Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a wisdom book, similar to Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Like those books it does not introduce new doctrine, new stories, or even deep grounding in an environment. Rather, it is a guide for how to think about what has already been written.
We know about Paul from his friend Luke, author of the Gospel of Luke (the story of Jesus and Peter) and Acts of the Apostles (the story of Peter and Paul). We know from Luke that Paul was a Pharisee — at trial he famously said “.” We know from Luke that Paul began as a villain (assisting in — if not leading — the martyrdom of Stephen) and that Paul’s basic character is a man searching for God — his first recorded words are “Who are you, Lord?”
- It is in this context that we read “Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame. The same Lord is Lord of all and he bestows riches upon everyone who calls upon him, for whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:11-13)
- It is in this context that we read, “For your sake we’re being put to death all day long and we’re regarded as sheep for the slaughter.” (Psalms 44:22, quoted in Romans 8:36)
- It is in this context that we read “It is hardly likely that someone would die even for a righteous man, although someone might have the courage to die for a good man” (Romans 5:7)
How many men in the Bible would know this first hand? That cowardice would keep them from dying for the righteous, but a few might die for the good?
The general focus of The Letter to the Romans is to explain the revolution in the Torah brought by Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew, written as a capstone to the Hebrew Bible, presented the LORD as simultaneously Legislator, Prophet, and King. But the implications of this are more apparently in the Gospel of Luke, and now in Paul’s own letter: it is the LORD that is the proper focus, and not his offices of Legislator, King, Prophet. Non-Jews, who were not under the Torah, not ruled by David’s House, and not spoken to by the prophets, are saved by Jesus as much as Jews are. Indeed, of God of Israel is fundamentally a human God of a human man, not only (but no less) a Jewish God for Jewish men.
Paul’s argument elevates Genesis, not just a prologue for Moses, but fundamentally preceding the Hebrew Law. And Father Abraham, not just a prefiguring of Moses, but fundamentally preceding Moses
We say, Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, but when was it credited to him? Before he was circumcised, or after he was circumcised? It was before he was circumcised, not after…
For the promise to Abraham and his descendants that they would inherit the world was not based on Abraham’s observance of the Torah but on the fact that he had been restored to fellowship with God through faith.
Israel was a man before his children became a nation.
Aside from Love, the law is an x-ray machine. It can identify weakness. But the Law was just method of doing so. Even in Psalms did learn
No one is righteous, not even one,
no one understands, not one seeks God.
Psalms 14, quoted in Romans 3
The Letter to the Romans is essential to Christianity. The purpose and function of religious teaching is explained, prioritization is made, and an ocean of words and experiences made sensible.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
If you love me, keep my commands.
For you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not covet and any other commandment can be summed up in one sentence — You shall love your neighbor as yourself.