In this episode, Pete (joined by his cat Marmalade) shares 10 things essential to understanding the book of Romans. He’s quick to point out a number of varying opinions about this important letter and suggests that the ways in which we’ve come to understand Paul’s writings may be incomplete at best. And the trite ways that some of the more familiar passage have been recited are far from Paul’s original intent.
Pete Enns: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Bible from Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the Internet. Serious talk about the Sacred Book. I’m Pete Enns…
Jared Byas: [00:00:08] …and I’m Jared Byas.
Pete Enns: [00:00:10] Hey everybody welcome to another episode of the Bible for Normal People. Another solo episode by Moi–or, actually, if we’re going to count Marmalade, my cat who is about three feet away from me. It’s sort of a dual episode. You may hear her. She complains a lot, especially if I’m saying something that she doesn’t like so we’ll see how that goes. But, anyway… We’re going to talk about Romans today. Pete’s Top Ten Things You Need To Know. And I say that with a little bit of trepidation because if you want to get beat up by other biblical scholars–they tend to be pretty nerdy bunch–but, one thing that gets them riled up is when you go to them and say, “I think I know what’s going on in the book of Romans.” And for good reason. For every square inch of Romans, there are about 15 cars parked on top of it because it’s a tough book to understand and how you put the pieces together depends on how you read certain passages. And how you read certain passages depends on how you look at the book as a whole. So there’s plenty of room for disagreement and people making mistakes including myself. But I thought I’d give you my take on this book because I think it’s a very important book. I actually think Romans is exciting and interesting even if it’s difficult to understand.
[00:01:19] I teach it to my students at Eastern and we have a lot of fun with that. At least I do. I don’t know if they do, but hey. I just grade them. Who cares? But, you know, I thought we’d just take some time here because Romans is a book that’s been poured over throughout the history of the church and it’s the first of Paul’s letters, at least in canonical order. But I also think there are common ways of understanding Romans that actually get in the way of understanding the book as a whole. So here they are. There are 10. Some of these are a bit quicker than others. The first couple, or three, are probably the most detailed and they sort of set the stage for some of the others. But, you know, let’s just see where this goes.
[00:01:58] So the first one. The first point. First thing about Romans that I think we need to know is talk about the audience. Who is it written to? And right away you get into a fist fight. Because it seems like Paul is addressing Jews and Gentiles in the letter. It seems like it. He even says, you know, now I’m going to talk to you Gentiles about something. So he seems to be talking to two audiences. And, you know, if you hold me against the wall and force me to answer, I’d probably say, yeah, I think that this is a church or a group of churches in Rome made up of Jews and Gentiles together.
[00:02:37] But not everyone shares that opinion. See, it could be Jews. When I say Jews I mean Jews who follow Jesus, obviously. These are written to believers in Jesus but some are ethnically jewish and some are Greek/ Gentile.
[00:02:49] So you have those two groups but you also look at the audience as almost entirely Gentile, some of whom have adopted Jewish practices like circumcision and dietary restrictions because you need to, I guess this is a little simplistic, but you need to sort of become Jewish to convert to Judaism to be part of the family of Abraham.
[00:03:14] So when Paul seems to be talking to Jews in the book of Romans, he could be talking to Gentiles that have adopted Jewish ways. Now from my point of view I don’t think there’s a huge difference between making a decision between these two options but just so you know, the audience itself, you know, sometimes you can tell so much from a letter by just knowing who it’s written to. But that’s one of the conundrums of the book of Romans: who exactly is the audience here? So that was a bit brief. We don’t need to go into great detail here.
[00:03:45] But the second point I think maybe the most important point about the book of Romans that I think orients us in a certain direction and that is the purpose of the book is not about the individual. Like individuals and how they can be right with God, which is the common, especially Protestant, way of reading the book of Romans.
[00:04:10] It’s not about individuals but it’s about a collective.
[00:04:15] If I can put that little bit differently the book of Romans, to use theological language, the book of Romans is not about soteriology–how you get saved. It’s about ecclesiology. Ecclesiology means the church and the study of the church. In other words, who makes up the people of God?
[00:04:32] And, you know, a lot of people listening you might already recognize pretty quickly that I’m coming at this from a certain perspective which is called the new perspective on Paul, which is a really horrible name for something like this. But what that means is…let’s contrast that to the old perspective on Paul. The old perspective on Paul is what I think Christians will normally adopt when they think of the Book of Romans and it comes from the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, specifically, who was agonizing over his personal relationship with God and what does it mean to be righteous and he’s so sinful he can’t get over it. And by reading Galatians and Romans, Martin Luther came to a conclusion that how you are right with God is a matter of God’s grace, which is a really good thing to come up with. But that has sort of started the Church, especially the Protestant church, on reading Romans as sort of a letter to you specifically and everything in Romans has to do with the individual state of salvation. Which means basically escaping hell after you die and going to heaven. That’s pretty much how it’s understood.
[00:05:40] Now the problem with that is that when you read Romans carefully–and this has been sort of the move in scholarship the last about 50 years now–when you read Romans, you come away thinking that, my goodness gracious, Paul doesn’t seem to be really talking about the individual that often seems to be talking about groups. He seems to be talking about Jews and Gentiles as a collective rather than individuals.
[00:06:05] And I think that’s a very true and very important point to remember when we read Romans. That point of view is called the New Perspective on Paul, which is a misnomer because what scholars are trying to say is that , well, this perspective actually isn’t new. It’s old. It’s Paul’s perspective. It’s the first-century perspective. And Martin Luther’s was more of a medieval perspective with introspection of the conscience and individual introspection and things like that.
[00:06:31] Paul is more talking about: what does it mean to be the people of God? And what role do Gentiles have in Israel’s story? In this fundamental story that is about Israel and God’s faithfulness to the Israelites? How do Gentiles fit into that? And the long and short of it is whether Gentiles needed to adopt Jewish ways, Jewish practices, in order to be full members of the children of Abraham, so to speak. Or whether it’s something else.
[00:07:00] And Paul’s argument is that, well, for both a Jew and Gentile, the way in–the way to be adopted into the family of God, so to speak–is through faith in Jesus because of Jesus’s death and resurrection on the cross.
[00:07:15] So Paul is talking about groups and not individuals. And you can sort of see that by a way of working through the first couple of chapters. Paul tells us at the very beginning of the book that this is something for Jews and for Gentiles. He’s trying to show that they are both on equal footing before God. You can see that, for example, in verse 16 . He’s talking about the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.
[00:07:46] Now we might say that “everyone who has faith”. That sounds individual. But just read the rest of the verse. “For the Jew first and also to the Greek.” See, he’s interested in these groups.
[00:07:56] And he begins his argument in Chapter 1–and we’re not going to read all this stuff, but–he begins his argument in Chapter 1 by looking at the wrath of God that is being revealed from heaven against ungodliness and wickedness. And he begins to list a lot of practices like idolatry and certain sexual practices that are typical of Gentiles of the time. And he has, at the end of chapter one, what’s called a vice list that begins in verse 29 and goes to 32. People who are filled with wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, he goes on and on. This is sort of a moral thing in Greek philosophy. It’s a list of vices to sort of prompt you not to do those things. So Paul here is adopting this Greek rhetoric and talking about particular Greek sins like idolatry and sexual practices that have never been adopted in Judaism.
[00:08:56] And what I think is happening here…I’m going to say that a lot. What I think is happening, because again there are a differences of opinion on this. But what I think is happening here is Paul is digging into these Gentiles who are part of this church and sort of exposing the sinfulness of this Greco-Roman world.
[00:09:16] Now the point though is that he moves in Chapter 2 and he says, okay, well let’s talk about Jews now. You’ve got Torah but you don’t keep it.
[00:09:25] And, in fact, Gentiles who keep the law instinctively are better off than Jews who have Torah but don’t keep it when they should know better. And it looks like in Chapter 1, Paul is–again Paul’s Jewish, right? So he’s writing to this church and he’s, in this context of maybe tension between Jews and Gentiles and the church in Rome, and he’s going after the Gentiles right off the bat. The wrath of God is being revealed and you can sort of hear the the Jewish countrymen of Paul’s, maybe in the background, cheering and saying, yeah go get them Paul. Those Gentiles, man, they’ll have sex with anything. And they are these horrible people with malice and slander, blah blah blah.
[00:10:06] But then in Chapter 2 Paul turns the tables on them and he looks at the Jews, his fellow countrymen, and he says, “You’re no better. You don’t do the things you know you need to do. So don’t brag that you have Torah because you’re better off without it if you obey God’s law sort of instinctively.”
[00:10:23] And this is how Paul continues here for the next couple of chapters and there’s one verse that to me summarizes it well. I’m going to mention here my friend Daniel Kirk who’s written a great book on Romans and some other things as well. But we were talking about this years ago and he said to me something that I haven’t quite forgotten. He says if you want to understand Paul’s basic point in the book of Romans, go to Chapter 3 and look at verse 22 and 23. Can I start at 21? Let me read the first three verses here. 21, 22, and 23 of Chapter 3.
[00:11:02] Paul says:.
[00:11:02] “But now apart from law apart from Torah the righteousness of God has been disclosed and is attested by the law and the prophets.” So this is something that is apart from the law, yet it’s attested to by the Old Testament–what we call the Old Testament. He says, “the righteousness of God through”–and I’m going to say–“[the faithfulness of Jesus Christ] for all who believe.” Now here, we get to the point. “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
[00:11:32] And Daniel said to me if you want to understand Romans take the word “all” out and replace it with the word “both.” For both have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Both groups. Jew and gentile.
[00:11:45] See, I think that’s a very very important point because some other things, I think, fall into place very very nicely when we keep that in mind. This distinction that Paul has to deal with between Jews and Gentiles as a group, not as individuals.
[00:12:01] Just to cut to the chase here. What I’m saying is that the Romans wrote interpretation. You find these highlighted passages in Romans that explain what you need to believe for you to go to heaven. That doesn’t seem to be Paul’s focus. It’s actually not heaven at all. It’s how you live down here as a church made up of people between whom there has been some hostility. Jews and Gentiles. Particularly over matters of circumcision and dietary restrictions, which are two of the big things that marked Jews, at the time, off as different than Greeks and Romans. And so now Paul is saying that, well, that distinction doesn’t hold.
[00:12:44] And I can appreciate the tensions that would happen in the church in Rome. Because you have Jews saying, listen, it’s great to have the Gentiles on board. Fantastic. We’ve got some rules here that are as old as creation practically. They’re from Moses on Mount Sinai and one is even from Abraham before that. Circumcision. Chapter 17 of Genesis. The dietary restrictions, like in the book of Leviticus, Chapter 11. You know, here’s what you eat. Here’s what you don’t eat. Those were very practical ways that Jews could mark themselves off from the culture around them. And they rightly valued them.
[00:13:20] So if Gentiles want to be a part of this Messiah Jesus, they can’t just stay the way they are. Something has to happen beyond simply them being Gentiles. They have to show their faithfulness to these ancient commands and laws. And yet Paul is saying they don’t. They are a part of the family of God, a part of the family of Abraham, as Gentiles. Not as first sort of converting to Judaism.
[00:13:45] So I can appreciate the tension but to see that tension. For us, to read it it really is sort of the book sort of comes alive because you can see Paul’s argument and the passion he puts into trying so hard to demonstrate that what God has done in Christ is good for both Jews and Gentiles. On equal footing, they’re both in the same place. They both need the same savior. They both need the same help. They both have the same problem, which is alienation from God and the fact that everybody dies. That’s the problem I think that Paul is addressing and to think of this on an individual level is very modern and western, because that’s our focus. But for Paul’s day, he’s not interested in individuals. He’s interested in: how can I convince Jews and Gentiles that this messiah is for the world?
[00:14:36] That’s that was the pressure point and he makes an argument basically throughout the entire book to drive the point home. That is his point, I would say. His point is ecclesiological. Who benefits from Jesus? And Paul says everybody just as they are.
[00:14:54] There’s no priority given to Judaism in that sense. There is other priority given to Judaism because they were there first and they have the laws and the oracles. Paul says. And things like that. But that’s not the main point. The main point is that, in God’s eyes, Jews and Gentiles both benefit from Jesus. And God is most faithful to the world through Jesus, including most faithful to Judaism.
[00:15:19] I mean just appreciate this. This is the argument the Paul is making. Another way of putting it. God demonstrates His faithfulness to Israel, not by reconstituting the Israelite nation and putting a king on the throne in Jerusalem and defeating the Romans, for example. But He is most faithful to the Israelites by a crucified and risen messiah, whose conquering of death benefits the deep problem that both Jews and Gentiles share.
[00:15:50] And that’s a hard pill to swallow if you’re a Jew. And, believe me, I’d be with them probably. I’d be one of the people Paul’s complaining about. You know, I would be with them saying, listen, we do have this book with these traditions. We can’t just throw them out, can we? We can’t just sort of, not throw them out, but we can’t sort of marginalize them. Put them on the periphery.
[00:16:08] And then the argument he has to make to Gentiles, which is: this crucified Jewish guy is your savior. I mean think about that’s a tough sell for both. Romans is trying to make that sell.
[00:16:22] Okay. So that is the second one. I think that’s really the long one. So you’ve got so far the audience and also that the book is for a community, not for individuals. And I guarantee you if you take the time to look at Romans this way, it’s going to be very very rewarding. Maybe get a good study Bible that sort of sees that as well and read through it.
[00:16:42] The third thing we’re going to look at is–sort of controversial, but–it is election. So election really follows on the previous point. And here’s what I mean. You know, the place to go to here is one of these often quoted passages, which is in Chapter 8 starting in 28.
[00:17:03] “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
[00:17:25] Now let’s try this on for size. Just work with it. See if it fits. Resist the temptation to read this as speaking about individuals being foreknown, predestined, etc. etc..
[00:17:39] Think of it as communal. Jews and Gentiles. I think that makes a huge difference and to me that makes a lot more sense of what’s happening in Romans in general, right?
[00:17:51] This is why, you know, when we talk about election and Calvinism, which has some wonderful points, but I don’t think this is one of them–this notion of election that God chose people individually even before they were born. And it comes from places like this. What if Paul is not talking about individuals being f oreknown by God? Because this brings up the notion of double predestination? If God foreknew some people and destined them for glory, let’s say, then he foreknew others not to be destined for glory, but be destined for that other place. So you had this double predestination of the elect and the reprobates. And it comes from basically passages like this, maybe a couple of others.
[00:18:32] But I think that’s a, I mean I have to say, I think that’s a fundamental misreading of Paul’s argument in Romans. He’s not talking about individuals. He’s talking about a community. So he says things like: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, who are called by God. Paul’s argument in Romans is it’s not just Jews. They’re not the only people called but it’s Gentiles who are also called by God. And together they are called by God in Christ. Right? He says that the next verse. “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
[00:19:07] See, this is the point. Both Jews and Gentiles together are conformed to the image of Christ in order that he, Christ, might be the first born within a large family. And I’m looking at my note here in the Bible… Large family… And… Yea, the Greek says “among many brothers,” but the New Revised Standard Version makes that gender neutral so it says “family” which is fine.
[00:19:33] So in order that he might be the first born within a large family. And that large family–sure it’s made up of individuals, but again Paul’s point is not look h ow many people individually are a part of this. But he says: look at the mass of Jews and Gentiles who are now part of the family of God because of Christ.
[00:19:52] And those whom he predestined he also called and those whom he called he also justified and those whom he justified he also glorified. And notice the words justified and glorified or in the past tense. It’s something that seems to be already the case. Because when you’re called by God and you’re “in Christ,” as Paul says, you are part of the redeemed world at that point. And you’re justified before God. And, in fact even in principle, glorified before God. And you know again I think that to me that makes a lot more sense that the predestination, the election that Paul is talking about has to do with groups not individuals.
[00:20:29] And he continues that argument really and you have to keep reading, but you can’t do everything. But in Chapter 9, he sort of makes it really really clear by how he’s citing certain Old Testament passages.
[00:20:42] And we’re going to get into that a little bit more later how Paul uses the Old Testament. That’s a big mark of Paul’s. But if you look at Chapter 9, verses 25 and 26. And that’s really where you can see it most clearly that Paul is interested here in groups. The election he’s talking about is an election that includes not just the Jews, but the Gentiles as well. And we can see how he uses these two citations, which are from basically the book of Hosea and a little bit of Isaiah later, but we’re just going to read the ones in Hosea. See Hosea, it says , “those who are not my people, I will call my people” and “who is not my beloved, I will call beloved.” Now, Paul is sort of paraphrasing here the book of Hosea. But in the book of Hosea the context is very obvious what Hosea is talking about is sort of a repentant Israelites, who come back to the fold after committing spiritual adultery. Those are not my people would be called my people. In other words, those who were rejected are now going to come back and Israel is going to be restored and it’s going to be great.
[00:21:48] But Paul doesn’t see it that way. See, he sets up these quotations and then you have to sort of back up into what I think is a sort of a complicated section, but it begins really in like verse 23 and verse 24. He wants to make known, God wants to make known, the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles. As indeed he says in Hosea, those who are not my people I will call my people. And her who was not beloved, I will call beloved.
[00:22:23] Hmm. See, he’s citing Hosea. But do you see what Paul is doing with it? How he’s handling this? He’s saying this is actually talking about Gentiles. Now I don’t know if this is something…like it might take a second to wrap our heads around that. But my point is simply this. Alright? Paul is citing the prophet Hosea, which in the context of Hosea, has to do with a repentant Israel . That’s, rhetorically, those who are not my people become my people. But here, Paul applies this to Gentiles.
[00:22:57] All of which is to say Paul’s focus on election, just like we saw in Chapter 8, his focus in election is people groups. Right? Because that’s the tension that Paul is dealing with in his day.
[00:23:10] How we can have…if there’s one God, then there has to be one people of God. This God, if this is truly God, he has to be God over everybody. The whole world. So how can God do that when all along he’s had this particular people called the Israelites, and know called the Jews, who were his special people. How can the two, Jews and non-Jews, called Gentiles. How can the two become one?
[00:23:38] That’s Paul’s–I’m going to call it a theological dilemma, even sort of a quasi crisis. How can God continue to be faithful to Israel as a particular people and at the same time say Gentiles now can be a part of the family of God as Gentiles? How can God do that?
[00:24:00] I think we have to appreciate the struggle here. I mentioned this before but I think it bears repeating. I think it’s hard to understand Romans until we understand the pain and the dilemma and the challenge that faces Paul that this story of Israel is taking a rather significant shift towards Gentile inclusion in a way that the Old Testament, I have to say frankly, doesn’t really anticipate. And to draw that connection to bring the Gentiles into this family of God and to sort of show that the Gentiles are part of God’s plan. They’re part of the elect. The way Paul has to do that, at least in his mind, is to rethink and reframe and reinterpret and actually give new meaning to Old Testament passages that have nothing to do with that. For example, the book of Hosea. And that’s, for me in my experience, that’s like the hardest pill to swallow. Is that one thing right there. The issue of Gentile inclusion and how Paul handles Gentile inclusion in the book of Romans.
[00:25:08] Okay, so that’s a third one. So you have audience first. And then it’s communal, not individual, number two. And number three following that is Paul’s notion of election.
[00:25:18] The fourth, and this is a little bit controversial. It’s Romans. Everything is controversial, right? It is how Paul talks about Adam and we come to that in chapter 5.
[00:25:29] So Paul brings up Adam and,, you know I talk about this in a couple of other podcasts. I don’t want to repeat a lot of stuff because it’s not super relevant for here. The only point that I want to bring out here with Adam is why Paul brings Adam into the discussion starting in chapter 5, verse 12.
[00:25:48] And at some length he really deals with Adam because he’s an important figure for Paul. He doesn’t just do it randomly. Like I feel like talking about something important. But he’s tying Adam to Jesus and he’s saying what Adam did, his act of disobedience, the fruit thing in the Garden of Eden, That is reversed and undone and fixed and hyper corrected. Not just erased, but actually corrected and made much much better by Jesus’s obedience which is his death on the cross.
[00:26:19] Okay, that’s great Paul but why even bring this up? Well the reason he’s bringing it up is because of the stuff we’ve been talking about in the first three points. Namely, Paul needs to show that what Jesus did–and I think this is a crucial point in the book of Romans–Paul needs to point out that what Jesus did goes back to something that precedes Moses and the law. Adam. He goes back to the very beginning.
[00:26:45] See, he’s already done this in Chapter 4. We’re not going to talk about Chapter 4 much but he brings up Abraham there. And he makes the point, as he does in Galatians 2, that Abraham was a friend of God. He was righteous and he was declared righteous by God because of his faith. And then this all happened before there was any law, so Paul’s argument in this story of Abraham in Romans Chapter 4 is that, listen, there’s already a precedent in the Bible for not being connected to law and still being righteous before God.
[00:27:14] Now I’m not sure that Paul’s argument is super convincing from an exegetical point of view but that’s neither here nor there. Paul’s logic is that, listen, there’s something going on here in the Abraham story and it’s important because Abraham is pre-Moses. He’s pre-Law. And for you to have the same faith, as having faith in God which is apart from law. Why does he want to do that? Because he’s bringing Jews and Gentiles together. He’s saying, hey Jews, right here in our story of Abraham, there is precedent for Gentile inclusion.
[00:27:47] Don’t forget Abraham , he came from Ur, which is Babylon and that’s a tough one to wrap your head around. Like the first Jew was a Babylonian. Right? They started as Gentiles and then they were specially called out by God and then became Israel.
[00:28:04] It’s an interesting argument that Paul makes. I mean, that’s a whole other three podcasts to sort of unpack that argument. But it gives us an idea of what Paul is trying to argue here.
[00:28:12] Then in Chapter 5 he brings Adam in. Now he goes all the way back to the beginning. And it’s because of Adam’s disobedience that now condemnation is brought to all. And I want to be really clear what I think condemnation means in Romans Chapter 5. I think the word pops up like three or four times in these verses. I’m absolutely 100 % convinced. Paul doesn’t mean God’s judgment concerning where you spend eternity. For Paul, God’s judgment which came as a result of Adam’s disobedience, God’s condemnation is death. Right? So people still experience death which means the condemnation is still there. But Jesus reverses that with Jesus’s life and righteousness and justification, not condemnation.
[00:29:00] Later on in I think Chapter 8, he begins, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus.” What he means is that death no longer has a hold on you. You’re actually alive right now in Christ. You’re actually resurrected from the dead right now spiritually speaking. He goes into that in Chapter 6, for example.
[00:29:20] Another way of putting it is this. The reason why he calls upon Adam is to support his argument. The main argument of the entire book. Which is Jews and Gentiles together. And I think what drove Paul to this and if I can sort of channel Paul’s thought which is impossible. Paul can channel Paul’s thoughts sometimes but that’s neither here nor there. What Paul, I think, is after here is looking at the magnanimity, the hugeness of what Jesus did. Actually of what God did in Christ. God raised Jesus from the dead. Right? That’s sort of an unexpected thing here. God raised Jesus from the dead. And that’s not really supposed to happen. There is nothing in the Old Testament there. And that’s not part of the Jewish narrative. But yet the Messiah dies and rises from the dead.
[00:30:08] So if I can again channel Paul’s thoughts or attempt to. For God to show up like this, for the solution to be the reversal of death, the problem that God is ultimately addressing is death. It’s not Torah-keeping which is what the Jews might have thought their problem was. We don’t keep the Torah well enough. We’re not faithful to the covenant.
[00:30:29] Paul says, yea, all that’s important but that’s not the main thing. The main thing is the condemnation of God that is now being reversed. Death is defeated. And death is something that unites the Jewish and the gentile experience because everybody dies. And now, because of Jesus, everybody is made alive.
[00:30:50] And Paul–we won’t get into this–but Paul has this odd use of “all” and “many” and like it’s starting in verse 18 and I think a little bit before that as well. All die in Adam, so all are alive in Christ. Was it really all? I mean, how does that work? I thought it was only people who actually believed in Jesus. All that kind of stuff. But again, Paul is not arguing about how individuals get saved. Paul is arguing about the way the world works. It used to be under the dominion of death. It’s now under the dominion of life.
[00:31:22] Christ rules. Death doesn’t. Death has been defeated and he either needs to, or it’s too tempting to not, go after the Adam story to make his big point that this is the problem. The problem isn’t just disobedience. It’s not sin. The problem is the result of that. And I think this is where the Adam story fits in. And I might say beautifully. But, you know, it’s not about evolution. It’s not about anything like that. It’s Paul making an argument about the importance of Jesus undoing the reality that all human beings have to deal with which is death. The ultimate enemy of everyone is that we die. And that is something that’s so grand and glorious it has to apply to Jews and Gentiles, not just to one group or the other.
Jared Byas: [00:32:10] We’re sorry to interrupt the podcast, but we want to take one minute to mention two simple ways to support the work we do with the Bible for Normal People. First, head to iTunes, rate us, give us a review. That really helps us out. Secondly, check us out on patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where you’ll find ways to jump into the community. Join the discussions that are going on and offer your support at various levels. Last, but not least, we want to give our deepest thanks to some of the members of our producer’s group. These folks give us a lot of feedback through email, calls, and overall just help make the podcast what it is. So thanks Chris Abbot Joshua Kway Gwen Straten David Black Wendy Davis alyssum unharness Rachel Emery Wayne Bardell Julian Scott Linda Irene Phil spon and Louis Scholefield. We couldn’t do what we do without you. So, thanks so much. Now back to the podcast.
Pete Enns: [00:33:03] Okay. Well, that’s four out of ten. The next ones are going to go a bit more quickly. I promise, but I lie a lot too. I’ll do the best that I can. alright.
[00:33:12] If we think of Romans, again, as a communal rather than individual argument. If we read it as ecclesiological, in other words having to do with who makes up the people of God, the church as we would call it, rather than just individuals and how they’re saved soteriology . If we think of it that way, something really wonderful happens. Which is when you get to Chapter 12. And Chapter 12 to 16, which is sort of the second half of the book. People it like the practical part. It’s hard to know what to do with Chapters 12 to 16 if he takes that individual non-communal approach to Romans. It’s very hard to know what to do because Paul spends all his time talking about like dietary laws. Especially in 14 and 15. And it’s like, okay I’m a Christian I really don’t care about that kind of stuff. Well, that’s because we’re thinking about it as an individual thing and applying it to me rather than Paul’s larger point which is to talk about these groups of people and how they’re both equal. And how the point of all this, at the end of the day, is for the two groups to accept each other and to live together. So, for example, Chapter 12–and you know my Bible has The New Life in Christ as a chapter heading. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re not. This is okay.
[00:34:31] But he says in Chapter 12, Verse 1, “I appeal to you therefore brothers and sisters by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good acceptable and perfect.”
[00:34:53] And I struggled with that a lot when I was younger because, like, what’s perfect? And, you know, renew my mind? And what’s acceptable to God? And all this kind of stuff and thinking about it on an individual basis.
[00:35:03] But again look at that passage from the communal point of view. From the Jewish-Gentile tension, let’s come together, point of view and I think some of this makes a little bit more sense. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Well, what does that mean?
[00:35:18] Well, Paul’s been talking about things like circumcision and he’s going to be talking about what you eat in these chapters to come. In 12 to, and starting around 14. It’s what you do with your bodies. If your body is a living sacrifice, you won’t be dominated by certain questions of rituals that affect the body. So, you present your body as a living sacrifice and we’ll get into this a little bit later. I think that’s the last point we’re going to talk about. But you sacrifice your body, so to speak for the sake of the other, not to God. Right?
[00:35:49] You present your bodies as living sacrifices to God, but it’s a living sacrifice because you’re not going to put things like whether to be circumcised or whether you can’t eat pork. That’s not at the top of your list. The body is not what determines your status before, God so to speak. And you have to discern what is acceptable and what is good and what is perfect. And he’s setting up his readers–or I should say his listeners because they probably weren’t reading this. It was read aloud to them. But he’s setting these people up to say, listen, I’ve been talking about theologically how there is one people of God made up of Jews and Gentiles together. No distinction between them. No hostility between them. There’s one people of God. Now, present your bodies, Jews and Gentiles here in Rome. Present your bodies as living sacrifices to God. Discern what is good and acceptable and perfect. And he’s going to go on to talk about that.
[00:36:46] Marks of the true Christian are love and not hate. Well, that’s not an abstract issue when you’re dealing with such a potentially volatile and in fact a genuinely volatile situation of whether Gentiles have to maintain Jewish customs in order to be full-fledged members of the covenant with Jesus Christ. It’s a big deal. And he’s been sort of setting up here’s what’s going on now as a result of that. Here’s what you do. Here’s how you present your bodies as living sacrifices.
[00:37:17] And like I said, the rest of the letter then makes a lot of sense because, for example in 13:8, love one another. Owe no one anything except to love one another. Well that’s great. Again, nice little advice but no then in Chapter 14: Don’t judge one another. What about what? About food. Don’t judge one another. Right?
[00:37:38] And 14:13. “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.” He’s talking about food. Right? Because he says “I’m persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.” Talking about food. But it is unclean for anyone who thinks it’s unclean.
[00:37:55] See, there’s some followers of Jesus. We really shouldn’t call them Christians at this point. They’re followers of Jesus, some Jewish some Gentile, who are convinced that what we were called to be eating kosher is important and necessary. And Paul says don’t judge each other over that. Now Paul says I’m convinced you can eat whatever you want. It’s okay with God, which is a major shift in the story of Israel. Jews and Gentiles can eat what they want to but don’t lord it over others because you think you’re more enlightened.
[00:38:24] And you can see some people saying it doesn’t matter what you eat saying oh we’re more sophisticated than you fundamentalists. And you can see the others saying well we’re really paying attention to the Word of God and you’re not. Because the Bible says blah blah blah.
[00:38:36] So you have this tension. And Paul’s saying don’t lord it over each other. In fact, what’s more important than anything is that you love one another. And he puts it beautifully in Chapter 15 in the opening verses. He says, “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”
[00:39:01] And that first part is, I think, might be a little bit misunderstood. The New Revised Standard Version I don’t think does a good job here. It says, “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak.” I don’t think that’s really the best way to put it. I think it’s, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak.” In other words, we who are strong ought to help carry the burden of those who are week. Not put up with them. That’s a rather negative way of putting it.
[00:39:26] And what does it mean to be strong or weak? Well, I think , judging by sort of the flow of Paul’s argument what I think he means is that those who are strong or those who understand, as Paul does, that there is no unclean food anymore. And the weak are those who still feel that it’s important to keep those dietary restrictions. They do believe in Jesus but they’re still sort of leaning on something else. And he says the two need to coexist. The two need to love each other, not judge each other. There is a more right way and a less right way.
[00:39:59] See Paul’s not against the law. He’s not against any of that stuff. He says, yea, if you want kosher, go ahead. Just don’t think that you have to do that in order to be right with God. You know, it’s sort of like in our contemporary context, a lot of Christians are like it’s really good to go to church or maybe go to prayer meetings and read your Bible. But don’t think that if you don’t do those things , you’re sort of out of God’s graces because that’s missing the point. Those are good things to do. But that’s not what does it. And I think Paul is saying that too about dietary restrictions. If you want to refrain from those things, if that tradition is important you, go ahead. But don’t sort of put that on equal par with the cross. Because if you do then you’re going to look at others who don’t adhere to those dietary restriction and you’re gonna say you’re missing something vital. You’re not–how many times have you heard this–you’re not good enough of a Christian.
[00:40:49] I think Paul in his context is avoiding those two extremes. So what is more important. What is more important is loving the other. Loving each other. That covers all this kind of stuff. It’s not about what you do. Don’t let what you do get in the way of how you treat the others because at the end of the day the church has to be unified. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. What doesn’t work? The Gospel doesn’t work.
[00:41:14] I think that’s really Paul’s ultimate goal here is to demonstrate to the world that these two groups can get together and what he calls elsewhere the dividing wall of hostility has been torn down. And now there’s one people of God.
[00:41:27] Now, Jews and Gentiles, you operate under the same rules. This is the way it is now. If you have preferences for what you eat if you want to circumcise your children all that stuff is fine and dandy for Paul. But that isn’t the center. The center is Jesus.
[00:41:42] In other words, the center is not Torah obedience that marks you off as somebody who’s part of the family of God. It’s Jesus that’s the center. That’s what marks you off. Now within that you can have differences of cultural practices between Jews and Gentiles. That’s absolutely fine. But you both have to come around that one center which is Jesus.
[00:42:00] That was five. Now we’re up to six. By the way, I need to mention Marmalade has not moved this entire time. I’m not sure how to interpret that, but that’s okay. I’m fine with that of you are. So that was five. The sixth one is, since we’re in Chapter 16 of Romans, let’s talk about the women there. Okay?
[00:42:19] This is Chapter 16, starting in Verse 1. There are three women in particular worth mentioning, I think, here in Romans which is Phoebe, Prisca, also known as Priscila in the Book of Acts, and Junia. And Priscilla, Junia they’re maybe not as prominent as Phoebe. Phoebe is the one who seems to have delivered the letter and Luke Timothy Johnson, by the way, has a great commentary on Romans and I remember him saying something like Phoebe probably delivered the letter which means she may very well have been the one to read it in front of everyone. And she may even have been there when Paul wrote it because she knows the people there. And maybe Paul was using her to help him understand the situation in Rome perhaps. So there’s a lot of conjecture there. But Phoebe is not an unimportant person. She’s also probably rich. She’s a benefactor. And part of what Paul is doing in Romans is making a collection for people that need help like in Jerusalem, for example. And then he wants to go on to Spain and to be of help to people who are in trouble. So I think that’s a pretty cool part of the Book of Romans that sometimes it gets buried. But Phoebe seems to be playing an important role in that. There it is.
[00:43:33] I mean this this woman may have had a role. A significant role. And Johnson, I think, even said something like in shaping the letter itself. Again it’s conjectural, but it’s not ridiculous. It’s really interesting.
[00:43:46] Prisca is mentioned in Verse 3. “Greet Prisca and Aquilla who work with me in Christ Jesus and who risk their necks from my life to whom not only I give thanks but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” So Prisca and Aquila–Prisca being the wife I imagine. I think from Acts, she is the wife. She is a part of this laboring for the Gospel and that is for the benefit of the Gentiles. S o, Paul’s not making a distinction saying well it’s just really the men, it’s not the women.
[00:44:13] And then you have the famous case of Junia in Verse 7, which is a woman. And refered to as prominent among the apostles. And if that reading is correct then you have here an example of a woman who is referred to as an apostle. This caused the early church a little bit of pain and there are some early manuscripts that have not Junia, but Junias with an “s” which is a male name, but that is not the proper reading. It does seem to be Junia or maybe Julia. That’s another option.
[00:44:49] But the fact is that here at the end, Paul mentions women who have clearly some prominence in the church in Rome. And I just think that’s really cool to bring out. And Paul doesn’t always have that point of view. It depends on, I think, who he’s talking to. It’s a little bit different in 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy if Paul wrote that and a lot of scholars think he didn’t. There’s another view there of women.
[00:45:13] But Paul seems to not be of one mind necessarily when it comes to what “role women play in the spread of the Gospel.” So I just think that’s really interesting.
[00:45:25] That’s the sixth part. Now the seventh. Paul is dealing in the Book of Romans with a particular challenge that could prove embarrassing for him. You know, he’s got this hard sell, I said before. He’s got to sort of show that for Jews and Gentiles, this is God of Abraham is for them both. And for him to be–this God–for him to be for the Gentiles, these commands and customs of circumcision and dietary restrictions, they have to sort of be put to the side which sounds like it’s not really going to be very convincing to Jews. And that seems to be what happened actually.
[00:46:05] Paul has a problem to deal with. Which is: why aren’t the Jews seeing–his fellow Jews. Paul is Jewish, right? Why are his fellow Jews not seeing the impact of this Jesus? Why are they missing it again? And Paul is like pulling his hair out. Maybe that’s why he was supposedly bald but he’s wondering. You know, he sees it: why are they missing this glorious resurrection? And the reason is is because, Paul even talks about this, how if you have somebody who’s “hung on a tree,” that’s supposedly a sign of being cursed as in the Book of Deuteronomy.
[00:46:41] And Jesus just doesn’t do things that seem to fit the messianic playbook, so to speak. There really isn’t a playbook. But, you know what I mean. Just expectations of what a king or a holy leader might do for the Jewish people. Jesus seemed to undermine the establishment. And then he was crucified and raised from the dead. These are surprise endings.
[00:47:03] So it’s not going to be crazy to think that Jews were going have a hard time with this. And that’s, in fact, what Paul found to be the case that you have these Jews who are just not being a part of anything here. You know, that’s really what it comes down to. And he’s concerned about that. And Paul makes the point that he says, listen, I think what’s happening here is that the Gentiles are seeing it. The Jews once again, hardness of heart. But what’s going to happen is that the Gentiles are going to…the influx of Gentiles is going to make the Jews jealous. And then at the right time when the time of the Gentiles is complete, the Jews will come back. And then at that point, Jew and Gentile be together as this big family of God.
[00:47:48] So he says it looks bad right now. I grant it. But what’s going to happen is that soon, the two will become one. Which really connects to the next point which is number eight.
[00:48:01] And you see this, in particular, like in Chapter 10 and into 11 where Paul is talking about the salvation of the Jews and along with the Gentiles as followers of Jesus and Romans makes most sense to me. And this is my opinion, but I’m not alone in this. Romans makes most sense to me–this pressure for the Jews and Gentiles to come together because he feels that Jesus’s return is imminent. It’s going to happen very soon.
[00:48:30] So, for Paul to say you know, listen, the Jews are going to be made jealous because the Gentiles have more of a part of this family of Abraham than they do. And they’re not going to stand for that very long. So eventually pretty soon this is going to come together. You’re going to make one big happy faith, so to speak.
[00:48:48] And the thing is that this is Paul’s eschatological hope. His hope for the eschaton. For the end. Which Paul saw as soon. I don’t think Paul is saying: probably a couple of thousand years from now or more the two are going to come together. That’s that makes very little sense in Paul’s rhetoric. He’s not thinking that far ahead. He’s thinking pretty soon.
[00:49:07] And here’s the thing that I think is so difficult for Christians to warmly accept. And I’m going to count myself among them. This is not the easiest thing to sort of think. But I think logic demands it. That Paul’s eschatological hope, which was an immediate on–a soon one. I think that hope was thwarted because as we move into the decades at the end of the first century ,Paul died probably in the early 60s, let’s say. But by the time you get into the latter part of the first century, you have basically what seems to be the beginning of two separate religions: Judaism and Christianity.
[00:49:44] And Christianity becomes largely Gentile. And Judaism maintains largely a Jewish identity, obviously. And by the time you get to the second century, there are real battles between them. Rhetorical battles. I think they’re taking up swords against each other, but you’ve got Gentile followers of Jesus and Jews debating over the proper interpretation of scripture and seeing themselves as two different religions. That’s a little bit of an oversimplification. It gets a little bit hairy for a couple of centuries there.
[00:50:15] But to say the least, Paul’s hope that the two would come together, the opposite happened. The two split. And that’s something that I think Christianity has been sort of struggling with. What is our relationship to Jews and to part of our Bibl–what we call the Old Testament?
[00:50:32] And it’s one of these things that I think just bears the marks of this true humanity of scripture that Paul…inspired sure but not perfect. And he may have hoped for something that maybe God had other plans, so to speak.
[00:50:48] I just find that really interesting that Paul has this dilemma of the fact that Jews are not streaming in. The Messianic Age is here folks. We’ve been waiting for this. Oh yeah, I do have to explain this crucified messiah and this raised messiah. But still, this is it. And you’re missing it. And he has to sort of struggle with why that’s the case. And, gee, I hope they don’t miss the second coming. That’s really what it comes down to. I hope they don’t miss it. And I’m confident that they won’t. The fact is that there was no completion of the Messianic Age which Paul believed would come with the return of Christ and setting up this kingdom on earth.
[00:51:25] So, I think those are important elements of the letter. Maybe not the major points but nevertheless still I think something important.
[00:51:34] Al right folks. Two more to go. Number nine is a small point I think in the Book of Romans but is a big lesson for how I think the Bible works. And that’s in Chapter 13. This is a pretty well-known passage in Romans where Paul says to be subject to the authorities. And this is quoted in the election year by Christians if their guys’ winning. Be subject. If not, then you rebel. Anyway.
[00:51:59] But, you know, Paul here says something that seems pretty black and white. He says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except from God. And those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”.
[00:52:11] So the Roman authorities are there because God said so. “Therefore,” verse 2, “whoever resists authority, resists what God has appointed. And those who resist will incur judgment.”.
[00:52:23] And I just want to point out a couple of things. First of all, if we believe that we wouldn’t have America. Right? I’m glad we do. I like this country. Right? So this Christian nation was founded on a rebellion against the authorities instituted by God. Right? Well, yea but you know the British Empire blah blah blah.
[00:52:40] Yeah, well the Roman Empire was pagan. And Paul says they’re instituted by God. But here ‘ s the point.I think in the context of Romans this makes some sense because typically what probably happened here is that in the 40s, Jews were expelled by Emperor Claudius because they were causing trouble. He didn’t like them. And then they were allowed to come back. And then they came back and then the church in Rome was largely now Gentile with maybe a Jewish influx coming in. And after you’ve been kicked out like that you want to just be careful. I think this is a wisdom call on Paul’s part. You want to be careful not to upset the ruling authorities. And just to work with the system so that here in Rome, of all places, the epicenter of the world at the time. This is it. This is a central location. Here of all places, you want the gospel to flourish and not to be sidetracked. So I think there’s a reason why Paul says this. It’s rather heavy rhetoric though. It’s instituted by God and you’re resisting God. You’re disobeying God if you disobey the leaders, blah blah blah.
[00:53:43] But the thing is, see the other thing that you have to remember too is that Paul didn’t himself do this. Paul rebelled. Paul would not bow the knee to Caesar. He would bow it to Christ. And he would proclaim Christ as Lord which means that’s a political statement that Jesus is actually Lord of everything and Caesar isn’t.
[00:54:01] Paul doesn’t follow his own “command” here which tells me–this is screaming at me and it’s so obvious. At least to me it is. I could be wrong, but I think I’m not. I think I’m right about this. Paul’s statement here is not an eternal command for all time for all governments for all people. In his moment this made a lot of sense. But Paul’s own actions betray that this is not a workable option for him later on.
[00:54:26] And to me that’s rather significant because it reminds us that the Bible is not a rule book. You don’t take every verse and say this applies to me because it’s in the Bible. You have to think. You have to understand something of context, something of the history, something of what’s going on before we make a decision like, well, this applies to me. And I don’t think that it does.
[00:54:44] I think it’s a misreading of Paul to take this and say this does not have a context in history. This is simply what always goes and what is always the case because, as I said, Paul himself apparently didn’t think that because his actions betray it.
[00:55:00] Last point. And it’s a big one but I’m not going to over do it. Even though, boy, am I tempted to overdo it. But I think lurking behind this is a big issue that is all over the place with Paul and the New Testament as a whole which is the creative way that Paul handles his Bible. Paul does not interpret his Bible the way modern people read. Like, hey, what’s he trying to say in this text and let’s try to understand what his mind is all about blah blah blah. Paul doesn’t do that. Paul is a very creative (read first century Jewish interpreter of scripture) where the ultimate meaning of scripture doesn’t really reside in what those words might have meant coming out of the head of a writer from ancient Israel.
[00:55:45] We saw that already in Chapter 9 with how Paul uses Hosea. He actually gives it–I’m going to be very blunt here–opposite meaning of what its meaning is and Hosea., It’s about Gentiles not about Jews. But Paul does that an awful lot. And a great place to see that–and this is one of the things I would love to spend seven hours with you talking about–a great place to see that in crystallized form is in Chapter 10 and that starting in verse 5. And here Paul is contrasting law and faith. Which is a big issue all to itself .but he’s contrasting law and faith.
[00:56:19] And he says, “Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law that the person who does these things will live by them.” He’s citing Leviticus 18:5. Then he says, “but…” This is Verse 6. “The righteousness comes from faith says do not say in your heart who ascend into heaven.” Blah blah blah. We’ll get into that in a second.
[00:56:36] But Paul is contrasting the law–the righteous that comes from the law-and then righteousness comes from faith. He’s contrasting those two things. In the first place, he’s citing Leviticus 18 and the second one he’s citing Deuteronomy 30. And we’ll get to that in a second exactly what he says.
[00:56:52] But just understand Paul is pitting Torah against Torah. He’s pitting a passage from Leviticus against the passage from Deuteronomy. One is righteousness from the law. The other is righteousness from faith. Why is he doing that? Because he is trying to show his Jewish readers that embedded in Torah is something we hold too dearly, which is the law but also something that is of faith. It’s not simply about keeping the law, but it’s righteousness that comes from faith. And Torah itself bears witness to that.
[00:57:28] Now that sounds all fine and good but here’s where the really creative part comes in. Paul says, you know, he quotes Deuteronomy 30. And if you go back and read Deuteronomy 30, it’s all about the law–keeping the law. And Paul says there in Deuteronomy 30, he says you know this law, it’s not far away from you. It’s right here in front of you. God handed it to us and you can do it. No one has to say who will climb up to the heavens to bring it down? We don’t have to do that. God brought it down for us on Mount Sinai. We don’t have to make any effort. And he says you don’t have to go across the ocean to get it and to bring it over to you. Maybe talking about the Mediterranean. You don’t have to go across the ocean. Because it’s right here. It’s in front of you. It’s in your midst. It’s in your possession. You just need to do it.
[00:58:11] Paul cites that but turns it into a discussion about Jesus. Here is how he does it. He says, “don’t say in your heart who will ascend into heaven that is to bring Christ down?” See what he did? In the Old Testament, it’s to bring Torah down. Now it’s to bring Christ down. And then he says, “or who will descend into the abyss?” Which let’s just say that’s the underworld. Right? “that is to bring Christ up from the dead?”
[00:58:36] Now, work with me here folks. Deuteronomy says who’s going to go up into heaven and bring it down. Who’s going to go across the ocean to bring it over. It’s sort of vertical and horizontal. But for Paul the axes are vertical up and vertical down. Who will go up into heaven or bring him down? God did that. That’s called the birth of Jesus. Let’s say that’s the incarnation. Who’s going to bring him up from the abyss? God already did that.
[00:59:00] I mean, this is not a minor point folks. This is Paul reading his Old Testament centered on Jesus. This is what I call elsewhere a Christotelic approach to biblical interpretation. Telic means, from the Greek word telos, which means the end or the goal. Christotelic means Christ is the goal of the Old Testament.
[00:59:21] Deuteronomy 30 is not talking about Jesus. But Paul’s making it talk about Jesus because Jesus is the true goal of Israel’s story. That’s Paul’s faith. And he’s demonstrating it here by handling a passage that is clearly about the law. Just like Hosea was clearly about Israel. But he’s giving it this interpretive creative twist to bend the scripture around who Jesus is and what God has done in Christ.
[00:59:47] And this is one example. We could do ten podcasts on Paul’s use of the Old Testament in Romans alone because it’s so fascinating and so interesting. We won’t do that. It’s just…it’s one of the points for me. It’s almost like the crowning thing that helps me make sense of Paul’s argument and Romans.
[01:00:06] So, okay, folks thank you for being so patient. This has gone a little longer than I’d like to. But these are ten things that I think are important for understanding the Book of Romans and what Paul is doing. And I hope it’s beneficial to you. F eel free to give feedback. Especially those of you who are with us that Patreon and supporters of us. You have a lot of leeway to contact us about directions you might want to see with podcasts like this and others and Jared and I value that very much. We value your support and not just financial but also just content wise and emotionally. Just hanging with us and being this community that we value so much. So, thank you again folks. Blessings to you and we’ll see you next time.