Romans

I picked up the N.T. Wright study guide; Paul for Everyone Romans a few weeks ago in anticipation of going through this Epistle with a study group that I have attended for the better part of a year now.  I had high expectations that Tom would present his ideas in a clear and compelling way and his book has lived up to my expectations.  The book comes in two volumes with chapters 1-8 and 9-16 separate.

Not only does Bishop Wright interpret the text for us, but he also provides his own translation of the text that is consistent with his interpretation.  I think this is key since part of the problem of Romans is that the language has changed so much and is so embedded in the culture of the day that a word for word translation is not adequate.  Here is an example from Romans 1:

I am under obligation to barbarians as well as to Greeks, you see; both to the wise and to the foolish. That’s why I’m eager to announce the good news to you, too, in Rome.  I’m not ashamed of the good news; it’s God’s power, bringing salvation to everyone who believes – to the Jew first, and also, equally; to the Greek.  This is because God’s covenant justice is unveiled in it, from faithfulness to faithfulness.  As it says in the Bible, “the just shall live by faith”.

This can be compared with the NIV 2011 translation:

Post continued, click here…

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Romans Part 1 – Revisited

by Dave on July 23, 2010

in General, Theology

I was recently reading an interview of Bishop Tom Wright regarding the new perspectives on Paul and it brought to light an angle that I have not covered in my earlier post on the beginning of Romans.

One of the key elements to consider in the so called new perspective on Paul is that Paul was inherently anti-imperial.  That is, Paul was against the pursuits of the Roman Empire and actively tried to make it known that the imperial Roman Empire is against the ways of god.  As I have studied this topic I have concluded a couple things.  First, it sure looks like Paul and the teachings of Jesus are against the idea of the Imperial Empire.  Second, the Imperial Empire of Rome looks an awful lot like the Empire of the United States in the current world order.  But this post is really about the first point.

Let’s look back at the  beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  When you read this, it may pay to keep in mind that Paul is writing this letter to the Romans.  That is, he is writing this letter to the people who are day in and day out benefiting from and succumbing to the rhetoric and influence of the Roman Empire.  The text:

1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4and who through the Spirit[a] of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God[b] by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

 7To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
      Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. NIV

This looks like pretty common language that we would hear of us all declaring that Jesus is Lord, right?  The key I was reminded of in Tom Wright’s interview is that much of the language that is used here in the opening to the letter to the Roman’s is a rehash of the language that was used to refer to Caesar.  It was common place to say your allegiance to Caesar.  The roman world would also say that Caesar was a god, and he was a god here on earth and he was the most powerful god as evidenced by his great power and wealth.  If you were to follow Caesar and be obedient to him then you too will get to share in the wealth and security of the roman empire!  Caesar is Lord!

Paul, in his opening to his letter to the Romans turns that on its head and instead declares that this forgiving and wise carpenter turned teacher that was crucified by Caesar is Lord, not Caesar.  Paul does not add that last not Caesar to his language but that was understood by his audience who were immersed in the language of Caesar being lord and god and you need to be obedient to his will and through that obedience you will secure salvation for you and your family in this new world order, the Pax Romana.  Sounds a lot like what Paul is saying about Jesus, right?

That is part of the scandal that was the letter of Paul to the Romans.  We read the opening today and miss all the nuanced association that Paul is making between the Kingdom of God and Jesus being Lord and the Roman Empire, with Caesar as lord.  Remember, Caesar is a son of the gods and he himself a god living here on this earth.  He is bringing peace and salvation.

Doesn’t it sound a lot like the good old USA?  We are extending our borders out to distant land, we will bring peace to the world through our power.  We will give our people peace here in our homeland and security.  But who pays the price for this?  Who is not secure?

Are you called to be son’s of the American Empire, or the Empire of the Lord?  Which lord?  I invite you to take the time to re-read the beginning of the letter to the Romans and see why a servent of Caesar may look at what Paul is saying differently than you or I today.

One last quote, from the Bishop Wright:

After all, in a democracy ‘Caesar’ is ‘all of us’, and though we have Presidents and Prime Ministers the critique of ‘empire’ is more complicated now than it was in the first century.

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Romans Part 6 – Righteousness of God

by Dave on July 11, 2010

in Theology

Today I start to get to some of the key concepts that are often misinterpreted in Paul’s letters.  First, the scripture, Romans 1:16 and 17

16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  NIV

I have often wondered why Paul would feel compelled to have to write that he is not ashamed of the gospel.  Why would the story of God and Jesus possibly cause shame to him in some way?  One of the reasons that I can think of is because the gospel that he is referring to is so simple and easy that it almost seems too simple and easy.  The gospel is, as I have been trying to articulate in The Lost Codex, is actually so simple that people may have laughed at it in the Roman world.  Remember, this is the world of the great Greek philosophers who have high sounding philosophies of other higher worlds and a disassociation of the mind and bodily concerns.  To hear someone preach that they should just try to be good to others here on earth may have been laughable.

Also, it could be that the gods of the Roman Pantheon were gods who would grant all kinds of wishes, that were powerful in war, powerful over the lives of people.  In contrast the god of Jesus and Paul is shown to be a loving, caring god who by the rules of this world is not powerful or strong.  Instead, he could be viewed as weak.  So it would be easily conceivable that some in Rome would be ashamed to have such a weak god.

So Paul says he is not ashamed because it really is the way that you can have a great and fulfilling life.  It really is the way that you can find a piece of the Kingdom of God here and now.  It is really the way we were meant to be.  He is not ashamed that his god is not going to go and beat up your god.  Or that his god is not going to go to battle for him.  Instead, his god is going to love you…

I attended a Bible study class where the attitude of the teacher always seemed to be that following Jesus and his gospel somehow inherently involved suffering.  While I agree that there are many in this world who will cause you suffering for following the ways of Jesus, that is not the point that Jesus (or Paul) is making.  What Jesus says is that you will live a life of the ages, you will have eternal life.  This does not mean that you are going to go to heaven.  It actually means the opposite.  It means that you will have a life the way God intended you to have it here on earth.  Once we are all following this new way of being there will only be happiness and the Kingdom of God fully realized here on earth.

In verse 16 Paul also starts to use the phrase “everyone who believes”.  Do you believe?  I think that the way people have typically rendered this is something like: “do you acknowledge that Jesus is God and he was really here, that is believing”.  But that is not the way Paul uses the word believe.  Paul is not wanting people to somehow believe in a propositional statement of whether you think Jesus is God, but he is saying to you to believe the Gospel, which is that the person Jesus really is the new King to rule over the world, and his laws are to love each other!  When people ask the question, “do you believe in Jesus?” they are usually missing the point.  It is not whether you “believe in Jesus”, it is whether you believe that God’s kingdom has begun on this earth and the way you can live and share in this life is to love each other and treat people well.

So Paul says “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”.  This does not mean, “I am not ashamed of Jesus because if you believe in him you will go to heaven some day.”  What it means is “if you follow the ways of Jesus you will participate in God’s Kingdom here and now on this earth and it is available to everyone.

Then in verse 17 we get the first instance in this letter of the phrase “righteousness from God”  This is one of those cases where it is beneficial to go back to the original Greek in which Paul wrote the original letter.  In his letter, the term we translate in the NIV as righteousness is dikaiosune.  Dikaiosune in the NET bible is defined as:

  1. in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God
  2. the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God
  3. integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting
  4. in a narrower sense, justice or the virtue which gives each his due

Thus, when we are talking about the righteousness of God (dikaiosune gar Theo, Theo meaning God) there is room for interpretation.  There are several interpretations of how this phrase can be used.  One of interpretations that I have seen used in Protestant (particularly Baptist) circles is that somehow this righteousness from God (dikaiosune gar Theo) is something that God imparts onto the person who believes.  That is, when Paul says “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed”, these people interpret that as God has somehow given them righteousness and it is revealed in them.  Clearly this can lead to some problems that I think are significant and apparent in today’s baptist cultures (they are indeed holier than thou, Paul says it, right?).  This problem of feeling that they are righteous is exacerbated further by the next part of verse 17:

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

The baptist view of the word faith here is usually interpreted as a person believing that Jesus is God and by having this faith (that Jesus is God) he will impart his righteousness onto you and you will be holy.  I know a couple of “saved” people where this would certainly describe how they interpret this part of the letter.  This interpretation (I confess that I believe Jesus is God and he makes me righteous and therefore I will go to heaven) is not in the bible.  It is totally in keeping with the hyper individualistic notions of modern society.

But Paul may have meant this is a different way.  To me, the dikaiosune gar Theo, the righteousness from God, is a characteristic of God.  God has a righteousness.  As is in the Gospels, he is love and good, he has this quality of dikaiosune.

And faith, in the context of this letter, is not really some intellectual statement or some feeling that you have accepted Jesus as your personal lord, but instead it is that you have faith that you should live your life in the way that Jesus gospel (his good news) tells us that we should live.  Having faith is not an internal thought, it is an orientation, it is action, it is that you know that you will share in the Kingdom of God by living your life according to the teaching of Jesus.  In the ancient near east there was not an implicit distinction between the thoughts of a person and their actions.  It was generally assumed that if you thought a certain way (for example, had faith that Jesus taught God’s will), then you would generally do it.

The very last part of verse 17 is also important especially considering the degree to which it is twisted in much of today’s society.  It says:

“The righteous will live by faith.”

If one were so inclined to feel that the gospel is all about how a person who accepts Jesus as his personal saviour will have eternal life by going to heaven then it is pretty clear that this phrase would confirm that stance.

But I contend that the real meaning of this is that those who share in the Godly quality of dikaiosune (the actual word used by Paul here is dikaios) will live (here and now in the way of God) by faith (believing that the ways of Jesus are the right ways and therefore they will actually live that way.

So a quick comparison of a couple of possible interpretations of verses 16 and 17 can lead people to radically different world views.  On one hand, the baptist believer will possibly state those as:

I am not afraid because God has the power to send people to heaven if they attest that Jesus is the Lord (in their mind and heart).  For God has gives you righteousness so you are now holy because you acknowledged that Jesus is God and believe!  You don’t have to do anything, only have faith and believe.

This is horrible, it missed the point of what Paul is saying.  Instead, he is saying this:

I am proud to support the man Jesus who was put to death by the Romans (this letter is to the Romans), for God rules the world and you can participate in his empire by having assuredness that the simple life of Jesus is the correct life to live.  This is verified in the good news that Jesus was raised from the dead by God proving that he indeed is the long sought after King of the world.  The new King shows that God’s correct way to live is to love each other.  Experience this wonderful new life now.

So what’s the difference.  In the typical evangelical baptist message, it is all about you personally believing something so that when you leave this life you will go to heaven.  The new perspective is that you need to act with love in this life and that is how God wants you to live.

This difference plays out over and over in our society.  People who believe the old view will go to church on Sunday and as long as they think that they “believe in Jesus” they will go to heaven some day.  So they don’t do anything.  They think that they are saved.  But they missed the boat.  Being saved means to live God’s rightful life here and now.  To be actively involved in ushering in the Kingdom of God.

Next time – is God mad?

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Romans Part 5 – Greeting

by Dave on July 2, 2010

in Theology

Having gone quite slowly through the beginning of Romans, I am going to go quickly through this next section.

8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

 11I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

 14I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.  NIV

In 8-15 Paul gives a warm greeting to his audience.  There are many who feel that people can not come to God on their own and Paul can be viewed as a supporter of this in verse 8.  He thanks God through Jesus (as in John 14:6 “no one comes to the Father except though me”) for all of them because of the report of their faith.  Now is he is he thanking God for their faith or for the reports of the faith?  It is not obvious to me which it is.  It may be both.

Toward the end of this passage, he clearly articulates that his preaching of the gospel is for everyone.  One of the interesting parts of this is that he says that it is to the wise and the foolish.  In Greek, the term translated as foolish is anohtoiv.  In this sense it seems to be someone without sense.  He also uses this term in several other letters and in those contexts it looks like he uses it to describe people who have not taken the advice that has been given to them.  Particularly people who once had faith but for some reason no longer do.  I feel this is important since it means that Paul’s mission is to continually reinforce the gospel preached.  There are some who say once someone “believes” then they are saved.  But Paul says that some can be “foolish” and turn away.

Next time, several key words including “salvation”, “righteousness of God”, and “Faith”.

Dave

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Romans Part 4

by Dave on June 27, 2010

in Theology

So far we have discussed the Paul, Jesus being the Messiah and a bit about the gospel.  Now I think we have enough background to start to get at what the letter to the Romans is saying.

Verses 5, 6 and 7

Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.  NIV

Here we start to get into some of the basic foundations of Paul’s mission.  In verse 5 he makes it clear that it is through Jesus (him) that they received grace and the mission (apostleship).  How did Jesus do this?

For Paul, Jesus came in a vision that temporarily blinded him and somehow had the message of Jesus and the significance of Jesus revealed to him.  The significance of Jesus is that because he rose from the dead, he is now officially the Messiah of the Jewish people.  The Messiah is the king of the Jews that will come to bring the Kingdom of God here on earth and rule forever.  Remember, Israel is to bring forth a ruler that will rule over all the kingdoms of the world.  Jesus is that ruler, that King.

So in the second part of verse 5, he makes it clear that all people are called to be under the kingship of Jesus the King.  And what happens if you believe that someone is your King?  If you truly believe that someone is your King then you will be obedient to that King.  Jesus rising from the dead meant that he was the King that the prophets spoke about, the King that was promised to Abraham to be a King of all the world.  And if you believe that he is this King, then you will be obedient to him.  That is what Paul means by “to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith”.

In verse 6 he again emphasizes that those in Rome, the people of Rome are those who are called to belong to Jesus the Messiah of the Jews.  The term Christ means the Messiah.  It does not mean that he is God’s son (though I believe that to be true), it means that he is the great Kingdom Bringer!  The one who will bring the Kingdom of Israel’s God (Yahweh) to all the world.

We have heard it said many times that by dying on the cross Jesus proved he was God and then went to heaven so that we too will go to heaven when we die.  But that is not what the gospel is about.  Instead, the gospel is that God raised Jesus from the dead (the first resurrection), thereby proving that resurrection does happen and this then means that Jesus was indeed the promised King of Israel that would make Israel the nation to rule all other Nations.  And Jesus teaching as this ruler was to Love Others.

So, in verse 5 and 6, I could write it like this in my words:

Jesus the new King of Israel has given us the mission to tell all people that he started to bring the Kingdom of God here on earth and that we should be obedient to him if we believe that he is this new king.  All of you, all the people of the world and not just the Jews are able to participate in the new Kingdom by obeying his teachings.

Dave

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Romans Part 2 – About Paul

by Dave on June 21, 2010

in Theology

In the first post of my series looking at the Epistle of Paul to the Romans I discussed a bit about the role of the messiah (the Christ) from a Jewish perspective.  Today, I want to talk about Paul himself since we need to understand some things about Paul before tackling his letter to the Romans.

However, I have now reconsidered my position.  Rather than a lengthy exposition on Paul the person, I have come to realize that I really don’t think that it is appropriate to say too much about him right at the beginning.  I also do not have the patience to go into a history of Paul with you can just look up Paul of Tarsus on Wikipedia and learn enough about him that you would have all you need to go into the future posts.

Having said that, Paul identified himself as an apostle in the first line of his letter to the Romans, but he does not appear in any of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  Instead, Paul makes his debut in the biblical story in the first book after the Gospels, namely the Acts of the Apostles.<!--more-->

We know that Paul was a Pharisee, that is one of the very religious sects of Judaism at the time.  Paul was known to be someone who torture and torment Christians but on one fine day, he had a vision of the resurrected Messiah.  As a result of the vision he became blind, and then suddenly became perhaps the biggest and most influential activist supporting Christianity to this day.  Paul was a rock star.  In one instant God helped him see the light (pun intended) and now he was bought the story hook line and sinker.

Paul traveled the Mediterranean area planting new churches for this Jesus following  community and teaching what he called the gospel (more on that later).  The book of Romans was a letter that he wrote to a community of people in Rome who had already heard the gospel, but Paul had more to tell to them.

I believe the book of Romans contains much of the source material for the division between the reformed churches and non-reformed.  It also has a very interesting side-bar into what some have called natural theology, which is a personal favorite of mine since I believe in simplicity.

Many would think that simplicity has little to do with theology, but I think it could not be more wrong on that account.  If theology (how we know and relate to God) is difficult, then it could not be true.  God is everyone’s God, not the God of the intellectuals.  Not the God of the elite.  Not the God of the educated.  God is the God of,….us.

Whew.  I have been laboring over this post and I am glad I got it out of the way so I can move forward into some of the elements that I find more inerteresting.

God bless you and please give me a comment or two….

Dave

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Romans Part 1

by Dave on June 18, 2010

in Theology

Romans begins:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.  NIV

This gets good right away.  Paul identifies himself as a servant of Jesus Christ but what does he mean by Jesus Christ? When Paul says Jesus Christ he is saying that he is the “anointed one” of Israel, God’s chosen people.  In Hebrew the word was Messiah, and in Greek it is Christ.  In either case it is not a name for Jesus, nor is it a title that says Jesus is necessarily divine.

To understand where Paul is going with this, we have to back up a bit into the Jewish history and recognize the role of the Messiah.  Per Wikipedia:

In Jewish messianic tradition and eschatology, messiah refers to a leader anointed by God, and in some cases, a future King of Israel, physically descended from the Davidic line, who will rule the people of a united tribes of Israel[2] and herald the Messianic Age[3] of global peace. In Judaism, the Messiah is not considered to be the literal, physical God or Son of God.

As you can see, we modern (or postmodern, more on that later) Christians immediately assume that the Christ, the Messiah, is equivalent with calling Jesus God.  Even the name of our religion, Christianity, implicitly defines the Christ as being our God.  But that was not the case back in the time of Paul before Jesus came on the scene.  Instead, the Messiah, or anointed one was to be a new leader that will come forth and help Israel regain its lost glory.  Most Jews at the time thought that the messiah was going to be a war king that will wage war on its enemies and defeat them.  This king would not be divine in the sense that our modern Christian minds think of Jesus, instead this Christ was going to build the military and reinstate Israel to its rightful place as God’s chosen people.  God’s chosen people meant that they would win in battles and inhabit the land.  It was an earthly title, the Christ.

But why did the Jews need a messiah?  The history of the Jewish people can be cast in one form as a continual cycle of sin, exile, and redemption through a new covenant.  This started back in the time of Adam where Adam ate from the apple, was exiled from the garden.  This cycle continued over and over from Babel, Noah, Abraham, and the Babylonian exile.  The last stage in this theme occurred over the few centuries before Jesus where the Jewish people where exiles in their own land.  Alexander the Great conquered and occupied the land, and then at the time of Jesus it was the Roman empire.  The people were exiles in their own land living under the domination of an external power.  This was humiliating for God’s chosen people.  Granted, they were not exiles in a foreign country under slavery, but they still did not have control over their own destiny.  The messiah would be a great leader, like Moses, or King David, someone who could restore the former glory of Israel and make it a nation to rule over all other nations.  They would have the King.

Next time I will have to go into a bit of background on Paul…

Dave

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The Lost Codex of Paul

by Dave on June 15, 2010

in Theology

I have been fascinated with the direction that Christianity has taken over the past couple decades.  As I have learned more and more about what it meant to be a Christian in first century Jerusalem I realize that many of the Christian churches have it totally wrong.
Last fall I was in a bible study group studying one of Paul’s letters when the teacher said that Paul tells us that we should love our Christian brothers.  Christian brothers!  Sure, we are supposed to love our Christian brothers, but we must also love our Muslim brothers, and our atheist brothers.  I came to realize that the bible study teacher believed that Jesus felt we should love our neighbors, and that really means that we should love other Christians.  I don’t see how someone can possibly get what Jesus was saying so wrong since there really were no Christians around at the time Jesus said to love others.  He had to mean everyone.
So I have started to do a more thorough reading of Paul and also have been studying other ways that people can interpret Paul.  So now that I have some time on my hands, I thought that I could put together a reading of some of Paul’s work and give an alternative explanation based on what I believe at this point in time.  I hope that I will have more insight in the future, but I think the way I am viewing it now is sufficiently non-mainstream that it would be interesting to some of my friends and family.

I am going to start with the first few chapters of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  I hope to present a view of this text in a light that is not typically taught in church but that I believe most closely represents what Paul was trying to teach.  I am not an academic and will not be striving to present my view in comparison with what scholars have already presented.  Instead, I will use the knowledge I have gained from various sources to present the state of my view.  As someone once said, I have milked many cows, but will churn my own butter.

Dave

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