Reading Romans Backwards: Solving Conflicts Christologically

During the summer I was leading a Bible class at church using Scot McKnight's book Reading Romans Backwards.

McKnight's argument in the book is that when we read Romans "forward," starting in Chapter 1 and going through to Chapter 16, we are often tricked into thinking that Paul wrote Romans as a treatise on systematic theology. What we miss in this reading, argues McKnight, are Paul's acute pastoral concerns. If we read Romans "backwards," starting with Chapters 12-16, we come to appreciate how Paul's theological discourses in the early parts of Romans are setting up Paul's pastoral vision for the Roman household churches.

What were the pastoral problems in the Roman household churches?

Not surprisingly, there were conflicts in Jew/Gentile relationships, the issue Paul was dealing with in almost every church he planted. The specific issue in Rome seems to be that the early Jewish converts in Rome had been expelled by the emperor Claudius (see Acts 18.2). In their absence the Gentile converts began to assume control over the house churches. When Nero allowed the Jews to return, the Jewish Christians came back to find themselves marginalized and displaced, and also very uncomfortable with a Gentile church life that had eschewed Jewish customs, traditions, and observances. You see this conflict in Romans 14.1-15.13 when Paul discusses issues related to food and the celebration of holy days.

What Scot's book brought home to me was how Paul approaches these conflicts. Specifically, Paul solves the conflicts Christologically rather than Biblically. Paul doesn't make a Biblical argument to settle the differences between the two groups, setting out who was "right" and who was "wrong." Rather, Paul lets the groups keep their different opinions but asks them to adopt a Christlike posture, and it's this posture, rather than a Bible verse, that resolves the conflict. Disputes are resolved relationally rather than doctrinally.

This Christological approach to resolving conflicts is summarized in Romans 15.7: "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you."

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply