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The gospel for Jews and Gentiles according to Romans: a summary

Here’s another response to a comment that has outgrown itself and become an ad hoc summary piece. Peter Wilkinson points to Romans 3-4 as evidence that the gospel for both Jews and Gentiles was that Jesus died for their sins:

The argument is addressed to Jews and Gentiles v.9, v.19b. The righteousness through the faithfulness of Christ is “to all who believe. There is no difference, for all….are justified….through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus….a sacrifice of atonement….the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus….Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also?”

I maintain, however, that Paul’s gospel is that God has appointed Jesus as Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead, and that this is to be interpreted in “political” terms on the basis of Psalm 2:7-8:

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. (Ps. 2:7–8)

The quotation of Isaiah 11:10 LXX is a precise encapsulation of this gospel: ‘And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope”’ (Rom. 15:12). The good news for the peoples of the Greek-Roman world was that, in time, the Lord Jesus Christ would rule over the nations in place of the old discredited pagan gods and human pretenders to divine status.

It’s the same in the Synoptic Gospels. The “gospel” is not that Jesus is about to die for the sins of Israel, as important as that is. It is that the judgment and rule of God are imminent (Mk. 1:14-15, and parallels).

It’s the same in Revelation. The “gospel of the age” is not that people are saved from their sins by the death of Jesus. It is that the hour of God’s judgment on Babylon the great has come (Rev. 14:6-11).

The good news for the peoples of the Greek-Roman world was that, in time, the Lord Jesus Christ would rule over the nations in place of the old discredited pagan gods and human pretenders to divine status.

So here I briefly give my reasons for thinking 1) that Paul’s argument about Jesus’ atoning death in Romans 3:21-26 is confined to an argument about Israel; and 2) that it is not in any case the “gospel”; it is a condition for engagement in the eschatological process that will culminate in the proclaimed new future.

In the first place, Romans 2-4 is not “addressed to Jews and Gentiles.” It is addressed quite explicitly and repeatedly to Jews—to those who boast in the Law, who are circumcised and have the oracles of God, whose unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, who know what the Law says, whose forefather is Abraham according to the flesh (Rom. 2:23; 3:1-2, 5, 19; 4:1). “What then?” Paul asks, “Are we Jews any better off?” (Rom. 3:9). It is an argument to the Jews about their status relative to the Greeks who have come to believe in Jesus. I agree with Käsemann here. Paul is effectively recapitulating arguments that he has had with the Jews in the synagogues of the Diaspora.

This immediately introduces a crucial distinction into Paul’s argument, which has been obscured by more traditional readings of the passage preoccupied with the “atonement” as a universal metaphysical event.

We should not separate theological content from rhetorical method. Paul’s quite narrow purpose here is to persuade the Jews that they will be justified on the same grounds as the Gentiles. Possession of the Law and other marks of national-religious identity, under the current eschatological conditions, are of no benefit to them.

God has put forward Jesus as a propitiation (hilastērion) for the sins of Israel—that is what the atonement sacrifice was for (Rom. 3:25; cf. Lev. 16:15; Heb. 9:5). The writer of 4 Maccabees says: “And through the blood of those pious people and the propitiatory (hilastēriou) of their death, divine Providence preserved Israel, though before it had been afflicted” (4 Macc. 17:22). In an argument with the Jews there is no propitiation for the sins of Gentiles.

By this act of divine forbearance God demonstrates that he has passed over the former sins of his people—sins that culminated, presumably, in the shocking crucifixion of his Son (Rom. 3:25). Therefore, he shows himself to be God not of the Jews only but also of the nations (Rom. 3:29) by justifying everyone on the ground of their belief that he has raised his Son from the dead and seated him at his right hand.

It is precisely a community of Jews and Gentiles, in one body, sharing one Spirit, believing in one Lord, which will most effectively bear witness to the coming annexation of the nations by the God of Israel.

The “good news,” therefore, is that Jesus has been made Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead, that he will rule over the nations (Rom. 1:2-4; 15:12).

The death of Jesus has freed Jews from their long history of national rebellion against YHWH to be justified on the same terms as Gentiles. They are all justified, Jews and Gentiles alike, solely by their faith in the new future guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But that is possible only because God has treated Jesus’ death as propitiation for the sins of Israel—and further, though this is not part of Paul’s argument here, because his death removed the requirement that Gentiles should be circumcised and keep the Law in order to be a legitimate part of this eschatological movement.


Again, for an extended treatment of the place of “propitiation” in Paul’s argument about Jews and Gentiles see my book The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom (Wipf & Stock, 2010).

Comments

The good news for the peoples of the Greek-Roman world was that, in time, the Lord Jesus Christ would rule over the nations in place of the old discredited pagan gods and human pretenders to divine status

Agreed, but you assume a “rule over the nations” replacing pagan rule which will operate on the same political terms. I think the way in which the Constantinian empire replaced paganism and established itself was very unlike the means and characteristics of the kingdom which Jesus taught and modelled in the gospels, which Paul assumes in Romans and the letters. “Kingdom” has a very different sense from the political model you see worked out in history (see below).

In the first place, Romans 2-4 is not “addressed to Jews and Gentiles.” It is addressed quite explicitly and repeatedly to Jews

This is incorrect.

Romans 2:1-16 has Jew and gentile in view, especially as the situation in Rome seems probably to have entailed both passing judgment on each other in the church.

Romans 2:17-3:8 addresses Jews.

Romans 3:9 returns to “Jews and gentiles”, and none of the verses in the catena of 10-17 except perhaps Isaiah 59:7,8 are Israel specific.

The law in Romans 3:19 has a wider significance than Israel, since it holds “the whole world … accountable to God”. The “consciousness of sin” which the law brings is a consciousness of the whole world’s sin.

In the central passage Romans 3:21-31, if Paul was addressing Jews only, why, following “all have sinned”, does he say: “There is no difference”. “No difference” between whom? It only makes sense if he is talking about Jews and gentiles. Both are justified by the death of Jesus.

In 3:27, “boasting” is a mark of Jewish privilege, and now excluded for Jews, because “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” - v.28. We are now back to Jew and Gentile, which is emphasised by the immediately following question: “Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too?” - v.29.

Romans 4 continues the inclusive argument. 4:24 includes Jew and gentile, to both of whom God will “credit righteousness”.

The distinction you are making between Jew and gentile in the argument is false, in my opinion. Paul moves rapidly between both groups and includes them both in the argument.

I also think you make a false distinction between a political gospel and a spiritual gospel. The latter had as its heart the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, which was the dynamo that ultimately undermined the idolatry of the Roman Empire. I wouldn’t say overcame it, because the means of the overcoming and its characteristics in the political sphere were very unlike the kingdom which Jesus taught and modelled.

Your post is detailed and comprehensive, so I am only addressing what I see to be the core problem at its heart.

Romans 2:1-16 has Jew and gentile in view, especially as the situation in Rome seems probably to have entailed both passing judgment on each other in the church.

If I may say so, I think you’re missing the point. This is what I wrote: “It is an argument to the Jews about their status relative to the Greeks who have come to believe in Jesus.”

The section is constructed rhetorically as a dialogue with a Jewish audience, but obviously it has both Jews and Gentiles “in view.” He is talking to an implied Jewish interlocutor about the status of Jews vis-à-vis Gentiles. So we must read the statement about God putting forward Jesus as a propitiation for sins in the context of that conversation.

Romans 3:19 certainly has wider significance. But read it carefully. The Law speaks to those who are under the Law so that “the whole world may be held accountable to God.” The point at issue is that God must first deal with his own people in order that the nations may be held accountable. The next paragraph (3:21-26) then tells us how God is dealing with his own people with a view to being recognised subsequently as God of the nations (3:29).

I also think you make a false distinction between a political gospel and a spiritual gospel.

I make no distinction between a political gospel and a spiritual gospel. In the ancient context these are one and the same thing, unless you are a Gnostic. After the statement in Romans 15:12 about the Gentiles hoping in the coming rule of Jesus over the nations, Paul writes:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. …on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13, 15-16)

It is through the sanctifying power of the Spirit in the lives of these hopeful Gentiles that they become effective priests for the eschatological mission.

The distinction I make is between a political gospel, in the context of the apocalyptically conceived transformation of the ancient world, and a gospel of individual salvation that makes no reference to history.

This is what I wrote: “It is an argument to the Jews about their status relative to the Greeks who have come to believe in Jesus.” … . The section is constructed rhetorically as a dialogue with a Jewish audience, but obviously it has both Jews and Gentiles “in view.” He is talking to an implied Jewish interlocutor about the status of Jews vis-à-vis Gentiles.

It’s not so simple.

First, Romans is addressed to both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 1:5, 7, 13, 14, 16. Unity between the two groups is his major concern.

Paul, as a Jew, appears to go for the Gentile jugular in the polemic of 1:18-32, with its strong echoes of Wisdom of Solomon, as a condemnation of Gentiles and their sins. But in the process, he includes some very Jewish sins - 1:21-22, echoing Psalm 106:19-20, with very Jewish consequences - Romans 1:24, echoing Psalm 81:12.

The scene is set then not for a rhetorical “dialogue with a Jewish audience”, or “talking to an implied Jewish interlocutor about the status of Jews vis-à-vis Gentiles”, but as an address to Jews and Gentiles in their sins, for which neither has the right to condemn or feel superior to the other. They both need to be present as the audience Paul is addressing.

This is precisely how Romans 2 continues the logic of the argument. If it was only a Jewish audience being addressed, with 1:18-32 describing Gentile sins, the “therefore” of 2:1would give them every right to condemn those sins, not remove the right as 2:1 says. As it is, the condemnation includes Jews who have committed the very same sins, so removing the right of either Jew or Gentile to condemn the other. They both need to hear this. Paul then addresses generic “man” in 2:1, and 3, identifying this “man” with neither Jew nor Gentile, but both.

This makes the best possible sense of Romans 2. Both groups, Jew and Gentile, pass judgment on themselves when they condemn the other, as both are guilty of the same sins - 2:1. Both groups by judging each other show contempt for God’s kindness - 2:2, which has been shown towards them both. The inclusive address continues to 2:18. In 2:19 Paul turns to the Jew. In 2:26-28 he begins to generalise about “a Jew”. 3:2 talks about Jews in the third person. 2:5 talks about Paul himself and the Jews in the first person plural. 3:9b returns to “Jews and Gentiles alike”. Paul is moving easily and rapidly between both groups for the benefit of both, a bit like a teacher who is “dressing down” two school children for equally bad behaviour to the other.

The Law speaks to those who are under the Law so that “the whole world may be held accountable to God.” The point at issue is that God must first deal with his own people in order that the nations may be held accountable. The next paragraph (3:21-26) then tells us how God is dealing with his own people with a view to being recognised subsequently as God of the nations (3:29).

A more obvious way of understanding these verses is that the law has just been shown to speak to the world through the catena of verses in 3:10-18 (all are non Israel specific, except Isaiah 59:7,8), and the law does indeed hold the world, not just Israel, accountable to God. Moreover, the sinfulness of the world including Israel means that the law can no longer be the means of declaring anyone righteous (3:20a). Rather, the law here shows that the whole world is sinful (3:20b).

The next paragraph, 3:21-31, tells how God is dealing with all people, not just his own as you have said. This is how the logic of statements like 3:22, 23, 28, 29 30 makes sense. It is all inclusive language, where inclusive means included in the hilasterion of v.25, which is alternatively rendered as “the one who would turn aside wrath, taking away sin”.

4 Maccabees is not a good text to explain 3:25, since its composition was 1st century and possibly later than Romans.

I don’t think you give much credence to the work of the Spirit in the effectiveness of the spread of the gospel, as the good news of the kingdom. Rather more emphasis is given to the consequences of violent political conflict, through and out of which the Constantinian empire and its church settlement were born. Again, I think this conflicts entirely with the teaching and example Jesus gave of the kingdom in his own life and ministry, and it is that rather than violence which should be looked for the hallmark of the kingdom of God.

The letter as a whole is addressed to the church in Rome, which was presumably made up of Jewish and Gentile believers. Romans 1:18-32 is an analysis of Gentile sin. Agreed. Chapters 2-3, perhaps also 4, however, are “addressed” rhetorically to, directed towards, the person who calls himself a Jew, relies on the Law, boasts in the Law, but dishonours God by breaking the Law (Rom. 2:17, 23). At no point does Paul address the Gentile in a similar fashion.

They both need to be present as the audience Paul is addressing.

Obviously Gentile believers in Rome hear the whole argument. But they are listening in on Paul’s diatribe against the non-Christian Jew at this point.

Paul then addresses generic “man” in 2:1, and 3, identifying this “man” with neither Jew nor Gentile, but both.

No. “O man” (ō anthrōpe) addresses the Jew. Note Romans 9:20, which unequivocally has the Jew in view: ‘But who are you, O man (ō anthrōpe), to answer back to God? Will what is moulded say to its moulder, “Why have you made me like this?”’ (Rom. 9:20). In the background, no doubt, is Micah’s address to the Jew, where exactly the same problem is at issue—it is not enough for Jews to have the outward forms of religion (the Law, the temple system); they must also act righteously:

Has it been told to you, O man (anthrōpe), what is good or what the Lord seeks from you, but to do judgment and to love mercy and to be ready to walk with the Lord, your God? (Mic. 6:8 LXX)

So there is no switching back and forth between Jew and Gentile in chapters 2-3. The “Greek” is introduced in order to make a point to the Jew—such as that on the day of judgment righteous Gentiles will come off better than unrighteous Jews.

A more obvious way of understanding these verses is that the law has just been shown to speak to the world through the catena of verses in 3:10-18 (all are non Israel specific, except Isaiah 59:7,8), and the law does indeed hold the world, not just Israel, accountable to God.

But the Old Testament texts are listed specifically to prove to the Jews that they are no better off than the Gentiles (Rom. 3:9). Besides, I would question the argument that the catena has the whole world in view. The quotations from the Psalms and Proverbs presuppose godlessness and injustice in Israel. “Their throat is an open grave” in Psalm 5:9, for example, is followed by “they have rebelled against you” in verse 10. It is the evil men who surround David under whose lips is the venom of asps (Ps. 140:3).

Paul cites Jewish scriptures about Jewish wickedness to demonstrate to the Jews of the diaspora that they are as bad as the Gentiles whom they are so quick to condemn: “For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Rom. 2:1). These are Jewish texts holding Israel accountable to God’s standards, so that righteous Israel will provide the benchmark by which the world will be held accountable. First the Jew, then the Greek (Rom. 2:9-10).

It is all inclusive language, where inclusive means included in the hilasterion of v.25, which is alternatively rendered as “the one who would turn aside wrath, taking away sin”.

It is inclusive language only if you take it out of context. But the context is clear:

1. The Jews are no better off (3:9).

2. The scriptures make it clear that there is godlessness and injustice in Israel (3:10-18).

3. The Law speaks to those under the Law so that in the long run the whole world may be held accountable (3:19).

4. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested for Israel apart from the Law (3:20.

5. God has demonstrated his righteousness (with respect to those who are under the Law, which is what the whole passage is about) by putting Jesus forward as a propitiation for the sins of Israel.

The Gentiles are not included in this argument except insofar as this is a solution for Israel’s sin “apart from the Law,” which means that Gentiles too may believe in the Lord Jesus and be forgiven (cf. Eph. 2:11-22).

Romans 1:18-32 is not simply addressing Gentile sin, as the verses I highlighted show. If it was only addressing Gentile sin, the “therefore” of 2:1 would not show that the Jews condemn themselves by so judging Gentiles. “Therefore” only has meaning if Jews have already been shown to commit the sins which they so readily attribute to Gentiles.

On the other hand, Gentile sins are obvious. No one denies their sins in 1:18-32.

So when Paul comes to “O man” in 2:1, he has already made his meaning clear: it is “man” as comprising the Jews and Gentiles he has already specifically been addressing. As 2 continues, it is quite clear he is addressing both Jew and Gentile, since he refers to them both, not one as “you” and the other as “Gentile”.

Paul returns specifically to the Jew (not “O man”) in 2:17, and stays with the Jew through to 3:9.

You cite 3:9 as showing that Paul remains with the Jew through to 18, but the meaning of 3:9a is not clear, and a variant tries to solve the lack of clarity by having “worse” instead of “better”. “Better” does not make good sense if we supply “than the Gentiles” to complete Paul’s sentence. That could obviously not be what he or anyone would conclude from the preceding argument. A variant has offered “Are we any worse?” to try to make better sense, and so it does if we now supply the missing “than the Gentiles”, as the preceding argument has been very damning of the Jews. But either way, Paul then restores the temporarily missing clarity. “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin”. He then “proves” this from the Jewish “law” by his catena of verses, which despite what you say, are not Israel specific apart from Isaiah 59.

My interpretation of 3:19-20 still holds. Paul has moved from talking about the Jew to Jew and Gentile. The frequent reference to both in 3:21-31 as the direct beneficiaries of Christ through his death (which demonstrates his righteousness as faithfulness to the covenant which was with Gentile Abraham) confirms that the focus is no longer Israel as “the Jew” alone.

Romans is not a straightforward book to understand, and typical “salvation manual” approaches have oversimplified it hugely. Nevertheless, I think your interpretation is wide of the mark, and leads you into a theoretical conclusion which does not account for experience or history, with which it needs to engage more fully than I believe you have done.

At times, I think we are reading two very different books.

Agreed on the first point. The reason for the “therefore” in Romans 2:1 is that Paul is about to accuse the Jews of doing what the Gentiles do: Therefore, the Jew who condemns the Greek condemns himself:

For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. (Rom. 2:1)

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law…. While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Rom. 2:17–24)

But why dismiss the clear biblical evidence from both Romans and Micah that “O man” is an appropriate way to address a critique to the Jew? Fitzmyer is by no means the exception among commentators:

The modifying phrase, pas ho krinōn, also belongs with ō anthrōpe so that it becomes clear that Paul is not just addressing every human being, but specifically that one who scrutinizes pagans and lauds what he (Paul) has been saying about them. The Jew judges in virtue of what is said in Ps 79:6: “Pour out your wrath upon the nations that acknowledge you not, upon kingdoms that call not upon your name.” (Romans, 299)

However we read proechometha in 3:9 (middle or passive), the point is that the argument all the way through 3:1-20 is directed rhetorically against the Jews: What advantage does the Jew have? What is the benefit of circumcision? God is right to inflict wrath on us. Are we better off / worse off? We know that the Law speaks to those who are under the Law.

That final statement (3:19) seems to me strongly to suggest that the list of biblical quotations is meant to speak to those who are under the Law.

Actually, my argument was that Jew and Gentile sins were both in view in 1:18-32, which makes sense of the link of “therefore” with the conclusion that Jews cannot judge Gentiles without also condemning themselves. “Therefore” requires something to have already been demonstrated. It is not looking for proofs which might appear later.

My argument is also that Gentiles might equally judge Jews for the sins which had eventually sent them into exile, and obstructed in the present the restoration of God’s favour.

The dual focus on Jew & Gentile continues to 2:16. Paul doesn’t specifically identify Jews alone until 2:17. He then returns to both groups in 3:9b, which introduces the catena of 3:10-18 and lays the foundation for the logic of 3:19-20.

Despite my conviction that this is how Paul’s logic develops in Romans 2. & 3., I concede that your view also makes sense of a reading of these chapters. I just don’t think in the end Paul has made it clear he is only addressing one group, as the letter opens to all the saints at Rome, and continues to 1:18, and in my opinion further, without any suggestion that he is addressing Jews rather than Jews and Gentiles together.

A bigger problem is where the logic of a limited focus leads you. Obviously it limits Christ’s atoning death to Jews in their sins, and that limits the application of the death of Christ to the rest of the world in its sins. You may say that God does not need Christ’s death to forgive anyone, but that death was an inclusive act in which those who believed also died (to sin), and were also raised with Christ - first in new life (of the Spirit), and a physical resurrection with Christ yet to come. Limit this to Jews alone, and the foundation for life “in Christ” for the rest of the world, as it is understood from Romans especially, is removed. That is to me foundational to Christian living, and a major way in which Christ becomes King. You can understand how I would not be willing to part with such a truth, which I have lived with for 47 years!

We clearly disagree about Romans 3:9-18. Romans 3:19 does speak to those “under the law” in the sense that “the law” which Paul has just been quoting from the Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah, speaks of universal sinfulness, not just Israel’s sins. This is how the charge that “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (3:9b) is demonstrated. The rest of the world is also under the law’s judgment in the sinfulness which the law convicts it of. It is now no longer possible for the law to bring righteousness (justification) to anyone - Jew or Gentile. But Christ can - 3:21-31.

This is a message of hope for the world. Strip Christ of this message, and we are left with a faith which in my opinion would not convince anyone to want embrace, especially today. Why would anyone want to become part of a church when the relevance of Christ and scriptures were so relegated to past history?

You may say that God does not need Christ’s death to forgive anyone, but that death was an inclusive act in which those who believed also died (to sin), and were also raised with Christ - first in new life (of the Spirit), and a physical resurrection with Christ yet to come. Limit this to Jews alone, and the foundation for life “in Christ” for the rest of the world, as it is understood from Romans especially, is removed.

Well, at least that moves things on a bit. There’s no contradiction, as far as I can see, between Jesus dying for the sins of Israel, and both Jews and Gentiles subsequently sharing in his death and resurrection life. Jesus’ death as an act of atonement, of course, was not an inclusive act.

If Gentiles become part of the renewed Israel that has been redeemed by Jesus’ death, they inevitably must take on the eschatological consequences. That is what dying with Christ, being in Christ, means for Paul. These are not general ways of speaking about being Christian. They are ways of accounting for the suffering and providing assurance of eventual vindication, even beyond death. That is why Paul makes being “fellow heirs with Christ” conditional upon (eiper) suffering with Christ (Rom. 8:17); and what he means by suffering is spelled out a few verses later:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Rom. 8:35–36)

The quotation from Psalm 44:22 (cf. verse 11) refers to the oppression of Israel by the nations.

So I do not limit dying and rising with Christ to Jews. I limit it to the early martyr church. It can be applied to the church through the ages only in a weakened, spiritualised sense—except, of course, when the church faces the same sort of persecution, though that is still outside the narrative purview of the New Testament.

Romans 3:19 does speak to those “under the law” in the sense that “the law” which Paul has just been quoting from the Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah, speaks of universal sinfulness, not just Israel’s sins.

I’ve checked the commentaries of Dunn, Moo, Fitzmyer, Byrne and Jewett. They all say that tois en tōi nomōi is a reference to Jews and only to Jews. I would be the first to admit that the majority can get it wrong, but I doubt you could find any evidence that a first century Jew would use the phrase in reference to the uncircumcised.

Why would anyone want to become part of a church when the relevance of Christ and scriptures were so relegated to past history?

That’s absurd, and really annoying. It’s your persistent, and I suspect wilful, misreading of my argument. Jesus is alive. He is the living Lord at the right hand of God, who judges and rules over his people. How can you say that my argument consigns him to the past? People today experience the new covenant life of the people of God only because he died for the sins of Israel. The church lives and works by the Spirit which the resurrected Jesus poured out on his followers (Acts 2:33)!

Just to respond to a couple of things here, perhaps as a final comment from me.

You respond vociferously to my comment that your interpretation makes “the relevance of Christ and the scriptures … . so relegated to past history”. But that’s exactly what you have been doing in the preceding five paragraphs, and it is how you understand and present most of the New Testament.

You counter my comment by saying:

Jesus is alive. He is the living Lord at the right hand of God, who judges and rules over his people.

But most of his accomplishment, so rich in its detail, expounded at length by Paul, is seen as applying to 1st century believers only, and in a largely political frame of reference. The rich personal dimension of Paul’s exposition of Jesus’s death and resurrection, such as in Romans 6, no longer applies at all.

People today experience the new covenant life of the people of God only because he died for the sins of Israel

And it’s in the richness of the incorporation of 1st century believers into that death and resurrection that new life in anticipation of new creation through the resurrection is experienced, but not apparently for anyone else. The rich exposition is for them and them only.

The church lives and works by the Spirit which the resurrected Jesus poured out on his followers

In rather a different sense for you, I think, than I would understand. The only reason I can see that the Holy Spirit, the spirit of sonship, was given to believers was because of their inclusion in Christ’s death and resurrection. As far as I can see, you are saying that this direct application of Christ’s death and resurrection was for 1st century believers only. Paul’s expositions on the subject are of historical interest only, as I read you.

You have referred to four commentaries on Romans 3:19, “whatever the law says it says to those under the law”, as saying that this refers to the Jews. One of the commentators, Moo, also says that the verses listed in 3:10-18 illustrate “universal sinfulness”. He says “Significantly, while some of the OT passages Paul quotes describe the enemies of Israel, others refer to the sins of the people of Israel”. In other words, both groups are in view, representing “Jews and Gentiles alike” v.9b (my understanding of Moo’s logic).

Moo does indeed regard 3:19-20 as revealing “his (Paul’s) preoccupation with the status of the Jews”. That’s how Moo understands tois en tōi nomōi. Yet from this, Moo deduces that “every mouth is now silenced - no one has any defence to offer before God”. In other words, Jews and Gentiles alike are in view in 3:19-20.

Moo also points out that tois en tōi nomōi appears nowhere else in Greek, though a parallel Hebrew phrase occurs in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Whatever, in one way or another commentators seem to agree this has to do with Jews under the law. I just thought my interpretation cast a new light on things, but it leads to the same conclusion in the end. 3:19-20 is speaking of Jews and Gentiles, not just Jews.

(Moo is quoted from New Bible Commentary).

But most of his accomplishment, so rich in its detail, expounded at length by Paul, is seen as applying to 1st century believers only, and in a largely political frame of reference. The rich personal dimension of Paul’s exposition of Jesus’s death and resurrection, such as in Romans 6, no longer applies at all.

So what? Lots of things happen in history, that benefit subsequent generations indirectly. That’s how history works. Get over it.

Only a very small number of Israelites were “in Moses”—they experienced the terrors and hardships, the disappointments and miracles, of the exodus. But the nation as a whole, throughout the coming centuries, celebrated that historic act of divine redemption and enjoyed its benefits in the land that was acquired as a consequence.

Likewise, only a small number of Christians suffered as Christ suffered and were glorified as he was glorified in the traumatic eschatological period that brought about the rule of YHWH over the nations of the Greek-Roman world. Their reward was to reign with Christ throughout the coming ages. Subsequent generations of believers benefited from their faithful witness but cannot pretend that they were there, fighting the battle with them.

The argument of Romans 5-8 is directed to those who will suffer persecution. The problem is that if we arrogate it for ourselves today, we not only blithely perpetuate a misreading of the text, we deny its specific relevance to the early church. That is hermeneutically unethical.

When Paul says, “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5), he means exactly what he says. If the churches share in Jesus’ suffering, they will share in his resurrection, vindication, glory, and kingdom. Baptism was a sign of their willingness to take on that burden.

Jesus said the same thing. If they are not prepared to take up their own crosses of persecution and faithfully confess him, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he finally comes in his glory (Mk. 8:34-9:1).

This does not make it any easier or any less significant for a person today who becomes part of this people. A proselyte in the 9th century BC entered the community on the conditions established when the covenant was made at Sinai. A person who becomes a Christian today enters the community under the conditions established when Jesus died for the sins of his people and was raised to life. Nothing of “spiritual” significance is lost.

You are only presenting an interpretation Andrew, in somewhat immoderate language, not the final and exclusive truth. What you are saying also reinforces my point: your interpretation relegates most of what the scriptures have to say about Jesus to the past, stripping out the application of most of the content for today. That in itself should be a warning light that something might be awry with the interpretation.

The only reason I can see that the Holy Spirit, the spirit of sonship, was given to believers was because of their inclusion in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Yes, the Spirit of sonship is to be understood in close connection with the experience and mission of the early church. This is the Pentecost paradigm, if you like, based on Joel—the pouring out of the Spirit of prophecy in the last days, on the eschatological community, to empower all its members for prophetic witness against unrighteous Israel. This is the Spirit that cries out, “Abba, Father,” when believers face their Gethsemane moment (Rom. 8:15).

The other paradigm is the “new covenant” one, based on Jeremiah, where the Spirit written on people’s hearts, replaces the Law as the basis for right living as God’s new creation, covenant people. That paradigm remains operative under all historical circumstances.

One of the commentators, Moo, also says that the verses listed in 3:10-18 illustrate “universal sinfulness”.

Yes, he got that bit wrong. None of the passages describes the enemies of Israel, as I think I’ve made clear. They describe the enemies of the righteous in Israel.

Yet from this, Moo deduces that “every mouth is now silenced - no one has any defence to offer before God”. In other words, Jews and Gentiles alike are in view in 3:19-20.

But there are clearly two stages to the argument: God first holds those who are en tōi nomōi accountable (the Jew first), so that he can secondly hold the world accountable (then the Greek). So this section of Romans is all about why and how God first holds his own people accountable.

This raises the question of how the Jews will escape complete destruction when they are judged for their sins (or how God will remain true to his promise to Abraham), which leads Paul to say that God has put forward his Son as a propitiation for the sins of his people.

Yes, I can see that you are saying that 3:19-20 describes a sequence, (with 3:10-17 describing sins of the Jews, not Gentiles). My question is whether that is what would be reasonably be understood from Paul’s presentation of the argument here. Unlike you, I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic, but I don’t think that is what would be reasonably understood from the text.

Just to reiterate, there is ample evidence to suggest that Paul is addressing Jew and Gentile believer from the beginning of Romans to 2:17. The direct address to the Jew probably finishes in 2:27, with a transition in 28-29. Paul continues to speak of the Jew in the third person, switching to first person plural in 3:5 and again in the rather opaque 3:9. But from 3:9b it couldn’t be clearer: he is now back to speaking of Jews and Gentiles as one group, with the catalogue of sins which he takes from Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah.

Without going back to your assertion that the verses all describe exclusively the sins of Israel, which I do not think is proven (Ecclesiastes 7:20 would be a case in point, but the Psalms could all be revisited), the more important question is what can reasonably be understood to be how Paul is using the verses? It’s already clear that he is not using the extracts from Psalms in a way that takes full account of their context in the Psalms, where the wicked are juxtaposed with “my people” and “the righteous” - Psalm 14:4,5, Psalm 53; “all who take refuge in you” - Psalm 5:11; the righteous - Psalm 140:13; “the upright in heart” - Psalm 36:10.

Paul uses the catena to demonstrate that “Jews and Gentiles (alike) are “all under sin”, but that isn’t actually the whole picture of the Psalms themselves. So quoting from the context of the verses to provide their meaning is not a reliable guide as to Paul’s meaning.

The argument in this section concludes with the reasonably firm construction that the whole world stands guilty before God, and observance of the law no longer provides justification/declaration of righteousness. 3:21-31 provides the reasonable construction that righteousness is provided for all who believe in Christ, the “all” setting no limits on his death for sin, as “all”, Jew and Gentile, need the same means of being set free from it

Abraham’s faith is used to reinforce the universality of faith(fulness) as the means andto righteousness; 5-8 provide the detail of universal sinfulness from Adam, and how we are set free. Gloriously, once you grasp it.

My multiple responses to the previous post are a technical failure. Could you delete three of the four? (I wouldn’t want it to be felt I was deluging your site with responses ….

The direct address to the Jew probably finishes in 2:27, with a transition in 28-29. Paul continues to speak of the Jew in the third person, switching to first person plural in 3:5 and again in the rather opaque 3:9.

This is very strained. There’s no reason why Paul shouldn’t refer to “a Jew” in the third person when he is addressing Jews in the first person—especially when verses 28-29 have a gnomic character.

It’s already clear that he is not using the extracts from Psalms in a way that takes full account of their context in the Psalms, where the wicked are juxtaposed with “my people” and “the righteous” - Psalm 14:4,5, Psalm 53; “all who take refuge in you” - Psalm 5:11; the righteous - Psalm 140:13; “the upright in heart” - Psalm 36:10.

This is also very strained. In Ezekiel 34 a distinction is made between the wicked shepherds of Israel and “my sheep”. There’s nothing here that points to the wicked being Gentiles. Where is the evidence that Paul does not take context into account?

Paul’s line of thought is consistent and coherent, it seems to me (Rom. 3:5-20). God is justified in inflicting wrath on us Jews. It means he can then also judge the world. We Jews know that the Gentiles are under sin. What we need to realise is that we are also under sin; indeed, here’s a long list of quotations from scripture that proves the point. We know that the Law speaks to those who are under the Law. God first holds his own people accountable, according to the Law, so that he can then hold the whole world accountable.

He then “proves” this from the Jewish “law” by his catena of verses, which despite what you say, are not Israel specific apart from Isaiah 59.

Every text that Paul cites has reference exclusively to the problem of injustice, lawlessness, and godlessness in Israel; none makes reference to Gentiles.

For there is not a righteous person in the land, who will do good and not sin. (Eccl. 7:20 LXX)

The preacher is king and judge in Jerusalem; he is responsible for maintaining justice in the land; he ends by urging his readers: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 1:12; 12:13). He does not mean every “man” on the earth; he means every Jew in the land.

The Lord peered down from the sky on the sons of men to see if there was any who had understanding or who sought after God. All turned away, as well they became useless; there is no one practicing kindness; there is not even one. (Ps. 13:2–3 LXX)

The Psalm is directed against injustice in Israel, against people who should have called upon the Lord (13:4 LXX). It is the unrighteous Jew, who exploits the poor and says in his heart that there is no God (13:1; cf. 10:4 LXX). It is social divisions within Israel that set the context, not the clash between Jews and Gentiles.

Because there is no truth in their mouth, their heart is vain; their throat is an opened grave; with their tongues they would practice deceit. (Ps. 5:10 LXX)

This is an indictment of people who would otherwise stand or dwell in the presence of God (5:5 LXX). They are people who should keep the Law but do not (paranomoi); they have rebelled against YHWH—exactly the Jews whom Paul condemns in Romans 2-3 (Ps. 5:6 LXX; cf. 36:38 LXX).

They made their tongue sharp as a snake’s; venom of vipers is under their lips. (Ps. 139:4)

This directed against people around David, perhaps in the royal court. “A lament in which the psalmist prays for deliverance from personal enemies” (Dahood).

him whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness and deceit; under his tongue are grief and hardship (Ps. 9:28 LXX)

The Psalm again presupposes social division and injustice in Israel: the impious sinner acts unjustly towards the poor (9:23-24 LXX = Ps. 10:2-3 MT). No reference is made to Gentiles.

And their feet run to evil, swift to shed blood, and their reasonings are reasonings of fools; destruction and wretchedness are in their ways. And a way of peace they do not know, and there is no judgment in their ways, for their paths, through which they travel, are crooked, and they do not know peace. (Is. 59:7–8 LXX)

This belongs to a prophecy of judgment against Israel: “your sinful acts separate between you and God, and because of your sins he has turned his face away from you so as not to show mercy” (Is. 59:2 LXX).

Says the transgressor of the law in himself, in order to sin: there is no fear of the divine before his eyes…. (Ps. 35:2 LXX)

The transgressor of the Law is someone close to the psalmist (nominally David), not a Gentile: “Let the foot of arrogance not come to me, and may the hand of sinners not shake me. There those who practice lawlessness fell; they were thrust out and will be unable to stand” (Ps. 35:12–13 LXX).

These passages all reinforce Paul central argument in this section, which is that the Jews are no more righteous than the Greeks, possibly less so, and cannot complain if they themselves face the wrath of God before the Greeks are held accountable.

I’ve only just seen this. It’s odd that for nearly 2000 years Paul has been understood as describing universal sinfulness in these verses, and suddenly you have discovered that he hasn’t. You seem to be quoting from Psalms numbered according to LXX, which I am unable to match with the standard numbering. All I can say is that according to my reading, Isaiah is the only text relating explicitly to Israel. The evildoers in Psalms 14 & 53 may be Israel’s enemies. Ecclesiastes 7:20 can be and is rendered “on earth” as opposed to “in the land”. The Psalms of David, where the context is taken to be from David’s own life, are not necessarily his experiences in Israel. But there’s another problem with taking Paul’s references too literally. However you look at them, Paul is describing unmitigated sinfulness. Yet in the Psalms, he contrasts the wicked with the righteous. He may not be paying as much attention to context as we would think proper. I think you overstate your case.

re: ” that Paul’s argument about Jesus’ atoning death in Romans 3:21-26 is confined to an argument about Israel “

I am tempted to see the (to me otherwise puzzling) mention of historical context of Romans 5:6 “at just the right time, when we were still weak” as a reference to the specific circumstances of Israel in the late 20s/early 30s AD. Jesus died the way he died in order to delay the coming destruction of the nation (foreseen by some of Jesus’ adversaries in Jn 11:48-50 and of course repeatedly foretold by Jesus himself). If that’s right, Gentiles are simply not in view as objects of redemption through the Cross; rather what they are going to later do to Israel is what Israel needs to be “saved” from.

I wonder whether the following statement, Romans 5:9-10, might be an early hint within the argument of Romans of Paul’s optimism concerning Israel’s ultimate fate that he argues to at length in chapters 9-11. If Jesus was able to delay the looming disaster in Israel simply by passively submitting to the hatred of his enemies, how much more will he be able to accomplish now that he is imperishably alive and actively ruling the known world from heaven?

I’ve reluctantly (hard to surrender old mental habits) come to the view that Romans probably should be regarded to be an “Israel-centric” book. Chapters 9-11 appear on traditional readings to be a strange emotional outburst that interrupts an otherwise orderly argument about “justification by faith” and its implications for how we live. I suspect that they are actually the point of the entire book, the hinge that the argument pivots on. Paul is telling his Gentile readers that God has not abandoned Israel; rather, as he affirms in a summary statement in chapter 15, Jesus became a servant to Israel in order to fulfill God’s promises previously made to Israel’s forefathers.

Samuel, thank you for this. It’s so gratifying when someone “gets it”. This is what I wrote regarding Romans 5:6 and the reconciliation of God to his people in The Future of the People of God:

Paul identifies himself with Israel in transition when he says that at a critical moment in the narrative (eti kata kairon), when we were “weak,” under judgment as a consequence of sin and at enmity with God, Christ died for the ungodly. The language continues to evoke, though less overtly and less precisely, a Jewish self-understanding shaped by a narrative of judgment and restoration. For example, the Psalmist writes that the unrighteous in Israel are “sinners” and “enemies of the Lord”; they will perish, but the Lord “knows the ways of the blameless, and their heritage shall be forever; they shall not be put to shame in an evil time” (Ps 36:18–20 LXX). Hosea claims that Israel has been made “weak” by their iniquities (Hos 5:5; 14:2 LXX). If the Jews are enemies of God and threatened with calamity, they are in need of reconciliation (cf. Rom 5:9–11). 2 Maccabees is written ostensibly as a letter from Jews in Jerusalem to their “brothers in Egypt” regarding the celebration of the purification of the temple and the defeat of the army of Nicanor, who had been sent by Ptolemy “to wipe out the whole race of Judea” (2 Macc 8:9). It opens with a prayer that God will bring peace, that he will be reconciled (katallageiē) to them and not forsake them “in a time of evil” (2 Macc 1:1–5). The ghastly torments inflicted by Antiochus on the seven brothers are interpreted as a sign of God’s anger towards Israel: “we are suffering because of our own sins”; but they are confident that after this rebuke and disciplining “he will again be reconciled (katallagēsetai) with his own slaves” (2 Macc 7:32–33). Following the defeat of Nicanor, the army of Judas Maccabeus “implored the merciful Lord to be wholly reconciled (katallagēnai) with his slaves” (2 Macc 8:29).

Yes, Romans is a very Israel-centric book. Paul is doing his best to retain a central position for his people, despite their sin and rebellion, as he realises that YHWH is reaching out to embrace the whole empire. But I think he is slowly losing hope.

Thank you, Andrew; I find your ‘blog to be very helpful.

I’m insufficiently familiar with the OT and related literature to be able to on-my-own discern most of the intertextual echoes that you mention in your extract; will get the book.

One of the consequences of my intertextual “deafness” (which I concede is a significant disability) is that I am tempted (for lack of alternatives) to see concrete historical references in some of Paul’s statements. For example, it’s (to me) tempting to see a self-reference in Rom 5:6; perhaps Paul was of the “war party” in Israel, and the “we were still weak” reference is to a political reality of the war party not being strong enough to lead the nation to war in the absence of a messianic figure around which the nation could rally (seemingly the fear in Jn 11:48).

It’s highly speculative, but when Paul writes something personal like the “who loved me and gave himself for me” of Gal 2:20, I’m tempted to see a concrete reality – Saul of the war party would likely have died in the war if it had come in his time; that Jesus delayed (from Paul’s perspective, perhaps even prevented) the war might in Paul’s mind have had very personal implications.

That’s all highly speculative and I hold it with a loose grip. But I love your insistence, as I understand it, that “good theology” needs to be “good history” too.

Again, thank you.

Andrew - maybe some of us “get it” but see serious problems with it.

Hi Peter,

I want to say that, by and large, I appreciate your dialogue with Andrew. I always think it helps to have some pushback which is (usually) civil to provide an opportunity for clarification, refinement, and elucidation of detail. Often, something you have pushed back on in a comment gave Andrew an opportunity to respond and it helped me understand both of you better.

Having said that, I would like to respectfully push back on this statement you made - that you “get it” but see serious problems with it.

I read this after, earlier, reading your comment where you said this:

This is a message of hope for the world. Strip Christ of this message, and we are left with a faith which in my opinion would not convince anyone to want embrace, especially today. Why would anyone want to become part of a church when the relevance of Christ and scriptures were so relegated to past history?

To me, this indicates that you may not “get it” to the extent that you believe you have, and I mean that respectfully, not in a snide way. It’s hard to present that in print.

I’m assuming that you are not wilfully misrepresenting Andrew in order for rhetorical purposes. If that’s true, I would offer that if you “got it,” you would not think of what you wrote as a valid critique.

There is nothing about a narrative historical understanding of Christ’s work that makes it unimportant to contemporary Gentile believers, although it may restructure -how- we think of its importance and what role, then, that importance plays in message and mission.

There is certainly nothing that relegates the relevance of both Jesus and the Scriptures strictly to the distant past. Do you think the Maccabees found the Exodus stories irrelevant? These past narratives have not only shaped us, but they help us make sense of our present experience and advise us on how to look to the future. This is done in conjunction with the living presence of Jesus who rules the Church by the power of the Spirit which expresses itself in living, transformational ways all over the world.

There is nothing about a narrative historical perspective that infringes on that and, if anything, it helps to make sense of it. In many ways, it’s helped me to get my Bible back.

The only thing I would ask that you seriously consider is whether or not you actually do “get it.” Your overarching criticisms do not seem commensurate with that.

I will grant you that Andrew does not, in every article, proceed to talk about how whatever he’s discussing is currently “relevant,” but it does happen, and it’s not uncommon for him to pull this together in summary articles.

Also, I think you would enjoy listening to his sermons at Crossroads. They’re obviously geared for a more popular level for actual congregations to consume, and I assure you none of them end with, “So, in conclusion, nothing in our reading is relevant to you.”

Phil - Thanks again, as ever, for your ever timely mediation and conciliation services.

I think in my penultimate post, I described what I think is stripped out by Andrew’s narrative historical approach for all believers except 1st century Israelites. I’d be astonished if anyone thought such a stripping out was of little consequence to people today (or in any post 1st century period). Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps you can help me to understand why I’m wrong?

Maybe too you can tell me who are the people who “get it”, and why this represents a way forward for 21st century believers which will rescue the church from the oblivion to which they seem to think it is otherwise destined. What actually is left for people today to want to become believers and maybe part of the church, other than a vaguely defined social conscience about the environment, and an even vaguer sense of being priests on earth, with maybe some sort of prophetic significance.

Despite taking some ideas from the Bible, I’m afraid I see most of scripture being left behind as only strictly relevant to 1st century political events and their aftermath in a Christendom already long since it’s sell-by date. As Andrew once said, we are “off the map” as far as scripture is concerned.

So I suppose my problem is that while I can see Andrew’s ideas having an attraction for largely cerebral folk (like myself really), for whom nothing more appeals than research and arguing amongst like-minded people, I really don’t see any of this breaking out into anything like a wider market.

I say this without any intention of sarcasm or clever put-down; I just genuinely don’t see Andrew’s views, which are brilliantly argued and presented with a level of detail which is breathtaking, gaining traction. I’m sure Andrew can preach a good sermon, as he is articulate and engaging. I’m open to correction, but I doubt if these are arenas for promoting the narrative historical line. I should also say that, although it’s been a long time, I’ve enjoyed meeting Andrew, and he had stayed over in our house. I enjoy being in the company of stimulating people whose views are different from mine, and have always been someone who is drawn to fresh insights. Online discussion is very different from face to face encounter, and although I rather naively dream of pure exchange of intellectual views, the reality is that online conversation is very two dimensional, and human presence is actually vital for healthy discussion. So one can only get so far in these debates.

Oddly enough, I do tend to form mental images of people who contribute to these online discussions. Dare I say it Phil, but I think of you as a generous hearted philanthropic sort of person, whom I vividly conjure up as having a fairly pointed face, with well groomed moustache and beard, whose usual attire is a white linen jacket and fedora. I also see you living in quite a mansion, since you once referred to an extension you were going to build to your library, to be known as “the Andrew Perriman” wing

It’s pure fantasy, but it affects how I see you, and filter - completely favourably - your online contributions. However, like many impressions formed of people in this way, invariably face to face contact shatters the fantasy. My fantasy of Andrew’s online forum was initially of pure disinterested theological debate. I have come to realise that Andrew has a product to sell, or perhaps to change the metaphor, his narrative historical theory is his “baby”, and it matters to defend it at all costs.

So yes, I welcome anything you can offer to show that the n.h. theories of Postost are of more than arcane academic interest. Seriously.

Hi Peter,

I’ve been thinking about how to respond, examples to offer, etc. I appreciate your forthrightness, and I do feel that, if we were sitting across a table from each other, we could at least arrive at a common understanding very quickly, even if there were still disagreements.

I thought I might offer this:

Do you think the narrative of the Exodus was useful to the Israelites living through the Babylonian exile, or do you think those stories were irrelevant to them?

If they were relevant, how would you describe the relevance?

A very indirect question. I think for Israel history was probably largely edited to serve the needs of the present - which was exile in Babylon and immediately following.

Yeah.

I thought for a long time about how I might talk about this, and I just ended up writing a blog post about it:

http://tinyurl.com/y62794tx

I don’t know that you’ll be totally satisfied with it, and I’d be happy to talk about specific instances if you like, but it lays out where I’m coming from at this point.

As always, I do not claim my views represent Andrew’s. He may have differences in thought on how a narrative historical method is of benefit to contemporary people.

Great linked article Phil… thanks

Thanks Phil. Your passion and perception of how a thoroughgoing historical reading of the NT works is noted. I’d be interested to know what the great things are that you have seen when this approach is presented.

I think where we differ is that I see more than AD70 and the ultimate downfall of Rome in the coming of Jesus and how he was understood by the NT authors. Yet the immediate circumstances and consequential history are clearly the world and culture in which the events were played out. I just see much more than that, and not as hints of things to come in much later times and more distant horizons.

1 Maccabees is not a good example for me of the historical approach you are advocating, as it promotes a trajectory from an OT interpretation, a very obvious one admittedly, which I think is radically altered by Jesus and the apostles.

Yet we’re on common ground in not seeing the Bible as a source book of infallible information for today’s church/world. But I do see it as speaking more directly to today than you.

I think Matthew demonstrated more than “transposition” in his use of OT citations, and so did Jesus and Paul. They each used ways of interpreting the OT which reflect 2nd Temple practices, from which we could learn a lot, not in the sense of imitating the practices so much as seeing how a “deeper meaning” of scripture than a literal meaning was understood and applauded by 1st century Jews. For them and for Jesus himself, everything was changed by the coming of Christ, who now overrode all other interpretations and made them relevant to himself. We would call this twisting scripture, or eisogesis.

A grammatical historical reading of scripture has its place, but as an exclusive tool will miss the point entirely, in my opinion.

I think where we differ is that I see more than AD70 and the ultimate downfall of Rome in the coming of Jesus and how he was understood by the NT authors.

I don’t think we differ in that notion. I agree with it. I think we differ in what we see as the main, proximate concern of these authors and which things are implications of other things.

For instance, I might look at the inclusion of Gentiles in the covenant as a mechanism through which God’s people survive in their present historical climate as well as the mechanism through which God will eventually rule the nations in Christ. The inclusion of the Gentiles is a means to those ends.

You are possibly more likely (note: this is a guess, not an accusation) to consider the inclusion of Gentiles as an end unto itself, probably borne out of God’s desire to save everyone’s souls, and things like the spread of Christianity and the conversion of the Empire are just outworkings of that main goal, which is God saving Gentiles’ souls through conversion.

I think the authors focus on the present world circumstances of the believing community and are mostly interested in that, and I would guess that you believe the authors are primarily interested in the spiritual welfare of mankind, and this just happens to be expressed in certain historical particulars at the time.

But I think we both agree that there is more to how the NT authors see Jesus than specific political flashpoints.

Thanks Phil. I’m not wanting to find disagreement where there is none, but I think while a case can be made for the NT authors focusing on more proximate historical events, I still think that the coming of Jesus introduced something more radical than that - on earth, not a spiritual concern for men’s souls.

Obviously I don’t know how you flesh out your views, but I don’t see the binary divide between kingdom and new creation, which Andrew is insistent on. As I read it, the new creation began with Christ’s resurrection and was introduced by the downpayment of the Spirit to all believers, who then had the prophetic task of living it out - sociologically, as Sam Connor has it. Survival was therefore hardly an issue for the early church, despite Paul’s own doubts, despite persecution. It was guaranteed by the nature of the Spirit endowment, and the task, and the power of the resurrection (through which suffering brought power - the central paradox of the faith). The last thing they needed was a political accommodation with a pseudo-empire, which is what they got.

I suppose you could approach this through the logic of covenant - I just haven’t seen how you yourself have worked that through. Where it refers to the promises of Abraham and earlier to creation itself would perhaps be a starting point, as the former was to Paul, and to an extent the latter. But I see a great emphasis in Paul on the power of the Spirit, not least as it worked in his own life, and therefore would work for others.

Not sure where this is taking me, or even if it connects with what you have been saying, but it’s along these lines that I see scripture speaking to today. The universal picture I get particularly from Paul (words chosen advisedly). This is less explicit in Jesus in the gospels, but what he brought was radical enough - and a startling discontinuity with OT expectations, as I see it. I think he said enough to get things started. There’s only so much you can say without being regarded as a complete madman.

When it comes to kingdom, new creation, and present experience, I’m not sure I’d describe either my or Andrew’s portrayal as a “sharp binary,” although I can see how certain articles definitely sound that way.

Andrew’s concern is to demonstrate how these two concepts function in the biblical narrative, and they are not the same thing. This is contra an evangelical tendency to basically make them the same thing, typically with an interest for finding direct relevance for the church’s life and mission today. “Kingdom” has to be relevant to us, so instead of becoming a concrete, historical phenomenon, it becomes something transhistorical and abstract like “the dynamic rule of God over His people,” which makes everything a kingdom, really.

In terms of the biblical narrative and how these concepts function, Andrew draws sharp distinctions, which I think are correct. In terms of the church’s current life and experience, I think it’s only worth mentioning in the sense of countering some sort of dominionist vision for Christianity. I’ll have to find the article, but I also remember not too long ago that Andrew mentioned that making too much noise over what is and isn’t “the kingdom” -now- is functionally not a big deal, which is also where I’m at. I don’t correct people when they talk about “kingdom work” or describe their present experience as a kingdom, mostly because I know they mean something very abstract, anyway.

Heck, sometimes I even use the term “kingdom” as shorthand, myself, just because I know what the other person means when they hear it. Maybe I should start talking about “new creation work.”

But Jesus certainly manifests both themes. Jesus is of pivotal importance in bringing the kingdom of God and introducing new creation. But they’re not the same thing, and even though on our side of the fence, we see new creation as the bigger and more significant picture than a temporary political manifestation of kingdom, I’m not sure we can say that’s what the New Testament authors were primarily concerned with, and I don’t think it’s being very careful to resolve the issue by simply making “kingdom” and “new creation” two different phrases for the exact same thing.

In fact, I’d say the distinction is very helpful in articulating in what ways Jesus was pivotal and how it relates to us, today.

If you go for a strictly historical understanding of what Jesus in particular meant by “kingdom”, then yes, it has a distinct meaning in relation to forthcoming events in the 1st century and following. But pursue this too far, and you end up with something Jesus was not saying, such as that AD 70 was an expression of God’s kingdom. Andrew tends to resort to the later parables, the faithless servants in the vineyard in particular, as paradigmatic of this interpretation. I don’t think that is a good way of interpreting parables, which sometimes express things both like and unlike God’s character and purposes. They’re not a way of writing history in advance, though clearly they have historical significance. Primarily, the vineyard parable is a thinly veiled attack on the leaders of Israel. It is also significantly different from Isaiah’s vineyard prophecy, which Andrew and commentaries tend to overlook.

I think “kingdom” terminology has both immediate and longer term history in view - by which I mean up to the present day and beyond. Nevertheless, I agree that the term can be used carelessly. It certainly cannot be used to justify a domineering kind of faith, or a triumphalist attitude.

The terms “new creation” and “kingdom” are not, in my view, synonymous, but have overlapping significance. As I read him, Andrew makes the bulk of “kingdom” language applicable to the 1st-4th century, as far as the horizon of the NT authors is concerned, and “new creation” somewhat detached to a nebulous future. I see both terms having historical, ongoing and future significance, from our standpoint.

This might all sound dogmatic, but I’m just mapping out how I read it.

But pursue this too far, and you end up with something Jesus was not saying, such as that AD 70 was an expression of God’s kingdom.

My argument about the coming of the kingdom of God, keeping it to the perspective of the Gospels, is that it must be understood as God intervening sovereignly in a “political-religious” crisis to put things right, for the sake of his reputation among the nations (“Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come…”).

Judgment on a corrupt temple system was a crucial first step, but we also have to take into account both the installation of Jesus as king and the renewal of his people who would live, from that point on, according to the Spirit and not according to the Law.

AD 70 is not all that the coming of the kingdom of God was. So there are parables of the kingdom that emphasise judgment on unrighteous Israel, and there are parables of the kingdom that speak of salvation, restoration and a new way of life.

As I read him, Andrew makes the bulk of “kingdom” language applicable to the 1st-4th century, as far as the horizon of the NT authors is concerned, and “new creation” somewhat detached to a nebulous future.

The inaugural and defining kingdom events foreseen in the New Testament belong to the period from the ascension of Jesus to the conversion of the empire. But the kingdom of our God and of his Christ obviously continued beyond that. It’s still here today. Even though the nations of the old Roman Empire no longer confess Jesus as Lord, the church still lives and serves under the lordship of Christ. The language remains relevant, but it’s a state of affairs that exists rather than a further development that we wait for.

Re: ” There is nothing about a narrative historical perspective that infringes on that and, if anything, it helps to make sense of it. In many ways, it’s helped me to get my Bible back. “

I have experienced the same. For me, this approach also helps to address a concern that has occupied my attention for decades, that the way the churches (of US, but I feel pretty confident that this is a world-wide phenomenon) speak the message of Scripture seems so different from the way the message was spoken in the earliest years that we have evidence of (just compare the “sermons” of Acts with any present-day pulpit practice). At one level, it has re-assured me – the application of the message is conditioned by historical circumstances and so can look different in different contexts – but at another, it has re-inforced a concern that perhaps we have not accurately understood the message itself.

I share (what I understand to be part of) Peter’s concern that this approach undermines present-day conceptions of “what ‘the Faith’ is” and I think there is a valid pastoral concern about “how could one safely propagate this view, granting for the sake of argument that it is valid” without leading to “mass exodus” from institutions that have “got it wrong for so long.” But in my context, it appears that an exodus is already underway (I am one of the refugees). At least in US, the groups that claim to take the Scriptures most seriously tend to conceptualize their message as one of “rescue from terrible post-mortem agonies”, and that is a message that is less convincing to outsiders than it used to be and, more importantly, probably is not an accurate interpretation, and the mindset that this is “the problem” and central to the Church’s “mission” is IMO leading to abuses.

Don’t recall the name of the authors, but I believe that there is recent research that suggests that the growth of the Church in the early centuries was in significant ways a sociological phenomenon. Acts 2 even suggests this – the Jerusalem church enjoyed the favor of all the people. Why would outsiders want to join a church today if we take away the traditional “escape from post-mortem punishments” motive that has been effective in the past? Perhaps if the churches were manifestly better forms of society than everything else – which they ought to be, transformed by the Spirit and living out the “love one another” command of Jesus – they would be as attractive as they were at the beginning. That’s not what I see in US.

Rather, what I see in US is that there is a “doubling down” on the “fear of post-mortem punishments” meme and this is being used, in the most “vibrant” and rapidly growing parts of the institutional landscape (but also rapidly churning – high recruitment and high departures), to assert control over people, many of whom eventually come to interpret their experience as a form of bondage to men.

Thanks very much Samuel. I am also, for different reasons, a “refugee” from a church which adopted what I feel to be a reactionary stance over a prominent contemporary issue. (I actually pulled the trigger which led to my departure). I think the situation in the US is much more polarised than here, as I haven’t, I don’t think, ever heard a sermon on eternal damnation in 47 years of moving amongst evangelical churches.

I understand your observations on sermons in Acts, for instance, but a certain amount of historic contextualisation highlights the difference between the issues for Paul’s world(s) then and those of today, which determined the way Paul presented his sermons. Nevertheless, the central events of the death and resurrection of Jesus are there, as for today. How these events might be presented today is for me heavily influenced by the teaching of Paul in Romans, for instance.

I’m less concerned with how one could safely propagate a new take on scripture than with the content of that take, and the dynamic impact on the believer. For me, the N.H. interpretation strips out that impact, for the reasons I have given. Having said that, I think I should pay tribute to Andrew for sticking to his guns and providing a comprehensive new perspective, which I think in its own way is unique. I just think that at times it stretches credibility by straining the possible meaning of scripture beyond its limits.

Romans will always be a key battle ground, as on its understanding so much of the heart of Christian faith depends. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that through its interpretation, nations and continents have been changed (Luther, the Moravians and Wesley come to mind). Not only that, my own life has been changed, by an understanding of Romans 6 in particular. I still have the little book by David Watson, the chapter of which on Romans 6 was the intrument of that change, dated the year I bought it, 1972!

I tremble a little to offer this thought, as it risks treading on many toes, past and present, but it occurs to me that a biblically robust theology perhaps should not be permitted to be overly dependent on the details of interpretation of any one text or document. If one happens to misunderstand that document (I have come to the view that I have for decades misunderstood Romans; am not confident that I understand it now, and my view of theology going forward is highly conditional, sort of an “if this text means that, then the following might be true…” structure), it will ramify throughout the rest of the theology that depends on it.

In writing this, I’m not leveling a charge of misunderstanding – I’m hardly in a position to do that, confident as I am that I don’t understand. But I am inviting examination of the way that a theology that depends heavily on one document might be weaker because of that.

My favorite example of this is how thinly sourced theories of post-mortem punishments turn out to be; basically (an Enochian reading of) Rev 20 is read back into Jesus’ “gehenna” sayings and that then informs essentially every other “wrath” saying that one encounters in Scripture. From the inside, it looks compelling (and highly risky to tinker with); from the outside, I am astonished at the grip this vision of eschatology has held on christian imagination for so long.

I wonder whether a similar argument could be made that historic Augustinian (I think I’m getting that right; correction is welcome) ways of thinking about sin and redemption rely too heavily on too few texts. At the least, it does seem to me that the Protestant tradition hangs on Romans much more heavily than on other texts. Naturally, that makes Romans look like “the hill to die on”; but the fact that, as you say, the interpretation of Romans is so crucial for the shape of one’s theology might actually be a weakness of the historic Protestant way of “doing” theology.

Maybe Romans is viewed as a crucial text because of the consequences of (re)reading it by Luther, Moravians, Wesley etc. What is there in the text? Perhaps the most thoroughly worked out exposition of his views by that even greater groundbreaker, Paul. But if we only had Paul and not the gospels, I wonder what faith we would have, if any at all. In more recent years I have personally come to a fresh appreciation of their significance, especially in an understanding of what Jesus meant by ‘kingdom’, and how he became ‘king’ through his death on the cross. That may be off-message for this site. But I think I agree with you Samuel - historic Protestantism has perhaps set too much doctrinal store on the letters, and not enough on the gospels, making the earthly ministry of Jesus more like a back-story to the cross as the main event.

I very much like NT Wright’s work, which I intuit is referenced here; Jesus and the Victory of God was an amazing experience. That was the beginning of my realization that “I really don’t understand these stories.”

Something that I would dearly like to know is “why were specific documents created in the first place?” We can form reasonable hypotheses about the motives for composition of many of Paul’s letters based on internal evidences. Romans is more difficult and I think there is a huge difference in terms of implications for how one interprets this letter between the standard Protestant theory, that for some reason Paul wanted to inform the Roman believers of the structure of his theory of redemption of all humanity through the Cross and, at another (perhaps) extreme, that Paul was writing against anti-semitism that had arisen in the church at Rome (IIRC this has been proposed by Richard Hays, and I see hints in the letter that suggest that it could have been in view).

Why were the Gospels written? The theory I absorbed from my evangelical milieu was that as the apostles started to pass from the scene, the churches wanted their stories of Jesus preserved in written form. It’s a plausible theory. Wright’s JVG emphasis on Jesus’ calling of Israel to repent of its militant self-redemption aspirations suggested to me that Matthew and Luke may have been intended to function as reminders of Jesus’ warnings to a generation that had never heard Jesus in person (and that had not experienced the disappointment of their messianic hopes, a disappointment that I suspect delayed the war, “saving” Israel for a generation) – sort of a continuation of Jesus’ prophetic ministry in written form. If that’s what they are for (I have no idea if there is any validity to the thought), it makes a significant difference in how one interprets what they mean.

Basically, I’ve retreated to a posture of intense curiosity about and open-ness to credible alternatives. It’s hard not to have theological ideas, but mine are becoming decreasingly declarative and increasingly conditional, dependent on hypotheses about what the texts might mean.

I should have been clearer – given that the apostles’ ministry toward Israel after Jesus’ ascension seems to have been a continuation of Jesus’ prophetic ministry, the hypothesis suggests itself that some of the Gospels (Matthew and Luke look the most likely, given their lengthy near-term eschatologically oriented sections, and especially Matthew) may have been intended to function as continuations of the apostles’ prophetic ministry, in Jesus’ name, toward Israel.

Assuming, as seems reasonable, that the Jewish Church in the years prior to the war retained the sense of eschatological urgency that seems to have characterized Jesus’ public ministry, it would have been natural for the Jewish churches to want to preserve the apostles’ message and their stories of Jesus as they aged out and passed from the scene.

And maybe there is also, in Matthew/Mark, an agenda of reminding the Jewish church of Jesus’ warnings so that when the calamity comes, it will stay out of the way of the oncoming wrath. The Mk 13/Mt 24 “let the reader understand” seems like a note to the public readers of this document to make sure that the hearers take this warning seriously.

A not entirely tongue-in-cheek observation:

Comparison of the experiences of AD26-30, 66-73 and 132-135 suggests that the least destructive-to-Israel way to deal with a crisis of popular messianic enthusiasm is for the messiah to be killed before the rebellion starts.

The intuition of Jn 11:48-50 was deeply wise.

Hi Samuel,

Yes, in the United States, projects like this are especially important. I’ve found that taking a narrative-historical approach to discussing the Scriptures gets around a lot of current hostilities. As I talk about my faith with others, telling a story that’s somewhat different than what they’ve heard before has opened up a lot of dialogue that I don’t think would have been possible with a more… “traditional” evangelical story.

If you’re not already aware, Alex (frequent commenter here) has a blog where he approaches various passages and concepts from a narrative-historical approach:

https://scribesofthekingdom686237748.wordpress.com/

And I have my own blog as well where I do this very badly:

https://nextcreation.wordpress.com/

Neither of us are Andrew Perrimans, but it’s cool to see other people taking the basic thrust of the project and trying to tease it out in ways that are helpful to them.

Thanks, Phil. I have been visiting your ‘blog occasionally since I discovered it here. Just paid a visit to Alex’s too, for the first time, and encountered a post that was very helpful, another “take” on the question of “how Jesus wrought his mighty works.”

I have been very cautiously sharing these ideas with fellow disaffected evangelicals, and even more cautiously with “outsiders”.

Thank you for bumping my readership up to four! Actually, most of my readership comes from Southeast Asia. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s hackers trying to bring down the narrative-historical complex.

Alex is a very smart guy. I always enjoy reading his posts.

Maybe we should have a NarrativeHistoryCon in the U.S. I assume attendance will be lowish, but then the three of us can easily go out for drinks, afterward.

I also share with a group of like-minded evangelical friends, but I’ve found that other evangelicals are actually very intrigued by it, although as you say, caution is generally required as well as some sensitivity to the fact that you’re poking at some deeply-held views.

Where I’ve found the most traction, though, is actually in evangelism. I am good friends with and otherwise come in contact with a rather large amount of atheists, and talking about the story of the Scriptures in this way produces a lot of renewed interest and, in many cases, respect.

I remember, after one night of discussion between some atheists, some members of a local evangelical church, and myself, one of my atheist friends pulled me aside and said, “I think your version of Christianity is the only survivable one,” and I took it as a very high compliment.

Secularism, materialism, positivism - all these things are hitting the U.S. in powerful waves, and yet there is still a strong vestige of spiritual interest. I’ve found that talking about “the story” that every American thinks they know from a very new perspective stokes those coals.

I’m glad that you are getting some “traction” in your relationships. Mine are a bit different and I need to tread cautiously to avoid harm.

My current sense of the matter is that the most “offensive to mainstream Evangelicals” aspect of the narrative historical approach is likely to be the shocking realization that not only are these documents “not about present-day believers”, they are, for the most part, “not addressed to present-day believers.” This strikes at the heart of a strong current in Evangelical practical piety, that wants to see the Scriptures as God’s timeless address to the individual believer. They are, after all, “the Word of God”, and “living and active.” Daily “quiet time”, reading/listening to hear God speak a word of personal address through the Scriptures is a core habit for millions.

Decades ago, when I was learning “evangelical ways”, I was taught to “personalize” the text – to see myself in the pronouns, particularly the first-person pronouns. Galatians 2:20 is a good example. It has to be really hard for people to let go of that. It was a bit easier for me as I had already concluded that evangelical mental reflexes were mistaken in so many other ways.

Among my friends are older believers to whom the traditional evangelical ways are precious; I simply can’t broach questions like this with them for fear of causing deep distress.

You’re right that this can be fruitful in conversation with unbelievers. I wouldn’t call my experience of this “evangelism”, more nearly a kind of “apologetic” (with a heavy emphasis on “apology” in the “I’m sorry” sense rather than “defense”; apologizing for what the churches have done with the story).

Have you considered implementing comments at your ‘blog?

Hey Samuel,

Yes, I have considered that.

When I started the blog, the whole project was a very big change for me, and I wanted to write freely without any regard for how people might react to it, especially people who knew me. So, anonymity and no comments were all part of that.

As time as gone on and I’ve become more comfortable with the whole thing, those factors have become less important to me, so I may change things. But I don’t know. Whenever I see comments on other people’s blogs, it mostly discourages me from turning them on.

Romans was read to the church in Rome. This had both those who were formerly practicing Jews and those who were formerly practicing something-elses, as worshipping new Christians. There would have been no point addressing the letter to those who weren’t going to hear it, like for example those who continued as worshipping Jews. It was written to Christians in Rome. It seems to me therefore quite wrong to use the word ‘Jew’ in 21st century terms and reflect that back 20 centuries. The strictures against ‘Jews’ in Romans were precisely the same as against those ‘who had all things’ in Corinthians; as against James/John ‘pillars of the church’ in Acts: i.e. those who in transposed Luke 18 terms thought themselves possessing of a ‘super-Gospel’. The good news is that Jesus takes care of the news and all I have to do is worship him.

Tim, I’m not sure I’ve understood you correctly, but you seem to be saying that “Jews” in Romans is not a reference to ethnic Israel but a figure for Christians with an over-realised eschatology, who thought that they already had “all things” in Christ.

If that’s what you mean, how on earth do you make sense of Romans 9-11, where Paul is speaking about the fate of his own people “according to the flesh”? The question of what would happen to the Jews as the historical people of God appears to have been of huge importance to Paul—hardly surprisingly. He writes to both Jews and Gentile Christians in Rome partly to explain what he thinks is going on and why.