Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Romans 3:21-25a
"Good News for the Whole World (Part 1)"

[Crossposted to Street Prophets. The index for the series is here.]

I am using Carl Palmer's titles for these posts. The appropriate links are:

The text:

(NET) Romans 3:21 But now26 apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets)27 has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ28 for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified29 freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed30 him31 at his death32 as the mercy seat33 accessible through faith.34 . . .

26 tn Νυνὶ δέ (Nuni de, “But now”) could be understood as either (1) logical or (2) temporal in force, but most recent interpreters take it as temporal, referring to a new phase in salvation history.

27 tn Grk “being witnessed by the law and the prophets,” a remark which is virtually parenthetical to Paul’s argument.

28 tn Or “faith in Christ.” A decision is difficult here. Though traditionally translated “faith in Jesus Christ,” an increasing number of NT scholars are arguing that πίστις Χριστοῦ (pistis Christou) and similar phrases in Paul (here and in v. 26;
Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Eph 3:12; Phil 3:9) involve a subjective genitive and mean “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness” (cf., e.g., G. Howard, “The ‘Faith of Christ’,” ExpTim 85 [1974]: 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ [SBLDS]; Morna D. Hooker, “Πίστις Χριστοῦ,” NTS 35 [1989]: 321-42). Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when πίστις takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8; 12; 3:3; 4:5, 12, 16; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; Col 1:4; 2:5; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 10; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1 Pet 1:9, 21; 2 Pet 1:5). On the other hand, the objective genitive view has its adherents: A. Hultgren, “The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul,” NovT 22 (1980): 248-63; J. D. G. Dunn, “Once More, ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ,” SBL Seminar Papers, 1991, 730–44. Most commentaries on Romans and Galatians usually side with the objective view.

sn ExSyn 116, which notes that the grammar is not decisive, nevertheless suggests that “the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for the idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb πιστεύω rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful.” Though Paul elsewhere teaches justification by faith, this presupposes that the object of our faith is reliable and worthy of such faith.

29 tn Or “declared righteous.” Grk “being justified,” as a continuation of the preceding clause. Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.

30 tn Or “purposed, intended.”

31 tn Grk “whom God publicly displayed.” Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.

32 tn Grk “in his blood.” The prepositional phrase ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι (ejn tō aujtou haimati) is difficult to interpret. It is traditionally understood to refer to the atoning sacrifice Jesus made when he shed his blood on the cross, and as a modifier of ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion). This interpretation fits if ἱλαστήριον is taken to refer to a sacrifice. But if ἱλαστήριον is taken to refer to the place where atonement is made as this translation has done (see note on the phrase “mercy seat”), this interpretation of ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι creates a violent mixed metaphor. Within a few words Paul would switch from referring to Jesus as the place where atonement was made to referring to Jesus as the atoning sacrifice itself. A viable option which resolves this problem is to see ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι as modifying the verb προέθετο (proetheto). If it modifies the verb, it would explain the time or place in which God publicly displayed Jesus as the mercy seat; the reference to blood would be a metaphorical way of speaking of Jesus’ death. This is supported by the placement of ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι in the Greek text (it follows the noun, separated from it by another prepositional phrase) and by stylistic parallels with
Rom 1:4. This is the interpretation the translation has followed, although it is recognized that many interpreters favor different options and translations. The prepositional phrase has been moved forward in the sentence to emphasize its connection with the verb, and the referent of the metaphorical language has been specified in the translation. For a detailed discussion of this interpretation, see D. P. Bailey, “Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999).

33 tn The word ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) may carry the general sense “place of satisfaction,” referring to the place where God’s wrath toward sin is satisfied. More likely, though, it refers specifically to the “mercy seat,” i.e., the covering of the ark where the blood was sprinkled in the OT ritual on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This term is used only one other time in the NT:
Heb 9:5, where it is rendered “mercy seat.” There it describes the altar in the most holy place (holy of holies). Thus Paul is saying that God displayed Jesus as the “mercy seat,” the place where propitiation was accomplished. See N. S. L. Fryer, “The Meaning and Translation of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25, ” EvQ 59 (1987): 99-116, who concludes the term is a neuter accusative substantive best translated “mercy seat” or “propitiatory covering,” and D. P. Bailey, “Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999), who argues that this is a direct reference to the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant.

34 tn The prepositional phrase διὰ πίστεως (dia pisteōs) here modifies the noun ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion). As such it forms a complete noun phrase and could be written as “mercy-seat-accessible-through-faith” to emphasize the singular idea. See
Rom 1:4 for a similar construction. The word “accessible” is not in the Greek text but has been supplied to clarify the idea expressed by the prepositional phrase (cf. NRSV: “effective through faith”).

Biblical Studies Press. (2006; 2006). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.
My Comments: A quick review of the book up to now might be helpful:
  • 1:1-15 -- Introduction
  • 1:16-17 -- the theme of the entire book.
    16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”
  • 1:18 - 3:20 -- The first sharp turn in Romans. Paul goes in to a long explanation of why everyone, Jews and Gentiles, are "under sin" and subject to God's wrath. Indeed, Paul goes to great lengths to prove that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." One of the folks commenting on this section has gone as far as to suggest that Paul did not write a great deal of this section because it is such a sharp departure from the previous verses - and the ones we will now move into.
As Chris Thatcher (this weeks speaker) points out this passage, starting with "But now . . .", marks a another sharp turn, or hinge, in the book of Romans. Indeed, he states (and I agree) that if Romans had ended with 3;19 that this would be a supremely depressing letter that would not be in the Christian canon, and if it was would mark Christianity as one of the most negative, depressing religions on the planet.

Indeed, one of those commenting on the last section of Romans pointed out:
Other people like me let our conscience eat us alive from the inside out because when we read scripture like this that remind us how flawed we are already convinced. So to hear it from a source of authority simply consumes us.

And we don't get back up.

Some people will thrive on this and use the other chapters in the Bible to build themselves back up and make better people of themselves but with a newly polished mirror.

Other people, like me, like my father, listen to the reminders of how flawed we are, stare into that mirror long enough - and then out of guilt, frustration and desperation we smash our face right into the glass and the shards do the rest.
This is true of both followers of Christ and non-followers of Christ - and it comes partially, IMO, because we do not do a good enough job showing how God loves us despite our flaws. I will offer my bedrock set of verses from later in Romans that I use for this purpose
Romans 7:15-25 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
We all, Christian or not, have a body of "laws" - a morality - that we desire to follow. And, I am convinced, we are convicted by that body of laws - none of us live up to our own expectations. Paul sees this dichotomy in himself: as much as he loves God and wants to do right he still does wrong. Paul attributes this to our sin nature (the law of sin in our members) that actually wars with our own conscience and morality. It is not Paul who does wrong, but that law of sin residing with him in his body.

This is what Paul meant by us living "under sin" in the last section of Romans 3. Now the good news: just as, right after the Romans 7 passage quoted above, Romans 8 began
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh.
now Romans 3:21 continues
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.
Jesus is the rope thrown by God to drowning humans (or, to keep myself PC at Street Prophets - one of those ropes :-)). As Chris Thatcher said it, at the train wreck Paul outlines in the previous section - where every car and every passenger is involved - God shows up in the person of Jesus. Moreover, God shows up apart from any law or set of rules humans can follow - Jews and gentiles are equal.

Paul begins his primary view that the Mosaic law (or, IMO, any set of ethics and morality) does not make us righteous or even give us something to base moral superiority on; but actually should engender humility and make us realize that we are incapable of righteousness - these rules should teach us that we are incapable of following our own moral codes.

Not that Paul is talking about political entities here, but I think there is some application to political life as well. Folks, and countries, have underlying political ideologies along with moral ideas and rules in which they believe. These ideologies should also not engender pride or self-righteousness - but humiility - because people and countries do not follow their political ideals any better than folks follow their morals codes and laws.

From the notesheet: Question for individuals or groups --
  1. Describe your heart’s response to God’s revelation, rescue, and provision in Jesus Christ.
  2. Looking ahead in Romans, what are the implications for you if you now have God’s righteousness by faith in Christ and your sin is atoned for?
  3. If someone asked, how would you explain the gospel based on what we have covered in Romans so far?
Next: 3:25-26 -- "Good News for the Whole World (Part 2)"

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly