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Romans 1-4

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Romans 1:1-17  INTRODUCTION

Many, although certainly not all, commentators recognise this as the introductory section of the letter.  It contains many features typical of the openings of ancient letters and more specifically of Paul.  It is probably also appropriate to follow the NRSV paragraphs in seeing this introduction as having three stages (although the second might reasonably be subdivided, into prayer [Rom 1:8-10] & statement of intention) i.e.:

Rom 1:1-7                   Salutation (A to B, greeting)

Rom 1:8-15                 Exordium (building of relationship)

Rom 1:16-17               Statement of theme

Romans 1:1-7  SALUTATION

A typical Pauline Christianising of the normal letter opening, except that the first element (Paul’s self-identification) is singled out for expansion, probably because Paul is introducing himself to a church, or churches, which he has not visited.  He is, in a sense, presenting his credentials, declaring the ground on which he can assume the right to teach and exhort the believers of Rome.

Rom 1:1  Paul chooses first to designate himself as “a slave (douloj) of Christ Jesus”, which to Gentiles may have been a little surprising but to Jews would have recalled an honourable LXX background.  Certainly it stresses Paul’s dedication to his Lord, who is the Messiah Jesus.  But he then claims authority as  avpostoloj, although emphatically an authority of God’s making.  Dunn’s suggestion is interesting, that a New Covenant comparison is implied, i.e. - set-apart not now from but for the other peoples (cf. Lev 20:26).  Since he is set apart “unto God’s gospel”, this may not be overly imaginative.  There is a decidedly minor textual variant in this verse – purely a matter of word order.

Rom 1:2-4  That gospel is now characterised in terms which seem to reflect the general character of early Christian preaching, and many commentators believe Paul is using established creedal language [see, e.g., Fitzmyer, pp 229f].  Paul first characterises the gospel as that which God “promised before”. The Greek word proephggeilato has the redundant prefix pro- added to the verb “promised”, a rare compound which occurs only here and in II Cor 9:5 in the NT. This suggests a strong emphasis on fulfilment, and the implication that the gospel which Paul preaches is grounded in the OT scriptures. He then proceeds to characterise the gospel as peri tou ui`ou avutou tou genomenou evk spermatoj Dauid kata sarka (“concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh”). This clearly claims that Jesus has a legitimate human claim to be of the line of David, and hence strongly implies that he is the Messiah. There is debate about the force of genomenou, but it most obviously means “having come (or become)”, which suggests pre-existence. Then comes the balancing affirmation that Jesus is ui`ou qeou evn dunamei (“Son of God with power”). Here the most difficult phrase is kata pneuma `agiwsunhj (NRSV: “according to the spirit of holiness”) - see Cranfield, I, 62-64 &/or Moo(1996), 47-50 for a careful discussion.  I favour Moo’s view that “the Son” of Rom 1:3 is appointed, or designated (a more natural rendering of the Greek  `orizw than “declare”) Son-of-God-with-power by resurrection from the dead. This is his appropriate designation as the one who ushers in the new era of salvation history, the era of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

Rom 1:5  Paul returns to his own apostleship, in terms which tie it to God’s gospel and which probably point to:

·           carin kai apostolhn – literally, grace and apostleship, but best understood with reference back to Rom 1:1 as hendiadys, that is, “grace of apostleship”, i.e. this is God’s doing

·           evlabomen - Paul’s standing among all so commissioned (many would see the “we” as used as epistolary singular but here Paul’s associating himself with others makes sense).

·           eivj u`pakohn pistewj evn pasin toij evqnesin - the nature of Paul’s commission - to call forth faith and obedience, or faith/obedience, among the Gentiles [see Morris, 49f. on former phrase; latter could mean “all nations” inclusively but NRSV probably correctly interprets ta eqnh  in relation to Paul’s apostleship]

Rom 1:6  The first part of the salutation formula concludes with a phrase which bridges into the second part: evn oi`j evste kai u`meij klhtoi vIhsou Cristou - literally, “among whom are you also called-ones of Jesus Christ”.  This may suggest that most, or even all, of his readers are Gentiles but could simply place them in the midst of the nations/Gentiles, in Rome with a gospel to proclaim.

Rom 1:7  A fairly standard brief expansion of the second and third elements of the salutation [which is not to say that there is nothing of interest: see Morris, 52-54 or Dunn, 19-21]. There is a textual variant: the inclusion or omission of evn `Rwmh. – UBS4 rates inclusion as A, since witness for omission are few and late or indirect. It is generally thought that this was a deliberate removal to convey the general relevance of the letter.


Paul seeks to initiate a positive rapport with his audience through complimentary language of thanksgiving (Rom 1:8), assurance of interested prayer (Rom 1:9), bridging (Rom 1:10) into a reiterated statement of his desire to come to them, with apology for delay (Rom 1:11-15).

Rom 1:8  This is conventional but nonetheless may be taken to express real thankfulness for the presence of people of faith at the heart of the Empire.  The emphasis on pistij (“faith”) is both common in Paul [see Dunn 28 for other examples] and particularly appropriate in this letter. The note of kataggelletai evn o`lw| tw| kosmw| (“is proclaimed throughout the world”) may support the interpretation of Rom 1:6 as placing them as witnesses among the nations.

Rom 1:9  Paul solemnly calls God to witness, i.e.: he is very emphatic that he prays much for the believers in Rome.  The phrase w` latreuw evn tw| pneumati mou evn tw|| euvaggeliw| tou ui`ou autou  (“whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son”) is intriguing.  Paul seems likely to be claiming to be one who spirituallytruly serves/worships God, which is a matter not of ritual or law-keeping but adherence to the gospel, and possibly associating this with faithfulness in prayer. 

Rom 1:10  Paul specifies one thing he prays, and thus leads into his protesting his earnest desire to come to them. Paul heaps up words (note the elements of circumlocution in the Greek) in order, I think, to affirm strongly the sincerity of his desire, something which he reinforces in the next few verses.

Rom 1:11-13  Paul somewhat labours his desire to come, and many infer some measure of embarrassment (is he aware of criticism of his not coming?  does he feel some awkwardness about writing in this fashion before coming?)  Worthy of comment are:

·           ti charisma pneumatikon (“some spiritual gift”) - both the context and the usage of  Rom 5:15 favour a broad sense, i.e. anything from God which strengthens people for the Christian life.

·           the reference to mutually encouraging - the mutuality is emphasised in the Greek, lit. “that is, to-be-encouraged-together [sumparaklhqhnai] among you through the faith among one another, both yours and mine”. This emphasis is probably prompted by Paul’s care not to seem presumptuous, but it also certainly expresses an important element in Paul’s view of ministry (cf. I Thess 5:11).

·           i`na tina karpon scw (NRSV, “in order that I may reap some harvest” - lit. “have some fruit”)  - probably in this context is indefinite, of any fruitful outcome, rather than specifically meaning converts. [So, e.g., Dunn, vs., e.g., Morris]

The reading ouv qelw is rated A by UBS4, on the grounds of strong manuscript support, Pauline usage and contextual sense.

Rom 1:14-15  Paul states the inclusiveness of his sense of obligation.  It is not easy to go beyond this in interpreting Rom 1:14  [See Cranfield, I, 83-85 for a discussion]. But it may be in this context that it is only a Gentile inclusiveness that is in mind, and that he expects the Romans to identify themselves as `Ellhnej (people of Greek language and culture) and  sofoi (wise, cultured) in contrast with the inhabitants of Spain, and possibly other places Paul has already visited, as barbaroi and avnohtoi (foolish, uncultured).  He then attaches his eagerness to proclaim-the-gospel [euvaggelisasqai] to them to this inclusive obligation.

The textual variant in Rom 1:15 is the same as in Rom 1:7.



This word about proclamation leads naturally into a statement about the gospel itself, a brief declaration of Paul’s understanding of the gospel which many, with good reason, have seen as a brief statement of the theme of the letter as a whole.

Rom 1:16  Paul’s introduction very likely is phrased this way – Ouv gar evpaiscunomai (“For I am not ashamed”) - under the influence of the words of Jesus as recorded in Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26, although it is possible it reflects a consciousness of criticism of his preaching. He then declares that his confidence in the gospel is grounded in its being dunamis qeou eivj swthrian panti tw| pisteuonti (that is, God’s power is at work through the proclaimed gospel to bring salvation to every person who puts his or her faith in it).  The verse ends with a wider inclusiveness (or, under another view of Rom 1:14 a reiterated inclusiveness), of both Jew and Greek. The presence of prwton (“first”) in most manuscripts probably reflects Paul’s concern both to urge full acceptance of Gentile believers by Jewish believers and to urge respect for Jews and the Jewish roots of the gospel by Gentiles.

Rom 1:17  The great statement beloved of Luther and many others, to which I cannot hope to do justice in the time available.  See Morris, 69-72 or, more fully, Dunn, 40-46 &/or Moo,69-79. 


·           dikaiosunh is best understood in the light of Rom 1:16, of the OT background (in LXX usage denotes God’s covenant loyalty/rightness) and of Paul’s subsequent concerns (especially evident in Rom 3:25-26) as embracing both God’s being just (and doing justly) and God’s gift of declaring-just.

·           “through faith for faith” (NRSV) [evk pistewj eivj pistin - lit., “from faith to/into faith”] clearly serves to stress the importance of faith in Paul’s gospel, but the precise meaning is difficult [see Cranfield, I, 99-100 for a concise discussion].  A rendering something like Barrett’s “on the basis of nothing but faith” seems likely to have captured Paul’s intent, provided we realise that this pistij, like an Hebraic dikaiosunh is thoroughly relational, so that a sharp choice between “faith” and “faithfulness” is unnecessary.

·           the closing citation of Habakkuk 2:4 (gegraptai `O de dikaioj ek pistewj zhsetai) is literally “the just/righteous person  out of faith/faithfulness will live”, so that evk pistewj stands in the central position and can be connected either way. I believe that this is intentional, i.e. Paul is saying both that one can be just only by faith and that the person who is this will live by faith/faithfulness.

Romans 1:18-3:20  UNIVERSAL SINFULNESS (the “bad news” assumed by the Good News)

Or, as Fitzmyer puts it in his analysis, “the theme negatively explained: without the gospel God’s wrath is manifested against all human beings”.


In this first section Paul generalises about God’s wrath against sin, but in terms which suggest that it is the Gentiles who are primarily in mind, a suggestion confirmed by his later explicit attention to the Jews.  But the inclusiveness of avnqrwpwn in Rom 1:18 and the language of Rom 2:1 suggest that the Jews are by no means entirely excluded at this point.  Cf. Amos.

Rom 1:18  The use of gar and the repetition of  avpokaluptetai (“is revealed”) from Rom 1:17 suggest a close and positive connection with what precedes, either Rom 1:17 or Rom 1:16-17.  I think Paul sees the revealing of God’s wrath as inseparably linked with the revealing of his justice and salvation.  In the light of what follows God’s ovrgh (“wrath”/ anger) is probably best thought of as his judgment in action but Paul (unlike C.H. Dodd, or many Greek philosophers) would not have been troubled by the idea of God’s personal anger.  The latter part of the verse characterises this sinfulness as wilful rebellion.

Rom 1:19-21  There is much understandable debate about the precise meaning of some expressions here [see Morris, pp. 78-85 or Moo,103-107] but the general intent seems clear, i.e. to argue that although God is himself invisible that the visible creation conveys sufficient information that idolatry is blameworthy. 

Rom 1:22-23  Paul uses contrasting terms to underline this blameworthy folly: sofoi vs.  evmwranqhsan (“became-fools”), and avfqartoj (“immortal”/incorruptible) vs. fqartoj (“mortal”/corruptible).  And he uses a verbal structure (evmwranqhsan and hvllaxan/”exchanged”) which places the responsibility upon the idolaters (vs. God’s action in Rom 1:19).

Rom 1:24-25  Paul returns to God’s action, which is his ovrgh, his judgment in action, then underlines that this action is because of wilful human rejection of the truth and rebellious refusal to acknowledge God as God.  This underlining occurs by a restating of the sense of Rom 1:23 in different but parallel terms. We have methllaxan for the synonym hvllaxan [both accurately rendered by “exchanged”] and the fresh contrasts of avlhqeian (“truth”) vs. yeudei (“lie”) (with “the truth about God” parallel with “the glory of God”) and ktisanta (“Creator”) vs. ktisei (“creature”) (parallel with “immortal” and “mortal”).

Rom 1:26-27  Paul now uses the pagan practice of homosexuality as concrete illustration of his point.  He uses it, I believe, not because he believed it to be worse than other sins but because:

·           it was an area of marked difference between pagan and Jewish morality;

·           it served as a clear illustration of the true nature of all sin, as perversion of God’s right order;

·           it lent itself to a use of the widely acknowledged Greek ideal of “the natural” – fusikoj - against behaviour wrongly accepted within the Greek culture.

Rom 1:28  Repeats the motif of God’s judgment being appropriate to wilful wrong action, this time using a play on words relating to opinion, i.e. ouvk evdokimasan (did not see fit, or approve) and avdokimon (debased, i.e. disapproved).

Rom 1:29-31  It is now made clear that homosexuality is merely the representative of the whole range of sins, all of which are actually unnatural, i.e. against God’s right order.  For a more thorough discussion of these see Morris, 95-99.  More briefly and selectively:

·           the first four are probably intended as a heaping up of general terms, since pleonexia (“covetousness”) covers all wrong or inordinate desire and was a common theme in first century moral thought, often being seen as the underlying cause of all kinds of wrongdoing

·           the next five begin with the like-sounding fqonou and fonou (of-envy, of-murder), which perhaps helps to draw attention to the bringing together of wrong attitudes and destructive actions

·           the last two refer to lack of expected family affection (avstorgouj) and lack of a broader, less generally demanded, mercy ( avnelehmonaj).

Rom 1:32  Both summative and intensifying: all these are wilful sins, not failings committed in ignorance, and they are not only practised but encouraged. [Dunn discusses this verse usefully in I, 68-70].


Paul now addresses those who might not recognise themselves in the previous passage, and particularly brings Jews into the picture along with Gentiles, although it is not till the next section (Rom 2:17) that he explicitly addresses himself to his Jewish readers.

Rom 2:1  Paul picks up the word avnapologhtoj (“without excuse”) from Rom 1:20 and suddenly puts it into the second person.  Similarly, the latter part of the verse stands in parallel with Rom 1:32: he addresses those who condemn rather than applaud, but who practise nonetheless.  In principle all who believe themselves superior are included – note the broadly inclusive wv avnqrwpe paj o` krinwn - but what follows suggests that Jews are particularly in mind, and 2 Esdras 3:32-36 (306 AP) has been suggested as representative of the attitude attacked.  What they are guilty of is presumably not idolatry or homosexuality, but the sins listed in Rom 1:29-31.  Paul is clearly stressing the idea of judgment/condemnation (with krinw 3x and katakrinw 1x), preparing for setting God’s judgment over against merely human judgment. 

Rom 2:2  The NRSV, along with some commentators (Barrett, Dunn) takes Paul to be representing what they say, but this requires supplying the words “you say”. Paul simply writes oivdamen o`ti (“we know that....”), and this works perfectly well as a statement of what is generally accepted. Dunn points out (p.80) that these words frequently introduce such a statement, particularly in Romans, and he puts forward as exemplary Rom 3:19, Rom 7:14, Rom 8:22 and Rom 8:28. But this doesn’t greatly affect interpretation: either way, Paul uses what they know (or claim to know) against them. What is generally accepted, certainly among Jews, is that God exercises his krima (“judgment” – continuing the verbal pattern begun in Rom 2:1) justly (kata avlhqeian – “in accordance with truth”) against those practising the evil things listed in Rom 1:29-31.

Rom 2:3  Paul now drives home the point for which he has prepared in the previous two verses. He repeats the form of address from Rom 2:1 (wv avnqrwpe), and challenges his imagined interlocutor to recognise (lit. “reckon” – logizh) the contradiction of passing judgment (krinwn again) on what others do while doing the same things, yet expecting to escape God’s judgment (krima). The challenge is made more confronting by the use of the emphatic pronoun su.

Rom 2:4-5  Here the point seems to be that the qualities of God customarily prized by the Jews are to be rightly seen as opportunity for the repentance at this time often seen primarily as necessary for Gentiles, not as reason for Jewish complacency - is Wisdom 15:1f. (77 AP) in mind?  Without it they will face the judgment they see as awaiting the Gentiles.  There is probably a play on ploutoj (“riches” – both literal and figurative wealth) versus qhsaurizw (“I store up” – especially treasure, both literal and figurative): through their hardness of heart, they store up not the riches of mercy which they might expect, but its opposite.  Among the attributes of God here named, particular emphasis is given to crhstothj (and the equivalent to crhston): this goodness/kindness, which was seldom used of the gods in Greek thought, but often of God in Jewish thought, especially in the Psalms. To his imagined addressees Paul attributes qualities both clearly opposite to what God’s mercy requires (avmetanohtoj kardia vs. metanoia) and arguably opposite to God’s own character (since sklhrothj covers harshness as well as hardness. [See further on these two verses:  Dunn, I, 81-84 &/or Moo(1996), pp.132-135]

Rom 2:6-8  Paul here builds on the language of Psalm 62:12 or Proverbs 24:12 to state a principle that real or imagined Jewish hearers would certainly accept.  The debate among commentators is how to square this with what Paul says later, and the main suggestions are:

(i)        this is what applies without taking the gospel into account (and none actually qualify).  My preference

(ii)       the “doing good” which Paul has in mind is precisely trusting God, is faith.

(iii)             it is not the faith itself, but the fruit of faith, well-doing which demonstrates faith.

More specifically:

·           kaq v u`pomonhn evrgou avgaqou (Rom 2:7) (literally “by persistence/endurance of a good work”) seems to speak of a life marked by doing what is good – most commentators seem to agree that attempts such as Barrett’s (p.46) to avoid this do violence to the Greek

·           avfqarsia (Rom 2:7) may well hark back to Rom 1:23, so that these people stand in contrast to those described in that passage

·           evriqeia (Rom 2:8) has presented difficulties for translation and interpretation, and might be understood to refer to selfishness or self-seeking, which would contrast appropriately with seeking the things of God (in Rom 2:7), or to factiousness, which would be more difficult, but could be understood of aligning oneself with an anti-God faction

·           the use of the nominative form of ovrgh kai qumoj is unexpected, failing to parallel the previous verse’s zwhn aivwnion, and requiring that we understand a verb to be – this is possibly designed to emphasise these words

Rom 2:9-11  Paul brings his argument to its conclusion: Jewish confidence in being Jewish is unwarranted, since God’s declared basis of judgment is applicable to Jew and Gentile alike, otherwise God would be guilty of a partiality improper in a just judge (contrary to Deuteronomy 10:16-17).  These verses balance chiastically the previous three: in Rom 2:6 a general principle is first stated then illustrated by the contrasting Rom 2:7-8 (good vs. evil), whereas in Rom 2:9-11 the contrast is in reverse order (evil vs. good), and is followed by the general principle. One detail worth noting is the phrase in Rom 2:10  vIoudaiou te prwton kai `Ellhnoj, and its repetition in the dative in Rom 2:11: this may well echo what Paul has said about the gospel in Rom 1:16, thus likening the inclusiveness and impartiality of God’s judgment to the inclusiveness and impartiality of the gospel.  [See further on vv.6-11, Cranfield I,146-153 and/or Moo, 135-143].

Rom 2:12-13  Paul elaborates on the position just stated, and he is probably to be seen as meeting the obvious Jewish objection, i.e. we are different, because we have the Law.  Paul’s initial response is in terms for which rabbinic parallels have been found, i.e. having the law is not enough (even “hearing” it, in a narrow sense); it is doing which matters.

Rom 2:14-16  In turning to look at the case of the Gentiles Paul uses two important Greek concepts (but found also in Hellenistic Judaism), those of fusij (“nature”) [NRSV’s “instinctively” is literally “by nature”] and suneidhsij (“conscience”).  So he uses essentially Gentile ideas to put forward the case of Gentiles who act rightly despite not having the Law. He would thus probably prompt Hellenistic Jews (as those of Rome would probably be) to think of Gentiles whom they knew to be people who genuinely endeavoured to live in accord with ideals of natural law.  Rom 2:15 is not easy to translate or interpret: kai mataxu avllhlwn twn logismwn kathgorountwn hv kai avpologoumenwn is literally: “and between one another the thoughts accusing or even/indeed defending/ excusing”. This seems to speak of the contrasting verdicts of one’s conscience, but the context, aided by the second kai, places emphasis on the positive verdict. So where does this leave us?  Dunn is, I believe, right to warn against too quickly reading in later material on justification by faith, since Paul’s readers had not yet taken that in, but if Paul is preparing the way for it he presumably is not consciously contradicting it.  These twin facts seem to me to point to the view that Paul speaks here provisionally. That is, he is saying that Gentiles do in fact at times act in line with what is right in God’s sight, and the possibility of their consistently doing so may be entertained (although later it emerges that none do, as also no Jews). 

The only UBS4 textual variant in ch.2 occurs in Rom 2:16. The two main variants are, as in Rom 1:1, just a matter of word order. This time the UBS4 editors express considerable uncertainty (C reading) because, I think, there is significant manuscript support for both. If the priority of cristou is original, a slight emphasis on Messiahship would certainly fir the context (final judgment). The third alternative has limited support in Greek manuscripts and probably reflects a liturgical expansion.


Having drawn Jews into the scope of the human sinfulness which stands under God’s condemnation, Paul now directly addresses the Jew.

Rom 2:17-20  Paul heaps up expressions which characterise an imagined and representative Jew’s view of himself.  There is ample evidence in Jewish writings that Paul is accurately (though, of course, selectively) reflecting Jewish self-conceptions.  Dunn gives numerous examples of this in his commentary on these verses [I, 109-113] including a particularly striking one from the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, 48:22-24:

          In you we have put our trust, because, behold, your Law is with us,

          and we know that we do not fall as long as we keep your statues.

          We shall always be blessed; at least, we did not mingle with the nations.

          For we are all a people of the Name;

          we, who received one Law from the One.

          And that Law which is among us will help us,

          and that excellent wisdom which is in us will support us.

The effect of this heaping up of phrases is intensified by an initial repetition of sound [Eiv de su  vIoudaioj evponomazh| kai epanapauh| nomw| …], then by twice further using the word nomoj [at the end of Rom 2:18 and at the end of Rom 2:20]. Other specifics:

·           epanapauh| (Rom 2:17) means literally to rest upon, and the NRSV’s “rely on” is appropriate, but it is less clear whether this is a right or a wrong kind of reliance (depending whether this is simply the Jew’s claim or whether there is Pauline irony) – Moo (pp.159f.) believes the latter and suggests a similarity to Micah 3:11

·           there is a similar ambiguity about kaucasai evn qew| (Rom 2:17) - this could be appropriate (as in Jeremiah 9:23-24) or inappropriate, as over-confident or exclusive (not surprisingly, Dunn favours the latter) [my preference is that Paul initially wants both possibilities to stand, but ends in a way that favours a negative reading]

·           the absolute to qelhma (Rom 2:18) is clearly a reference to God’s will, and this is in line with Jewish usage

·           ta diaferonta (Rom 2:18) can mean either simply the things which differ (and hence are morally significant, vs. things indifferent – ta adiafora), or the things which differ positively (and hence are excellent, or NRSV’s “what is best”) – this will not substantially affect the impact of what Paul is saying

·           commentators (e.g. Dunn I,112) cite numerous parallels to v.19 in Jewish writings, including Isaiah 42:6-7, parallels confirming the accuracy of what Paul here attributes to “the Jew” – the problem is presumably that they fail to live in consistency with such a self-description

·           but it is generally admitted that it is much less easy to find verbal parallels for Rom 2:20, although similar ideas can readily be found, and Jesus’ words in Matt 11:25/Luke 10:21 may be relevant – if they are, perhaps the problem here is an arrogant self-importance which stands in the way of receptiveness toward God

Rom 2:21-23  Paul breaks his grammatical structure and moves into a series of challenging questions which clearly carry an implied accusation of inconsistency.  If they are to be taken literally the point seems to be that the commission of such sins by many Jews invalidates the claim that mere possession of the Law sets them apart.  Or Paul may be assuming that his readers are aware of Jesus’ radicalising and internalising of the commandments, and hence that any Jew must plead guilty to transgression.

In this case the word  `ierosuleij (translated “rob temples” by the NRSV) must presumably be given its broader sense of “commit sacrilege” (i.e. fail to accord to God the exclusive and wholehearted allegiance due to Him). On Rom 2:21-23, see further, Moo(1996), 163-166 and/or Dunn I,113-115.

Rom 2:24  Paul clinches his accusation by citing the LXX of Isaiah 52:5 [which has “among the Gentiles” and “because of you”, which are lacking in the Hebrew].  There, however, the exile alone is explicitly in view, so some suggest Paul has also in mind Ezekiel 36:16-23.  This may well be so, but even without this it is fair comment upon Isaiah alone that Judah’s sin lies behind its exile.

Rom 2:25  Paul now focuses on circumcision, a focus which again reflects an emphasis genuinely found among the Jews.  Morris quotes a saying of Rabbi Levi (pp139f):  “In the Hereafter Abraham will sit at the entrance to Gehenna, and permit no circumcised Israelite to descend therein.”  Both Dunn and Fitzmyer cite several verses in I & II Maccabees as exemplifying the great importance attributed to circumcision.  But Paul understands the covenant sign of circumcision to be a commitment to keep the whole law (as in Galatians), hence it is negated by law-breaking.

Rom 2:26-27  More radically, Paul poses the opposite case: an uncircumcised Gentile who keeps the Law thereby shows himself to be circumcised in spirit.  Some, such as Godet, understand Paul to be thinking of Gentile Christians, while Morris prefers to understand it of Gentiles such as Cornelius who display the faith and love desired by God.  But it seems to me best to understand it hypothetically of a pagan who actually acts in conformity with all the requirements of the Law. Moo takes essentially this position although not in quite these words, pp.169-171.

Rom 2:28-29  Paul brings the section to its conclusion with a positive statement of principle. He is saying that the Jew errs by giving primary importance to what is apparent to human sight, to the flesh and the written Law, whereas he is advocating the primacy of the hidden obedience which is of heart and spirit (Spirit?).  There are several OT statements which Paul probably expects to come to mind, perhaps particularly Jeremiah 9:25f., but there is also a striking similarity of both thought and language to Matthew 6:1-6.


In beginning at this point, we have passed over the introductory section of the letter, including the great thematic statement of Rom 1:1-17. We have also passed over the first part of the body of the letter, and of the major section on “Universal Sinfulness” (Rom 1:18-3:20) [my analysis, of course]. In my customary analysis, the first sub-section of omitted material is Rom 1:18-32, which generalises about God’s wrath against sin, but in terms which suggest that the Gentiles are primarily in mind. Then in Rom 2:1-16 Paul addresses those who might not recognise themselves in Rom 1:18-32, and particularly brings Jews into the picture along with Gentiles, although it is not until Rom 2:17 that Jews are explicitly addressed. The last omitted sub-section is Rom 2:17-29, which focuses on the condemnation of Jewish sinners. Paul ends by challenging an exclusivist confidence in Jewish identity and in the mark of circumcision – Rom 2:25-29


Paul now seems to respond to the objection that he makes Jewishness (that is, literal, racial Jewishness) of no value at all.  He denies this in the language of pistij and goes on to argue that God’s faithfulness (and hence, I think it is implied, the value of His covenant with Israel) is not negated by the faithlessness of Israel.

Rom 3:1-2  Paul raises the possible implication that he is saying there is no value either in circumcision or in the Jewish identity which it represents. He introduces this by ti ouvn, but shifts to tij in the parallel clause. The difference is clearly not important, but Jewett (p.241), drawing on H.W.Smyth’s Greek grammar, suggests that ti refers to a class, the category of the Jew, whereas tij concerns the nature of a thing, so here the nature of the advantage which a Jew enjoys. Paul immediately denies the charge of devaluing circumcision and Jewish identity, and does so emphatically, even hyperbolically, with his polu kata panta tropon (“much, in every way”).  He then seems to begin a list of ways, but only provides one, the form of which leads into the issue of divine faithfulness.  He does, however, provide a list later on (Rom 9:4-5). An alternative view is that prwton here means “chiefly”, but this still implies that a longer list could be given, and the preceding panta suggests a multiplicity of ways. The expression ta logia (oracles, divine words) has attracted debate – what constitutes these divine words? Moo concisely reviews the range of opinions (p.182) before settling on “the OT as a whole, with special reference, perhaps, to the promises”, on the grounds that this “suits best the general application of the word in the LXX and the NT”. The verb evpisteuqhsan (translated appropriately as “were entrusted” by the NRSV) introduces the pistij word group, which will be central in the next verse.

Rom 3:3  Paul now picks up that word: the advantage of the words of God and the covenant thus established is in a sense nullified by human unfaithfulness [doubly stated by means of the verb avpisteuw and the noun avpistia]. That is, those Jews who have rejected God’s Messiah have rejected the promises of God which point toward the Messiah. Later, in chapters 9-11, he will argue that this is not absolute, but here his concern is to say that such faithlessness does not nullify God’s pistij.

Rom 3:4  Paul’s first response to a possible questioning of God’s faithfulness is emphatic rejection. The rejection is conveyed first by the exclamatory mh genoito, the first of ten occasions in Romans. Then by the use of the imperative to make a strong positive assertion: God remains faithful and true, no matter what may be said about human beings. For a survey of the considerable debate concerning how this imperative works, see Jewett, p.245. But its strong affirmative force is clear in context. Dunn points out (I,133) that the Hebrew word usually translated by pistij in the LXX is almost always translated by avlhqeia in the Psalms. Finally, Paul supports his assertion by means of Psalm 51:4, which constitutes an illustration of God’s blamelessness in judgment being upheld, not compromised, by the recognition of human sin.

Rom 3:5  Paul now moves into argumentation. He begins by raising a possible objection to his strong assertion of God’s faithfulness, truth and justice. It arises particularly from his use of Psalm 51. If human avdikia serves to demonstrate, or show up, the dikaiosunh of God, then is not God actually avdikoj to pour out the wrath of his judgment on what has served this good purpose? There is some debate about whether this verse is still about Jews, or whether Paul has now broadened to include all human beings. Its strong connection with what precedes suggests that it is at least primarily about Jews, although the language may have been chosen to allow a secondary, universal application. Before answering this objection Paul characterises it as kata avnqrwpon, as the perspective of suspect human logic.

Rom 3:6  Paul now explicitly dismisses the objection by a second use of mh genoito, then supports this by asking his own question: how could God judge the world if this objection were upheld? The force of this depends on the fact that God’s role as Judge was axiomatic to any Jew, and probably also on an allusion to Genesis 18:25.

Rom 3:7  There is some uncertainty about how this verse connects with what precedes. Is it a resumption of the objection in Rom 3:5, or does it support the dismissal of the objection in Rom 3:6? The textual variant has a possible bearing on this issue. Is the connecting word de or gar? Although UBS4 gives a B rating to de (vs C in UBS3), the manuscript support is reasonably even, and Metzger actually argues back the other way, from an assumption that this verse is in parallel with Rom 3:5. See Moo, 177, footnote 1. The advantage of seeing it as supporting Rom 3:6 is that it avoids the problem of Paul’s not appearing to answer the objection this time, but it is scarcely obvious. It requires that we understand the “I” language to express the excuse available to any person facing God’s judgment if we should allow that it is unjust for God to punish sins which manifest his righteousness. But it doesn’t sound like a universal hypothetical – rather it sounds very like Rom 3:5 in both form and content. If so, it may well be seen as a slight intensification, particularly through the introduction of doxa – what better thing can I do than promote the glory of God?

Rom 3:8  Again there is debate about how this verse relates to the previous one. The connecting kai suggests a direct parallel, but the introductory mh, looking for a negative answer, suggests Paul’s perspective. The shift to first person plural might also weaken the parallel, but this could simply be a return to the language of Rom 3:5. It is possible to see it as Paul’s continuation of the objector’s challenge, in which he draws out a consequence of the objector’s position. If so, Paul is saying that the falsity of the objector’s position is made clear by its leading to so plainly repugnant a proposal as poihswmen ta kaka, which is by no means retrieved by adding  `ina evlqh| ta avgaqa. Therefore what is formally a continuation of the objector’s position is in fact an answer to it. But the language used seems more natural in Paul’s own mouth, particularly the claim of being slandered, so it may be better understood as Paul’s direct attack on where the objector’s line of argument is leading, to the very libertinism of which his opponents falsely accuse him. Under either view, Paul is rejecting the objector’s position, as the final exclamation plainly declares. The krima in question is presumably God’s, recalling the assertion of God’s role as Judge in Rom 3:6.


Paul comes back to his main point, that all people, both Jews and Greeks, stand under condemnation for sin. Then he supports this point by appeal to a collection of citations of Scripture. Then he states it yet again, but contrasting it now with the idea that human beings might be vindicated by “works of law”.

Rom 3:9  This is difficult.  The verb proecomeqa is middle or passive in form, but some want to argue for the active meaning, hence three possible meanings (an ambiguity which is linked with the uncertainty as to whether there are two questions or one, and with debate over the identity of the “we”). 

The alternatives are:

(i)                 ACTIVE MEANING (BAGD jut out, excel, be first) - fits best if two questions and yields NRSV translation, requiring an undeclared shift back to “we” as exclusively “we Jews”.

(ii)               MIDDLE MEANING (BAGD hold something before oneself for protection)- yields something like, “what then do we put forward (in our defence)?” with the “we” continuing to mean “we human beings” and the answer meaning “nothing at all”.

(iii)             PASSIVE MEANING (BAGD be excelled) - yields something like “what then?  Are we actually worse off?”, hence again of Jews but from opposite perspective.

I agree with Dunn (who leans heavily on Dahl) that the second is to be preferred, since it accepts both a normal verb meaning and the more obvious understanding of “we”.  See Dunn, I pp. 146-148.  And for (i) Barrett, 66-68 (iii) Jewett, 256f

[Morris, 163-166 favours variant of (ii), understanding it of “we Christians”, while Moo, 198-201 canvasses a slightly wider range of possibilities before concluding that either (i) or (ii) is likely but that the choice doesn’t materially affect Paul’s point].

The second part of the verse supports Moo’s contention, in that it makes it clear that Paul’s positive affirmation is that Jews and Gentiles are alike in both being  u`f’ a`martian, literally “under sin”. This probably means under the power of sin, as Jewett, following Kasemann, argues (258f.).

Rom 3:10  The string of OT citations is introduced with the common formula kaqwj gegraptai o`ti. It drives home the final affirmation of Rom 3:9, that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin. It contains both several strong negatives (ouvk evstin) about goodness among human beings, and several broad generalisations about the presence of evil (the initial pantej of Rom 3:12 being picked up in the repeated, unqualified auvtwn). Paul has generally followed the LXX, and he has broadened the scope of some citations.

Rom 3:10-12  The primary basis of this is Psalm 14:1-3 (EV). The quoted verses of the psalm sound universal, but the psalm as a whole contrasts “evildoers” with the righteous, and some of its language might be understood to have Gentiles particularly in mind. Look at Psalm 14. I am attracted to Dunn’s suggestion (with which Jewett agrees) that the opening departure from the language of the psalm (dikaioj in place of poiwn crhstothta) is not simply Paul’s own editorial adaptation (so, Moo), but is based on Ecclesiastes 7:20. If so, this provides a basis for Paul’s universalising of several later citations. Paul’s omission of the reference to “the fool” (avfrwn) in Psalm 14:1, as a contrast with the later “one who has understanding” (suniwn), also aids universalising.


Textual Variant: The weight of manuscript evidence favours the inclusion of ouvk evstin. On the other hand, omission goes against the LXX, which makes it the more difficult reading, and addition easier to explain than removal. But it could possibly have been left out as superfluous. Hence the C rating and square brackets, Fortunately, the meaning is not affected.

Rom 3:13-14  Three citations from the Psalms, all concerning sinful speech, and all originally concerning the wicked, vs. the righteous or the like. Consider, for example, Psalm 140:1-3,12-13 (with Ps 140:3 providing the quoted portion). There are versions of Ps 14 (Ps 13) in the LXX which include Rom 3:13-18, but it is generally accepted that this is the result of interpolation by Christian scribes – see Sanday & Headlam, 77f.

Rom 3:15-17  Selected phrases from Isaiah 59:7-8. This time the original is broad condemnation directed at Israel, which thus provides support for Paul’s seeing the surrounding material as applicable to all people, Jews as well as Gentiles. Look at Isaiah 59:1-2,4,7-8,11.


Rom 3:18  The final citation, from Ps 36:1 (EV), returns to the ouvk evstin formula of the opening one. Moo plausibly suggests (p.204) that it functions as “a kind of concluding frame for the series”. And he adds that this conclusion serves to emphasise “the root error that gives rise to the manifold sins of humanity: lack of ‘fear of God’.

Rom 3:19  Paul follows his series of citations by making explicit what has been implicit throughout: these Scriptures are rightly to be understood as universally inclusive, and specifically as applying to Jews as well as Gentiles. This view, which would have surprised many Jews, was supported in advance by his condemnation of Jewish sinfulness in Rom 2:17-25, but he now adds additional support. The nomoj (meaning the Scriptures) must speak first to those who are evn tw| nomw|. But what does the second use of nomoj convey? This verse might itself suggest something like “those who have the Scriptures”, but the expression has already occurred in Rom 2:12, which might suggest something broader, such as “those who are people of the Covenant, living under the commandments found in Scripture”. Whatever we decide about this, Paul is certainly affirming here concerning the Scriptures which he has cited that, rather than distinguishing the Jews from the rest of humanity, they place them firmly with all the rest, thus upholding the universality of human sinfulness.

Rom 3:20  Paul here draws on Psalm 143:2 but adds the interpretive evx evrgwn nomou (NRSV: “by deeds prescribed by the law”). This combination suggests that Paul is saying that no servant of God can stand before him as righteous in himself/herself (following the Psalm), even  by being a possessor of the Law who claims to do the works required by the Law.  He briefly explains this (as he will more fully later) by saying that the Law does not bring its possessors consciousness of being righteous in God’s sight, but, as demonstrated in Rom 3:10-18, consciousness of sin. The NRSV’s “knowledge” translates the strengthened form evpignwsij, which conveys something like clear knowledge, or awareness.


Now we come to the “good news” proper.  This division seems an appropriate one to me, and is seen as such by several others, e.g.:

·           Bruce:  “The Way of Righteousness: the Universal Need Met”

·           Morris:  “Justification”

·           Dunn:  “God’s Saving Righteousness to Faith”

But, as you are aware, there is debate over whether Chapter 5 connects more strongly with Chapter 4 or Chapter 6, so obviously not all scholars favour the above division [for different and perfectly defensible analyses see Moo, Cranfield, Fitzmyer, Jewett]


This is the foundational statement of this section, the focus of which is caught well by Dunn’s heading:  “The Decisive Demonstration of God’s Righteousness in the Death of  Jesus”.  The focus is not yet on human faith, but this theme is nonetheless clearly present, preparing for the way in which Paul will build on this foundation.

The basic assertion is clear but the precise meaning of some expressions is difficult to determine. This is possibly because Paul is making use of expressions well known in the preaching and teaching of the early church (it has been remarked that this passage contains an unusual concentration of words rare in Paul, including several a]pax legomena - words that only occur once in Paul).  [See Dunn, I, 163f. or Moo, 220f.]

Rom 3:21  Nuni de cwrij nomou (“but now apart from law”) clearly introduces this section by both contrasting and connecting it with what precedes, probably especially Rom 3:19-20, hence both:

·           this is good news for all, not just Jews  and

·           this is good news of justification through faith, not works of law.

But the element of contrast is balanced by the closing phrase: marturoumenh u`po tou nomou kai twn profhtwn - this good news is not contrary to the Scriptures but supported by their testimony.  In between is the key assertion that this good news upholds God’s justice - this dikaiosunh has-been-disclosed (pefanerwtai, perfect tense) by the event about to be declared, i.e. Jesus’ atoning death.

Rom 3:22  This justice of God is now said to be dia pistewj  vIhsou Cristou eivj pantaj touj pisteuontaj  (literally, “through faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ to/for all the believing-ones”).  The great debate is over the expression dia pistewj vIhsou Cristou:  is it human faith in Jesus or the faith/faithfulness of Jesus or both?  The NRSV has chosen the former, which better fits the broad direction of the argument but which is an unusual way for Paul to express this concept.  The latter would accord well with the focus of the immediate context upon God’s action in the person of Jesus.  I am attracted to the possibility that Paul may intend us to perceive both. This would bridge well between the elements of the statement (looking back to God’s justice and forward to human faith), and it accords with Paul’s understanding of the faith expressed in baptism in chapter 6 as identification with Jesus. The word pantaj also deserves to be noted, as clearly maintaining Paul’s emphasis on universality in regard to sin as he moves into a consideration of salvation. Jewett (275-276) is one who gives particular attention to this word, seeing it as expressing God’s “impartial righteousness”, a concept which “differed substantially from the partisan tendencies of contemporary culture”.

Textual Variant: The manuscript evidence for eivj pantaj is much stronger than for evpi pantaj, hence the B rating of UBS4. The combination of the two has significant support, but it seems much more likely that this is a conflation of variant readings than that such a double formulation was original, and copyists dropped one or the other phrase. Metzger describes the combined form as “essentially redundant and tautological”, but it might be possible to defend it as a way of underlining pantaj.

Rom 3:22-24  The implications of pantaj in Rom 3:22 are now made explicit and underlined. The opening ouv gar evstin diastolh declares the absence of distinction, while the sentence as a whole brings together the universality of sin and the inclusiveness of pantaj touj pisteuontaj (all the ones who have faith):  all are in need and all who believe receive what they need through God’s action in Christ.  It is worth noting the Greek tenses, partially obscured in the NRSV translation. Initially h`marton ( NRSV, “have sinned”) is aorist, suggesting a specific act (presumably Adam’s sin) or possibly all past human sin viewed together. But u`sterountai (NRSV, “fall short”) is present and dikaioumenoi (NRSV, “are  now justified”) is a present passive participle, suggesting the present universal consequence of sin and God’s overcoming of it.   Further on these verses see  Jewett, 279-283 or Dunn I,166-170.

Rom 3:25-26  Paul now stresses that it is indeed the justice of God which is evident in Christ’s death - as I understand it, both God’s character and God’s justifying action, and the compatibility of the two.  There are several details worthy of discussion, but only brief comment is possible:

·           NRSV’s “by his blood, effective through faith” renders interpretively dia pistewj evn tw| auvtou ai`mati, which is open to several interpretations - I lean a little toward a reference to God’s faithfulness, given the context, but human faith as the means by which Christ’s act of propitiation/expiation becomes effective is also quite likely, as more obviously fitting the use  of dia, so I find it difficult to decide

·           there is much debate over whether paresij is better rendered “passing over” (as NRSV) or “forgiveness” and over the point being made - I think the NRSV is right, and that the context favours the interpretation that the death of Christ justifies God’s having previously failed to carry out immediate sentence of death on all sinners 

Further on these two verses see Jewett, 283-293 and/or Moo, 230-243 and/or Dunn I,170-176.

Textual Variant: The C rating expresses the uncertainty of the UBS4 editors. There is considerable manuscript support for both inclusion and omission of the article (but not for omission of the phrase). It is possible to argue for either reading: the article could have been added to make clear a supposed connection with dia pistewj  vIsou Cristou in Rom 3:22,  but the presence of the article twice in dia thj pistewj in Rom 3:30-31 favours its being original, and possibly omitted inadvertently. The only exegetical significance is that the presence of the article might favour an interpretation of pistij here in line with Rom 3:22, but this is by no means required by its presence.


Paul now returns, in the light of what he has just said, to his debate with an imagined Jewish spokesperson. He reinforces his emphasis on pistij, and on inclusion of the Gentiles, and defends his attitude to the law.

Rom 3:27  The reference to kauchsij recalls Rom 2:17,23, so Jewish self-confidence must be primarily in mind, but Jewett is probably right to point to the relevance of a broader culture of acceptance of self-promotion (295f.). Paul sharply rejects exclusivist self-confidence in regard to standing with God by means of the single word evxekleisqh, literally “it was excluded” (aorist), which suggests a reference to the atoning death of Christ (Rom 3:25). He supports this by placing pistij over against evrga. Less clear is the use of nomoj as the common term. Does either instance refer to Scripture, or commandments within Scripture? For contrasting views, compare Dunn,I,185-187 with Moo,247-250. Fortunately, our decision about this doesn’t affect the thrust of Paul’s contrast.

Rom 3:28  Paul now reinforces his opposing of pistij to evrga in a brief, forceful statement which reiterates the content of Rom 3:21-25. The use of the first person plural logizomeqa probably implies that Paul does not stand alone, but speaks in accordance with general Christian teaching.

Textual Variant: The B rating for gar reflects both slightly superior manuscript support and its better fit for the relation between Rom 3:27-28 – Rom 3:28 gives a reason for Rom 3:27, rather than a conclusion from it. Metzger suggests that ouvn arose when copyists took logizomeqa to mean “we infer” rather than “we consider”.

Rom 3:29-30  Paul now stresses the inclusivist implications of his insistence on pistij. In so doing, he makes use of the fundamental Jewish affirmation that “God is one”, implying that since this makes God the God of Gentiles as well as of Jews it is necessary that God justifies in a way that is for both.

Rom 3:31  Paul refutes the possible accusation that his teaching on pistij annuls or overthrows the law. Rather, he claims to uphold it. What is not clear is how the word nomoj functions here. Does he uphold the commandments of God? This is certainly possible, in more than one sense, perhaps most obviously that Paul’s gospel allows God’s commandments to be taken with full seriousness and fulfilled in God’s way. Or is it a reference to the Scriptures? This is also possible, given the content of Chapter 4.

The above is a necessarily brief treatment, so I suggest further reading in one or more of: pp.245-255 of Moo; 183-194 of Dunn; 294-303 0f Jewett.


Paul proceeds in this passage to demonstrate the truth of his assertion in Rom 3:31.  And his test case is strategically chosen: Abraham is the generally acknowledged founding father of Judaism, frequently used in Judaism as a great exemplar of the good life and often specifically with references to his pistij.  But such use is always distinguishable from Paul’s and sometimes even contrary to it - consider Philo, I Maccabees 2:50-53 [191AP], Ecclesiasticus 44:19-20 [149AP]. If Paul can establish that Abraham exemplifies his understanding of justification through faith he will have established something of fundamental importance. It is also significant for Paul’s purpose that Abraham comes before Moses and the statutes of the Law (a point made explicitly in Galatians 3:17-18 but relevant here also), and that his right standing with God comes before his circumcision. 

Rom 4:1  Paul introduces his case study, but in significant terms. This is not affected, incidentally, by the textual variants. UBS4 accords propatora preference over the more conventional patera (as part of its B reading), but both readings have essentially the same significance. And the placement, or even absence, of eu`rhkenai has no effect. His designation of Abraham as ton propatora h`mwn kata sarka (“our ancestor/forefather according to the flesh”) at once makes it clear that Paul is addressing himself to Jews, and anticipates (by implied contrast) his later point, that it is those who have faith who are the true children of Abraham (Rom 4:16, 23-24).

Rom 4:2-3  Paul briefly raises the perspective on Abraham held by many Jews (that Abraham, as having been justified by works – evx evrgwn – is meritorious, “has a boast”), a perspective he will proceed to refute.  There is debate concerning how the next phrase – avllV ouv proj qeon – is connected with what precedes. Some, including the NRSV, take it to be a qualification of the immediately preceding phrase, i.e. Abraham does have reason to boast before people, but not before God. But I agree with those (including Barrett, Cranfield, Moo, Jewett) who connect it with the whole of Rom 4:2. It then begins the rejection of this view, hence Barrett’s rendering: “But in fact before God he has no such ground of boasting.”  This makes the expression an integral part of the argument rather than an awkward aside, which introduces a distinction Paul never deals with.  Paul initially supports his rejection by simply quoting Genesis 15:6, but he will proceed to expound its significance at length.

Rom 4:4-5  As a whole, Rom 4:4 has a commercial sound, which is captured effectively by the NRSV’s “Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due”. Paul is setting up a deserved-reward understanding of Abraham’s standing with God in order to reject it. However, kata carin not only contrasts with kata ovfeilhma within this verse but prepares for the contrast in Rom 4:5 – this is justification kata carin/”according to grace”. Within the understanding of justification which is “according to grace”, Abraham’s pistij is seen as simply trusting God for what he can do (a view supported by the context found in Genesis 15:5-6)  Paul underlines the unearned character of God’s reckoning by his insertion of mh evrgazomenw| (“not working”) and avsebh (“the ungodly”). The latter expression would have surprised many Jews as a description, by implication, of Abraham. Presumably this is deliberate, driving home Paul’s earlier assertion that all human beings are sinful.

Rom 4:6-8  Paul uses another passage of Scripture where the key word logizomai (“reckon”) occurs to interpret its sense in Genesis 15:6, i.e. Psalm 32:1-2. (EV).  This is a standard method in rabbinic exegesis, and it is also common to support a primary reference to the Pentateuch with a secondary one to the Prophets and Writings.  Paul thus supports the view that God’s reckoning-righteous is not earned but involves forgiveness of sin.  And he reinforces the effect of attributing ungodliness to Abraham by drawing attention to the fact that this psalm is attributed to David. The introductory formula in Rom 4:6 is unusually long, and probably serves to draw attention to Davidic authority, to the makarismoj form and to Paul’s contrasting of pistij and evrga. Jewett (315f.) argues that the emphasis on blessing indicates that more than forgiveness id in mind, that the honour of right standing with God is also significant.

Rom 4:9-11  Paul reverses the procedure, now using Genesis 15:6 to determine the extent of the blessing pronounced in the Psalm.  But the real focus is the Genesis passage. The introductory question in Rom 4:9 is open in form, but is generally seen as expressing Jewish particularism, in order that Paul might answer it. It is often pointed out that Psalm 32 was used in the Day of Atonement ritual, which would have reinforced this particularism, since it was seen as a day of atonement for Israel. A number of scholars (e.g. Cranfield,I,234,n.4) cite the Talmud as explicitly stating this, including exclusion of other nations. Paul begins his response to the question by simply citing Genesis 15:6 again (Rom 4:9), before going on to use the fact that this pronouncement precedes Abraham’s circumcision (recorded in Chapter 17) to demonstrate that God’s accounting of Abraham as righteous rested purely on his faith, not on his circumcision. The primary emphasis on timing is supported by the double wording shmeion (sign) and sfragij (seal), the former derived from Genesis 17:11, that is, circumcision follows after the right standing with God based on faith as its sign and seal.

See further on Rom 4:6-11 Dunn I,205-210 or Jewett, 315-319.

Rom 4:11-12  As Moo points out (p.269), “in Rom 4:11-12 we have one long purpose clause, with a result clause (eivj to logisqhnai kai auvtoij thn dikaiosunhn) stuck inside it. The NRSV reflects this in good English by beginning a new sentence with “The purpose was”.  Paul is bringing home in provocative terms the implications of the preceding argument: contrary to restriction of Abraham’s fatherhood to the Jews as circumcised, he stands as father to all who have faith (pantwn twn pisteuontwn), without any need for circumcision.  Rom 4:12 applies this to Jews: they too can truly claim Abraham as father, but not on the basis of their circumcision, rather he is this to them only as toij stoicousin toij icnesin thj evn avkrobustia| pistewj tou patroj h`mwn  vAbraam (literally, “the ones keeping in step with the steps of the faith while in uncircumcision of our father Abraham.”

Rom 4:13  Paul now focuses on the concept of evpaggelia (promise), seeing it as closely allied with that of pistij (rather than nomoj, or by implication in context, evrga nomou).  There is debate over what promise is in mind, since the terms used do not precisely correspond with any particular OT text.  Barrett sees the allusion as being primarily to Genesis 22:17-18, but others understandably think the reference is a broad one, to a group of texts in Genesis [so, for example, Fitzmyer, who provides a list, p. 384, as does Moo, p.274]. For my part, I think it makes best sense to see the primary reference as to Genesis 15:4-5  (Paul’s focus passage up to now), since this creates an immediate connection with the verse (Gen 15:6) already cited, and hence makes Paul’s logic easier to understand.  Dunn may well be right in seeing Paul as entering into dialogue with an existing Jewish tradition. This tradition does take a large view of the scope of the promise, as not restricted to the inheritance of the Promised Land, but in some way embracing the whole earth. But it also attaches the promise to Law and law-keeping – see Ecclesiasticus 44:19-21 (149AP).  [Dunn, I, 212f. provides other supporting references].   The promise of Genesis 15 (and its later amplification) is precisely to faith-righteousness without any condition of law-keeping.

Rom 4:14  The principle is reinforced by negative restatement. Paul again takes issue with Jewish particularism, but at this point in a form giving key importance to the concept of being oi` evk nomou klhronomoi, literally “the heirs out of law”. In context the NRSV’s interpretive “adherents of the law” is justified, since in this chapter Paul has begun by asserting that Abraham was not justified evx evrgwn (Rom 4:1-5), and has gone on to exclude Abraham’s circumcision as the basis of his justification (Rom 4:9-12).

Rom 4:15  Paul briefly alludes to an idea he will develop later (and we will examine later) here introduced merely to contrast with faith and promise, i.e. the Law does not bring the fulfilment of promised blessings but their opposite [on Rom 4:14-15, see further Dunn I, 213-215 or Moo, 274-277] .

Rom 4:16  is very compressed: dia touto evk pistewj  `ina kata carin (literally “therefore of faith, so that according to grace”), thus making the emphasis on the two key words plain. Paul clearly sees a close, positive relationship between pistij and carij. This reflects the fact that he doesn’t see pistij as a meritorious virtue, nor does he apparently perceive the tension between emphasis on pistij and emphasis on carij that some systematic theologians have in more recent times. 16b clearly stresses the inclusiveness of this grace. Note the recurrence of paj. But there is some debate over the reference of tw| evk tou nomou (literally, “to the one [i.e. seed] of the law”; NRSV, “the adherents of the law”). To Christian or non-Christian Jews? The context favours the first, since the verse seems to speak of those who actually receive the promise to Abraham through faith, and are at one in having Abraham as father.

Rom 4:17-21  The character of Abraham’s pistij spelt out - it is not fundamentally faithfulness in holding to covenant but trust in God’s promise.  On these verses see Dunn I, 217-221 or Moo, 279-286 or Jewett,332-339.  But note:

·           the terms of Rom 4:17 deliberately bridge between the faith of Abraham and Christian faith – qeou tou zw|opoiountoj touj nekrouj clearly both refers to the birth of a child to parents who can be considered as dead and to the resurrection of Jesus (which becomes explicit in Rom 4:24), while kalountoj ta mh ovnta w`j ovnta is more difficult, but may link the promise of many nations yet to be with the fulfilment now begun through faith in Christ

·           the expression par v evlpida evp v evlpidi evpisteusen in Rom 4:18 is probably better rendered as “beyond hope (i.e. normal human expectation), in hope he believed”, rather than the NRSV’s colloquial “hoping against hope”, so stressing that faith trusts God’s promise. And in both this verse and Rom 4:17 evpisteusen is aorist, probably implying that the specific case of Genesis 15:4-6 is still in mind.

·           The strong connection between human faith and the divine promise is underlined in Rom 4:20, where pistij stands against avpistia and for God’s  evpaggelia, and evnedunamwqh picks up the mh avsqenhsaj of Rom 4:19 – it can be understood either as a strict passive (of God’s strengthening) or as simply meaning to grow strong

·           This emphasis on faith as trusting God’s promise is carried through into Rom 4:21, which, as Cranfield remarks (I,249), “underlines the fact that Abraham’s faith was faith in the God who had promised, not merely in what had been promised”.

Rom 4:22  Paul concludes his exposition of Genesis 15:6 by again quoting from it (as previously in Rom 4:3 and Rom 4:9). This is the only instance where a word of the pistij word group is not used, but this is probably not significant, since Paul immediately proceeds to apply this exposition to his readers precisely as toij pisteuousin (the ones who have faith).

Rom 4:23-25  This is the application, which explicitly places the faith exemplified by Abraham in Christian terms: we are called to trust the life-giving power of God as demonstrated in his raising Jesus from the dead, and to trust the promise made to faith in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Rom 4:24 reinforces the shift to explicitly Christian content with a shift to second person plural form. The words of Genesis 15:6 are not di v auvton monon (for Abraham’s sake only) but kai di v h`maj (for our sake also). And Jesus who carries out God’s saving work for those who have pistij is o` kurioj h`mwn.  

Rom 4:25 should be treated as a triumphant conclusion, not a precise theological analysis. But it is probably fair to see the first clause (which echoes the LXX of Isaiah 53:12) as a traditional formula, to which Paul has added a parallel phrase stressing the relevance of the Resurrection. The result is that the resurrection of Jesus is seen as an integral part of God’s life-giving work, perhaps particularly in its declaring the effectiveness of Jesus’ sacrifice, or perhaps in the newness of life to be found in coming into a right standing with God.  [See further,  Moo, 286-290 and/or Jewett,340-343]


Paul begins to explore what it means for us to be children of Abraham, to be reckoned righteous through our faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

Rom 5:1  Paul begins, in Rom 5:1, with a brief restatement of his base.  The first word dikaiwqentej “having beeb justified” is an aorist participle, I think because the reference is to what Christ has done, in Rom 4:24-25  Dunn [I, 246] points out that Paul uses the present and future tenses of dikaiow more frequently, unlike Protestant theological convention.  In this context the phrase evk pistewj probably refers to our Abraham-like trust in God, although a reference to the faithfulness of God and/or Christ, shown in the latter’s death and resurrection, is possible. There is textual doubt over the indicative evcomen vs the subjunctive evcwmen, but the context strongly favours the former, despite weighty textual evidence to the contrary [UBS3, C reading, but UBS4, A] and very early mis-hearing [w for o] seems likely.  Eivrhnh should be understood in the light of what follows [Rom 5:2, 10-12] of our reconciled standing with God.  Fitzmyer’s suggestion of Isaiah 32:17 as a relevant background is appealing – read Is 32:16-18.

Rom 5:2  This peace with God is immediately amplified as thn prosagwghn … eivj thn carin tauthn evn h`| evsthkamen.  The combination of the terms prosagwgh and carij suggests an image of entry into royal presence, with royal favour, or into divine presence with divine favour, or possibly both. It is remarkable, or would have been in the original context, that persons without merit have such access on the basis of pistij. The perfect tense of both evschkamen (“we have had”) and evsthkamen (“we have stood”) conveys that this is a continuing status based on a past action (God’s gracious action in Christ, I believe).   

Rom 5:2  Paul introduces the future element, in terms which deliberately reverse such earlier statements as Rom 3:27 and Rom 2:23, i.e. there is now possible a right kauchsij (boasting/rejoicing) in what God has done, which looks forward to a time when we shall no longer fall short of his doxa but, as the note of kauchsij suggests, share in it. Moo (p.301, n.40) approvingly quotes the TEV’s interpretive translation: “the hope we have of sharing God’s glory”.

Rom 5:3-4  But Paul now returns to the present, only to bring us back to hope again.  The expression evn taij qliyesin (in the/our afflictions/tribulations) may refer either to the situation or the ground of believers’ boasting, with the latter being slightly favoured by the eschatological setting – in the afflictions which mark the overlap of the two ages we find confidence in our sharing in the afflictions of Christ – and the possible parallel with Paul’s usage in II Corinthians 12:9. The word dokimh literally means “provenness” or “approvedness” (better than NRSV’s “character”). Edwards suggests (p.137) that this word should be set over against avdokimon in Rom 1:28. The sequence of thought seems to be:  We rejoice already, since the afflictions of the present are signs of the End (and hence of our living in the “last days” of inaugurated fulfilment). And approaching these afflictions in this way, we meet them with an endurance which confirms our standing with God, and which confirms the very hope which makes this positive approach to affliction possible.

Rom 5:5  And now Paul asserts the firmness, the reliability of this hope, of which we have assurance because of God’s love made present to us in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the idea of the Spirit as earnest (avrrabwn) and firstfruits (avparch) is implicit here, as it is explicit in chapter 8 and elsewhere in Paul.  [Further on Rom 5:3-5, see  Moo, 302-305 or Dunn, I, 249-254 or Jewett,352-357]

Rom 5:6  Paul moves back behind the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the event which made that outpouring possible.  The genitive absolute ovntwn h`mwn avsqenwn evti is in the present tense, but it is probably correctly interpreted as sharing the time of the main verb avpeqanen (as in the NRSV’s “while we were still weak”) but it is also possible that continuing moral weakness is in mind, i.e. our right standing with God continues to be on the basis of Christ’s death for us.

Rom 5:7  The surprising, unmerited character of Christ’s action is underlined.  The main debate is over whether dikaioj and avgaqoj here are functioning as synonyms or whether some distinction is intended.  It doesn’t make a great difference, but probably the latter term is an intensification.

Rom 5:8  Christ’s death is now itself viewed as demonstration of God’s love for us, even being sinners. Once again we have a present participle construction in evti a`martwlwn ovntwn, and two possible interpretations – being sinners then, or being sinners generally. The principal verb sunisthsin is also present tense, concerning which Dunn comments that “the present tense complements the perfect tense of Rom 5:5 and probably reflects the perspective of the preacher who referred back to the death of Christ as a timeless proof of God’s love”.

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