Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Two keys to unlock Romans

I’m presently writing a short commentary on Romans – the whole thing is just over 10,000 words! In my introduction, which cannot exceed more than 600 words, I have decided to highlight two key features which, in my view, are necessary to grasp what Romans is about. The first is not too controversial and involves the tension between Jew and Gentile in light of the return of Jews to Rome after the Edict of Claudius which temporarily expelled them. A lot in Romans, especially chapters 14 and 15, fits this situation perfectly and frames much of Paul’s concerns in the rest of the letter. The second is more controversial but equally important. To understand Romans one needs to understand the story of Israel in terms of the life, death and resurrection (here Kirk's thesis, is most helpful) of Jesus Christ – and vice verse. For example, the flow of thought in Romans 3 – from the question about God’s faithfulness and the problem of the unfaithfulness of the people of God, to the declaration in 3:21 that ‘now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets’ – can only be understood in terms of that story and Christ’s role in it.

Anyway, I thought I would share those two thoughts, especially given the need to educate all of you seething masses of dilettantes...


At 5/27/2009 3:56 AM, Anonymous Erin said...

Sounds interesting, and having just begun Carter's Race: A theological Account, it is of particular interest!

At 5/27/2009 9:12 AM, Anonymous kevinscull said...

Anyone who can write a Romans commentary of any worth in that few words certainly has my admiration!

At 5/27/2009 3:30 PM, Anonymous metalepsis said...


I would say that the first key is still a very contested point and not really a given. In fact I would go so far to say that it could distort your reading of Romans more than it might help. As you know it is not clear who Claudius expelled, was it all the Jews (very unlikely that this would have happened), some of the Jews, only those involved in the dispute with Chrestus? And what about the Jews, are they distinguishable from christians at this point in history, or could Claudius have expelled both christians and jews (only knowing them as jews) for the partaking in such disturbances. I agree that it is benificial to start with this "historical" understanding behind the text, but there are too many questions to proceed with this as a key. Now it certainly helps highlight a NP reading, but there doesn't have to be this "historical" conflict to proceed with a NP reading.

At 5/27/2009 3:33 PM, Anonymous metalepsis said...

it should read "I agree that it is benificial to start with a "historical" understanding behind the text"

not "this"


At 5/27/2009 6:20 PM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

'to the declaration in 3:21 that ‘now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets’ –'

I wonder if Paul knew of any third attestation to the righteousness of God, apart from the law and the prophets.

Had Christians also been expelled from Rome by this Edict of Claudius?

At 5/27/2009 7:04 PM, Anonymous J. R. Daniel Kirk said...

Brilliant. Bleedin' brilliant.

At 5/27/2009 8:06 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

Agreed with Metalepsis' caution: the tension between Jew and Gentile in Paul's Roman congregation is "not too controversial" (since, duh, it's there on the page); but what can be said about the reason for the tension, directly from the text of Rom 11 anyway, is that the Gentiles were considering themselves spiritually superior to the Jews (for one reason) and the Jews vice versa (for another reason)--neither of which reason has anything obviously to do with the Jews having been expelled from Rome due to the Edict of Claudius. (We cannot even be solidly sure that Suetonius was referring to disputes by Jews with Christians when speaking of "the instigator Chrestus", for which rioting the Jews were temporarily dispelled. But that scenario, if true, would appear to have involved non-Christian Jews: not the Christian Jewish half of Paul's audience, who at most would have been expelled accidentally due to fractiousness elsewhere.)

One could, of course, read the Edict and its results into references from chps 14 and 15, perhaps. But I think I can dare to say that this is not obviously a textual feature even there; consequently, it would be a very poor "key feature" to grasp what Romans is about.

(On the contrary, between "the story of Israel in terms of the [role of the] life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ" and "the tension between Jew and Gentile in light of the return of Jews to Rome after the Edict of Claudius"; I think I would have to say that the former is the one which is "not too controversial"--mainly because features of this topic can be pointed to directly in the text.)


At 5/28/2009 1:08 AM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...


I'm sure know about him, but just in case, it sounds like your thought resonates well with Keesmat's:
"Exodus and the Intertextual Transformation of Tradition in Romans 8:14-30," JSNT 54 [1994]: 29-56.

Paul and His Story: Reinterpreting the Exodus Tradition [Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 181; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999]).

At 5/28/2009 9:34 AM, Anonymous Andrew said...

I agree in seeing the return of the Jews to Rome after Claudius' expulsion as the primary occasion for the letter.

Something I find interesting that seems to be overlooked by a lot of commentaries is that the two crimes Paul comments in Romans 2:22 that Jews had been guilty of - Temple robbing, and adultery - correlate precisely with the two crimes Josephus says caused the earlier expulsion in 19AD. (Ant 18:65-84)

At 5/28/2009 10:28 AM, Anonymous Andrew said...

Although Chris, if you want to learn the real truths about early Christian theology and Paul's theology, you will have to ask me nicely for a sneak preview of my not-yet-published book on the subject...

At 5/28/2009 7:05 PM, Anonymous metalepsis said...



Sylvia C. Keesmaat is of the female gender.

I also suggest you take a look at Appendix 2 of The mystery of Romans By Mark D. Nanos.

IMO Nanos is brilliant!

At 5/29/2009 11:30 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for helpful comments, people. Perhaps I'll post drafts of my (very) short commentary here for comment.

Metalepsis, you are right of course about the potential ambiguity on the Edict, but it seems to fit what is found in Romans so well.

That said, perhaps I ought to tone down my confidence, as Jason suggests?

Thanks Kevin!

Hi Steven,
"Had Christians also been expelled from Rome by this Edict of Claudius?"

If Acts 18:2 is anything to go by, then yes.

Yea, Keesmaat I found helpful - Nanos less so (even if very creative)

At 5/29/2009 11:37 PM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...

Oops, sorry about messing up on Keesmat's gender. Thanks for pointing that out!

You said Nanos is "very creative". That's hilarious!

At 5/30/2009 2:05 AM, Anonymous metalepsis said...


No problem.


[using jedi mind trick, and waving hand at the computer screen] You must love Nanos!

At 5/30/2009 4:59 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

If Acts 18:2 is anything to go by, then yes.

Thanks for the info.

At 6/01/2009 3:01 PM, Anonymous metalepsis said...


I have offered some thoughts over at metalepsis.


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