Romans Dialogue – 02 – Framing Romans (Rom 1-2)

Paul the apostle

Welcome again to this series of posts on the dialogue in Romans. It gives a basic outline of the sequence from the initial creation of Romans, its transportation to the Roman Church, and the probable method it would have been received by the Roman Church.

Here is a link to the first post which has the contents of all.

Previous Points

In this post I will be building upon the main points I have made earlier. As a reminder, these are;

  • D1) Paul spoke the text aloud in front of his scribe Tertius who wrote it down (Rom 16.22; 11.13).
  • D2) The Roman audience had the text read out aloud to them according to Paul’s instructions.
  • D3) The Roman audience consisted of Jewish and Gentile believers (Rom 1.8).

I will be using pictures to help us visualise the author, text and audience involved in the reading of the text.

109 Author Text Audience Rom 1.7-8
Click to enlarge

The aims of the next few posts are;

  1. To apply speech act theory by considering the oral recital of Romans 1-4 to the original audience.
  2. To show an unassisted forward reading of the Romans 1-4 is potentially contradictory and confusing, and assuming Paul and Tertius were competent and intelligent enough to recognise this,
  3. To suggest instructions Paul gave the letter bearer to avoid confusing the audience, and then
  4. To frame the text of Romans in such a way as to make a forward reading of Romans 1-4 comprehensible to the original audience with these instructions built in.

I’ve found a few links for listening to Romans. Try listening to it for yourself, because this is similar to the way the original audience heard the letter.

  1. (ESV) Audio Bible – Romans, Ch. 1
  2. (ESV) Audio Bible – Romans, Ch. 2
  3. (ESV) Audio Bible – Romans, Ch. 3
  4. (ESV) Audio Bible – Romans, Ch. 4

Method

I will be using a certain method to achieve these aims. As we move through chapters 1-4 I will be attempting to answer the following questions;

  • Who is speaking? (Normally this is the author)
  • Who is being spoken to? (Normally this is the audience)
  • Who or What is being spoken about?

Initially we will be performing a sequential reading. This we will discover results in confusion and misinterpretation.

Hence in this section as we move forwards I will flag any texts that need reconsideration as I go along. Then from a certain point in the text I will proceed backwards with these elements in mind and start considering ways in which the confusion arising from a forward reading of the text could be overcome.

My argument will make use of pictures to help us visualise what a reading of the text aloud to the Roman believers would have looked like considering the three questions above. Again I’m doing this to help us consider the relationship between author, text and audience.

Moving Forwards

Rom 1.1-15

109 A Rom 1.1-15

Who is speaking? Paul. He identifies himself as the speaker saying,

‘Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God’ (Rom 1.1)

Paul also refers to himself using the first person pronoun ‘I’ (Rom 1.8,9,10,11,13,14,15).

Who is being spoken to? The Roman believers. Paul identifies who he is speaking to saying,

‘To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints’ (Rom 1.7).

Soon afterwards he says,

‘So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.’ (Rom 1.15)

In addition to describing the Roman believers as those ‘in Rome’, he also uses the personal pronoun ‘you’ in several locations (Rom 1.6,7,8,9,10,11,13,15). For future reference, if Paul says ‘you’ we can probably assume he is speaking to the Roman believers in the second person.

What is being spoken about? Paul speaks about himself and his ministry (Rom 1.1,5), Jesus Christ (Rom 1.2-4) and the Roman believers (Rom  1.6-15). At one point Paul says,

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine (Rom 1.11-12).

Paul seems to be showing concern that they do not misunderstand his intentions in coming to them. I suggest he says verse 12 to further clarify what he means by verse 11. Paul is aware of possible areas of misinterpretation and does take steps to avoid it.

Passage Rom 1.1-15
Who is speaking? Paul
Who is being spoken to? Roman believers
Who is being spoken about? Paul, Jesus Christ and the Roman believers

Rom 1.16-17

A basic assumption people make when reading letters is, once the author has identified the person or people being spoken to we assume from then onwards all the words following are for that same person or people. It is perfectly valid to assume this. So from here onwards some of our questions will be answered by carrying this assumption forward.

109 A Rom 1.16-17

Who is speaking? Paul. The text uses the first person pronoun ‘I’. Which we previously identified as Paul.

Who is being spoken to? The Roman believers. The text doesn’t say. We assume so from Rom 1.15.

What is being spoken about? Paul is speaking about himself and the gospel.

Passage Rom 1.16-17
Who is speaking? Paul (using the personal pronoun ‘I’)
Who is being spoken to? Roman believers (assumed from Rom 1.15)
Who is being spoken about? Paul and the gospel

Rom 1.18-32

109 A Rom 1.18-32

Who is speaking? Paul. The text doesn’t say. We assume so from Rom 1.16.

Who is being spoken to? The Roman believers. The text doesn’t say. We assume so from Rom 1.15.

What is being spoken about? We have to account for the large amount of the personal pronouns ‘their’, ‘them’ and ‘they’ (Rom 1.18,19,20,21,22,24,25,26,27,28,29,32). These personal pronouns make the following inferences;

109 Person A B C

  • There are three people associated with this conversation
    • the person speaking (A)
    • the audience being spoken to (B)
    • the people being spoken about (C)
  • Person A and audience B must share common ground with one another.
  • Person A and audience B must be both different in some way from people C.

We’ve assumed so far Paul is the one speaking. He is Person A. We know Paul is a Jew and a believer.

Likewise, we’ve assumed Paul is speaking to a Roman Christian audience consisting of Jewish and Gentile believers.

Based on these assumptions;

  • the common ground Person A (Paul) and audience B (Roman believers) have is their Christian faith (Rom 1.8,12),
  • the people being spoken about logically, holding to these assumptions must therefore be unbelievers.

Therefore if we hold to these assumptions Paul is probably speaking about unbelievers.

But, there is scholarly agreement that Rom 1.18-32 is a paraphrase of the Wisdom of Solomon (Ch 13-14) containing a strong Jewish indictment against ungodly and unrighteous ‘men’. Would this have been recognisable to the Roman believers? We don’t know.

See the Excursus – Wisdom of Solomon  for a comparison of the two texts.

A careful examination of chapter 12 of Wisdom shows the ‘ungodly’ and the ‘men’ (Wis 12.9) are those who ‘dwelt of old in the holy land’ (Wis 12.3). In the context of chapters 12 and 13 the author of Wisdom is speaking about the non-Jewish (Gentile) nations, particularly those whom Israel drove out when entering the promised land. If Paul is drawing from Wisdom he is paraphrasing chapters 12 and 13 to likewise condemn unbelieving Gentiles.

If we follow this line of thought, Rom 1.18-32 is a judgement upon Gentiles or perhaps more specifically (because of the reference to homosexuality present in first century Greece) Greeks. It condemns Greeks for being ungodly, unrighteous, ‘suppressing the truth’ (Rom 1.18), being futile in thinking (Rom 1.21), foolish (Rom 1.22), idolatrous (Rom 1.23), sexually immoral (Rom 1.26-27) and sinful (Rom 1.28-32). These were typical Jewish caricatures of Greeks in the first century.

This means we can possibly narrow down who Paul is speaking about to Greek unbelievers.

Passage Rom 1.18-32
Who is speaking? Paul (assumed from Rom 1.16)
Who is being spoken to? Roman believers (assumed from Rom 1.15)
Who is being spoken about? [Greek] unbelievers

Rom 2.1-5

109 A Rom 2.1-5 v2

Who is speaking? Paul. The text doesn’t say. We assume so from Rom 1.16.

Who is being spoken to? We assume from Rom 1.15 Paul has been speaking to the Roman believers. Paul uses the personal pronoun ‘you’ to refer to the person / people he is speaking to in this passage (Rom 2.1,3,4,5). As we noted before, Paul used this same pronoun earlier to refer to the Roman believers (Rom 1.6,7,8,9,10,11,13,15). Paul’s continued use of ‘you’ suggests Paul is still speaking to the Roman believers.

In addition to this, he describes the Roman believers as ‘O man’ (Rom 2.1,3). The Greek noun for this expression is ‘νθρωπε’, it has transliteration ‘anthrōpe’ and could be rendered ‘mankind’, ‘human being’, or ‘man’. Its a reference to a singular person. Perhaps an individual in the Roman church.

Then he describes them in the plural as ‘every one who judges’ and again in the singular as ‘you the judge’. Paul is speaking to a group of people and/or a singular figure who represents them. Based on our prior assumption that Paul is speaking to the Roman believers, its probable Paul is speaking to a number of judgemental believers in the group, and perhaps a singular figure in the group as his main target.

What or Who is being spoken about? Paul is rebuking the people he is speaking to. Paul seems to be addressing a problem with the Roman believers. They seem have been judging and condemning others, yet sinning in the same ways themselves. Rom 2.1-5 says this. In context we’ve assumed Paul has just condemned unbelievers (Rom 1.18-32).

The expressions which refer to a singular person – ‘O man’ and ‘you the judge’ contradict his earlier references to Church as a group (identified as ‘you’ in the plural). Paul’s judgement on the Roman believers is a complete reversal from what he said about the Roman believers earlier. Consider;

‘I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.’ (Rom 1.8).

and

that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Rom 1:12)

Paul’s statements in Rom 2.1-5 contradict his earlier statements about their commendable faith. Paul has provided no explanatory comments for the switch in the way he names the Roman believers or the description of their behaviour.

I contend this will lead to their confusion if the text is read aloud to them without some sort of prior explanation.

It also seems a considerable oversight since Paul was earlier keen to remove any possible misunderstanding (Rom 1.12).

In addition to speaking about the Roman believers (so we assume), at points Paul is speaking about God (Rom 2.2-5).

We may have to come back to this point after considering some later statements. I have added the previous table so we can consider the transition between Rom 1.18-32 and Rom 2.1-5.

Passage Rom 1.18-32 Passage Rom 2.1-5
Who is speaking? Paul (assumed from Rom 1.16) Who is speaking? Paul (assumed from Rom 1.16)
Who is being spoken to? Roman believers(assumed from Rom 1.15) Who is being spoken to? Roman believers?(assumed from Rom 1.15)
Who is being spoken about? Unbelieving Gentiles Who is being spoken about? Roman believers (condemned for judgmental hypocrisy)? God (will punish them)

Rom 2.6-16

109 A Rom 2.6-16

Who is speaking? Paul. We assume so from Rom 1.16.

Who is being spoken to? We’ve assumed from Rom 1.15 Paul has been speaking to the Roman believers.

What is being spoken about? God (Rom 2.6-7,11), Jews and Greeks (Rom 2.9-10). Here we find something else that doesn’t add up. If Paul was speaking about believers, why has he spoken on racial grounds (Jew, Greek) saying

[9] There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, [10] but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. [11] For God shows no partiality. (Rom 2:9-11)

and not spiritual (Believers, Unbelievers) like this?

[9] There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the believer first and also the unbeliever, [10] but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the believer first and also the unbeliever. [11] For God shows no partiality. (Rom 2:9-11)

This is the initial assumption we made when we considered the audience B and people C in Rom 1.18-32. We are finding more contradictions with our assumption that Paul is speaking to the Roman believers in Rom 1.18-32.

Passage Rom 2.6-11
Who is speaking? Paul (assumed from Rom 1.16)
Who is being spoken to? Roman believers? (assumed from Rom 1.15)
Who is being spoken about? God, Jews and Gentiles

This ends today’s post. Tomorrow I will pick up from this point continuing to ask the same set of questions of the text.

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