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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on Romans

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Salutation ( 1:1–17 )

Although the basic shape of the salutation is the same in all Paul's letters (an indication of the sender(s) and recipient(s) followed by a short blessing), the form is flexible and was adapted by Paul to each letter's purpose. For example, Paul wrote Galatians in part as a defence of his divinely sanctioned apostolic authority; thus he identifies himself as ‘an apostle neither by human commission nor from human authorities’ (Gal 1:1 ). The salutation in Romans is distinguished by its lengthy description of ‘the gospel of God’ for which Paul was set apart (vv. 2–6 ). Such details establish Paul's credentials and identify common ground with his audience.

As in Phil 1:1 , Paul refers to himself as a ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ (doulos) of Jesus Christ (a designation paralleled, for example, in Jas 1:1, 2 Pet 1:1, Jude 1 ). It was customary for Jews to regard themselves or their leaders as ‘servants of God’ (Ps 19:11; 27:9; Neh 1:6; 2 Kings 18:12; Isa 20:3; Jer 7:25; Deut 32:36 ; etc.), and Israel itself is frequently identified as God's servant (Jer 46:27; Ezek 28:25; Isa 44:1, 45:4 ; etc.) (Dunn 1988: i. 7). The Christological appropriation of OT language about God is a consistent and revealing feature of the NT writings (e.g. cf. Phil 2:10–11; Isa 45:23 ). Also noteworthy is Paul's tendency to balance a statement about Christ with a statement about God. He wished the Romans ‘grace…and peace from [both] God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ (v. 7 ); likewise, Paul mentioned that he was ‘set apart for the gospel of God…[which is] concerning his Son’ (vv. 1, 3 ) and offered thanks to ‘God through Jesus Christ for all of you’ (v. 8; cf. Rom 8:9 : ‘Spirit of God…Spirit of Christ’).

The mention of prophets, scriptures, and David (vv. 2–3 ) sounds a deliberate note of continuity with Israel's past. The connection between Paul's contemporary proclamation to Gentiles and God's ancient promises to Israel is of central importance in Romans (see esp. chs. 9–11 ). (On the plural ‘scriptures’, see Hays 1989: 34).

Many scholars think that the core of vv. 3–4 came from pre-Pauline Christian tradition, possibly in the form of an early Christological formulation (Byrne 1996: 43; Dodd 1932: 4–5). A pair of descriptions of the Son are set in parallel, distinguished by the contrasting Pauline terms ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’:

who was descended from David according to the flesh

and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness

by resurrection from the dead

Jesus' human or earthly (‘according to the flesh’) status as a descendant of David (see 2 Sam 7:11–16 ; Davidic lineage is a staple of messianic texts: Isa 11; Jer 23:5–6; Ezek 34:23–4 ; etc.) is mentioned only here in Paul's writings but figures prominently elsewhere in the NT (e.g. Mt 1:1; 9:27; Mk 11:10; 12:35; Lk 1:27, 32; 2:4; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 3:7; 5:5 ). Also lacking support elsewhere in Paul is the early Christian idea that Jesus was appointed or designated (horisthentos; see TDNT v. 450–1 ) Son of God at the resurrection (v. 4; cf. Acts 2:36; 5:30–1; 13:33 ). ‘With power’ (whether traditional or Pauline) probably modifies the title ‘Son of God’ and not the verb ‘declared’ (Fitzmyer 1993: 235; Cranfield 1979: 62; contra NIV ‘declared with power’), emphasizing Jesus' exalted status. (‘According to the spirit of holiness’ is a Semitism; cf. Ps 51:11 .) It also might indicate that, at least for Paul, the resurrection enhanced an already existing sonship (Dunn 1988: i. 14). In citing Jesus' twofold pedigree, in flesh and in spirit, Paul makes the claim that Jesus is the anticipated Jewish Messiah—and more (as in Mk 1:1 ). It is Paul's expectation that these common (and apparently longstanding) Christian affirmations will be shared by his readers.

The phrase ‘obedience of faith’ (also mentioned in 16:26 ) is ambiguous. It may refer either to faith that is an expression of obedience or to obedience that is an expression of faith. Possibly, Paul intended both meanings. Clearly it is the bringing of persons to faith in Christ that is the primary goal of the Pauline mission. It is no coincidence that Paul can refer synonymously to the Jews' unbelief in 11:20 and to their disobedience in 11:31 (Cranfield 1979: 66). Elsewhere in Romans, however, Paul uses ‘obedience’ in the more conventional sense ( 5:19; 6:16; 15:18; 16:19 ). An interesting parallel occurs in 2 Cor 9:13 , where Paul says that the Corinthians' generosity is an expression of their ‘obedience to the confession of the Gospel of Christ’. The fact that Paul includes in this mission the Roman Christians themselves (v. 6 ) indicates at the very least that he is talking about more than the evangelization of Gentiles.

‘Grace to you and peace’ is the typical Pauline greeting (1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3 ; etc.; it is also used in 1 and 2 Pet 1:2 and Rev 1:4 ). It elegantly combines the Christian word ‘grace’, charis (replacing the similar Greek greeting chairein; cf. Acts 15:23; 23:26; Jas 1:1 ), and the Jewish greeting ‘peace’ (šālôm). It thus incorporates both Gentile and Semitic as well as Christian and Jewish elements.

Thanksgiving ( 1:8–17 )

The thanksgiving is used here, as in Paul's other letters, to express goodwill towards his audience and to remind them of (or, in the case of Romans, to establish) the terms of their association, matters that fall broadly under the heading of ‘relationship maintenance’. The thanksgiving also serves to introduce the reader to key ideas and terminology, deliberately signalling the letter's overarching themes (see e.g. 1 Cor 1:4–9; Phil 1:3–11; 1 Thess 1:2–3:13; Philem 4–7 ). It is to the thanksgiving that one should look first for an indication of Paul's own sense of purpose in writing. (The exception is Galatians, which—not surprisingly, given its polemical edge—contains no thanksgiving.)

( 1:8–15 ) Relationship Maintenance

Strictly speaking, Paul is establishing, not maintaining, his relationship with the Roman Christians; nevertheless, he stresses that his interest in and concern for them are not new. He has long known of and prayed for the church at Rome and has been encouraged by reports of its faithfulness. Paul indicates his hope that he ‘might at last succeed in coming’ to Rome (v. 10 ). In v. 13 he states that ‘I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented)’. Paul's journey to Rome is not an afterthought; his readers should not feel slighted. The reason for the delay is spelled out in 15:22–4 : Paul's missionary activity in Asia and Greece (that is, amongst ‘the rest of the Gentiles’, v. 13 ) had only recently been completed. Rome, the natural destination of the ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ (Gal 2:7 ), is now fully in view.

The language of 1:1–15 is highly diplomatic. Paul balances assertions of his apostolic authority with statements concerning his regard for and reciprocity with the Roman Christians. Paul is not the founder of Roman Christianity and so cannot assume charge over it. It is worth noting, however, that even in Paul's own churches he had no real power. Paul could exercise authority only in so far as he could persuade his audience of his right to do so (the rhetoric of Galatians and 2 Corinthians providing the best examples; see Holmberg 1978: 193–204).

v. 14 , instead of dividing humanity into ‘Jew and Gentile’ (or ‘Jew and Greek’, v. 16 ), on this one occasion Paul uses the standard Hellenistic categories ‘Greeks and barbarians’ (TDNT i. 546–53), which by this time had come to refer to ‘all races and classes within the Gentile world’ (Dunn 1988: i. 33). It is not clear whether ‘wise and foolish’ directly parallels ‘Greeks and barbarians’ (cf. the opposing conclusions of Cranfield 1979: 83; Fitzmyer 1993: 251). In either case, the point is made that the gospel transcends such distinctions. Paul is a ‘debtor’ (i.e. ‘one under obligation’), presumably by his calling, to proclaim the gospel to all Gentiles, including, of course, the Romans themselves. It is less likely that Paul also meant to express his personal indebtedness to individual Gentiles (Morris 1988: 63). A further point is that even the most cultured among the Gentiles is in need of the gospel and (in the light of v. 16 , immediately following) that the gospel is in no way threatened by human wisdom. (The contrast between earthly wisdom and divine power (v. 16 ) is especially prominent in 1 Corinthians, e.g. 1:18–19; 2:4–5 .)

( 1:16–17 ) Theme

Paul advances now to a statement of his theme: God saves all (both Jew and Greek) in the same way (by faith) by the same means (the gospel), thus demonstrating God's righteousness (God's fairness and fidelity). As this statement indicates, ‘righteousness’ denotes something more than ‘justice’ (see Stuhlmacher 1994: 29–32). Dunn (1988: i. 41) terms it ‘covenant faithfulness’ and traces the idea to the Psalms (e.g. 31:1; 51:14; 98:2 ) and Deutero-Isaiah (e.g. 45:8, 21; 46:13; 62:1–2 ) (cf. Hays, below). In Rom 3:21–6 , Paul returns to the idea that ‘the righteousness of God [now] has been disclosed’ (v. 21 ). How? Not by condemning sinners, as justice demands, but by justifying them, as God's character requires. In view particularly is God's covenant obligation to Israel (see 11:27, 29 : ‘And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins…for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’). The question of God's faithfulness (one might even say ‘God's consistency’) is at stake. God has worked salvation in Christ ‘first’ for the Jews (v. 16 ); nevertheless, many Jews have not believed. Does the fact of an increasingly Gentile church demonstrate either that God's plan has been thwarted or that God's people have been rejected? For Paul, neither conclusion is possible. Instead, he sets out to demonstrate that the righteousness of God is evident precisely in God's acceptance of Gentiles (chs. 1–8 ), and that the inclusion of Gentiles does not invalidate God's election of Israel (chs. 9–11 ).

The question, ‘Has God abandoned Israel?’, is long familiar to Judaism. At root, it is the question of theodicy, in this case, of the evident gap between God's promises and Israel's reality, felt most acutely in time of national defeat and occupation. Richard Hays (1989: 34–83) has demonstrated powerfully that Paul used as source for his reflections in Romans the prophets and lament psalms that dealt with God's apparent abandonment of Israel. It is striking that these materials are laden with references both to God's righteousness and to God's universal salvation (e.g. Ps 97:3 (LXX); Isa 51:4–5; 52:10 ). It should therefore come as no surprise that Paul initiates the argument of Romans with a quotation from Hab 2:4 , which not only supplies key terminology for the letter ( ROM 1:17 ) but does so in the context of a hard-won prophetic affirmation of God's paradoxical faithfulness.

The link to the remaining, paraenetic section of Romans (chs. 12–15 ) has been obscured by the Protestant inclination to consider justification in exclusively juridical terms. The notion that Christians are different from others primarily in their legal standing before God owes much to a traditional (Augustinian/Lutheran) (mis)reading of Rom 7–8 . The Pauline meaning of ‘justification’ is much broader and evidences a quite different eschatological orientation (see ROM 8). The word dikaioun (‘to justify’; first used in 2:13 and then repeatedly throughout chs. 2–10 ) means literally ‘to righteous’; it comes from the same root as dikaiosunē, ‘righteousness.’ It means both ‘to treat as righteous’ and ‘to make righteous’ (Käsemann 1980: 25). In other words, God both forgives sin and converts sinners in ‘righteousing’ the unrighteous. The relational character of righteousness (e.g. seen as God's faithfulness to Israel, above) covers both being established and being equipped as a fit partner in right relationship (e.g. in 8:2–4 ). The same point is made by calling the gospel ‘the power of God for salvation’. Thus, the entirety of Romans may be seen to be centred, in three parts, on the theme of God's righteousness:

Chs. 1–8 God's righteousness evident in the treatment of Jew and Gentile
Chs. 9–11 God's righteousness evident in the treatment of Israel
Chs. 12–15 God's righteousness evident in the lives of believers.

It is not required that one probe Paul's psyche to explain the statement in v. 16 that he is ‘not ashamed’ of the gospel. These words echo ‘the very same prophecies and lament psalms from which Paul's righteousness terminology is also drawn’ (Hays 1989: 38), e.g. Ps 24:2; 43:10 (LXX); Isa 28:16 (quoted in Rom 9:33 ); and, of particular note, 50:7–8 : ‘I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near’ (also recalled in 8:31–9 ).

v. 17 , ‘through faith for faith’ (ek pisteōs eis pistin) is a difficult phrase to interpret. Most often, it is taken to refer to the exclusiveness of the requirement of faith (sola fide); hence the NIV's ‘faith from first to last’. Because pistis can also mean ‘faithfulness’ (as in 3:3 , its next occurence beyond this section), it is possible that Paul had in mind God's pistis (faithfulness) which engenders, is manifest in, or is recognized by (eis, unto) human pistis (faith) (cf. Barth 1933: 41; Edwards 1992: 42–3). In support of this reading, one should note that the repetition of a word to play on its double meaning is a popular convention and that ek (from) used with the verb ‘reveal’ is most readily ‘understood as denoting the source of the revelation’ (Dunn 1988: i. 44). An even more important consideration is the content of the revelation: God's righteousness. Given the full sense of the term ‘righteousness’ (above), it is reasonable to imagine Paul saying that God's righteousness is revealed in (God's) faithfulness to (human) faith. ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith’ is a quotation from Hab 2:4 . Here Paul made use of one of only two verses in the HB that link ‘faith’ and ‘righteous(ness)’. (The other is Gen 15:6 , another of Paul's crucial prooftexts; see 4:3; Gal 3:6 .) Although many commentators support the NRSV's rendering, in which ek pisteōs (‘by faith’) modifies the verb ‘live’ (Murray 1979: 33; Fitzmyer 1993: 265), an equally strong argument can be made for the translation, ‘The one who is righteous by faith will live’ (see e.g. Käsemann 1980: 32; Sanders 1977: 484; Cranfield 1979: 101–2). (‘Live’ here, in contrast to Habakkuk, would refer to resurrection life.) After all, Paul speaks in Phil 3:6 of a contrasting ‘righteousness under (en) the law.’ Similarly, it is possible that pistis here, as in the previous verse (and the LXX of Hab 2:4 , ‘my faithfulness’), refers to ‘(God's) faithfulness’. Again, the double meaning may be deliberate.

God's Righteousness Evident in the Treatment of Jew and Gentile ( 1:18–8:39 )

Surprisingly, Christ is mentioned only once ( 2:16 , on the future judgement) in 1:18–3:20 . Indeed, almost nothing is distinctly Christian in the remainder of the first and the whole of the second chapter of Romans. The background to these materials is Hellenistic Judaism; unquestionably, Paul's description of the human condition in vv. 18–32 borrows heavily from popular Hellenistic-Jewish descriptions of Gentiles. (The highest concentration of parallels occurs in the Wisdom of Solomon, almost certainly known to Paul.) Like Paul, Jewish apologists characteristically attacked Gentile idolatry and sexual misconduct. (‘For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication’, Wis 14:12; cf. vv. 22–7 .) Some also claim that behind ch. 2 lies an otherwise unknown Hellenistic synagogue sermon (see below). It is reasonable to suppose that Paul used stock materials to construct a foundation upon which the more distinctive elements of his argument would be built. This strategy is reminiscent of his citation of the Christological formulae in 1:3–4 , which served to establish common ground with his readers.

Beginning in 3:21–6 , Paul returns to an explicitly Christian vantage point. Interestingly, the same paragraph reintroduces the theme of righteousness (vv. 21, 22, 25 , and 26 ; like ‘Christ’, ‘righteousness’ is mentioned only once in passing ( 3:5 ) in the previous chapter and a half). God's righteousness has been disclosed ‘through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe’ (v. 22 ). The work of Christ is characterized as ‘a sacrifice of atonement by his blood’ that brings ‘redemption’ to those who believe (vv. 24–5 ). But why is such a disclosure, such an atonement, such a redemption necessary? If Christ is the solution, what precisely is the problem? Clearly, it is the job of 1:18–3:20 to inform us. Specifically, this section functions to justify Paul's own summary in 3:22b–23 : ‘For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’

1:18–32 All are without Excuse

The structure of the argument in 1:18–3:20 is not obvious. Commonly, 1:18–32 is read as an indictment of Gentile wickedness and 2:1–3:20 as the extension of that indictment to the Jews (Fitzmyer 1992: 269–71). Paul's approach is probably more subtle. In a sense, 1:18–32 sets a trap for the imaginary Jewish interlocutor introduced in 2:2 . The description of human wickedness seems to be aimed exclusively at Gentiles; it appears to assume the typical contrast between Jewish probity and Gentile depravity. Nevertheless, nowhere does Paul indicate that he is describing only Gentiles; indeed, the Jewish/Gentile distinction is not made explicit until 2:9 . Moreover, elements of vv. 18–31 hark back to the darker moments and practices of Israel's past. It is especially likely that the worship of the golden calf (and perhaps the Israelites' subsequent revelry) of Ex 32 is in view. In Acts 7:41 , Stephen referred to that incident and concluded, ‘God…handed them over to worship the host of heaven’. Paradidōmi (‘handed over’) is the same verb used by Paul in vv. 24, 26 , and 28 in reference to God's judgement. (The idea might go back to the OT passage quoted in the subsequent verses of Acts 7 (42–3), Am 5:25–7 , which criticizes Jewish idolatry in the wilderness and speaks of God ‘deporting/sending away’ (metoikizō) the Jews to Damascus.) Also, Paul borrows language from Ps 106:20 and Jer 2:11 , both of which deal with Israelite idolatry. Pious readers might accept God's judgement on conduct such as Paul describes, not realizing that they themselves stand under the same condemnation. Ch. 2 is written to make this point explicit.

v. 18 , ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against…those who…suppress the truth’. For Paul, the problem is not that God is unknowable; the problem is that humanity does not want to know God (cf. Wis 13:1–9 ). Accordingly, the idol worshipper does not seek to do the will of God; he seeks a god to do his will. Creature dethrones creator, and cosmic order is turned upside down (v. 24 ). ‘Three times (vv. 23, 25, 26 ) human beings are said to have “exchanged” or “substituted” one reality for another’ (HBC 1136). God's response in each case is to ‘give up’ or ‘hand over’ humanity to its own desires (vv. 24, 26, 28 ). For Paul, sin carries within itself its own punishment (Achtemeier 1985: 40), and the sinner's most terrible judgement is to be left alone. vv. 26–31 , while it is true that Paul saw the reversal of the created order manifest in homosexual relations, it is notable that his list also included such transgressions as covetousness, envy, boastfulness, and gossip. It would be difficult not to locate oneself somewhere in this catalogue—which, of course, is just the point. The knowledge of God that humanity suppresses is a moral knowledge. They ‘know God's decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die’, and still they disobey and even applaud the disobedience of others (v. 27 ). Humanity is utterly ‘without excuse’ (v. 20 ), especially the excuse of ignorance.

Of course, Paul's fictive conversation partner (see below) would not plead ignorance. But does a Jew's knowledge of God put him or her in a superior position? Can knowledge of God's law deliver from God's judgement? It is to such questions that Paul's description of the human condition in vv. 18–32 has been leading.

( 2:1–3:20 ) The Impartiality of God

Scholars since Bultmann have made much of the similarities between Paul's rhetoric in Romans and the diatribe, a form of argumentation in which a Cynic or Stoic philosopher taught students by ‘debating’ an imaginary opponent (Bultmann 1910; Stowers, 1981 ). Although some scholars question whether or to what extent the diatribe was an established rhetorical form, there can be no doubt that diatribe style is present in Romans (Fitzmyer 1993: 91). At numerous points beginning in ch. 2 (also 3:1–9; 3:27–4:25; 9:19–21; 10:14–21; 11:17–24; 14:4–12 ), Paul addresses and even responds to the objections of an interlocutor (most often with an impassioned ‘By no means!’ (mē genoito); 3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14; 11:1, 11 ). The effect is to pull the reader into the ‘conversation’ on Paul's side. Rhetorically, the diatribe confers argumentative dynamism without ceding authorial control. It remains in the rhetor's power to choose what questions to ask and what answers to accept.

Because Paul's dialogue partner of 2:1–16 is not identified explicitly, some commentators have isolated this section from 2:17–3:20 , in which Paul plainly addresses a Jewish interlocutor (Barrett 1957: 43; Morris 1988: 107; Ziesler 1989: 80–1). It is more likely that the whole of 2:1–3:20 speaks to perceived Jewish attitudes and that any ambiguity as to the object of 2:1–16 is expressly eliminated by the direct address of v. 17 . Stuhlmacher (1994: 39) made the intriguing suggestion that Paul delayed identifying the interlocutor for dramatic effect; 2:17 thus functions like Nathan's statement to David in 2 Sam 12:7 ‘You are the man!’ (In fact, Ps 51 , understood to be David's penitential prayer, is quoted in Rom 3:4 .)

The juxtaposition in vv. 28–9 of the mere outward and the true inward practice of Judaism is precedented in passages such as Deut 10:16, 30:6, and Jer 4:4, 9:26 , which use the ‘circumcision of the heart’ metaphor to describe those whose inner commitments are consistent with their (outwardly obvious in the case of males) status as God's covenant people. The truly surprising employment of Scripture comes in v. 24 , which uses Isa 52:5 to argue that Israel itself is so disobedient as to be the cause of Gentile blasphemy. This is ‘a stunning misreading of the text’ (Hays 1989: 45). In fact, Isa 52 celebrates Israel's rescue from the injustices of the nations. (Israel has been ‘oppressed without cause’; ‘my people are taken away without cause’, Isa 52:4, 5 .)

Numerous other difficulties are associated with the interpretation of Rom 2 , some of which bear significantly upon one's understanding and evaluation of the entire letter. The first, most glaring problem is the repeated assertion that one is justified (v. 13 ) or receives eternal life (v. 7 ) on the basis of one's deeds. (The notion that God equitably judges people according to their works is common in the HB; however, such passages do not have in view the issue of eternal destiny. In v. 5 , Paul specifically quotes the LXX of Ps 61 (62):13 and Prov. 24:12 .) This idea appears flatly to contradict Paul's numerous other statements that one cannot be saved by one's works (e.g. 3:20; 4:2; 9:32; 11:6 ). One way out of the dilemma is to say that Paul wrote only of a theoretical justification; in fact, he realized that no one actually measures up to the proposed standard. Others reason that when speaking of those who ‘do good’ (etc.), Paul ‘is implicitly referring to Christians’ (Fitzmyer 1993: 297). The first proposal seems heavy-handed: in effect, it trades coherence for consistency. The second notion, that the chapter approves only Christian good works, is certainly possible, although it does little to commend Paul as a fair-minded observer of human behaviour. Alternatively, Hays (1989: 42) has suggested that Rom 2 be read in the larger context of Ps 61 (quoted in v. 5 ), which ‘renders an account of God fully consonant with Paul's emphasis on God's kindness and forebearance’. An entirely different approach is advocated by E. P. Sanders (1983: 123), who thinks that Paul made use of a source or sources (‘homiletical material from Diaspora Judaism’) that contributed the desired argument for God's impartiality (and Jewish sinfulness) but included elements strikingly at odds with Pauline theology (ibid. 123–35). In general, Rom 2 reads well as a sermon preached to Jews to encourage a higher standard of Jewish conduct. (Indeed, change ‘Jew’ to ‘Christian’ and ‘circumcision’ to ‘baptism’, and the text reads like a sermon exhorting church members to live up to their calling; cf. Mt 7:21–3 .) It is noteworthy that Rom 2 deals with matters known to be at issue within first-century Judaism, such as the question of ‘righteous Gentiles’ and the nature of true obedience (ibid. 134).

A second problem concerns the description of Jewish sinfulness in Rom 2 . In 3:9 , Paul states that ‘we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin’. Paul concludes that since Jews share the same plight as Gentiles, they require the same solution, namely, Christ ( 3:21–6 ). How does Paul make his case? Given the longstanding tendency of interpreters to read Paul as if he were an existentialist—that is, one concerned with internal states and interior conflicts (see Stendahl 1963 )—the actual argument of Rom 2 is surprising. Paul does not say that while most Jews most of the time meet the external demands of the law (cf. Paul's larger claim for himself in Phil 3:6 ), they nevertheless continue to sin inwardly, for example, by being proud of their obedience. Such a critique would not be entirely new; something like it existed in the Jesus traditions (e.g. Mt 5:21–4, 27–30; 6:1–5; 23:25–8; Lk 11:37–44 ). That argument would put Jews and Gentiles on equal footing without necessitating that all Jews (or even hypothetical, representative Jews) be shown to be as badly behaved as Gentiles, which seems to be the point of 2:21–4 . The lack of a clear conception or language of interiority is consistently problematic for Paul. Even Rom 7 , which is usually read in this way, speaks of sin as an external power that causes one to do or not do what is right ( 7:15 ). Surely, the Jews of Paul's day were not characteristically thieves, adulterers, and temple robbers.

A third difficulty is that the obvious solution to the problems posed in 2:1–29 is that Jews simply become better Jews. If Jews commit sinful acts, repentance and atonement are available to them within Judaism. Damnation is neither the sole nor the expected alternative to perfect obedience. In this context it is worth noting that when all is said and done, Paul's one substantial and consistent accusation is that the Jews have rejected their Christ. What confuses are the numerous ways such rejection can be characterized (as disobedience, unbelief, works righteousness, etc.) and the numerous deficiencies to which it can be attributed (hardheartedness, pride, self-assertion, etc.). Apart from faith in Christ, no amount of Jewish obedience, faith, or humility is going to satisfy. However it is described, this by definition is a problem that cannot have a (non-Christian) Jewish solution.

The ground shifts in 3:9 , where Paul states that ‘both Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin’. This statement removes the possibility that, unaided by God, either Gentile or Jew could be righteous (contra 2:7, 13 , etc., but consistent with 7:7–24 ). A compilation of OT proof-texts in 3:10–18 then describes humanity's utter depravity (Eccl 7:20; Ps 5:10; 10:7; 14:1–3 / 53:2–4; 36:2; 140:4; Isa 59:7–8/Prov 1:16 ). Thus the problem is not so much that humans sin as that humans are incapable of not sinning. Christ is necessary for Jew as well as Gentile because only he can break sin's power. This claim demonstrates how Paul's thinking could at times steer him in the direction of a realized eschatology (see ROM E. 4); Christians are now ‘in the Spirit’ and please God while others remain ‘in the flesh’ and cannot please God ( 8:3–8 ). This approach equalizes Jew and Gentile and so makes Christ necessary. One might object that this line of reasoning succeeds only by overstating the differences between believers and unbelievers, in particular, between Christians and Jews. Is it really the case, either in outward behaviour or inward disposition, that Christians as a group sin less than Jews? Are the rules of the church experienced so differently from the laws of the synagogue? Certainly, it would have been possible to argue for the necessity of Christ without negating Judaism as an instrument (or at least a prior instrument) of God's grace. Despite the demurral of 3:1–2 , Paul's point is that with respect to the actual state of their relationship to God, Jews enjoy no advantage over Gentiles. One must ask, ‘What then was the point of Judaism?’ That question, in one form or another, is the central concern of the next several chapters.

( 3:21–31 ) The Revelation of God's Righteousness

vv. 21–6 are the capstone of Paul's introductory argument; Stuhlmacher (1994: 57) refers to the paragraph as ‘the heart of the letter to the Romans’. Here Paul revisits the grand theme introduced in the Thanksgiving: the righteousness of God. The divine character—faithful, gracious, forgiving, and merciful—has been disclosed in Christ, specifically in Christ's death, a sacrifice for sin ‘effective through faith’. Altogether apart from human initiative, God has done what God always intended to do (‘attested by the law and the prophets’) and so is proved righteous. It is instructive that Ps 143 , quoted (v. 2 , significantly emended) in Paul's statement of judgement in Rom 3:20 , maintains that one is preserved by God's righteousness (Ps 143:1, 11–12 ), the very subject of vv. 21–6 (see Hays 1989: 51–2). Paul is deeply conscious of the interplay of God's condemning justice and God's justifying righteousness, already evident in Scripture.

That the death of Jesus decisively altered the human situation (described in 1:18–3:20 ) is assumed but not explained. Almost certainly, the language Paul used concerning Christ's atonement was common to first-century Christianity and required little elucidation. (See 1 Cor 15:3 , where the statement that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’ is included in the tradition that Paul himself received.) v. 25 , ‘expiation’ (hilastērion: ‘sacrifice of atonement’, NRSV) probably has in view the Jewish sacrificial system. In the LXX, the same word is used to refer to the ‘mercy seat’, the top of the ark of the covenant, on which the blood of the sin offering was sprinkled annually on the Day of Atonement. It might (also) have as background the notion of the efficacious sacrifice of martyrs, as one finds in 4 Macc 17:22 . ‘Redemption’ (apolutrōsis) originally connoted ‘freedom by ransom’. In the NT, the word is used to emphasize a change in one's position that is effected entirely at God's initiative and expense. It does not require a literal ‘payment’ by God (e.g. to the devil), as sometimes featured in later soteriological speculation (EDNT 138–40).

v. 24 , which states that believers are ‘justified by his [God's] grace as a gift’, captures a great deal of Pauline theology in a few words. Quintessentially for Paul, justification is gift, not reward (see 4:1–4; 5:15–17 ). It originates in God's mind, is motivated by God's character, and is ‘purchased’ by God's work in Christ. It is neither human invention nor human achievement; hence, it is gracious, unmerited. Obviously, it occasions no opportunity for human boasting (v. 27; see 2:17, 23; 4:2 ; cf. the ‘positive boasting’ in 5:2–3, 11; 15:17 ); one may as well boast of being born as boast of being justified. (Not surprisingly, boasting is a prominent Pauline theme, especially in 1 and 2 Corinthians, e.g. 1 Cor 1:29–31; 3:21; 4:7; 5:6; 2 Cor 11:12, 16–18, 30; 12:1, 5–6 ; cf. the favourable boasting in 1 Cor 9:15–16; 15:31; 2 Cor 1:12; 5:12; 7:4, 14; 8:24; 9:2–3; 10:8, 13, 15–17; 11:10; 12:30 .) v. 25 , the statement that God, in ‘divine forbearance’, ‘passed over the sins previously committed’ raises many questions. What does it mean to ‘pass over’ sin (from paresis; lit. the ‘passing by’ = ‘letting go unpunished’; see BAGD 626), and whose sins specifically have been passed over? Did God simply not judge former sins, or was their judgement postponed, perhaps until the cross? What evaluation of Judaism and of its sacrificial system lies behind this verse? Commentators have ventured answers to these and related questions, but no one account of the passage has proved persuasive. It is clear at least that Paul regarded the death of Christ as the one final and essential sacrifice, the basis for all human salvation. Paul does not provide us with enough information to judge how, to what extent, and on what basis he considered such salvation to have been operative in the past.

v. 26 , it is essential to note that the faith of which Paul speaks in vv. 27–31 (and in Romans generally) is specifically ‘faith in Christ’ (see also 4:23–4 ). Although Paul may contrast works with faith and unbelief with faith, the unspoken and yet insistent polarity is between Jewish faith in God apart from belief in Christ and Christian (whether Jewish or Gentile) faith in God including belief in Christ. In other words, it is one's response to Jesus that ultimately is at issue, however the argument may be framed. Paul believed that God was in Christ and that to believe in God now means perforce to believe in Christ; the two ‘faiths’ are inseparable. Accordingly, it is only Christian faith that is legitimated as faith. (One can observe the same dynamic clearly at work in Johannine literature, e.g. in Jn 5:23 and 1 Jn 5:10–12 .) Logically, this move eliminates the problem of present Jewish (but non-Christian) belief in God; it is not actual (one might say ‘sufficient’) faith. Thus Paul can speak of faith in God as if it were a uniquely Christian attribute. At the same time, this approach introduces a problem: what to do with pre- Christian Jewish faith (that is, unless one claims that those such as Abraham and David, both commended in Romans, already believed in Christ). The press of this difficulty may well account for Paul's statement in v. 25 (above) concerning God's former dispensation of forgiveness.

In v. 27 Paul contrasts a law ‘of works’ with a ‘law of faith’. The shift in the use of nomos (law) is curious and has led many to translate the word in this instance as ‘principle’ (i.e. the principle of faith by which boasting is excluded). Barrett (1957: 83) has argued convincingly that, for Paul, nomos occasionally ‘means something like “religious system”, often … but not always, the religious system of Judaism’. Such an interpretation makes sense both here and at numerous other points in Romans. v. 31 , Paul asks, ‘Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?’ As a Jew himself, Paul cannot answer, ‘Yes’. The law is still God's law. There must be some sense in which Paul's teachings (which, let us not forget, abrogate certain specific commandments; e.g. Rom 14:14 ) actually ‘uphold the law’, perhaps the law rightly understood or the law in its deeper purpose. We do not have to wait long to discover something of what the apostle had in mind.

( 4:1–25 ) The Example of Abraham

Paul has just stated that he upholds the law ( 3:31 ) and that the righteousness of God, which he proclaims, is attested in ‘the law and the prophets’ ( 3:21 ). It is time to make good on these claims. Religious arguments, like legal arguments, often begin with an appeal to precedent. In most democracies, a lawyer can do no better than to appeal to the nation's constitution (and, thereby, to its founders). Constitutional interpretation is both the most basic and the most consequential matter of law. Generations of case law can be overturned by a single ruling of unconstitutionality. Paul makes his first and strongest argument by appealing to the founding figure of Judaism, Abraham. What goes for Abraham, he can assume, goes for all. God's covenant with Abraham is the core of the Jewish ‘constitution’, subsequent ‘amendments’ notwithstanding. Summoning Abraham to his defence is both an inspired and (in the light of the controversy in Galatia, which seemed to revolve around the interpretation of the Abraham story, especially the commandment of circumcision in Gen 17:10; see Gal 3 ) probably necessary strategy. The appeal to Abraham has the added benefit of pre-empting an opponent's appeal to Moses (see Gal 3:17 ). ‘The promise … did not come to Abraham or his descendants through the law’ ( 4:13 ). According to one possible interpretation, Paul (see ROM 10:5 ) effectively rules ‘unconstitutional’ Moses' later understanding of the relationship between the law and eternal life (e.g. that ‘the person who does these things will live by them’, Lev 18:5 , my emphasis).

The basic argument of Rom 4 is comparatively simple and direct. According to Gen 15:6 , Abraham ‘believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness’. (What Abraham actually believed—namely, God's promise that he would have offspring—is not in view nor, naturally, is a consideration of what ‘reckoning righteousness’ might have meant in its original context.) Abraham was not, of himself, righteous; instead, because of his faith, he was treated (elogisthē: ‘was credited’; a ‘bookkeeping term figuratively applied to human conduct’ as in Ps 106:31; 1 Macc 2:52; and Philem 18; Fitzmyer 1993: 373) as though he were righteous. His standing before God was a gift, not an attainment (see ROM 3:24 ). This occurred prior to the giving of the law, prior even to the requirement of circumcision. This first instance of human righteousness thus becomes the paradigm for all subsequent instances. It is very likely that Paul wrote Rom 4 with a view to popular Jewish treatments of the Abraham story that focused on the patriarch's obedient example, which in some cases even argued for his attainment of merit (e.g. 4 Ezra 9:7; 13:23 ). A similar reading is present in Jas 2:18–26 , which may have been formulated to counter (possibly second-generation) abuses of Pauline theology. The two sides actually make different, not opposite, points. Essentially, Paul uses the Abraham story to answer the question, How does one get ‘in’ (e.g. right relationship with God)? Much more characteristically, the story is used in James to exhort believers (those already ‘in’) to behave in a certain way, in this case to demonstrate their faith by their actions. It is entirely possible to laud Abraham's good behaviour (e.g. in obeying God's command to leave his home, Gen 12:1 ) without implying that Abraham was thereby sinless or perfectly righteous, which issue was not under consideration. In fact, many contemporary Jews could have accepted Paul's basic point: like Abraham, one enters into covenant with God at God's initiative and by means of God's grace. The doctrine of justification by faith is not without Jewish antecedents; the real controversy concerns, not the necessity of faith, but the content or object of faith.

The fact that Abraham had not yet been circumcised (that comes two chapters later, in Gen 17 ) allows Paul to claim that Abraham is exemplar to and ancestor of all faithful persons, both Jews and Gentiles ( 3:9–12 ). As proof-text, Paul cites Gen 17:5 (‘I have made you the father of many nations’, vv. 17–18 ). Gentile Christians were for Paul (and probably for most other Jewish Christians) ‘children of Abraham’. It is not difficult to imagine how such claims might have rankled with non-Christian Jews, how they could have been seen to threaten the integrity, ultimately even the existence, of Israel. It is likely that such claims underlie many of the instances of persecution recorded in the NT (see Gal 5:11 and 6:12 ).

v. 15 , the sentiment ‘the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation’ is echoed in 5:13 : ‘sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law’ (cf. the ‘passing over’ of sins prior to Christ in 3:25 ). It also anticipates the argument of 7:7–24 (‘if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin, v. 7 ). Presumably, the point is that ‘law makes sin into transgression’ (Byrne 1996: 158). Under the law, one not only sins, one sins with explicit knowledge that one is sinning. Paul makes no attempt to co-ordinate these statements with the earlier argument that Gentiles are fairly judged by God, having ‘what the law requires written on their hearts’ ( 2:15 ).

vv. 19–21 , the quality of Abraham's faith is vividly described. Abraham believed God against all opposing considerations and contrary appearances. The final reality was God's fidelity: God would do what God had promised. The character of faith as trust is nowhere more clearly depicted in Paul's writings. vv. 23–4 , the content of justifying faith is spelled out more fully: belief in God who ‘raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over (paredothē) to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification’. This description of Jesus sounds formulaic and therefore traditional; ultimately, it is dependent upon Isa 52:13–53:12 (LXX), which tells of the Suffering Servant, on whom ‘the LORD laid (paredōken) our sins’ ( 53:6 ), who ‘bore (paredothē) their sin’ ( 53:12 ), who will ‘justify many’ (v. 11 ) (see Cranfield 1979: 251–2).

( 5:1–11 ) God's Reconciling Love as the Foundation for Legitimate Boasting

Two verbs dominate this section: ‘boast’ and ‘reconcile’. We were told in 4:2 that Abraham had no ground for boasting before God. Similarly, 3:27 made the point that boasting is excluded (see also 2:17, 23 ). In Rom 5 , however, boasting is neither groundless nor excluded: Paul boasts ‘in the hope of sharing the glory of God’ (v. 2 ), in ‘sufferings’ (v. 3 ), and ‘in God’ (v. 11 ). The difference, of course, is that here Paul is not, as in 2 Cor 10:13–15 , ‘boasting beyond limits’, claiming as his own achievement something achieved by others. It is perfectly proper to boast in what God has done, rather than in what one has done for God (see ROM 3:24 ). And what God has done in Christ, according to Rom 5:1–11 , is to reconcile (katallassein) humanity with God. ‘Reconciliation’ is return from alienation, the restoration of relationship. Its use here puts the divine–human rift in deeply personal (as opposed to exclusively forensic) terms, an estrangement that yields only to the prevailing power of God's love (v. 8 ). The state of reconciliation is described in v. 1 as ‘peace with God’. Because reconciliation is achieved from God's side and offered when most undeserved (v. 8 ), the believer possesses security in the hope of eternal life (vv. 2, 5 ) and confidence in the midst of earthly trials (vv. 3–4 ). Reconciliation is something about which to boast.

The claim to ‘boast in … sufferings’ (v. 3 ) is distinctly ironic and distinctively Pauline. For Paul, the paradigm of Christian existence, of Christian reality, is the cross (see ROM E. 4). One's faithfulness to the crucified messiah is measured, not in gifts of power or wisdom, but in degrees of sacrifice and suffering (1 Cor 4:8–13; 2 Cor. 6:3–10; 11:21–12:21 ). Against the pretensions of the so-called ‘super-apostles’ at Corinth, Paul wrote, ‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (2 Cor 11:30 ). Putting the cross at the centre of his thinking (the gospel is characterized as ‘the word of the cross’ in 1 Cor 1:18 ), set Paul outside normal religious expectation, including the expectations of many of his converts. To Paul, religion was not a means by which to manipulate heavenly powers to earthly ends. God's locus in this world is disclosed in the cross, which is foolishness and weakness in human eyes (1 Cor 1:17–19 ). Therefore, Paul can boast in his sufferings, in the very absence of earthly rescue, in the knowledge that he travels in the footsteps of the crucified messiah, and that he will arrive someday at the place of Christ's resurrection (where ‘hope does not disappoint’, v. 5 ). It is consistent with this perspective that reconciliation is a present reality (v. 10 : ‘we were reconciled’ to God, aorist tense), but salvation itself remains a future hope (vv. 9–10 , ‘we will be saved’). (The two are related by means of an a minori ad maius argument: if God has reconciled, how much more will God save.)

In their unreconciled state, humans are described as ‘weak’, ‘ungodly’, ‘sinners’, and ‘enemies’ of God (vv. 6, 8, 10 ), a portrayal that recalls the description in 1:18–32 . That Paul would, by implication, refer to himself and to all other Jews as ungodly and enemies of God is astounding. A less pointed description, however, might undermine his argument concerning the absolute necessity of the atonement. It is because reconciliation with God is so entirely necessary and yet so utterly unattainable from the human side that it is so highly prized.

( 5:12–21 ) Adam and Christ

Paul found a prototype for the doctrine of justification by faith in the story of Abraham (ch. 4 ). He then characterized the justification won by Christ's death as reconciliation with God ( 5:1–11 ). But how can Christ's work, however meritorious in itself, save others? Can the actions of one individual affect the standing of all other persons? Yes, indeed, if that individual happens to be the archetype for subsequent humanity. In vv. 12–21 , Paul turns to Adam as precedent (that is, by way of counterexample) for the universality of Christ's atonement. If all of humanity shared in Adam's disobedience, how much more (note, again, the a minori ad maius structure) may all humanity share in the obedience of Jesus, the very Son of God (v. 19 ; see also 1 Cor 15:45–9 ).

Paul argues on the basis of Gen 3 only that ‘sin came into the world through one man’. (There were of course two human players in the Garden drama. Eve has gone missing.) He does not propound a theory (‘original sin’) concerning the conveyance of sin, biological or otherwise, from one generation to the next. The proof of the ubiquity of sin is the universality of its consequence: death (v. 12; Gen 3:3 ). The resurrection of Christ thus overturns death introduced by Adam: ‘For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ’ (1 Cor 15:21–2 ). The proper order of creation, lost in the Fall, is thus in the process of being restored ( 8:18–25 ). This two-part story is complicated by the mention of the law in vv. 13–14 and 20 . Sin existed prior to the giving of the law, but it was not like Adam's transgression, that is, disobedience of an explicit commandment. The law given through Moses served to increase culpability; humans again could transgress as Adam had transgressed (vv. 13–14; see 4:15 ). (One might note that, among other things, Paul's argument ‘passes over the so-called Noachic legislation (Gen 9:4–6 )’; Fitzmyer 1993: 418.) And, whereas Adam had to obey only one commandment, those living under the law have six hundred and thirteen times the opportunity for transgression: ‘law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied’ (v. 20 ). In the light of 7:5–12 , a minority of commentators have interpreted v. 20 to mean that the law was given for the express purpose (hina) of increasing (and not merely increasing the guilt of) sin (Murray 1979: 208). This would involve God in the deliberate promotion of sin which is, needless to say, a problematic assertion (cf. the relationship between the law and sin in 7:11–12 ).

Moses is a not accidental omission on Paul's short-list of human archetypes. By situating the law where he does (v. 20 , it ‘slipped in’—pareisēlthen—between Adam and Christ; see Gal 3:17 ), Paul indicates that Moses was not the answer to Adam. The law did not provide a way out of the human dilemma; quite to the contrary, it made an already bad situation worse. Whether or not it increased the incidence of sin (a debatable point, both exegetically and practically), it heightened sin's sinfulness by exposing the deliberateness of human disobedience. The law could not give (eternal) life; it was participant in and not victor over Adam's ‘dominion of death’ (vv. 20–1 ). In the face of this stark portrayal, one could object that the law did function for many as a positive corrective and guide. A larger problem is that belief in eternal life post-dates Torah. If one enquires, like the ‘rich young ruler’, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ (Lk 10:25 ), one asks a question that the law is unequipped to answer. (Note that Jesus' own answer concerned doing, not merely believing, certain things.) A typical Jewish approach would be to assume that those remaining in covenant with God will inherit eternal life. Paul's answer really is no different, but the obligatory covenant is (i.e. the new covenant of 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6, 14 , etc.).

( 6:1–23 ) Dead to Sin and Alive to God

Paul has just introduced the notion that there are two dominions, one of death, whose head is Adam, and one of life, whose head is Christ ( 5:21 ). The obvious conclusion is that believers now dwell with Christ in the dominion of life. But this cannot be the whole truth: believers sometimes disobey, and all believers die. In what sense and to what extent Christ's dominion is a present reality is the underlying issue in Rom 6 . Paul's argument is organized around two questions: ‘Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?’ (v. 1 ), and ‘Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?’ (v. 15 ). Paul's response is by now anticipated: ‘By no means!’ (mē genoito; see ROM 2:1–3:20 ). The first question is answered ontologically: ‘How can we who died to sin go on living in it?’ (v. 2 ). The believer has already died and ‘walks in newness of life’. How? By identification with the death of Jesus in baptism (vv. 3–4 ). It is important to note that this identification is substantial, not moralistic; one actually participates with Jesus in his death: ‘We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin’ (v. 6 ). Believers are a ‘new creation’ (2 Cor 5:17 ), a new kind of person who has the power not to sin (vv. 12–14, 18 , etc.). (How this portrayal meshes with the description of the ‘wretched self’ in 7:14–25 is a major problem; see ROM 7:14–25 .)

Of all NT writings, Paul's letters most pointedly exhibit the eschatological tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. The obvious counterpart to ‘we have been buried’ with Christ ‘in his death’ (v. 4 ), would be ‘and we have been raised with Christ in his resurrection’. This may be the viewpoint of Ephesians (e.g. 2:1–6 ), but it is not the perspective of Romans. Although the situation of the believer has changed considerably, it has not changed entirely. With respect to the individual Christian, all references to resurrection and eternal life are future tense (vv. 5, 8 ). Believers ‘walk in newness of life’ (v. 4 ) and are ‘alive to God’ (v. 11 ); nevertheless, their experience of the ‘dominion of life’ is proleptic, not fully realized. Although they have ‘died to sin’ (v. 2 ), they may yet submit themselves ‘to sin as its instruments’ (v. 13 ), may once again come under the dominion of sin (v. 12 ). The tension between the two realities remains unresolved: humans by nature sin; believers by (their new) nature do not sin (cf. 1 Jn 1:7–2:1 with 3:6, 8–9; 5:18 ). Believers are human, but believers also represent a new (or ‘renewed’) type of humanity. One could lower the tension by diminishing the status of believers (that is, by moving towards a more exclusively future eschatology); however, such a change would thoroughly undermine Pauline theology. Paul sets the law and Christ as opposite means: what the law could not do, Christ has done ( 8:3 ). But if believers (Christians) are not substantially different from those ‘under the law’ (non-Christian Jews), then (by Paul's reasoning) Christ has failed. Why frame the argument in this way? Because of Paul's one overriding concern: the present equality of Jew and Gentile (see ROM E.4).

Paul's second question also concerns the relationship between believers and sin. To paraphrase v. 15 , Why not sin if sin is not judged? Are those set free from sin thereby free to sin? Paul answers that such ‘freedom’ is illusory. People are not transferred from slavery to sin into neutral, non- allied autonomy. Instead, they pass from one allegiance, one ‘slavery’ (to speak ‘in human terms’, v. 19 ), to another. Believers are slaves ‘of obedience’ (v. 16 ), ‘slaves of righteousness’ (vv. 18–19 ), ‘enslaved to God’ (v. 22 ). There can be no ‘freedom’ to sin, since sin itself is slavery. ‘Grace and sin are to one another as “either” is to “or” ’ (Barth 1933: 217).

Paul stated earlier that death came through Adam's sin ( 5:12 ). vv. 20–3 make clear that all sinners earn death as their fitting ‘wages’ (opsōnion, v. 23 ). The language used to describe sin (‘things of which you are now ashamed’, v. 21 ) is reminiscent of the description of human wickedness in 1:18–32 (‘shameless acts’, 1:27 ). The alternative is holiness (‘sanctification’, NRSV) that leads to eternal life (v. 22 ). Something ‘holy’ is pure, consisting of only one thing (e.g. ‘pure gold’). That believers are to be holy (or sanctified), to be one thing, is the point of the entire chapter.

( 7:1–25 ) The Law and Sin

A connection between law and sin was posited in 3:20, 4:15, 5:13 , and 5:20 . This is one of the most surprising and controversial claims encountered in Paul's letter, and it demands elaboration. The discussion in ch. 6 , especially the concluding section on slavery and freedom, provides an opportunity for the reintroduction of the subject of the law and sin. The previous paragraphs considered reasons why believers should not sin. In vv. 1–6 , Paul offers another: the believer has died not only to sin ( 6:3 ) but also to the law (vv. 1–4 ), which is itself a cause of sin (vv. 5–12 ). (On the question, ‘Of what law does Paul speak?’, see Fitzmyer 1993: 455.)

The marriage metaphor Paul employs is somewhat forced. The statement that ‘the law is binding on a person only during a person's lifetime’ (v. 1 ) aligns with the conclusion ‘you [therefore] have died to the law through the body of Christ’ (v. 4 ). But the one who dies in vv. 2–3 is the husband, not the wife (the believer). Is the law the husband who dies, the ‘law’ that governs the wife's relationship to the husband, or both? Despite the confusion, the point of vv. 2–3 appears straightforward: one who simply disregards the law (e.g. a married person who has an affair) may be judged a sinner (‘an adulterer’, v. 3 ), but one who is no longer subject to the law (a widow[er]) may not be judged by the law (may not be called an adulterer when remarrying). Someone reading ‘you have died to the law…so that you may belong to another’ might well ask, ‘Who was the first partner—the law?’ On one level, Dunn (1988: 369) is correct to say that the question is ‘over-fussy’. The analogy makes a basic point and should not be pushed beyond it. On another level, however, the question is quite valid and reveals much about Paul's view of Judaism. Whose were those who lived under the law? Although the language is covenantal (i.e. concerning marriage), the prior covenant partner is not God. It is as though the Sinai covenant was made with the law itself.

The mention of bearing fruit in v. 4 fills out the idea in ch. 6 that believers have become ‘instruments of righteousness’ (v. 13 ), experiencing ‘sanctification’ to God (v. 22 ). God's will is not only the absence of evil but also the presence of good. Although some commentators have argued that ‘bearing fruit for God’ means ‘begetting spiritual children’, it is more likely that Paul is referring to the generation of good character and/or works (cf. Gal 5:22; Cranfield 1979: 336–7). Correspondingly, Paul refers to ‘fruit for death’ as the product of ‘sinful passions’ ‘at work in our members’ (v. 5 ).

v. 5 , two new and very important ideas are introduced. The first concerns life ‘in the flesh’. Up until now, ‘flesh’ (sarx) has been used to refer to physicality: Jesus was descended from David ‘according to the flesh’ ( 1:3 ); Abraham is ‘our ancestor according to the flesh’ ( 4:1 ; Paul returns to this usage in 9:3, 5 ). Now the term takes on board a decidedly pejorative nuance. (Paul's use of sarx is the subject of numerous scholarly studies; summaries may be found in TDNT vii. 98–151; Spicq 1994:3:231–41 ; EDNT 3:230–3 .) Being ‘in the flesh’ means being in the (ordinary if not ‘natural’) state of human alienation from God. The one in the flesh here is roughly equivalent to the ‘the old self’ of 6:6 . While ‘fleshliness’ does include carnality (i.e. improper sensuality), its meaning is broader. ‘Flesh’ symbolizes ‘the weakness and appetites of “the mortal body”’ that were the causes of sin (Dunn 1988: 370; cf. ‘sinful passions’ here). The juxtaposition of flesh and Spirit (v. 6 ) does not evidence a true matter/spirit dualism, nor does it demonstrate that Paul was an ascetic (see Käsemann 1980: 188–9). With respect to the last point, one might note that while Paul himself was unmarried, he did not prohibit marriage, and at one point he even commanded married believers to continue sexual relations (1 Cor 7:3–5 ). Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that physicality was, if not denigrated, then at least held in some suspicion by Paul (cf. Rom 8:10 ). He might have allowed for Christian marriage, but 1 Cor 7:7–9, 28 is hardly a ringing endorsement. The second idea to be introduced in v. 5 is the notion that the law causes (not only exposes or increases the culpability of) sin (see ROM 5:13–14 ). The contention that dormant passions are ‘aroused by the law’ anticipates (one might say, necessitates) the discussion in 7:7–20 . Much the same idea has appeared before, in 1 Cor 15:56 : ‘The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.’ Law is the parental command not to raid the biscuit tin, an injunction that draws attention to and makes all the more desirable the very thing it prohibits. As the saying goes, stolen fruit is sweetest. Nevertheless, one might dispute whether law and sin are always thus related. Does prohibition inevitably increase desire, and does ‘sinful passion’ require a commandment to be stirred up? Moreover, are the commands that Paul so often includes in his letters (as in Rom 12–14 ) somehow excluded from this dynamic?

v. 6 , the contrast between ‘the old written code’ and ‘the new life of the Spirit’ seems to be dependent particularly upon the prophecy of the future covenant in Jer 31:31–4 . In contrast to the Sinai covenant (‘which they broke’, v. 32 ), in the new order the law will not be taught but rather will be written ‘on the hearts’ of God's people (v. 33 ). Paul calls the law, literally, an ‘old/aged letter’ (palaiotēti grammatos), a title conveying (in line with the treatment of the old covenant in Jer 31 ) both decrepitude and externality. But that's not all: the metaphor of slavery is picked up from the previous chapter and applied, not to sin, but to the law itself (see Gal 4:22–31 ). vv. 4–6 ratchet up by several notches Paul's already negative treatment of the law. The law is no longer just an inadequate solution to the problem of sin; the law itself is the problem. Has not Paul come to the point of equating the law, God's law, with sin? He answers, ‘By no means!’ (v. 7 ). It is not really the law's fault; sin is to blame. (That sin could be a responsible ‘party’ evidences a decided shift in terminology.)

The argument of v. 7 is familiar: the law makes known, discloses, sin as sin ( 4:15; 5:13, 20 ). The selection of the tenth commandment (against coveting, see 13:9 ) is intriguing since it is one of the few OT commandments to prohibit an attitude. It is here that Paul comes closest to locating sin in one's internal states (e.g. one sins by obeying the law for the wrong reasons or by being proud of one's obedience)—an attitude that generations of commentators have attributed to him. It may be that Paul's intuition drew him in this direction, but that he lacked the conceptual tools that would have allowed him to construct such an argument. Such speculation should be tempered by the fact that the idea, if present, is dropped in the next verse: sin now is an external power that acts on the individual. The ‘wretched self’ of vv. 14–25 is faulted for wrongful (in)action, not for wrongful thinking or feeling: ‘I can will what is right, but I cannot do it…the evil I do not want is what I do’ (vv. 18–19 ). A more likely explanation is that Paul quoted the coveting prohibition because he had in mind the temptation in the Garden (Gen 3:5–6 ; see the discussion of Adam below): ‘ “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.’ In Rom 6 , sin was objectified as a power to which one could yield (v. 13 ) and be enslaved by (v. 16 ). The anthropomorphizing of sin is extended in 7:8–23 . Twice sin is said to have ‘seized an opportunity in the commandment’ (vv. 8, 11 ). The ultimate expression comes in v. 17 : ‘It is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me’ (repeated in v. 20 ). It is as though sin were a demonic being that overpowers and possesses humans. The effect is to exonerate the law: it is not the law itself that provokes transgression, it is sin's fault. Sin wrests control of the law and uses it as an instrument of death. The ‘I’ (as in ‘it is no longer I that do it’), being ‘in the flesh’, is helpless before such an onslaught. In 7:14–8:8 , it is this weakness (and not the law, which is ‘holy, just, and good’) that is the problem. The solution? Believers are empowered to fulfil ‘the just requirement of the law’ as they walk ‘not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ ( 8:4 ; recall again Jer 31 ).

Regarding Paul's treatment of the law in Romans, Sanders comments (1983: 76) insightfully that there is ‘an organic development with a momentum towards more and more negative statements until there is a recoil in Romans 7 , a recoil which produces other problems’. Among the difficulties: ‘The law could no longer be said to produce sin or to multiply transgression as part of God's overall plan [the typical view in both Romans and Galatians], since the realm of sin is now considered entirely outside that plan’ (ibid. 73). Moreover, God is now credited with having provided a means for attaining life (v. 10; see 10:5 ) that was incapable of succeeding. In other words, if the law was given to produce transgression, the law is linked to sin (against which Paul ‘recoils’ in v. 7 ); however, if the law was given by God to produce eternal life, it was doomed to failure by human weakness (or sin's power). But how could God's plan fail?

There are good reasons for thinking that Paul himself is not the implied subject, the ‘I’, in 7:7–26 . (Compare the universalized ‘I’ in e.g. 1 Cor 13 ). Paul never lived ‘apart from the law’, ‘the commandment’ did not ‘come’ in his lifetime (v. 9 ), nor was he ‘killed’ by sin (v. 11 ). Moreover (and of considerable importance for the interpretation of Paul), vv. 14–25 describe a self-perception nearly the antithesis of Paul's own as evidenced in his letters (see ROM 2; Stendahl 1963; Sanders 1983: 76–81). The statement of Acts 23:1 , ‘up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God’, is echoed in passages such as 2 Cor 1:12 and 4:2 . The man who wrote, ‘as to righteousness under the law, [I was] blameless’ (Phil 3:6 ) and ‘I am not aware of anything against myself’ (1 Cor 4:4 ) did not suffer from existential angst. The assignment for Rom 7 must have been something other than autobiography.

The one character who qualifies on all counts to be the speaker in 7:7–26 is Adam (see Stuhlmacher 1994: 106–7), the archetypal human in whom all others sinned ( 5:12–21 ). Speaking as Adam, Paul can return to the initiation of ‘law’, the giving of ‘the commandment’ (v. 9 ) in the Garden: ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree…or you shall die’ (Gen 3:3 ). Writes Paul, ‘The very commandment that promised life proved death to me’ (v. 10 ). Instead of saving them from death, the prohibition was used to lure them to death. The identification with Adam also explains the radical anthropomorphizing of sin in this same section: sin is like the serpent that ‘deceived’ Adam and Eve (v. 11; Gen 3:1, 4 ), enticing them to covet the forbidden fruit. (They ate, desiring to be ‘as God’, Gen 3:5 . Note the description of Eve's response in Gen 3:6 .)

vv. 14–24 , if Paul is speaking in the place of unregenerate humanity, especially from the perspective of Adam, it follows that these verses do not describe the situation of believers. This is not the way the passage is read by many scholars (e.g. Schlatter 1995: 160; Barrett 1957: 151–3), but it is the only interpretation that suits the chapter's larger context (cf. Dunn's (1988: 387–99) attempt to resolve the conflict in terms of eschatological tension). The status of the individual in Rom 5:12–7:6 is either/or: either dead to sin or enslaved to sin, either in the dominion of life or in the dominion of death. The same situation prevails in Rom 8 : either one is in the Spirit or one is in the flesh (v. 9 ). The Christian anthropology of Romans is not an essay in grey. The fault of the law in Rom 7 is that it is powerless (as 8:8 : ‘those in the flesh cannot please God’); it makes no sense in the context of this argument that Paul would describe believers in terms of the problem and not in terms of the solution. If 7:14–24 is a description of believers, then what is 8:1–17 ? There is indeed a future ‘edge’ to Paul's eschatological perspective, but it is located elsewhere: the expectation of 8:10–11 and 18–39 has nothing to do with freedom from sin (already available to believers); Paul awaits freedom from sin's corporeal and cosmic effects.

v. 25 , the final sentence (‘So then…’) makes the best claim to be a description of believers since it comes after Paul's Christian thanksgiving (v. 24 ). Some have argued that the verse is simply out of order or that it was originally a marginal gloss. ‘For it is scarcely conceivable that, after giving thanks to God for deliverance, Paul should describe himself as being in exactly the same position as before’ (Dodd 1932: 114–15). It is striking that the individual is characterized as being a ‘slave’ to the law and to (‘the law of’) sin, both ‘pre-Christian’ categories in Rom 5–6 . Moffatt paraphrases the verse: ‘Thus, left to myself, I serve…’, which may capture Paul's meaning. At very least, one's assessment of v. 25 must take account of 8:1–7 . The person in ch. 7 is ‘with [the] flesh’ ‘a slave to the law of sin’, but the believer in ch. 8 is ‘not in the flesh’ (v. 9 ) and is ‘set free from the law of sin’ (v. 2 )! Therefore, it is possible in v. 25 that Paul describes a state to which believers may revert; it is clear that it is not the state in which he expects believers to remain.

( 8:1–17 ) The Law of the Spirit

Having described the dominion of death from which the law offers no rescue, Paul turns his attention to the alternative existence previewed in 7:6 , ‘the new life of the Spirit’ experienced by those ‘discharged from the law’. The description in 8:1–17 is rich and densely packed, containing numerous themes that figure prominently in other Pauline texts. Freed from the law, one lives beyond the reach of law's penalty: condemnation (v. 1 , as in 7:3 ). A new system or principle, ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ (in contrast to the old system, ‘the law of sin and of death’), now governs the believer's existence. ‘Life’ has a double meaning that corresponds to the two ends of the eschatological spectrum: it is a new quality of existence already enjoyed (v. 10 ), and it is future, eternal existence with God (vv. 11, 13 ). The Spirit effectuates both forms of life: in the present, the Spirit dwells in believers (v. 9 ) and empowers them to fulfil ‘the just requirement of the law’ (v. 4 ) and to ‘put to death the deeds of the body’ (v. 14 ); the Spirit leads believers (v. 14 ), witnesses to them that they are God's children (v. 16 ), and ‘intercedes’ for them ‘with sighs too deep for words’ (v. 26 ). In the future, God will raise believers to eternal life through the same Spirit (v. 11 ). More than anything else, it is the Spirit that marks the dawning of the new age (the ‘dominion’ of grace; 5:21 ). According to Acts ( 10:44–11:18 ), the presence of spiritual gifts amongst Gentile Christians was the decisive consideration in their admission to the church. It is instructive that Paul's first argument against the Galatian Judaizers concerns the presence of such charismata amongst the Galatian converts prior to any law observance (Gal 3:1–5 ). (Note that Paul refers synonymously to ‘the Spirit of God’ and ‘the Spirit of Christ’ in v. 9 . See ROM 1:1 above.)

v. 3 , the idea of Christ's atonement, already present in 3:24–5 and 5:6–9 , is reintroduced. God ‘dealt with sin’, something that law, allied to weak human ‘flesh’ (i.e. the powerless human will, as in 7:14–25 ), was incapable of doing. In the death of Jesus, God ‘condemned sin in the flesh’, that is, the condemnation of v. 1 was executed on Jesus, the only human (one ‘in…flesh’) who was undeserving of such judgement. (He was ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’, that is, he was human without sinning. Cf. 2 Cor 5:21 : ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ See also Phil 2:5–11 .) As before, Paul is more interested in celebrating the atonement than in explaining its mechanics.

The difference between the two types of existence is explained from the human side as a difference of fundamental disposition or direction (vv. 5–11 ). One who lives ‘according to the flesh’ (vv. 5, 12 ; returning to the meaning of 7:14 ) has a mind set ‘on the things of the flesh’ (vv. 5–6 ). What constitutes ‘the things of the flesh’ is not specified, but it must mean something more than ‘earthly concerns’, such as the provision of food and clothing (cf. ‘the deeds of the body’ in v. 13 ). Such a mindset is ‘hostile to God’; it does not—it cannot—‘submit to God's law’ or ‘please God’ (vv. 7–8 ). (As in v. 4 , Paul assumes that believers are the only ones who ‘do’ the law.) The best explication of the phrase is found in Rom 1:18–32 , which vividly describes human nature at war with God. The essential sin is idolatry, the devotion to something as god that is not God. Again, there is no middle ground, no accommodation, no compromise. Believers are on one side of the line and unbelievers the other.

By the logic of Paul's argument, believers should now have the power to do what the ‘wretched self’ of Rom 7 could not, namely, obey the law. Nevertheless, the ‘just requirement of the law’ (equivalent to ‘the law of God’ in v. 7 ) that they fulfil cannot be precisely equivalent to Torah since it does not include such ‘optional extras’ as circumcision (1 Cor 7:19 ). The use of the singular (to dikaiōma) ‘brings out the fact that the law's requirements are essentially a unity’ (Cranfield 1979: 384). For Paul, the will of God is present in but not circumscribed by Torah. The commonplace distinction between ‘the spirit’ and ‘the letter’ of the law is not far from what Paul had in mind (Rom 7:6 ).

v. 15 , the mention of slavery recalls the discussion in 6:16–23 but also, more fully, Gal 4:1–9 and, especially with its connection to parentage, 21–31. ‘Abba’ (in Aramaic, an affectionate word for father) is associated with the prayer of Jesus (Mk 14:36 ); its presence in the Pauline epistles (here and Gal 4:6 ) is noteworthy. vv. 15–16 were key to Wesley's doctrine of ‘Christian assurance’, the idea that believers need not doubt their standing with God, being inwardly assured by the Spirit of their adoption (see also 9:1 ). Paul is careful to show that adoption does not imply an ‘also-ran’ or second-class birthright; on the contrary, believers are fully ‘heirs of God’ and even ‘joint heirs with Christ’ (v. 17; cf. v. 29 ); that is, by identifying with Christ, they participate fully in the benefits won by Christ. Paul does not mean to imply that believers are equal in every way to Christ.

v. 17 , the section concludes quite unexpectedly: [we are] ‘heirs…if…we suffer’. This sudden shift to minor key signals the presence of the antagonist, death. Although sin has been overcome, its ravages, its legacy remain. (‘The present time’—ho nun kairos, v. 18 —is the label Paul gives to this ‘time between the times’.) The comments made in connection with 5:3 (‘we…boast in our sufferings’), apply here: for Paul, the shape of Christian life was cruciform (‘we suffer with him’; see also ROM E.4). True spirituality is dangerous and costly (1 Thess 3:4 ). Paul's difficult experiences with the church at Corinth (where he now writes) may well have prompted the inclusion of this amendment (cf. 1 Cor 4:8–13 ). ‘Glory’ and its cognates are used 180 times in the NT (cf. 1:23; 2:7, 10; 3:7, 23; 4:20; 5:2; 6:4; 8:18, 21; 9:4, 23; 11:36; 15:6–9; 16:27 ; see TDNT ii. 247–54; EDNT 1:344–9 ). The linkage between suffering and glory is typically Jewish (Stuhlmacher 1994: 132) and is made in a number of other NT writings (e.g. Lk 24:26; Eph 3:13; Heb 2:9–10; 1 Pet 1:11; 4:13; 5:1, 10 ).

( 8:18–39 ) The Creation's Eager Longing

To the woman…[God] said, ǀ ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;ǀ in pain you shall bring forth childrenǀ…’ And to the man…[God] said, ǀ' ‘…cursed is the ground because of you; ǀ in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; ǀ thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; ǀ and you shall eat the plants of the field. ǀ By the sweat of your face you shall eat breadǀ …you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’

According to Gen 3:14–19 , nature itself was corrupted by human sin and suffers sin's mournful consequences (see 4 Ezra 7:10–14 ). The ‘peaceable kingdom’ of Eden is no more.

The poetry and power of 8:18–39 betoken the magnitude of Paul's discovery: no less than Paradise returned. God in Christ is not saving individuals only; God is at the task of saving creation, of swallowing up Adam's entire loss in Christ's complete victory. What is the source of Paul's confidence? Christ's resurrection (of which Paul himself is a witness; Gal 1:16; 1 Cor 15:8 ), which is no less than the end of history placarded in the midst of history (1 Cor 15:20–6 ). The Garden curse, death, has been broken and remains only to be shattered.

As already noted, the reader comes upon the idea of suffering abruptly in v. 17 , like fine print at the end of a contract. He or she may be left second-guessing: Is this ‘inheritance’ worth its price? Paul is quick to put matters into perspective: seen aright, present suffering is improportionate to future glory. To know things as they are one must recognize the scope of the drama in which one participates and the scale of the denouement for which one hopes. Present suffering is not merely local; it is cosmic. Future glory is not merely personal; it is universal. All history turns on the events of recent years, all creation awaits their completion, and Paul and his readers are at the epicentre of both. In one sense, the weight of the entire cosmos is on their shoulders; in another, the entire cosmos cheers them on. Thus Rom 8:18–39 provides both explanation and incentive. One may better accept suffering if one knows its origin and anticipates its cessation. All the more, one may accept (even ‘boast of’, 5:3 ) suffering that advances some great cause. Rhetorically, 8:18–39 is not unlike the stirring speech delivered by (Shakespeare's) King Henry V to encourage his outnumbered troops to face the French at Agincourt (‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’, Henry V, IV. iii).

Paul says that creation (the natural world) is ‘groaning in labour pains’, an image that evokes both the curse (in God's words to Eve) and the promise of its reversal (new life). v. 23 captures the resultant eschatological tension: ‘we…who have the first fruits of the Spirit [the Spirit's many benefits, mentioned above], groan inwardly’. Believers are now children of God (v. 14 ), possessing ‘a spirit of adoption’ (v. 15 ), yet they must ‘wait for adoption, the redemption of…[their] bodies’ (v. 23 ). It is interesting that v. 24 contains the only past tense form of the verb ‘to save’ (esōthēmen) in any of the undisputed Pauline epistles: literally, ‘we were saved in hope.’ Hope requires both object and absence. vv. 18–25 testify to a profound hope fuelled by the certainty and desirability of its object and the profundity of its absence.

v. 20 , the identity of ‘the one who subjected’ the creation to futility is the topic of intense debate. The likely candidate is again Adam, the consequences of whose sin surely underlie the reflections of the entire paragraph. But did Adam subject the creation to futility ‘in hope’? A variety of attempts have been made to get to grips with this odd phrase. For example, Cranfield (1979: 414) wrote that ‘The creation was not subjected to frustration without any hope…Paul possibly had in mind the promise in Gen 3 .15 that the woman's seed would bruise the serpent's head (cf. Rom 16.20 )’. An alternative solution is to regard the entire phrase ‘for the creation…who subjected it’ as a parenthesis, and attach the final two words of v. 20 , ‘in hope’, to the next phrase, as does NRSV (the original Greek text did not contain punctuation; where phrases or even sentences begin and end is by no means certain). Thus, v. 21 may complete the thought of v. 19 : ‘For the creation waits…in hope that [‘or because’] the creation itself will be set free…’

It is possible that the phenomenon described in vv. 26–7 is the gift of tongues, which Paul describes in 1 Cor 14:15 as ‘praying with the spirit’. The statement that ‘God…knows what is the mind of the Spirit’ could refer to the fact that tongues were unintelligible to the human speaker. (According to 1 Cor 14:3 , the one speaking in tongues ‘utters mysteries with his [her] spirit’.) It is also possible that ‘untterable groanings’ (stenagmois alalētois, v. 26 ) refers, literally, to inarticulate moans. This interpretation takes into account the fact that vv. 26–7 assume universal applicability, whereas, by Paul's own account, all did not speak in tongues (1 Cor 12:4–11 ). On the other hand, it should be said that the second reading has more difficulty explaining the repeated assertion that the Spirit ‘intercedes’ on behalf of the saints. An unrelated issue concerns the degree of separation between God and Spirit in Paul's description (e.g. ‘God knows what is the mind of the Spirit’; see Dunn 1988: 479–80).

v. 28 does not promise that only good things will happen to ‘those who love God’. In the larger context of vv. 18–39 , and the immediate context of vv. 29–30 , the sentence probably means that the woes that characterize the present age, and the suffering of persecution in particular, cannot thwart God, who uses even these to accomplish the divine purpose.

Paradoxically, Paul assumes both that God predestined humans to a certain fate and that humans are responsible for that fate. Rom 9:14–26 shows that he knows the obvious objection—how can humans be held responsible for God's actions?—and that he does not possess a rational answer. Instead, he responds, ‘Who are you, a human being, to argue with God?’ ( 9:20 ). Here as elsewhere in the NT, predestination is not mentioned abstractly; it usually functions either as assurance (as in Rom 8 ) or as theodicy (as in Rom 9 ; really another form of assurance). The essential point is that, despite all appearances to the contrary (the ‘all things’ of v. 28 ), God has everything under control.

As was mentioned in connection with ROM 1:16 , ‘justification’ in Romans combines two ideas: that God credits to believers the status of righteousness and that God empowers believers to live righteously. Both meanings may be present in v. 29 : it is God's purpose that believers ‘be conformed to the image of his Son’. Certainly, this means sharing in future glory, being one ‘within a large family’ (cf. 1 Cor 15:20 ). ‘Image’ (eikōn), echoing the creation account of Gen 1 (v. 26 ), invites an additional and fuller interpretation, that believers already share the character of Christ.

The entirety of Rom 1–8 reaches its climax in vv. 31–9 . Paul's speech is fittingly dramatic, harking back again ( ROM 1:16 ) to Isa 50:7–8 (LXX; trans. Hays 1989: 59–60): ‘I know that I shall by no means be put to shame, ǀ Because the One who justified me draws near. ǀ Who enters into judgment with me? ǀ Let him confront me. ǀ Indeed, who enters into judgment with me? ǀ Let him draw near to me. ǀ Behold, the Lord helps me. ǀ Who will do me harm?’ By way of encouragement to his readers, Paul wrote earlier of the disproportion between present tribulation and future glory (vv. 18–25 ). To the same end, he now writes of the disproportion between earthly appearance and spiritual reality. For believers, the one true indicator of their position is the love of God demonstrated in the cross of Christ. (v. 32 is especially poignant because it borrows language from the story of the binding of Isaac in Gen 22 : ‘you have not withheld your son, your only son’ (v. 12 ); Cranfield 1979: 436. In Rom 8:32 , God makes the sacrifice that even Abraham was ‘spared’; note the verbal echoes of Gen 22:12 in Rom 8:32 .) With this datum, the ‘everything else’ of v. 32 is assured. No condemnation is more persuasive than Christ's intercession, no deprivation, no sovereignty, no distance a greater reality. ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’ It is a glorious vision.

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