Romans: A House Church Manifesto? 2a (Drake)
The historical situation presented in Part I allows one to make some preliminary conclusions regarding the approach that Paul needed to take in the main theological section that spans Rom. 1:17 through Rom. 8:11. That section owes its length and complexity to the fact that Paul is addressing two different audiences. He wants to make both of them uncomfortable with their current understanding, to give them a fresh theological foundation, and to manage this with a degree of balance that prevents either group from becoming defensive and therefore unable to appropriate the content of the main message, which has been identified as being located in Chapters 9-11.
The section identified as the "theology of the family of God" (D in Figure 1) and comprised of Rom. 1:17-8:11 is best understood by breaking it into smaller units. The first of these, however, needs to be considered not so much along the lines of what Paul actually said, but rather with regard to what the two groups that he was addressing may have heard. The distinction is made for purely literary purposes, and it is suggested that Paul knew the presuppositions of the two groups sufficient well as to actually take the problem of "hearing" into account. The material from Rom. 1:17-3:20, gives an example of how Paul works with this bifurcated audience.
The Christian with a Jewish background would hear Rom. 1:17-32 as obviously applying to Gentiles; even Jews with only a minimal understanding of Torah would recognize the vices outlined in this section as an "abomination" vis-à-vis the Hebrew Scriptures; whatever vices they may have had on their conscience, it is likely they would have avoided these. In beginning this way, Paul is earning the sympathy of his Jewish listeners--but this changes abruptly in Rom. 2:1-24, where he asserts that those who claim Jewish ancestry cannot say they are innocent of stealing, robbing temples, and committing adultery. His indictment against the Jews in his audience is expressed in Rom. 2:25-29: the Jews have misunderstood the Torah and circumcision as being signs of special, divine favor. Real Torah and circumcision is inward, not outward--it is lived out in life. Nevertheless, there is a way that Jews may take appropriate pride of the role God gave them in salvation history (Rom. 3:1-8).
The Gentiles will hear the same passages differently. The passage Rom. 1:17-32 brings up images that they will quickly recognize as common in the culture around them many perhaps having been involved in such practices prior to their becoming Christians. Even though some of these vices may have not been perceived as bizarre or unlawful in first century Rome, Paul makes it clear that the behaviors are signs of open rebellion against God. When Paul changes course in Rom. 2:1, the Gentiles will begin to relax.
The text from Rom. 3:9-20 brings the Gentile and Jewish strands together--both are guilty; no one is righteous. Even though the Jews may be the only ones who recognize the Old Testament sources of the scriptures that Paul recites here, the metaphors are plain and powerful. Paul closes with a statement, which he will develop further, that the purpose of the Law is to make us aware of sin. While the one family of God has not yet been formally introduced, Paul has established that both Jews and Gentiles begin their lives positioned in the same place--outside of that family.
As the discourse continues, Paul continues to narrow the differences between his Gentile and Jewish listeners. He works through the fact the both groups have only one path to justification--through Christ (Rom. 3:21-4:25). Both groups receive the same Holy Spirit, freely given to all those who have been justified. That gift will guide them through the passage of suffering, perseverance, character, and hope (Rom. 5:3-5). Finally, after bringing the two groups into one stream, he deals with the work of Christ (Rom. 5:6-6:23) and the work of the Law (Rom. 7:1-8:11). Every aspect of Jewish privilege is stripped away, the Torah law of Rom. 7:1 gradually shifting to the "law of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:2). Jews and Gentiles stand together as ones who have "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).
The function of the balance of Chapter 8, designated E in Figure 1 and comprising Rom. 8:12-39, is clear from the chiastic schema. The stress is on the idea of obligation (Rom. 8:12). All that has been developed to this point is wrapped up in the "Therefore" that begins this section --because both the Jews and the Gentiles have been the recipients of justification and the gift of the Holy Spirit, they have an obligation. The implication is that this obligation demands obedience. Rom. 8:18 then turns to a crescendo of praise that grows to embrace even the creation (Rom. 8:20-21) as the object of the great eschatological redemption that will come. By implication, the intensity of the obligation and requisite obedience grows as well. Therefore its purpose is literary rather than doctrinal--it is designed as a bridge between the fully developed idea of the single stream of redemption for all believers and the main message, which is dependent on that stream. One might even expect that the reader of the letter will have been coached to "preach" it for all it is worth, right through the dramatic Rom. 8:38-39.
Chapters 9-11 apply this conclusion to the specific problem in Rome: the disunity between the Jewish and Gentile Christians that prompted the letter in the first place. It is here that Paul brings the "one family" motif to a conclusion: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom. 10:13), and, because of disobedience, "... God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all (Rom. 11:32).
The passage begins in stark contrast to the lavish praises that end Chapter 8. Paul weeps for the hardening of the Jews. In this emotional section, the Apostle builds a groundwork for the olive tree allegory at the center of the message. That olive tree is an eternal one, planned from the beginning. This idea of eternity was planted in the previous section, Rom. 8:29-30, and develops further with the rhetorical question of whether God's word had failed (Rom. 9:6). It is mentioned again in Rom. 9:23, "... whom he prepared in advance for glory." Gradually, Paul sets the foundation for the idea that the hardening of the non-Christian Jews was not a contingent failure, but a part of a wonderful plan that had been in place since before the foundation of the world. It was the spiritual descendants of Abraham and Isaac that are of concern--an idea that will show up in the analogy as some branches are retained (e.g., Jacob), some removed (e.g., Esau, Rom. 9:13), and others that, in God's own time, have been grafted in (the Gentiles). The process has been under God's control since the beginning, as God revealed to Moses (Rom. 9:15) and Hosea (Rom. 9:25), and is completely based on the merciful nature of God and never on the desires or efforts of men and women (Rom. 9:16). God's mercy is such that he will graft anyone into the tree who "calls upon the name of the Lord" (Rom. 10:13), but only when they believe inwardly in the work of Christ (Rom. 10:9).
In a partial recapitulation of Gal. 3:28, Paul asserts plainly that there is absolutely no difference between Jew and Gentile in the eyes of God (Rom. 10:12). This is the essence of the "mystery" of Rom. 11:25--just as God had offered Gentiles an avenue of redemption by bringing about a time of temporary hardening of the Jews so that the Gentiles might come into the one family of God, there would be a later time in which the hardening would be over and there would be a great harvest among the Jews (Rom. 11:26). Paul does not say how this will come about in so many words; he only asserts the promise (through Isaiah) that it will take place through a "deliverer" (Rom. 11:26-27). If anything may be learned from the doctrinal development of the book to this point, that deliverer will certainly be Christ through the witness of right behaving churches such as those the Apostle would like to see laboring in Rome. And what is a "right behaving church"? It is to that subject that we now turn. Just as Romans is a book written to correct a particular error in behavior, even more importantly it is a call to a right ecclesiology. Were these churches to behave rightly, God would have their help, rather than hindrance, in bringing about his agenda.