Book Overview - Romans
by Henry Alford
OF THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
ITS AUTHORSHIP AND INTEGRITY
1. THIS Epistle has been universally believed to be the genuine production of the Apostle Paul. Neither the Judaizing sects of old, who rejected the Pauline Epistles, nor the sceptical critics of modern Germany, have doubted this. Some of the earliest testimonies are:
( α) Irenæus, adv. Hær. iii. 16. 3, p. 205: Hoc ipsum interpretatus est Paulus scribens ad Romanos: “Paulus apostolus Jesu Christi, &c.” (Romans 1:1):—et iterum ad Romanos scribens de Israel dicit, “Quorum patres, et ex quibus Christus, &c.” Romans 9:5(34).
( β) Clem(35) Alex., Pædag. i. 8 (70), p. 140 P.:— δε οὖν, φησὶν ὁ παῦλος, χρηστότητα κ. ἀποτομίαν θεοῦ. κ. τ. λ. (Romans 11:22.) See also ib. 5 (19), p. 109 P. And the same, Strom, iii. 11 (75), p. 544: ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ παῦλος ἐν τῇ πρὸς ῥωμαίους ἐπ. γράφει· οἵτινες ἀπεθάνομεν τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, κ. τ. λ. (Romans 6:2.) See also ib. (76), p. 545, and al. freq.
( γ) Tertullian, adv. Praxeam, § xiii. vol. ii. p. 170: Deos omnino nec dicam nec dominos, sed apostolum sequar, ut, si pariter nominandi fuerint Pater et Filius Deum Patrem appellem, et Jesum Christum Dominum nominem (Romans 1:7). Solum autem Christum potero deum dicere, sicut idem apostolus: ex quibus Christus, qui est, inquit, Deus super omnia benedictus in ævum omne (Romans 9:5).
More instances need not be given: the stream of evidence is continuous and unanimous.
2. But critics have not been so well agreed as to the INTEGRITY of the present Epistle. The last two chapters have been rejected by some: by others, parts of these chapters. Marcion rejected them, but on doctrinal, not on critical grounds. Heumann imagined ch. 12–15 to be a later written Epistle, and ch. 16 to be a conclusion to ch. 11. Semler views ch. 15 as a private memorandum, not addressed to the Romans, but written to be communicated by the bearers of the Epistle to those whom they visited on the way,—and ch. 16, as a register of persons to be saluted, also on the way. Schulz imagines that ch. 16 was written from Rome to the Ephesians, and Schott fancied it to be fragments of a smaller Epistle written by Paul in Corinth to some Asiatic church. But these notions, as Tholuck remarks (from whom these particulars are for the most part taken), remain the exclusive property of their originators. He himself recognizes the genuineness of the portion, as also Neander, Credner, De Wette, and Olshausen. The more recent objections of Baur are mentioned and refuted, in part by De Wette, Comm. juxta finem,—Tholuck, Comm. pp. 2, 3,—Olsh. Comm. iii. 34, 35, and fully, by Kling, theol. Stud. u. Krit. 1837, p. 308 ff.
3. Still more discrepancy of opinion has existed respecting the doxology at the end of the Epistle. I have summarily stated and discussed the evidence, external and internal, in the var. readings and notes in loc.: and a fuller statement may be found in Dr. Davidson’s Introd. ii. 188 ff.: Tholuck, Einleitung, pp. 4–6; De Wette in loc.
FOR WHAT READERS IT WAS WRITTEN
1. The Epistle itself plainly declares (ch. Romans 1:7) that it was addressed to the saints who were at Rome. The omission of the words ἐν ῥώμῃ by some MSS. is to be traced to a desire to catholicize the Epistles of Paul;—see Wieseler, Chron. des Apostol. Zeitalters, p. 438.
With regard to the Church at Rome, some interesting questions present themselves.
2. BY WHOM WAS IT FOUNDED? Here our enquiries are enwrapped in uncertainty. But some few landmarks stand forth to guide us, and may at least prevent us from adopting a wrong conclusion, however unable we may still be to find the right one.
( α) It was certainly not founded by an Apostle. For in that case, the fact of St. Paul addressing it by letter, and expressing his intention of visiting it personally, would be inconsistent with his own declared resolution in ch. Romans 15:20, of not working where another had previously laid the foundation.
( β) This same resolution may guide us to an approximation at least to the object of our search. Had the Roman church been founded by the individual exertions of any preacher of the word, or had it owed its existence to the confluence of the converts of any other preacher than Paul, he would hardly have expressed himself as he has done in this Epistle. We may fairly infer from ch. Romans 15:20, that he had, proximately, laid the foundation of the Roman church: that is to say, it was originated by those to whom he had preached, who had been attracted to the metropolis of the world by various causes,—who had there laboured in the ministry with success, and gathered round them an important Christian community.
Of this community, though not his own immediate offspring in the faith, Paul takes charge as being the Apostle of the Gentiles. He longs to impart to them some χάρισμα (ch. Romans 1:11): he excuses his having written to them τολμηρότερον ἀπὸ μέρους, by the dignity of that office, in which, as a priest, he was to offer the Gentiles, an acceptable and sanctified offering to God.
( γ) The character given in ch. Romans 1:8 of the Roman Christians, that their faith was spoken of in all the world, has been taken as pointing to a far earlier origin than the preaching of Paul. But, even granting that some among the Roman Jews may have carried the faith of Christ thither soon after the Ascension (see Acts 2:10; and Romans 16:7, where Andronicus and Junias are stated to have been in Christ before the Apostle),—such a concession is not necessary to explain Romans 1:8. Whatever happened at Rome is likely to have been very soon announced in the provinces, and to have had more reporters, wherever the journeys of the Apostle led him, than events occurring elsewhere. He could hardly fail to meet, in every considerable city which he had visited for the second time, in Judæa, Asia, Macedonia, and Greece (see Acts 18:22-23; Acts 19:1; Acts 20:1-2), believers who had received tidings of the increase and flourishing state of the Roman church. This occurrence of good news respecting them in all the cities might well suggest the expression, ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν καταγγέλλεται ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ κόσμῳ.
3. The above considerations lead me to the conclusion, that the Roman Church owed its origin, partly perhaps to believing Jews, who had returned or been attracted thither in the first days of Christianity, but mainly to persons converted under Paul’s own preaching. This conclusion is strengthened by the long list of salutations in ch. 16 to Christian brethren and sisters with whose previous course in many cases he had been acquainted.
4. It is not within the province of these Prolegomena to discuss the question respecting the presence, preaching, and martyrdom of Peter at Rome. That he did not found the Roman church, is plain from the above considerations, and is conceded by many of the ablest among the modern Romanists(36). Nor have we any ground to suppose that he was at Rome up to, or at the date of this Epistle. No mention is made of him,—no salutation sent to him. At present therefore we may dismiss the question as not pertinent. In the prolegg. to the Epistles of Peter, it will recur, and require full discussion.
5. That the Roman church was composed of Jews and Gentiles, is manifest from several passages in our Epistle. In ch. Romans 2:17, Romans 4:1; Romans 4:12, Jews are addressed, or implied: in ch. Romans 1:13,—in the similitude of engrafting in ch. 11, and in Romans 15:15-16,—Gentiles are addressed. In what proportion these elements co-existed, can only be determined from indications furnished by the Epistle itself. And from it the general impression is, that it is addressed to Gentiles, as the greater and more important part of its readers. Among them would be mostly found the ‘strong’ of ch. 14, to whom principally the precepts and cautions concerning forbearance are written. To them certainly the expression τὰ ἔθνη in ch. Romans 1:5; Romans 1:13, Romans 15:15-16, is to be applied, in the strict sense; and in those places it represents the persons to whom the Epistle is mainly addressed. The same may be said of ch. Romans 11:13-14, where ὑμεῖς τὰ ἔθνη are evidently the majority of the readers, as contrasted with the τινὲς ἐξ αὐτῶν, the Jewish believers.
6. It may be interesting to add testimonies from profane writers which are connected with the spread of Christianity at Rome.
That the Jews were found in great numbers there, is evident.
( α) Josephus, Antt. 17:11. 1, mentioning an embassy which came to Rome from Judæa under Varus, in the time of Augustus, says, καὶ ἦσαν οἱ μὲν πρέσβεις οἱ ἀποσταλέντες γνώμῃ τοῦ ἔθνους πεντήκοντα, συνίσταντο δὲ αὐτοῖς τῶν ἐπὶ ῥώμης ἰουδαίων ὑπὲρ ὀκτακισχιλίους.
( β) Philo, leg. ad Caium, § 23, vol. ii. p. 569, in a passage too long for citation, says that Augustus gave them the free exercise of their religion, and a quarter beyond the Tiber for their habitation.
( γ) Dio Cassius xxxvii. 17, καὶ ἔστι καὶ παρὰ τοῖς ῥωμαίοις τὸ γένος τοῦτο, κολουσθὲν μὲν πολλὰκις, αὐξηθὲν δὲ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον, ὥστε καὶ ἐς παῤῥησίαν τῆς νομίσεως ἐκνικῆσαι.
( δ) So far relates to Judaism proper: in the following it is impossible to say how far Christianity may have been ignorantly confounded with it.
Augustine, de Civ. Dei vi. 11, vol. vii. p. 192, cites from Seneca, ‘in eo libro quem contra superstitiones condidit,’—De illis sane Judæis cum loqueretur, ait:—‘Cum interim usque eo sceleratissimægentis consuetudo convaluit, ut per omnes jam terras recepta sit: victi victoribus leges dederunt.’
( ε) Tacitus, in the same place where he relates the persecution of the Christians by Nero on occasion of the fire at Rome, adds, ‘repressaque in præsens exitiabilis superstitio rursus erumpebat, non modo per Judæam, originem ejus mali, sed per urbem etiam’ …
( ζ) Juvenal describes the Judaizing Romans at a later period in a strain of bitter satire, Sat. xiv. 96 ff.
( η) On the passages in Sueton. Claud. 25, and Dio Cass. lx. 6, relating to the expulsion or coercion of the Jews at Rome, see note on Acts 18:2.
7. It yet remains to consider the supposed discrepancy between our Epistle, and the state of the Christian church at Rome implied some years subsequent to it in Acts 28. This discrepancy has been made the most of by Dr. Baur, and by him pronounced irreconcileable. The flourishing state of the Roman church set forth in this Epistle seems to him to be inconsistent with the tone used by the Jews in their speech to Paul, Acts 28:22; ἀξιοῦμεν δὲ παρὰ σοῦ ἀκοῦσαι ἃ φρονεῖς· περὶ μὲν γὰρ τῆς αἱρέσεως ταύτης γνωστὸν ἡμῖν ἐστιν ὅτι πανταχοῦ ἀντιλέγεται. Olshausen and Tholuck have been at much pains to give a solution of the difficulty: the former referring the circumstance to the entire severance between Christians and Jews at Rome made necessary by Claudius’s persecutions of the Jews,—the latter, following many other Commentators, to an affected ignorance of the Christian sect on the part of the Jews.
On this I will remark,—that the difficulty itself does not seem to me so serious as the German writers generally have regarded it. The answer of the Jews was to a speech of Paul in which he had given a remarkable instance of his becoming to the Jews as a Jew. He represents, that he had no real quarrel with his nation: that in fact he was a prisoner for the hope of Israel. This hope they certainly knew, either from previous acquaintance with his name and character, or from his own lips in words which have not been recorded, to be bound up with belief in Jesus as the Messiah. They had received (see note in loc.) no message respecting him from Judæa laying any thing πονηρόν to his charge: and they were anxious to have an account from himself of his opinions and their ground: for as for this sect, they were well aware that every where it was a thing ἀντιλεγόμενον: the very word, be it observed, used in Acts 28:19 (and ch. 13:45), respecting the opposition raised by the Jews to Paul. Now we may avail ourselves of both Olshausen’s and Tholuck’s suppositions. On the one hand it was very likely that the intercourse between Jews and Christians at Rome would be exceedingly small. The Christian church, consisting mostly of Gentiles, would absorb into itself the Jews who joined it, and who would, for the reason assigned by Olshausen, studiously separate themselves from their unbelieving countrymen. Again, it would not be likely that the Roman Jews, in their speech to Paul, would enter into any particulars respecting the sect,—only informing him, since he had professed himself in heart at peace with his nation and bound on behalf of their hope, that they were well aware of the general unpopularity among Jews of the sect to which he had attached himself, and wished from him an explanation on this head. Something also must be allowed for the restraint with which they spoke to one under the special custody, as a state prisoner, of the highest power in Rome, and in the presence of a representative of that power.
Thus the difficulty is much lessened: and it belongs indeed to that class, the occurrence of which in the sacred text is to be regarded far rather as a confirmation of our faith, by shewing us how simple and veracious is the narrative of things said and done, than as a hindrance to it by setting one statement against another.
With respect to that part of it which concerns the notoriety of the Roman church,—I may remark that its praise for faith in all the world, being a matter reported by Christians to Christians, and probably unknown to ‘those without,’ need not enter as a disturbing element into our consideration.
8. For a judicious and clear statement of the subsequent history of the early Roman church, I cannot do better than refer my readers to the former part of the work of Mr. Shepherd, “The History of the Church of Rome.”
WITH WHAT OBJECT IT WAS WRITTEN
1. In answering this question, critics have been divided between the claims of the unquestionably most important doctrinal portion of the Epistle, and the particular matters treated in the parenthetical section (ch. 9–11) and the conclusion (ch. 14–16). It has not enough been borne in mind, that the occasion of writing an Epistle is one thing,—the great object of the Epistle itself, another. The ill-adjusted questions between the Jewish and Gentile believers, of which St. Paul had doubtless heard from Rome, may have prompted him originally to write to them: but when this resolve was once formed,—the importance of Rome as the centre of the Gentile world would naturally lead him to lay forth in this more than in any other Epistle the statement of the divine dealings with regard to Jew and Gentile, now one in Christ. I will therefore speak separately of the prompting occasion, and the main object, of the Epistle.
2. The eulogy of the faith of the Roman Christians which Paul met with in all his travels, could hardly fail to be accompanied with notices respecting their peculiar difficulties. These might soon have been set at rest by his presence and oral teaching: and he had accordingly resolved long since to visit them (ch. Romans 1:10-13). Hindrances however had occurred: and that advice which he was not as yet permitted to give by word of mouth, he was prompted to send to them in a letter.
3. The contents of that letter plainly shew what their difficulties were. Mixed as the church was of Jew and Gentile, the relative position in God’s favour of each of these would, in defect of solid and broad views of the universality of man’s guilt and God’s grace, furnish a subject of continual jealousy and irritation. And if we assume that the Gentile believers much preponderated in numbers, we shall readily infer that the religious scruples of the Jews as to times and meats would be likely to be with too little consideration overborne.
4. From such circumstances we may well conceive that, under divine guidance, the present form of the Epistle was suggested to the Apostle. The main security for a proper estimate being formed of both Jew and Gentile, would be, the possession of right and adequate convictions of the universality of man’s guilt and God’s free justifying grace. This accordingly it was Paul’s great object to furnish; and on it he expends by far the greatest portion of his labour and space. But while so doing, we may trace his continued anxiety to steer his way cautiously among the strong feelings and prejudices which beset the path on either hand. If by a vivid description of the depravity of Heathendom he might be likely to minister to the pride of the Jew, he forthwith turns to him and abases him before God equally with the others. But when this is accomplished, lest he should seem to have lost sight of the pre-eminence of God’s chosen people, and to have exposed the privileges of the Jew to the slight of the Gentile, he enumerates those privileges, and dwells on the true nature of that pre-eminence. Again when the great argument is brought to a close in ch. 8, by the completion of the bringing in of life by Christ Jesus, and the absolute union in time and after time of every believer with him,—for fear he should seem amidst the glories of redemption to have forgotten his own people, now as a nation rejected, he devotes three weighty chapters to an earnest and affectionate consideration of their case—to a deprecation of all triumph over them on the part of the Gentile, and a clear setting forth of the real mutual position of the two great classes of his readers. Then, after binding them all together again, in ch. 12 13, by precepts respecting Christian life, conduct towards their civil superiors, and mutual love, he proceeds in ch. 14 to adjust those peculiar matters of doubt,—now rendered comparatively easy after the settlement of the great principle involving them,—respecting which they were divided. He recommends forbearance towards the weak and scrupulous,—at the same time classing himself among the strong, and manifestly implying on which side his own apostolic judgment lay. Having done this, he again places before them their mutual position as co-heirs of the divine promises and mercy (ch. Romans 15:1-13), and concludes the Epistle with matters of personal import to himself and them, and with salutations in the Lord. And probably on re-perusing his work, either at the time, or, as the altered style seems to import, in after years at Rome, he subjoins the fervid and characteristic doxology with which it closes.
5. There seems quite enough in the circumstances of the Roman Church to have led naturally to such an Epistle, without supposing with some critics, that an elaborate plan of written doctrinal teaching, to supply the want of oral, was present to the mind of the Apostle. We must not forget to whom he was writing, nor fail to allow for the greater importance naturally attaching to an Epistle which would be the cherished possession and exemplar of the greatest of the Gentile churches. It was an Epistle to all Gentiles, from the Apostle of the Gentiles: ὑμῖν λέγω τοῖς ἔθνεσιν· ἐφʼ ὅσον μὲν [ οὖν] εἰμι ἐγὼ ἐθνῶν ἀπόστολος, τὴν διακονίαν μου δοξάζω. It had for its end the settlement, on the broad principles of God’s truth and love, of the mutual relations, and union in Christ, of God’s ancient people, and the recently engrafted world. What wonder then, if it be found to contain an exposition of man’s unworthiness and God’s redeeming love, such as not even Holy Scripture itself elsewhere furnishes?
AT WHAT TIME AND PLACE IT WAS WRITTEN
1. This is more plainly pointed out in our Epistle than in most of the others. The Apostle was about to set out for Jerusalem with a contribution from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia (ch. Romans 15:25 ff.). To make this contribution he had exhorted the Corinthian church, 1 Corinthians 16:1 ff., and hinted the possibility of his carrying it to Jerusalem in person, after wintering with them. And again in 2 Corinthians 8:9 he recurs to the subject, blames the tardiness of the Corinthians in preparing the contribution, and (ib. 2 Corinthians 13:1) describes himself as coming to them immediately. Comparing these notices with Acts 20:1 ff., we find that Paul left Ephesus (after Pentecost, see notes there) for Macedonia, wintered at Corinth, and thence went to Jerusalem accompanied by several brethren, bearing (ib. Acts 24:17) alms to his nation and offerings.
2. Thus far it would appear that it was written close upon, or during his journey to bear alms to Jerusalem. But the very place is pointed out by evidence which can hardly be misapplied. We have a special commendation of Phœbe, a deaconess of the church at Kenchrea, to the kindness and attention of the Roman Christians: such a commendation as could hardly have been sent, had she not been, as generally believed, the bearer of the letter. Again, greetings are sent (ch. Romans 16:23) from Gaius, evidently a resident, for he is called ὁ ξένος μου καὶ ὅλης τῆς ἐκκλησίας. But on comparing 1 Corinthians 1:14, we find Paul telling the Corinthians that he baptized among them one Gaius. These persons can hardly but be one and the same. Again, Erastus is mentioned as steward of the city. Therefore, as Tholuck remarks, of some city well known to the Romans, and one in which he must have been some time resident, so to speak of it. I may add, that after the mention of Kenchrea, ἡ πόλις can be no other than Corinth: just as, if the Peiræus had been mentioned, ἡ πόλις would necessarily mean Athens. (An Erastus is said to have remained at Corinth, 2 Timothy 4:20, but the identity is too uncertain for the notice to be more than a possible corroboration.)
3. From the above evidence it is placed almost beyond question that the Epistle was written from Corinth, at the close of the three months’ residence there of Acts 20:3,—the παραχειμασία of 1 Corinthians 16:6,—when Paul was just about to depart ( νυνὶ δὲ πορεύομαι, ch. Romans 15:25) for Jerusalem on his errand of charity.
4. By consulting the chronological table appended to the Prolegg. to the Acts, it will be seen that I place this visit in the winter of A.D. 57–58. The Epistle accordingly was sent in the spring of A.D. 58, the fourth of the reign of Nero.
LANGUAGE AND STYLE
1. It might perhaps have been expected, that an Epistle to Romans would have been written in Latin. But Greek had become so far the general language of the world, that there is no ground for surprise in the Apostle having employed it. Not to cite at length the passages in the classics (Tacit. de Orator. c. 29: Martial, Epig. xiv. 56: Juvenal, Sat. vi. 184–189) which point to the universal adoption of Greek habits and language at Rome, we have the similar instances of Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Irenæus, all of whom wrote to the Roman Christians in Greek. Clement, Bishop of Rome, wrote in Greek. Justin Martyr addressed his apologies to the Roman Emperors in Greek. And if it be objected, that the greater number of the Christian converts would belong to the lower classes, we may answer, that a great proportion of these were native Greeks: see Juvenal, Sat. iii. 60–80.
2. In speaking of the style of the Epistle, the following general remarks on the style of the Apostle Paul, taken from Tholuck’s Introduction to his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 26 ff., are of considerable interest: “As in general we can best apprehend and estimate the style of a writer in connexion with his character, so is it with the Apostle Paul. The attributes which especially characterize the originality of Paul as an Author, are Power, Fulness, and Warmth. If to these attributes is added Perspicuity of unfolding thought, we have all united, which ennobles an orator. But fulness of ideas and warmth of feelings often bring with them a certain informality of expression: the very wealth of the productive power does not always leave time to educate (as Hamann expresses it) the thoughts which are born into the light,—to arrange and select the feelings. Together with the excellences above mentioned, something of this defect is found in the style of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. Something of that which Dionysius of Halicarnassus de Comp. Verb. c. 22 says of ‘compositio austera,’ is applicable to the Apostle’s method of expression. οὔτε πάρισα βούλεται τὰ κῶλα ἀλλήλοις εἶναι‚ οὔτε παρόμοια, οὔτε ἀναγκαίᾳ δουλεύοντα ἀκολουθίᾳ, ἀλλʼ εὐγενῆ κ. ἁπλᾶ κ. ἐλεύθερα· φύσει τʼ ἐοικέναι μᾶλλον αὐτὰ βούλεται, ἢ τέχνῃ, κ. κατὰ πάθος λέγεσθαι μᾶλλον, ἢ κατʼ ἦθος. περιόδους δὲ συντιθέναι συναρτιζούσας τὸν νοῦν τὰ πολλὰ μὲν οὔτε βούλεται· εἰ δέ ποτε αὐτομάτως ἐπὶ τοῦτο κατενεχθείη, τὸ ἐνεπιτήδευτον ἐμφαίνειν ἐθέλει καὶ ἀφελές, κ. τ. λ. The high claims of St. Paul to the reputation of eloquence were acknowledged by remote Christian antiquity. Nay, we have in all probability an honourable testimony to the same effect from one of the most celebrated critics of heathen Rome,—that namely of the fragment of Longinus, where he ranks Paul with the first orators of ancient times, adding however the remark, that he appears more to persuade than to demonstrate(37). From Christian antiquity we will adduce the testimony of Jerome, Ep. 48, ad Pammachium, c. 13, vol. i. p. 223:—‘Paulum Apostolum proferam, quem quotiescunque lego, videor mihi non verba audire, sed tonitrua … videntur quidem verba simplicia et quasi innocentis hominis ac rusticani, et qui nec facere nec declinare noverit insidias, sed quocunque respexeris, fulmina sunt. Hæret in causa, capit omne quod tetigerit, tergum vertit, ut superet: fugam simulat, ut occidat.’ Add to this the words of Chrysostom de Sacerdotio iv. 7, vol. i. p. 431: ὥσπερ γὰρ τεῖχος ἐξ ἀδάμαντος κατασκευασθέν, οὕτω τὰς πανταχοῦ τῆς οἰκουμένης ἐκκλησίας τὰ τούτου τειχίζει γράμματα· καὶ καθάπερ τις ἀριστεὺς γενναιότατος ἕστηκε καὶ νῦν μέσος, αἰχμαλωτίζων πᾶν νόημα εἰς τὴν ὑπακοὴν τοῦ χριστοῦ, καὶ καθαίρων λογισμοὺς καὶ πᾶν ὕψωμα ἐπαιρόμενον κατὰ τῆς γνώσεως τοῦ θεοῦ.”
3. After having stated, and visited with severe and deserved censure, the disparaging estimate formed by Rückert in his Commentary, and criticized in a friendly spirit the other extreme, taken by Rothe and Glöckler, of regarding all ellipses, anacolutha, and defects of style, only as so many hidden but intended excellences, Tholuck proceeds:
“We have then this question to ask ourselves: with what ideas as to the ability of the Apostle as a writer ought the believing Christian to approach his works? And what is the result, when we examine in detail the Epistles of Paul in this bearing? The Fathers themselves frequently confess, that the whole character of Christianity forbids us from seeking classical elegance in the outward style of the New Testament:—as the SON OF GOD appeared in His life on earth in a state of humiliation, so also the word of God. In this sense, to cite one example out of many, Calvin says (on Romans 5:15):—‘Quum autem multoties discriminis mentionem repetat, nulla tamen est repetitio, in qua non sit ἀνανταπόδοτον, vel saltem ellipsis aliqua: Quæ sunt quidem orationis vitia, sed quibus nihil majestati decedit cælestis sapientiæ, quæ nobis per apostolum traditur. Quin potius singulari Dei providentia factum est, ut sub contemptibili verborum humilitate altissima hæc mysteria nobis traderentur; ut non humanæ eloquentiæ potentia, sed sola spiritus efficacia niteretur nostra fides.’ But it must be borne in mind, that this our concession with regard to the formal perfection of the apostolic writings has its limits: for were we to concede that imperfection of form amounted to absolute informality, the subject-matter itself would be involved in the surrender. If the aim of the apostolic teaching is not to be altogether frustrated, we can hardly object to the assumption, that the divine ideas have been propounded in such a form, that by a correct use of the requisite means they may be discovered, and their full meaning recognized. Assuming this, it is impossible to form so low an estimate as Rückert’s of the style of the Apostle: while at the same time we cannot see that the believing Christian is entitled to assume in him an academic correctness of syllogistic form, a conscious and perfect appreciation of adequacy of expression, reaching to the use of every particle. If we are to require these excellences from an apostolic writer, why not also entire conformity to classical idiom of expression? And if we besides take into account the peculiarity of the Apostle’s character above pointed out, are we not obliged to confess, that so universal a reflection, such a calculation, as Rothe’s theory supposes, is altogether inconsistent with that character,—that such a precisely measured style would be inexplicable from a spirit like that of the Apostle, except on the assumption of a passive inspiration? and as regards the point itself, I cannot see, that the writings of Paul, examined in detail, justify this prejudice in their favour, even according to the ingenious and minute exegesis of Rothe himself. (This he instances by examining Rothe’s account of the defective constructions in Romans 5:12 f.) * * * * That the great Apostle was no ordinary thinker,—that he did not, after the manner of enthusiasts, carried away by warmth of feeling, write down what he himself did not understand, is beyond question:—but that all which hitherto has been accounted in him negligence or inaccuracy of expression, proceeded from conscious intention of the writer,—can neither be justly assumed a priori, nor convincingly shown a posteriori.”
4. To these general remarks of Tholuck I may add some notice of the peculiarities of the argumentative style of the Apostle, with which we are so much concerned in this Epistle.
( α) It is his constant habit to insulate the one matter which he is considering, and regard it irrespective of any qualifications of which it may admit, or objections to which it lies open,—up to a certain point. Much of the difficulty in ch. 5, 6, 7, has arisen from not bearing this in mind.
( β) After thus treating the subject till the main result is gained, he then takes into account the qualifications and objections, but in a manner peculiar to himself; introducing them by putting the overstrained use, or the abuse, of the proposition just proved, in an interrogative form, and answering the question just asked. On a superficial view of these passages, they assume a sort of dramatic character, and have led many Commentators to suppose an objector to be present in the mind of the Apostle, to whom such questions are to be ascribed. But a further and deeper acquaintance with St. Paul’s argumentative style removes this impression, and with it, much of the obscurity arising from supposing, or not knowing when to suppose, an interchange of speakers in the argument. We find that it is the Apostle himself speaking throughout, and in his vivid rhetorical manner proposing the fallacies which might be derived from his conclusions as matters of parenthetical enquiry.
( γ) Perhaps one of the most wonderful phænomena of St. Paul’s arguments, is the manner in which all such parenthetical enquiries are interwoven into the great subject; in which while he pursues and annihilates the off-branching fallacy, at the same time he has been advancing in the main path,—whereas in most human arguments each digression must have its definite termination, and we must resume the thesis where we left it. A notable instance of this is seen in ch. 6 of our Epistle; in which while the mischievous fallacy of ver. 1 is discussed and annihilated, the great subject of the introduction of Life by Christ is carried on through another step—viz. the establishment of that life as one of sanctification.
Among the minor characteristics of the Apostle’s style, may be enumerated,
( δ) Frequent and complicated antitheses, requiring great caution and discrimination in exegesis. For often the different members of the antithesis are not to be taken in the same extent of meaning; sometimes the literal and metaphorical significations are interchanged in a curious and intricate manner, so that perhaps in the first member of two antithetical clauses, the subject may be literal and the predicate metaphorical, and in the second, vice versa, the subject metaphorical and the predicate literal. Sometimes again, the terms of one member are to be amplified to their fullest possible, almost to an exaggerated meaning: whereas those of the second are to be reduced down to their least possible, almost to a depreciated meaning. To retain such antitheses in a version or exegesis is of course, generally speaking, impossible: the appropriateness of the terms depends very much on their conventional value in the original language. Then comes the difficult task of breaking up the sentence, and expressing neither more nor less than the real meaning under a different grammatical form: an attempt almost always sure to fail even in the ablest hands.
( ε) Frequent plays upon words, or rather perhaps, choice of words from their similarity of sound. Much of the terseness and force of the Apostle’s expressions is necessarily lost in rendering them into another language, owing to the impossibility of expressing these paronomasiæ; and without them, it becomes exceedingly difficult to ascertain the real weight of the expression itself; to be sure that we do not give more than due importance in the context to a clause whose aptness was perhaps its chief characteristic, and on the other hand to take care that we do not overlook the real importance of clauses whose value is not their mere aptness, but a deep insight into the philosophy of the cognate words made use of, as exponents of lines of human thought ultimately convergent.
( ζ) Accumulation of prepositions, often with the same or very slightly different meanings. That this is a characteristic of St. Paul’s style there can be no doubt: and the difficulty created by it is easily obviated if this be borne in mind. The temptation of an expositor is to endeavour to give precise meaning and separate force to each preposition, thereby exceeding the intention of the sentence, and distorting the context by elevating into importance clauses of comparative indifference.
( η) The frequency and peculiarity of his parenthetical passages. The difficulty presented by this characteristic is, in few words, that of disentangling with precision such clauses and passages. The danger is twofold: 1. lest we too hastily assume an irregular construction, not perceiving the parenthetical interruption: 2. lest we err on the other hand, which has more commonly been the case, in assuming the existence of parenthetical clauses where none exist. St. Paul’s parentheses are generally well marked to the careful observer; and it must be remembered that the instances of anacoluthon and irregular construction are at least as frequent: so that we are not, for the sake of clearing up a construction, to throw in parentheses, as is often done, to the detriment of the sense.
The peculiarity of his parentheses consists in this, that owing to the fervency and rapidity of his composition he frequently deserts, in a clause apparently intended to be parenthetical, the construction of the main sentence, and instead of resuming it again, proceeds with the parenthesis as if it were the main sentence.
Instances of almost all these characteristic difficulties will be found in chap. 5 of this Epistle, where, so to speak, they reach their culminating point.
5. Two cautions are necessary, on account of the lax renderings of our authorized version, by which the details of the argument of this and other Epistles have been so disguised, that it is almost impossible for the mere English student intelligently to apprehend them.
(a) The emphatic position of words is of the highest importance. Pages might be filled with an account of misrenderings of versions and Commentators from disregard to the rules of emphasis. The student will continually find such instances alleged and criticized in these notes; and will be surprised that so momentous a matter should have been generally overlooked.
(b) The distinction between the aorist and perfect tenses is in our authorized version very commonly disregarded, and thereby the point of the sentence altogether missed. Instances are continually occurring in the Epistles: and it has been my endeavour in the notes to draw the student’s attention to them with a view to their correction.
6. For much interesting matter on this subject the student is referred to Tholuck, Römerbrief, Einleitung: and to Dr. Davidson, Introd. vol. ii. p. 144 ff.
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34