Notes on The Deliverance of God: Part 9, The False Gospel, Con't

Dr. Campbell sent me the following comment regarding the last post in our series. It was too long for the comment box so I'm going to reproduce it here in full. Note, this isn't a carefully crafted guest post. It's just a quick comment that Dr. Campbell thought the readers here would find helpful. I, for one, appreciate any help we can get around here! The comment:

Sorry, just got to this today. Thanks for the excellent post as usual Richard. That Colbert clip is just inspired. If only I could embed something like that in the book!

It's important to grasp clearly that Paul is running a reduction/reductio in 1:18-3:20 in my view. So he's effectively pinning his opponent in terms of his opening rhetorical salvo--a fire and brimstone piece.

The way he does this is very clever. "If you (i.e. the opponent) say that all the pagans are damned by a just God for their sins, then you need to play by the same rules. And this has devastating consequences for Judaism, which presumably you (the opponent) still care about. It strips away YOUR special treatment." So this move places his opponent on the same playing field as his target audience--desert. Paul isn't himself committed to desert. But he's making his opponent abandon his double standard. If you attack other people for doing certain things, then when you do them you're going to pay the same price. (If you attack people for reading off teleprompters, then you shouldn't read off notes written on your hand...)

Then Paul strips away any ethical effectiveness from the Law--certainly it's not automatic. Then he does the same for circumcision--that doesn't necessarily help (as the Teacher probably thought it would, by snipping off the sinful impulse). These are the Teacher's key gospel components for Christians: you still need to do this stuff to be good and get judged righteous on the day of Judgment. (Note the Pharisees' position in Acts 15.)

Then, with all his advantages--Law, circumcised desires--stripped away, Paul hits his opponent with a massive attack in terms of deep sinfulness. His opponent believes in the Scriptures. A truck-load of them now hit him with assertions of sinfulness.

At this point the opponent MUST be damned in terms of his own saving system! You wanted to be declared righteous--truly righteous, all the way down--on judgment day by accepting Jesus and getting circumcised and then observing the Law. You didn't make it. You can't make it. In terms of your own saving system, you're doomed.

Hoist by his own petard, as the saying goes.

The upshot of this reading in Rome is that anyone who arrives preaching this sort of gospel--turn to circumcision, and the law (and a bit of Jesus) or be damned--will be laughed at by the Roman Christians because they already know that this gospel doesn't save anyone, in terms of its own assumptions, including the person preaching it.

The advantages of this construal of Romans 1-3 today are that it takes Paul's own commitment away from the initial premise of desert, and the conversation is no longer about Judaism. (Paul has a very different view.) It's an ambivalent and rather confused Jewish Christian gospel--a bit of Jesus, a bit of Law.

We are also still VERY close to the text. We're not challenging any widely accepted interpretations (unlike the sociological boundary marker crowd, e.g.).

This reading has been lost to the church quite quickly in my view because nothing is more dependent on extra-textual cues, and so fades faster over time, than a satirical subversive piece. Think of how much sense we'll be able to make of Colbert just a few decades from now. (How long will we laugh at jokes about teleprompters?!) We've been off the original Roman scene for two thousand years. We don't even know what the Roman sense of humor was now.

Having said this, none of the modern prevailing readings of Romans are close to the standard reading of Romans through most of church history. The conventional reading was developed in the 1500s. So it was lost for quite a while too. In other words, all us modern readers and rereaders face the same difficulty here. And I think my reading has a better explanation concerning its original loss.

Well, a long post but hopefully helpful. This is really the crucial exegetical locus for the entire project. I hope you find it convincing.

It does solve all our problems, so at least that can be said for it as against the other readings I know about.
Let me conclude by adding that what I didn't get into in my last post is just how many of the problems of Justification Theory are overcome by the rhetorical reading. For example, we noted a variety of textual overdeterminations in a prior post, anomalies in the text that Justification Theory cannot easily accommodate. For example, we noted that Paul seems to have an odd relationship with the Wisdom of Solomon in 1.18-32, seemingly endorsing the condemnation of the Gentiles and then questioning that indictment as hypocritical. We can now see, in light of the rhetorical reading, how this oddity is explained. The condemnation of the Gentiles under a principle of desert isn't Paul's gospel at all. This also explains the problems, under the conventional reading, involving the turn in 2.1. Recall, under the conventional reading the "harsh judge" of 2.1 is taken to be a personification of Judaism. But we've seen how such a reading is too hyperbolic to have been an effective indictment of the Jews. Was Paul just an inept preacher? Now, in light of the rhetorical reading, we see that Paul isn't taking aim at Judaism en masse. Rather, Paul has a particular group of people--the Judaizing teachers--in mind.

Beyond these textual issues, the rhetorical reading also resolves many of the intrinsic, systematic and empirical difficulties we have discussed. For example, we've discussed at great length the odd difference between the moral codes believed to be operative for Jew and Gentile (Torah for one and natural law for the other). In the rhetorical reading this difference goes away as an inconsistency (or hypocrisy) within the false gospel. Consider also the empirical difficulty of Paul's relationship with Judaism. Recall, under the conventional reading the Second Temple Jews are taken to be--the lot of them--perfectionistic legalists. This is a problem in light of what we now know, empirically, about Second Temple Jewry: They were a lot more complicated than we had imagined under the conventional reading. In light of the rhetorical reading, this problem evaporates. Paul isn't taking aim at Judaism generally. Paul's condemnation of desert ("righteousness by works of the law") is a fight against a particular false gospel. Paul isn't characterizing all Jews. He has a particular false teaching in mind.

I could go on. But the main point to take with you (if you don't read the book) is that many of those problems we noted about Justification Theory evaporate under the rhetorical reading.

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12 thoughts on “Notes on The Deliverance of God: Part 9, The False Gospel, Con't”

  1. The Ebionites were known to be sect antithetical to Paul. It seems likely that this is the group he was attacking.

  2. Richard,

    Thanks for doing this series of posts. The radicalization of sin by Augustine and justification theory gives on the one hand and takes away with the other. Paul tells us that sin is real but it cannot be ritualized away. In Paul's Gospel, Christ is victorious. We, who who died to sin in Christ, were entombed with Him, and raised to new life with him, are victorious--along with faithful Israel. God has done something new, powerful, and fulfilling in Jesus. No need now to make Gentiles minimal Jews nor, especially this: God the bad guy or Satan more powerful than God.


  3. Would it be fair to assume (I hate that word) that, in any ways that Paul might have confused his Roman readers, if they had any confusion at all, that those matters could have been cleared up in discussions after he got to Rome (Acts 28:30-31), discussions of which we have no record?

  4. Doug:
    very cool,
    spot on,
    "so far so good".

    there is a little story behind the phrase of "so far so good"
    there was a guy laying at the base of the tallest building in the world.
    (no he did not have a para-sail on).
    anyway as the story goes,the investigators wanted to find out if anyone had talked with him or remembered seeing him while going to the top of the building.
    they just could not find anyone that he had spoken to.
    ONE GUY,
    and he had a big office located around the half way point of this mile high building,which also had a balcony which he said he was standing on, the same time this guy went by on the way down,and he said he heard the man yell as he went by,
    ALTHOUGH i am now very interested in how you hold that point of view together and it will or should as close chapter three unless,yes unless,
    you are still caught up in the traditional hermeneutic.... and at ROM.3:26 you still must say anything other than ...
    "That HE MIGHT BE
    just and the justifier of the one who is
    YA KNOW DOUG gal 2:19-20
    I died to the law so that I may live to God. 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ,59 and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. N.E.T. bible trans

    blessings all
    Rich Constant

  5. p.s. please
    Tne finail nail,to my comment above.
    gal.3:23 Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed.

  6. I'm still a little confused about the ''hoisted on your own petard'' part. What was Paul saying that his opponents were doing wrong and what did they need to do to be saved/

    Or why was accepting Jesus AND following the law not good enough for salvation/

    My keyboard is messed up, sorry for the typos.

  7. Talon,
    I believe Paul addresses your question more directly in his letter to the Galatians. If an individual who believed in Christ's saving work also happened to follow the works of the Jewish Law - this was not a problem. The problem was when this individual made following the Jewish Law a requirement for their own or anyone else's salvation.

    This would mean putting faith in some alleged "saving" ability of the Law AND denying Christ's work apart from the Law. And this is the false gospel that hounded Paul's missionary work in quite a few places. So it is not surprising that he would spend considerable effort trying to nip-it-in-the-bud in Romans rather than being entirely "reactive" as in Galatians.

    Because of this mutual exclusiveness, it really isn't a question of "good enough". For Paul, one implication of trusting in Christ's work meant dying to the Law in the sense of dying to the counterproductive treadmill of trying to follow the law (any law) for the purpose of attaining Favor or purging past mistakes when the Law has no [ultimate] provision for that sort of thing and it was likely responsible for pointing out your mistakes in the first place.

    I realize this is quite "conventional", but should not be undermined by this reading.


  8. Carl,
    interesting phrase this "Christ's work apart from the Law."
    i have a question.
    did Jesus merit life from doing the works of the Torah,perfectly.
    or does salvation by grace through faith hold as the way the Christ initiated.
    please don't say he fulfilled the law.

    this is an either or question.
    there is only one answer.
    the problem is getting rid of the Jewish teaching of the 2ed cent.

    that would be by skirting the issue.

  9. I'm somewhat confused by the question or what you are driving at. Since Jesus IS life, HAS life a-priori...I'm thinking he didn't have much need to merit it. So choice one is on some shaky ground.

    Can you explain what 2nd century Jewish teaching has become a problem for your question?

  10. *chuckle*

    He couldn't resist taking a shot at Mrs. Palin, could he?

    Birds of a feather...!

    In any event, this is a fascinating exegesis. I wonder if an average reader of the original manuscripts (i.e., in scriptio continua) would have made the necessary and rather complicated inferences?


    qb, who speaks from notes but not a script

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