Romans commentary (chapter three)

The third chapter of my running, preliminary commentary on Romans may be found here: chapter three.

These are some key points from Romans 3 that I discuss in my commentary:

1. I would not read an angry God who directly intervenes to punish into these ruminations by Paul. More, he seems to have in mind the need to hold on to a moral universe. One danger is to believe that unjust people will be able to practice their injustice without consequences. The other danger is to forget that God is a merciful God who above all else in relation to human beings desires wholeness and restored relationships.

2. “Sin” is about idolatry that manifests itself in injustice. By being under the “power of sin” Paul has in mind sin as a force outside of us (though it taps into and exploits our inner flaws) that shapes us and distorts our way of seeing and seduces us into worshiping idols. And this “worship” of idols leads to injustice. When Paul says we are “all” under the power of sin, his point seems to be not so much that each individual is (he has already alluded to the existence of genuinely just people) but that Jews and Gentiles as distinct populations are each equally liable to being under the power of sin (that is, idolaters).

3. When Paul states in 3:20 that no one will be justified (made whole, restored to healthy relationships with God and other human beings) by “deeds prescribed by the law” (or, “works of the law”), he emphasizes the peculiarly Jewish (and problematic) reduction of the law to particular rules especially useful for setting and sustaining boundaries (e.g., circumcision, Sabbath observance, kosher eating). Such a tendency leads to a sense of entitlement and hostility toward Gentiles (contradicting the call to bless all the families of the earth), and of having leverage over against God.

4. The law helps give knowledge of sin (as idolatry) by providing various touchstones for when we cut ourselves off from God’s healing power. When there is injustice, that is a sure sign that our trust in God has wavered. When the communal wholeness prescribed by the law is violated, that warns us of the presence of idols in our midst. The law also points us to the reality of our liberator God who stands in contrast to all the other gods we are tempted to trust in.

5. When Paul asserts that the disclosure of God’s justice is “attested by the law and prophets” he is saying that scripture from the start has witnessed to how God discloses God’s justice – through acts of mercy and liberation.

6. Paul is saying that the problem of idolatry cuts across any possible lines of distinction. The (Gentile) lusters (Rom. 1) are idolaters, but equally so are the (Jewish) judgers (Rom. 2).

7. When Paul speaks specifically of Jesus’ blood as the means of “a sacrifice of atonement” “put forward” by God (3:25), he refers to Jesus’ life (“the life is in the blood,” Lev 17:14) as a witness to God’s justice.

8. God “put forward” Jesus’ self-sacrificial life in order to make clear with all with eyes to see the nature of God’s justice. When the Powers respond to this disclosure with murderous violence, they are exposed as idols. This exposure provides a means for liberation for their seductions. Then, the final expression of God’s commitment to Jesus as the expression of justice put forward by God comes when God raises Jesus from the dead, firmly establishing Jesus as the authentic revelation of the healing justice of God.

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