Before going on to Part 5 of The Deliverance of God I thought I would try to give you the "big picture" of Romans 1-4. That is, how does the rhetorical reading work if you read Romans 1-4 straight through?
What follows is the entire text of Romans 1-4. Most of the text is from the New Revised Standard Version. However, when Douglas Campbell provided his own translation in The Deliverance of God I use his wording over the NRSV. I also tried to consistently follow Campbell's understanding of critical phrases or words. For example, "faith in Christ" is translated as the "faithfulness of Christ." As a single word "faith" is rendered as "trust" or "faithfulness." The words "justification" and the "righteousness of God" are translated as "liberation" or "deliverance." The reasons behind these choices are argued for in The Deliverance of God and I refer you to the book for details. Beyond translation I've also added extensive "Reader Notes" so that you can track the rhetorical give and take going on in Romans 1-4.
My hope is, if you read this through, that you'll walk away with a clearer sense of how Campbell thinks Romans 1-4 should be read. This reading is, as you will see, something completely different when compared to the conventional reading.
The Setting of the Letter to the Romans
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.The core of this false gospel is that, in the words of Acts 15.1,"unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." More specifically, these Jewish-Christian teachers preach Torah obedience to Gentile Christian converts. Although these Jewish-Christian teachers preach "Christ crucified" they have failed, according to Paul, to recognize the apocalyptic and cosmic implications of the Risen Lord. These Jewish-Christian teachers likely believe that the death of Jesus functioned as a "more perfect sacrifice" which decisively ended the era of cultic sacrifice within Judaism (cf. the book of Hebrews). Thus, while this "gospel" proclaims "Christ crucified" it is not thoroughgoingly Christological. According to the Jewish-Christian teachers Torah obedience (moral performance) is what saves you.
For Paul, the gospel of the Jewish-Christian teachers is not Christian enough. Christ merely ends cultic animal sacrifice at the Temple which, admittedly, does allow Judaism to be proclaimed to the Gentiles as the cultic life of Israel is no longer tethered to Jerusalem. But this narrow focus on the cultic aspects of Jesus' death fails to understand the liberative and pneumatological implications of Easter Sunday. By focusing narrowly on the death of Jesus the Jewish-Christian teachers have missed what, for Paul, sits at the core of the Christ-event: The ontological deliverance witnessed in the resurrection. For Paul, Torah obedience cannot save us if we are disconnected from the animating life of the Holy Spirit and remain ontological captives to the Powers of Sin and Death. Thus, Paul comes preaching a fully Christian gospel, one that proclaims the deliverance of God. The death and resurrection of Christ did not merely end temple sacrifice (although it did that), it made us a New Creation. Our ontological status has been fundamentally altered. Paul's gospel is the proclamation of this good news.
The Opening of the Letter
Paul opens his letter keen to highlight how the resurrection is critical to his gospel, particularly in its pneumological implications (the power of the Holy Spirit). This is the feature of the Christ-event notably absent from the gospel of the Jewish-Christian missionaries.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God's will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you--or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that 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 I have among the rest of the Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish--hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
After his opening remarks Paul offers a prelude to his gospel. Paul again highlights the Christological, martyrological, and resurrection themes through a reference to Habakkuk 2.4. Specifically, the "faithfulness" of Christ ("the righteousness one") is vindicated at the resurrection: This righteous one, because of his faithfulness, will live. In this Christ "reveals" the "righteousness of God."
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who trusts, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the deliverance of God is revealed through [Christ's] faithfulness for [our] faithfulness; as it is written, "The one who is righteous, through faithfulness, will live."
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God's decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die--yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them."
The Teacher's smooth talking opening salvo is completed and the rhetorical flourishes that set this speech apart from the surrounding text now stop. Paul's voice, thus, reemerges to turn upon the Teacher. Argumentatively, Paul will show that the Teacher is morally culpable in light of the very criterion (soteriological desert) the Teacher has just applied to the pagans. Paul's argument has three moves which culminate in a Scriptural broadside. The crux of Paul's argument is this. The Teacher believes that Torah obedience is the path to salvation (a righteousness that is based upon works). Without the law, the Teacher believes, we will fall into pagan depravity (see his opening speech on this score). Thus, the Jews, who have the law, are morally and eschatologically privileged relative to the pagans. That is, the Torah lifts the Jews, morally speaking, above the pagans and this superior moral performance gives the Jews an advantage before a God of retributive justice at the final Judgment. Consequently, it makes sense that if the pagans want to enjoy a similar happy fate at the Judgment they need to obey the Torah. This is the Teacher's "good news." However, Paul is about to argue that the Teacher is fundamentally mistaken on this score. The Jews have followed the Torah but they are, morally speaking, no better than the Gentiles. Thus, when they stand before a God of retributive justice at the Judgment they will enjoy no advantage. All stand condemned before this God under this soteriology (a righteousness of moral desert). It is important to note in all this that Paul is showing the internal inconsistencies within the Teacher's gospel. The God of retributive justice and the soteriology of desert are the gospel of the Teacher. Paul here adopts those propositions only to show that they lead to a dead end: Universal condemnation.
Move 1 Against the Teacher: Paul universalizes the Teacher's principle of desert, applying it to both Jews and Gentiles:
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. [Teacher] you say, "We know that God's judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth." Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one's deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.Move 2 Against the Teacher: The principle of desert, when applied universally, negates the soteriological "advantage" of the Jews over the Gentiles:
There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. God is not impressed by appearances.Move 3 Against the Teacher: Paul then asks the Teacher to apply the principle of desert to himself:
All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who [will be] righteous in God's sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified--[for] [w]hen Gentiles, who do not possess the law, "do" instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves; [t]hey show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them--on the day when God will judge the secret thoughts of all (according to my gospel, through Jesus Christ!).
But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself ? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."
Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart--it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.
Paul: What [then] is advantage of the Jew? Or what benefit of circumcision?At this point in the argument Paul has performed a kind of a reductio ad absurdum, a demonstration that the Teacher's gospel leads to a contradiction (i.e., you can't claim Jewish advantage and preach a soteriology of desert). To finish off this assault upon the Teacher Paul fires a volley of Scripture to show, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jews have no ethical or eschatological (i.e., final Judgment) advantages over Gentiles:
Teacher: Much in many respects! First, it is not that they have been entrusted with the very utterances of God?!
[Paul has gotten the Teacher to admit that being a Jew is an ethical and eschatological advantage. Paul then proceeds to question the soteriological principle of desert--the core of the Teacher's gospel--in light of this advantage. In short, if God honors this Jewish advantage isn't God being unfair to the Gentiles? That is, doesn't the principle of desert demand a level playing field?]
Paul: So what?! If some were untrustworthy, will not their untrustworthiness nullify the trust of God?
Teacher: Absolutely not! Let God be true though every person is false, just as it is written "...so that you might be judged righteous in your words, and blameless when you are judged."
Paul: But if our inequality highlights God's equality, what then shall we say? Is it not unjust of God to pour out wrath on us? (I am of course speaking from a human perspective.)
Teacher: Absolutely not! Indeed, how will God judge the world (if that is the case)?
Paul: But if by means of my falsehood the truthfulness of God overflows to God's glory, why then am I still condemned as a sinner?--and even as we are slandered, and as some report us as saying, should we not do evil so that good can came!?
Teacher: ...Whose judgment is positively deserved!
Paul: What shall we say, then? Are we advantaged?
[Paul forces the Teacher to face the fact that if God judges us with a criterion of desert then there can be no advantage to being a Jew. Desert, the criterion used by the Teacher to condemn the Gentiles, erases the Jewish advantage. By definition. Thus, the Teacher must admit...]
Teacher (admitting defeat): Not in every respect.
[Thus, the Teacher has contradicted himself. He started this exchange by insisting that there was an advantage to being a Jew. And now, playing by his own rules (i.e., insisting on a criterion of desert), he must admit he was wrong.]
[Moreover] we have [together, by reading Scripture] charged all publicly, both Jews and Greeks, of being under the power of sin, as it is written:
"There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one."
"Their throats are opened graves;
they use their tongues to deceive."
"The venom of vipers is under their lips."
"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery are in their paths,
and the way of peace they have not known."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Having reduced the Teacher to absurdity, Paul now anticipates the presentation of his own gospel in Romans 5-8. This is a gospel that proclaims the "righteousness of God." For Paul the righteousness of God is God's liberative act in Christ which rescues a helpless and powerless humanity. In short, the "righteousness of God" proclaims "the deliverance of God" through the work of the faithful Christ. Thus, the language of faith, justification, righteousness, and redemption are interpreted in Christologicial and liberative terms.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For "no human being will be liberated in his sight" by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
But now, apart from law, the deliverance of God has been revealed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the deliverance of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who trust in God. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; but they are now liberated by his grace as a gift, through the release that is in Christ Jesus, whom God intended to be an atonement by means of Christ's faithfulness, by means of his blood. God did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine mercy he released us from the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous because he liberates the faithful Jesus.
Having listened to, rhetorically speaking, Paul's gospel of "faith," the Teacher's voice reemerges with some criticisms. Is Paul really eliminating a works-based righteousness? The source of Jewish moral pride ("boasting") in relation to the pagans? Yes, Paul is rejecting this works-based righteousness. The Teacher goes on to suggest that Paul, by proclaiming this gospel of faith, is dismissing the Torah and the promises made to Abraham to whom the promises were made via the covenant of circumcision.
Teacher: Then what becomes of boasting?
Paul: It is excluded.
Teacher: Through what sort of Torah--a teaching of works of law?!
Paul: No, but by the Torah of faith. For we hold that a person is liberated by faithfulness, apart from works of law.
Teacher: Or is not God the God of the Jews only?!
Paul: Is he not also the God of the pagan nations?
Teacher: Yes, he is also God of the pagan nations.
Paul: If God does in fact delivers the pagans "through faithfulness," [i.e., through Christ] then he is indeed the God of the pagan nations as well as the God of the Jews.
Teacher: Do we then overthrow the Torah by this faith?
Paul: By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the Torah.
Teacher: What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?
The Teacher has brought up the story of Abraham to refute Paul's gospel of faith. Were not the promises given to Abraham marked by the covenant of circumcision? How, then, can Paul dismiss circumcision? Paul takes up this challenge and shows his exegetical skill. Paul shows how Abraham is actually a witness for Paul's gospel of faith. The Teacher is embarrassed once again. Even Abraham has turned against him.
The Teacher raised questions above about works, merit-based "boasting," and the law. Paul shows that Abraham had nothing to boast about. Abraham simply trusted in God's promise:
For if Abraham was liberated by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? "Abraham trusted God, and it was credited to him with righteousness." Now to one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who liberates the ungodly, such trust is credited with righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God credits as liberated apart from works:The Teacher also asked questions about the superiority of the Jews over the Gentiles. Aren't Jews privileged by God in salvation history? Paul uses Abraham to show him to be the father of the "circumcised" and "uncircumcised":
"Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not credit sin."
Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, "Faithfulness was credited to Abraham with righteousness." How then was it credited to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the deliverance that he had through trust while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who trust without being circumcised and who thus have deliverance credited to them, and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.Finally, the Teacher asked above if "faith" is nullifying the Torah. Paul shows in the story of Abraham that faith cannot make the promises made to Abraham "void":
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the liberation of trust. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, trust is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on trust, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the trust of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us).Having used Abraham to refute the objections of the Teacher Paul goes on to frame Abraham's faith Christologically. Abraham's faithfulness is but a shadow or prefiguring of the faithfulness of Christ who was vindicated at the resurrection. Specifically, the promise of Isaac--the son brought to life from the deadness of Sarah's womb--is the image of the Christ: the son raised to life on Easter Sunday. Once again Paul highlights the liberative themes of the resurrection.
As it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations." In the presence of the God in whom he trusted, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he trusted that he would become "the father of many nations," according to what was said, "So numerous shall your descendants be." He trust did not weaken when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faithfulness "was credited to him with righteousness." Now the words, "it was credited to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be credited to us who trust in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our deliverance.What we find in this reading is that there is no hint of a wrathful, retributive or perfectionistic God in Paul's gospel. These are aspects found only within the Teacher's gospel, the gospel Paul is rejecting point by point. In contrast to the Teacher, Paul is declaring the deliverance of God revealed by the faithfulness of the Christ. This deliverance frees us from the ontological bondage of Sin and Death. Humanity is now called to trust in the faithfulness of the Christ who secured our freedom.