Romans Dialogue – 05 – Framing Romans (Rom 2-1)

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.

Today we start moving backwards through some of the Romans text. Don’t worry. I don’t mean reading it backwards. You will see. We will be starting from Rom 2.

The aims of this series 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.

As before I will continue 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?

Moving Backwards

Considering the standard blocks of text interpreters divide Romans 1-4 into, the switch from the Roman believers to IJ before Rom 2.17 could have occurred at;

  1. Rom 2.1, or
  2. Rom 1.18, or
  3. Rom 1.16.

So we should work backwards now, considering the question ‘Who is Paul speaking to?’ For simplicity since I have argued Rom 2.1-29 Paul is speaking to IJ, so I will jump back to Rom 1.18-32.

Back to Rom 1.18-32

Let me bring up the table considering the transition from Rom 1.18-32 to Rom 2.1-5 with what we worked out.

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 1.15)
Who is being spoken to? Roman believers(assumed from Rom 1.15) Who is being spoken to? Imaginary Jew (IJ)
Who is being spoken about? Unbelievers Gentiles Who is being spoken about? IJ and judgmental Jews (condemned for hypocrisy) and God (will punish them)

We need to review some of the answers in this table. We can see an immediate transitory tension with the answers to the question ‘Who is being spoken to?’ When there is a switch we will notice a transitory tension. So this could be the spot. We should also reconsider ‘Who has Paul been speaking about?’

Rom 1.18-32; Who is speaking? We assumed Paul from Rom 1.16. At the time it made for a smooth transition so we assumed Paul was the one speaking. But, we need to consider how Paul’s statement in Rom 3.9 affects our understanding of Rom 1.18-32. Remember, Paul said;

‘For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin’ (Rom 3.9).

And because of this text I suggested that IJ is in some way associated with Rom 1.18-32. IJ has charged the Greeks with sin. The immediate context and Paul’s use of ‘therefore’ in Rom 2.1-5 suggests the following;

a) Paul has spoken Rom 2.1-5 aware that IJ knew what was being said in Rom 1.18-32. Paul refers to the things that have been mentioned in Rom 1.18-32;

‘because you, the judge, practice the very same things.’ (Rom 2.1)

We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. (Rom 2.2)

‘Do you suppose, O man — you who judge those who practice such things’ (Rom 2.3)

How would Paul assume IJ knew what he meant by ‘the very same things’ and ‘such things’ unless he believed IJ knew what was said in Rom 1.18-32? Paul assumes outright that IJ knows what was said in Rom 1.18-32. Therefore Rom 1.18-32 is part of the dialogue Paul is having with IJ.

b) Paul has spoken Rom 2.1-5 knowing IJ and others like him judge others for the same things as in Rom 1.18-32.

In Rom 2.1 he says,

‘Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself.’ (Rom 2.1)

‘Do you suppose, O man — you who judge those who practice such things’ (Rom 2.3)

Paul is accusing IJ of judging and therefore, Paul is responding to IJ’s prior judgement on others.

So here is another point from the text suggesting IJ was charging the Greeks with sin which is alluded to in Rom 3.9. Paul actually says IJ was the one who passed judgement on another. Paul says in Rom 2.1 and then Rom 3.9;

Paul:

Therefore you [IJ] have no excuse, …

‘For in passing judgment on another …’

IJ:

What then? Are we [Paul & IJ] Jews any better off?’

Paul:

No, not at all. For we [Paul & IJ] have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin’ (Rom 3.9).

The way Paul says this implies IJ had made a judgement. Its possible IJ was the one speaking in Rom 1.18-32 to which Paul is responding from Rom 2.1 onwards.

Note again the frequent use of the personal pronouns ‘their’, ‘them’ and ‘they’ in Rom 1.18,19,20,21,22,24,25,26,27,28,29, 32. The person uttering the condemnation in Rom 1.18-32 is passing judgement on other people, but not himself. That’s what Paul says;

Paul:

Therefore you [IJ] have no excuse, …

‘For in passing judgment on another …’

Who does IJ (a Jew) judge when he is pronouncing judgment on ‘those who practice such things’? Jews like himself? Not likely considering the speaker A, audience B, people C relationships we discussed earlier. More probably IJ judges Greeks in this way. IJ judges Greeks ‘who practice such things’.

c) Paul has spoken Rom 2.1-5 as a response to IJ’s judgement on Greeks. We can see this from Rom 2.1,3

Paul:

‘Therefore you [IJ] have no excuse because you [IJ] practice the same things [as the Greeks you judge].’ (Rom 2.1)

Paul:

‘Do you suppose, O man—you [IJ] who judge those [Greeks] who practice such things and yet do them yourself…’(Rom 2.3)

Paul is in agreement with IJ’s judgment. This is clear from Rom 2.2-3

Paul:

We [Paul & IJ] know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you [IJ] who judge those [Greeks] who practice such things…

But he doesn’t like the fact that IJ is judging the Greeks, when he also does the same things. Paul’s made an issue of this. So, Paul is using IJ’s theology and judgment against him. In Rom 2.1-5, Paul is responding to IJ’s judgement on Greeks and using IJ’s own judgement against him.

Rom 1.18-32 must be recognised as IJ’s judgment on Greeks as well as Paul’s. Paul’s use of ‘therefore’ suggests Paul uttered Rom 1.18-32. But what Paul says from Rom 2.1 onwards makes it clear what was said was meant to be IJ’s judgment.

If we look ahead as well to Rom 2.26-27, Paul still responding to IJ’s prior judgment, creates the possible reverse situation where an obedient Gentile could condemn IJ.

Paul:

Therefore you [IJ] have no excuse, … ‘For in passing judgment on another [the Greeks]’ (Rom 2.1)

(PAUL RESPONDS TO IJ’S JUDGEMENT)

Paul:

[26] So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? [27] Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you [IJ] who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. (Rom 2.26-27)

(PAUL CREATES A POSSIBLE SITUATION OF A REVERSAL IN JUDGEMENT)

Paul:

For we [Paul and IJ] have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin’ (Rom 3.9).

(PAUL REFERS TO IJ’s JUDGEMENT ON GREEKS, AND HIS OWN JUDGEMENT ON JEWS)

Rom 2.26-27 seems to be a deliberate reversal of what IJ imagined or expected would happen in the future judgement. If like in Rom 1.18-32, IJ the Jew condemns the Greeks (Gentiles), Paul responds, in the defense of Gentiles, and highlights the possibility they could condemn IJ. The reversal of judgement seems to suggest Paul is reacting against an earlier condemnation by IJ of Gentiles.

And again in Rom 3.29 Paul asks IJ,

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, (Rom 3.29)

Implying again IJ as a Jew was alienating Gentiles (Greeks) from God as in Rom 1.18-32 to which Paul responds from then onwards arguing that there are some Gentiles who will be justified (Rom 2.13-14; 3.30) and receive praise from God (2.26-29).

In summary, my argument that Rom 1.18-32 is also IJ’s condemnation of Greeks is based on these elements in the text;

1) Rom 1.18-32 is part of the same dialogue he’s having with IJ.

In Rom 2.1-5 and referring to Rom 1.18-32 (especially Rom 1.29-31) Paul says;

Paul [to IJ]:

because you, the judge, practice the very same things.(Rom 2:1)

Paul [to IJ]:

on those who practice such things (Rom 2.2)

Paul [to IJ}:

those who practice such things (Rom 2.3)

The references to the ‘same things’ and ‘such things’ said to IJ, imply Romans 1.18-32 was part of the same dialogue between Paul and IJ and not primarily directed by Paul at the Roman Christian audience. At this point they are meant to understand Paul is in dialogue with IJ.

2) More than one person has charged people with sin in the dialogue.

The dialogue between Paul and IJ in Rom 3.9 has;

IJ:

What then? Are we Jews any better off?

Paul:

No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, (Rom 3:9)

By using the plural (‘we-have-already-charged’) in Rom 3.9b Paul states that more than one person has been involved in charging Jews and Greeks with being under sin. In the immediate context the plural refers to both Paul and IJ.

In the dialogue the Greeks are condemned with sin in Rom 1.18-32 and the Jews are condemned with sin in Rom 2.1-29. We know Paul has condemned IJ and some Jews with sin in Rom 2.1-29. This carries the logical implication that IJ is associated with the judgment of Greeks in Rom 1.18-32.

3) Paul says in Rom 2.1-5  IJ passed judgement on the Greeks.

Paul [to IJ]:

‘every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another’ (Rom 2:1)

Paul [to IJ]:

‘you who judge those who practice such things’ (Rom 2.3)

4) Paul’s arguments following Rom 2.1 are in response to IJ’s judgement of the Greeks (Gentiles).

Following mention of IJ’s judgment on Greeks, Paul opposes IJ’s assumption by putting them on equal ground with the Jews.

Paul [to IJ]:

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)

Paul [to IJ]:

13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. (Rom 2:13–14)

Paul [to IJ]:

26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised [a Gentile] keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. (Rom 2:26–27)

Paul [to IJ]:

28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. (Rom 3:28–30)

Paul [to IJ}:

9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised [Jews], or also for the uncircumcised [Gentiles]? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised [believing Gentiles], so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, (Rom 4:9–11)

Rom 1.18-32; Who is speaking? Paul, but IJ is associated with it.

109 B Rom 1.18-23

109 B Rom 1.24-27

109 B Rom 1.28-2.5

I have already argued these main points.

  • 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 in front of them.
  • D3) The Roman audience consisted of Jewish and Gentile believers.
  • D4) An unassisted forward reading of the Romans 1-4 is contradictory and confusing.
  • D5) Paul is speaking to an imaginary Jew (IJ) in front of the Roman believers (Rom 2.17, cf 2.1-29).
  • D6) The interaction between Paul and IJ dominates most of Romans 1-4.
  • a) Both speak to one another (cf. Rom 3.1-9; 3.27-4.1).

Now I will build another onto point 6.

  • b) Paul is responding to IJ who has judged Greeks (cf. 1.18-32; 2.1-5; Rom 3.9b).

Rom 1.18-32; Who is being spoken to? We originally assumed the Roman believers. Making this assumption creates a significant transitory tension. But from above, it seems IJ is speaking to Paul.

Rom 1.18-32; Who is being spoken about? unbelievers? We based this on a wrong assumption that Paul was speaking to the Roman believers. Considering the speaker A, audience B, people C relationships we discussed earlier. Paul and IJ share a common Jewish heritage, but not Christian faith. The just condemned are Gentiles. Are they Gentile believers? I assume IJ would judge Gentile believers without any concern. This gives rationale for Paul’s defense of Gentiles from Rom 2.1 onwards.

Passage Rom 1.18-32 Passage Rom 2.1-5
Who is speaking? IJ Who is speaking? Paul
Who is being spoken to? Paul Who is being spoken to? Imaginary Jew (IJ)
Who is being spoken about? Gentiles Who is being spoken about? IJ and judgmental Jews (condemned for hypocrisy) and God (will punish them)

This relieves the transitory tension we initially assumed by thinking Paul was addressing the Roman believers and makes sense of Rom 2.1-5 and 3.9.

But we still need to consider how far back Paul’s dialogue with IJ goes. So we should continue working backwards considering the question ‘Who is Paul speaking to?’

Back to Rom 1.16-17

Who is speaking? Paul. We assume so from Rom 1.15. But based on Rom 3.9 and Rom 2.1-5 the text suggests Rom 1.18-32 is part of the dialogue Paul is having with IJ and is associated with IJ’s own judgment on Greeks. So is Paul or IJ speaking in Rom 1.16-17? In Rom 2.16 Paul says,

‘on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.’ (Rom 2.16)

When speaking to IJ, Paul claims the gospel as his own. Its not IJ’s. This eliminates the possibility IJ is speaking in Rom 1.16-17. Paul must be speaking, and this is strongly reinforced with verse 15.

Who is being spoken to? Is Paul speaking to the Roman believers as we originally assumed or is he speaking to IJ?  Moving forward through the text, we would normally assume (as we did) Paul is still speaking to the Roman believers from Rom 1.16 onwards. Traditionally this is always done. But now considering the dialogue between Paul and IJ, Rom 1.16 and onwards could be part of the dialogue and like before Paul hasn’t given notice.

Rom 1.16-17 is a statement concerning the gospel. The closest references in both directions to the noun ‘gospel’ are; backwards at Rom 1.15 (to the Roman believers) and forwards Rom 2.16 (to IJ) where Paul says ‘according to my gospel’. Rom 1.16-17 could either be part of Paul’s statements to the Roman believers in Rom 1.1-15 or part of his dialogue with IJ.

If Rom 1.16-17 is included in the dialogue between Paul and IJ, it is the first instance where Paul addresses IJ. From this first mention of Paul’s ‘gospel’, IJ could acknowledge Paul’s portrayal of it when he says ‘my gospel’ within the dialogue at Rom 2.16. Rom 1.16 also states an expression used in the dialogue, ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ as in Rom 2.9,10. Providing further support Rom 1.16-17 is included in the dialogue.

On the other hand, Rom 1.16-17 makes sense of the introductory statements made to the Roman concerning the gospel and provides further justification for Paul wanting to preach the gospel in Rome (Rom 1.15).

15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom 1.15-16)

I find the possibility that Paul has begun at this point speaking to IJ has insufficient support considering its immediate context. Paul is speaking to the Roman believers.

How would the lector know of the a switch from;

  • Paul speaking in Rom 1.16-17 to the Roman believers, to
  • the dialogue between Paul and IJ, with IJ speaking to Paul in Rom 1.18-32?

Two suggestions;

1) The letter bearer was told in advance that Romans 1-4 contains a speech-in-character dialogue between Paul and an imaginary Jew, and

2) Paul’s use of ‘For’ at the start of Rom 1.18 is redundant and does not facilitate a logical connection between verses 17 to 18. As Douglas Campbell comments Paul’s use of redundant ‘for’’s facilitates breaks between speakers and could possibly be used to signify the switch between Paul’s discourse with the Roman believers and his dialogue with IJ.

The lector after Rom 1.16-17 can forewarn the Roman Christian audience that he is now engaging in dialogue with IJ the Jew. If this does not happen the Roman believers will assume Paul is continuing to speak to them. They will will not understand Rom 1.18-32 as part of the dialogue with IJ (as indicated in Rom 2.1-5) and will misunderstand Rom 2.1-5 thinking Paul is still speaking to them (now judging them for judgemental hypocrisy).

Who is being spoken about? As before – Paul is speaking about himself and the gospel. We have no reason to reconsider this.

109 A Rom 1.16-17

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

Rom 1.16-17 is now our outer boundary we discussed in the first section considering Rom 2.17. Paul switches here without giving any explicit evidence of it in the text. I will consider how he does this below.

109 A Rom 1.1-15

So overall there are significant shifts between (Campbell 2009, 587-593);

  1. 1.1-15 where Paul is engaging the Roman believers (C3 Saints).
  2. 1.18-4.22 where Paul is in dialogue with IJ (C1J3 Sinner and Jew).
  3. 4.23 onwards where Paul resumes addressing the Roman believers (C3 Saints).

Since I have worked out Paul and IJ are interacting with one another in Rom 1.16-4.22. I have gone ahead and made several decisions which sections of text have Paul speaking to IJ, and which sections have IJ speaking to Paul.

I have made these decisions based on;

  • Argumentative Questions posed and counter answers given, such as the instance in 3.1-9 above. (For the majority of 1.16-4.25 I assume that most of the argumentative questions and answers are interactions between IJ and Paul.)
  • A change in the use of personal pronouns from ‘them’, ‘their’, ‘they’, to ‘we’, ‘our’, ‘you’ and ‘your’.
  • Noting which sections of text condemn Gentiles, and others which defend Gentiles and condemn Jews.
  • Noting which sections of text support Paul’s argument, and which sections of text seek to deny it.
  • Noting switches in assumptions made of the audience between sections of text.

I have applied these to the whole text and you can see the results in the Sneak Peak after this section.

Distinguishing the speakers

How could the audience know of the switches and distinguish between speakers?

Admittedly readers today move past these sections without noticing the switch in audience. Thinking all along Paul was writing and/or speaking to the Roman believers. I have shown interpreting the text this way is misleading. An unassisted forward reading of the text is inherently confusing. In particular, Rom 2.1-5 cannot be understood correctly without forewarning that Paul is in dialogue with IJ. Rom 1.18-32 would never be perceived as part of the dialogue as Rom 2.1-5 implies, without forewarning as well.

If we assume Paul and Tertius are competent and intelligent enough to realise an unassisted forward reading of Romans 1-4 is confusing. It makes logical sense to assume they instructed the letter bearer in various ways to avoid the likely misinterpretation by their intended audience and to avoid giving offense when Paul condemns IJ.

My starting point to answer this question is to note again – Paul dictated Romans to his scribe Tertius (Rom 16.22). He did not write it. I’m assuming prior to his dictation of the letter he knew what he wanted to speak about. So when he switched from Rom 1.1-15 to Rom 1.16-4.22 and then back again from Rom 4.23 onwards, he would have done so in a manner which made it clear to those listening to his utterances of these changes. Likewise in the dialogue with IJ, when he switched between uttering his own position and that of IJ’s, he would have done so in a manner which made it clear to those watching the performance of these changes.

Hence I believe the performance of the text was intended to be comprehensible to the original audience provided it was made clear to them in ways beyond the text what was happening.

My proposal for how the audience understood these switches is;

  • Paul dictated the letter to Tertius and performed it in such a manner as to make these switches clear.
  • Paul would have created stage instructions for the letter bearer to either use herself or pass on to the lector to enable the audience to distinguish between speakers.
  • The lector would have spoken to the audience beforehand so they knew what was being read out was a dialogue between Paul and an imaginary Jew.
  • The lector would be trained to posit non-verbal clues such as changes in tone, timing, facial expressions, gesture, posture, distance, and movement. These would allow the audience to distinguish between speakers and whom was being spoken to.

Just like any stage performance.

One person would have performed this text. In the historical context, this was the letter bearer and/or the reader. Paul’s training of the letter bearer’s would prepare them to perform the text just as Paul did before his scribe. Their performance would allow the Roman believers to tell who was speaking to whom.

For clarity the cartoons I have drawn show two people. These are representations of Paul and IJ, in order to make it clear who I believe is speaking and whom is being spoken to as we look at the text. I acknowledge it likely only a single person performed the text, however for clarity in my paper the cartoons will show two people.

Main Points

Douglas Campbell also has a go at this kind of reading. Check this link (goto 1:22:00 and wait for it to load) out.

In this section I have observed the text is much more complicated than normally assumed. I’ve framed the text in a manner that significantly differs from traditional interpretations. So I will review again the main points of my logic that got us here;

  • 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 in front of them.
  • D3) The Roman audience consisted of Jewish and Gentile believers (Rom 1.8).
  • D4) an unassisted forward reading of the Romans 1-4 is contradictory and confusing.
  • D5) Paul is speaking to an imaginary Jew (IJ) in front of the Roman believers (Rom 2.17, cf 2.1-29).
  • D6) The interaction between Paul and IJ dominates most of Romans 1-4.
  • a) Paul and IJ speak to one another (cf. Rom 3.1-9; 3.27-4.1).
  • b) Paul is responding to IJ who has judged Greeks (cf. 1.18-32; 2.1-5; Rom 3.9b).

In conclusion, the dialogue between Paul and IJ which dominates most of Romans 1-4, was performed in front of the Roman audience consisting of both Jewish and Gentile believers.

Next I will give a sneak peek of what a performance of the text would look like with a series of cartoons.

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