Monday, April 05, 2010

Dear Romans... (1)

Today my series, "A Great Time for the Wesleyan Tradition," begins on the seminary blog. Here, I think it's time to start thinking about my second Paul volume, Paul: Soldier of Peace. It will cover the rest of the Pauline corpus: Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, and Titus. Way behind on many things, but here it begins...
1.1 Closing a Chapter
Paul had never been to Rome. He had often wanted to go there (Rom. 1:13), but he had been very busy for at least a decade starting and establishing churches all around Greece and what we now call Turkey. He writes his best known and arguably most magnificent letter to Rome at the end of what we call his "third missionary journey." The year is perhaps as late as AD58.

He probably wrote Romans from Corinth, in southern Greece. We know he was there because Romans 16 is a letter of recommendation he apparently sent at the same time. The woman he recommends, Phoebe, was a deacon of the Eastern port city of Corinth, a place called Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1). So it is generally agreed that he was in Corinth when he wrote Romans. [1]

By the time he wrote Romans, Paul had confessed Jesus as his master for about twenty-five years. Before he believed, he had actually persecuted csome early Christians. He had been a Pharisee, who put special emphasis on strictly keeping the Jewish Law. He may have thought that Jewish Christians only added to God's anger toward Israel in the way some of them disregarded the rules on how to stay pure. And since he worked for some of the leaders of Israel, he had the political power to cause problems for those Christians. [2]

But some time around the year AD33, the risen Jesus appeared to Paul, and he made a complete turn around. He went from someone insisting strongly that the boundaries separating Jew and Gentile be kept to someone who saw in Christ the breaking down of such barriers. He would begin getting into trouble almost immediately because of his preaching. Within three years (around AD36) he would find himself having to escape the city of Damascus (2 Cor. 11:32-33). He would not stay long in Jerusalem, possibly for the same reason (Acts 9:29-30).

Then we have about a ten year period where we know very little of what Paul was doing...

[more to come]

[1] It is not at all clear that Romans 16 was meant for Rome. The main reason to consider it written to Rome is that it is currently packaged with the rest of Romans, and we would want a good reason to speculate that this chapter went somewhere other than the rest of the letter. At the same time, the question of the original form is not one of how things look to us, but how it looked to them, the original audiences.

Four reasons point toward a different destination for Romans 16 than for the rest of the letter: 1) variations in the ancient copies of Romans, 2) the fact that Priscilla and Aquila were at Ephesus, not Rome, in the surrounding letters, 3) the fact that Paul knows so many people at a place he has never been, and 4) one of those he mentions was the first convert of Asia. We will discuss Romans 16 in chapter 4. It seems slightly more likely that it was meant for Ephesus rather than Rome.

[2] On the whole, we suspect Paul especially targeted Greek-speaking Jewish believers like those mentioned in Acts 6.

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