This week, I am working through Romans, chapters 14-16 and 1 Corinthians, chapters 1-2.
- This chapter gives a rather strong argument for why Christians should not judge other Christians. It is an area that I not only think Christians in general seem to lose sight of too quickly, but which I myself am concerned about not taking seriously enough. Two points of special comment:
- Verse 1: "disputable matters" - It would seem that even Paul himself felt that actions should be taken against churchgoers engaged in certain behaviors (see 1 Corinthians 5, which we'll cover next week), or who argued for certain "wrong" doctrines (see the first chapter of Galatians for just one example). But what, then, constitutes "disputable matters"? It seems to me that there's a great deal of "dispute" over that very question itself. How, then, are we to obey this instruction?
- Verse 5 - On the other hand, it is evident that, even at this earliest stage of Christianity, there was significant disagreement about a number of points of doctrine, and Paul seems to be content to leave things that way.
- Verse 16: "priestly duty" - Cranfield disputes the idea that Paul sees himself as fulfilling a priestly role (he says that the word here is often used of Levites who serve priests, and translates this particular section as "holy service"1), but it seems to me that most modern translations use some variation including "priestly" language. (Here are a couple of examples). I was under the impression that proclamation wasn't really a "priestly" duty, however. "Priestly" seems to indicate more sacrifice and atonement. (In Cranfield's understanding, Christ would be the priest, which is consistent enough with the above, but this sounds more like the book of Hebrews than what I think of as Paul. I'll need to come back to this sometime.)
- Verse 1 - Some translations call Phoebe a "deacon" (or "deaconess," although I don't think that word reflects modern English especially well, as it is historically used to imply a distinction from "deacon" that goes beyond mere gender designation) and others a "servant." The Greek word can technically mean either one, but, as Cranfield says "it is very much more natural to take it to refer to a definite office."2 I assume that many who prefer "servant" do so on the basis of believing that the Bible (elsewhere) forbids women from holding church office. I've stated my belief that the Bible does no such thing (especially in regard to the question of "office," as opposed to particular actions), but it's worth noting that, even among those who remain steadfast against the idea of women holding ministerial office, many still affirm that women can hold the office of deacon.
- Verse 7 - "Junia" is a woman's name. Historical resistance to the idea of a woman holding the office of apostle (despite Biblical evidence, such as in this verse, for it!) is such that a variant reading of "Junias" has crept into some of the ancient manuscripts (not the oldest or best ones, but still, quite old), despite being an apparently made-up name!3 Other non-egalitarian interpreters have suggested that the verse should read "in the eyes of the apostles" rather than "among" them, but this is a stretch (to say nothing of the fact that, were that interpretation understood more widely from the first, there would hardly have been a reason to create the fictitious "Junias").
- Verse 12 - Might we today say "I follow Calvin," "I follow Luther," "I follow Arminius," "I follow the Pope," etc?
- Verse 16 - This parenthetical gives the impression that Paul is speaking/writing "on the fly" rather than composing a document. Did people not edit their thoughts back then?
- Verses 17-31 (and moving on to chapter 2) - It seems to me that many Christians use this passage as an excuse for shoddy argumentation or anti-intellectual sentiment. I find this troubling, but want to be careful not to dismiss this too quickly. Paul is making an argument that God is to be glorified rather than Paul himself, and we certainly know that Paul was no anti-intellectual (see for example, the sermon he preaches in Acts 17:16-34).
- Verses 14-15 - There may be a place for reason and study, but it must ultimately be recognized that these are not enough.
1C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary, Eerdmans, 1985, pp. 364-365.
2Cranfield, p. 374.
3See Cranfield, p. 377.