Monday, August 24, 2009

Romans 15:8-9

Our exegesis paper was from this chapter. Thielman writes that the pastoral goal of the entire letter reaches its climax in this chapter. Quite so! For those interested in Paul's argument here, and especially the phrase introducing the catena of OT quotations in the chapter, I offer the following…

The syntax of 15:8-9 has not been finally resolved; Cranfield lists no less than six suggested explanations. Keck clearly sets out the crux of the debate: either there are two parallel purposes to Christ's servant-hood (confirming the promises and Gentiles glorifying God), or there is a single purpose (confirming the promises is the means to the Gentiles glorifying God). Moo believes the first alternative best reflects Paul's theological argument here. However, Lambrecht sets out the key objection to this parallelism: the resulting change in subject between clauses is syntactically awkward. Moo attempts to explain the awkward construction by appealing to Käsemann's noting of the theological tension between the equality of Jew and Gentile, and the salvation-historical priority of the Jew. The NIV adopts the second alternative, and translates the conjunction as 'so that', therefore subordinating Christ's servant-hood to the circumcision to the purpose of leading the Gentiles to glorify God. Cranfield himself reads the conjunction as an adversative: 'but the Gentiles glorify God for [his] mercy'. This gives the sense that the Jews should glorify God, but actually only the Gentiles are doing so. Cranfield's solution avoids the awkward syntax of the first alternative, but does not do justice to indications of parallelism in the text. Dunn concurs with Cranfield's reading, but is more ambiguous as to the meaning: 'Paul's whole point is that Christ became servant of the circumcised not with a view to their salvation alone, but to confirm both phases of God's saving purpose: to the Jew first but also to the Gentile'. Wagner produces what we believe is the most satisfying solution, which is achieved by proposing Christ, not the Gentiles, as the subject of the second clause. Wagner's solution can be represented thus:

For I say that Christ has become
a servant to the circumcision
on behalf of the truth of God
in order to confirm the promises to the fathers
And [a servant] to the Gentiles
on behalf of the mercy [of God]
[in order] to glorify God

In filling the ellipses directly from the parallelism, a solution is obtained which is both syntactically and theologically balanced, where the progression of salvation history from Jew (here denoted by the circumcision) to Gentile is reflected in the differentiated roles of God's truth and mercy, and where equality is powerfully underlined in the servant-hood of Christ to both.

References to authors are usually to their major commentaries on Romans. Wagner's paper is 'The Christ, Servant of Jew and Gentile: A Fresh Approach to Romans 15:8-9', JBL 116.3 (1997).