29 May 2006

Wrestling with Romans: Approaching a Dangerous Book

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Prayer, Preaching, Romans
Romans frequently turns me on my head!

Romans frequently turns me on my head!

Wrestling With Romans

Over the past six months I have been wrestling with Romans in preparation for a sermon series that began on May 28. I started off simply by reading the letter repeatedly. Every Tuesday morning, I blocked out an hour and a half to read the entire letter in one sitting using the NRSV one week, the NIV the next, the Message the next and once in Alexander Campbell’s The Living Oracles and the TEV. I have tried to maintain this schedule until the present. Each day I would pick out a section and spend a little more time digging into that particular section of the book.

In February, I began to read through a few articles on the occasion of Romans. The collection of essays in The Romans Debate, Revised and Expanded edited by Karl P. Donfried is rich with points and counter points. Among the very stimulating essays in this volume are Peter Lampe’s “The Roman Christians of Romans 16,” Jervell’s “Letter to Jerusalem,” and the essay by Wiefel “The Jewish Community in Ancient Rome and the Origins of Roman Christianity.” Other articles I have found stimulating are Richard Oster’s “Congregations of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:4): A Culture-Based Ecclesiology in the Letters of Paul,” and Paul Sampley’s “Romans and Galatians Compared and Contrasted.” N.T. Wright’s “Romans and Pauline Theology” has also been very stimulating

Among my favorite books is K. C. Moser’s The Gist of Romans. While certainly not conversant with the “new perspective” this is still a stimulating work. I am keeping as dialogue partners the following commentaries: John Calvin’s commentary, Cranfield’s Shorter Commentary on Romans, N. T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone and Paul Achtemeier in the Interpretation series.

I have also found to be stimulating Joseph Shulam’s A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans. Shulam is a Messianic Jew living in Israel and brings a different persepective to the text. His knowledge of Jewish literature is incredible and uses it to illuminate Paul’s thought world. There are a number of places that I find him very insightful but also places where, in my view, he and I simply disagree. But for those who forget that Paul was first a Jew (and never uses the word “Christian” in his writings) this is a great book.

A number of N. T. Wright’s works are proving to be very helpful and insightful. His What Saint Paul Really Said and his new Paul: In Fresh Perspective are good books. One book I have learned a great deal from is one that offers a critique and evaluation of the “new perspective” on Paul (including James Dunn and N.T. Wright), Simon J. Gathercole’s Where is Boasting: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5.

Finally since a sermon is hardly a lecture on the first century I must mention the very well done book called Preaching Romans edited by David Fleer and Dave Bland. This book is about half and half in the form of essays on theology, ethics and eschatology and the second half is sermons modeling how to move from the exegesis to homily.

I am currently involved in new exercise with regard to Romans. I am not reading the book as much as I am praying my way through the book. Using the techniques mentioned in previous blogs of lectio divina (see my Spiritual Reading with Bede) I am, for the next 16 days, taking what appear to be the most significant portions of each chapter and praying with the text.

In fact, if you are looking for a specific direction for your prayer life over the next two weeks then I invite you to wrestle with the text through prayer with me. What better way to let God speak to us in community than through praying the book of Romans together. Tomorrow I will post the texts that are serving as the basis of my devotions and if you are so moved to join with me that would be wonderful.

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine
Stoned-Campbell Disciple

4 Responses to “Wrestling with Romans: Approaching a Dangerous Book”

  1. Ben Overby Says:

    Bobby,

    I’d also suggest Witherington’s commentary on Romans, and Wrights commentary from the NIB (fascinating, dense, engaging, and always insightful).

    As a suggestion, when you teach Romans again, try adding to privite lectio divina the practice of beginning each class with group lectio divina, reading a choice passage from whatever ground you’re covering that particular day. After the three readings (with at least one female voice when possible), invite discussion of what the listeners are hearing from the Spirit. What follows in discussion has never failed to surprise and teach, if not amaze me, and always glorifies God; and as a crucial side benefit (blessing), it really settles everyone down to hear the word. This is urgent with reference to listening to the gospels, but no less so when trying to hold Paul’s arguments together in that often misunderstood piece of brilliant rhetoric we call Romans.

    Ben Overby

  2. Wade Tannehill Says:

    Bobby,

    Thanks for the bibliography. It’s a nice personal touch when blogging preachers tell us what they’re reading and preaching. I just discovered that I do not have Moser’s the Gist of Romans. I have to order that ASAP.

    When you mention Dunn, are you referring to the Word Biblical Commentary? What do you think of it? Also, what do you think of Jack Cottrell’s College Press offering? Worth buying?

    I recently acquired commentaries by Karl Barth and C. H. Dodd. What is your assessment of those two?

    In addition to your recommendations, I would add Fitzmyer’s commentary in the Anchor Bible series. And for a quick survey of the overall context, on a more entry level, there is F. F. Bruce in the Tyndale series.

    Also, could you say a bit more about the “new perspective”?

  3. preacherman Says:

    Bobby,

    I love the Gist of Romans by Moser. May I recommend to you an excellent commentary: “The Epistle to The Romans” by Leon Morris. A great read.

  4. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Wade,

    James Dunn is the author of the WBC on Romans. Dunn is credited with coining the phrase “New Perspective” on Paul. The NP probably finds its origins in Krister Stendahl’s essay “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.” E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism was the shot heard around the world though. Dunn and N.T. Wright have developed the themes first articulated by these previous scholars (this does not mean Dunn and Wright agree on every detail because they do not).

    The NP asserts that Christian scholarship, especially Protestant scholarship, has fundamentally misread Paul and Judaism. The NP asserts that Judaism was essentially a religion of Grace and knew nothing of salvation by legalistic self-righteousness. N.T. Wright has especially emphasized the Second Temple context of both Jesus and Paul (rightly I believe).

    However, many scholars in Europe (especially the Germans), believe that Sanders, Dunn and Wright are guilty of selective reading. Peter Stuhlmacher and Martin Hengel while admitting we need not make the Jews into Pelagians that ultimatily the NP is flawed.

    I think one of the best of the books that challenge the NP is Gathercole’s “Where is Boasting?” This is a book that cannot be easily dismissed and I am looking for Wright’s response to it but have not located it yet. Gathercole devotes considerable space to the Jewish lit prior to AD 70 and concludes that “yes Judaism was a religion of election grace while at the same time often espoused ‘final vindication’ in the eschaton on the basis of works.” Wright is probably my favorite NT scholar so I would like to see his response.

    My views on Jack Cottrell’s commentary on Romans is that I do not know enough about it. The last time I looked at it though it reminded more of a systematic theology than a commentary. Karl Barth’s Commentary on Romans is not an exegetical commentary either. It is a vehicle for him to destroy theological liberalism of his day.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

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