Book Review – R Rodriguez, If You Call Yourself a Jew: Reappraising Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Book Rodriguez If you call yourself a JewI accidentally read a whole commentary on Romans. I got it in the first case because it applies two concepts to its reading of Romans I’m interested in. A reading of Romans which engages with the interlocutor Paul speaks to throughout the letter, and incorporates this with elements from the New Perspective on Paul.

  • Link: Amazon
  • Length: 404
  • Difficulty: Heavy-Academic
  • Topic: Biblical, Romans
  • Audience: Academics

This is basically what I’m doing in my Simply Romans series. In his own words Rodriguez says;

“This book, then, provides a reading of Paul’s entire letter on the basis of the hypothesis that Paul constructs a dialogue with a gentile proselyte to Judaism as his interlocutor. Space constraints prevent us from providing a comprehensive, verse-by-verse commentary, but we will read through every section of the letter. In the course of the pages that follow, we will see Paul’s exposition of the revelation of the righteousness of God —God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants.” (Loc 37 of 9878)

There is a twist however. Rodriguez argues the interlocutor is a Gentile proselyte to Judaism. The book names itself after Rom 2.17.

Contents – Overview

Main Points

I don’t have the time to give a comprehensive review of what he is said. But I will touch upon some of the topics he addresses in point form and give a memorable quote from each chapter.

Chapter 1: Introduction

  • Story of Pauline theology
  • Recipients of Romans, exclusively Gentiles
  • Purpose of Romans

Chapter 2: The Gospel, the Power of God (Rom 1.1-17)

  • Gospel
  • Righteousness of God

“Before we move on to the remainder of Romans 1, we need to say something about “the righteousness of God”[dikaiosynē theou]. N.T. Wright suggests that when Paul refers to the righteousness of God, he is talking about God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel and, through Israel, to all creation. Robert Jewett agrees: “[T]he biblical concept of righteousness was primarily relational, associated with covenantal loyalty.” (760)

Chapter 3: The Wrath and Impartial Judgment of God (Rom 1.18-2.16)

  • God’s wrath
  • Identity of the first interlocutor
  • Paul’s use of diatribe

“Romans 2: 1ff. is the first instance of Paul’s use of diatribe. Stanley Stowers’s doctoral thesis offered the seminal study of diatribe, which had not advanced noticeably since the doctoral work of Rudolf Bultmann. Stowers demonstrates that the “dialogical style” of the diatribe “[ grew] out of the situation of the philosophical school” and is a pedagogical tool with which a teacher instructs a student rather than a polemical tool with which a disputant debates an opponent. The diatribe is not the technical instruction in logic, physics, etc., but discourses and discussions in the school where the teacher employed the “Socratic” method of censure and protreptic. The goal of this part of the instruction was not simply to impart knowledge, but to transform the students, to point out error and to cure it. Our review of the sources suggests that the dialogical element of the diatribe was an important part of this pedagogical approach. The two major categories of dialogical features are address to the interlocutor and objections from the interlocutor.” (1074)

Chapter 4: Introducing the Gentile Proselyte (Rom 2.17-3.20)

  • Identity of the interlocutor

“I want to underline this point: The choice between an actually Jewish interlocutor in Rom 2:17–29 and an ethnically-gentile-religiously-Jewish interlocutor will prove to be the fork in the road for our reading of Romans as a whole. The choice we make here will fundamentally alter the way we read difficult passages throughout the rest of Romans, including Paul’s dark tenor in Romans 3, his first-person monologue in Romans 7, and his explanation of Israel’s salvation in Romans 9–11.” (1580)

  • Summary of Paul’s opponents
  • Questions and answers in Rom 3.1-8
  • No flesh shall be justified by works of law

Chapter 5: The Righteousness of God apart from Torah (Rom 3.21-4.25)

  • Continued speech to the interlocutor
  • The Revelation of Dikaiosynē Theou
  • Translating Pistis Iēsou Christou
  • Jesus, the New Hilastērion
  • Fielding Objections (Rom 3:27–31)
  • Abraham, Father of Many Nations (Rom 4:1–25)

“And nowhere have we found Paul opposing a legalistic “works-righteousness” with righteousness by faith. The question of grace versus works has dominated our reading of Romans for too long , and the reading of Romans 1–4 that we have put forward in these last four chapters has hopefully demonstrated that this just is not the question Paul is answering.” (1730)

Chapter 6: Christ, the New Adam (Rom 5.1-21)

  • Reconciliation with God, and More (Rom 5:1–11)

“Dunn rightly resists spiritualizing “peace” (i.e., as inner peace) and insists that “peace” is a covenantal concept. This “peace” stands in antithetical relation to the “wrath of God” [orgē theou; 1:18] that is being revealed from heaven against gentile idolatry and depravity . Sin results in estrangement and brings the wrath of God. Faithfulness results in justification and brings peace with God for those who respond in faith to the message of the gospel.” (2990)

  • Adam of Eden vs. Jesus of Nazareth (Rom 5:12–21)

Chapter 7: Baptized, Buried, Raised (Rom 6.1-23)

  • Death to Sin, Newness of Life (Rom 6:1–14)
  • Slaves, but Whose Slaves? (Rom 6:15–23)

“Paul does not dichotomize Torah and grace as fundamentally opposed to one another. Instead, he instructs his gentile audience that the basis for their relationship with the Creator God is grace, expressed in the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, rather than Torah, the Mosaic covenant that structured Israel’s relationship with YHWH.” (3540)

Chapter 8: Nomos, Flesh, Spirit (Rom 7.1-25)

  • A Legal Analogy (Rom 7:1–6)
  • The Gentile Proselyte Finds His Voice (Rom 7:7–13)

“Stanley Stowers has argued that Paul employs a rhetorical technique, called “speech-in-character” [prosōpopoiia], “in which the speaker or writer produces speech that represents not himself or herself but another person or type of character.” Speech-in-character can take two forms; it “consists of cases where one invents the ēthos (i.e., character by means of words) of a known person (prosō pon) and also of cases where one invents both the ēthos and the person.” Romans 7: 7–25 takes Stowers’s second form, in which Paul speaks in the voice of the gentile proselyte with whom he has been dialoguing since at least 2:17. Paul’s speech-in-character begins immediately after the exclamation in v. 7, “Certainly not!” Stowers argues that ancient readers, who regularly encountered speech-in-character in various genres of oral and written communications, looked for certain clues that signaled the author’s change from his own, authorial voice to the character he portrays.” (4050)

  • Sin’s Enslavement, Viewed from Within (Rom 7:14–25)

If we follow Rodriguez’s argument that Paul’s interlocutor is a Gentile convert to Judaism, then the application of his identity makes for a really smooth reading of Romans 7.7-25.

Chapter 9: Creation Renewed by the Spirit (Rom 8.1-32)

  • Sin’s Condemnation, Not Ours (Rom 8:1–11)
  • A New Metaphor (Rom 8:12–17)
  • The [W]holistic Plan of God (Rom 8:18–30)

“The word that I translate “work together” [synergei] is another compound word [syn- (“ with, together”) and -ergeō (“ work, accomplish)]. James Dunn identifies about forty syn-prefixed terms in the NT, “more than half [of which] appear only in Paul” and “which form a characteristic and distinctive feature of Paul’s style and theology.”” (4900)

  • The Assured Results of the Plan of God (Rom 8:31–39)

Chapter 10: Israel and Christ (Rom 9.1-29)

  • Sorrow for Israel (Rom 9:1–13)
  • A Defense of God’s Sovereignty (Rom 9:14–29)

“When Paul said, “not all those who are from Israel are Israel” (9: 6), his meaning was clear: not all the descendants of Abraham’s grandson, Israel, belong to the covenantal community of the people of God, the children of promise (9: 8). Paul’s discussion (and defense) of the covenantal status of the Jews in Rom 9: 1– 23, using the label Israel, addresses the question raised in v. 6 by affirming that the word of God has had its effect, that Israel has received its blessings from God. This is what it means, after all, to be Israel! Israel’s historic unfaithfulness to her covenant with YHWH— to Torah— has not frustrated the fulfillment of YHWH’s promises to Abraham and to his Seed.” (5560)

Chapter 11: Israel and Christ, Pt. II (Rom 9.30-10.21)

  • Israel’s Missed Mark (Rom 9:30–33)
  • The Prayer of the Remnant (Rom 10:1–13)

“The Jews expressed and embodied their faith by means of Torah’s commandments (or “by deeds”). The problem, however, is that many of them did not recognize that Torah bore witness to the righteousness of God that was revealed apart from Torah by Jesus’ faithfulness ( 3: 21– 22), and so their rejection of the gospel— the proclamation that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah— is tantamount to a refusal to “subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (10: 3). 539 The Jews’ problem, then, is not that they have kept Torah’s commandments; their problem is that they sought to keep Torah’s commandments while refusing to accept Torah’s testimony on Jesus’ behalf. “Works without faith (in Jesus),” in other words. In this reading, Paul does not level any criticism against Jews who observe Torah; his critique aims squarely (and solely) against Torah-observant Jews who reject Israel’s Messiah, Jesus.” (6020)

  • Israel Finds Itself Provoked (Rom 10:14–21)

Chapter 12: [Re-] Grafted Olive Branches (Rom 11.1-36)

  • Paul, a Prophet like Elijah (Rom 11:1–10)

“Paul expands on the description of God’s election in v. 5 as “gracious” [charitos; lit. “of /from grace”] 576 and pits that description against the notion of election based on deeds. “But if [God’s election] is by grace [chariti], it is no longer by deeds [ex ergōn], for otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom 11: 6). The temptation here is for us to revert back to the understanding that we specifically eschewed as we worked through Romans 1–4, that Paul is contrasting grace with law/ Law (or Torah). But “deeds” is not a synonym for law/ Law. Instead, Paul is talking about the basis of Torah (or law/ Law). God gave Torah to Israel not on the basis of their deeds (whether in Egypt or in the flight to Sinai ) but because he chose Israel, of his own sovereign will (or, “gracious election”), to be his people.” (6600)

  • Branches— Natural and Grafted (Rom 11:11–24)
  • The Mystery of Israel (Rom 11:25–32)
  • Ode to the Sublime (Rom 11:33–36)

Chapter 13: Living Sacrifices (Rom 12.1-13.14)

  • In the Broadest Strokes Possible (Rom 12:1–2)

“Paul also describes his readers’[self-] sacrifice as “pleasing to God.”He describes the Philippians’gift( s) to him, delivered by Epaphroditus, in similarly cultic terms: “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God”(Phil 4: 18). In six of the eight uses of euarestos in the Pauline corpus, the person being pleased is explicitly “God”or “the Lord.” Both instances of euarestos in the LXX (Wis 4: 10; 9: 10) also have God as the person being pleased. This word, then, is especially appropriate for describing an offering that is given with the hope of being acceptable and pleasing to God.” (7100)

  • The Exercise of God’s Gifts (Rom 12:3–8)
  • The Expression of God’s Love (Rom 12:9–21)
  • The Submission of God’s People (Rom 13:1–7)
  • The Full Measure of Torah (Rom 13:8–14)

Chapter 14: The Offering of the Weak (Rom 14.1-15.13)

  • Romans 14–15 and Paul’s Encoded Audience

“All of this confusion about Paul’s audience arises in the tension between two relatively uncontroversial observations. First, Paul only ever explicitly refers to his audience in Romans as gentiles; commentators and historians who posit a Jewish component among Romans’ implied readers infer that component from aspects of the letter other than Paul’s own statements identifying his audience. Second, Paul clearly discusses issues and quotes from/ alludes to the Hebrew Bible in ways that are appropriate to a letter for Jews (or an audience that includes a Jewish component), regardless whom Paul identifies as his audience.” (7870)

  • Conflicting Expressions of Faith (Rom 14:1–12)
  • Celebrating the Faith of All the Gentiles (Rom 14:13–23)
  • A Mutually Deferential Faith (Rom 15:1–13)

Chapter 15: In Sum . . . (Rom 15.14-16.27)

  • “In Sum . . .” (Rom 15:14–33)
  • Sincerely Yours, Paul (Rom 16:1–27)

“Romans 16 begins with a letter of reference, of sorts, for Phoebe , “our sister” [tē n adelphēn hēmōn], a deacon[ess] of the church in Cenchrea, “most probably to be identified as the eastern port of Corinth.” Jewett rightly describes Phoebe as the “congregational leader” of the Cenchrean church; the title “deacon[ ess]” should not lead us to imagine her occupying a secondary or subservient role within the church. He writes on her behalf, almost certainly, because she carried the letter from Paul, in Corinth, to the gentile Christians in Rome.” (8740)


I think this is a really good book to get some really up to date arguments on Romans and references to a great many of the main players in its interpretation. The author has a very wide range of knowledge of Romans scholars including Barclay, Barrett, Barth, Bird, Bultmann, Campbell, Cranfield, Das, DeSilva, Donaldson, Dunn, Evans, Fitzmyer, Gathercole, Grenz, Hays, Jewett, Kasemann, Longenecker, Moo, Morris, Nanos, Porter, Schreiner, Silva, Song, Stendahl, Stowers, Witherington and of course Wright. These are the ones I recognise. There are many more.

I don’t agree with everything Rodriguez says, but I agree with a lot. He has challenged some of my key assumptions about the membership of the Romans churches and the identity of the interlocutor.

He is reasonably sympathetic to the New Perspective on Paul.

Throughout his interpretation, he continually interacts with what Paul’s arguments mean in the context with his diatribe with the interlocutor. Not many people do that in my opinion.

I would recommend the book for academics and lay ministers.

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