Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stowers and Romans 1:18-32

Stanley Stowers' A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews and Gentiles is an insightful introduction to the ancient concept of "Speech in Character", if a bit dry at times. He explains well the presence of the phenomenon in Romans 7.

However I take issue with his treatment of Rom 1:18-32. His view is very similar to mine, in that he sees Paul critiquing the hypocritical person who is busy condemning others in the passage. However, he is unwilling to view the passage as an instance of speech in character primarily because:
"[A view like the one of it being a speech-in-character] assumes as a patently explicit and obvious Jewish doctrine that God punishes gentiles severely but mercifully overlooks Jewish evil... I find no Jewish texts explicitly saying that God will ignore Jewish sin because of the covenant." (pg 29)

Well, I find a Jewish text explicitly saying that very thing: Wisdom of Solomon. ie The text from which Paul is quoting in Romans 1:18-32 (Stowers agrees Paul is referencing Wisdom pg 87). In fact, Paul quotes two entire chapters of Wisdom of Solomon (and as a result, has to paraphrase), in what is surely the longest quotation in the bible, and in doing so implicitly sets Wisdom of Solomon up as a potentially major player within the rhetoric of Romans. Well here is what Wisdom has to say on the issue of God punishing Jews and Gentiles. Immediately after the tirade about Gentile evil and their sins and the coming punishment of God upon the gentiles in chapters 13-14 that Paul quotes in Romans 1, we read:
“But you our [the Jews] God, are kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy. For even if we [the Jews] sin we are yours, knowing your power; but we will not sin, because we know that you acknowledge us as yours. For to know you is complete righteousness, and to know your power is the root of immortality.” (15:1-3)
The writer then gets carried away once again for another chapter's worth at the evil and stupidity of gentiles and the punishments they will receive from God. Then we get another contrast with the goodness of Jews and the way God treats them positively:
"Instead of this punishment [which the Gentiles received] you showed kindness to your people". (16:2)
Then the writer gives us a long list of contrasts of how God punished gentiles and blessed Jews for the rest of the book. Here is an example:
"For they [Gentiles] were killed by the bites of locusts and flies, and no healing was found for them, because they deserved to be punished by such things. But your children [Jews] were not conquered even by the fangs of venomous serpents, for your mercy came to their help and healed them. (16:9-10)"
The Gentiles are repeatedly labeled "the ungodly" throughout. We are told "they justly suffered because of their wicked acts" (19:13). We are told that the wrath of God against Jews is stopped simply by virtue of "the oaths and covenants given to our ancestors" (18.22). The writer concludes the book with the statement:
"For in everything, O Lord, you have exalted and glorified your people, and you have not neglected to help them at all times and in all places. (19:22)"

Wisdom of Solomon seems to contain exactly and precisely the view that Stowers says is necessary to make sense of the idea that Rom 1:18-32 is speech-in-character! Furthermore, I believe that seeing this viewpoint as representing that of Paul's opponents explains the flow of Romans through to chapter four where Paul comments in passing that in his view God justifies the "ungodly" (ie the gentiles).


Blogger Drew said...

Interesting. The more I read Romans, the more I see the one-two punch that is set up there.

1. You are not like the Gentiles.
2. Actually, come to think of it, you are just like the gentiles.
3. You really would rather not be like the gentiles.
4. But it's really unavoidable so what do we do now?
5. The kicker comes in with the beginning of Romans 8.
6. Because we are no longer condemned in Christ, we are all joined together as one body.

If you sit back and look at the progression of this, it's very radical stuff.

Blogger Andrew Perriman said...

It's not quite true to say that the author of Wisdom, though highly chauvinistic, entirely exempts the Jews from punishment:

For when the terrible rage of wild beasts came upon thy people and they were being destroyed by the bites of writhing serpents, thy wrath did not continue to the end; they were troubled for a little while as a warning, and received a token of deliverance to remind them of thy law's command. (16:5-6)

This is not so far from Old Testament texts that speak of the wrath of God against Israel because of idolatry and injustice and the ensuing mercy of God because of the covenant. Indeed, it is basically Paul's argument in Romans: Israel is subject to wrath and faces destruction, but God will have mercy on a remnant because of his promise to Abraham.

And again, I cannot see anything in Paul's argument to suggest that he disagrees with the analysis of idolatry and sin that he sets out in Romans 1:18-32. Why does he not actually contradict this supposed 'speech in character'? Drew's point is correct: the Jews are condemned because they are no better than the Gentiles.

Where too is the evidence that Paul is actually quoting from Wisdom (I can see precious few verbal links) and not simply alluding to a shared tradition?

Blogger LTD said...

I happen to agree with Stowers on Rom1.18ff. If it is a speech-in-character, what are the rhetorical clues in the text? Regarding Rom7.7ff, there are a number of indicators present in the text (see Stowers). Those indicators seem absent from 1.18ff.


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