Biblical Studies: New Testament Assignment

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1 Biblical Studies: New Testament Assignment WHY DID PAUL WRITE THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS? Introduction Magisterial with soaring heights and lofty peaks, the Epistle to the Romans stands Everest-like. The Epistle has been traditionally viewed as a treatise and compendium of Paul s doctrine. Yet was the Apostle Paul s intention to merely compose a systematic theology and outline a core summary of his theology? Or was the purpose to address a direct issue within the Christian community at Rome? Most scholars now agree that the Epistle was situational. The Epistle was not written in a vacuum: it was addressed to those in Rome, [Romans 1:7 ESV] with the situation on the ground providing the background for this rich Epistle. Moo comments that some have easily bypassed answering the question regarding the purpose, audience and issues by view[ing] Romans as a timeless theological treatise. 1 Yet it ought not to be so. The question arises: if the Apostle had a definite purpose and specific destination - despite the general and systematic presentation the Epistle may have - why was the letter sent? 1 Moo, D, Romans, pg. 16 [italics added] [1]

2 Commentators and Scholars propose a number of different reasons. These include: a letter of introduction; a letter defending the Pauline gospel; a letter dealing with disunity; and, a letter to garner support for a Spanish mission. Yet, these reasons can be connected and each may have been legitimate reasons around a central hub: a correct understanding of the Gospel and its implications. Pebbles and Ripples Scripture and secular writers reveal Jews and Christians [comprised of both Jewish and Gentile believers] were in Rome at the time of the edict 2. It would be reasonable to conclude that some believers returning from Jerusalem after Pentecost; or during the discharge of their ordinary secular business brought the Gospel to Rome and formed the first Christian community. Schreiner comments that evangelisation likely occurred within the synagogues, where God-fearing Gentiles would also have begun to embrace the gospel, 3 rather than through any specially undertaken evangelistic enterprise. However, in A.D., 49 the Roman Emperor Claudius issued an edict which would have immediate and future implications for the churches in Rome. Jews - Christian and non-christian - were expelled from Rome as a result of debates, disruptions and disturbances which divided the resident Jewish community. The cause of the disturbances: the impulsore Chresto. 4 Jews and 2 See: Acts 2:10; Acts 18:2; Orosius: History against Pagans; Seutsonius: Claudius; Dio Cassius: Roman History. 3 Schreiner, T, Romans, pg Suetonius, Claudius, 25.4 [citied in F.F. Bruce, Christianity Under Claudius, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 44 (March 1962): pg. 316.] Also [Schreiner, T, Romans, pg. 12]: Schreiner provides a helpful insight in his commentary regarding the remark from Suetonius: A fascinating remark by the Roman historian Suetonius, writing about A.D. 120, has a [2]

3 Jewish Christians in Rome [as in other cities in the Empire 5 ] were regularly involved in conflict and disruption regarding the identity of the Christ. Many believed in the Christ who was promised beforehand in the scriptures, this Jesus whom God has made both Lord and Christ. [cf. Romans 1:2; Acts 2:36] According to Schreiner, with the ejection of the Jews... the churches in Rome became mainly Gentile. 6 Distinct from a Jewish influence, Gentile house churches would have developed embracing a distinctly Gentile, feel whereby the members would be less inclined to retain some Jewish practices, e.g. food laws. Therefore, with the eventual return of many Jews to Rome [due to the Edict expiring at the death of Claudius] it is not hard to imagine that tensions would arise between Jewish and Gentile Christians. 7 Symptom or Root Problem? The implications of the Edict; the ethnic composition of the churches in Rome; and, a distinct-resident-non-believing Jewish community dwelling in the city again sets the stage for what Paul would address: a real letter addressing real issues. These were crucial issues for the entire community. 8 about the Christ, and thus the reason for the mistake is easily comprehensible. 5 Bruce [ Christianity Under Claudius, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 44 (March 1962): ] states that the Emperor Claudius dealt with similar disturbances within Jewish communities around the empire, even bearing here. Claudius deported from Rome Jews who were involved in local disruptions at the behest of Chresto. Most scholars agree that Suetonius confused the name Christo (i.e., Christ) with the name Chresto because the latter was a common Greek name. Suetonius did not know [3]

4 that he (Claudius) would proceed against them (the Jews ) with the utmost severity for fomenting a general plague which infests the whole world, which has been discussed as referring to this intra-community conflict over the Christ. 6 Schreiner, T, Romans, pg Ibid., pg Ibid., pg. 15 It would be very plausible that the ripples from events less than a decade earlier would still be significant 5. It is likely the debates and local disturbances between the Jewish community never really disappeared. In The Acts of the Apostles, the Jews challenged and charged believers as being men who have turned the world upside down. [Acts 17:6 ESV] For the Apostle, it was imperative that the Christians in Rome understood the Pauline Gospel and were strong in the faith. 6 Cautioning against the danger to over-historicize, Moo encourages readers to ensure the larger theological viewpoint and argument of the Bible is not missed. 7 Issues in the Epistle appear to be woven together; matters of particular interest to a church composed of Jew and Gentile. The Apostle deals with how one is right with God and whether it comes through obedience to the law; the relationship between Jew and Gentile; a correct understanding of Old Testament; the ongoing relationship to the law; relationship to the dietary laws; and, a right understanding of their relation to Abraham. Riddlebarger comments: All of these matters are essential to the integrity of the letter, and all of them centre around correctly understanding the doctrine of justification. Jew and Gentile cannot get 5 This is based on the assumption that the Epistle to the Romans was written between A.D., 55 and 58 [Schreiner, Romans, pg. 5], the Council at Jerusalem occurring circa A.D., 50 and the expulsion by Claudius A.D., Schreiner, T, Romans, pg Moo, D, Romans, pg. 22 [4]

5 along, until everyone is on the same page about how it is that God justifies the ungodly. 8 How then is the church at Rome to address the tensions that exist? How do Jew and Gentile relate together as the covenant people of God? The issues manifesting in the Christian community at Rome were symptoms, not the root cause. One people or two? To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints. Romans 1:7 [ESV] The Apostle does not address two peoples or two churches. It was all those in Rome: all who belong to the covenant community which now comprises Jew and Gentile. Paul utilizes Old Testament [OT] language when addressing the people of God and the particular issues specific to Rome. This forms the basis for understanding some of his arguments. Building a case, the Apostle argues strongly in OT terms that: (i) a Jew is not merely one outwardly, but one inwardly and circumcised of heart [cf. Romans 2:28-29]; (ii) that Abraham was the father of all who believe. As the progenitor of the Jewish people, Abraham s example is vital in Paul s argument. If Abraham was righteous before God before he was circumcised [cf. Genesis 17, Romans 4:10], then circumcision is unnecessary in order to belong to the people of God. It therefore depends on 8 Riddlebarger, K, The Gospel Promised Beforehand, Sermon transcript accessed at [5]

6 faith, in order that the promise may rest in grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring [Romans 4:13, emphasis added]; (iii) it is not those of mere physical descent from Abraham that are his children, but the children of promise. [Romans 9:8 ESV] An important thread, as it deals with who God s people are and how they belong to Him; (iv) that God s promises have never failed to His people [Romans 9-11]. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew [Romans 11:2]; for God has always purposed that a remnant would remain; (v) the Gentiles would be grafted in fulfilling OT promises. Therefore, the Jewish Christians can be sure that God has not rejected His people; His people would always be those who had the faith of their father Abraham faith in the God who justifies the ungodly. To eat... or not to eat. The doctrine should impact praxis. Manifesting as the fruit of a misunderstanding of the implications of the gospel is the division over the issue of food and the observation of days. [cf. Romans 14:1-15:7] It does not appear that those abstaining were doing so to merit salvation. 9 One is not to think some had started to believe 9 Schreiner, T, Romans, pg 713. Schreiner comments that Paul would not have tolerated the weak [of Romans 14] if they contended that adherence to food laws was necessary for salvation as this was the false gospel that he fiercely resisted in Galatians. 14 Ibid., pg. 714 [italics added.] [6]

7 another gospel. Rather, there was an inadequate understanding of the gospel which lead to confusion and inconsistent living within the Christian community. Some had not yet allowed faith to permeate all areas of life. [Further,] they failed to grasp adequately the implications of their faith. 14 In failing to have a clear understanding, there were those who abstained because they feared it would not meet the requirements of the OT law. 10 It was a genuine concern whether particular foods were clean and pure 11 ; a continuing reverence for the Mosaic law and the conviction that their faith did not allow them to do certain things. Since the conflict arose from an exposition of the OT Scriptures and interpretation of the law, the Apostle must therefore show that the content of his gospel accords with the true interpretation of the OT Scriptures. 12 Addressing issues that pertained specifically to Jews and Gentiles, Paul shows that there is a connection to justification and the fulfilment of God s promises. Thus the Apostle writes that they are to:...welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7 ESV In the church in Rome, the old habits of Jew and Gentile die hard. Therefore, Paul urges them to welcome one another and accept those struggling with such matters. Since such issues have divided the Roman congregations, Paul s direct concern is not the nature of the gospel itself, but how believers - who are justified by faith alone in Christ alone - are to relate to each other. 10 Moo, D, Romans, pg Schreiner, T, Romans, pg Ibid., pg 21 [7]

8 13 A proper understanding of the nature of justification and its implications would be the basis on which weak and strong should interact with one another. The Big Picture However, in addressing these specific issues, does the Apostle have a big picture view in mind? Whilst there may be more than one purpose to the Epistle, Schreiner notes that there is a fundamental link and underlying theme: the glory and praise of God. 14 He writes: The honour and praise of God s name, reaches its fulfilment when Jews and Gentiles worship together harmoniously. 15 Those who believe [both Jew and Gentile] are the people of God: the true Israel [cf. Romans 9:24]. Rather than those seeking a righteousness of their own it is those who believe in the One who justifies the ungodly by faith in Christ. The result: the glory and praise of God. The glory of God s name is a reason Paul states in his greeting. Paul s apostleship was to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [God s] name. [Romans 1:5] Not only among the nations but those in Rome who were called to belong to Christ. When the Roman Christians grasped and understood how sinners 13 Ibid., pg 20: Schreiner notes that Paul is pleased with the state of the Roman church as seen in Chapters 1:8-12; 15:14-15; 16:19. Presumably they had a correct understanding and knowledge of the gospel in that Paul states he is satisfied with them and are able to instruct one another [Romans 15:14]. Rather it is the issue of relationship between the strong and the weak and how they are to relate and interact with one another. 14 Schreiner, T, Romans, pg Ibid., pg 757 [8]

9 were reconciled to a holy God, justified through faith apart from works and understood the implications of the faith, the result would be the glory of God s name. Conclusion The glory of God motivated Paul. The issues and themes of the Epistle all relate to this. At the heart of the issue is a correct understanding of the gospel. The historical context helps further emphasise the weightiness of the issues and the implications. The issues addressed in the Epistle are ultimately those of the church, and the world, in every year, decade, century and age. Even though Paul addresses specific issues in a particular local situation; there are issues today which stem from failing to apply the implications of the gospel. There are some points we must be reminded of boldly [cf. Romans 15:15]; points when forgotten lead to confusion and inconsistency with the message of the gospel. Only when faith is allowed to permeate all areas of life and there is an understanding of the implications of the faith, will God be glorified. Riddelbarger leaves an encouragement that the Epistle speaks with such clarity and power about the gospel, [that] this ancient letter virtually comes alive, especially in those periods when that gospel is lost, obscured, confused, or neglected Riddlebarger, K, The Gospel Promised Beforehand, Sermon transcript accessed at pg. 2 [9]

10 Bibliography Bruce, F. F. Christianity Under Claudius, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 44, March 162 Cranfield, C. E. B. Romans: A Shorter Commentary, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1985 Moo, Douglas. J. The Epistle to the Romans, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1996 Murray, John. The Epistle to the Romans, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1997 Riddlebarger, Kim. The Gospel Promised Beforehand, Sermon transcript accessed at: The Purest Gospel, Sermon transcript accessed at: We Belong to the Lord, Sermon transcript accessed at: Schreiner, T. R. Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, 2010 Romans, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, 1998 [10]

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