Monday, November 22

Paul Epistles: Romans 1 (chapter 1, essay 1)

As I said in a recent post, I'm becoming more and more sharply aware of my ignorance of Scripture. I haven't re-read (or read) much since my teen years. Thanks to Mr Chesterton and the work of the Holy Spirit, I've got a whole new reading list and you, gentle reader via the wonder of the internet and the advent of blogging, get to watch rocks grow get to nudge me in the right direction when I stray or at least learn from my mistakes. :)

Well, I assume we can all find the text, Romans. I plan to work my way through the whole epistle (indeed all of them), but from what little I've learned from Mr Kass (The Beginning of Wisdom) and Augustine (Confessions) about "close reading" is that beginnings are the most important. When you start to read something taking a little more care in reading at the beginning pays off, it helps frame your project and lets you get some scope on where you are going. My second step, concomitant, will be to quickly skim through the whole letter to see if I can get a "big picture" view.

The translation(s) I will be using for the text, is this.

OK, I finished the "big picture" pass, I'm not really going to comment on my thoughts on that, however, because (a) I haven't digested it yet and (b) it was really just to get me grounded as I get started, i.e., chapter 1. And I guess I've already not done what I set out to do, that is to work harder on the first chapter before skimming the rest. But alas, skimming is my "gift" when it comes to reading, i.e., what I do best. This close reading stuff is not my forte.

Now, I am very grateful to a commenter on last night's blog entry which pointed out this essay, which I dutifully (again skimmed) during my lunch break at work today. That essay is entitled Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans. For the most part, it approaches this epistle at a more abstract level than I am willing to admit on the first pass. Rev. Wright has clearly been studying St. Paul enough that, the key points he is making are to try to teach other experts of their errors, not the initial impact of the Gospel. But as with much else, expert teaching is better than poor, because even if you can't avail oneself of all the subtlety, at least you won't be led astray.

The two lessons I'm going to abstract for today from Mr Wright's essay, is that (1) St. Paul is putting his little "cult" up to challenge Caesar and (2) the Roman church he was writing to had a diffident relationship with their ex-Jewish brethren. In Rome at the time, the Jews had been expelled from Rome previously, but were now returning. The Hebrew Christians often evidenced, as the chosen people, some superiority over their pagan Christian brethren. More on this later as the epistle unfolds (see skimming it did do some good).

Ok ok already, to the text...

Well, he says a lot in the first sentence, the letter is from Paul,
  • He is a servant (literally slave) of Christ.
  • And an apostle called and set apart for the gospel of God.
  • This gospel was promised via prophecies in Scripture regarding his Son.
  • Descended from David (humanly) and spiritually the Son of God through the workings of the Holy Spirit
  • and by his resurrection from the dead.
whew! That would almost do to replace the creed. Mr Wright would add that this also is something of a challenge to Caesar in that the term Gospel (good news) was used to refer to the imperial birthdays and ascension. By repeating the term Gospel several times, to a Roman audience who wouldn't miss the connection (even if we do today).

He then goes on to say that he is called to give this message to those of all nations. Those receiving this letter number amongst that group. Addressing them directly, he tells them
Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
He then says he wishes to visit them but hasn't had the chance yet (he made plans, but we all know how that goes) and has heard much good about their church/faith community.

Two more passages to puzzle over, "I am obligated (debtor) to the Greeks and to the non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish" and "I am not ashamed of the Gospel".

Next post, I'll try to work through those two phrases, finish off the first chapter, and recap what this means as far as "beginnings".