We continue in Part 4 of The Deliverance of God walking through the second part of the rhetorical reading of Romans 1-4.
Recall, according to the conventional reading Romans 1-4 is a three-part argument:
1) 1.18-3.20: The Statement of the Problem:According to the rhetorical reading we described in the last post (and Dr. Campbell elaborated on in a comment), the ground has shifted dramatically beneath the conventional reading. Specifically, we reviewed how this reading affects our understanding of 1.18-3.20, the first part of the three-part argument according to the conventional reading. In the conventional reading Paul is using a principle of desert to indict both Jew and Gentile. Unfortunately, this means that Paul's gospel must begin with a wrathful, perfectionistic, retributive God. This God scares you from Phase 1 into Phase 2--faith in Jesus Christ--where God's mood is found to be suddenly (and puzzlingly) much sunnier. What a difference a day makes.
All--Jew and Gentile--have sinned and now stand condemned under the judgment of a retributive God. Generally speaking, 1.18-3.20 is taken to be Phase 1 of Justification Theory. That is, 1.18-3.20 is taken to be describing a "works-based" righteousness that is governed by a perfectionistic criterion. This produces universal moral failure leading to the conclusion that all stand condemned before God.
2) 1.16-17, 3:21-31: The Solution to the Problem (stated in thesis form)
Bookended around the indictment of Jew and Gentile is Paul's gospel. This is a "righteousness" that is obtained through "faith in Jesus Christ."
3) 4.1-25: A Biblical Example that Supports/Illustrates/Authorizes the Solution
To give biblical support and authorization for his gospel of "faith," Paul cites the faith of Abraham as the primordial example of salvation history.
According to the rhetorical reading, this confusing image of God--Is God wrathful or benevolent?--is imported into Christian theology by failing to understand what Paul is doing in 1.18-3.20. Paul is not, in point of fact, presenting "Part 1" of his gospel. He is, rather, presenting a "false gospel," one we see presented in a variety of places in the New Testament (cf. Acts 15), and then attacking this gospel using a rhetorical form known as diatribe (where a single speaker debates a position back and forth for the edification of the audience). According to the rhetorical reading, what Paul is actually doing in 1.18-3.20 is presenting the core of the "false gospel"--a rant against pagan immorality using the principle of desert--and then applying that same criterion (i.e., desert) to the Judaizing teachers themselves. When Paul is finished with this diatribe we see that the "false gospel" isn't good news at all. There is no ethical or eschatological advantage to being a Jew.
Having now walked through Paul's diatribe in 1.18-3.20, we now approach the second part of Romans 1-4 where Paul begins to speak of a "righteousness that is by faith." Under the conventional reading, 3:21-31 is taken to be the culmination of 1.18-3.20. That is, having described "the problem" in 1.18-3.20 ("all have sinned") Paul now gives his "answer" (foreshadowed in 1.16-17) in 3.21-31: "faith in Jesus Christ."
However, in light of the rhetorical reading, the pressures on 3.21-31 have lessened quite of bit. That is, under the conventional reading by the time we get to 3.21 we are expecting a Solution. This solution is then given in 3.21-31. But under the rhetorical reading the stakes aren't quite as high when we get to 3.21. Paul has simply shown the problems, inconsistencies and hypocrisies inherent in the false gospel. That is, when Paul has shown us that "all have sinned" he's not setting us up for the big home run hit. Not yet. All Paul has done by this point in Romans is show us that the "false gospel" is a non-starter: It leaves everyone condemned.
So yes, when we get to 3.21, we are looking for a hint of Paul's gospel but not much more than that. And this more modest expectation for 3.21-31 solves a bit of a puzzle under the conventional reading. According to the conventional reading, The Statement of the Problem takes up a full 63 verses (1.18-3.20). Paul's gospel, by contrast, takes up only 10 verses (3.21-31). Which is odd. Kind of lopsided, isn't it? Shouldn't the good news outweigh the bad?
So the rhetorical reading helps us see that the verses in 3.21-31 are not the full exposition of Paul's gospel but, rather, a bookmark and foreshadowing of the fuller presentation soon to come. Again, Paul isn't presenting his gospel in Romans 1-4. So where is Paul's gospel? Paul's gospel is in Romans 5-8. Thus, 3.21-31 is kind of a rest stop on the way to Romans 5-8. A teaser or preview if you will. This helps explains the brevity of this gospel presentation in relation to the condemnation offered in 1.18-3.20.
What this means is that 3.21-31 shouldn't be read backward into 1.18-3.20, as the "solution" to that "problem." Rather, 3.21-31 should be read forward as an anticipation of Romans 5-8. Having dismantled the "false gospel" by the end of 3.20 Paul pauses to give us a sketch of what is to come shortly.
***So what is included in the sketch--found in 1.17-18 and 3.21-31--of Paul's gospel?
First off, the text of 3.21-31 isn't completely transparent. Here is what the note in my Harper Collins Study Bible--New Revised Standard Version says:
This passage is theologically dense and syntactically awkward (smoothed in translation)...No kidding. I found large chunks of Chapters 15, 16 and 17 in The Deliverance of God pretty tough going. Lots of Greek and syntax discussion. Advice to non-professionals: Don't get discouraged. Skim where you must and read the various conclusions Campbell offers after his syntactical analyses. These summaries help you track the thread of his argument even if you can't read the Greek (which I can't). The "take home points" get summarized on pages 704-711. In fact, you might want to read that summary first and go back and forth between it and Chapters 15-17.
Let me try to sketch the important facets of the argument Paul is making, according to the rhetorical reading described by Campbell, in 1.16-17 and 3.21-31.
Here is the most important point: Paul's gospel is thoroughgoingly Christological. Paul's gospel does not center on human action or "belief" in any way. And this Christ-focus affects how we read critical phrases in Romans. Those who have read about the "New Perspective" on Paul (e.g., Hays, Wright, Dunn) are very familiar with this move.
For example, going back to my study bible, the NRSV renders 3.21-22a the following way:
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ* for all who believe.The two notes in my study bible associated with this text read as follows:
*Or through the faith of Jesus ChristSo if we plug in these preferable translations the verse reads as follows:
Note on 3.22: "faithfulness" is [the] preferable [translation]
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.This is a significant change. According to Justification theory my faith is the "key" that opens up salvation ("the righteousness of God"). But the syntactical variants we've just noted suggest a wholly new, Christological reading. It is the faithfulness of Jesus that discloses and reveals the righteousness of God. True, faith is the "mark" of the Christian community ("for all who believe"), but our faith doesn't reveal or disclose anything. Our faith is simply a participation in a reality created by the faithfulness of Jesus. Starkly:
Justification Theory: Our faith will save us (note the future tense)This change in translation (which my bible calls "preferable") drastically alters the reading of 1.17, the big kickoff. In the NRSV:
Paul's Gospel: Jesus' faithfulness saved us (note the past tense)
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith."Paul's quotation here comes from Habakkuk 2.4, which reads:
Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.We have typically thought that "the righteous one" here is you or I, human beings, who become "righteous" and "live" by our "faith." However, we should read this verse Christologically. This reading is supported by Hebrews 10.37-39 where the "one who is coming" is linked to the citation in Habakkuk. In short, "the righteousness one" is Christ and he is "alive" because of his "faithfulness." This is, as we will see more clearly in Romans 5-8, a reference to the death ("faithfulness") and resurrection ("alive") of Jesus, the core of Paul's gospel. Jesus' faithfulness in death was vindicated on Easter Sunday. This reading is also supported by Paul's opening salvo in the first verses of Romans (NIV, emphases are mine):
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.In short, the gospel has nothing much to do with us. The good news is that Jesus of Nazareth--through his faithfulness and vindication--is now declared to be both Lord and Christ.
***So the first thing to keep in mind about the rhetorical reading is that the gospel is about what Christ did and revealed, not what you or I do. No doubt, humans will need to "respond" to the gospel. But the "response" isn't a key to unlock a box. Rather, the gospel is the claim that you are already out of the box! This is revealed to you by the events of Easter Sunday. Look up, you've been sprung from jail. You don't need a key to get out. The door is already open. So, will you step out into the freedom and fresh air? Will you "trust" and "have faith" in Christ by participating in the the freedom he's created and revealed?
This is why Campbell titles his book "The Deliverance of God." The salvation of God is, at root, a liberation, a rescue operation, an emancipation proclamation.
This view of salvation radically alters our view of God. According to the false gospel we begin with a God of wrath. This how the Jewish Teacher begins his gospel in 1.18: "The wrath of God is revealed." Right above this, in verse 1.17, is the startling contrast of Paul's gospel: "The righteousness of God is revealed." By incorporating the false gospel Justification theory absorbs the wrathful image of God and, thus, distorts the liberative joy of Paul's gospel. Summarizing:
The Opening Salvo of Justification Theory: "The wrath of God is revealed!"
The Opening Salvo of Paul's Gospel: "The righteousness of God is revealed!"
***A critical phrase in Romans, then, is "the righteousness of God." What does this phrase mean?
An important moment, for me at least, occurs in 3.24-26 (NIV):
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.I'm not going to get into the "faith" language in this translation. We've already noted how this needs to be altered to mean "the faithfulness of the Christ." (Note to bible translators: I'd pay upward to $200 if you could get me an NIV or NRSV that make these changes in the main text. Can you publish one of these for us? There is a big market here if you'd pay attention.) My main concern here has to do with the word "atonement" and "blood." That is, this text seems to suggest a connection between "the righteousness of God" and this "atonement" and the "blood" of Christ. How does "atonement" relate to the "righteousness of God"?
Here is what is generally accepted. First, and most obviously, when we refer to the "faithfulness of the Christ" we are invoking his death upon the cross. This "faithfulness"--submitting to death--is vindicated on Easter Sunday.
Second, Christ's "faithfulness" and subsequent vindication is intimately involved with freeing us from sin. The sacrificial language in the text makes this clear, echoing the Levitical Day of Atonement sacrifice.
Beyond these obvious connections things get controversial and contested. In many conventional readings Romans 3.24-26 is taken to mean something like the following: The blood of Jesus "pays for" or "cleanses" our sin. This is the view of atonement captured by the notions of expiation and propitiation. Propitiation refers to making something propitious or favorable. That is, something that was an object of wrath or judgment is now considered to be favorable. Thus, propitiation involves notions of satisfaction or appeasement, disfavor or wrath is turned away and is replaced with favor. Expiation refers to making amends or the compensation for a wrong done.
Obviously, these notions tend to reinforce the notion that God's wrath is his primary characteristic. This would fit well with a gospel whose opening salvo is: "God's wrath is revealed!"
So how are we to understand the word hilasterion in this text, what the NIV renders as "a sacrifice of atonement"? Is a wrathful God being appeased with the blood of Jesus?
There is much I could review in Campbell's analysis, but let me highlight just a few points I found helpful and illuminating.
At root, Campbell argues that a heroic martyrological narrative sits behind Paul's use of the term hilasterion. This reading is supported by an examination of Maccabees 4 (Maccabees 4 is another Deuterocanonical book; get a good study bible so you have access to these books). The Maccabees were a group of Jewish rebels who were successful in freeing parts of occupied Israel. Many were martyrs. In short, the Maccabees were liberating heroes. This, obviously, is a better fit with the liberative thrust (the "deliverance of God") of Paul's gospel. Significantly, the deaths of these liberating heroes are connected with the word hilasterion in Maccabees 4 17. 20-22 (NRSV):
These, then, who have been consecrated for the sake of God, are honored not only with this honor, but also by the fact that because of them our enemies did not rule over our nation, the tyrant was punished and the homeland purified--they having become, as it were, a ransom for the sin of our nation. And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an atoning sacrifice, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been mistreated.Obviously, there are close thematic connections between Maccabees 4 and Romans 3.24-26. What these connections reveal is that hilasterion had a heroic, martyrological and liberative overtone. These martyrs, because of their faithfulness, were able to "purify" the nation by setting them "free" from an oppressive enemy.
In short, we don't need to read hilasterion as a reference to a bloody appeasement sacrifice. Rather, we can read hilasterion martyrologically, a reading familiar in Paul's time (cf. Maccabees 4), where the heroic faithfulness of Jesus cleanses us by setting us free from an oppressive enemy.
What Paul is doing here, according to Campbell, is co-opting the images of sacrifice for his own purposes. Again, Paul in Romans 3.21-31 is looking forward to the themes of liberation coming in Romans 5-8. Getting ready for his gospel Paul is reframing the notion of "sacrifice" in liberative terms.
Why would he do this? Because Paul's gospel is much more radical than the Roman Christians expect. The Roman Christians, raised with the notion of temple sacrifice, were very aware of how animal sacrifice appeased the gods. These were sacrifices to save us from our sins, lower case "s." But this, according to Paul, is such a thin view of salvation. Jesus wasn't just a really, really, really good sacrifice. A super-duper-sacrifice. No, Jesus' death and vindication did something more radical. Jesus reconfigured the cosmos! Paul is about to reveal this more radical gospel. And it's not just good news. That a super-duper-sacrifice has been offered (i.e., "Hey, guess what? You don't have to sacrifice animals for your sins anymore! Hooray!"). It is Really Good News. Jesus did more. The deliverance of God is to set us free from Sin, upper case "S." Sin as an oppressive ontological condition, the implacable enemy. This is the gospel Paul preaches in Romans 5-9, being set free from Sin and Death. Romans 3.21-31 is getting us ready for this more radical claim. That the death and resurrection of Jesus created a new reality. That Jesus has revealed the deliverance of God.