Posted by: Ken Brown | December 15, 2008

An Overview of Romans

Anyone care to join me in a round of the Hallelujah chorus? I’m done with coursework! All that stands between me and my degree is a thesis, and I’ll worry about that tomorrow. For now I should be back to more regular posting, and in the meantime, here’s the final I submitted to my last class, which may be of interest to some readers. The assignment was a five-page position paper summarizing five “non-negotiable” elements of any understanding of Paul’s letter to the Romans. It deals with the usual basics (occasion, structure), plus more significant issues like the nature of the Gospel and the people of God. Enjoy, throw stones, move on to greener pastures, whatever:

Introduction
Romans is not a piece of systematic theology but a letter, written in a specific situation for specific reasons. Yet neither is it purely occasional, as one of those reasons is to introduce Paul and his gospel to a group of people he has not met. Any summary of the “non-negotiable elements of Romans,” then, must account for both the context and content of the letter, which are intimately bound together. We will pay particular attention to: 1. The immediate context of the letter, including author, audience, occasion and purpose; and 2. The structure and argumentative method, including large-scale contents. This will set the stage for consideration of three of the most important themes in Romans: 3. The role of the law; 4. The relation between Jews and Gentiles in the people of God; and 5. The Gospel of God’s righteousness.

1. Author, Audience, Occasion and Purpose
Romans, of course, was written by Paul (1:1; all stand alone scripture references refer to Romans), the self-described “Apostle to the Gentiles” (1:5; 11:13). It is addressed to the “saints” in Rome (1:7) in anticipation of Paul’s upcoming visit (1:8-15; 15:22-32). Unlike the addressees of his other letters, however, Paul has never been to Rome (1:13; 15:22), so part of the purpose of this letter is to introduce himself, not to those who have never heard of him, but to those who only know him second-hand, and might be prone to misunderstand him (cf. 1:13; 3:1-8; 9:1-3; 15:14-22). He wants to clarify his views and earn their support, not only because he hopes to enjoy ministry in Rome (1:15), but also because he seeks their aid for yet further ministry in Spain (15:24). It may also be that Paul’s ongoing conflict with those who adhere more strictly to the Jewish law (cf. Galatians) has made him fear that his reception in Rome might be less than friendly, especially as he anxiously awaits a trip to Jerusalem (15:25-31; cf. Acts 21-23). For the purpose of that trip is to bring gifts from his Gentile churches that symbolize his hope for Jewish and Gentile unity, so often threatened by controversy over Paul’s view of the law (cf. 15:27; Gal 2:10 in context).

It should come as no surprise, then, that Romans’ presentation of the gospel is everywhere tied to questions of Jewish-Gentile relations and the role of the law, as we shall see. Still, the letter was written to Rome, not Jerusalem, and while its audience plausibly included some Jews (cf. 2:17; 16:7, 11), it was likely predominantly Gentile (1:13; 11:13; 15:14-29). As such, Romans not only addresses Jewish concerns (and cites Jewish scripture), but also alludes distinctively Greco-Roman interests. For instance, Jesus (not Caesar) is “our Lord” (1:4; 4:24), who embodies the “good news” (1:16), “peace” (5:1) and “salvation” (10:10) that the emperors promised. In all ways, however, Romans is not just a defense of Paul’s views, but an invitation to find in his gospel the true answer to humanity’s deepest needs, and it must be asked how he makes this case.

2. The Structure and Argumentative Method of Romans
Though the major section breaks are widely agreed upon (1:18; 5:1; 9:1; 12:1; 15:14; though it seems to me that 6:1 marks a clearer shift than 5:1), the connections between Romans’ various sections have been just as widely disputed. Even if the letter is not tightly structured, however, it is well-integrated. Virtually every section can be tied back to the theme announced in 1:16-17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of all who have faith, the Jew first and the Greek. For in it is revealed a righteousness of God from faith to faith….” So in chapters 1-5, Paul argues that Jews as well as Gentiles have failed to honor God and his law (1:18-3:20), and so all alike must look to Christ for God’s righteousness (3:21-31). In Christ, all can share in the promises made to Abraham (4:1-25), and the universal hope of salvation (5:1-21). In chapters 6-15, Paul responds to potential questions and objections raised by the foregoing: Is grace an excuse to sin (6:1-23)? Is the law sin (7:1-25)? Who can rescue us (8:1-17)? Why do the redeemed suffer (8:18-39)? Have God’s promises to Israel failed (9:1-11:36)? How should we live, without the law (12:1-15:13)? Paul then explains his plans (15:14-33) and closes with greetings, blessings and (perhaps) a warning (16:1-27). Thus, even those sections most often deemed tangential actually address objections raised previously, for instance, 9:1-11:32 answer 3:1-2, while 7:1-25 and 13:8-10 answer 3:31.

This is no mere abstract discussion, however; it is grounded in Paul’s lived experience as Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles, and is marked by a series of overlapping narratives: of humanity’s failure (1:18-3:20), of Abraham’s faith (4:1-25), of Adam and Christ (5:12-21), of Israel’s struggle with the law (7:7-25), of creation’s “frustration” and restoration (8:18-25), of Israel’s stumbling and hope (9:1-11:36), of Paul’s own ministry (15:17-33), etc. All of these are bound up in the grand narrative of God’s righteousness—revealed in creation and covenant, redemption and restoration—and in that story, the law, the people of God, and the good news of Jesus’ redemption stand central.

3. The Role of the Law in Romans
Few issues are as controversial in Pauline studies as role of the Jewish law, and in Romans this theme is especially prominent. So this is one place where context is vital, for tied up in the debate is the nature of 1st C. Judaism as a whole. With the New Perspective I must affirm that Judaism was diverse, but not generally marked by self-righteous legalism, though some (perhaps many) no doubt took their election too-much for granted. Ideally, at least, the average Jew saw obedience to the law as the proper response to God’s goodness and promises. Few, however, thought the world was as it should be, and most anticipated God’s intervention on their behalf, though who or what they blamed and how they pictured God’s response varied greatly. Virtually all saw the law as central to their identity and hope.

For his part, Paul believed that God’s redemption had decisively come in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and this unexpected turn placed the Jewish law in a new light. He agreed that the law specifies God’s (covenant) demands (2:13-29), but insisted that “no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by works of the law” (3:20). Instead, the law was given to reveal sin (3:20; 7:13), but because of “the flesh,” it cannot make anyone righteous (8:3). Indeed, Israel’s reception of the law, which seemed intended to solve the problem of sin, was itself abused by it, so she too fell, like Adam before her (2:17-29; 7:7-24). But Christ did obey perfectly (5:12-21; 8:1-2; cf. 10:4), and those “in Christ” have the Spirit, and so are capable of “fully” meeting “the righteous requirements of the law” (8:4; cf. 13:8-10). Yet it is just this Christological reinterpretation of the law which proved a “stumbling block” to the Jews (9:32-33; 11:9-11; 14:13-18) for, to Paul, it meant that there is no longer any need to maintain the “boundary markers” that divide Jews from Gentiles (3:28-31). Rather, the people of God are defined by faith and identity with Christ, not by ethnicity, ritual purity, food regulations, or adherence to the law generally (2:25-29; 3:27-4:25; 9:1-11:36; 14:1-15:13). Yet if this is so, what then is the proper relation of Jews and Gentiles in the people of God?

4. The People of God: The Relation of Jews and Gentiles in Romans
Arguably, even more central to Paul’s purpose in Romans than the law is the relation between Jews and Gentiles, and here too there is a curious tension at work. Though Paul often affirms the equality of Jews and Gentiles (e.g. 3:9; 4:11-12; 10:11-13), the distinction remains important to him: “The Jew first and the Greek” (1:16); “a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly… by the Spirit” (2:29). The law was given uniquely to Israel (2:12-29), but she too fell (7:7-25) so that “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (3:9) and must all respond to Christ in faith (3:27-4:25; 10:9-13). Yet ultimately faith marks one’s inclusion in Israel (2:29; 11:17-24) and lack of faith means exclusion, such that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (9:6; cf. 11:23). “Israel” itself remains a valid category, and therefore, while the word “covenant” is not prominent in Romans (appearing only in 9:4 and 11:27), God’s faithfulness to his covenant people is central throughout, now extended to include all who are in Christ.

Paradoxically, then, the very distinguishing marks of Israel (cf. 9:4-5) are also applied to the new people of God, Jews and Gentiles: adoption as children of God (8:14-25), glory (5:2; 8:18), covenant (11:27? cf. 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Gal 4:24), the law (8:4; 13:8-10), worship (12:1), promises (4:13-25), patriarchs (4:1-12), and Christ (3:21-31; 5:12-21; 8:1-4). But it is just that equation which poses a problem for Paul: “Did God reject his people [ethnic Israel]?” (11:1). God’s righteousness is called into question (3:3-8) and defended (chs. 9-11) precisely in relation to the fate of Israel: Gentiles are “grafted on” to the olive tree of redeemed Israel (11:17-24), and “all Israel will be saved” (11:26-32). So even now there is “a remnant, chosen by grace” (11:5), the first-fruits of the eventual restoration of all through faith in Christ (11:13-36), and Paul sees his own ministry as part of God’s plan to bring this reconciliation to fruition (15:14-33). But how has God accomplished all this? That is the Gospel—good news—that forms the real heart of this letter.

5. The Gospel of God’s Righteousness
Traditional Protestant theology stresses the individual’s salvation by faith as God’s entirely unmerited forgiveness of sin. While this is certainly an element of Paul’s gospel, however, it should be obvious by now that this falls far short of the cosmic and covenantal scope of both the problem and its solution in Romans. On the one hand, humanity’s “plight” is much more than individual sins; humanity as a whole has failed to honor her creator and has been “given over” in slavery to sin, leading to death (1:18-32; 5:12-14; 6:16-23; 7:14-25), pulling all of creation down with her (8:20). More troubling still, God has called a particular people and given her a law that “was intended to bring life” but even it failed to do so (7:10), for the Jews too fell prey to sin (7:7-25), and this calls God’s own righteousness into question (3:3; 9:6; 11:1). So as we turn to that controversial phrase, “the righteousness of God,” first aired in Romans’ thematic statement (1:17), it seems clear that much more than forgiveness of sins is at stake. A solution is needed to the whole nexus of evil that infects humanity and creation, and the vindication of God’s own justice and covenant faithfulness.

In fact, much of Paul’s purpose in Romans seems to be to explain how these two aspects of God’s righteousness can be reconciled: How can God be both just and faithful, in light of Israel’s sin? By sending his son, who obeyed where Adam and Israel disobeyed, and who died in our place and so reconstituted God’s covenant people “in Christ” (3:24; 6:11, 23; 8:1-2; 12:5), Paul claims that God has indeed proven his righteousness. This all-encompassing “good news,” therefore, includes far more than forgiveness (3:25; 4:7-8) and justification (3:26; 4:5; 5:19) declared of sinners through some sort of legal fiction (though cf. 3:23-24; 5:6-11). Rather, through the Spirit and as part of the redeemed people of God, believers are also made righteous (6:1-23; 8:1-17; 12:1-8), offered “peace with God” (5:1; 8:6; 14:17), “the hope of glory” (5:2; 8:17-25; 15:4, 13), the gift of the Holy Spirit (1:4; 5:5; 8:2-27; 15:13), reconciliation (5:10-11; 11:15), adoption as children of God (8:14-25), conformity to the likeness of Jesus (8:28-29; 12:1-8), and more. Ultimately, this means the vindication and restoration of the covenant people of God, now expanded to include Gentiles as well as Jews (3:21-31; 4:1-25; 11:1-36; 15:7-13), the restoration of the whole cosmos (8:18-25), and hope of resurrection life (4:17-25; 5:17-21; 6:4-11, 22-23; 8:2, 6, 11-25; 11:15). In all this, the one God is truly proven “just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (3:26).

Conclusion
In short, Romans introduces Paul, his gospel and its implications to a church from whom he hopes to win support for future mission work, written in the context of significant controversy over the role of the law in light of Christ, and the relation of Jews and Gentiles in the people of God. Through argument and narrative, Paul defends his gospel of God’s saving, restoring and redeeming righteousness, offered to God’s covenant people through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through participation in Christ, all—Jews and Gentiles—may have a share in the blessings and promises made to Israel, truly fulfilling the law and inaugurating the final restoration of every aspect of God’s creation. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (11:36).

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Responses

  1. Dear Ken,
    I hope you had fun at your conference and kept those crazy bears under control.It's great to see your posting again, I really enjoyed your cut and paste view of Romans. It was much more concise than the last fifty I've browsed.

    In regards to your thesis, I thought you might appreciate my latest blog for the Non-theists brigade. It might help sharpen your pro-Paulinian rhetoric for when you apply to become a card carrying member of the Clergy.

    Anyway, look forward to your New Years Blogs and have a Happy Xmas.

    CHRISTIANS and ATHEISTS WELCOMED.
    ————-
    Many will come in my name, claiming I am the Christ and they will deceive many. (Matt 24:5)
    ————-
    Now correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that if Jesus was right about what he was saying here, just before he was crucified, then Paul and his Roman based Christian religion were the most likely ones he was talking about; because nowhere in history do we have a more likely bunch of deceivers.

    Just before he said that, in his address to the multitude (Matt 23) http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt23;&version=31;
    Jesus gives an accurate description of what the Roman Catholic Church was destined to become, a revamped version of everything he hated about the religious nutcases that surrounded him. He spoke about setting yourself above others and expecting of them what you can’t live up to yourself. He says they will swallow up the property of widows, under the cover of long prayers and traverse the seas to proselytize, creating converts who will be twice as damned as themselves; blind fools. He then accuses their forefathers of murdering the prophets and predicts they are about to make the same mistake.

    I think Jesus used Saul of Tarsus (Paul, main contributor to the New Testament) to fulfil his prophesy, the way Saul used Jesus to fulfil his belief; that a Christ had to hang on a cross for the salvation of all those who would join his Human sacrifice cult. In his letter to the Romans, Saul (alias Paul), after giving himself a big rap, launches into an attack against peoples sexual preferences rather than addressing his own evil actions and doesn’t even mention the fact he had been involved in murder and torcher (oh, how history repeats it’s self).

    He goes on to condemn every type of human behaviour as worthy of death and hell, from his concept of god, and then makes the statement we shouldn’t judge people; in the texts that have been used to judge more people than any other in history. He goes to great pains to point out that only those who obey the LAW can be worthy, as his gospel proclaims, and then contradicts himself by saying we can only be saved by grace. Not to be content with that great big faux pas, he ends up the third chapter by setting the law on its right footing by saying that it’s neither obedience to the law nor grace that saves, but faith; while he consigns pride to the trash can.

    Paul (the self proclaimed expert on everything) then launches into a tirade of apologetics that only a man suffering from a bad case of guilt’s could possibly appreciate. Chapter after chapter of religious gobbledy gook, enough that if anyone today started raving on about in a public place, they would automatically be redeployed to the loony bin. Where is his credentials to make these outrageous statements? Who is his witness that he was commissioned by Jesus? Why does he get to speak as though he was the voice of God on earth? What possesses fundamentalists to admire this mans ravings so much, when they are very reluctant to embrace Jesus’ teaching on excessive wealth, open displays of piety, unnecessary use of the defensive sword and the non-bias view of women in positions of authority?

  2. Oh Wayne, you do like to push my buttons! You can be grateful for one thing though: I have no plans “to become a card carrying member of the clergy.” No, I’ll probably lock myself in an ivory tower somewhere–much safer! 😉

    Anyway, as you might imagine, I have all manner of objections to your comments:

    1. I’m not sure what you mean by “Paul and his Roman based religion,” seeing as Paul only visited Rome once (and it was after this letter was written), as a prisoner. And how did he become a prisoner? Romans 15:22-33 itself points to the answer, and Acts 21-28 fills in the details: he took an offering from his Gentile churches to help “the poor of Jerusalem” (who were suffering from a famine), and was arrested for his troubles. In fact, his goal seems to have been to restore some unity between Jews and Gentiles, but political tensions in Judea being what they were (leading to outright war within a decade), gifts from Gentiles were viewed with suspicion. Paul knew this (cf. Rom 15:31), but delivered the gift anyway. According to Acts 21, he was arrested because the mob thought he was defiling the Temple by associating with Gentiles–shame on him for claiming that Gentiles can be accepted by God just like any Jew!

    Now I’m curious, are you Jewish? Because if not, I would think you might appreciate that particular aspect of Paul’s theology. It is, of course, a central aspect of the argument of Romans (see my section 4 above). All that “religious gobbledy gook” and stuff about not judging you mentioned, it’s all about God’s offer of redemption being open to all people, Jew and Gentile alike.

    2. I find it strange that you single out the Catholic Church for abuse, unless it’s because you think it an easy target (as you know, I’m not Catholic). No doubt your accusations would stick against various and sundry members of Catholicism (present or historical), and that is a scandal and a tragedy. But the same is true of virtually every other committed religious and atheistic group who has gained power–power corrupts, and there are always self-righteous bigots willing to abuse it; they come in all political colors. This is as true in contemporary America (on both right and left) as it was in Calvin’s Geneva, Stalin’s Russia, or 16th C. Spain, but there is far more (and much good) to the Catholic church than such abuses, and it is both unfair and untrue to paint Catholicism with such a broadly negative brush. Still, I agree that it is deeply ironic how often the Church (in all its forms) has been guilty of the very hypocrisy Jesus condemned. Indeed, how often we evangelicals apply Jesus’ condemnations to our enemies, when we ourselves fit the bill much better!

    But I’m curious why you think Paul sides with the bigots on this point? As you yourself noted, the whole point of Romans 2-3 is to reject our presumptious judgment of others: since all of us are sinners (Paul included! You have read Romans 7, right? “wretched man that I am; who will save me from this body of death!”), we have no right to judge one another. God surely has the right to judge us, but what does Paul say our attitude should be towards our “enemies”? The same as Jesus said, in fact: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Never avenge yourselves… rather, ‘if you enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink….’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:14-21). That countless Christians have ignored both Jesus and Paul on this matter is obvious; that Paul should be blamed for that failure is silly.

    3. You claim that Paul condemns all manner of sin (not “every type of human behavior”!) as worthy of “death and hell,” but seem to have overlooked that: 1. Paul never once mentions hell, in Romans or any other letter (I’m sorry to say, you have to look to Jesus to hear about eternal damnation); and 2. Paul also claims that Christ has secured mercy and redemption for everyone (Rom 5:12-21; 11:25-32). According to Romans, all of us deserve death and condemnation (and hell?), but God instead offers us–all of us–life and grace.

    4. As for the “contradiction” between the law and grace, then, it is hardly Paul’s invention. It is a necessary conclusion from Israel’s belief in God’s goodness and faithfulness: If God is good and requires us to be good–but we are not good!–then God can either abandon us to our sins (that would be the “death and hell” you mention) or he can love and save us despite ourselves. But if God simply ignores our sin, then he is not good after all, any more than we would call a human judge good who let every criminal go free. This is a problem, then, faced by everyone who believes in God’s goodness and love, and it is addressed in various ways throughout both the Jewish scriptures and the New Testament, including by Jesus (e.g. Matt 18:21-35). You may disagree with Paul when he claims that when Jesus, the sinless Son of God, died on our behalf, he solved that dilemma (cf. my section 5 above), but that doesn’t remove the “contradiction;” it only leaves it unsolved. Do you have a better solution to offer?

    5. As for your objection that Paul, self-authoritatively, offers “chapter after chapter of religious gobbledy gook,” you’re gonna have to be more specific. What in particular do you think is nonsense? Personally, while there are a number of things that I find puzzling in Romans, and at least a few that–if I understand Paul correctly–I don’t think I agree with, I don’t see anything nonsensical or worthy of a nuthouse, so I really do not know to what you are referring.

    But you accusation against those who “admire this man’s ravings so much, when they are very reluctant to embrace Jesus’… non-bias view of women in positions of authority” is ironic, given that Romans 16 itself provides perhaps the most positive portrayal of women in authority in the entire New Testament. In this chapter, Paul greets 29 people, and fully a third of them are women of some authority in the Roman church: Phoebe, a “deacon” who seems to have been carrying the letter (16:1-2); Prisca; Mary; Junia, “outstanding among the apostles”! (16:7); Tryphaena; Tryphosa; Persis; Rufus’ mother; Julia; and the sister of Nereus. How this is to be reconciled with 1 Cor 14:33-35 is another question (for which I have no answer–that would be one of those passages where I disagree with Paul, as do virtually all Christians, whether they admit it or not!), but nothing in Romans itself suggests the least hesitation towards women in leadership–Paul here seems to consider them equals. It’s a tragedy so many of Paul’s followers haven’t felt the same.

  3. Dear Ken,
    Thanks for your comprehensive review and for the easy to answer point format.
    1.Paul’s Roman based church.
    As you well know Paul prided himself on being a Roman citizen and appealed to Caesar for a Roman based trial; hence why he was contained to Rome for his latter years.
    As for the farce about collecting money for the poor I doubt any of it ever got to the needy,just as today most of it get taken up with administration costs. Not that any of that has anything to do with the point of my article, which is how, why, and when was he ordained to act as an agent for Jesus and why does he get the right to make such huge statements about how people should live their lives, just because he was a reformed ass-hole. I DON’T GET IT.
    Now I’m curious are you gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that)because if not, I don’t know why you are interested in the state of my pecker. Whether or not I am circumcised or Jewish is an example of the gobbledy-gook I was talking about, WHO CARES?
    2.Singling out the Catholics.
    I mentioned the Roman Catholic Church because they were, by their own definition, the one and only church who canonized the Bible and deified Paul and they were responsible for the bulk of European atrocities for millennial plus years, while they followed and espoused Paul’s teachings.
    It is interesting though, how you lumped them in together with Stalin and George Bush, you just forgot to mention Hitler; or would that be too absurd?
    I’m curious on how you don’t see Paul as a bigot and staunchly defend him sometimes over Jesus, who in my opinion was a much better man and who’s teachings were far superior to Paul’s Hotch-potch.If you had to choose one over the other to blame for the mess, which one would it be?
    3.1_ Yet again you miss the mark by favoring semantics. It’s not whether Paul talks about hell, sin and salvation but what makes him feel like it’s his job to do so. If you or I wrote a letter like that the recipient would at least have the right to ask, WHO ARE YOU, to say such things?
    3.2_ According to Paul,
    all of us humans deserve death and eternal damnation unless we believe he and his mates nailed Jesus to a cross for our benefit. That’s right up there with Santa (anagram for Satan) bouncing your kids on his knee,in his red suit, while you blow all your money on useless junk for the profit of the already wealthy.They could be two of the biggest scams in history.
    4.As for the contradiction,
    My better solution is that it is a manufactured problem designed to make us feel guilty so that the ones with no conscience can preside as our intercessors therefore; don’t feed the fear. Live as though you are worthy of the life that God gave you and be appreciative of it.
    As for the metaphor of the judge who let the guilty go free. I think what we are talking about would be better described by picturing the god of Israel as a judge that hung the innocent and kept the guilty in bondage.
    5.Paul’s letters, chapter after chapter of religious gobbledygook.
    Jesus’ teaching were beautifully crafted, concise, picturesque lessons on how to live a better life free from manipulative church authorities and self inflicted dogmas.They were personally delivered under the stars and sky by a man that had the support of the people who loved him. Paul’s teachings, on the other hand, were complicated, contradictory, troublesome dogma, delivered by postmen from a man that nobody liked, who coldly dictated to a servant like Luke in absentia from the job at hand.The mean spirited nature of the documents has created controversy for as long as they have been read and if you want to defend his garble of pius words over the simplicity of the sermon on the mount then by all means, support the man who was Jesus’ number one enemy. WWW

  4. Wayne,
    As for the farce about collecting money for the poor I doubt any of it ever got to the needy,just as today most of it get taken up with administration costs.

    You are free to doubt whatever you want, but there is no evidence to back up this assertion. Remember that this same Paul elsewhere refused to take money for his own use: “Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?… But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision….What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Cor 9).

    Not that any of that has anything to do with the point of my article, which is how, why, and when was he ordained to act as an agent for Jesus and why does he get the right to make such huge statements about how people should live their lives, just because he was a reformed ass-hole.

    He was “ordained to act as an agent for Jesus” on the road to Damascus. Clearly you deny that such ever happened, but you cannot deny that he believed it had happened, and that this is the basis for his claim to speak as an apostle. But if you deny that Paul truly had such an experience as described in Acts, you will have a hard time explaining why he suddenly changed from persecuting the church to being its loudest advocate.

    Whether or not I am circumcised or Jewish is an example of the gobbledy-gook I was talking about, WHO CARES?

    In the first century, everybody cared. To Jews, anyone uncircumcised was dirty and ungodly; to Greeks, anyone circumcised was backwards and uncouth. The circumcised were excluded from the gymnasium (some Hellenized Jews even tried to undo their circumcision because of this), while Jews considered the uncircumcised cursed by God. It was Paul who insisted that the state of one’s foreskin is totally inconsequental to the state of one’s soul. Again, you seem to agree with Paul even while you denigrate him.

    I mentioned the Roman Catholic Church because they were, by their own definition, the one and only church who canonized the Bible and deified Paul and they were responsible for the bulk of European atrocities for millennial plus years, while they followed and espoused Paul’s teachings.

    I would think the Orthodox and Coptic churches might find it insulting to be left out, but maybe their are not as useful to your claims, since they never fought any crusades? But what any of that has to do with Paul, I don’t know. For the first three centuries after Paul, the church followed in his (and Jesus’) nonviolent footsteps, suffering and dying for their faith, not killing for it. It was only when the church gained secular power that they joined the long line of oppressors–in direct contradiction to both Paul’s and Jesus’ teachings.

    I’m curious on how you don’t see Paul as a bigot and staunchly defend him sometimes over Jesus, who in my opinion was a much better man and who’s teachings were far superior to Paul’s Hotch-potch.If you had to choose one over the other to blame for the mess, which one would it be?

    I would choose Jesus over Paul any day of the week (and twice on Sunday), but my whole point is that your contrast between Paul and Jesus is unfounded. You don’t get to pick and choose the most comforting parts of Jesus’ message and contrast them with the most distasteful parts of Paul’s, and think that settles things. Paul was Jesus’ advocate, not his enemy. He epxressed things differently because he was writing to urban Gentiles, while Jesus spoke to Jewish peasants, but they shared the same vision of the love of God for all people, and the need for all to reject their sin and believe the gospel: “Repent and believe the good news, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15)summarizes both Jesus’ and Paul’s messages.

    According to Paul, all of us humans deserve death and eternal damnation unless we believe he and his mates nailed Jesus to a cross for our benefit.

    Again, there is no evidence whatsoever that Paul was involved in Jesus’ death, much less that “he and his mates” planned it “for our salvation.” Quite the contrary, until his unexpected vision of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul believed the very idea of a crucified messiah absurd (cf. 1 Cor 1-2). All of his later theology is an attempt to work out the implications of the startling revelation that the one the Jews killed was resurrected and glorifed by God as messiah, who sent Paul to preach this good news to all people, Jew and Gentile alike.

    My better solution is that it is a manufactured problem designed to make us feel guilty so that the ones with no conscience can preside as our intercessors therefore; don’t feed the fear. Live as though you are worthy of the life that God gave you and be appreciative of it.

    I find it ironic that you deny that we have anything to feel guilty about in the same breath that you accuse those “with no conscience” of abusing us. Well which is it: should we to have a conscience or shouldn’t we? And what is a conscience, if not the ability to feel guilt over sin?

    Jesus’ teaching were beautifully crafted, concise, picturesque lessons on how to live a better life free from manipulative church authorities and self inflicted dogmas. They were personally delivered under the stars and sky by a man that had the support of the people who loved him. Paul’s teachings, on the other hand, were complicated, contradictory, troublesome dogma, delivered by postmen from a man that nobody liked, who coldly dictated to a servant like Luke in absentia from the job at hand.

    Jesus’ words are profound, but they are also cryptic and occasional; Paul’s message is an attempt to sort out what Jesus’ words and deeds mean in a very different setting. It is a job that all of us have to do in our own contexts, and our answers are bound to turn out somewhat different than Paul’s, but you have yet produce any evidence that he did a bad job of it.

    The mean spirited nature of the documents has created controversy for as long as they have been read and if you want to defend his garble of pius words over the simplicity of the sermon on the mount then by all means, support the man who was Jesus’ number one enemy.

    I just don’t understand this, Wayne. If, as it seems you believe, Jesus was just a man like the rest of us, how is it that you have no problem with him making expansive claims in his own name (not least in the Sermon on the Mount), yet consider Paul Jesus’ enemy for preaching Jesus’ message with similar vigor? Before you contrast “mean spirited” Paul with Jesus, you might want to reread the Sermon on the Mount itself: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:27-29). Those are Jesus’ words, and nothing Paul says is as harsh. For both, the love of God only makes sense in light of our desperate need to be freed from sin.

  5. Hey Ken,
    How much fun is this? We are like the Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson of our own little blogisphere. I admire you quick comebacks and penetrating style, but I really would prefer a little chit chat before you go for it.
    ———–
    Wayne said,
    As for the farce about collecting money for the poor I doubt any of it ever got to the needy,just as today most of it get taken up with administration costs.

    Ken said,
    You are free to doubt whatever you want, but there is no evidence to back up this assertion.

    Wayne says,
    and there is no evidence to back up your assertion to the contrary either, except Paul’s own account as in (1Cor9).

    Wayne said,
    Not that any of that has anything to do with the point of my article, which is how, why, and when was he ordained to act as an agent for Jesus and why does he get the right to make such huge statements about how people should live their lives, just because he was a reformed ass-hole.

    Ken said
    He was “ordained to act as an agent for Jesus” on the road to Damascus.Clearly you deny that such ever happened, but you cannot deny that he believed it had happened, and that this is the basis for his claim to speak as an apostle. But if you deny that Paul truly had such an experience as described in Acts, you will have a hard time explaining why he suddenly changed from persecuting the church to being its loudest advocate.

    Wayne says,
    I do not deny that according to his account that is what happened. What I am saying is we have no way of knowing whether he was lying or deluded and that he could of changed,just as many villains do, when they are caught him out. He fits the profile of schizophrenic mass murderer who slingshots from one extreme view to another. If someone today made those claims he wouldn’t be taken seriously especially if it was just after he had been stopped from committing an act of aggression.

    Wayne said,
    Whether or not I am circumcised or Jewish is an example of the gobbledy-gook I was talking about, WHO CARES?

    Ken said,
    In the first century, everybody cared. To Jews, anyone uncircumcised was dirty and ungodly; to Greeks, anyone circumcised was backwards and uncouth. The circumcised were excluded from the gymnasium (some Hellenized Jews even tried to undo their circumcision because of this), while Jews considered the uncircumcised cursed by God. It was Paul who insisted that the state of one’s foreskin is totally inconsequential to the state of one’s soul. Again, you seem to agree with Paul even while you denigrate him.

    Wayne says,
    I wasn’t agreeing or disagreeing with Paul, I know they were all a bit nut’s about that back then. I was asking why you care and why is it relevant to our conversation?

    Wayne said,
    I mentioned the Roman Catholic Church because they were, by their own definition, the one and only church who canonized the Bible and deified Paul and they were responsible for the bulk of European atrocities for millennial plus years, while they followed and espoused Paul’s teachings.

    Ken said,
    I would think the Orthodox and Coptic churches might find it insulting to be left out, but maybe their are not as useful to your claims, since they never fought any crusades? But what any of that has to do with Paul, I don’t know. For the first three centuries after Paul, the church followed in his (and Jesus’) nonviolent footsteps, suffering and dying for their faith, not killing for it. It was only when the church gained secular power that they joined the long line of oppressors–in direct contradiction to both Paul’s and Jesus’ teachings.

    Wayne says,
    Well said, this is truly a meaty issue that I have pondered for many years. When I attended Early Church History classes for my first year of BTh I had an excellent teacher and my love of history was fermented there. My admiration for the perseverance of the martyrs was and still is very real. I can’t help but think they should have fled that type of persecution instead of confronting it, but if they had of, the only places to go were Celtic Brittan, Germania or the Pathian occupied territories all of who were at war with Rome. While some obviously took this path, the ones that didn’t stood in defiance to Caligula, Claudius and eventually Nero.
    What I eventually had to ask myself was; What was Paul’s relationship to these tyrants and why was he allowed to live for such a long time under their protection if he was truly who he claimed to be, a predominant leader of the Christian sect. Surely they could have killed him any time they liked but he seemed to live reasonably well in a flat in Rome openly preaching Christ and be allowed to travel at will to various parts of the Empire.
    The Family of Emperors all had connections and associations with the with Herods of Jerusalem of which Paul, when he was Saul, must have known and been favored by to have been in the privileged ranks of the Sanhedrin. The first names of all the wives and sons associated with the despotic regimes tend to coincide with the addressees of Paul letters and Caligula’s wife was named Paulina.
    Now while all this may be circumstantial, the facts still remain. Paul was a privileged man of his time, which was a time famous for spying and deception when it came to dealing with enemies. I would not be surprised if Paul was one day proven to be their inside man, pretending to be someone who he was not, murdering, manipulating and conspiring behind the scenes to bring about what Rome eventually achieved rule by Clergy rather than rule by an expensive army.Don’t forget it was by following his writings mainly that gave them their platform to commit the atrocities that you acknowledge they committed in Christ’s name.

    Wayne said,
    I’m curious on how you don’t see Paul as a bigot and staunchly defend him sometimes over Jesus, who in my opinion was a much better man and who’s teachings were far superior to Paul’s Hotch-potch.If you had to choose one over the other to blame for the mess, which one would it be?

    Ken said,
    I would choose Jesus over Paul any day of the week (and twice on Sunday), but my whole point is that your contrast between Paul and Jesus is unfounded. You don’t get to pick and choose the most comforting parts of Jesus’ message and contrast them with the most distasteful parts of Paul’s, and think that settles things. Paul was Jesus’ advocate, not his enemy. He expressed things differently because he was writing to urban Gentiles, while Jesus spoke to Jewish peasants, but they shared the same vision of the love of God for all people, and the need for all to reject their sin and believe the gospel: “Repent and believe the good news, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15)summarizes both Jesus’ and Paul’s messages.

    Wayne says,
    I can’t for the life of me see how you so blindly see it that way. It’s to simplistic to describe the complex issues of the day and Jesus and Paul’s relationship in a single Quote that scholars for centuries have fail to fully come to grips with.

    Wayne said,
    According to Paul, all of us humans deserve death and eternal damnation unless we believe he and his mates nailed Jesus to a cross for our benefit.

    Ken said,
    Again, there is no evidence whatsoever that Paul was involved in Jesus’ death, much less that “he and his mates” planned it “for our salvation.” Quite the contrary, until his unexpected vision of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul believed the very idea of a crucified messiah absurd (cf. 1 Cor 1-2). All of his later theology is an attempt to work out the implications of the startling revelation that the one the Jews killed was resurrected and glorified by God as messiah, who sent Paul to preach this good news to all people, Jew and Gentile alike.

    Wayne says,
    The old Bart Simpson defense, very effective.

    Wayne said,
    My better solution is that it is a manufactured problem designed to make us feel guilty so that the ones with no conscience can preside as our intercessors therefore; don’t feed the fear. Live as though you are worthy of the life that God gave you and be appreciative of it.

    Ken said,
    I find it ironic that you deny that we have anything to feel guilty about in the same breath that you accuse those “with no conscience” of abusing us. Well which is it: should we to have a conscience or shouldn’t we? And what is a conscience, if not the ability to feel guilt over sin?

    Wayne says,
    Semantics.

    Wayne said,
    Jesus’ teaching were beautifully crafted, concise, picturesque lessons on how to live a better life free from manipulative church authorities and self inflicted dogmas. They were personally delivered under the stars and sky by a man that had the support of the people who loved him. Paul’s teachings, on the other hand, were complicated, contradictory, troublesome dogma, delivered by postmen from a man that nobody liked, who coldly dictated to a servant like Luke in absentia from the job at hand.

    Ken said,
    Jesus’ words are profound, but they are also cryptic and occasional; Paul’s message is an attempt to sort out what Jesus’ words and deeds mean in a very different setting. It is a job that all of us have to do in our own contexts, and our answers are bound to turn out somewhat different than Paul’s, but you have yet produce any evidence that he did a bad job of it.

    Wayne says,
    How about that he virtually never quoted Jesus and some scholars debate whether or not he even knew Jesus’ teachings.

    Wayne said,
    The mean spirited nature of the documents has created controversy for as long as they have been read and if you want to defend his garble of pius words over the simplicity of the sermon on the mount then by all means, support the man who was Jesus’ number one enemy.

    Ken said,
    I just don’t understand this, Wayne. If, as it seems you believe, Jesus was just a man like the rest of us, how is it that you have no problem with him making expansive claims in his own name (not least in the Sermon on the Mount), yet consider Paul Jesus’ enemy for preaching Jesus’ message with similar vigor? Before you contrast “mean spirited” Paul with Jesus, you might want to reread the Sermon on the Mount itself: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:27-29). Those are Jesus’ words, and nothing Paul says is as harsh. For both, the love of God only makes sense in light of our desperate need to be freed from sin.

    Wayne says,
    Now we get down to the nity grity and It seems to me after studying Paul’s accounts of this period, that obsesses the bulk of humanity at various times in history, that the very man who was most responsible for the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy, that a messiah should be sacrificed for the salvation of the tribe, was the main one who tells us of the righteousness of such a barbaric act.
    If he is a deluded liar and a conspirator to torture and murder then he’s not only robed an innocent man of his life and liberty but he was responsible for stealing from him the right to be remembered as a great teacher in his own right. Instead we have a sacrificial lamb whose image has become a breach of the ten commandments on a grand scale, because it is worshiped by billions, and the perpetrator gets to hold an honored position in it all because he says God authorised him to do it.
    Dear Ken in your well studied defence of this man, you could be right or you could be wrong. It doesn’t really matter to me but whatever your reason for defending him it has nothing to do with the validity of the victim. He may well have been the son of god, the chosen one or the silliest man in history but if this happened today that man Paul would be tried and found guilty of being compliant in his torture and of his murder not to mention that of his followers.
    If I am right in what I surmise then it would be better for him if he had never been born (in the words of the man billions call their lord)and I would add, maybe for the rest of us as well.


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