Romans 1:8-18 Relates to Entire Letter

Jun 30, 2008

Romans 1.8-18.pdf

I wanted to note that, although this section relates to the entire letter (cf. 21 Jun 2008 entry), this passage stands in its own right.  It has at least one chiasm and this covers what I have labeled as the 15:20-29 section.  Here Paul utilizes two themes hinted at in the very center of the chiasm (v12 “both yours and mine” - no rhetorical accident). These are the themes of (Paul’s) spiritual assistance & (Rome’s) material assistance.  This is good example of how chiastic structure (or any parallelism) can serve to clarify or confirm the meaning of its structural counterpart.  It becomes clear that, in return for Paul’s preaching of the gospel (spiritual assistance), the product of their faith he desires: the encouragement (v 12), and the “Fruit” (v 13), in Paul’s mind, is none other than the material assistance so clearly delineated in 15:20-29 (contra many sermons about a harvest of souls)!  

Note also that Paul parenthetically refers to his being hindered in coming to Rome in 1:13 and this is echoed and explained in 15:20-22. In all probability Romans was written from Corinth, which was St. Pauls’ furthest excursion into the western Roman empire thus far. Although he planned to head back to Jerusalem with the collection, he already had set his sights farther west – to go all the way to Spain by way or Rome. The church in Rome consisted of both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). He addressed both groups (e.g., Gentiles in Rom 1:5; 1:13-15; 11:13; 11:17-25; 15:15-16; Jews in Rom 2:17; 3:9; 4:1). In AD 49, Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome (including Jewish Christians such as Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2). Nero allowed their return after Claudius’ death in 54 AD). Jewish Christians began returning to Rome, including Paul’s co-workers, Aquila and Priscilla (Rom 16:3-5). The influx of Jews back into Rome may have caused some of the issues addressed by St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans (e.g., the strong and the weak in Romans 15). Perhaps Claudius expulsion of the Jews was one unstated factor that had previously prevented St. Paul from going to Rome sooner. St. Paul wanted and prayed “that I may now at last succeed in coming” to Rome (Romans 1:10). He says in Romans 1:13, “I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.” However, St. Paul was not twiddling his thumbs during those years. He was fulfilling his Gentile ministry. In the Romans 15 parallel, he explicitly states that it was his Gentile ministry that had hindered him from coming (that is, even after the Jews had been allowed to return). Rom. 15:20-22 says, “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus, I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand. This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you.” Thus, while previously, St Paul had no place in Rome because of his Jewish heritage, the situation has now, by God’s providence, been completely reversed. Now that he had fulfilled his Gentile ministry as far west as he has Corinth, he can, perhaps ironically, say, “I no longer have any room for work in these regions.” His plan, after delivering the collection, is: “since I have longed for many years to come to you I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain (Rom. 15:23-24). Of course, we now understand that was exactly what happened, yet not as St. Paul had supposed - as part of another missionary journey, but rather, as a Roman prisoner of Jesus Christ!

As a side note, the inter-relationship of each of Paul’s "Communication of the Gospel" sections in the letter as a whole can be interpreted by the structurally corresponding logic delineated in this section of the text as “cause/result” relationships that build upon one another. Note the causal use of gar (“for”) 4x in v 16-18. So, in 1:19, the chiasm turns on God’s righteous judgment on all sin (both of Jews & Gentiles) and this is the cause which provokes the resultant provision of God’s one-stop solution via righteousness through faith in the gospel.  This gospel, in turn, is the cause for the resultant salvation of all who believe (Jews and Gentiles). This successful gospel ministry and the obedience of faith was the cause for Paul’s resultant boasting (in Christ). The logic works in reverse for these immediate verses 16-18.