Excursus I: Theme Statement

Not all will agree that the theme statement is in Rom. 1:16 with a recapitulation in Rom. 15:7-12. Bible editors, for example, persist in placing paragraph and/or section breaks after, rather than before, Rom. 1:17.

Most commentators select a book's "theme" from a study of its literary content. The advantage of the form critical approach taken here is that it locates the theme on structural criteria and then confirms that location with literary analysis. There are two structural reasons for locating the theme in Rom. 1:16.

  1. The fact that Romans fits the chiasmic structure of Figure 1 so well, being balanced with the recapitulation in Romans 15.
  2. The fact that Rom. 1:17 forms such an exquisite parallel with the material in Rom. 1:18-20.

The first case is argued in the body of the paper. The second case is based on the fact that Paul chose to repeat a rather lengthy verb in linking Rom. 1:17 with the verses that immediately follow it--the verb apokaluptetai ("revealed.") in exactly the same form (third person singular, present passive indicative).

Verse Subject Verb Modifier (how?)
Rom. 1:17God‘s righteousnessis revealedin the gospel
Rom. 1:18-20God‘s wrathis revealedin natural revelation

Perhaps it is better to view this as saying that through the gospel, God reveals a righteousness that brings life because the people who accept it worship the creator. Those who stop at what God revealed through nature incur wrath because they worship the creature. So the links between Rom. 1:17 with the material that follows are much stronger than those that link Rom. 1:17 with Rom. 1:16.

The fact that Rom. 1:16 is recapitulated in Rom. 15:7-12 is also significant, given the proposed chiasmic structure of the book. The theme issue is that the Gentile and Jewish Christians need to have proper relationships and mutual acceptance in the Roman house churches. This is the subject of Rom. 1:16 and the passage in Romans 15--not the matter of God‘s revelation, which is a subject needed to launch the doctrinal block that begins immediately after the theme statement.

For another approach, see Fitzmyer who, while regarding Rom. 1:17 as part of the theme, considers Rom. 1:18-20 as a restatement of the theme negatively expressed.