Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Bible in a Year: Romans, Part 2

In 2017 and into Lent 2018, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

When my post about Romans went over 2000 words, I decided to make a second post, LOL.

What are some Old Testament connections in Romans? If you want to make a big story “arc,” you could draw one from Adam to Romans 5, where Paul writes how Christ’s grace is greater than Adam’s sin. Christ “recapitulates” Adam, to use the traditional theological term.

Another “arc” is Abraham to Christ. Abraham is a key figure for Paul, not only as the father of the Hebrew people (among whom, of course, are Jesus and Paul and Peter and all the rest) but also as an example of how God blesses faith. Similarly to Jesus, Paul goes to the Torah but goes back before Moses to Abraham. Because the Lord blessed Abraham’s faith long prior to the Mosaic mitzvoth, God blesses the faith of non-Jews through Christ, even though they don’t fit the halakhic definition of a Jew.

The faith of Abraham connects us to Habakkuk, from which Paul draws so much theological inspiration.

See, the enemy is puffed up;
    his desires are not upright—
    but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness (Hab. 2:4)

Psalm 14, a song of David, is another key passage for Paul:

Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’
   They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
   there is no one who does good. 
The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
   to see if there are any who are wise,
   who seek after God. 
They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
   there is no one who does good,
   no, not one. 

As Paul builds a case for the necessity of Christ, he emphasizes that Jews and Gentiles alike are in sin: this is no “diss” on Jews, but it is a dilemma for Jews and Gentiles alike. Paul explains how necessary is Christ, to save human beings from the morass of sin in which we’re all caught.

My Harper Bible Commentary (p. 1137) notes that Amos 1:2-2:16 is a prophetic condemnation of the Gentiles that turns back to Israel and Judah. Paul follows a similar pattern in Romans 1-3.

That same book (p. 1136) notes that “the wrath of God” is depicted in the Old Testament as a manifestation of God’s holiness that has been provoked by human wrongdoing (1 Samuel 5:6, 2 Samuel 6:7, and also 1 Enoch 91:7, Wisdom of Solomon 5:17-20). Although God’s actions are sometimes uncertain and although God may seem silent, God is understood not to be arbitrary. God’s wrath is connected with God’s love, and God’s righteousness is the way God helps and saves sinner.

Certainly the faithfulness of God—God’s hesed, or steadfast love/lovingkindness—is an Old Testament theme that finds exposition here in Romans because of Christ and his death and resurrection. So does the theme of the covenant with God with his people Israel---which will never been revoked.

As I said in the other post, the pattern of the Exodus—the rescue that God achieves from the slavery of Egypt/slavery of sin to the freedom of the Land/freedom of Christ---can be seen here in Romans, if not explicitly.

Romans 13:1-7 has always been a difficult passage. What if the state requires criticism and opposition? Paul isn’t setting out a thorough theology of the state; he’s simply urging the congregation to do their civic duties. My Harper Commentary (p. 1163) notes that this passage reflects a deeply Jewish idea that all authority ultimately derives from God (Isaiah 41:1-4, 45:1-3, Dan. 2:21, Prov. 8:15, Sirach 10:4, 1 Enoch 46:5, and others).

Some of my favorite passages from Romans? They’re the old standbys:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith (Rom. 1:17).

But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26)

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25).

Pretty much all of chapter 8, and its lovely ending:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).

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