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The Life of Holiness, Romans 5:15-21 (pp. 254-270)

Posted by Robert C. on May 17, 2013

I will say a few words about the word “reign” as Paul uses the term (5:17) and as Jim discusses it, then I will make a few other miscellaneous comments about this week’s reading.

The Reign of Death vs. Reigning in Life (v. 17)

In Romans 5:17, Paul contrasts the reign of death brought about by Adam with the manner in which Christ’s disciples “shall reign in life.” I’m fascinated by Paul’s words here, and by Jim’s commentary. I’m not sure exactly why, but I’ll list a couple of possible reasons below.

1. Is Paul’s Jesus anointed? Doing searches for terms related to “king” in Paul’s writings, and looking through James Dunn’s The Theology of Paul the Apostle, I couldn’t find many references in Paul’s writings to Jesus’ kingship or Messianic(/anointed) aspect. Dunn notes that Paul seems to usually use the phrase “Jesus Christ” as though “Christ” one one of Jesus’ names rather than a title, though Dunn does provide a discussion of a handful of exception that prove the rule (pp. 197-199). In light of Paul’s apparent infrequent reference to Jesus’ role as the anointed king, it is curious that Paul nevertheless personifies death here, and contrasts this with the “reign” that disciples have in life.

(Might we imagine the disciple here as taking the place of the Messiah, as though each disciple takes the place of Christ who takes the place of Adam? This is particularly interesting to think about in light of the way we Mormons are apt to consider ourselves as Adam or Eve.)

I have a host of other questions with regard to how Paul conceives of Jesus as Messiah, and how Paul’s conception of eschatology might be understood in light of Old Testament conceptions of the Messiah—and, more generally, how all of this might be understood in relation to apocalyptic literature and imagery that emerged in the Old Testament and elsewhere in the New Testament. But, alas, I don’t have time to research this more or say much about it, except that these are questions that intrigue me and I’m anxious to more about them. (Any particular thoughts to add, or reading recommendations, anyone?)

2. Freedom. Jim’s discussion of “the freedom that comes from slavery to Jesus Christ” (p. 261) is fantastic.

This relates closely to an issue I’ve been thinking about a fair bit recently regarding premodern conceptions of agency. In modern times, we tend to think about freedom separately from conceptions of the Good. This contrasts with many premodern conceptions, or at least it differs from Aristotle’s conception. In The Retrieval of Ethics, Talbot Brewer argues, essentially, that the premodern/Aristotelian conception of the “right-structured soul” is a useful and worthwhile antidote to many problems associated with modern conceptions. On the premodern conception, which Brewer advocates, there is no deep tension between individual interests and communal interests, correctly conceived. Rather, misalignment between individual and communal interests undermine both.

I don’t think what I’m expressing here as a premodern/Aristotelian conception of agency, or individual and communal interests, should be very hard for Christian disciples to grasp. The point, which I think will continue to be a central topic of concern in Paul’s epistle and Jim’s writing, is that when we give ourselves over to the Gospel, we experience more peace and—in a seemingly paradoxical way—more freedom.

Even though this seeming paradox is not difficult for disciples to relate to, it is nevertheless difficult to articulate. The fact that Paul plays on this paradox suggests that the contrast I made in the previous paragraph between a modern vs. premodern/Aristotelian conception is too simplistic. Pual, after all, seems to presume some sort of counterintuitive reversal between freedom and slavery that it seems he expected to resonate with his audience. But, alas, I don’t have time to work more on this puzzle right now either (namely, the puzzling triangulation of modern vs. Aristotelian vs. Pauline conceptions, or relevant background presuppositions, regarding agency and freedom and their relation to each other).

Other Miscellany

Acquittal to Life (v. 18). Somewhat related to my questions and comments about Paul’s tendency to not talk about Jesus as the Messiah, it is worth noting that Paul does, however, have a robust conception of eschatology. And this conception of eschatology is closely linked to the new life brought about by Jesus Christ. In this light, Jim’s discussion of the various ways to understand the phrase “justification of life” (v. 18, p. 264) is fascinating.

Paul is a preacher note a theologian. Jim makes this excellent point on page 257. We often try to read Paul in a way that is too modern or systematic. In a similar vein, Jim writes on page 259 that Paul uses the term dikaioma (“justification”) in 5:16 because the word “sound[s] good together” with katrakrima (“condemnation”).

Causation and being responsible for our own sins. I found this discussion on pages 263-264 fascinating. Jim suggests that the phrases “made sinners” and “made righteous” in 5:19 invokes a premodern conception of causation that is more akin to explanation than how we tend to think of causation today, which is basically in terms of efficient causation. (I wish Jim had given a citation or reference regarding this, since I’d love to learn more about premodern conceptions of causation. Any recommendations, anyone?) In making his case, Jim claims, “it is clear from Romans 3 that Paul understands individuals to be responsible for their own sins” (p. 265). Since I’m quite interested in Christian conceptions of freedom and responsibility (as mentioned above), this sparked my interest, and I’m anxious to study this more (esp. in the context of Christian conceptions of responsibility, which I’m quite interested in as I have been slowly working through Ralph Hancock’s book, The Responsibility of Reason). Again, any reading recommendations or thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

What were you thoughts about this reading?

2 Responses to “The Life of Holiness, Romans 5:15-21 (pp. 254-270)”

  1. joespencer said

    Nice, Robert. I don’t have much to add, but I can provide a reading recommendation or two.

    You asked about Paul’s apocalyptic; I highly recommend Christiaan Beker’s Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel. It’s short, poignant, and provocative. And it’s based on his longer study of Paul, which I’ve not yet read, but is on my list.

    I don’t have anything in particular to recommend when it comes to pre-modern conceptions of causation, but I’m sure there’s plenty to read….

    I’m not expert on the literature on Christian conceptions of freedom and responsibility, but I have been reading Simon Critchley’s Faith of the Faithless lately, and his (lengthy) chapter on Rousseau and civic religion is fascinating and speaks to these issues. I think you’d find it rewarding.

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