God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reading Romans Requires More than One Verse #Romfor21stC

One of the challenges in reading Romans is the complex nature of Paul’s writing. Since he discusses complex issues of identify he is very thorough and takes a lot of space to delineate his points. This letter is not the only time he discusses the matter of Jew vs. Gentile. Galatians mentions the Jews and the Law of Moses specifically. 1 Corinthians and Colossians mentions judging others – possible allusions to the Jews as well. As “an apostle to the Gentiles“ (11:13) he is on the front lines in the Jew vs. Gentile battle of the time.

This complexity challenges the verse-by-verse nature of Christianity today. Think about it. When was the last time someone asked you, “What is your favorite paragraph in the Bible?” When ministers read long sections of scripture, they must first apologize or excuse themselves. In fact, when was the last time you listened to an entire sermon where only one, large section scripture was discussed? Verses are short, easy to memorize and fit easily on motivational posters.

Romans: doesn't fit on a motivational poster.

A few years ago I decided not to read anything smaller than a paragraph in a lesson. I also decided, with a few exceptions, to speak from only one section of scripture. By focusing on one section I now go deeper into the Word of God. Romans exemplifies the benefits of focused reading, reading more prevents being bogged down in the details. In other words: the meaning of Romans is in the letter – if you read enough of it.

Paul states, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). This verse may be the most quoted verses without any context ever given. Paul writes this as one part of a much larger discussion acclimating the Jews and Gentiles to the understanding that the true children of God are not defined by their membership of a tribe, group or church. They are known by their actions. Both groups had unrighteous and righteous members. Because of Abraham (and the disobedience of the Gentiles) God chose the Jews to be His ambassadors to the world. They failed due to their own disobedience and inability to keep God’s law. God then called the Gentiles to join his ambassadors to the world. However, the Jews still had a special place in God’s heart and He longed for them to all choose to follow Him again. This is why God tells Israel,

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. Deuteronomy 7:9-10

When Christians, especially theologians, read Romans in short, choppy sections and dissect the minute details in each verse they miss the message Paul gives.

Friday I will look into one place where this is a glaring problem: who are the Gentiles today?