Douglas Campbell, Stephen Colbert and Katy Perry – Romans 1:18-32

So, what do Douglas Campbell, Stephen Colbert and Katy Perry have in common?  Read on and find out!

In Douglas Campbell’s book The Deliverance of God, one of the main propositions asserted is that in Romans 1:18-32, Paul is using a rhetorical device called “speech-in-character” or prosopopoeia – προσωποποιία (pgs 532-33) allowing Paul to create an opposing case in order to invalidate it and reveal the veracity of his own teaching.

Since many people, even in academic circles, are unfamiliar with this rhetorical device, Campbell goes to great lengths to explain and inform the reader just how effective this tactic could be when deployed in a New Testament letter.

The ramifications of this are incredibly significant.  In short, if Paul’s teaching is not present in verses 18-32 but it is instead something that Paul is refuting, then false teaching has been passed off as truth.  I will address the myriad of effects that this could cause in later posts.

I believe that Campbell makes a very strong case that Paul was using “speech-in-character” in Romans 1:18-32.  But I had a couple questions and wanted to dig a bit further, so I wrote to him in July of 2010 and asked the following questions.  He was kind enough to reply and also to give me permission to post up his responses here on my blog.

My questions centered around the historical interpretation of Romans.  Why wasn’t the correct interpretation passed down generation to generation in the church?  Why did the shift in interpretation occur?  To that, Campbell answered:

I think the shift happened as soon as the original situation was lost, when all the cues in context were lost. It’s a bit like watching a Stephen Colbert episode without knowing all about the politicians and issues that he’s making fun of. Satirical and ironic texts are very much creatures of the moment, and hence vulnerable to their loss of immediate context.

The church also didn’t generally pay much attention to contingency; this has only been recovered in the modern period.

The church has also, unfortunately, often had a theological viewpoint closer to Paul’s opponents than to Paul. Not all of the church, but a sizable chunk. So they wouldn’t detect a problem beginning with a harsh foundationalism. Sad but true. And this applies to certain Reformation readings as much as to certain Patristic and Catholic readings. The struggle for grace and against conditionality has gone on in every major church tradition right back to the inception of the church I fear. Paul understood grace, like Augustine, because he’d had a very very big involvement with sin. “He who has been forgiven much loves much.”

So, are you saying that the cues for any given document could be lost, yet the practice of προσοποποιια could continue and be recognized in later documents? (ie Origen’s responses to Celsus in The True Discourse)

You should be able to reconstruct prosopopoiia in a later historical critical reading. Also any irony or satire.

But prosopopoiia wouldn’t necessarily be coterminous with a local satirical target. Justin and Origen both wrote more generic texts than a Pauline letter.

It makes good sense to me that very early on the church lost Paul’s intent in Romans 1:18-32.

Consider that the use of the New Testament writings changed soon after their immediate use.  Romans for example was written specifically to the churches in Rome with a specific purpose in mind.  Yet, just a few generations later, that same letter was handled more like a theological reference as the churches began to universalize and solidify their beliefs and teachings, especially in refutation of error.  As such, much of the original intent and purpose was lost and the letter was read straight through as the teachings of Paul, and therefore the inspired Word of God.

The $20,000.00 question, then, is how does Campbell’s suggested reading affect a view of the book of Romans as the Word of God?  I do not see how it would change that in the least.  The only difference is that we would recognize that Romans 1:18-32 is a bad example of preaching, as the context or Romans 2-4 clearly reveals.

To that I say good riddance!  Seriously, take a look at this church billboard.  A modern-day manifestation straight out of Romans 1:18-32!  And we wonder how to be more effective at outreach…but that’s another post entirely.


Cursory Glance at Transitional Markers – Rom. 1:18

Over at Storied Theology blog, in his recent review of The Deliverance of God by Doug Campbell, Dr. Kirk stated the following:

Campbell suggests that the strong denunciations that begin in Romans 1:18ff. are not Paul’s own position, but the view of “a teacher” whom he is opposing. I just have a couple of thoughts on this, issues that need to be addressed before Campbell’s reading will be largely persuasive:

a. Campbell does not give a strong explanation of the γάρ (“for”) that begins a new “voice” in the letter. This is problematic not only because the connector seems to conjunct 1:17 and 1:18 but also because elsewhere in Romans the contrasting voice in a diatribe is clearly marked by rhetorical questions and the like.

And my initial response:

For me, the unanswered question regarding γάρ in 1:18 is could it be a verbal transitional marker for the reader as opposed to the typical grammatical function.

We know that γάρ is “one of the most common particles in the NT” and its “use in the NT conforms to the classical” (BDF 452), but is it plausible to see it as a transition to speech-in-character? Was such a thing done with γάρ – similar to speech transitions in Mark using ὅτι?


Campbell via Stowers states that the transition was typically both unwritten and nonverbal. With that in mind, is it not plausible to interpret the γάρ as an emphatic agreement and addendum to Paul’s intro regarding the gospel in 1:16-17? As though the Teacher was there, saying, “YES, and let me add…”

As this is a major transition according to Campbell, I will have more on this later…just wanted to share this to hopefully gain additional insight.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Rereading Paul – Romans 1-4

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:

  • Introduction(1:1-15)
  • 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!

The Problem With Old School Theology

I knew there was a problem with the old school Protestant System of theology!  I knew it!

For years I have said that this system, in various forms, essentially turns back to the old covenant for its foundation.  It is as though Christ is not enough.

Now, as I am reading Doug Campbell’s Deliverance of God, I see the arguments laid out with an incredible depth and clarity.  This old school system is bankrupt and lacks clear biblical warrant.  Indeed in some ways, it promotes another gospel.

I know this may sound shocking, but I challenge anyone to read/study/discuss this book along with me and come away with a hearty approval of the fundamental Protestant system.  Now, that does not at all mean that I am endorsing or approving Roman Catholicism either.  No, the issues are far deeper than an “either this or that” conclusion.

Indeed, there is nothing new in trying to grasp the truth and depth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Read Galatians or Hebrews and we see the early church struggled with how truly liberating it is.

But, those who know me recall my Reformed phase not too many years ago, and how I walked away from that system for one primary reason: it is grounded in the old covenant.  It affirms Christ, yet reaches back for the chains of the old system.  And let’s be honest, folks, that denies Christ in many, many ways.

I still have quite a bit of respect for the Reformers.  But, Campbell’s book certainly lays out a solid argument that this system of thought should at least be questioned and at best be replaced.

I read on…and will post more as I go!