Interpreting Romans: The New Perspective and Beyond
Brendan Byrne S J. Interpretation. Richmond: Jul 2004.Vol.58, Iss. 3; pg. 241, 12 pgs Copyright Interpretation Jul 2004
Because Paul could never address any problem without relating it to theology, Romans will never lack interpreters or debate. In this essay, the so-called "New Perspective on Paul," which has sparked much recent discussion, is measured against the theology of Paul's central letter.
The place of Romans at the center of theological debate has never been in question since Martin Luther recaptured the Pauline insights of Augustine and made them the heart of the Reformation. No other biblical document touches on so many of the great theological issues, and for that reason no other raises such intense theological passion.
Thirty years ago when one taught Romans in an ecumenical faculty, the legacy of the Reformation divide between Catholic and Protestant interpretation was still very strong. One trod warily around issues such as justification and predestination. Now that all seems very dated. In 1977, the publication of E. P. Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism1 shook the hitherto dominant Lutheran tradition of Pauline interpretation to its foundations. Two decades later, we can justifiably talk about a paradigm shift in Pauline studies. In the phrase coined by James D. G. Dunn, we must reckon with a totally "new perspective,"2 one in which concern for the relationship between Christianity and Judaism has replaced intraChristian controversy as the primary context for the interpretation of Romans.
Since the New Perspective (henceforth NP) has to do with Paul's relationship to Judaism, its concerns arise principally in respect to those letters-Romans and Galatians-where this relationship is central. The insights and concerns of the NP hover over the interpretation of every section of Romans. This survey of recent interpretation of Paul's epistle is chiefly a dialogue with the NP, the principal features of which I shall list and review against my own essentially theocentric understanding. It is, of course, no secret that the introduction of the NP in Pauline studies has not gone without challenge. A large section of Protestant scholarship, notably on the Evangelical wing, has mounted a firm resistance to aspects of the NP and sometimes to the total package;3 at stake for many-understandably-is the heart of the Reformation. More recently, a new development ("Beyond the New Perspective"; "Post- 'New Perspective' Perspective"), without simply reasserting the Reformation interpretation, has challenged Sanders' survey of ancient Judaism and sought to gain a more nuanced view of both the continuities and discontinuities between Paul and representatives of his ancestral faith.4 Before addressing the NP expressly, however, I would like to mention two earlier developments in the interpretation of Romans that have to some extent prepared the way for it.
THE 1970'S "ROMANS DEBATE"
For centuries, especially in the wake of Melanchthon, Romans was regarded primarily as a systematic exposition of Pauline theology, that is, as a stately procession of theological themes (e.g., justification, sanctification, law, spirit) embedded in a theological treatise cast in the form of a letter. Already in the mid-nineteenth century, Ferdinand Christian Baur had insisted that Romans be regarded not as an exercise in dogmatics but as a protest on Paul's part against Jewish particularism.5 Few accept Baur's historical explanation today. But the tendency Baur set in motion-to account for the content of Romans in the light of the circumstances of Paul and his addressees, specifically the relationships between Christian communities adopting differing attitudes to the practice of the Jewish Torah-has steadily gained ground. Most now agree that Romans is a real letter written by Paul on a particular occasion to address a particular set of circumstances and concerns. There is far less agreement on the more precise delineation of those circumstances and concerns-the subject of the "Romans Debate" of the late 1970's.6 Faced with a multitude of competing suggestions, many scholars despair of fixing upon any one purpose and prefer to speak of "reasons" rather than a reason for Romans.7
It should also be noted that under the influence of the renewed literary approach in biblical studies and specifically of rhetorical criticism, interest in the historical circumstances behind the letter has yielded to some degree to the view that the letter is a literaryrhetorical whole designed to create certain effects in its readers, both actual and implied.8 This approach to Romans has swung the interpretive pendulum back in the direction of recognizing that the letter, though addressed to concrete circumstances, does offer a unified and structured exposition of the gospel and of its consequences for the life of communities of believers.9 Moreover, Romans is unique among Paul's letters in that it was written to a community he had not himself founded but whose sympathy and support he wanted to gain in view of his projected missionary endeavors in the West (15:22-24). The hesitancy and defensiveness palpable at one point in the letter's introduction (1:8-15)10 shows that he cannot take for granted that all members of the community are well disposed toward him. There is a large element of apologetic in the letter as a whole: a defense of the gospel as he proclaims it to the nations of the world (1:16), a defense against any sense that this implies hostility towards Israel (9:1-5; 10:1; 11:1), a defense ultimately of the vision of God that emerges from this presentation of the gospel.
ROMANS AS "THEODICY": THE "RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD"
This last point touches upon something increasingly recognized as central to Romans: that it is from beginning to end a theodicy, a justification of God.11 To assert this may come as a surprise to those more accustomed to regarding the "justification" of which the letter speaks as moving, so to speak, in the opposite direction, that is, of having to do with God's gracious justification of human beings through faith. The justification of believers is indeed a major theme of the letter (e.g., 3:21-26), but, as Ernst Käsemann in particular has insisted,12 the multiple references to "the righteousness of God" in Romans (1:17; 3:5; 3:21, 22, 26; 10:3 [twice]; elsewhere only 2 Cor 5:21) must have primarily a subjective reference, that is, to God's own righteousness-to the perception of God as righteous or as having acted in a way demonstrating righteousness. The Lutheran tradition, especially as represented by Bultmann,13 has tended to interpret the phrase "the righteousness of God" objectively: that is, as referring not to God's own righteousness but to the righteous status that God graciously deigns to confer upon the believer in view of the saving work of Christ-a sense given clear expression in Phil 3:9, where Paul writes, "and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith" (cf. also 1 Cor 1:30). But it is doubtful whether the objective sense made explicit in Phil 3:9 should be allowed to determine instances of the phrase in Romans, where a (subjective) reference to God's own righteousness appears more appropriate.14
This means that the question Paul raises in a variety of formulations in Rom 3:3-8 (i.e., is God righteous ["faithful,""truthful,""just"]?) runs throughout the letter. It is an issue that can be stated both positively and negatively. To take the negative first: within the bleak worldview that Paul shares with apocalyptic Judaism and early Christianity, the gospel as he proclaims it unashamedly lumps Israel along with the Gentile world in the sinful mass of humankind (3:9). As the first major section of the letter (1:18-3:20) seeks to show, Jewish privileges such as possession of the Torah and circumcision have all been undercut, in respect to the righteousness required for eschatological justification, by the more powerful force of sin (3:10-20). Does this failure of Israel imply a concomitant failure on the part of Israel's covenant partner, God? No, says Paul-and here we turn to the positive: in Christ's death upon the cross, God has supremely displayed faithfulness-righteousness-to Israel (3:21-26). In the shedding of his blood, Christ has become the means of atonement (3:25) for all who in faith acknowledge their sinfulness and need of such justifying. God displays the divine righteousness precisely in the act of justifying people through faith (3:26), thus opening up for believers the hope of salvation on the basis of being righteous through faith (5:1-2).15 The only catch (and for Israel it is a big catch!) is that this is something that God is doing not simply in covenant fidelity to Israel but in faithfulness as Creator to the entire world. Since "all [= Jews and Gentiles] have sinned" (3:23a), all believers [Gentile and Jewish] are "being justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (3:24)-something that erodes the special status of Israel as "holy nation" set apart from the sinful rest of humankind and excludes all attempts henceforth to reclaim that status through performance of the "works of the Torah" (3:27-30).
The question of God's faithfulness (righteousness) resurfaces in Romans 9-11. Here the "presenting issue" is not so much Israel's sinfulness (though that is presupposed in 2:13:20) as the twin phenomenon that confronted all first-generation believers: the failure of Israel, save for a tiny minority, to respond positively to Jesus as the Messiah and, in sharp contrast, the positive response to the gospel from large numbers of Gentiles. Where, again, is God's faithfulness to Israel if, despite all the promises contained in the Scriptures, things have gone so appallingly wrong in the messianic age that was supposed to fulfill those promises? As is well known, Paul draws a very long bow in addressing this issue, looking at it from a variety of points of view (God's elective way of acting in 9:6-29; the human reasons for Israel's failure in 9:30-10:21) before finally insisting that God has not abandoned Israel but will see to its eventual inclusion in the community of salvation, but in a way that totally reverses previous expectations (11:25-36).
Though not focused upon the fate of Israel, the sense of God's faithfulness also drives the argument in Romans 5-8. This section of the letter confronts the difficult situation believers find themselves in at the present time: "right with God" (justified) on the basis of faith, yet only "on the way" to salvation, enduring in their bodily existence the negative factors of the present age: temptation, suffering, and death.16 In the face of these trials, the overall theme of the section is an assertion of hope-hope that the God who has already intervened at such cost (the death of the Son) to bring about a situation of righteousness will not fail to bring believers to the fullness of salvation (5:5-10; 8:31-39). The replacement of the law by the Spirit enables believers to live out the gift of righteousness (6:1-8:13) and so remain within the unfolding divine design to make all things work for good for those who love God (8:28), those caught up in the inexorable working out of God's saving purpose (8:29-30).17
The renewed appreciation of Paul's focus upon the problem of Israel, and the concern with theodicy that goes with it, has only served to bring out the theocentricity of the letter. Romans is indeed a self-presentation of Paul, a defense of his attitudes and strategy. But behind Paul's concern is the defiant proclamation of the faithfulness of God. God has not been unfaithful to Israel (3:21-4:25). God will not be unfaithful to Israel (9:6-11:36). And God will faithfully see to it that believers who live out the righteousness granted them in Christ will be rescued from the conditions of the present age to share, in union with Christ, the full freedom of the children of God (5:1-8:39).
ROMANS AND THE NEW PERSPECTIVE ON PAUL
Presented below are what I consider to be the chief features of the NP on Paul and my assessment of its insights and tenets as verified in his letter to Rome. The NP is not, of course, a homogenous phenomenon; not all the features listed below apply to all varieties in equal degree. But I think the list offers a composite picture sufficient for a survey of this kind.18
1. On the negative side, there is a sustained critique of the Lutheran tradition of interpretation, with its classic antithesis of gospel and law.19
2. Likewise rejected is the view of Judaism that the Lutheran tradition has, since the Reformation, tended to promote: that Judaism is a religion of legalism and works-righteousness in which one gains salvation by perfect obedience of the law.20 Luther falsely projected upon judaism the pattern of religion he found objectionable in the Catholicism of his time.
3. More positively, the plank upon which all varieties of the NP rest is the very different view of Judaism emanating from Sanders's survey of the pattern of Jewish religion in the second Temple era.21 That survey shows Judaism of the time to be a religion of grace no less than Christianity; Israel's election to the covenant and to salvation precedes all obedience to law; the latter is not a condition of "getting into" the covenant but of living out and staying within the covenant community; the law itself provides means for the operation of God's mercy and forgiveness so that, despite human failure and sinfulness, status within the covenant community of salvation can be preserved.
4. Certain distinctive practices (circumcision, food laws, Sabbath) possessed great symbolic power as affirming and demarcating the identity of the Jewish people, living within a vast sea of other cultures frequently hostile to it. Jews did not carefully observe these practices in order to earn salvation, but to maintain, in a sociological sense, their sense of identity and privilege. It is to these practices in particular that the Pauline phrase "works of the law" refers.22
5. When Paul sets the way of faith over against "works of the law" (Rom 3:27-28; Gal 2:16; 3:1-13), he is not targeting a legalistic quest for righteousness through practice of the law, nor-to use the language of later theological discussion-is he pitting God's sovereign grace over against human effort. Rather, in the interests of his Gentile mission, he is targeting an inflated sense of Jewish identity ("boasting"), expressed especially in observance of these ritual practices, while failing to recognize that the time has come for the realization of God's gracious designs for the Gentile world in accordance with the promises to Abraham.23
6. Along these lines, the NP stresses the continuities between Paul and his ancestral religion-seeing him, as far as is possible, within the broad range of second Temple Judaism rather than as a "convert" from it to another, basically critical religion.24
7. In line with the tendency emerging from the earlier "Romans Debate," the NP stresses the occasional nature of Paul's letters, including the densely theological letter to Rome. The long theological sequences arise not out of dogmatic concerns per se but from the need to justify the terms upon which Gentile converts should be admitted as such (as Gentiles) to full participation in the community of faith alongside Jewish believers.25
8. The NP shows the influence of social science criticism and sociology in its stress upon identity, as well as upon the significance that commensality and other ritual practices assume when hitherto diverse communities (Jews and non-Jews) live and associate together in a new common allegiance.26
9. The NP recognizes that believers of Gentile origin are the primary addressees of Paul's letters, including Romans, and that when Paul addresses Jewish issues, especially that of the Torah, he does so for their benefit and with their concerns chiefly in mind. Any anti-Jewish sounding polemic principally targets fellow Christian missionaries who would seek to impose upon Gentile converts practices that were never intended for them. When, as in Rom 11:13-32, Paul speaks to Gentile believers about the Israel that has not come to faith in Jesus as Messiah, his intent is to evoke sympathy, understanding, and respect, and to counter any suggestion that Israel has fallen out of God's saving purpose.27
10. The NP sees itself as promoting a more ethically responsible interpretation of Paul in a post-Holocaust world conscious of how caricatures of Jews and Judaism arising out of traditional biblical interpretations have fostered anti-Semitism.28
Setting aside for a moment the question of Lutheranism (Features 1 and 2), let us examine the plank upon which all varieties of the NP rest: the view of Judaism emanating from Sanders's examination of Jewish patterns of religion in the Second Temple era. This, of course, is something to be decided apart from Romans, though it bears essentially upon the interpretation of the letter. Sanders's analysis of the evidence has been subjected to much criticism-and not only by those anxious to preserve at all costs the classical Reformation heritage.29 Other readings of the evidence would apportion a far greater significance to the keeping of the Torah in regard to the attainment of salvation. It may not be a condition of "getting in" the covenant community of salvation. But, if it is a condition of "staying in," then it does become an essential factor.30 In a tradition going back to Deuteronomy, covenant and Torah cannot be separated; both are a matter of life or death (Deut 30:15-20).31 Statements in the Psalms of Solomon, the Fourth Book of Ezra, and the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch) express a strong link between attaining or preserving righteousness through the practice of the law and so attaining, from the perspective of apocalyptic Judaism, eternal life.32 At least certain strands of the Judaism of the time were far more "nomistic" in this sense than Sanders has allowed.
If this is the case, then there is a genuine historical context for what appears to be an opposition in Romans between righteousness by faith and a quest for righteousness through performance of the law (cf. 3:27-28; 9:30-10:13; cf. Gal 3:11-12). This does not mean that the Judaism of the time was not a religion where grace and covenant relationship had priority, but it does allow for it to have included circles, especially those strongly influenced by apocalypticism, in which the practice of the Torah was seen not only as a way of life but a way to life.
In regard to the kind of Jewish nomistic aspiration that Paul, according to this reading, is setting over against faith in Romans, we have to distinguish between a "hard" and a "soft" Lutheran understanding.33 The hard Lutheran understanding, seen especially in Bultmann-also Käsemann and Hübner34-has Paul opposing (purported) Jewish legalism by insisting that even the very attempt to keep the law is already sin, because it is done in a self-regarding way, neglectful of the sovereignty of God. This is Bultmann's understanding of the "desire" that Paul's sees to be elicited with fatal consequences from the "commandment" (law) in Rom 7:7-12. Such interpreters never seem to have asked themselves how any Jew, including one radicalized by faith in the crucified Messiah such as Paul, could ever have found keeping the Torah something worthy of blame (cf. Deut 30:15-20)! Stephen Westerholm has proposed a more moderate Lutheran understanding that preserves the Reformer's unique insights into Paul while avoiding caricature of Judaism.35 What Paul sees to be excluded by faith need not necessarily involve a self-regarding attitude that seeks to establish a claim on God based on merit ("hard legalism"). It may simply represent a quest for righteousness that, in Paul's view, the gospel has exposed as wrong-headed and doomed, since it bypasses the divine verdict upon human behavior, attested in Scripture (Rom 3:10-19; Gal 3:22) and implied in the crucified Messiah (3:23; 5:12d; 9:31-33)-a negative verdict that is, by the same token, inseparable from a divine offer of righteousness on a wholly new basis, that of faith (3:21-26; 9:30-10:4).36
On this understanding, the reiterated "all have sinned" in Romans (3:23; 5:12d; cf. 3:9b; 11:32; Gal 3:22) refers to a factual sinning pervasive in the human race as a whole and symptomatic of a deeper illness, the human propensity to chafe and rebel against God ("desire"), which Luther so subtly discerned. In Paul's view, possession of the law did not insulate Israel against this plight (Rom 2:1-29; 3:9-20). On the contrary, the law, though good in itself, served the purpose of intensifying sin so that there (in Israel) where sin abounded, grace might abound all the more (Rom 5:20; cf. 7:13).37 The true antithesis is not between gospel and law but between grace and sin, since law plays a role, albeit a negative one, in the exposure and overthrow of sin.
Hence the NP's sweeping condemnation of the Lutheran tradition needs qualification. Luther and his Bultmannian successors were certainly wrong in their caricature of Judaism and wrong in attributing to Paul an understanding of sin's essence as keeping the law "too well." The tradition is not, however, wrong in its sense of the radicality with which Paul views the human plight ante Christum and the similar radicality of the divine action to redeem it. The tradition rightly perceived the essential theocentricity of Paul's thought, according to which "God accomplishes his [sic] (ultimately benevolent) purposes independently of human designs or activity and that, given the recalcitrance of the human heart, divine deliverance must be rooted in divine goodness and faithfulness, not in the merits of the delivered."38
If this is so, then equally due for nuancing is the NP's claim that in targeting "boasting" in "works of the law" (3:20, 27, 28; also, in the shortened phrase ex ergon 4:2; 9:11, 32; 11:6) Paul was primarily excluding an inflated sense of Jewish identity expressed especially in the prizing and observance of "identity markers," observances such as circumcision, food laws and keeping the Sabbath (cf. Features 4 and 5).39 In several contexts (Rom 2:17, 23; 3:27), Paul's references to "boasting" may at first sight suggest such an attitude, but other instances argue that "boast" has more to do with what one relies upon for salvation than an attitude toward others. One "boasts" in that upon which one's hope for salvation rests: whether that be (observance of) the "works of the law" or God's faithfulness and the righteousness graciously conferred upon believers-the only grounds for boasting in Paul's eyes (Rom 5:2, 3, 11; 8:10). What is wrong with going the way of "works of the law" is not primarily a national pride that refuses to recognize God's design to include the nations of the world within the promises of salvation. What is wrong is a refusal to admit what Paul has been at pains to show in Rom 2:1-3:20, that the way of the Torah has been undercut by Israel's being mired (despite possession of the Torah) in the sinful mass of humankind. Faith acknowledges all this to be the case, which is why faith and attempting to pursue the "works of the law" remain diametrically opposed for Paul.
Paul is, of course, at pains in Romans to show that he is not hostile to his own people (9:1-4; 10:1; 11:1). This concern, however, sits in some tension with an inevitable discontinuity between the way of the Torah and that of the gospel (cf. Feature 6). Some varieties of the NP see Paul as having no quarrel with the law as far as Jews are concerned; it is their accompaniment to salvation. Christ has come to activate the blessings promised to Abraham on behalf of the nations of the world and functions solely in regard to them. Paul faults Israel for failing to recognize that the time for the promised blessings to flow to the nations has come.40 But Paul's statements in Romans about the negative working of the law (3:30b; 4:15; 5:20a; 6:14, 15; 7:5; 7:7-13; 8:3) and his insistence upon the universal requirement of faith (1:16; 10:11-13) would seem to rule out any such "dual track" way to salvation-one for Jews (Torah), one for Gentiles (faith in Messiah Jesus).41 It is hard to see that his strictures against pursuing the way of the law refer simply to its imposition upon Gentile converts (cf. Features 7-9) and have no relevance for Christian Jews such as Peter and himself (cf. Gal 2:11-21). Paul would presumably countenance Christian Jews continuing to live according to the law's requirements in a customary sense. Where he appears to have drawn the line (cf. Gal 2:11-3:29) is where practice of the law retained the symbolic division between "holy nation" and "unclean rest."
What Paul had to show in Romans as a key element of his "apology" for the gospel (1:16a) was that the discontinuity it appeared to promote was in fact "continuous" with God's salvific design as proclaimed in the Scriptures. Paul does this in various ways in those sections of the letter made up almost entirely of citation and argument from Scripture: 3:10-19; 4:1-25; 9:6-11:36; 15:8-12.42 What it all amounts to can be be summed up as a privileging of the universalist covenant/promise made to Abraham over the particularist ("Israel only") covenant given to Moses at Sinai.43 Paul achieves this by depicting Abraham as primarily a person of faith, who on the basis of being "reckoned" righteous on this ground, received for himself and for a limitless progeny of believers the promise upon which hung the messianic blessings (4:1-23). Introducing this reading of Abraham, Paul claims in fact to be "upholding" rather than "doing away with" the law (Rom 3:31). The claim is daring in view of all that Paul has been saying about faith's exclusion of the way of the law and of all that he will continue to say about the negative effects of the law's working (4:15b; 5:20a; 6:14, 15; 7:5; 7:7-13; 7:14-25; 8:3). But Paul is exploiting for hermeneutical purposes the ambiguity to be found in nomos, where in addition to referring strictly to the legal code handed down to Moses on Sinai, it can refer to the central part of Scripture (the Pentateuch) and indeed to the entire scriptural witness.44 In the latter capacity, the nomos, since it witnesses to Israel's sinfulness (3:10-20), declares the failure of its own project as a way of life imposed by God in the shape of the Mosaic law.45 At the same time, again as Scripture,46 it points to God's eschatological dealing in Christ with human sinfulness-both that of Israel and that of the wider Gentile world-in order to activate for all believers the blessings of salvation.
This still leaves Paul with an immense problem on his hands: to account for the role of the Sinai covenant and the law in the overall schema of salvation. He attempts this in Romans 5-8. After coming perilously close to identifying the law with sin (cf. 7:7), he distinguishes between the law, in itself "holy, just and good" (v. 12), and the fatal effects that it has when, as a purely external code, it confronts a human situation ("flesh") still caught in the grip of sin. The interpretation of Rom 7:7-25, especially vv. 14-25, remains controversial.47 Most interpreters would agree, however, that, whether it refers to a "pre-Christian" or "Christian" stage of religious existence, it does describe a person confronted by the requirements of the law apart from or in abstraction from the grace of Christ-more specifically, the gift of the Spirit.48 The full radicality of Paul's vision emerges when, as appears to be the case, he sees this negative working of the law as part of the divine economy of salvation. The law, though good in itself, served the purpose of intensifying sin so that there (in Israel!) where sin abounded, grace might abound all the more (Rom 5:20; cf. 7:13) and sin might effectively be dealt with (8:3-4).49
It is hard to square a strong emphasis upon continuity with such radical statements as these. When Paul says that "Christ is the end (telos) of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" (10:4), telos may have its more usual sense of "goal," but the law's role remains negative, and the note of termination ("end") is also implicit.50 The appearance of Messiah Jesus has simply and on a universal scale (Jew as well as Gentile) put an end to the quest for righteousness through (works of) the law. In a way that may be less than convincing for modern interpretation, Paul appears to find sufficient continuity in that the gift of the Spirit fulfills the divine pledge to place "my law" (Jer 31:33), "my Spirit" (Ezek 36:26-27), within the hearts of the eschatological people of God. The combined witness of these prophetic texts shows that the Spirit51 has replaced the Mosaic law as the principle of life-both as energizer of moral life and as pledge, on that account, of eternal life.52 Contrary to the overall tendency of the NP, the continuity with respect to law is for Paul "metaphorical" only (Spirit as "law"); real continuity lies in the witness of Scripture.
One cannot, of course, quarrel with the desire of the NP to interpret Paul in an ethically responsible way, especially in regard to Christian attitudes and behavior toward Jews and Judaism (Feature 10). This is not achieved, however, by minimizing the radicality of Paul's critique of the total human situation prior to the grace of Christ. Nonetheless, the NP has been most salutary in insisting that Paul's critique of Israel must be seen as Romans 9-11 shows he would want it to be seen: as that of a prophet standing within-rather than outside-his people (11:1) and as mounted on behalf of his people against Gentile believers too prone to dismiss Israel's abiding status as "beloved because of the fathers" (11:28).
CONTRIBUTION FROM JEWISH SCHOLARS
A very significant development has been the entrance of Jewish scholars into Pauline studies, and specifically the interpretation of Paul's letter to Rome. Alan Segal has made distinctive contributions in the area of understanding Paul's "conversion," mysticism, and christology,53 while the culture critic Daniel Boyarin has found in Paul a refiguration of Jewish monotheism issuing in a concept of the oneness of humankind.54 Most intensively concerned with Paul has been Mark Nanos, who has argued that Romans must principally be understood as a summons to Gentile believers in Rome to a law-respectful rather than a law-free attitude and to submission to the synagogue authorities (13:1-7).55
It is unlikely that Romans will ever shift from the central position it occupies in Christian theology. It was Paul's genius-and perhaps his burden-that he could never address any problem, no matter how practical and in itself untheoretical, without relating it to theology. Paul's writings in every sentence distill a vision of God and God's action in Christ. Reference to the gospel remains the essential criterion. So long as this is perceived to be the case, Romans will never lack interpreters-or debate!
[Footnote] 1 E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress; London: SCM, 1977). 2 See esp. J. D. G. Dunn, "The New Perspective on Paul," BJRL 65 (1983) 95-122; idem, Romans 1-8, WBC (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) lxiii-lxxii; idem, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 33540; D. J. Moo, "Paul and the Law in the Last Ten Years," SJT 40 (1987) 287-307; J. M. G. Barclay, "Paul and the Law: Observations on Some Recent Debates," Themelios 12 (1986-87) 5-15; M. B. Thompson, The New Perspective on Paul (Cambridge: Grove Books, 2002); see further the website devoted to the New Perspective entitled "The Paul Page" (www.angelfire.com/mi2/paulpage). 3 Again, the literature is already vast. The leader of the challenge is Seyoon Kim: see especially his Paul and the New Perspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul's Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002); see also justification and Variegated Nomism. Volume 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism, ed. D. A. Carson, P. T. O'Brien, and M. A. Seifrid, WUNT 2/140 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001). 4 Two Finnish scholars are significant here: Timo Laato, Paul and Judaism: An Anthropological Approach, trans. T. McElwain (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995); Timo Eskola, Theodicy and Predestination in Pauline Soteriology, WUNT 2/100 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998); see also, C. H. Talbert, "Paul, Judaism and the Revisionists," CBQ 63 (2001) 1-22; B. Byrne, "Interpreting Romans Theologically in a Post-'New Perspective" Perspective," HTR 94 (2001) 22741. 5 See R. Morgan, "Tübingen School," in A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, ed. R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990) 710-13. 6 For leading contributions, see the collection edited by Karl Donfried, The Romans Debate: Revised and Expanded Edition (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991). 7 See esp. A. J. M. Wedderburn, The Reasons for Romans (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988). 8 For this approach, see J.-N. Aletti, Comment Dieu est-il juste? Clefs pour interpreter l'épître aux Romains (Paris: Seuil, 1991); J. P. Heil, Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Reader-Response Commentary (New York: Paulist, 1987); F. Siegert, Argumentation bei Paulus: Gezeigt an Rom 9-11, WUNT 34 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1985); B. Byrne, Romans, Sacra Pagina 6 (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1996). 9 Cf. D. E. Aune, The New Testament against Its Literary Environment (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987) 158-225. In his Theology of Paul the Apostle, Dunn uses Romans as a "template" for an exposition of Paul's whole theology (p. xvi). 10 Cf. Byrne, Romans, 48. 11 See esp. Eskola, Theodicy and Predestination. 12 E. Käsemann, "The 'Righteousness of God' in Paul," in New Testament Questions of Today (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969) 168-82. 13 R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 2 vols. (London: SCM, 1952-55) 1:270-74. 14 Cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, Romans, AB 33 (New York: Doubleday, 1993) 262-63. I have argued that Paul in Romans exploits the possibility that "righteousness of God" can have an ambiguous, "bi-polar" sense: God's own righteousness and the righteousness graciously found in believers (Byrne, Romans, 123-24). 15 For the details of this exposition of Rom 3:21-26, see Byrne, Romans, 122-35. 16 Dunn helpfully refers to this situation as the "overlap" of the ages (Theology of Paul, 464). 17 Cf. B. Byrne, "Living Out the Righteousness of God: The Contribution of Rom 6:1-8:13 to an Understanding of Paul's Ethical Presuppositions," CBQ 43 (1981) 557-81; idem, Romans, 163-64, 187-88, 239-41. 18 The list expands the six points listed in my "Interpreting Romans Theologically," 228-29. The expanded list is considerably indebted to a paper by F. Watson, "Not the New Perspective," appearing on the website "The Paul Page" (see n. 2 above). 19 F. Watson, Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1986) 1-22 (Watson has changed his mind since then). 20 Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism 33-59. 21 Ibid., 81-428. 22 Dunn, Theology of Paul 354-59; N. T. Wright, "Romans," in MB 10:433-770, esp. 460-61. 23 Cf. Dunn, Theology of Paul, 118-19, 145, 363, 368-69; Wright, "Romans," 480. 24 Cf. Dunn, Theology of Paul, 137-61. The stress upon continuity is less pronounced in Sanders's own work. 25 Here, again, Sanders stands apart in that he sees Romans occasioned not by the situation in Rome but more by Paul's concern with the "Jew-Gentile" problem (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 488). 26 Watson, Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles; Dunn, Theology of Paul, 358. 27 Cf. S. K. Stowers, A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews and Gentiles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994) 21-41. The full extent of this tendency can be seen in the work of Mark Nanos: The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul's Letter (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1996); idem, "The Jewish Context of the Gentile Audience Addressed in Paul's Letter to the Romans," CBQ 61 (1999) 283-304. 28 See the collection edited by Christina Grenhold and Daniel Patte, Reading Israel in Romans: Legimitacy and Plausibility of Divergent Interpretation, Romans through History and Culture Series (Harrisburg, Pa: Trinity Press International, 2000), esp. the response by Patte, "A Post-Holocaust Biblical Critic Responds," 225-45. 29 See esp. Carson, O'Brien, and Seifrid, Justification and Variegated Nomism; Friedrich Avemarie, Tora und Leben: Untersuchungen zur Heilsbedeutung der Tora in der frühen rabbinischen Literatur (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996); Mark A. Elliott, The Survivors of Israel: A Reconsideration of the Theology of Pre-Christian Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000); Simon J. Gathercole, Where is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul's Response in Romans 1-5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 37-111, 112-135; Talbert, "Paul, Judaism and the Revisionists," 1-22. 30 Cf. B. J. Byrne, "Sons of God" - "Seed of Abraham", AnBib 83 (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1979) 230-31. 31 Cf. Watson, "Not the New Perspective," 10. 32 Cf. Pss. Sol. 9:4-5; 14:1-10; 15:6-13; 4 Ezra 8:33-36, 51-62; 9:7-13; 2 Apoc Bar 44:12-15; 51:1-6. 33 The distinction comes from S. Westerholm, Israel's Law and the Church's Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 132. 34 Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament 1:264, 315; E. Käsemann, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 198) 89-90; H. Hübner, Law in Paul's Thought (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1984) 113-24. 35 See esp. Westerholm, Israel's Law, 132-34, 169-73; idem, "Paul and the Law in Romans 9-11," in Paul and the Mosaic Law: The Third Durham-Tübingen Research Symposium on Earliest Christianity and Judaism (Durham, September, 1994), ed. J. D. G. Dunn, WUNT 89 (Tübingen: Mohr, 1996) 214-37. 36 For further elaboration, see Byrne, Romans, 310-13. 37 Cf. N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991) 196-97; idem, "Romans," 566. 38 Westerholm, "Paul and the Law in Romans 9-11," 236. 39 See Dunn, Theology of Paul, 118-19, 145, 363; also Wright, "The Law in Romans 2," in Paul and the Mosaic Law, 131-50, esp. 139. 40 So L. Gaston, Paul and the Torah (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1987), esp. 15-34, 80-99, 135-50. 41 See R. Hvalvik, "A 'Sonderweg' for Israel: A Critical Examination of a Current Interpretation of Romans," JSNT 38 (1980) 87-107. 42 On scriptural citation and allusion in Paul, see R. M. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). 43 D. J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 27; B. Byrne, "The Problem of Nomos and the Relationship with Judaism in Romans," CBQ 62 (2000) 294-309, esp. 307-8. 44 Cf. Byrne, "The Problem of Nomos," 306-7. 45 Cf. Watson, "Not the New Perspective," 13. 46 See especially, e.g., Hab 2:4 (cited Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11); Gen 15:6 (Rom 4:3, 9; Gal 3:6); Isa 28:16 (Rom 9:33; 10:11); Joel 3:5 (Rom 10:13). 47 The best discussion remains that of John Ziesler, Paul's Letter to the Romans (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1989) 191-95. 48 Cf. Moo, Romans, 442-51. 49 Cf. references in n. 37 above. 50 See further Byrne, Romans, 315. 51 "The nomos of the Spirit of life" (Rom 8:2a) is equivalent to "'the law' in the shape of the life-giving Spirit." 52 See further Byrne, "The Problem of Nomos" 305-6. 53 A. Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990). 54 D. Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). 55 Nanos, The Mystery of Romans.
[Author Affiliation] BRENDAN BYRNE, S. J. Professor of New Testament Jesuit Theological College