Feast upon the Word Blog

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Romans: Calculus in the hands of Students struggling to Learn Basic Arithmetic

Posted by nhilton on October 17, 2007

“Romans is not a source of gospel knowledge for the spiritually untutored; it is not the initial place to turn to learn of Christ and his laws. In the hands of the sectarian world, Romans is a book on calculus in the hands of students who are still struggling to learn the basics of common arithmetic,”writes Elder Bruce R. McConkie in Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, vol. 2.  He continues, “Providentially, for this age, the Lord has given to his saints and to the world the Book of Mormon. This volume of holy writ sets forth in a pure, plain, and perfect way the true doctrines of Christ, so that those who have an understanding of its teachings are able to reconcile the difficulties and solve the problems of the epistle to the Romans.”

I have always found Elder McConkie’s assessment of Romans helpful in that it first excuses my tendency not to “get” much of Paul’s writing in Romans and second, is a promise that I can “get” Romans with the aid of the Book of Mormon. 

As I anticipate discussing Romans in Gospel Doctrine Sunday School class next week, I’m puzzled about just what to discuss.  The whole book in 30 minutes?  I’m dizzied at the thought!  Why would such a deeply doctrinal book be glanced over?  Is it that Mormons excuse themselves of the endeavor/adventure BECAUSE they have the Book of Mormon?  Or is it that the book is so convoluted that the common Sunday school class can’t attempt to mine it worthily?  Perhaps I should be grateful that Romans is restricted to just one class if we, as a group, couldn’t discuss it intelligently and for spiritual profit.  I wonder…who in the class will have ever read Romans, the whole of it.  Sure, there are some stellar phrases we’ve all heard and quoted, too often surprised to actually find them as we read Romans, i.e. Romans 1:16 or Romans 8:6, as if an A-Ha! moment has presented itself.  “Oh, that’s where that cliche comes from,” we might silently say to ourselves. 

I am also intrigued by the fan club Romans can boast.  Augustine, in 386 AD, is said to have been sitting in the garden of a friend, weeping, as he considered making a radical change in his life.  The words of a young neighborhood child singing a tune reached his ears, words which invited him to “Take up and read.”  He took up the scroll nearby, a scroll which contained these words from Paul’s Roman epistle:  “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof”(Romans 13:13-14).  Augustine later wrote about his response to these words:  “No further would I read, nor had I any need; instantly, at the end of this sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away (Confessions, viii.29).  The impact which Romans would have on Augustine, and the impact which Augustine would have on the world, can still be seen.

Likewise, in November of 1515, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk who was a professor at the University of Wittenberg, began to expound the Book of Romans to his students.  The more he studied the Epistle, the more he recognized that the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith was central and crucial to the argument of the Epistle.  In Romans Luther found the rationale to break with Catholicism, an eventuality of vital importance to the furtherance of the Lord’s work on earth. 

Over two-hundred years later, John Wesley was transformed by this same Epistle.  Calvin said of it “when any one understands this Epistle (Romans), he has a passage opened to him to the understanding of the whole Scriptures.”  Coleridge pronounced Romans “the most profound work ever written!” Meyer considered it “the greatest and richest of all the apostolic works.”  Godet referred to it as “the cathedral of the Christian faith.” 1 (BTW, none of these critics had the Book of Mormon as commentary or reference, FWTW.)

Wow.  And we’re going to chew it up and swallow it in less than an hour?  O.k. 

Paul quotes or references a plethora of Old Testament scriptures as he makes his points to the Romans.  It seems appropriate then, that we further Paul’s effort to communicate the gospel doctrine found in Romans by linking his teachings with those corresponding teachings found in modern-day scripture, specifically the Book of Mormon. 

So, the point of my post is…an invitation to you to help connect doctrine found in Romans, including specific passages/verses, to clarifying teachings found in the Book of Mormon. 

Perhaps as you’ve studied Romans you’ve come across difficult passages that you’ve found clarified in the Book of Mormon.  Would you share these?  THANX!   I think this is a worthy effort and perhaps the best thing we could do in Gospel Doctrine class:  To show how Paul’s writings in Romans are supported and clarified by the Book of Mormon.  As I’ve said a hundred times before, the best commentary on the scriptures is…the scriptures!

27 Responses to “Romans: Calculus in the hands of Students struggling to Learn Basic Arithmetic”

  1. Robert C. said

    nhilton, I think Romans 4-8 (7-8 in particular) are a fascinating vis-a-vis 2 Ne 25:25:

    For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.

    As I understand Paul’s view, very roughly, he is arguing that the law, if improperly understood, is death—because, essentially, it does not lead to Christ and the Spirit. But, if properly understood, the law is life, through Christ and the Spirit.

    I’d be a little cautious about simply talking about how the BOM sheds light on Romans, since I think this could result in members being more dismissive of Romans. Rather, perhaps you could talk about how Romans helps us understand BOM themes better, as well as the Gospel itself better, as sort of a way of whetting the appetites of members to study Romans more carefully. I have found some really amazing commentaries on Romans by non-members that are, frankly, much more helpful in terms of learning the Gospel than commentaries on LDS scripture (although I eagerly anticipate Jim’s new volume on Romans!). That is, there have been centuries of scholarship written on Romans and, although a lot of it might be a bit off the mark in light of modern day Church revelation, I think we have a tendency to be far too dismissive of lots of amazing work—and instead, we settle for something like McConkie’s commentary. I don’t mean this as a criticism of McConckie, but rather high praise for much of what I’ve found elsewhere (I’ve been reading a fair bit of James D. G. Dunn, and I highly recommend his work).

    Unfortunately, I think that, as you lament, with only 1 week given to Romans, it is very hard to motivate members who like to dabble in Biblical scholarship (like me!) to really dig into the text of Romans, let alone spend much time on Romans scholarship. But I do think it’s worth making a plug anyway….

    (Cool colored fonts by the way!)

  2. BiV said

    nhilton, just want to say this is a fantastic idea and it has inspired me to dig into Romans (and the Book of Mormon) right away in preparation for our next SS lesson!

  3. Todd Wood said

    The whole book in 30 minutes? I’m dizzied at the thought!

    I leaped from my chair in reading this today!

    With our church family, the written words of the book grasped us for four years in formal study, and I still feel like I am on the first page in ascending the mountain of God’s righteousness and glory.

  4. nhilton said

    Just wanted to alert people to an article by Jim F. in “Allegory of the Olive Tree: The Olive, the Bible, and Jacob 5 by Stephen D. Ricks, John W. Welch.” Titled “The Olive Tree and the Work of God: Jacob 5 and Romans 11,” by James E. Faulconer. I’m not sure how to link you to it since I accessed it through my subscription to Gospelink.com via Deseret Book. But, FWIW, you’ll know it’s out there for you to find for yourself. :)

  5. nhilton said

    Here is the first of my contributions to clarification of Romans through the Book of Mormon:

    Justification: By Grace or Works? Romans 1:17+ clarified by Alma 41:3-15
    Synopsis from “Book of Mormon: The Keystone Scripture, by Paul R. Cheesman”

    “What must one do to stand justified before God? Does one seek God’s favor through fasting, prayer, and rituals? Or are such to be eschewed in favor of the doctrine that “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17)? Such was the issue over which the Roman Catholic Church and Martin Luther did battle. Of this struggle one noted scholar wrote: “This doctrine of justification by faith has divided the old unity of Christendom; has torn asunder Europe, and especially Germany; has made innumerable martyrs; has kindled the bloodiest and most terrible wars of the past; and has deeply affected European history and with it the history of humanity.” Paul Tillich, The Protestant Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 196, as cited in Sidney B. Sperry, Paul’s Life and Letters (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), p. 172.)

    And what does the Book of Mormon have to say on a matter of such doctrinal importance? No answer is more effective than Alma’s instruction to Corianton. Burdened with sin, Corianton was greatly agitated over the requirements of salvation. His father Alma taught him the principle of “restoration,” declaring that “it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil” (Alma 41:3-4). “The meaning of the word restoration,” he said, “is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful” (Alma 41:13). The principle is immutable. Alma instructed his son to see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again. For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all (Alma 41:14-15).

  6. nhilton said

    Todd, understandably without the aid of the Book of Mormon it would indeed take four years plus to surmount the doctrine found in Romans, thus the ongoing confusion mentioned in #5. Thanks be to God for sending a decoder: The Book of Mormon. He truly loves His children!

  7. Joe Spencer said

    Hmmm. I’d put it this way: while it would take us an eternity to look at the Book of Romans in anything like a comprehensive manner, the existence of the Book of Mormon multiplies the complexity and length of the task many times, rather than reducing it.

    The Book of Mormon might well make Romans more accessible, but it does not for that reason simplify the task of reading. Rather, the task becomes all the richer/more difficult.

  8. Cherylem said

    While I appreciate N Hilton’s take on this lesson, I also think it is wonderful to “hear” Paul’s voice through Romans. Once we start comparing doctrine with the BOM, I believe Paul’s voice is basically lost . . . so I would be careful in that regard.

    I especially like Paul because he wrote so early in the Christian era. Romans was written in 57. It is so exciting to have this writing from that time period . . .

    Also, one of the reasons we find Paul so difficult, and Romans especially, is because we’re still stuck in KJV. The language, in some places, is impossible to understand in archaic English.

  9. Joe Spencer said

    Hmmm. Cheryl, I think I’d have to disagree with you, if I’m understanding what you said, that is, which I’m not convinced I’m doing. Are you saying that Paul and the Book of Mormon generally disagree “doctrinally”? I’ve actually been more and more struck by how Pauline the Book of Mormon is! Especially the writings of Nephi.

    I highly recommend a handsome little book called Saint Paul: The Foundations of Universalism by Alain Badiou. As an uncommitted atheist, he has no axe to grind theologically, and, while I don’t think the book is best read for this purpose, it is a fascinating read for a Latter-day Saint because of how often his work on Paul sounds like a good commentary on the Book of Mormon.

    Anyway. Couple thoughts.

  10. cherylem said

    I thought I would enlarge my comment a little more. I think, Nhilton, you are presenting one of the most wonderful things about the BOM – the way it explains and clarifies doctrine. I would most certainly enjoy being in your class and find that discussion edifying. (I am afraid I sounded dismissive.) I think what you are suggesting would take hard work on your part and a lot of study, and hopefully you will get some further good points here.

    I am just jealous for Paul. I am afraid that I would leave such a class thinking about the BOM and not thinking about Paul. And he gets such short shrift in our four-year reading program.

    But I would enjoy your class, very much. So go with your inspiration and trust your gut!

  11. cherylem said

    No, Joe, #9, I do think they agree and explain each other. I think NHilton is right about this. I wrote hastily.

    Thanks for the book recommend.

  12. Jim F said

    I’m less sure that the letter to Romans and the Book of Mormon agree. Like Joe, I’ve been impressed by how often the Book of Mormon and Paul are teaching “the same thing.” Like Cheryl, I admire the way Nanette plans to use the Book of Mormon to help her fellow saints see that there is no contradiction between Romans and the Book of Mormon. That is an important work in a society that too often sets them against one another.

    However, it seems to me that we ought not to reduce any scriptural writing too quickly to a set of doctrines that they teach. Doctrines are always taught in a social and rhetorical context that is an important part of the meaning of the writings in which they occu. To pull a doctrine from its context is not to falsify it, but it is to make it more abstract, to move it away from the act of teaching to theology or philosophy. The scriptures are most often very concrete, and it as concrete meanings that I most often find them meaningful to my concrete situation.

    So, though I agree that the Book of Mormon can help us when we are stuck (and I especially agree with Cheryl that the KJV and our inability to read archaic English is as much the problem as anything else), I also think that we ought not to too quickly move to the merely doctrinal level, the level at which the prophets all teach the same thing. (If that were the important level, then we would need as scripture only one, thin book with a list of doctrines.)

  13. cherylem said

    Well said. Ah. Well said.

    Thank you.

  14. Robert C. said

    I’d like to add my amen to Jim’s #12. Although perhaps a somewhat subtle point, at least I would’ve thought this was subtle point a year or two ago, I’m really appreciating how much of a difference this difference in view makes, that is, to take a concrete rather than abstract approach to scripture.

    I think there’s a useful analogy that can be made with interpersonal relationships: no one likes to be stereotyped, and when we reduce scriptures to abstract doctrines, I think it’s tantamount to stereotyping the scriptures—which, to tie this back to Paul, is precisely why I think the law is dead when it is reduced to a legalistic, letter-of-the-law interpretation rather than spiritually pointing toward Christ.

  15. AHLDuke said

    I too think its a travesty that we are expected to delve into something as complex and rich as Romans in a single class. This might be a little off topic, but if I had to give a fellow Saint advice on how to better understand Romans for the upcoming SS class, the first thing on my list would not be the BoM. It would be a modern translation of the Bible.

  16. Matthew said

    Todd #3, I think you would agree that there is something one can do of value in 30 minutes in discussing Romans. Obviously one can do a lot more with 4 years and more still with an entire lifetime. That said, I wouldn’t claim that with the aid of the Book of Mormon, I could in 30 minutes of study understand Romans better than someone who earnestly studies it for 4 years.

  17. BiV said

    Here’s what I found last night:
    Romans 1:20 clarified by Alma 30:44 and Moses 6:63
    Romans 2 clarified by Moroni 7–especially the idea that with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged (Rom 2:1-2) and the Spirit of Christ is given to every man (Rom 2:15)
    Romans 3 clarified by 2 Nephi 2:5-10. Compare Rom 3:19-20 with 2 Ne 2:5; and Rom 3:23-24 with 2 Ne 2:6.

    Still working on ch 3. This is going to be so much fun.

  18. Robert C. said

    BiV, I think this first set of verses that you’ve linked together (Rom 1:20; Alma 30:44 and Moses 6:63) is remarkably rich—here’s a link to them side-by-side.

    Adam Miller has a forthcoming book that takes up Roman 1:20 in a remarkable way. When Pauls says that “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen,” Adam takes this as a manifestation of God’s power that is given to everyone. That is, the fact that we exist is, itself, a manifestation of grace. So, even if we don’t believe in God per se, there’s a sense in which we must believe in some sort of grace that allows our existence, or we are simply blind and ungrateful. This initial manifestation of grace, taken as the “eternal power” of God, must be the basis of our relationship to God—this is what we are left “without excuse” to acknowledge, the fact that our very existence is a gift from God, and a manifestation of God’s power. And so, in verse 21, when Paul condemns the unrighteous by saying “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful,” it is this lack of recognition of God’s invisible power which is made manifest in the fact of our own existence, as well as the existence of all of creation, that is being denied.

    Whereas Paul takes this idea and goes on to work out the implications for thinking about grace and our relation to the law, I think BiV’s suggestion to think about this in light of Alma’s discussion of Korihor’s denial of these kinds of signs, as well as thinking about sign-seeking more generally, would indeed be a very exciting undertaking.

    One thought for now is how this makes me think about looking for manifestations that have already been given of God’s grace, rather than looking for new signs. I think this insight that Paul gives us is esp. helpful in terms of thinking about how to read Alma 32 more carefully: faith, then, is the opposite of sign-seeking in that it is the recognition of signs that have already been made manifest. That is, perhaps we should be thinking of Alma’s comparison of the seed which grows as a growth that takes place in a way that is already entirely given, a sort of spontaneous, dialectic growth that takes place as soon as we plant the seed. Whereas I think this is typically read in terms of us planting the seed and then God causing the seed to grow by giving us, say, a new spiritual confirmation through the Holy Ghost that it is true, I am suggesting that this growth happens spontaneously because in giving place to the seed we thereby begin to recognize the manifestation of God that is already all around us, and it is this recognition is both the growth of the seed and our recognition of that growth. Is this difference making any sense to anyone?

  19. Cherylem said

    #18 Robert.
    This makes good sense. Good thoughts to chew on.

  20. Joe Spencer said

    Robert, I like this tie-in with Alma 32. It seems especially interesting in light of Alma’s arguments with Korihor: you have had signs enough, yet will deny. Interesting that the word “signs” is at the heart of the creation story in Genesis 1: on day 4 (Paul Beauchamp nicely argues that this is the center and point of the whole story… see Ricoeur’s article on the subject in Figuring the Sacred) the luminaries of the heaven are set for signs. It is common enough in commentaries to point out that the passage is to be compared with psalm… which is it?… anyway, where the heavens and the stars are a sign of God’s everlasting love, etc. (104?). Interesting place to begin thinking about signs and creation.

  21. Robert C. said

    Joe, thanks for the tip regarding “signs” in creation, I’d never really noticed that. This idea and the Beauchamp article will likely be very helpful for my Reading Abraham paper.

  22. nhilton said

    Ah…, everyone offended by the tandem reading of Romans with the BofM, sorry. But every 4 years Romans gets a tip of the hat in GD & this is how I’m going to approach it THIS year. I feel particularly responsible to do this…perhaps there’s a need within my class. I don’t think I’ll do it well, however, since I’ve started so late. Thanks to BiV & ya’ll’s follow-up to her thoughts, I will do better. PLEASE, continue to make these links for all of us, as you have time & inclination.

    My 18 yr. old came home from seminary today & expressed her disgust for the OT. Can you imagine?! :) She was disgusted at the favoratism Jacob showed Joseph, the polygamy and unhappy marriage situations of Jacob’s wives, etc. She said she didn’t think it was right or true. We spoke for a while on these subjects. I first communicated to her my love of the OT. Then, I pointed her to the fact that other scripture can comment on the topics she’s reading about in the OT to help her digest them and determine where God stands on those issues–help her see the justice & goodness of God. Here is an example where scripture (other books) commenting on scripture IS helpful.

    Jim #12 & others, I appreciate your desire not to censure scripture but to maintain its integrity and voice. However, I also believe Romans is a good candidate for qualification through the BofM. Obviously I’m not alone in this opinion as its backed up by an apostle whom I quote at the beginning of this post. McConkie may be outspoken, dogmattic & “in your face” at times, but he’s also right on. Ah…a lot like Paul. Clearly Paul gets a bad rap or Cherylem’s posts wouldn’t be drawing such an audience. As Paul is an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, we need to know where he stood on issues that are misconstrued through the remains of his letters. An untainted expose’ of the gospel, as evidenced in the BofM, is a good place to look for those things in which Paul believed and surely taught.

    Robert #18, fantastic thoughts here. Thank you! & Joe #20, I wish you’d write more about this–truly facinating! I am going to study this direction, as time permits, and add these cross references to my thought process. I think this link to Genesis is particularly relevant in that Paul so heavily resources the OT and has his audience constantly making mental references back to it.

  23. nhilton said

    AHLDuke #15, I agree with your suggestion in using other Bible translations. I’ve been promoting this throughout this year’s course of study to my students, as shown in my lesson notes at http://www.ponderpaths.com. However, it is likewise important, if not MORE SO, to use the LDS KJV simply if it is your vehicle to accessing the Joseph Smith translations of Romans. W/o the JST my understanding of Romans, even with more modern biblical translations at my side, would be utterly helpless. After first referencing the JST, I personally like the NIV & NET in grasping the language of Romans.

  24. BrianJ said

    nhilton, I agree with you: there is a time for taking on Paul alone and there is a time to read him in light of other scripture (including, but not limited to, the BoM).

    I am covering Romans Ch 1-5 tomorrow; I will cover Ch 6-12 next week. (That’s right, I am spending two weeks on Romans.) I will be referring to 2 Nephi 2:5-8 (all are cut off by the law) and Mosiah 2:21-24 (all are unprofitable servants/living through works just puts us in debt).

  25. nhilton said

    BrianJ, if you’re doing this in your GD SS class, how are you fitting in the rest of the lessons before the end of the year?

  26. s james said

    #15 #23 There is much discussion about Bible translation philosophies eg word-for-word vs thought-for-thought. A website that provides some basic comparative work in this area providing examples of meaning shifts can be found at http://evangelicalbible.com/why.htm#translation. (Adding a KJV column would have improved the comparison, though the ESV and KJV seem to be close.)
    The author makes the point that improving readability may put at risk doctrinal accuracy, and sever intended references to other scriptures, eg the KJV expression ‘fiery trial’ (1 Peter 4:12) is altered in the NIV to ‘painful trial’ the author suggests:
    ‘… the Apostle Peter may have intended the listener (reader) to understand the trial in light of Malachi, “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s’ soap.” (Malachi 3:2.)’ (ie the refining nature of trials). A couple of comparative examples from Romans are given.

  27. BrianJ said

    #25: I’m skipping the lesson on Acts 22-28. In fact, that still leaves me with one more Sunday—the very last Sunday of the year—which I plan to devote to an “Intro to BoM” lesson.

    There are 46 lessons, 52 Sundays, minus 2 GenCons and 2 Stake Cons = 48 class periods. That means two Sundays are “open.” My stake actually had three stake conferences this year, so that only left me with one “open” Sunday, but you should have two.

    (Not to belabor the point, but I switch up the lesson schedule about once every 4-6 months, for various reasons. Sometimes I want to spend extra time on one lesson, other times I think the order of the lessons doesn’t work for the points I plan to discuss—other times it’s just because I will be out of town for a lesson that I really, really want to teach.)

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