Monday, 16 October 2017

What Paul Was Really Saying

A question Paul was 'not' answering in Romans 9-11, was:
"Why do some individuals get saved, and others don't".
That's a question Calvinists disputed with Arminians about, some 15 or more centuries later.
But it wasn't an issue/question which Paul was dealing with in the first century AD, in this passage.
Paul's pet love was always the gospel - the church - and the unity of the faith and fellowship, in mixed Jew and Gentile congregations.
In order to procure and preserve that assuredness and unity, in most cities Paul usually had to deal with Jews who were pressuring Gentiles to become proselytes to Judaism.
But in Italy, in the city of Rome, the capital city of Caesar's empire, there was the opposite tendency: Gentiles having hardened feelings about Jews in general.
(Remember Claudius had previously expelled all Jews from the city. Even though by the time Paul was writing, Jews had filtered back into the city and back into the church there.)
So there's an underlying purpose which Paul had throughout chapters 9-11, and that was to pull the rug on any anti-semitic ideas which Gentile members of the church at Rome might have about Jews in general.
For example, the potential mis-notion that God thought so little about the Jews that He didn't even bother to fulfil His ancient promises to them (9:6); and
The mis-notion that God was basically finished with saving Jews (11:1);
And an attitude of arrogance towards Jews (11:18).
Those were the types of issues and questions which Paul said he was addressing, in chapters 9-11.
The question was not "Why do some individuals get saved, and others don't".
So everything Paul said in these chapters is to be understood as an answer to the issue he was really dealing with - not misunderstood as an answer to other questions which he wasn't asking!
Also, Paul was explaining gospel-truths with regard to Israelis - truths which were already working in the first-century AD. He probably wasn't issuing a prophetic forecast about Israel's future.
It pays to take note of a passage's own stated-questions and answers, rather than read the passage like its intended to answer other questions of our own asking.
It also pays to consider a passage by its place in the overall flow of the Epistle in which it's found, rather than in a vacuum like it isn't connected to the chapters before and after it.
And to consider any background information which the Bible gives us about the situation, from outside the Epistle itself, like from the Book of Acts for example.
When we do that, with Romans 9-11, I think we find it diffuses the whole controversy which Calvinists disputed with Arminians over.
It might also help eliminate some wacky ideas about Israel's future - ideas which really only became popular even later than the Reformation and which may have only stemmed from a mis-reading of the passage.
The simple message of Romans 9-11 was that the mixed Gentile/Jewish church at Rome could enjoy real unity, because God was into saving everyone, through faith, regardless of ethnicity, and without needing to become proselytes to Judaism.

No comments:

Post a Comment