Functional Outline of Romans

The following outline explains Paul's argument to the Roman Christians, a church of Judeans and Greeks ("Jews and Gentiles") divided by ethnic conflict. This reading opposes a strong trend (since Stowers especially) of interpreting Romans in light of a predominantly Gentile audience. The trend is remarkable in light of (1) the fact that Paul continually shifts gears, from the pagan in 1:18-2:5 to the Judean in 2:17-29; from Judeans who know the law in 7:1 to Gentiles who should not boast in 11:13; etc; and (2) Paul's obvious attempt to handle Judean concerns so delicately in Romans, in contrast with Galatians.

The outline is heavily indebted to the work of Philip Esler, who demonstrates that in trying to reconcile Judeans and Greeks, Paul was not urging the abolition of ethnic difference as he was in Galatians. He was trying to promote harmony within diversity, and this could have been successful only when the two groups had equal status in different ways -- since if they were equal in the same way, they would have continued to compete in a fashion destructive of unity. The last thing he wants to say in Romans is, "In Christ there is neither Judean nor Greek" (Gal 3:28). He needs to give Israel as much positively distinctive treatment as possible.

Explanations for the various shifts in thought between Galatians and Romans are fascinating. Esler, as mentioned, accounts for this in terms of audience: in Galatians Paul was opposing Judean outsiders on behalf of his Gentile converts, while in Romans he is trying to reconcile Judean and Gentile insiders. Thomas Tobin thinks Paul revised his earlier arguments because of the bad reputation he had acquired, not only from things he said in Galatians but in I & II Corinthians. E.P. Sanders thinks Paul's thought was genuinely changing as he struggled with theological dilemmas. Meanwhile, more cynically, Mark Given insists that Paul's views didn't change a bit between Galatians and Romans, only his scandalous rhetoric: Paul was a sophistic deceiver more than anything else.

My conviction is that there is truth in all four of these claims, though Esler's must be accorded the most weight for practical reasons: Paul's letters were occasion-specific. When situations and audiences change, so do arguments. Bad reputations cause this too, however, and may in turn lead to a genuine change of heart -- or the need for more cunning rhetoric. To whatever degree all these factors mesh, here are the ten major shifts between Galatians and Romans:

1. In Galatians Paul says that baptism results in the abolition of ethnic boundaries: "in Christ there is neither Judean nor Greek" (Gal 3:27-28). In Romans that's the last thing he wants to say. Here the lesson drawn from baptism (Rom 6:1-15) is not the abolition of ethnic boundaries, rather just the opposite: Gentiles escape the power of sin (Rom 6:16-23) in a completely different way than Judeans (Rom 7:1-25). Gentiles die to ungodliness -- that is, to "impurity and lawlessness" (Rom 6:19) -- and then become slaves of God (Rom 6:22). Judeans die to the law (Rom 7:4). (Esler, pp 218-219)

2. In Galatians Abraham is primarily the ancestor of the uncircumcised (Gal 3:6-9), and his seed refers to Christ (Gal 3:16). In Romans Abraham is the ancestor of the circumcised and uncircumcised in equal measure (Rom 4:1-17), and his seed refers to Judeans and Greeks (Rom 4:16-17). (Esler, p 185; Tobin pp 100-101)

3. In Galatians Paul interprets Psalm 143 as a general principle, meaning that righteousness was never theoretically possible by observing the law (Gal 2:16). In Romans he uses the psalm to point out only that in fact no one has observed the law enough to be righteous by it (Rom 3:9-20). (Tobin, p 122)

4. In Galatians Paul uses freedom language to imply liberation from the law (Gal 5). In Romans any freedom language is about liberation from sin, and is accompanied by language of slavery and obedience (Rom 6). (Tobin, p 216)

5. In Galatians the law is an active agent in confining Israel to sin (Gal 3:19-26). In Romans, the law is either passive in its relationship to sin (Rom 7:7-13), or has nothing to do with it at all (Rom 7:14-25). God has been exonerated in terms of his intentions: instead of using the law to consign Israel to sin so that she may be saved by faith, he now gives the law unto righteousness and life, but sin foils his intent, requiring faith as a rescue operation. This may raise questions about God's competency, but at least it saves him from perversity. [Though note the Galatians view resurfaces in Rom 11:32.] (Sanders, pp 65-86; Esler, pp 230-231)

6. In Galatians divine sonship is a result of being liberated from the law (Gal 4:3-7). In Romans divine sonship is a reason for living by the spirit (8:1-17). (Esler, p 248)

7. In Galatians the spirit is contrasted with the flesh (Gal 3:3; 5:16-17,19-26), the law (Gal 3:2; 3:10-14; 5:18), and those who are circumcised and observe the law (Gal 5:2-6). In Romans the spirit is contrasted with the flesh only (Rom 8:1-17); the spirit is now law-like (Rom 8:2). [Though note: the contrast between spirit/law briefly resurfaces in Rom 7:6.] (Tobin, pp 277-281)

8. In Galatians the promises to Israel were limited by time, and that time has now elapsed (Gal 3:15-18; 4:1-2). In Romans the promises to Israel are still being fulfilled, but in an unexpected way (Rom 9:1-11:32). (Esler, p 277)

9. In Galatians the Christ-group is Israel (Gal 6:16). In Romans Israel is Israel (Rom 9:1-11:32). Paul comes close to identifying the Christ-group as Israel (explicitly in Rom 9:6-29 and implicitly in Rom 11:17-24), but avoids taking that final step, making clear that Israel is ethnic Israel (Rom 9:1-5, 9:30-11:16, 11:25-32) rather than a spiritualized (Christian) Israel. (Esler, pp 279, 307)

10. In Galatians believers "baptize into Christ" or "clothe themselves with Christ" (Gal 3:27) -- calling to mind pagan mystery initiation rites -- while in Romans they "baptize into Christ's death" (Rom 6). [Though note: the Galatians view resurfaces in Rom 13:14, where Paul tells people to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" in the context of ethical instruction.] (Tobin, pp 199-200)

Having acknowledged these important differences, we must now emphasize what remains the same in Romans as ever before: (1) that the law is 100% obsolete for Christians; and (2) that Christ is not the "climax" of the Jewish covenant, but rather the displacement of it.

(1) The Law. James Dunn has argued, on the basis of Gal 5:14, Gal 6:2, Rom 3:31, Rom 8:2, Rom 8:4, Rom 13:8-10, that Paul wasn't opposed to an ethical section of the Torah -- that minus its Jewish "works" the law remained in force for Christian believers. Esler correctly refutes this:
"Paul's point is that the very best the law could provide, love of one's neighbor, is now available by an entirely different route -- the spirit. For love is the first fruit of the spirit. To say that the law is fulfilled by love does not affect this conclusion. Fulfillment, in this sense, means that the moral demands of the law no longer have any role for Christians... Someone who has faith in Christ is able to obtain the best that the law promised, although never delivered, by an entirely different route." (pp 334-335)

We should not be fooled by Paul's daring rhetoric in Gal 6:2 and Rom 8:2. "Christ's law" and "the law of the spirit" are metaphorical inversions which drive a nail in the law's coffin. They imply that the actual law has been superseded, not redefined around different parameters.

(2) The Covenant. Tom Wright has argued that for Paul Christ is the "climax of the covenant" -- the "goal" of the law more than the "end" of it (Rom 10:4). Esler again refutes this:
"There is absolutely no sense that Christ is the 'goal' or 'natural result' of anything to do with the law... He did not come at the tail-end of a process of which the law represented the earlier stages. He was the person who liberated Israel from the mess the law had produced. Paul fixes upon the radical discontinuity between the Mosaic law and Christ, not on any alleged progression from the one to the other." (p 285)

This may sound counter-intuitive, and unpleasant to those who keep extending hope for a Jewish-friendly Paul to emerge from scholarly labors, but this is exactly the kind of revisionism we would expect from an apocalyptic convert. It's exactly what is implied by Paul's use of Abraham in Rom 4. Esler even insists that the term "salvation-history" should be dropped from the discussion:
"Those who see Paul's thought in terms of the fulfillment or climax of the covenant must explain its outright replacement by faith-righteousness... Paul's argument is radical. He is saying that Judeans trace descent from Abraham not in virtue of his circumcision, but from the faith-righteousness he had prior to it and of which circumcision was merely a sign... Since Abraham's seed are those who are righteous by faith and no one, except Abraham himself, appears to fit this category until the possibility arose of faith in Christ, it follows that we have a period between Abraham and Paul's time when the promise was not fulfilled by anyone; it was de futuro only. This would seem to produce barren ground for notions of 'salvation history' or 'the climax of the covenant'... Paul does agree that in Christ God fulfilled the promises made to Abraham (but in Rom 4:11 deletes the word 'covenant' from his source in Gen 17:11). Yet the centuries between Moses and Christ comprised a period of unrelieved gloom." (pp 189, 190, 192, 193, 286)

Paul is clear: no one in Israelite history had the faith-righteousness of Abraham. Such righteousness was anticipated by figures like David and Moses -- it was "spoken of" by David (Rom 4:6), and "written about" by Moses (Rom 10:5) -- but nowhere does Paul imply that David or Moses, or anyone other than Abraham, actually attained such faith-righteousness. Abraham alone was so righteoused for the precise benefit of later Christians (Rom 4:23-25). There is no "build-up" to a climax in Christ, far less any salvation-history to speak of here. Abraham is an exception to the rule in a faithless era.


The argument of Romans is thus schizophrenic. On the one hand, Paul goes out of his way to play fair ball with Israel. A new church crisis, a nasty reputation, and sometimes even his own change of heart demanded this. On the other hand, his anti-law (and anti-covenant) gospel is as uncompromising as ever before. This makes Paul largely a deceiver -- even a self-deceiver -- the point of Mark Given's important work. By the time of Romans, his gospel had become so sugar-coated with qualifiers that one could almost be tricked into thinking it was benign. But strip away the disclaimers -- even major washovers like the sin scapegoat of Rom 7 and the deus-ex-machina in Rom 11 -- and what remains? Same as before: a completely ineffective and useless law, unable to save.

The irony is that Paul had experienced nothing but joy and righteousness under the law. He had been blameless by it (Philip 4:4b-6), had a robust conscience, faithfully fulfilled the commandments, and knew that nothing could be more glorious than the Jewish covenant. But from his hindsight perspective (Philip 3:7-11, cf. II Cor 3:7-11), he now understands this to have been a pseudo-righteousness. As an apocalyptic convert he looked back on the era of the covenant as a dark age, and at Abraham as a lone faith-figure who anticipated better things to come.

With all this in mind, let's now turn to the outline of Rom 1:18-15:13. See the bibliography at the end for works cited, and see here for why I prefer using the term "Judean" instead of "Jew".

A. Judeans and Greeks in Christ (1:18-8:39): The Judean and the Greek are judged, justified, and put to death.

1. Both judged (1:18-3:20)

a. Greeks judged apart from the law

b. Judeans judged by the law

2. Both justified (3:21-4:25)

-- Both justified by faith, whether uncircumcised or circumcised

3. Both die (5:1-8:39)

a. Both die to sin

b. Greeks die to ungodliness

c. Judeans die to the law

d. Both fulfill the requirement of the law by an entirely different route -- the spirit

B. Israel (9:1-11:32): Unbelieving Israel is shamed and glorified.

1. Israel shamed (9:1-11:12)

a. God consistent with election (he hates Israel now, as he hated Esau)

b. God consistent with justification (the Torah declares itself a dead-end project)

2. Israel glorified (11:13-32)

-- God consistent with his promises to Israel (faith-righteoused pagans are the means to Israel's salvation)

C. Believers in Rome (12:1-15:13): Believers are free, yet not free.

1. Believers are free from the world, but subject to Caesar's taxes (12:1-13:14)

2. Greeks are free from Torah, but not in the presence of Israel (14:1-15:13)


A. Judeans and Greeks in Christ (1:18-8:39): The Judean and the Greek are judged, justified, and put to death.

1. Both judged (1:18-3:20)

1:18-2:5 All Greeks, whoever they are, will be punished for the crimes of Sodom.

Function: To indict the Greeks first and foremost, since they are most guilty of believing themselves superior to others (cf 14:1-15:13).

Comments: Sodom is in view rather than Adam (see Esler, pp 145-150), and thus Greeks alone targeted.

2:6-2:16 Indeed, everyone, the Judean and the Greek, will be rewarded and punished (2:9-11), the latter apart from the law, the former by the law (2:12). Greeks are subject to a "law" of sorts, the law of Noah -- "requirements written on their hearts" to which their consciences bear witness" (2:14-15) -- no less than Judeans are to the law of Moses.

Function: To emphasize that God is impartial in judgment, and that Greeks will be judged by the universal code of conduct applicable to them as pagans. To provide a transition to the Judean indictment in 2:17-3:20 by contrasting Greeks who don't have the law with Judeans who have it.

Comments: Paul presumably has in mind some version of a Noahide code binding the Greeks. (See Alan Segal, pp 195-201, and Mark Nanos, pp 50-56 for discussion of Noahide laws in the time of Paul.)

2:17-2:29 Judeans cannot rely on their status under the law to escape judgment. Offending the Torah -- stealing, committing adultery, and robbing temples (2:21b-22) -- calls forth as much wrath as pagan immorality, and renders their circumcision valueless (2:25)

Function: To indict the Judeans as much as the Greeks -- and prevent another Galatian scenario which could otherwise result from the one-sided indictment of 1:18-2:5.

Comments: Paul's outrageous accusations (especially temple-robbing) reflect the rhetorical diatribe expected from a prophet/apostle in an honor-shame culture. Sanders compares this with the exaggerated rhetoric found in places like Ezek 33:25f and Ps Sol 8:9f (p 125), and suggests that it is perhaps surprising Paul didn't go further by leveling charges of sexual misconduct, common as they were in polemic (p 133). This is preferable to the strained approach of Stowers, who thinks Paul is indicting an "apostrophic Judean" in order to censure Judeans and Greeks at once. On the contrary: Paul indicts Greeks for being Greeks (1:18-2:5), and Judeans for being Judeans (2:17-29) -- however difficult his rhetoric becomes with the latter.

3:1-3:20 (Clarification) Judeans have the edge in terms of native privileges and educational background (3:1-8), but no advantage as regards salvation (3:9-18). The law puts them under the power of sin (3:19) in that through the law comes knowledge of sin (3:20).

Function: To make the law parallel to pagan deities. Judeans may sin less than pagans, but when they do transgress, their sin is greater by virtue of the fact that as transgressors of the law they "know better and have less excuse" than immoralists ignorant of the law.

Comments: Being under Torah subjects one to the power of sin as much as ungodliness does to a pagan, though in a completely different way: the law accentuates sin when transgression occurs (echoing Gal 3:19-24). It's important to note that, despite the perversity of this claim, Paul never suggests that God gave the law in order to produce transgressions. "Given such a view," drawls Esler, "we might observe, Paul considered that God had commanded the Israelites to worship him alone in order that they would serve Baal and Chemosh, to honor their parents in order that they would shame them, not to kill in order that they would engage in homicide" (Galatians, p 196). The pedagogue metaphor of Gal 3:23-26 refutes this in any case, since pedagogues were slave tutors who protected boys from harm, educated them in proper behavior, and punished them for wayward behavior -- and were certainly not given by parents to produce bad behavior in children.

Nonetheless, even if Paul maintains that the Torah was given to protect, guide, and punish, he adds the perverse twist that sin actually increases (or is heightened/accentuated) because of this, and this was the law's "key" purpose as intended by God. In other words, even if the law wasn't given to produce transgressions, it was given so that sin could be accentuated when transgression occurred. That, says Paul, is why Judeans are ultimately no better off than godless Greeks.

2. Both justified (3:21-4:25)

3:21-31 Christ's sacrifice has inaugurated the end, and so there is no longer any distinction between Judean and Greek (3:22). Boasting of special privilege is excluded (3:27). All are now justified on the basis of faith apart from the law (3:28), because God is One -- the God of Greeks and Judeans alike (3:29-30). Judeans still uphold the law (3:31), but it provides no basis for justification.

Function: To summarize Paul's doctrine of justification by faith: (a) to explain to Greeks that the end-time pulls the rug from under Judean privilege which came through the Torah; (b) to assure Judeans that the Torah is not necessarily discarded altogether as a result of it being ended as the means of salvation.

4:1-17 This end was anticipated by the righteousness of Abraham, who was justified by faith prior to circumcision, precisely in order to become the ancestor of both Greeks and Judeans (4:9-12;16).

Function: To prove the doctrine of 3:21-31 by revising the common understanding of Abraham.

Comments: From the Judean point of view the promise to Abraham was subsumed within the Sinai even: Abraham was justified after being circumcised and keeping the Torah, which legitimated him as the ancestor of all nations (thus Sir 44:19-21). For Paul the promise to Abraham was independent of the Sinai event and non-contingent upon his circumcision. That's a radical revision; as Sanders notes, "few moderns will be convinced that Paul 'proves' his case against circumcision by quoting Gen 15:6 and ignoring Gen 17:9-14" (p 148).

4:18-25 (Excursus) Abraham's faith, moreover, was "strong" because he believed God would create life from the dead, as Isaac was created from Sarah's dead womb. Throughout Israel's history, Abraham alone had this measure of faith -- though it wasn’t for his sake alone (4:23), but for later Christians who would believe that God raised life from the dead in Jesus of Nazareth (4:24).

Function: To show that Christians (Judean and Greek) have the measure of faith anticipated by Abraham's unique situation.

Comments: This section, while an excursus, is important because it refutes salvation-history theories, such as Wright's "climax of the covenant". The measure of one's faith -- that is, whether it is "weak" or "strong" -- has nothing to do with the faith-works contrast of the preceding argument (3:21-4:17). It has nothing to do with whether or not one observes the law. It has to do with the belief in God's ability to call forth life out of death. (Nanos, pp 139-144). Abraham's faith was strong for believing that his child would be born from a dead womb, just as a Christian's faith is strong for believing Jesus was raised from a dead corpse. The implication is clear: God's promise to Abraham remained in a docetic state until the arrival of Christ; the Israelite era was "a period of unrelieved gloom" (Esler, p 286). Christ isn't a climax, because no one prior to his coming shared the "strong" faith of Abraham. Abraham was an exception to the rule in a faithless era.

3. Both die (5:1-8:39)

5:1-21 Christ died in order to restore God's creation and bring the epoch of Adam to a close. The reign of sin (~law) is in the process of ending; the reign of grace has begun.

Function: To set up the framework for the argument of chs 6-8, in which the epoch of Christ opposes (yet overlaps) that of Adam.

6:1-15 All, Judeans and Greeks, die to the power of sin (6:1-15).

Function: To explain that Christians are suspended between death and resurrection; they have died but not yet risen; until the resurrection they exist in the realms of Adam and Christ simultaneously (Dunn's Romans commentary offers one of the best analyses of this eschatological tension.)

6:16-23 Greeks die to ungodliness -- that is, to "impurity and lawlessness" (6:19) -- and become slaves of God (6:22).

Function: To explain how Greeks have died to the reign of Adam/sin.

7:1-6 Judeans die to the law and become slaves of the spirit (7:6).

Function: To explain how Judeans have died to the reign of Adam/sin.

7:7-13 (Clarification I) The law is parallel to sin though not equated with it. The law is holy and given for the purpose of righteousness and life, yet unable to do the job God gave it. Sin took it over and perverted it, foiling God's intent (as with Adam and Eve in paradise).

Function: To assure Judeans (and perhaps Paul himself) that God always acted for the good. To correct the perverse claim of Gal 3:19-24, where the law is an active agent in consigning Israel to sin, and where God intends such a result "so that" he may save another basis. To sever the link between God and sin, and to make the law passive in its relationship to sin.

7:14-25 (Clarification II) Sin has nothing to do with the law, which is perhaps capable of doing the job God gave it after all. Sin bypassed it, foiling God's intent by invading human flesh directly -- producing uncontrollable disobedience, anguish, and despair in the human condition.

Function: To go another step, and completely sever the link between the law and sin.

Comments: Two ironies result from these clarifications. (1) Paul ends up contradicting his own Pharisaic experience (Philip 3:4b-6), especially in the second half (7:14-25). (2) He manages to exonerate God only at the expense of his sovereignty. Instead of a perverse deity who gave the law in order to consign Israel to sin (Gal 3:19-24), he is now an incompetent deity foiled by the power of evil, which either used the law against him (7:7-13) or reproduced sin within human flesh (7:14-25). (See full discussion in Sanders, ch 2).

The troubled argument of 7:7-25 is driven by Paul's own theological dilemma as much as his need to placate the Judean faction in Rome. But he creates more problems than he solves. Not only does he make God incompetent, he portrays people completely helpless under the law and unable to do what it requires.

8:1-17 All believers, Judeans and Greeks, fulfill the requirement of the law by the spirit. They achieve the ideal of the law which was never realized by the law.

Function: To explain that believers have access to the best which the Torah promised but never delivered (Esler, p 335). To prove that obedience to God (not moral anarchy; cf 3:8; 6:1,15) is indeed the result of being a Christian.

8:18-39 (Excursus) The end is in the process of unfolding now.

Function: To explain that creation will soon be completely restored.

Wrap-up of 1-8. Paul gives attention to "the Judean and the Greek" (1:16) at every stage of his argument. Both are equally liable to God's judgment, whether by the law or apart from it; both are justified by faith, whether circumcised or not; both die to the power of sin, whether as ungodly pagans or law-observant Israelites. Both, in other words, end up on the same playing field from entirely different routes. The goal is what Esler calls "recategorization": "only when both groups are equal in status but share different experiences or expertise can they readily respect and value the other's unique contribution and believe they will benefit from the presence of the other". (p 144)

B. Israel (9:1-11:32): Unbelieving Israel is shamed and glorified.

1. Israel shamed (9:1-11:12)

9:1-5 (Preface) Paul is anguished over the fate of unbelieving Israel and could wish himself accursed for the sake of her salvation (9:2-3). He credits Israel for having "adoption", "the covenant/law", "worship", "the promises", and "the patriarchs" (9:4-5).

Function: To declare Paul's kinship with ethnic Israel ("my people" in 9:2-3), while also maintaining a careful distance from it ("they" and "them" 9:4-5). (See Esler, p 273)

Comments: Paul is being disingenuous here. Indeed, as Mark Given says, he's being sophistically deceptive. Even though he credits the Judean people with having "adoption", "the covenant/law", "worship", "the promises", and "the patriarchs", that's empty credit, because we know what he really thinks: that real adoption comes from being liberated from the law (Gal 4:5) and being led by the spirit (Rom 8:14-15); that there are two covenants, an old and a new, the former of which has been superseded by the latter (II Cor 3:6-14); that real worship takes place "in Christ" (the temple of one's body) rather than the Jerusalem temple (I Cor 3:16-17); that the real heirs to God's promises are Judeans and Greeks in Christ rather than Israel under the law (Gal 3:19,22,26-29; Rom 4:13-14; Rom 9:6-24); that the only patriarch who means anything is a revisionist Abraham, the father of those who have faith regardless of their ethnicity (Gal 3:6-9; Rom 4:1-17), and the root of a tree from which natural branches (Judeans) broke off in order to make room for unnatural branches (Greeks) (Rom 11:17-24). What Paul really thinks, says Given, isn't hard to figure out (see pp 159-168).

This positive estimation of Israel, to be sure, serves the agenda of catering to Judean identity, but it's deceptive in light of what Paul says elsewhere -- and what he now goes on to say in 9:6-10:21.

9:6-11:12 Pagans are legitimate heirs to the promises of Abraham, because God calls whomever he wishes. He hates Israel (for now) as he hated Esau, just as he showers favor on the pagans as he did to Jacob (9:13). The law is finished (10:4), because Moses anticipated that it would be a dead-end project. The Torah may as well be distant as the heavens and the abyss, for it is Christ (not the commandment) who is nearby, on lips and in hearts of believers (10:6-8).

Function: To offer Christian Judeans ammunition against scorn or stigmatization, by showing God's consistency with the purposes of election and justification. To legitimate the Judean choice of Christ and faith-righteousness in the face of pressure from unbelieving Israel.

Comments: Paul claims that God is behaving the same as always -- as the sovereign lord before whom human beings have no rights, the deity who loves and hates whomever he chooses -- and is thus perfectly consistent in disinheriting Israel. He claims, furthermore, that while Moses taught that following the Torah's commandments would lead to life, he also taught that this path actually goes nowhere.

This is sectarian continuity with a vengeance -- "continuity by transformation", suggests Dunn (see his Romans commentary), as when "a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, and the empty shell of the caterpillar is all remaining from the old stage of existence". Esler is right that Paul's arguments in 9:6-10:21 "would have been bitterly resented and resisted, indeed laughed to scorn, by Israelites who came to hear of it" (p 287).

2. Israel glorified (11:13-32)

11:13-32 Greeks should understand that their salvation is a means to an end, and that Paul glorifies his ministry among them in order to provoke Israel to reacquire what is rightfully hers (11:13-14). Greeks are in fact worthless by themselves: "wild olive shoots" dependent upon the root of Abraham to be at all productive (11:17-18). Moreover, they will be disinherited if they continue treating unbelieving Israel with contempt (11:20-22). Israel still has a chance, and will indeed be ultimately saved (11:25). She is God's enemy for the time being, but God's chosen in the end (11:28).

Function: To reveal God's consistency with the purpose of Israel's salvation. To indict the Greek Christians for arrogance towards unbelieving Israel, and explain that Israel's ending will be happy after all, if in an unexpected way.

Comments: Paul, like many converts, "suddenly discovered a reason to celebrate his original allegiance and his affiliation with it" (Esler, p 273). The reason sounds preposterous: unbelieving Judeans would become jealous of Christianity and thus provoked to accept the gospel. The idea is difficult but passable in Paul's world, and two points are in order: (1) Jealousy, as Esler notes, is different from envy; jealousy is a defensive concern for the well-being of something, while envy is a begrudging of the success of another (p 290); that Paul has the former in mind makes his claim more credible than usually assumed. (2) As Nanos notes, this scheme could have arisen out of remnant theology: Paul hopes that unbelieving Israel will see in his success among the pagans that her own universal hopes are being fulfilled without her coparticipation, and thus cause her to reconsider accepting Christ (p 249).

The olive tree metaphor is insulting to the Greek Christians. Normal grafting practice involved transplanting a wild olive tree and making it fruitful by grafting on cultivated branches. But Paul portrays the inverse -- a cultivated olive tree with wild branches. "In opting for the wild olive, when he and his readers well knew that its branches did not bear edible fruit, Paul was consciously crafting an image unflattering to the Greeks" (Esler, p 305).

Insofar as what it says about unbelieving Israel, the olive tree metaphor is positive, implying "continuity by extension", as Dunn says, rather than "continuity by transformation" (a caterpillar becoming a butterfly). But Dunn, like too many commentators, glides over the tension between the two. Paul may, in the end, have wanted an olive tree (Rom 11), but he left the world a butterfly (Rom 9-10).

What is Rom 11 really about? Is it about Paul's emotion triumphing over his logic, a desperate formula to keep God's promises to Israel intact? Or is it a shrewd interweaving of traditional (Hebrew Bible) and sectarian (Rom 9-10) themes made in order to salvage something from the wreck of a bad reputation, and appease the Roman Judeans? We should say it is both.

Wrap-up of 9-11. Paul again gives attention to "the Judean and the Greek" (1:16), now with respect to unbelieving Israel. He arms the Judean Christians with ammunition against their kin (9:6-11:12), shaming unbelieving Israel, and then in turn shames the Greek Christians by implying they are baggage, the means by which Israel will be saved and glorified (11:13-32).

C. Believers in Rome (12:1-15:13): Believers are free, yet not free.

1. Believers are free from the world, but subject to Caesar's taxes (12:1-13:14)

12:1-13:14 Believers should not conform to the world (12:2) but instead follow Christ's other-worldly code of behavior: be patient in suffering, bless persecutors, associate with the lowly, do not be haughty, feed enemies for vengeance's sake (in order to "heap burning coals on their heads") (12:9-21). On the other hand, they should not jeopardize the Christian movement by defying Caesar: they should be temporarily resigned to imperial authorities and pay taxes (13:1-7), since God's kingdom is "nearer than ever before" (13:11).

Function: To encourage counter-cultural behavior in most aspects of everyday life, while leaving Caesar to God's wrath on the day of the apocalypse (on the latter, see Horsley and Silberman, p 191).

2. Greeks are free from the Torah, but not in the presence of Israel (14:1-15:13)

14:1-15:13 Greeks are not free from the Torah in the presence of unbelieving Israel. No food is unclean in itself (14:14a), but it is for those who think so (14:14b). Greeks must sometimes abide by minimal Torah standards. If Judeans are being injured by what Greeks eat, then the Greeks are not behaving properly (14:15); they should not eat meat or drink wine if it causes strife (14:21). The strong in faith should accommodate the weak in faith -- "put up with their failings" -- and not please themselves (15:1), so that unbelieving Israel may embrace Christianity (11:23-24) and everyone worship as one voice (15:5-6).

Function: To stifle Greek freedom in the hope that unbelieving Israel will be provoked (through jealousy) to reacquire her salvation (cf 11:17-24).

Comments: Mark Nanos has shown that the weak in faith refer to non-Christian Judeans, despite the near universal assumption that they are Christian Judeans. The argument is powerful:

* Mark Given (not Nanos) points out that the weak cannot refer to the addressees themselves, because Paul would not have intended for them to hear him tell the strong that they should "put up with their failings". That would be rhetorically inept and undermine Paul's intent to make the Greeks show them respect.

* Paul implicitly defines the terms "strong in faith" and "weak in faith" in 4:18-25 (see above). The strong believe that Jesus was raised from a dead corpse, just as Abraham trusted that Isaac would be born from a dead womb (see Nanos, pp 139-144). The weak are so labeled because they deny Christ's resurrection, not because they adhere to the law. The "weak in faith" are, almost by definition, non-Christian.

* In 14:1-15:13 the weak are Judeans, but not because they are Judeans. On the contrary, they should continue observing purity, fasting, and sabbath and "be fully convinced in their own minds what is right" (14:5); and they should continue doing so "in honor of God" (14:6). These Judeans are not weak on account of "upholding the law", which Paul believes perfectly acceptable (3:31) (even if contributing nothing toward salvation). As Nanos puts it, they are not "weak in practice or opinions" (p 105). They are weak in faith, denying the messiah's premature resurrection.

* Finally, this section follows hot on the heels of 12:1-13:14, which deals with proper behavior vis-à-vis the "outside world"; the weak are thus likewise outsiders; unbelieving Israel at large.

In one sentence: the "weak in faith" are weak for being non-Christian, not for being Judean.

Wrap-up of 12-15. Paul wants believers to exercise their Christly freedoms in the face of outsiders, save those from taxation and the law. God will deal with Caesar himself, and Israel must be respected for the sake of her redemption.


Dunn, James D.G: Romans, 2 vols, Nelson Reference, 1988.

Esler, Philip: Conflict and Identity in Romans: The Social Setting of Paul's Letter, Augsburg Fortress, 2003.

Given, Mark: Paul's True Rhetoric: Ambiguity, Cunning, and Deception in Greece and Rome, Trinity, 2001.

Horsley, Richard & Neil Asher Silberman: The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World, Augsburg Fortress, 1997.

Nanos, Mark: The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul's Letter, Augsburg Fortress, 1996.

Sanders, E.P: Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, Augsburg Fortress, 1985.

Segal, Alan: Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee, Yale University, 1992.

Stowers, Stanley: A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles, Yale University, 1994.

Tobin, Thomas: Paul's Rhetoric in its Contexts: The Argument of Romans, Hendrickson, 2004.

Wright, N.T: The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, Augsburg Fortress, 1994. 


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