Tuesday, January 03, 2012

a brief comment from Sam Williams

I am reading Sam Williams's classic essay, "The 'Righteousness of God' in Romans" (JBL 99.2 [1980]: 241–90) as I write on the vexed and vexing passage, Rom. 3.21–26. His discussion of the purpose and occasion of Romans in contemporary (in 1980) scholarship is still valuable, especially the tension that he manages without resolving between Romans as an occasional letter, on the one hand, and as a general expression of Paul's gospel, on the other.

But this comment, in which Williams notes Paul's mediating position between both ta ethnē (the nations/gentiles) and the Jews, seemed especially helpful:
In view of these concerns on Paul's part, we cannot avoid the impression that he is defending the conversion of the nations/Gentiles as a crucial part of God's eschatological plan at the same time that he is defending the Law and the specialness of the Jews. (248)

I think much of the Romans scholarship with which I am familiar has too readily read Paul as attacking rather than defending "the Jews" or, worse, Judaism, and fail to miss how often Paul comes to Israel's defense, especially in Romans. I have explanations for why texts like Rom. 2.25–29; 3.9–20; and others have been misread as anti-Judaic (or even anti-Semitic) rhetoric; I might put some of those explanations online at a future date. But for now the important thing to note is that this is a misreading, a failure to understand how Paul defends both the nations/gentiles as the objects of God's grace and Israel as the recipients of God's covenant.

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