Monday, February 04, 2008

Intertextual Delusions?

'16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith." (from Hab 2:4) 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth' (Romans 1:16-18).

Andrew Perriman's reading of these verses is fascinating (this post is not a summary of his views, more of a thought experiment with some of his ideas in the back of my head). He is particularly careful to allow the wider context of Habakkuk to inform his understanding of the flow of reasoning in these verses. The first couple of chapters in Habakkuk run as follows:

  1. the Prophet asks God: Why are you letting all of Judah's sins go unpunished (1:2-4)
  2. God answers: I will judge them through Babylon (1:5-11)
  3. the Prophet asks God: But God, how can you use wicked Babylon to punish a nation more righteous than themselves? (1:12-2:1)
  4. God answers: I'll punish Babylon too! (2:2-20)

Just as God's wrath was first to Judah, then to Babylon, so too for Paul's gospel is offering salvation first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Just as God's wrath will overtake Israel first through Rome's armies, so too will God's wrath also fall upon Rome. So Paul emphasises that God's wrath will be revealed against all ungodliness. This would likely mean that the wrath Paul mentions is coloured by the many OT 'wrath' passages, which speak of that wrath as a concrete historical event, usually involving a military. Think too of 1 Corinthians 7:26 'I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Did Paul think of an impending crisis across the Mediterranean world because of the sort of prophetic narrative encapsulated in Habakkuk? Is the 'wrath' Paul mentions a military event?

On the other hand, Francis Watson's masterful analysis of Rom 1:17 in Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, argues that Paul's introductory formula ('as it is written') does not really allow for too exact an allusion to the wider context of specifically Habakkuk (such sentences as these happen when I write too late at night!).

Is Perriman overplaying the metalepsis card? Or is Watson missing vital clues from the Habakkuk context? Part of the fun of exegesis in Paul is learning to get a feel for when potential intertextual metalepsis is really present, by judging how it illuminates the Pauline text at hand.

I think Pauline studies can be so utterly engrossing and exciting!


At 2/05/2008 12:55 AM, Anonymous iYRe said...

I'm reminded of Gen 9 where God says in respect to the animal kingdom that "the fear and dread of you" will be upon them. Which harks back to Gen 3, where there is a breakdown of relationship between the offspring of the woman and the animals (snake). The snake is an animal as well as a theological representation of satan.

So, what I am getting at is this, "fear and dread of you" is virtually always used in respect to a military operation; a war or invasion and so on.

This theme reoccurs continually throughout Scripture, even to Revelations where Michael and the Angels go to war. I dont think its too hard to envisage Paul continuing this line of thought, do you?

At 2/05/2008 1:42 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

Do you believe that "God" punished Babylon?

Do you believe that "God" punishes and blesses nations today?

At 2/05/2008 1:47 AM, Anonymous Owen Weddle said...

Interesting thoughts. I definitely see the idea conveyed by Habakkuk as illustrated is also present in Paul's thought. I would hesitate to read Paul's whole writing 16-18 as being directly influenced by Habakkuk, but I definitely think there is a common thought shared between the two (and other parts of the Old Testament).

But your note regarding "all ungodliness" probably resonates with the rest of what you said. Paul is perhaps flipping the notion as presented in Habakkuk. He starts off with the rest of the world, and perhaps this serves as reminder of Jewish culpability also.

But I have to wonder if Paul had anything specific in mind in referring to God's wrath? I am assuming you are implying the destruction of Jerusalem as the wrath that comes upon the Jew first and then a subsequent "destruction" (using the term loosely) of Rome and its empire. Correct me if I am wrong.

I wouldn't necessarily see Paul as envisioning anything specific. Since he is obviously speaking to diaspora Jews in Rome, would Paul really have in the back of his mind a destruction of Jerusalem speaking to those outside of Jerusalem? If Paul does have that in mind, he may in turn have a similar type "wrath" envisioned for the Gentile world. But if not, then I would be hesitant to see Paul envisioning something specific.

I am inclined to think Paul is just thinking of a principle that Israel is susceptible first because of their privileged position and not envisioning anything specific. Part of this is rooted in a skepticism of seeing an apostle having a really developed vision of the future.

At 2/05/2008 5:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

edward t. babinski asks: Do you believe that "God" punishes and blesses nations today?

Isaiah 45:7 "I form light and create darkness, I make prosperity and create evil, I am the Lord, who do all these things."

Luke 12:51 "Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division...

Ephesians 1:11 "In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will...

Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever."

At 2/05/2008 11:32 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for these great comments. I've been thinking about them today, but I've run out of time to respond in writing tonight. Will do tomorrow.

At 2/06/2008 12:07 AM, Anonymous volker said...

Hi Chris,
if you are interested in a detailed treatment of v.17, have a look at this book of my friend:
Heliso, Desta : Pistis and the Righteous One
A Study of Romans 1:17 against the Background of Scripture and Second Temple Jewish Literature
2007. WUNT II/235.


At 2/06/2008 11:26 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

I'm gonna put it off again. I haven't forgotton these comments. I'm just too tired tonight.

At 2/10/2008 1:27 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

There are some great comments here.
Owen, was I thinking of a specific expression of that ‘wrath’. Perriman would think so. That would also follow the pattern of Hab – judgment in Jerusalem, then the invading nation.
“Do you believe that "God" punished Babylon?”
Well, I think the line of thinking may be along the lines of Rom 1, and the ‘handing over to’ notion. So was God there with a big stick? No. But did the prophets say that God allowed this to happen ‘in punishment’. I think so. Did God do the punoishment? No. Did God allow the invading nation to arise, and was God on the side of the attacking nation, so to speak. I think the prophet wants us to see that is the case.
“Do you believe that "God" punishes and blesses nations today?”
This question reminds me of an argument Dawkins had with a German pastor. Dawkins was terribly upset about the teaching of hell, and asked if this pastor taught it – with the implication that if he did, he was mad.
What Dawkins didn’t consider is that hell is part of a redemptive story, and that God, in love must deal with that which destroys his creation. Hell is not a teaching that can be plucked out and put into another story or worldview without the point being missed.
So do I think that God punishes and blesses nations today? It’s a tough call, because I am no Jeremiah or Isaiah, but I think we can say something along those lines, yes. Though I would need to qualify the previous sentence, I’ll just leave it at that for now. But, and this is an important but, these things must be seen as part of an expression of God’s love for the world, part of that redemptive story, and can only be judged and assessed in light of that story.

Anyway, great questions. Sorry for the slightly rushed response. They deserved more attention than I gave them


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