Monday, June 21, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Romans 4-8

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Romans, chapters 4-8.

Chapter 4
  • Verse 3: "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" - Although Christians (especially Reformed Christians) often cite this passage (where Paul himself is citing Genesis 15:6) as evidence that works don't matter in regard to obtaining righteousness, Paul himself seems to be using this passage because the Rabbinic Jews of his time had apparently been using it as "clear support for the diametrically opposite view,"1 but Paul was demonstrating that this passage had been misinterpreted all that time. 
  • Verses 4-5, 13-14 - Besides making a case that God reckons righteousness on a basis other than that of works (esp. works of the law), Paul seems very keen to argue that God doesn't owe anyone anything.  Rather, God promises and gives freely.
Chapter 5
  • Verses 3-5 - Paul seems to create a chain of events wherby suffering inevitably leads to hope.  I'm not sure all who suffer would agree.  However, I do find myself wondering if Paul means any kind of sufering, or if he's particularly talking about suffering that comes as a result of one's faith (or, alternatively, as a means by which God enables us to grow, but this then gets into the question of whether or not God actively causes or intends all suffering that befalls us, which I'd rather get into at another time).
Chapter 6
  • Verses 1-2 - As I've said a few times over the past few months, it's clear that "actions matter," if perhaps not in the quid quo pro way that lists of "good actions" or "sins" would imply.
  • Verse 15 - I wonder if the question that Paul asks (rhetorically) here can be asked in any way other than one that assumes that nothing matters except one's eternal destiny.  That is to say, "if I can get into heaven no matter how bad I act, why not have fun?"  Paul's point, it seems to me, is to say that sin is a bad thing, not (just?) because it might keep one from eternal life (in the hereafter), but because it has negative effects on our life here and now.  Far from "fun," one who behaves this way becomes a slave!  (and not a "good kind of slave")  (To put that another way, "eternal life" is not just a "later" thing, but itself is active already in the life of the Christian!)
Chapter 7
  • Verses 2-6 - The analogy of marriage strikes me as an odd one.  In the marriage example, it is the death of another person (the spouse) that frees a person from the applicable law, whereas Paul seems to speak of our death to the law as freeing us from the law.
  • Verse 5 (and elsewhere) - One of the more legitimate (in my opinion) criticisms of the TNIV is its consistent use of "sinful nature" for the Greek word normally translated as "flesh."  Without a doubt, "sinful nature" is an extra layer of interpretation laid on top of Paul's Greek that other translations (which go with the undeniably more literal "flesh") do not impose.  Although I hasten to note that "all translation is interpretation," I'll leave it to the reader to decide if the TNIV really has gone too far here.
  • Verses 7-12 - I'm trying to figure out if Paul seems to argue that he wouldn't have coveted had he not known of the law forbidding it, or if he simply would have been ignorant of it (even though his covetous behavior would have been same either way, just unnamed).
  • Verses 14-25 - This seems to be a particularly difficult passage.  I've seen scholars argue that Paul must be talking about his struggles as a law-abiding Pharisee prior to his conversion to Christ, and others who insist that this kind of "battle... is not possible until a man is sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (and thus, has already become a Christian).2
Chapter 8
  • Verses 9-11 - Paul seems to be aware of the possibility that not all people who confess Christ are in fact indwelt by the Spirit (a necessary condition of those who "belong to Christ").  However, this is not his emphasis.  He's assuming that his audience has the Spirit.3
  • Verse 28-30 - Predestination is a hairy issue, and that's not going to change anytime soon.  It's worth noting here that, for those of us who do accept some form of predestination as being true, the doctrine is intended to be a comfort for those of us who are Christians already.  It was never our job to consider the "predestined status" of others.  That's up to God.  We should consider everyone as potentially a part of the "predestined" group.

1C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary, Eerdmans, 1985, p. 85.
2The quote is from Cranfield, p. 166, who definitely represents the latter point of view.
3See Cranfield, p. 181.

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