Monday, June 27, 2011

It's the start of a new week so before I get sucked into all the stuff that awaits, I thought that I would post the
second in this new series on Romans!

Introducing Romans - Part 2: A Letter from Corinth

So what can we be certain of?

Well you would think that the first thing would be that Paul wrote it!  In fact, in Romans 16:22 we read these words: ‘I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.’  Tertius means by this that he wrote it down, that he was the person that Paul dictated it to.  Does this matter?  Well, it is, perhaps, a gentle reminder that Paul wrote the letter according to the writing conventions of the day and that when trying to understand what it means it needs to be read as a first century letter not a modern piece of theological writing.

It seems likely that it was written during the Winter of 57 to 58 from Corinth, a church closely associated with Paul and one which he did establish.  Romans is unique amongst Paul’s letters in that all his other letters were written either to churches he himself had established or to people he knew well.  Although Paul hadn’t established the Church in Rome and hadn’t even been there at the time of writing the letter, this didn’t mean he didn’t know about the Church there.

He writes at the beginning of the letter:  ‘First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.’  (Romans 1:8)  This could be taken as hyperbole or mere flattery were it not for the fact in Romans 16, at the end of the letter, Paul sends greetings to a long list of people at Rome whom he obviously knows well including Priscilla and Aquilla, who were his co-workers in Asia, as well as close friends and relatives.

But why write it?

We need to remind ourselves that Paul was a controversial figure in the early Church as he still is today.  Jewish Christians in particular were deeply suspicious of him and he faced severe opposition from some of them.  The intensity of this opposition can be seen particularly clearly in his letter to the Galatians and his second letter to the Corinthians.  Essentially, the accusation of his opponents was that he had sold out on Judaism.  You can see why they thought this.  Paul did not require his Gentile converts to be circumcised, as God had commanded in the Old Testament, and he didn’t require them to keep the Law of Moses, which all Jews, Christian and non-Christian alike, believed to be the Law of God.

Paul felt that in some cases his teaching was being misrepresented, that it was certainly being misunderstood, and that some of his opponents were simply false teachers responsible for leading people astray and compromising the Gospel.  In Romans, then, Paul doesn’t seek to give a complete statement of Christian theology, rather he seeks to explain those elements of it that were particularly characteristic of his preaching and to answer some of the questions and objections that had been raised because of it.

This explains why the letter deals especially with such themes as justification by faith, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, the Law, God’s relationship with Israel, and what you can and cannot eat as a Christian!  It was Paul’s teaching on these themes that got him into the most trouble with other Christians.  He doesn’t need to talk about the resurrection of Christ, for example, because this was something he and his opponents were all agreed on!

Given, then, that Romans is an explanation and exposition of that which was distinctive in Paul’s teaching: why send it to Rome where, as Paul himself acknowledges in the letter, he had never been before?

The answer to this question lies in three journeys Paul was planning to make at the time he wrote Romans.  

No comments: