Submitting to governing authorities – Romans 13:1-7

… we read Romans 13:1-7, Jesus remains the one in whom the nations place their hopes. Third, we have read Romans 13 in light of Paul’s apocalyptic narrative about the overthrow of all authorities at the return of Jesus. Paul declares the ‘powers,’ be they political or spiritual, have been disarmed and are impotent before Jesus’ lordship (see Rom 8:38-39; 1 Cor 2:8; 15:25-26; Col 2:15).

‘One Who Will Arise to Rule Over the Nations’, Michael Bird.1

Christians did not affirm Roma aeterna (eternal Rome), but neither did Christians intend to overthrow any government themselves. Rome would be judged by Christ one day, so there was no reason to accept Rome’s claims of eternality or divine favor, but the Kingdom of God would be established by God in God’s time, so there was no need to attempt to overthrow Caesar to install Christ.

Brian LePort on Michael Bird

We can’t overplay the significance of Paul’s understanding of the interplay between the ruling powers of his day and the eschatological hope found in Jesus Christ. One is not divorced from the other – whether Paul thought the eschaton was imminent or not, the ‘spiritual’ is not separate from the political and social order. Paul and these early followers of Jesus did not walk around blindfolded, unaware of the daily challenges of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus in an outright pagan society that demanded the obedience of the Empire to another ‘Son of God’ and ‘Saviour’.

Reading the Bible in the New Testament in this way infers that imperial politics was merely an interesting backdrop against which the first-century followers of Jesus conducted their affairs. As I’ve stated before, the Roman Empire “… was not the background, but the foreground of Paul’s world.” Paul’s monotheistic critique of pagan rule may not have been the primary purpose of Paul’s writings, but it is a theme we cannot ignore.

Brian LePort’s challenge, however, is well made. We don’t need to assume that this automatically meant that to install Christ as Lord automatically meant working towards the ‘overthrow of Caesar’ in any overt way. It did mean to live in such a way that recognised who was truly sovereign over history, and to trust that the “kingdom of God would be established by God in God’s time.”

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus is Lord.

For us in the twenty-first century, our very obedience to the governing authorities, our choice to pay taxes, to honour and respect those who have been placed by God in positions of power and responsibility is a recognition that God knows what he is doing. Being salt and light in our communities and working for the good and blessing of our cities is a godly calling. It is one that requires active engagement with the politics of our day – in the things we say and the way we live. But where change is not as forthcoming as we would like, and things seem to be going from bad to worse, we know that he is control. His timing is perfect. His ways will prevail.


  1. Michael Bird, “‘One Who Will Arise to Rule Over the Nations’: Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the Roman Empire” in Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies, 159. ↩

The Marks of a Renewed Church

John Stott was well known for his perspicuity and always practical teaching ministry. I’m seeking in this post to summarise some of the salient point that I’m taking away from reading a transcript of his excellent sermon on The Marks of a Renewed Church (brought to my attention via Jason Clarke).

Stott attempts to address the question: What are the chief distinguishing marks of the Christian community? To put that another way, what does a Spirit-filled church look like? I’m choosing to not pick bones about the continuing role of the Holy Spirit that Stott presents in this article, choosing to affirm some of the really helpful teaching and perspicuity that John Stott always brings.

Stott draws upon four key markers of a renewed church from Acts 2:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2).

These four markers are:

  1. A learning church
  2. A caring church
  3. A worshiping church
  4. An evangelizing church

1. A learning church

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles.

These Spirit-filled converts were not enjoying some mystical experience which led them to neglect their intellect or to despise theology or to stop thinking. On the contrary, they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. Moreover they didn’t imagine that the Holy Spirit was the only teacher they needed and could dispense with human teachers. Not at all. They sat at the apostles’ feet. They acknowledged that Jesus had appointed the apostles as the teachers of the church, and they submitted to their authority, authenticated to them by miracles.

When we look at our local churches, we should see more than just the Word of God being preached ‘from the pulpit’. We should see parents teaching their children to sit under the Word. We should see every Christian demonstrating a deep commitment to reflecting upon the Scriptures daily and applying what we are learning to our lives that we might think and behave differently, becoming more and more like Jesus.

The Spirit of God leads the people of God to submit to the Word of God.

2. A caring church

Second, a renewed church is a caring church, a loving church, a supportive church. Its members love and care for one another. If the first mark of a renewed church is study, the second is fellowship. “They devoted themselves to … fellowship.”

Koinonia – fellowship – comes from the adjective koinos that means “common.” Our Koinonia bears witness to what we have in common. What we share as followers of Jesus. There are two complementary truths contained within this:

First, koinonia expresses what we share in together, what we have received together, what we participate in together. That is the grace of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So the apostle John, at the beginning of his first letter, says, “Our fellowship [koinonia] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” The apostle Paul adds the phrase “the fellowship of the Spirit.” So authentic fellowship is Trinitarian fellowship. It is our common participation in the grace and the life and the mercy of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We come from different nations, denominations, and cultures, but we are unified by our common share in the grace of God.

What we commonly experience in our hearts must also find outward expression in how we live, and in what we share outward together:

… not only what we receive together, but what we give together.

open quotesAuthentic fellowship is Trinitarian fellowship.close quotes

As I have pointed to before, κοινωνία is the noun that Paul uses of the collection that he was organising from the Greek churches for the benefit of the poor churches in Judea. It was this kind of generosity that Paul was so keen demonstrate and to expend so much time and effort on. The collection featured prominently in Paul’s strategy to demonstrate, in immensely practical ways, the rule of ἀγάπη and the unity of Christian κοινωνία amongst the early Christ movement. It must have been intended to be far more than a token gesture.

The Holy Spirit at work in the hearts of these early believer led to loving and generous action. The exceptions to this rule prove the point:

… when we come to the story of Ananias and Sapphira in , the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not that they kept back part of the proceeds of the sale of their property, but that they kept back part while pretending to give the lot. Their sin was hypocrisy, deceit. It was not meanness or avarice. The apostle Peter said to them in , “Before you sold your property was it not your own? And after you sold it was it not at your disposal?” In other words, your property is your own to make a conscientious decision before God for its purposes.

Does it mean that every Spirit-filled believer will follow their example literally? Does it mean that we should all sell everything we own and give the proceeds to the poor? Clearly not everyone in Jerusalem sold their house, because we know that the early church in Jerusalem met in one another’s homes. But what we do see is that these early Christians loved one another. They cared for those in their number who were less fortunate than themselves. They shared their goods. They shared their homes. We should do no less.

That principle of voluntary and generous sharing with one another is permanent and universal… the New Testament calls us to simplicity, contentment, and generosity.

3. A worshiping church

Stott points to the worship of the early church being formal and informal; it took place in the temple and in their homes. They supplemented the services in the temple with their own simple, informal, unstructured, spontaneous meetings at home. It was also joyful and reverent. Our worship should be neither lugubrious nor licentious. A worshiping church should experience fear, awe and wonder in its gathered worship.

4. An evangelizing church

We learn three important lessons from vs. 47: “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

First, the Lord Jesus did it himself: “The Lord added to their number.”

He did it through the preaching of the apostles and through the witness of the ordinary members and through their common life of love, but he did it.

Second, he did two things together: “He added to their number those who were being saved.” He didn’t save them without adding them to the church, and he didn’t add them to the church without saving them. He did the two together, because salvation and church membership always belong together.

Third, he did it every day. Day by day he added to their number those who are being saved.

I wish we could get back to that expectation. Evangelism is continuous outreach into the community seeking to bring people into Christ and his community.

No more hit and run. Expect Jesus to be at work. Expect growth.

Conclusion

These four markers of a renewed church are all about relationships. It’s God’s loving purpose to build his church. The local church is the hope of the world – it’s God’s idea.

Our responsibility is to seek the power, the direction, and the fullness of the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit is given his rightful place of freedom in the Christian community, then our churches will approximate this ideal—biblical faith, loving fellowship, living worship, ongoing evangelism. God, make our churches like that today… we pray for our churches on earth, that they may approximate ever more closely this beautiful ideal that you have given us in your Word.

Amen.

So What?

solafidetop

{This is a follow up post to Part 1 and Part 2.}

My wife is very good at asking me a question I need to ask myself a bit more often: ‘So what?’ Why does it matter how justification works, as long as it does? Does it really matter if Wright has a different take on the imputation of God’s righteousness to Piper?

Piper is very clear that he thinks it matters very much. He argues that Christ is the basis of, and the instrument of, our justification. By faith we’re united with Christ so that in union with him, his perfect righteousness and punishment are counted as ours (imputed to us). Wright, on the other hand, argues that justification is the announcement issued, on the basis of faith, of who is part of the covenant family of God. Justification isn’t a substance or a ‘thing’ that is passed on to those who have faith in Jesus – it isn’t something that ‘happens’ to someone who puts their faith in Jesus. Justification isn’t a description of how someone becomes a Christian, but rather a declaration that they are a member of God’s family. As the Messiah took upon himself the death that we deserved, Wright argues, God justifies all who are ‘in Christ’ and declares them to be members of his family.

‘Great’, I can hear my wife say, but isn’t that just a false dichotomy? Piper’s interested in how individuals come to be saved and Wright emphasises what happens when they do. Piper is concerned with a starfish and Wright with the ocean, but isn’t the truth that the gospel is both?

Here are a couple of pretty important reasons that Piper cites as to why he thinks that this is an issue that needs bottoming out:

Is the gospel an account of how people get saved or isn’t it?

“The gospel”, according to Wright, “refers to the proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the one, true and only Lord of the world.”1 So far so good, but it’s what Wright goes on to claim: “’The gospel’ is not an account of how people get saved. It is… the proclamation of the lordship of Jesus.”2

Needless to say, Piper takes issue with that on several levels, as we shall see.

Is justification addressing ‘how’ you become a Christian or isn’t it?

Justification wasn’t seen by Paul and his contemporaries, as about ‘getting in’ as much as it was about ‘staying in’. Yet haven’t we learnt to read plenty of scriptural passages that are about justification altering our relationship with God? What about Romans 5:1 (if you’re reading this on my website, just hover over the reference and it’ll pop up for you.) Doesn’t that verse alone seem to suggest that justification brings about a “fundamentally new and reconciled relationship with God”?3

Why I think this matters…

I think that what we think about the gospel and about justification will affect the way we live. What we think about the gospel will shape how we respond to the tough times, how we respond to the knocks to our faith, how we respond when we doubt God. It has immediate pastoral relevance when helping others to follow Jesus too. What we think about the gospel, and justification, will affect the way we share the gospel with others.

The primer I referenced in an earlier post puts it this way:

Which is more scandalous? The multitudes of Christians who think they need to earn their salvation by being good? Or the throng of Christians who think that holy living doesn’t matter as long as they have prayed the sinner’s prayer? Pastors’ answers will largely indicate how they feel about the justification debate…” 4

I have sympathy with the pastor who says of Wright’s, arguably more obscure, view on justification, “very few people in my congregation would understand it, and few would take real comfort in it.” On the other hand, he says, “whenever I nail a strong justification sermon and emphasize that nothing we do provides any grounding for our right standing with God, I’ll get e-mails thanking me for such a freeing message."5

This is the point, however, when I start to get a bit nervous. Just because someone is expressing an opinion that is difficult to follow and not immediately grasped, it doesn’t mean that his or her opinion is wrong.

I want to get as close as I can to understanding what Paul was saying to the early church when he spoke about justification. If Wright is closer to this than Piper, I don’t care whether it’s complicated or not, it deserves to be taught in every church. If the answer is more complicated than the one I have been brought up to believe, then so be it. If we choose to place an emphasis on something other than what Paul placed emphasis on, we better have a good reason.

If my cultural blinkers are keeping me focused on a gospel that risks me thinking that the world revolves around me as a person rather than around the cosmic plan of God then I want to do something to change that. Right now, that thing I’m going to do is think. I hope you’re thinking of doing the same thing.


  1. Wright cited in Piper, (2008: 18)  ↩

  2. Wright cited in Piper, (2008: 18)  ↩

  3. Piper, (2008: 19)  ↩

  4. See “Not an Academic Question”  ↩

  5. See “Not an Academic Question”  ↩

42 and all that

open quotes[Wright’s] portrayal of the gospel – and of the doctrine of justification in particular – is so disfigured that it becomes difficult to recognise as biblically faithful.close quotes

(John Piper1)

Ok, the quote to your right is a serious statement, so over the next couple of posts I’m going to start exploring the debate between Piper and Wright as I understand it…

At the start of his book, Wright gives an analogy of a friend who, through accident of education, is convinced that the sun revolves around the earth. This friend points to what he sees with his eyes – the rising and setting of the sun – and holds that tradition, held over many hundreds of years, also stands in support of his claim. Despite long conversations late into the night, your friend remains unconvinced by all your attempts to persuade him otherwise. The point that Wright makes is that this is exactly how it appears to him – his attempts to outline a different way of viewing God’s plan for salvation have been flatly rejected as obscuring what, to many in the reformed tradition at least, is presented as ‘the most obvious meaning’ of scripture. With some frustration, Wright is seeking to outline his view that discussion of justification as ‘the evidence of our eyes’ belies the fact that the reformed view of ‘justification’, as many understand it, is deeply conditioned by a tradition that obfuscates Paul’s original meaning. Here, Wright spells it out:

The theological equivalent of supposing that the earth goes round the sun is the belief that the whole of Christian truth is all about me and my salvation2

Wright, aware of his own potential to be in error, is seeking to engage in a discussion on whether the sun truly does revolve around the earth or if things might be a little different from what they seem. If the ‘story’ of justification is not that God revolves around me, the sinner, and that Paul was meaning something quite different, then this copernican revolution deserves our careful attention. Wright’s argument is that justification is, indeed, expressing a much larger story about the plan of God for his universe. “God is rescuing us from the shipwreck of the world, not so that we can sit back and put our feet up in his company, but so that we can be part of his plan to remake the world.”3 Salvation, whilst obviously hugely significant for every individual, is part of a much larger purpose:

We are in orbit around God and his purposes, not the other way around4

To be fair to Piper, I’m sure he would very much agree that we are not ‘the centre of the universe’. His very definition of God’s righteousness as “[God’s] unwavering faithfulness to uphold the glory of his name in all he does” lays this out fairly firmly. However, something in me riles against the tendency in reformed evangelical circles to explain the Christian life from the starting point of detached propositional truths. This isn’t the way Paul chose to unpack the Christian life. God didn’t give us the Bible as a systematic, theological primer, he gave us a book with lots of really good stories, letters, poems and histories – the ‘doctrine’ threaded through its pages is mostly pulled out to address specific pastoral needs. If we depart from framing our discussion in the context of God’s plan for the universe, then are we departing from the Bible’s choice of communication?

The historian in me is more attracted to Wright’s attempt to place Paul firmly within a historical context. I am also impressed by how hard he works to synthesise the old and new testaments. Here’s a confession: I admit to being attracted to this approach, before actually hearing his arguments, because it fits into my categories of thinking. So, when Wright says things like “for too long we have read scripture with nineteenth-century eyes and sixteenth-century questions. It’s time to get back to reading with first-century eyes and twenty-first century questions…”5 I‘m liking his style. At times, it does feel as if Piper’s arguments are a little detached from all that has gone before, as if the long story of Israel is merely a backdrop that can be pushed aside (once proof texts have been extracted, of course) rather than the whole book being about the story of God’s plan to save the world.

In case it isn’t already obvious, I’ll come out, unashamedly, to state that as I start to explore what I think, my eggs are largely starting in Tom Wright’s basket. Over the next couple of posts, I’m going to be ‘thinking out loud’ as I unpack this debate a bit further, in a (vain?) attempt to come to my own, considered, opinion. All being well, my next post will ask a question I haven’t properly addressed yet regarding Wright and Piper’s conflicting views on justification: ‘So what?’


  1. Piper, J. (2008), The Future of Justification: A response to N. T. Wright, Nottingham: IVP, p. 15  ↩

  2. Wright, N., T. (2009), Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, London: SPCK, p. 7  ↩

  3. Wright (2009), p. 8  ↩

  4. Wright (2009), p. 8  ↩

  5. Wright (2009), p. 21  ↩

The Justification Debate

justification

I’ve only just begun to engage with the debates between two of the most prominent pastor-theologians of our time, John Piper and NT Wright, on the nature of justification. What is it? Why does it matter exactly what it is or what it denotes or achieves? Won’t life carry on regardless of whether we can pin it down using precise language?

I’ve just finished reading Piper’s ‘The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright‘ and am now moving onto Wright’s response to Piper’s response (if you follow me) called ‘Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision‘. What is clear is that it is not wholly a question of hair-splitting semantics. Wright and Piper present fundamentally different views on justification in some areas.

As ever I have grand plans to have profound thoughts on the issue and to spend some time carefully considering where I stand, but you know what they say about best laid plans… 😉 If I do manage to get around to developing my thoughts I shall surely post them here in prose form. In the meantime, this primer provides an excellent summary of the debate (if you can put up with the pop up adds).

[image taken from christianitytoday.com.]

Christ and Caesar

St-Paul-the-Apostle-Mosaic

Only recently alerted to its existence by Jon Taylor, I’ve recently been dipping into Seyoon Kim’s Christ and Caesar.
Kim’s central purpose is to debunk the idea that Paul included coded political messages in his letters in order to subvert the Roman Empire. I have expressed my views on the debate, particularly as it related to Philippians, in a previous post, but I must say that Kim does raise some excellent critical doubts regarding the counter-imperial readings offered by N.T. Wright et al that are worthy of serious consideration. After a brief introduction, the book is divided into two main sections: (1) The Epistles of Paul (pp. 1-71), and (2) The Writings of Luke (pp. 73-190). The book concludes with a Summary and Conclusion (pp. 191-99), an Epilogue titled, “Some Implications for Today” (pp. 200-3), and finally a select bibliography and two indices.

In part 1, Kim examines five epistles of Paul exegetically and shows how the dominant anti-imperial interpretation is actually difficult to sustain. Lee Irons has posted a very helpful review of the book and draws attention to chapter 4, titled “Factors that make an anti-imperial interpretation difficult.” Of the 9 factors given, a number particularly stand out and are picked up on by Lee in his second post that fleshes out the following headings:

  • The problem of Romans 13:1-7 for proponents of the counter-imperial argument
  • The relative scarcity of references (explicit or otherwise) to the imperial cult in scripture
  • Paul’s expectation of acquittal and release (see for example Phil 1:19-26) – “A man with such a hope could hardly have preached the gospel in an anti-imperial sense” (p. 50).
  • Paul’s socio-political conservatism – Paul exhorts them to be subject to the governing authorities and to live quietly* and mind their own affairs (Rom 13:1; 1 Thess 4:11). (*The verb is ἡσυχάζω: “Of conduct that does not disturb the peace. Christian leaders endeavored to keep their members free of anything that might be construed as disturbance of public order” [BDAG].)
  • Paul’s transcendent conception of salvation – the belief that Paul viewed the fundamental problems confronting humanity did not have to do with political oppression, imperialism, and the like, but with humanity’s alienation from God and its enslavement to the powers of sin and death

Using these factors as a launching pad for his argument, Kim seeks to undercut the notion of there being “coded” messages in Paul’s letters (a device that N. T. Wright is particularly fond of):

This is a rather desperate attempt to obtain anti-imperial messages where there are none. Inevitably this method involves self-contradiction… Thus, the anti-imperial interpreters’ appeal to the device of coding amounts to an inadvertent admission of the failure of their whole interpretive scheme (pp. 36-37).

open quotes… It simply makes sense to me that some of Paul’s important language would have naturally struck cords in people’s minds concerning the empire, and that this was no accident on Paul’s part…close quotes

Kim’s analysis of how Paul uses terms like kyrios, euangelion, dikaiosyne, katallage, etc within the context of his writings and mission seeks to demonstrate that he used them to convey his own message about the gospel of Christ, not to critique the Roman Empire or the imperial cult. He argues that a counter-imperial reading must be imposed on the texts in question by assuming deductively that since the Roman order and the imperial cult were so pervasive, that Paul had to have had this political reality in view when using these terms and therefore could only have been using the terms subversively:

Really they impose anti-imperial meanings onto these terms and string those passages up, sometimes extrapolating the meaning of one passage to another, in order to claim that Paul preached the gospel in deliberate antithesis to the imperial ideology and cult. This looks like a new application of the old-fashioned proof-text method that dogmatists employed to construct doctrines, and dispensationalists used to construct elaborate eschatological scenarios (p. 32).

It’s this part of Kim’s analysis that leaves me feeling a bit cold. The historian in me is never fully comfortable with readings of scripture that don’t seem willing to recognise both the ‘theological’ with the ‘historical’ trajectories of texts. As Adolf Deissmann wrote early in the 20th century: “It must not be supposed that St. Paul and his fellow believers went through the world blindfolded, unaffected by what was then moving the minds of men in great cities,” namely, the imperial cult (quoted by Kim, p. xv). Or as Chris Tilling says “It simply makes sense to me that some of Paul’s important language would have naturally struck cords in people’s minds concerning the empire, and that this was no accident on Paul’s part.”

The strength of part 2 is, in many ways, undercut by his brief and last section on the implications of his research for today’s audience. Part 2 examines the Lukan writings (Luke-Acts) to see how Luke talks about the encounters of Paul and other preachers of the gospel with Roman imperialism. Central to this section is why Luke appears to make no effort to present Christ’s redemption as materialized in terms of political liberation. Fair enough. Yet after around 198 or so pages devoted to Paul and Luke, it’s such a shame that Kim can only muster 3 pages on exploring the implications of what he has been saying!

We have pointed out that both in Paul and Luke an imminent eschatology and political realism played their parts, along with other factors, in discouraging them from thinking about the present materialization of God’s reign or Christ’s Lordship in the political sphere … But most Christians today no longer feel the pressure of an imminent eschatology so greatly, and they therefore naturally are concerned about the present materialization of God’s reign or Christ’s Lordship

Kim seems here to be inferrnig that because both Luke and Paul viewed the eschaton as imminent, they simply rejected any notion that there was a political dimension to the gospel. Our circumstance are, he argues, different becuase we “no longer feel the pressure of an imminent eschatology so greatly” and so are therefore free to develop a stronger political emphasis to the gospel in bringing about, what he describes as “the present materialisation of God’s reign.” This, for me, falls far short of a decent answer and lets the book down IMO.

Once I’ve had the chance to further digest Kim’s work, I will hopefully take the chance to post some further thoughts on this blog, but my overwhelming impression having just put it down, is that it lets itself down in its “implications for today”.

Does anyone else have any thoughts to contribute?

A New Kind of Graded Greek Reader

I was fascinated to stumble across this project today by

James Tauber

. The basic idea seems to be to invert the process of learning such that instead of introducing graded reading of texts once a given corpus of grammar and vocabulary has been learnt, the student is introduced to texts first, which are then used as the primary way of learning vocabulary and grammar.

James has started a mailing list at http://groups.google.com/group/graded-reader and is making his code available at http://code.google.com/p/graded-reader/. Whilst it looks like these resources have not been updated for a couple of months, I very much hope his fascinating work continues.

Has anyone had any experience of this kind of inductive study method for language learning?

Romans 16v1-16 – Part 4

Continued from Part 3Part 1 here

Four other women are worthy of especial mention. Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Mary and Persis (vv. 6, 12) are described by Paul with the verb Kopiao (κοπιάω). This is a technical term describing the labours of a missionary, which implies strong exertion by those who ‘toil’. Paul is known to use this term for his own evangelistic and pastoral ministry,1 but here uses it four times to describe these women. It seems Paul intends for these women to be characterised as members of the community who “deserve respect and recognition for their tireless evangelising and community-building ministry.”2 It is significant that no such descriptions are found in this passage for men.

Lampe gives a detailed analysis of the names provided in Romans 16 in the light of the inscriptions available in Rome. He concludes that four names are definitely not those of slaves or freedmen; ten definitely are; and twelve cannot be determined.3 Whilst we cannot know if this pattern pertains to the church as a whole, if it did, then the composition of the church would broadly mirror wider Rome society.4 Many freedmen were rich businessmen who held a more secure economic position than many within Rome who were freeborn.5

Of the 26 names listed in these verses, only 15% are recognisably Jewish (Andronicus, Junia, and Herodia), pointing therefore to a largely Gentile church. How then can we account for the content of Paul’s letter assuming a fairly developed level of knowledge of both Jewish customs and culture? The most likely solution is that those within the Roman church were of Gentile origin but “had lived as sympathisers on the margins of the synagogues before they became Christian.”6

16:16: Greet one another with a holy kiss

While Watson may be correct in asserting “two Roman congregations”7 in the most general sense of two differing theological positions, Lampe argues from this passage that there could have been up to seven different house-churches in Rome.8 Paul’s purpose in addressing each house-church here seems to be hinted at in him asking them to greet each other with a holy kiss in v. 16. This would serve as a reminder to them that they belonged to the same family and a reminder of the unity Paul longed for, as expressed in chapters 14 and 15. Seen in this light, the verses that immediately follow, whilst seeming to be a “brief and unexplained tirade” (vv. 17–19),9 do make sense as a warning against any heresy that may put their fellowship as a collection of house-churches under threat.

Conclusion

Debate will continue on some aspects of this passage. Feminist commentators rightly caution that the perspectives and experiences of women in scripture have been funnelled through the perspectives of male authors and interpreters. This should heighten our awareness of our own hermeneutical presuppositions and lead us to take special care when interpretive decisions involving gender are required. In the absence of further information, it is often left to the theologian to make informed decisions on exactly how to interpret this list of names and one must be critically aware of ones own hermeneutical blind spots when making interpretative decisions which must always remain provisional.

It is important to recognise in an analysis of Romans 16:1–16 that a “group of 26 hardly allows any generalisation about the Roman church as a whole.”10 Whilst we cannot generalise these results for the Roman church, we also cannot trivialise the importance of what this data reveals. There is no evidence here that the ways in which women participated in the early church differed “in kind or in quantity”11 from the ways in which men worked. Indeed, it appears that Paul “singled out [a number of women for] their service to the Pauline mission.”12 What this data does not conclusively prove however, is that women joined the Pauline mission as an “an association of equals”;13 to make a judgement purely from this data is to go beyond what the text itself allows.

Bibliography

  • Burer, M., H., & Wallace, D., B., (2001) ‘Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16.7.’ in New Testament Studies 47.1. p. 76–91
  • Bray, G., (Ed.), (1998) Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Romans, (Illinois: Intervarsity Press)
  • Brunner, E., (1959) The Letter to the Romans: A Commentary, (London: Lutterworth Press)
  • Cohick, L., H., (2002) ‘Romans’, in Kroeger and Evans (Ed.), Women’s Bible Commentary, (Illinois: IVP)
  • Gaventa, B., R., (1992) ‘Romans’, in Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe (Ed.) The Women’s Bible Commentary, (London: SPCK)
  • Harrison, E., F., (1976) The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans, (Volume 10: Zondervan)
  • Lampe, P., ‘The Roman Christians of Romans 16’, in Donfried, K., P., (Ed.), (1991) The Romans Debate, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark)
  • Moo, D., (1996) The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing)
  • Murray, J., (1965) The Epistle to the Romans: Volume 2, (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing)
  • Scholar, D., ‘The Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry’, in Levine, A., (2003) A Feminist Companion to the Deutero-Pauline Epistles, (London: T&T Clark)
  • Schüssler-Fiorenza, E., (1990) ‘Missionaries, Apostles, Co-workers: Romans 16 and the Reconstruction of Women’s Early Christian History’, in Loades, A., (Ed.), Feminist Theology: A Reader, (London: SPCK)
  • –––––– (1995) In Memory of Her, (Second Edition: London: SCM Press)
  • Wacker, M., (1998) ‘Feminist Exegetical Hermeneutics’, in Schottroff, L., Schroer, S., Wacker, M., Feminist Interpretation: The Bible in Women’s Persepctive, (MN: Fortress Press), pp. 36–62
  • Ziesler, J., (1989) Paul’s Letter to the Romans, (London: SCM Press)

  1. See Gal 4:11 and 1 Cor 15:10  ↩

  2. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 68  ↩

  3. Moo (1996), p. 918 quoting Lampe  ↩

  4. Moo (1996), p. 918  ↩

  5. Lampe (1991), p. 229  ↩

  6. Lampe (1991), p. liii  ↩

  7. Watson argues that there are two separate congregations in Rome marked by “mutual hostility and suspicion over the question of the law.” Watson in Lampe (1991), p. 206  ↩

  8. Lampe (1991), p. liii. It’s worth noting that most commentators identify between three and five separate house churches (vv. 5, 14, 15, cf. also vv. 10, 11.) See, for example, Moo (1996), p. 918  ↩

  9. Ziesler (1989), p. 349  ↩

  10. Lampe (1991), p. 224  ↩

  11. Gaventa (1992), p. 320  ↩

  12. Scholar (2003), p. 121  ↩

  13. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 70–71  ↩