Tracing Paul’s argument in Romans: from Abraham to Jesus and beyond

This post is in the series Rite Reading. The second of two posts on Romans.

In my previous post, I offered a picture of the context at Rome which causes Paul to write this letter. It is written to a city in which divisions between Jews and Greeks focussed on claims about Jesus have previously boiled over, and may be heating up again. I noted that more than in most letters, with Romans you need a grasp of the overall argument to see the meaning of any individual reading. Today I offer that kind of outline of how I read this letter. There are others.

The Colosseum, built after Paul’s day, reminds us how much violence was a feature of life in the Roman Empire

Paul’s first three chapters, after an opening greeting, step straight into this. Paul initially takes up and repeats the common criticisms Jews made of the pagan world, and then he echoes some not atypical Roman anti-Semitic attacks on Jews. Both are shown to deserve the criticism the other dishes out, but Paul goes on to privilege the Jewish scriptural tradition, not because it was given to the Jews, but because it was given by God. God will be faithful even when God’s people are not. In point of fact, the scripture reinforces the mutual criticism Jew and Greek heap on each other, for it says “There is no-one righteous, no, not one.” (Rom 3:10)1

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A radical faith in a faithful Messiah: some themes in Paul’s letters

This post is in the series Rite Reading. The second of two posts introducing Paul.

In the previous post, I looked at some of the general issues involved in reading Paul’s letters. In today’s blog, I want to explore a couple of key themes. There are core ideas which crop up repeatedly in Paul’s thinking; but the specific ways he develops them belong to the different contexts of each individual letter.

One idea which crops up in a number of contexts is usually called “justification by faith”. Since some people suggest this is Paul’s main, only, or central theme, we need to spend a little bit of time looking at it here, while saving many other themes for individual letters. It’s probably also worth repeating my previously given health warning: other views of Paul are available, and here we enter one of the more controversial (and occasionally rather bad-tempered) areas of both modern scholarship and church-dividing doctrine.

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