Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Romans Road-test

A few months ago, I posted my notes on Reading Romans. Here I explain how I arrived at the different view of Paul’s message described in that article.

Several years ago, I read a couple of reviews of Douglas Campbell’s book called the Deliverance of God. I learned that he took a Socratic reading of Romans 1-4, in which Paul challenges the views of a Jewish teacher, but I did not take his ideas seriously, and the book was too expensive for me to purchase, so I have not read it.

I began to think about Campbell’s approach when I started reading through Romans again a few months ago. I was struck by a note that I had previously written in the margin of Romans 1:32, in which I noted this passage must have been addressed to the Jews because only they had a revelation that God had declared that the penalty for some sins was death. Looking at the verse in isolation, my note made sense.

However, when I read the entire passage, I realised that my note was wrong, so I rubbed it out. Roman 1:18-32 is addressed to all humans, not just to the Jews. But that does not make sense either. The passage says that God’s will is revealed through creation, and that all men know his will. That does not seem to be correct, because, the Jews had to receive the Torah through Moses to fully know his will. Furthermore, in Romans 1:32, the writer claims that God has revealed that sin is worthy of death, but this does not make sense, because there is nothing in creation that indicates that God has declared that death is the penalty for sin. In creation, death seems to be a normal part of life.

Trying to sort these contradictions, I thought again about Douglas Campbell’s view that Romans 1 as part of a debate between the teaching of Paul and the ideas of a Jewish teacher. Rather than buying Campbell's book and reading it, I decided that I would read Romans right though with an open mind. I assumed that if his view was correct, then the pattern of argument and counter-argument should be evident to an averagely intelligent person who had not been trained to understand Paul through the eyes of wrath.

I was surprised by what I found. Jarring contradictions seemed to stick out all through the letter and the most sensible way to deal with them was to read them as argument and counter-argument. To identify the parts of the letter that expressed the Jewish teacher's view, I looked for internal contradiction, contradictions with the Torah and contradictions with Paul’s teaching in the rest of the letter. Using this approach, the arguments of the Jewish teacher stood out quite clearly.

I wrote up what I discovered in an article called Reading Romans. In a way, I road-tested Douglas Campbell's thesis, and it came through really well.

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