even if probably not as good as Dunn in their content. I'm not saying I could do better than either.

But as I make final exams and such :-) , I thought I would try to lay out the key theological issues in a theology of Romans, which of course overlaps significantly with Galatians. What are the key exegetical decisions for this moment in Pauline theology?

1. What is the gospel?
This question relates particularly to Rom. 1:1-4 and also 1:16.

2. What is the ethnic make-up of the audience of Romans?
OK, this is not a theological decision, but it is one of the major interpretive decisions when interpreting Romans.

3. Why did Paul write Romans?
Again, not a theological issue, but something to test over Romans.

4. What does the phrase, "the righteousness of God" mean in Romans?
Here we start from 1:16, but must also strongly consider 9:30-10:4, both in the light of the Jewish background. 3:21 is also worth considering.

5. What is salvation for Paul?
The term occurs in 1:16. 5:9 is also significant.

6. What is faith for Paul? What is its content? Whom is it directed toward?
Here 10:9 is important, as is the fact that faith in Romans 4 is directed toward God and in Romans 9:30-10:4 it is directed toward Christ.

7. What does the expression εκ πιστεως mean for Paul?
It is an allusion to Paul's understanding of Habakkuk 2:4, quoted in 1:17. Does it refer more to Christ's faithfulness (Richard Hays) or to human faith (Dunn)?

8. What is the role of works in final justification?
Here we have to do with 2:4-10.

9. What is the role of repentance in justification?
Paul has little to say about repentance in an overall sense (that is, other than the repentance of a specific sinner in 2 Corinthians), but 2:4 perhaps implies its role in his theology.

10. What does Paul mean when he says that all have sinned?
What is sin for Paul? Is it different from transgression? Who does he primarily have in mind when he uses the word "all"--all individuals or all as in both Jew and Gentile?

11. What does it mean to lack the glory of God?
Does it mean to fall short of a glorious standard or not to have the glory that Paul holds as our hope in 5:2 and 8:18-30?

12. What does it mean to be justified for Paul?
We mentioned "final" justification in verses like 2:13. What is justification in passages like 3:24? Is it the same?

13. What does Paul mean by the "faith of Jesus Christ"?
Here we have principally 3:22 at issue, as well as 3:26.

14. What does Paul mean by "works of law"?
Does he primarily mean meritorious actions or does he primarily have performance of the Jewish particulars of the Law?

15. What is the nature of atonement in Romans?
What, for example, does the word ιλαστηριον mean in 3:25? How does Christ's death and blood function in atonement? What is redemption in 3:24? What is reconciliation in 5:11?

16. What is the nature of boasting in Romans?
Is it primarily about an individual boasting in his or her own righteousness or is it more about Israel boasting of special standing before God because of being God's chosen people?

17. What is the nature of grace in justification?
In Romans 4 and 11:6, Paul puts grace over and against justification by works and associates it with faith. How does that work?

18. What is the role of Adam in Paul's theology?
Here we have particularly to do with 5:12-21. Some, however, see Paul's Adamic thought continuing into chapter 7.

19. What is the role of sin in the life of a believer?
Here we have chapters 6-8.

20. What does flesh signify for Paul?
Again, a very big topic in Romans 6-8.

21. What is the Law in Paul's thinking and how does it function?
This topic peeks through in Paul's earlier chapters, but is hit especially in chapter 7.

22. What is the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer and the church?
Here we have principally Romans 8.

23. How does Paul understand resurrection in Romans, particularly in relation to how believers are joined with Christ?
Again, Romans 6 and 8.

24. How can God be considered just when he is passing over the sins of the Gentiles and grafting them into God's people apart from the Law?
This is the principle topic of Romans 9-11.

25. What is the nature of predestination and foreknowledge in Romans 9-11?

26. What does it mean to confess Jesus as Lord?
This springs from 10:9 but questions about the relationship between Jesus and YHWH are also raised by 10:13. What is the Christology of Romans?

27. What is the destiny of Israel?
What does Paul mean when he says that "all Israel will be saved" in 11:26?

28. What is the nature of the parousia in Romans?
Here 11:26 comes into play.

29. What is the nature of God?
Not in a philosophical sense, but what are the key attributes of God in Romans 1-11? The unit ends with a doxology to Him, but we might easily induce many other characteristics such as his justice from elsewhere in the letter.

What have I missed of major exegetical issues in the first 11 chapters? Certainly the ethics of 12-15 are important for his theology as well, and there is the question of where Romans 16 was originally sent to.

There are too many books on Paul already, and I have only one published piece on him so Paul is not my principal expertise. But it is very tempting to blog through my answers to these questions, to organize the answers, and then self-publish a small book of them. Doubt it will happen--too much else to do (sigh).


Angie Van De Merwe said...

A common identification was necessary, so that Paul could address both groups as to ethics in the later part of the letter. It really is not in the specifics, because that is his whole point. The ones who felt spiritually superior because of an outward "performance" or difference(works, circumcision, ethnicity)were encouraged to see things differently.
The ones who dismissed any requirement upon their life (lawlessness) were also encouraged to depend on their new identity, so that both could come to unity. Paul makes a point that judgment is God's and not man's. The heart is the issue.
Paul uses Christ language to help bring about this identification. It is not a literal rendering of "crosee, blood" etc. in Christ's life, but that Christ was a example of faith that one is to emulate, which is what Paul was about...getting people to act in an ordered way toward one another, so that "fightings, wars, gossip, etc." would cease and the social structures which depend on relationships would flourish in peace.
Christians who hold to an inerrant text will understand their faith in more literal readings and understandings in their salvation, because Scripture is of prime importance, in fact, "the" importance in understanding what it means to be a Christian.

The question then becomes, what does it mean to be a Christian? If one wants to be a "biblical Christian" (a Jew) then, one maintains one's identity within the text. But, I don't believe that this rendering is appropriate, as it superintends the absoluteness of Scripture, as the fundamentalists defend. Human do choose who they want to be identified with and belong to...and people like to define "faith" in ways that are seen, so that there can be judgment of who belongs and who doesn't. I particularly don't care about that sort of mentality, because whenever one thinks that Scripture is God's "Word" then, whatever meaning is understood is used for dominance of another in the name of God.

Ken Schenck said...

I have always found the idea of a "biblical Christian" somewhat problematic. A member of the people of God according to the bulk of the OT would not be a Christian, and at least one could debate whether a believer in the NT would be a fully orthodox Christian by our later understanding.

I've been able to read a manuscript my doctor father is perhaps going to publish. He constructs a view of the Trinity in it that is perhaps quite biblical, but apparently unable to jump the gap between the logos Christologies of the early church to the Athanasian one of the 300's.

I don't think orthodox Christians should be ashamed to allow for the possibility that Christian understanding has been shaped significantly even after the book of Revelation.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And as you allude to, even the Church Fathers didn't understand or agree as to what a Christian was or meant.
As to logos Christologies, and Athanaius, reason within man that is developed by education would bring him to a point of ethical understanding, which is not about religion, but about faith, which is independent of cultural understandings of faith. Life is meaning making and we always make meaning from our own contexts, unless we become aware of a larger world and the limitations of an "absolute" understanding of a "law defined" faith is destroyed.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

But, I might add for those who would mis-interpret my "faith" message as "anything goes", social contract is an ethical view, as it respects both, or all parties involved in the contract. Social contract not only respect the parties involved, but gives them equal status in addressing concerns and issues, which need negotiation.
Paul spoke about the patronage system as well in his writings. This was the economic system that was working at the time of Paul, that does not mean that patronage is the epitome of "truth" because it is in scripture. That is a simplistic understanding and can get one in all kinds of ethical dilemmas in today's economic climate. In fact, I wonder if colonization for the purposes of a nation's own good, was justified in the name of patronage...But, then how else is the world to "work"?