Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

NT Sunday School Lesson 36 (JF): Romans

Posted by Jim F. on September 3, 2011

I have to confess that Romans is perhaps my favorite book of scripture. Given the way that most Latter-day Saints think of Romans, that marks me as at least strange, if not perverse. It also means that I will have to restrain myself to keep the notes for this lesson to a reasonable length. To do that I have selected a few verses that I think get at the heart of Paul’s message and focus on those. I have also appended an outline of the book as a whole so that you can perhaps understand Paul’s overall message better.

Chapter 1

Verse 7: Why does Paul describe the saints in Rome as “beloved of God”? Doesn’t God love everyone? If he does, why describe any particular group as beloved? In verse 1 Paul said that he was called to be an apostle. In verse 6, he tells the saints in Rome that they too have been called, and in this verse he tells them to what they have been called: to be saints. What does the word “saint” mean? What does it mean to be called to be a saint? When do we receive that calling? How do we fulfill it?

Chapter 3

Verses 9-10: What does it mean to say that both the Jews and the Gentiles are “under sin”? In verse 10 Paul quotes Psalms 14:1 and 53:1. How can Paul be serious when he says that no one is righteous? For example, isn’t President Monson righteous? Compare these verses to verse 23. What is Paul’s point?

Verses 19-20: The JST changes verse 20 in this way: “For by the law is the knowledge of sin; therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.” According to these two verses, what does the law teach us? What does it mean to be justified? Justified before whom? Why can’t the law justify us?

Verse 28: “Without” in this verse means “separated from,” “outside of,” or “apart from.” (Compare the use of the word “without” in the hymn, “There is a Green Hill Far Away.”) The word translated “deeds” could also have been translated “works.” Using that information, put this verse in your own words. Can you explain what Paul is saying? Compare this verse to 2 Nephi 25:23. Are Paul and Nephi saying different things? If so, explain how. If not explain why not. (See also Luke 17:7-10 and Mosiah 2:21, as well as 2 Nephi 31:19.)

Chapter 4

Verses 1-3: Paul’s argument in these verses is that in Genesis 15:6 we see that Abraham’s faith counted as righteousness before God gave him a law to obey. Therefore, obedience to law is not what makes one righteous. If obedience doesn’t make one righteous, what does? Is obedience, then, irrelevant according to Paul?

Verses 4-5: What does verse 4 tell us about those who work for a wage? How is that relevant to  Paul’s discussion of our relation to the law? In verse 5, who is Paul speaking of when he mentions the ungodly? Who justifies the ungodly? (Compare Romans 5:6.)

Chapter 5

Verses 1-2: What kind of peace with or in relation to God do we have? How has Christ given us peace with God? What is grace? What does it mean to say that we stand in grace (verse 2)? Paul says that we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” What does that mean? Does it have anything to do with eternal progression?

Chapter 6

Verses 1-2, 11-15: Does Paul believe that the doctrine of salvation by grace and not by works means that we can do whatever we please if we have been saved? Explain why not.

Chapter 8

Verses 1-2, 4: If I don’t have to obey a set of rules, what do I have to obey?

Verse 13: What does “mortify” mean? How is Paul using the word “flesh”? (See the first clause of verse 9 for help answering that.) What does Paul mean when he speaks of killing the flesh? Is he speaking of asceticism or self-torture?

Verses 15-17: What is the promise to those who, through faith in Christ, live by the Spirit? What does it mean to say that this promise is conditional, that to receive it we must “suffer with him”? How do we do that?

Chapter 12

Verse 1: What mercies of God has Paul just described (chapters 9-11)? What does it mean to present our bodies a living sacrifice? (Compare Omni 1:26.) Why is doing so our “reasonable service”? Christ made his body a living sacrifice. Is Paul asking us to imitate him? How would we do so since, presumably, we are not expected to suffer as he did in Gethsemane or be crucified? Do the things that follow in this chapter and the next chapters tell us what it means to make ourselves a living sacrifice? What does that suggest about “good works”? Why do we do them, for example?

Verse 2: What does it mean to be “conformed to this world”? How would we avoid that? (See Alma 5, especially verse 14.) What can transform us? As used here, the word translated “mind” has a different meaning than we usually associate with mind. It refers to how we orient ourselves in the world, whether that orientation is explicitly conscious or not. What does the word “prove” mean as it is used here? Why do our “minds” have to be renewed in order for us to know what is good, pleasing, and perfect according to the will of God? Does that help us understand why the law cannot save us?

Chapter 13

How do you read this chapter as we have it in the King James translation? What problem does Paul seem concerned about? What does that have to do with his concern in chapter 12 that the saints sacrifice themselves for Christ and his cause?

Taking the changes of the Joseph Smith translation into account, how do you read the chapter? With what problem is Paul concerned if we understand the chapter that way? How does that have to do with his admonition that we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice?

Chapter 14

Who might Paul have in mind when he speaks of the weak and the strong in this chapter? What concerns among the saints is Paul trying to put to rest? Is he trying to stop “the weak” from eating mostly or only vegetables (“herbs,” verse 2)? Is he calling those to repentance who think they can eat anything they want? What does he mean when he says “none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself?” (verse 7). Explain what Paul means in verse 13: “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” (FYI: The Greek word translated “judge” is used in Greek in much the same way that the English word is used in English.) What does the theme of this chapter have to do with offering ourselves as a living sacrifice?

Chapter 15

The first 7 verses of this chapter continue the theme of chapter 14: “bear the infirmities of the weak” (verse 1) and “receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” (verse 7). Can you explain what verse 7 means?

Verses 8-12 are a testimony of Jesus. Can you explain what that testimony says in your own terms?

 

Given what you have read of Paul, how would you explain the relation between works, grace, and salvation? If someone who is not LDS challenged you, saying that LDS don’t believe in salvation by grace, could you use Paul to explain why that is not true?

Here is my outline of Romans (others are, of course, possible). Perhaps it will help you better understand the letter as a whole.

9 Responses to “NT Sunday School Lesson 36 (JF): Romans”

  1. [...] comment on this at Feast upon the Word. 0 people like this [...]

  2. Sean said

    “What does the word “saint” mean? What does it mean to be called to be a saint? When do we receive that calling? How do we fulfill it?” I’m just passing through, was skimming the LDS blogs and read this and wanted to add my two cents. One, thanks for this post. Two, “Saints” comes from “santos,” which means holy, or set apart. We are called at baptism, and we can fulfill that calling by living our religion.

    Okay, maybe more than two cents. “Verses 9-10: What does it mean to say that both the Jews and the Gentiles are “under sin”? In verse 10 Paul quotes Psalms 14:1 and 53:1. How can Paul be serious when he says that no one is righteous? For example, isn’t President Monson righteous? Compare these verses to verse 23. What is Paul’s point?” This is why there are many scholars who argue that Paul was a gnostic. This is one of the reasons that Augustine was such a consummate pessimist, and why Calvin followed after him. It talks of righteous people many times in the Bible, but I don’t think it means that they were perfect people. While the other Biblical writers describe the righteousness of certain individuals and peoples as essential qualities, Paul is focusing on the wickedness of people as the essential human condition. I think they are both right, but are coming at it from different angles. People can be very righteous, but ANY sin automatically bars us from heaven. That is why we need the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Paul was an apostle talking to Christians who knew of the atonement,so that’s what he was focusing on I think.

    “Verses 19-20: The JST changes verse 20 in this way: “For by the law is the knowledge of sin; therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.” According to these two verses, what does the law teach us? What does it mean to be justified? Justified before whom? Why can’t the law justify us?” The law teaches us how to be like Christ. Justified in this context means (IMO) to be forgiven for our sins and be allowed access to heaven. Adherence to the law CANNOT by itself justify us, since we will at some point fall short of the law. Hence the atonement.

    Anyway. Thanks once again, I’m going to be printing this out and reading Romans tonight.

    • Jim F. said

      Sean, thanks for your responses. But one small correction: the English word “saint” is not from “santos.” It is from the French word “saint.” The French and the Spanish and the Italian words are all from the Latin word “sanctus.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, that is the past participle of “sancire,” which means “to enact, ratify, devote, or consecrate.”

      Can you refer me to scholars who think Paul was gnostic? That’s a new idea to me.

      • Sean said

        Yeah, I knew the second after I posted that (and while I was posting it, but I was too tired and lazy to correct it) that I had it wrong, but I meant sanctus. My brain was foggy after leaving work yesterday, and whenever I hear the word “saint,” I think of “santo,” as in Santo Domingo, so I was like “santo! So easy!” I shouldn’t blog when I’m tired I know lol. I love latin! So many words derive from it! :D

        Anyway, I’ll get back to you on Paul, I just got through reading several books on the development of Christian Theology. I recently encountered the opinion that Paul was a gnostic (I don’t believe he was) in a book titled A.D. 381 By Charles Freeman, which is a thesis, from an agnostic standpoint (the author happens to be agnostic, the best Christian Theology authors are IMO, since they are neutral) about how Roman Emperors, through politics, enforced the agendas of some Christian Schools (Such as the Nicene School) over others. I realize that the opinion of one historian isn’t scholar(s), but this wasn’t the first time I had heard of the Paul-Gnostic theory. I will try to find additional sources. It turns up enough to grab my attention and make me wonder why someone would be of that opinion. There is a book entitled “The Gnostic Paul,” by Elaine Pagels. I didn’t check it out, but I think I will now that I’m thinking about it.

  3. Sean said

    BTW, I’m pretty sure I got the “santos” reference wrong. I just got back from work and my brain is foggy. My apologies, but it’s definitely somewhere along those lines. I am totally sure “Sanctos” means to “make holy,” but my Latin is mediocre.

  4. Knob said

    Do you really skip entirely over Romans 14, or only skim it? That, to me, is probably the best chapter in the NT… and we’d do worse than internalize the message contained therein.

    • Jim F. said

      Knob, I don’t disagree that the message of chapter 14 is a great one, something that we ought to internalize and something that Paul preaches in several places. But I don’t think it is central to the message of the letter to the Romans, so yes, I skim over it. I focus instead on the more theological chapters. I finish with chapter 12 because it introduces the important question of what the theological chapters mean for Christian life. Chapter 14 is part of that.

    • Jim F. said

      Knob, the more I thought about your question, the more I thought I ought to add something on the final chapters. After all, if chapter 12 is, as I believe, the hinge of the book as a whole (everything before it lays the groundwork for everything after it), then I’ve not provided enough study materials for the second part of the book. So I’ve added study questions for chapters 13-14.

      Thanks for prompting me to do that.

  5. Kent Miles said

    In there anything in the practice of contemporary “cultural Mormonism” that could be seen as similar to what the “Judahizers” in Paul’s day were requiring of the Gentile converts (i.e. their impulse to require compliance to the Law of Moses in order to be a good Christian)?

    So, for example, do we have a tendency to think that all good comes from within the walls of Mormonism? Do we think that our own culture is the ultimate standard for good behavior? Do we limit our participation in the larger social milieu because it would involve association with those who do not observe our version of “the Law”?

    I think that if we can see these kinds of connections it will help us to understand Paul’s world and its connection to our own time. It can also help us reconsider our own application of the Gospel.

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