Paul's letter to the Romans part 2 (chap.1, 19-2, 29)

Romans 1:19-2:29 (Original by A. Perriman here)
Why does the good news of “the power of God to save” need to be heard? Why must God justify himself by ensuring that the righteous live because of his faith or faithfulness?

This is because “the wrath of God will be revealed from heaven against every wickedness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth through unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18*).

The present tense “will be revealed” has sometimes led interpreters to believe that the “wrath” of God is a present condition rather than a future event. But the future aspect becomes clear enough in the next chapter: “Do you think, O man... that you will escape the judgment of God? will? But because of your stubborn and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (2:3-5).

The point is that the historical surrender of the Greeks by God to the desecration of their bodies, to vicious passions and to a depraved spirit (1, 24, 26, 28) is concrete evidence that God is angry about their idolatry and will judge this entire civilization in the future. It is clear to Jewish logic that God has given up on the Greeks, leaving them to the humiliating and destructive consequences of their former religious revolt.
This process is described in detail in Romans 1:19-32.

The specifically Jewish criticism of Greek culture

First, they had been given the "truth" about the life-giving Creator in the created order: the transcendent reality of his "eternal power and deity" was evident in the things that had been created. So there is no excuse for the decision to make idols in the form of mortal humans and other living beings.

I start from the assumptionthat this is an argument about the Greeks, not about the pagans or humanity in general. There is no reference here to the original sin of Adam and Eve, who did not become idolaters. We are dealing here with a classic Jewish criticism of polytheism that has its roots in the prophets of the Old Testament.

Jeremiah says that the gods who did not make heaven and earth will perish “at the time of their condemnation” (Jer. 10:11-15).

The idols of the nations will also be visited” (Wisdom 4:11). It has been 1,500 years since the “arrogant kings of the Greeks” set up “many idols of dead gods” for worship and led people into error and vain thinking. But when the wrath of the great God comes upon them, they will “know the face of the great God.”

(Sib. Or. 3, 551-557).

So I would guess that Paul held to this kind of historical perspective. Idolatry is not there from the beginning, it is a later invention, and it will end in the foreseeable future. According to Luke's dramatic depiction of this confrontation, God is no longer willing to overlook centuries of ignorance and has "appointed a day when he will judge the oikoumenē in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed" (Acts 17:30). -31).

The difference clearly lies in the means by which this goal is to be achieved. The Sibylline Oracle 3 foresees the appearance of a “holy race of pious people” – the Jews – who reject idolatry, honor the temple of the greatest God, share in the “justice of the law of the Most High,” and who alone provide “wise counsel and faith and excellent understanding” and will bring “great joy to all mortals” (Sib. Or. 3:573-85).

However, Paul has lost faith in Jewish legalism. He is convinced that this "judgment" and transformation will only come about through loyalty to or faith in Christ Jesus - or another interpretation of the expression pistis Christou.

More on that later. For now, we can note that he shares with Hellenistic Judaism the idea that Greek idolatry led to sexual and social depravity:

“The invention of idols was the beginning of fornication, and their discovery the corruption of life.”

Wisdom 14:11-12

Paul sharpens the criticism by focusing particularly on same-sex sexual acts, presumably because he saw these as highly characteristic of Greek sexual culture. I also pointed out that Paul sees in this development clear evidence of God's wrath against culture: the extreme degradation of the body and the degradation of the spirit - he writes as a Jew who was blameless under the law, which is righteousness "(Philippians 3:6) - are proof that this civilization is incurable and must be replaced.

A day of wrath

Paul switches to dialogue mode: “Therefore you have no excuse, you people who judge” (Romans 2:1). But who is he in dialogue with? With those who judge people who do the things described in Romans 1:18-20.

Since the Greeks do not condemn themselves - on the contrary, they "approve of those who do such things" (1:32) - we can conclude that Paul now implicitly has the hypocritical Jew in mind. In fact, we have the vocative “O man” clearly referring to the Jew in Romans 9:20. The Jew who behaves like the Greek should not appeal to God's forbearance, realizing that he too is storing up wrath for himself "in the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (2:4-5). ).

Paul then briefly sets out the conditions of the coming judgment: life in the coming age for those who "by patience in doing good seek glory and honor and incorruption"; wrath and anger for those who "are selfish and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness" (Rom. 2:7-8). This applies to both Jews and Greeks. God is not partial (2:11).

Can we say what kind of "day of wrath" that will be? In the Old Testament and in the literature of apocalyptic Judaism, such a phrase denotes a moment in history when the great social-political order is dramatically transformed in an act of divine judgment. Here are some examples:

    • In a “vision against Babylon,” Isaiah declares that “the evil day of the Lord is coming, a day of wrath and anger, to destroy all oikoumenē (inhabited world) and to destroy the sinners from it”; the stars of heaven will be darkened, the sun and moon will not give light (Isa. 13:9-10 LXX). The Medes will be the trigger of this catastrophic judgment; Babylon will be overthrown and become a home for wild animals (13:17-22).

    • In the Apocalypse of the Weeks in 1 Enoch The Holy Lord is described as appearing with "wrath and plagues" to presumably execute judgment on the land, as the infrastructure of the impure pagan presence in Israel will be destroyed, injustice and oppression will be eradicated, and a messianic figure will appear Sinners are delivered into the hands of the righteous, the conflict is ended, and a new temple is built (1 Enoch 91:7-13). And finally, this “righteous judgment will be revealed to all the world…and all people will set their eyes on the path of righteousness” (91:14).
      In these two passages and in other texts that might be cited,it's not about a final judgment at the end of the world,but about the overthrow of a regional power that has brutally oppressed the people of God. As in the text of 1 Enoch, a period of justice is often envisaged (cf thousand-year period in John after the judgment of Babylon the Great, that is Rome), in which the formerly pagan oikoumenē realigns itself around the restored Jerusalem as the new "imperial" center or capital. It will take another "week" before we come to an "eternal judgment," the final removal of sin, and the appearance of a "new heaven" (91:15-16).

So I would guess that when Paul speaks of a day of wrath that will result in "glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good,"precisely this kind of social, political and religious transformation of the Greco-Roman oikoumenēor civilization and its reorganization around a “virtual” or heavenly Jerusalem from which Jesus will reign as King.

The life of the coming age

The “life of the coming age” (zōēn aiōnion), on the other hand, probably has its origins in Daniel’s vision of the restoration of Israel after the crisis triggered by Antiochus Epiphanes:

And many of those who sleep in the depths of the earth will rise, some to eternal life (zōēn aiōnion), some to shame, and some to eternal distraction and contempt.

Dan. 12:2 LXX

The thought also appears in the Psalms of Solomon on:

The sinner's destruction is eternal, and he will not be remembered when he visits the righteous. This is the fate of sinners forever, but those who fear the Lord will be resurrected to eternal life (zōēn aiōnion), and their life is in the light of the Lord and will never end.

Pss. Sol. 3:11-12)

What wecommonly referred to as “eternal life”, is the life attained by a number of Jews who were raised from the dead to share in the historic existence of the restored Israel. For Daniel this would include both righteous and unrighteous Jews. Paul adapted this Israel-centered scenario to the broader context of a judgment that would also include the Greco-Roman world, and he does not seem to have anticipated a resurrection of the unrighteous to shame, dispersion, and contempt.

Eschatology and the Law

This is an inherently Jewish vision, which presupposes a very Jewish conception of history, and it must be brought to the fore if we are to understand Paul's argument in Romans; but it has quite disturbing implications for Torah-based Israel.

In the coming “tribulation and tribulation,” in this “Day of Wrath,” both Gentiles and Jews will be judged according to their deeds. Some Jews will be found to have done the good works required by the law. Even more controversially, in Paul's view, some Gentiles will also have fulfilled the righteousness required by the law, even though they do not know the law. Both groups are justified by doing the works of the law; neither group is believed to be [in Christ].

This should be understood primarily as a judgment on society as a whole. It is an essential condition of righteousness that those who behave righteously, who do not steal, who do not commit adultery, who do not worship idols, should share in the coming age.

Now Paul addresses the particular dilemma that the Jews find themselves in at this time.

As a diaspora Jew who has spent much time debating in synagogues across the Greek world from Antioch to Corinth, he has experienced that his people have fallen far short of the religious and ethical standards expected of them. As a result, the name of the God of Israel is "blasphemed among the Gentiles because of them," as it is written (2:24). Paul seems to have this passage in mind:

I scattered them among the nations, and they were scattered in all the lands. I judged them according to their ways and their deeds. But when they came to the nations wherever they went, they profaned my holy name, because it was said of them, "These are the people of the Lord," and yet they had to go out of his land. But I was concerned about my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. (Ezek. 36:19-21)

This means that not much has actually changed. The reason for the diaspora may have been forgotten, but through their behavior the Jews continue to bring God's name into disrepute - which is why [Jesus taught his disciples to pray]: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name..." .

When circumcision is no longer enough

The section on circumcision at the end of the second chapter can be interpreted in different ways. I will just briefly explain how I read it.

Presumably Paul heard that Jews in the synagogues, and perhaps some Jewish believers in Jesus, were claiming some kind of eschatological privilege or exemption based on Jewish identity expressed through circumcision. He replies that if the Jew does not keep the commandments, his circumcision becomes uncircumcision (2:25).

But if a Gentile keeps the commandments of the law, his uncircumcision is counted as circumcision. More than that, he will judge or “condemn” the circumcised Jew who violates the law. Perhaps it is simply that the Jews will be exposed by righteous Gentiles on the day of God's wrath.

Again, there is no need to include "Christians" in the argument - that option only appears later in chapter 3. There are only two groups involved: the average Greek on the street, who has the "work of the law" - not the law itself - written on his heart (cf. 2:15) and who will be judged righteous or justified in the day of wrath, and the Jews, who have the outward signs of legalism but break the law.

What Paul describes in verses 28-29 is not another category of people who have the law written on their hearts by the Spirit, which could include Gentiles. He simply makes it clear that authentic Israel shows itself not through appearances, but through obedience. This is the law:

“Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any more.” (Deuteronomy 10:16)

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, that you may love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

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