So a commentator on Zoomtard asks me to interpret this introduction to Romans.
” we have said however that this letter had its roots in Paul’s experience as a Jew, a Pharisee and an apostle called directly by Christ. It is from that point that Paul spoke of sin and justification, of call, of salvation through faith. For their part Luther and his contemporaries read this letter against the background of their own problems -- or rather- their anguish.
They magnified the perspective of sin and eternal condemnation, victims of a philosophy (nominalism) in which nothing good or bad in itself but only if God declares it so. Because of that everything Paul said about predestination of the Jewish people was interpreted by them as a personal predestination to heaven or hell”
This particular challenge goes way beyond my pay-grade. To deal with such subtle issues it might be helpful to actually consult a real theologist, not just someone who has some smart friends and access to JStor.
But I’ll have a go since this is the internet and it isn’t like my future employment might be jeporadised by the crazy crap I write today, right? So the first comment to make is that the art of writing an introduction to a book or letter in the Bible is one that should be pursued with the utmost care. The author should introduce the book free from over-bearing bias so that the reader can at least try to approach the text from a range of perspectives. It seems to me that the authors of this Bible, by needlessly and briefly broad-siding one of the greatest theologians and church leaders in history have failed here.
So the first way to interpret this passage that I would have to take is to compare it to other editions of the Bible that come with such editorial prefaces and show how it seems bizarre to throw such serious historical theology questions into an introduction meant to clarify the writing of Paul.
In the Bible I use for college work, a New Revised Standard Version published by the Catholic Liturgical Press the Romans introduction reads:
Romans was written to pave the way for Paul’s visit to a church he had never seen, but whose help he needed as he began to preach the Gospel in the western Mediterranean world. Romans is one of the fullest statements of Paul’s faith. He tries to show how Christianity is rooted in Judaism, but is a faith for all humanity. Roman is a book full of the power and grace of God and has been a source of inspiration and renewal in the church from earliest times to the present.
In the Bible that I read for fun, The Message, the Romans introduction is longer but reads in part:
The event that split history into “before” and “after” and changed the world took place about thirty years before Paul wrote this letter. The event- the life, death and resurrection of Jesus- took place in a remote corner of the extensive Roman Empire: the province of Judea in Palestine. Hardly anyone noticed, certainly not one in busy and powerful Rome.
And when this letter arrived in Rome, hardly anyone read it, certainly no one of influence. There was much to read in Rome- imperial decrees, exquisite poetry, finely crafted moral philosophy- and much of it was world-class. And yet in no time, as such things go, this letter left all those other writings in the dust. Paul’s letter to the Romans has had a far larger impact on its readers than the volumes of all those Roman writers put together.
The quick rise of this letter to a peak of influence in extraordinary, written as it was by an obscure Roman citizen without connections. But when we read it for ourselves, we begin to realize that it is the letter itself that is truly extraordinary, and that no obscurity in writer or readers could have kept it obscure for long.
The letter to the Romans is a piece of exuberant and passionate thinking. This is the glorious life of the mind enlisted in the service of God. Paul takes the well-witnessed and devoutly believed fact of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and thinks through its implications. How does it happen that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, world history took a new direction, and at the same moment the life of every man, woman and child on the planet was eternally affected? What is God up to? What does it mean that Jesus “saves”? What’s behind all this, and where is it going?
These are the questions that drive Paul’s thinking. Paul’s mind is supple and capacious. He takes logic and argument, poetry and imagination, Scripture and prayer, creation and history and experience, and weaves them into this letter that has become the premier document of Christian theology.
Personally though, I like the introduction offered in the first ever Bible I owned. It skips preface comments and gets right down to the text.
I dare say that when the editors of this Bible wrote their preface to Romans citing how Luther had a bee in his bonnet because of his subjective place in time and space, they reveal all to clearly that they suffer from the same dilemma. You can’t critique Luther’s reading for Romans as being too heavily influenced by the historical Roman Catholic Church by reading Romans through a lens pre-occuped with the historic Lutheran church.
More about nominalism later…
Your Correspondent, Replaced the Pope in Rome with a Pope for every steaming dunghill in Germany