Thursday, May 10, 2007

Notes on Romans 1:1-6

Here's some notes I wrote up a while back when the Roaring 20's (the 20s+ group at FBC) was studying the book of Romans. Since FBC as a whole is now doing Romans, fellow FBC-ers may or may not find it interesting:

Here, hopefully, is an interesting way of looking at Romans 1:1-6. It could be interesting because, if it is right, it shows that these first few verses set up the basic themes of the rest of Romans which are to be discussed in a more expanded, detailed and applied manner throughout the remaining chapters. These first few verses set up who Paul is, his role in terms of the gospel, and what that gospel is – it more or less sets up Paul’s agenda for the letter. On the way of looking at these verses I want to consider, the focus is on the following things: Jesus Christ and his Messiahship as leader of the People of God, his vindication and exaltation as that Messiah and the result of that, by which Israel’s Messiah becomes also the Gentile’s Messiah so that both Jew and Gentile can equally participate in the People of God and attain ultimate salvation in the age to come.

First, Paul stresses the Jewishness of Jesus – Jesus is Israel’s Messiah foretold by the prophets in the Scriptures, the Messiah who was to be a descendant of David. Of course, mere descent from David does not by itself make Jesus the Messiah (though it is a prerequisite, of course). It was in his resurrection that Jesus was vindicated and shown to be the true Messiah – his Messiahship was confirmed and he was elevated to a new and glorified stage of this Kingship (note that if it is in fact the case that the words ‘with power’ in v.4 should be linked to the words ‘Son of God’ rather than to ‘declared’ then we have a specification of what that next stage of Messiahship is – the Messiah (or Son of God) with power).

But why say that v.4 concerns Jesus’s Messiahship rather than his divinity alone? Consider the following: ‘God’s son’ or ‘the son of God’ (there is no real difference in the Greek – I don’t think there is any difference in the Hebrew either) was a title that was used both in Scripture and in the Jewish culture of the time to refer to Israel, the People of God (for OT examples see, for instance, the passages beginning with Exodus 4:22, and Hosea 11:1). Since Israel was God’s son, His chosen and beloved one for whom He was their Father (there are even more examples of God being called Israel’s Father), such a title applied all the more to Israel’s king.

In this culture, the king was a representative and leader of his people – a kind of corporate individual who stood for all who followed him. So the title of the people could be applied to its representative and the representative’s name or title could be applied to the people. So if we were Jews and Pastor Glen was our representative and leader, we would say that we were ‘in Glen’ or that we ‘belonged in Glen’ or ‘had a part in Glen’ – in a representative sense, Glen would be FBC and FBC would be Glen. If the group did something, it would be in a representative way an act of Glen and if Glen did something it would be in a representative way an act of the group. So if Israel is God’s son, then its king – its representative – is God’s son – God’s election of Israel as his people receives its focal point in the king as Israel’s representative. But of course, Israel could not fulfill the purpose to which it was called and the kingship failed. The Messiah was to be the ultimate, final representative – the true Israel and Son of God who would do what Israel could not and fulfill Israel’s true purpose through himself. As N. T. Wright says, ‘Israel was the son of YHWH: the king who would come to take her destiny on himself would share this title’ (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 486). And it is as this true Messiah – this true leader and head and representative of the People of God – that Jesus shows up in this passage – his resurrection proves who he is and initiates that new stage in his Messiahship where he will reign from heaven in divine power, showing truly that he is both Lord and Messiah (that is, Christ).

More than all this, it has been argued by some commentators that, since the word ‘his’ does not actually show up in the Greek, the proper translation of the end of v.4 should not read ‘by his resurrection from the dead’ but ‘by the resurrection from the dead’. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was the beginning of the resurrection which will be complete and consummated upon his return – Jesus has brought in the kingdom of God and he is the first to partake in it fully, but its fullness here on earth awaits the Second Coming, when the resurrection will fully come. As the representative of his people, since he has part in the resurrection, his people also thereby have part in that resurrection life – though, again, it will only have its completion when he returns and that eternal life comes in fullness and death is no more.

As representative, Jesus is the true Israel, the true Chosen One, the true Son of God and it is by following him that we become part of his people and therefore also join the chosen people, God’s people, and are thereby sons of God. And since being part of God’s People involves following Christ as the representative of God’s People, being part of that people no longer involves being a Jew or following those laws that mark one out ethnically as a Jew – the gospel is also for the Gentiles, who now are called to take part in God’s People by following Christ (without having to also become Jews). Their obedience to Christ and to God is through faith and no longer needs to involve the ethnic boundary markers of the law. Gentiles and Jews together can equally be part of God’s People through Christ and thereby share in the blessings of the coming kingdom and the resurrection of the dead. And those in the church in Rome are also part of that People – both Jews and Gentiles. That is good news.

These are the sorts of facts Paul uses to show how it is only through faith that one is part of Christ – who is the Jewish Messiah and Lord over all – and that because of this neither Jew nor Gentile should look down on the other. Throughout the book, Paul expands on these themes and applies these new realities proclaimed by the gospel to our lives under that same gospel – how are we, Jews and Gentiles, to live now that we both belong to God’s People, have a foot in the kingdom of God that is both now and not yet, and have Christ as our heavenly representative? It is this gospel the proclamation and explanation of which was Paul’s mission and it is key aspects of this gospel and all of its ramifications for the situation and life of the Jews and Gentiles in the church in Rome that Paul wants to present here.

3 comments:

Secret Rapture said...

My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions! The Secret Rapture soon, by my hand!
Read My Inaugural Address
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Ian said...

Either this guy is just pulling a big joke on folks or he's really crazy and completely deluded (with all the witches and fairies and spacemen stuff and all the delusions about being God). Quite possibly the latter. This is the sort of person you'd probably run into at Berkeley.

Ian said...

Sorry if that last post sounded too harsh - I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say in response to things like this.