In The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, Douglas Campbell proposes a rereading and thus a new interpretation of Romans 1-4.
In his book, Campbell reveals 56 problems with what he calls “the conventional reading” that essentially define the standard historic Protestant doctrine of justification by faith. He makes more than a plausible case that his reading makes good sense and virtually nullifies the problems encountered in the conventional reading.
In short (very short, as Campbell’s book is 1,218 pages with over 200 of those pages being end notes) he believes that Paul is refuting a false teacher who has possibly already been through Rome or is on the way. Paul cannot immediately make it to Rome, and as such crafts an incredibly effective letter employing some of the best rhetorical skills available.
As such, after a brief introduction, Paul begins with a parody or “speech-in-character” (Greek προσωποποιία)of “the Teacher” a well-known and employed rhetorical device. The Roman church would have recognized the shift in character as the letter was read to them and readily sensed the tension between Paul and the Teacher. This sets the stage for the Roman Christians, as they have not yet met Paul, and perhaps have not yet met the Teacher soon to arrive.
In beginning Romans this way, Paul can deal with the Teacher on his terms, under his controlled medium of writing, without fear of jeopardizing his own reputation by simply speaking negatively about his opponent.
So, here is a basic outline of Romans 1-4 as proposed by Campbell:
- Introduction (1:1-15)
- Transition to body of letter (1:16-17)
- The Teacher’s Rhetorical opening (1:18-32) (The Teacher speaks in parody)
- Paul’s universalization (2:1-8) (Paul’s response – Round 1)
- Awkward implications for the Teacher (2:9-29) (Paul – Round 2)
- The taming of the Teacher (3:1-20) (Paul – Round 3)
- Atonement and justification (3:21-26)
- Reconsider our forefather (3:27-4:25)
In comparison, here is how the conventional reading plays out:
- Description of the solution in thesis (1:16-17)
- Statement of the problem (1:18-3:20)
- Description of the solution in thesis (3:21-31)
- Authoritative scriptural attestation to that solution (4:1-25)
- Description of the solution in thesis (4:25)
It should be made clear that Paul views the Teacher’s gospel as false and antithetical to the gospel he preaches. He believes it to be so dangerous that he sends this letter as a preemptive strike to soften the ground among the church in Rome until he can arrive hoping that they not buy into this false teaching.
As such, there is a major paradigm shift in attributing Romans 1:18-32 to the gospel of a false teacher!
Indeed, many in the Protestant or Evangelical camp believe these verses to be some of Paul’s best and most definitive teaching.
There is much more that could be written and discussed on this, and I will have more posts developing these ideas.
I would like to see what your initial thoughts and reactions are to this interpretation. I ask you to read through Romans in your Bible and consider if it makes sense.
As usual, comments, critiques, concerns and cheers are all anticipated and accepted!