Part 3 of The Deliverance of God moves us into the text of Romans. The focus of Part 3 is the reading of Romans 1-4. Campbell calls Romans 1-4 the Textual "Citadel" of Justification Theory. That is, the heart and soul of Justification Theory rests upon a particular reading of Romans 1.16-4.25. This stretch of text is where Justification Theory advocates believe Paul, in his most systematic theological treatment, lays the foundation of Justification Theory. Consequently, interpretations of outlying texts (e.g., Galatians) tend to be driven by the reading of Romans 1-4.
In short, Justification Theory stands or falls on the reading of Romans 1-4.
In Part 3 of The Deliverance of God Campbell gives us, first off, the reading of Romans 1-4 that is believed to support Justification Theory in the theology of Paul. After giving us this "conventional" reading, Campbell uses the rest of Part 3 to show us the exegetical problems of that reading. At the end of Part 3 it seems clear that Justification Theory isn't the best reading of Romans 1-4. Something is amiss in this reading of Paul. Way too many loose ends and internal contradictions.
Let me start where Campbell starts, with his overview of the "conventional" reading of Romans 1-4, the reading that is taken to support Justification Theory.
Campbell begins with what he calls the general structure of Romans 1-4, the conventional take on the various facets of Paul's argument in these chapters. This general structure has three parts:
- 1.18-3.20: The Statement of the Problem
- 1.16-17, 3:21-31: The Solution to the Problem (stated in thesis form)
- 4.1-25: A Biblical Example that Supports/Illustrates/Authorizes the Solution
1.18-3.20: The Statement of the Problem
Tersely, the problem of humankind is summarized in 3.23:
...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of GodBut to get to that conclusion Paul has to get both Jew and Gentile under the condemnation of God. To make this happen the conventional reading suggests that 1.18-3.20 is devoted to showing how the Gentile and Jew, each in turn, stand condemned before God. Paul starts with the Gentiles in 1.18-2.8 and then turns to the Jews in 2.9-3.9. By the time Paul is done both Jew and Gentile stand under God's wrath.
Importantly, Paul's indictments differ for both the Jew and the Gentile. Because, obviously, the Gentiles were unfamiliar with God's Law. If so, how could they stand condemned? According to the conventional reading Paul makes an appeal to natural theology, a moral law accessible to all human persons. This is nicely summarized in 1.20:
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.When Paul turns to indict the Jews he leaves natural theology behind and focuses on Torah obedience. The Jews are guilty because they failed to keep the Law. 3.20 concludes:
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.Having shown that both Jew and Gentile are guilty Paul concludes in 3.9b:
Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.1.16-17, 3:21-31: The Solution to the Problem
Having shown that both Jews and Gentiles stand condemned under natural or Torah Law what solution does Paul offer? According to the conventional reading the "solution" is given, in abstracted form, in 1.16-17 and 3.22:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."The gospel, then, is this: Having fallen short of perfect obedience and standing condemned before God the Jew and the Gentile can embrace "a righteousness that is by faith." That is, according to the conventional reading, 1.16-17 and 3.22 summarize the core claim of Justification Theory: Salvation is attained through "faith" in Jesus.
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
4.1-25: A Biblical Example that Supports/Illustrates/Authorizes the Solution
According to the conventional reading Paul then goes on to "authorize" and illustrate the gospel by citing the key human player in salvation history: Father Abraham. The argument is that Paul uses Abraham to make the claim that righteousness comes through faith. This is summarized in 4.1-3:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."The crux of the argument is that Abraham's "faith" was "credited" to him as "righteousness." In this Abraham becomes the primordial and paradigmatic example of all those who become "righteous by faith." As Paul concludes in 4.16:
He is the father of us all.
So this is the reading of Romans 1-4 that functions as the "Citadel" of Justification Theory. And Citadel is a good word. Because it looks like a pretty solid, obvious reading. And it is. No doubt this is why the reading has become so dominant and popular. But if you've read all the posts up to this point you know that there are a lot of problems with this reading. For example, don't you find it odd in 1.18-3.20 that God condemns humanity with two different rulebooks? Why give the Torah if natural law was enough to condemn humanity? Doesn't this make the entire "nation of Israel experiment" in salvation history somewhat irrelevant? Seriously, there is something deeply incoherent about this argument. Of course, Paul could have been making a bad argument. But we should also entertain the possibility that Justification Theory is importing these incoherences into Paul.
In the remainder of Part 3 Campbell goes back over Romans 1.16-4.25 with a fine toothed comb looking to see if Justification Theory really is giving a consistent and coherent reading of this text. More specifically, Campbell looks for two different kinds of problems. Both types of problems are a kind of mismatch between the Theory and the Text:
1) Textual Underdeterminations:With these two kinds of problems in hand Campbell goes through Romans 1.16-4.25 looking for these Text/Theory mismatches. By the end of Part 3 he reviews 35 examples of textual under- and overdeterminations.
Textual underdeterminations occur when the Theory says more than the Text. Justification Theory is based on some pretty critical assertions. We'd like to see those assertions baldly stated by Paul. Oddly, many of these critical propositions just aren't in the text. They have to be read into the text.
2) Textual Overdeterminations:
Textual overdeterminations occur when the Text says more than the Theory in a kind of "too much information" situation. This could be just noise in the text, but problems emerge when this additional information contradicts or undermines the conventional reading.
To give you a flavor of this work let me describe selected textual under- and overdeterminations for each of the main sections of Paul's argument. I've used two criteria for making these selections. First, not having finished the book I've guessed which over- and underdeterminations seem most "damning" and, thus, might be critical to Campbell's alternative reading of Romans 1-4. Second, some of these were selected because they are easier to describe to non-professionals (i.e., I understood them).
1.18-3.20: The Statement of the Problem
Textual Underdeterminations:1.16-17, 3:21-31: The Solution to the Problem
In condemning Jew and Gentile Paul never explicitly states the "perfectionistic criterion." This is odd because this facet of Justification Theory--God demands 100% moral perfection--carries such a heavy load in the theory. The perfectionistic criterion is the gasoline that makes the whole machinery work. Thus, it is peculiar that Paul never makes the claim outright.
Another underdetermination occurs in 2.1. After condemning the Gentiles in 1.18-32 Paul turns to argue with a person in 2.1:You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.In the conventional reading this "you" is taken to be a rhetorical device referring to Judaism as Paul switches from his indictment of Gentiles to his indictment of the Jews. However, Paul never explicitly equates the "harsh judge" of 2.1 with Judaism. This is an important underdetermination as there is considerable exegetical evidence to suggest that Paul isn't, in fact, referring to all of Judaism. Paul has a particular person (or persons) in mind.
There is wide agreement that Romans 1.18-32--Paul's attack on the Gentiles--is borrowing heavily from the Wisdom of Solomon. The Wisdom of Solomon is a Deuterocanonical book, a book considered canonical by the Catholics but not by Protestants. The Wisdom of Solomon is considered to be one of many Jewish "propaganda" books that rant about Gentile immorality. On one level the parallels between Romans 1 and Jewish moral propaganda isn't a big deal. But the question is raised: Why would Paul grab some Jewish moral propaganda in condemning the Gentiles and then turn right around and knock that argument down? That is, Paul quotes the Jewish indictment approvingly in Romans 1, but then turns harshly upon the judge making the indictment, suggesting that, what?, the indictment was in error? Overblown? That the judge is simply a hypocrite? In short, Paul seem to be shifting gears between Romans 1 and 2 in an odd way.
A different overdetermination centers on the turn in 2.1, when Paul turns away from the Gentiles to attack the "harsh judge." Who, exactly, is this judge? The conventional reading says that the "judge" is all of Judaism. But if this is so a Jewish reader can easily sidestep Paul's condemnation. Why? Because a kind, humble Jewish person could easily say, "I don't judge anybody." Surely this is a possibility. Jews and Gentiles mixed frequently in the days of Paul. Do we have to imagine that every Jew harshly judged their neighbors? That no Jew ever said, "You know, I'm no better than Joe, my Gentile co-worker."? This problem grows more acute when we look at how Paul characterizes the Jews in 2.21-22:You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?Surely there were Jews who could say to Paul, "I don't steal. I have been a faithful spouse. I don't rob temples." In short, if we equate the harsh judge of 2.1 and the sins of this judge with Judaism Paul is making a really bad argument. It's too crude and harsh. Recall, Paul is trying, according to the conventional reading, to bring the Jews under indictment. But Paul's argument is so full of hyperbole that no reasonable Jew would feel that Paul was speaking to them. Paul, basically, is a really lousy preacher.
But if we assume that Paul actually had a clue and was a pretty good preacher then we must conclude that Paul isn't aiming at Judaism in 2.1. But if Paul isn't railing against the Jews--generically speaking--in 2.1 who is this harsh judgmental Jew he is arguing with?
Finally, just when you think the Gentiles are these evil people, Paul, suddenly, revisits them in 2.26-29:If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.Hold on a second! Who are these Gentiles who "keep the law's requirements" and get "praise from God"? I thought getting praise from God for keeping the law was impossible?
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.
Textual Underdeterminations:4.1-25: A Biblical Example that Supports/Illustrates/Authorizes the Solution
In a prior post I noted the problems with the phrase pistis Christou. Should it be read as "faith in Christ" or "faith of Christ"? In a related way, the text never explicitly claims that faith is the action a person exercises to secure salvation. No doubt faith is associated with righteousness and salvation in the text, but the connection between faith and righteousness is vague. Nowhere does the text say "faith is what you must do to be saved."
Another underdetermination in this section is the absence of any discussion of Jesus' atoning or substitutionary sacrifice. This is odd as this is a critical feature of Justification Theory and it is conspicuously absent from its foundational text.
Consider again the critical thesis in 1.16:For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faithHow, exactly, can faith "reveal" something? Faith, according to Justification Theory, is an act of affirmation or assent to something that is already revealed. That is, the gospel is revealed to you and then you have faith in it. But 1.16 suggests that faith acts as a form of disclosure, where something previously hidden has now come into view. This "apocalyptic" (revelatory) aspect of faith strongly suggests that when Paul is talking about the relationship between faith and righteousness he's talking about something very different than what Justification Theory is talking about.
In the conventional reading Abraham is the paradigm of faith. But the texts fails to specify Abraham's life before faith. Presumably, Abraham's pre-faith life is supposed to be correlated with Phase 1 under Justification Theory: Standing condemned before God under the perfectionistic criterion. But Romans 4 doesn't present Abraham's journey to faith in those terms, making us wonder how Abraham makes a good illustration for Justification Theory's model of salvation.
The character of Abraham's faith in Romans 4 looks nothing like faith in Justification Theory. The entire description of Abraham's "faith" in Romans 4 looks a whole lot more like lifelong, persevering covenant "faithfulness." In short, Abraham's "faith" looks a whole lot like "works." It definitely doesn't look like there was one moment in time that functioned in an analogous way to the classic "accept Jesus into your heart" kind of faith that Justification Theory talks about.
The Citadel of Justification Theory has collapsed.
On to Part 4...