The Life of Holiness, Romans 1:2-4 (pp. 47-70)
Posted by Robert C. on March 13, 2013
(See the reading schedule and introductory post here. Note: I’m deviating slightly from the posted schedule since the original schedule overlooked how the discussion of verses 3 and 4 starts on p. 52.)
Jim begins with a discussion about digressions, and about connectives that function as punctuation. This is because verse 2 begins a five verse digression. I especially like Jim’s discussion of the contrast between our scientific culture, where “we prize simplicity and getting to the point,” and how this contrasts with the tendency for Paul (and Paul’s culture) to place more value on in-depth digressions: “digressions allowed writers to show how [various facets of the subject matter] are interconnected” (p. 49). I think Cheryl’s comment #3 in the previous post nicely expresses the challenge in our fast-paced modern society of valuing the kind of depth and interconnectedness that a more patient style of writing and thinking affords.
Next, Jim discusses three terms, promised, prophets, and holy scriptures (pp. 49-51). Together, I think these three terms establish an important and intriguing emphasis on the power of language. Jim doesn’t get into this issue too much here, but I’m intrigued by the link between the emphasis in verse 1 on Paul’s own calling to be a messenger, and the manner in which he was set apart to preach the good news of the Gospel. There’s a kind of proliferation at work here with the word-as-sword that comes to Paul, and causes him to separate from the world, and the manner in which Paul’s calling as an apostle enacts the repeating pattern of messengers carrying God’s promises that establish/effect the good news of the Gospel.
Paul, however, is not simply reiterating the understood message of the prophets, but providing a reinterpretation of Jewish scripture, in light Paul’s conviction regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ (pp. 51-52).
The language in this verse establishes a connection between divinity and humanity: Jesus is God’s son, but our Lord (pp. 52-54). Note: “Lord” here is the same word as Jehovah/Yahweh in the Old Testament.
One of the most unique and enduring ideas that Christianity offers to other cultures which have recognized the fallen(/tragic) nature of humankind, is the manner in which this divinity-humanity gap is to be bridged: “the gap is not crossed by the human becoming divine but by the divine becoming human” (p. 55). This condescension of God represents God’s response to our suffering, and this is the essence of Christian salvation.
Jim next offers a fascinating discussion regarding the tension between the spirit and the body (pp. 56-58). The gap between divinity and humanity is parallel to the tension we often experience between the spirit and the body. So, Paul’s description of Christ being God’s (spiritual) son, but also “the seed of David according the the flesh” already suggests the manner in which Jesus Christ stands as a kind of bridge between this gap between spirit and body, on the one hand, and divinity and humanity, on the other (Jim also discusses this on pp. 64-65 in the context of “the Son of God” in v. 4).
The mention of David, who represents a golden age for the Kingdom of Israel, makes me wonder about the relationship (and tension) between God’s heavenly kingdom and earthly kingdoms (a tension I obliquely referred to in my previous post on Jim’s introduction). It seems that God’s kingdom on earth represents a particular kind of reconciliation of differences and tensions that we face in modern society and diverse communities. I continue to be intrigued with these tensions, and I am particularly interested in how God’s word can play a role in establishing this kind of communal reconciliation.
(My thinking is that even though we are all different from each other, when we read a single text, we are united in a way that is analogous to the way choirs and orchestras unite in singing a particular song together, even though different voices, parts, and instruments are used. In a sense, I think something similar occurs when we understand Christ’s calling as a type of our own calling, and we enact the same “music” by taking upon ourselves the name of Christ. Compare Jim’s discussion of Paul’s call as a type of Christ’s call on p. 60.)
Jim shows how verses 3-4 can be read chiastically (pp. 69-71). On this parsing of the verses (which differs from the structure inherent to the Joseph Smith Translation, as Jim points out), the center of the chiasm is the beginning of verse 4: “who was declared to be the Son of God in power.” Jim spends a fair bit of time effectively discussing his alternate translation of this important phrase.
Jim’s rendering of verse 4 is as follows:
but who was powerfully appointed to be the Son of God, in other words, he was appointed according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead (namely Jesus Christ our Lord).
The word “appointed,” in Jim’s translation, invokes the same Greek root as the word “separated” in verse 1 (p. 59). Again, on my reading of these verses, there is a very strong emphasis on the power of God’s word to effect a separation between what is worldly versus what is heavenly (or holy). Given the title of Jim’s book, this mention of Christ’s appointment “according to the spirit of holiness” will surely prove very important to our unfolding understanding of (Jim’s understanding of) Paul’s message.
Jim provides a very nice discussion of the contrast between a modern vs. ancient Greek conception of perfection (pp. 60-63). This discussion serves as a means for Jim to provide us with his commentary on Paul’s conception of holiness. I think it resonates quite nicely with Jim’s lengthy discussion of the term slave/servant/bondsman in verse 1. Basically, Jim argues that being perfect entails doing that which we are appointed to do. This is a rich conception, and I think it’s the crown jewel of this week’s reading.
Jim goes on to offer a very nice discussion of possible alternate understanding of the phrase “according to the spirit of holiness” (pp. 65-68) In the same spirit of the richness afforded by digressions, that I referred to in the beginning of this post, Jim suggests that the the “indeterminacy of this verse is not a defect, but a blessing” (p. 68). Jim’s discussion of these indeterminate meanings is also quite rich, and further discussion of those issues here would surely prove interesting and fruitful. But, alas, I’m already late posting this, and modern (and scientific…) demands on my time require that I end the discussion here.
What are your thoughts on this week’s reading?