So this Friday I will speaking with a local church here in Mexico about the book of Romans. Their are Two primary things I wish to accomplish with only one session. Those two primary things deal with context. Paul’s World that he engages with, and Paul’s own unique way of thinking and relating to that world.
In summary, Paul’s contextual world has to do with political social aspects of the Romans world, philosophical and religious aspects of the Greek-Roman World, and Paul’s specifically Jewish world. Paul is living in a world shaped by Greek thinking and religion, Roman power and culture, and Jewish lifestyle. Since the Apostle Paul is often hard to understand it is necessary for someone eager to actually have some sound answers about the things he says to make sure they understand the world in which Paul lived.
That said, part two of the contextualizing of Paul needs to do with what theological categories Paul actually used as a Jewish thinker who, -by the way, recently embraced Jesus of Nazareth as God himself. But lets not get to far ahead of ourselves. Back to “Theological Categories”. The reason I believe this is an important precursor for studying the book of Romans is that for a long time scholars have placed upon Paul categories that he himself could not have been entirely committed to. Its not that Paul did not speak about sin, justification, sanctification, sovereignty, free will, predestination and so on. In fact most those words are in the book of Romans. But what has happened is that people have pressed on Paul their own systematic theologies, forcing Paul to agree with his interpreters. These theological categories hinder ongoing sound exegesis. It limits people to the terms and categories established by previous interpreters. That said, these categories I believe were developed by the greats like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and so on. They should not be completely thrown out. But do they function as a way of understanding what categories (if any) Paul had.
If Paul had “theological” categories then they would have been more Jewish that ecclesiastical. So then, in summary of Paul theological categories as a Jew would have something like, Monotheism, Election, and Eschatology. Paul is not a thinker with clearly defined categories so we need to be careful how we might put his thinking into neat little boxes. He was Jewish, ancient Hebrew thinking is more fluid and story based. But Paul was also a Greek thinker and a master of logic and rhetoric. Hebrew thinkers like Paul were committed to the concept of a single God, a single people of God, and of a particular future in which the one God would liberate the specifically Jewish people, and the world would take notice. Was this how Paul thought? In what ways did Paul’s thought deviate from that?
This is something I have already gone in to detail about in previous posts. Yet again, I find it one of the most useful ways of interpreting Paul. If for no other reason than that a plane reading of Paul confuses many, and that even some of what has been said about Paul by great scholars has seemed to miss some of these more contextual elements.
Romans also comes into a better light when we understand the Roman Political world. The feelings of other Jews in Paul’s day and the anticipation of their own reestablishment. Much of what Jews thought about the world around them is shared by Paul, and yet the day has already come for Paul who believes that Jesus was Gods agent bringing a new day, an end to the exile, and a better hope for the whole world. The world was taking notice in what God did in Jerusalem through Jesus the Messiah. Paul is sad because for many Jews this day has come unrecognized. That his fellow kinsman were blind or deaf to what had occurred in Jesus the Messiah had greatly distressed Paul.
Beyond these main points of contextualization are further areas of context for the occasion of the church in Rome. This I will not divulge at the moment.
Paul’s World: 1) Greek Philosophy and Religion. 2) Roman Politics. 3) Jewish Culture
Paul’s Theology: 1) Monotheism 2) Election 3) Eschatology