Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Quote of the Day

This past semester, we talked at length about Paul's letter to the Romans, and despite spending an entire semester looking hard at the text, it's evident to me that there is much more to be wrestled with and learned before I can confidently say I know something about Romans. The more we seemed to dig into the text, the more I became convinced that much of my own understanding of the letter was built on assumptions that may not necessarily be right. Granted, my teacher had a specific angle to the text that colored our own discussions, but nevertheless, it was very helpful to think critically about this important letter in the NT. One issue that we began to unpack a little bit is the fact that Romans is, in the end, a letter. This means that we should be careful about viewing the book wholesale as a systematic theology book, where we might be prone to believe that everything we wanted to know about anything in Christianity is found in Romans. I'm currently reading Richard Longenecker's Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul's Most Famous Letter, and in it, he makes the same point. I would like to quote some words from a wise Pauline scholar:

"Throughout the first eighteen centuries of the Christian church, Romans was most often understood as a theological treatise or tractate that sets out a relatively complete statement of Christian belief — or, at least, that clearly enunciates the basic features of Paul's teaching ...
Romans, however, is a real letter, not a contrived literary epistle. It contains personal allusions, definite travel plans, and rather specific instructions for a particular people. There are in it, as in Paul's other letters, digressions, parentheses, and unfinished sentences. More importantly, while the longest of the apostle's extant writings, Romans lacks a number of subjects that seem from his other letters to be absolutely essential to Paul's thought and proclamation — most obviously, (1) the omission of any discussion of the resurrection of believers, which was such an important topic in his earlier letters (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2, and 1 Corinthians 15), and (2) the lack of any reference to the Lord's Supper, which was a matter of great concern when writing to converts at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). As a theological treatise, therefore, Romans is somewhat truncated and a bit disappointing in its coverage of important doctrinal themes."

This is something that I think we need to wrestle with a bit further, but at this point, it is significant to note that Romans was not written at the end of one's life. Actually, as Longenecker points out (following the quote above), "Paul writes as a man in mid-career," having completed much of his work in the east, and setting out toward missionary work in the west.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Nice analysis. Keep sharing good knowledge.