Six Major Theses of Richard Longenecker’s Romans Commentary

Posted by on 04/23/2018 in:

6 Major Theses of Richard Longenecker's Romans Commentary

The Epistle to the Romans (NIGTC) by Richard Longenecker is truly the work of a lifetime. This volume has been in the works for several decades; the introductory material alone was enough to fill a 500-page book (Introducing Romans, 2011). Now the commentary itself is finally here, and it’s sure to be a standard reference work for decades to come.

Richard N. Longenecker

The following are six major theses for the volume identified by Longenecker himself, who presented them at a book launch at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, where he is professor emeritus of New Testament.

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THESIS ONE

Believers in Jesus at Rome in Paul’s Day Looked to the Mother Church at Jerusalem for their Christian theology, piety, and ethics.

While Jewish believers in Jesus were undoubtedly in the majority when the Christian gospel was first accepted at Rome (with some Gentiles being won to Christ through their witness), after the restrictions on the Jews imposed by Emperor Claudius in A.D. 41 and Claudius’ Edict of A.D. 49 that expelled “all” (or at least a great number) of Jews from Rome, Gentile Christians became more prominent in the Christian meetings of the capital city of the Roman Empire. So Paul considered the believers in Jesus at Rome as being within his Gentile ministry.

Thus as Raymond Brown has argued: rather than trying to determine the theological character of the apostle’s addressees at Rome on the basis of ethnic origin, “the crucial issue is the theological outlook of this mixed Jewish/Gentile Christianity” (Antioch and Rome).

And as Brown (along with others) has concluded:

(1) for both Jews and Christians at Rome, “the Jerusalem-Rome axis was strong,”

(2) “Roman Christianity came from Jerusalem, and indeed represented the Jewish/Gentile Christianity of such Jerusalem figures as Peter and James,”

(3) both in the earliest days of the Roman church and at the time when Paul wrote them, believers at Rome could be characterized as “Christians who kept up some Jewish observances and remained faithful to part of the heritage of the Jewish law and cult, without insisting on circumcision.”

Or as Joseph Fitzmyer has described the character and concerns of Paul’s addressees: “Roman Christians seem to have been in continual contact with the Christians of Jerusalem” — further, their form of the Christian faith “seems to have been influenced especially by those associated with Peter and James at Jerusalem, in other words, by Christians who retained some Jewish observances and remained faithful to the Jewish legal and cultic heritage without insisting on circumcision for Gentile converts” (Romans).

THESIS TWO

Paul had at least five purposes in writing to the believers in Jesus at Rome:

A First Major Purpose:

To give to the believers in Jesus at Rome what he calls in 1:11 his “spiritual gift,” which he considered was something uniquely his to give them (cf. his reference to “my gospel” in 16:25; see also 2:16) and which he felt they needed to understand if he and they were to “mutually encourage” one another (cf. 1:11-12) — and which he evidently wanted them to know in order that they might understand more accurately and more appreciatively what he was proclaiming in his Christian mission to pagan Gentiles.

A Second Major Purpose:

To seek the assistance of the Christians at Rome for the extension of his Gentile mission to Spain (cf. 1:13; 15:24), which desired assistance should probably be understood as including both their financial support and their willingness to be used as a base for his outreach to the western regions of the Roman empire — just as the believers in Jesus at Antioch of Syria had assisted him and served as the base for his outreach to pagan Gentiles in various eastern regions of the Roman empire.

A Prominent Auxiliary Purpose:

To defend himself against certain criticisms of his person and various misrepresentations of his message that the Christians at Rome seem to have heard from others (and possibly somewhat believed), with the intent that the believers in Jesus at Rome would properly understand his person, his ministry, and his message, and so would assist him in his outreach to pagan Gentiles.

A Further Important Purpose:

To counsel regarding a certain dispute that had arisen among the Christians at Rome, who evidently, on one side of the dispute, called themselves “the Strong,” while on the other side of this dispute there were other Christians who were being called “the Weak” (evidently by the so-called “Strong”), either within or between various house churches at Rome — as Paul does in 14:1–15:13 (and seems to recall in the further admonitions given in 16:17-30a).

Another Significant Purpose:

To counsel regarding certain attitudes of the Christians at Rome with respect to the city’s governmental authorities and the responsibilities of believers in Jesus to pay their city’s taxes and revenues — as he does in 13:1-17.

THESIS THREE

Paul writes to the Christians at Rome in a manner that rather closely corresponds to a “Logos Protreptikos” form of ancient philosophical letter writing (that is, a “Word [or, ‘Speech’] of Exhortation”) — as proposed and developed principally by Klaus Berger, Stanley Stowers, David Aune, Anthony Guerra, and Christopher Bryan.

As David Aune has aptly identified the contents of ancient “Speeches of Exhortation”: “They characteristically consist of three features:

(1) a negative section centering on the critique of rival sources of knowledge, ways of living, or schools of thought that reject philosophy;

(2) a positive section in which the truth claims of philosophical knowledge, schools of thought, and ways of living are presented, praised, and defended, and

(3) an optional section consisting of a personal appeal to the hearer, inviting the immediate accepting of the exhortation” (Westminster Dictionary).

THESIS FOUR

Paul in Romans sets out for his readers

(1) three major “Body Middle” Sections (i.e., 2:16–4:25; 5:1–8:39; 9:1–11:36), each of which sets out the Gospel for three somewhat different types of people (Jews, pagan Gentiles, and a body of Jewish and Gentile believers) all of which is followed by

(2) a fourth major “Body Middle” Section (i.e., 12:1–15:33) consisting of general Christian ethical exhortations that the apostle had evidently proclaimed in his earlier Christian mission to pagan Gentiles — together with a further section of exhortations having to do with how believers in Jesus should live together in their respective Christian congregations.

THESIS FIVE

In the four sections of the apostle’s “Word/Speech of Exhortation” in the “Body Middle” of Romans 1:16-4:25, 5:1-8:39, 9:1-11:36, and 12:1-15:33 Paul uses material that he had previously preached

(1) to Jews (in 1:16–4:25),

(2) to Gentiles without any Jewish contacts or instruction (in 5:1–8:39), and

(3) to mixed congregations of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds at Syrian Antioch (in 9:1–11:36) — as well as in the fourth ethical section of the letter (I.e., 12:1–15:33) he contextualizes the Christian Gospel both generally and then quite specifically.

THESIS SIX

In these contextualizations of the apostle’s letter to first century Christians at Rome, Paul is both

(1) encouraging believers in Jesus today to do likewise in their Christian thinking, lives, and ministries, and

(2) setting out paradigms for our doing similar in our own philosophical and cultural situations today.

LEARN MORE

The New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) is available inside the Olive Tree Bible App. Head on over to our website to learn more about this resource!

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