Monday, May 28, 2012

The Deliverance of God: The Reason for Romans

We (finally!) arrive at Cambell's positive account of his understanding of justification in the thirteenth chapter. He begins with supplying what he believes to be the interpretive frame of Romans. There are sixteen basic elements that have to be explained in order to have a successful explanation for why Paul wrote Romans. By that he means why Romans has the particular content that it does. About half of these 16 items don't require further explanation, but several do and some of them are quite surprising. Particularly we must be able to explain the heavily Jewish nature of the discussion in Romans 1-4 and 9-11, Paul's mentioning of his non-interference policy, the soft and general nature of the exhortation regarding the weak and strong, the warnings of pagan Christian arrogance against the Jews, and (though not on his list) the development that is discernible between Galatians and Romans. It is on these items of the discussion that I will focus, treating each one briefly, noting how it fits in contributes towards Paul's purposes in writing Romans. I will say up front that I believe that Campbell's case is strongest so far and has the most explanatory power for the content of the letter of any theory I've encountered.

Campbell's thesis is that Paul wrote Romans to combat the impending or already actual visit of a Jewish false teacher. Most likely this is the same teacher that Paul opposed when he wrote Galatians (probably not that long prior to Romans). Romans is in a sense developing the same themes as Galatians at points. However, the argument is much more developed and even at times slightly different than Galatians. Campbell attributes this to Paul having learned from his experience in Galatia and knowing his opponent better. Romans represents a later round in the debate (see esp. 506-8).

This explains other features of the letter well, especially why Paul was so concerned in the letter with Jewish matters (particularly his espousal of a law free gospel in Romans 1-4). These matters get little of his attention elsewhere, where false teachers aren't on or soon to be on the prowl. Particularly, the question in Galatians seems to be centered around, 'who are the people of God?' Romans 9-11 is a response to concerns over Paul's position, especially with his concern that the Gentiles not become arrogant towards non-believing Jews. Paul is probably responding to critique (509). 

This understanding of the purpose of Romans also explains what is probably the hardest nut to crack in the letter - Paul's stance of non-interference - in a letter where it seems that he's interfering. Paul in fact is doing no such thing. He believes the Romans to have been already established in a gospel compatible with his. Thus he's not interfering, merely strengthening them in what they already know (501-3). It's actually a veiled shot at the Teacher. He's the one interfering, both in churches Paul founded and potentially in Rome as well. 

Lastly, I want to address Paul's exhortations to the weak and strong over matters of diet. The first thing to notice is that he's not hard on them, and also the discussion is much briefer than similar dietary discussions in 1 Corinthians. Why? It's not that big of an issue in Rome (but it still is an issue). Additionally, it's important to observe that Paul doesn't proceed in this section as many today might expect - 'don't judge those who don't observe the dietary laws because you are justified by faith and not by works.' Paul does not ground this exhortation in his earlier argument. That means that something other than concerns to see the Romans live out justification by faith is behind Paul's choice to address this issue. I think Campbell is correct in believing that Paul brings it up because he expects the Teacher to arrive soon, if he hasn't already. The Romans will need to be as unified as possible if they're going to survive the Teacher (this also explains how Paul's exhortations there tie with other pieces of chapters 12-14 that focus on unity). (510-11). 

Overall, I find Campbell's argument to be persuasive. None other that I know can better explain the features mentioned above (Campbell discuss the shortcomings of other positions at length 469-95). The next chapter begins the analysis of Romans, tackling 1:18-3:20. We will attend to that next, but it may take a few weeks as the section is lengthy and intricate.

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