NTiR: Thank God, this letter is OVER! (Romans 14-16)

Bible and magnifying glass[Quick note: There will not be a new entry on July 5th in celebration of Independence Day. The next article will be published on July 8th. Happy Fourth of July, everyone!]

Well, I did it. I made it to the end of this book. I don’t know how, but I survived. Let me  get an AMEN!!!

Chapter 14

Umm… So… hmmm… I don’t know what the hell Paul is trying to get at here. There’s a lot of talk about eating and not criticizing each other and not destroying god’s work for the sake of food? I don’t know. It’s a mess. I can only take a guess that Paul was really hungry when he got to this part of the letter?

Chapter 15

Paul starts out by explaining why he is exempt from the “be humble” rule he stated earlier. He apparently believes that the Holy Spirit made him a priest by god’s grace. Since he is a priest, he can boast about what he is doing. See, it is this kind of stuff that makes me think Paul used Jesus’s name and story to build his own church. Paulianity instead of Christianity, if you get my meaning. Paul seems to allow himself a lot of indulgences. Do as he says, not as he does!

The end of this chapter starts to feel like a letter again. Paul gives his travel plans (Jerusalem, Rome, Spain).

Chapter 16

Hey, Paul didn’t write this letter! He dictated it, and Tertius transcribed it. Of course, that doesn’t matter in the slightest. Paul finishes off the chapter by acquainting the Romans with a bunch of members of his church.

Paul also speaks of divisions among the church. Apparently there are others who are also preaching a new religion based on Jesus Christ. Paul says that these others are serving their own desires, and not Christ. Which is interesting, as this sounds exactly like what Paul is doing. Paul warns people to watch for smooth talk and flattering words. Hmmm…

Conclusion

Hey, it’s the end! Can you all join me in saying: “THANKS BE TO GOD!!!!” That was one long, grueling book. It was actually worse than I thought it was going to be. That is saying a lot, because I feared it was going to be very bad. Those of you who are of the Christian faith will find a lot of your church’s dogma in this letter. Paul lays the dogma down pretty straight, and many Christian sects are based completely on Paul’s letters.

For those of us who aren’t Christians? It seems like Paul took a lot of liberties with the legend of Jesus Christ, and used that to craft a religion that Paul wanted to see? I don’t see a lot of Christ’s teachings here in Paul’s epistle (aside from Chapter 12, which echoes Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount). I don’t know, and that topic is out of the scope of this project. It’s just something that I’ll keep in the back of my mind: do people nowadays practice Christianity or Paulianity?

Up next: Another letter? EGAH!

New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.

4 Responses to NTiR: Thank God, this letter is OVER! (Romans 14-16)

  1. Dan Schwartz

    Congrats indeed! :-) Romans isn’t an easy book by any means.

    I’m enjoying this series a lot. I’ve been reading the Bible all my life, so your fresh perspective is thought-provoking and a lot of fun.

    Your comment about Paul writing chapter 14 with a case of the munchies is hilarious. :-) Actually I think he was attempting to address controversy between those who observed stricter dietary regulations, and those who thought that through their new freedom in Christ, it didn’t matter anymore. And also between those who thought they should still keep the Jewish festivals and holy days, and those who thought it didn’t matter.

    Paul says that on these kind of issues, do what you have faith for, or believe is right, but if it’s really freaking out a fellow believer, the more gracious thing to do would be to abstain.

    This is the kind of thing you’ll see throughout reading Paul. In the Gospels you’ll find the ethic of Jesus, and in the epistles, the nuts and bolts of how that ethic works itself out in real life. Christians believe that Paul and the other Apostles were anointed by the Holy Spirit to do this. (That is more or less what Jesus said would happen, before he left.)

    Jesus’ teaching wouldn’t be nearly as timeless or universal had he delved right into the issues that the Apostles later have to. I believe that was probably the point of the time he spent teaching his disciples. He certainly didn’t only intend for them to feed the poor, as you alluded to in one of your Acts reviews. He said "Go and teach." Those 3 or so years they spent together he attempted to instill in them the concepts that they would then need to work out into real life.

    You’ll meet more of the same in Corinthians, and in Galatians it gets REAL interesting, as there are some major differences of opinions–a behind the scenes look at the Peter/Paul smackdown you read about in Acts over circumcision issue. :-)

    Overall, don’t be too hard on poor Paul. He was a higher caliber intellect than most of the other NT writers, and was trained in Greek thought and rhetoric. That doesn’t translate well to 21st century English-speaking westerners. I’ve sometimes read a whole book and not understood a word of it, or all that sticks out are the times Paul will come down hard on an issue, and be crystal clear, so he gets a reputation for being severe and judgmental, when a lot of it is lost in the finely crafted argument he’s been trying to develop that blew right by us. :-)

    Good luck with Corinthians, and keep up the great series.

  2. I can definitely agree on Jesus’s message being timeless. And it should be. The core of his teachings – be nice to each other, help those less fortunate than you, don’t judge others, concentrate on your own path, do good deeds, don’t lord you faith over others – are something that everyone should follow. I just don’t think that Paul followed these.

    I’m working through 1 Corinthians right now, and the first thing that is blatantly obvious is that people don’t agree with Paul’s teachings. Enough don’t agree that Paul flew off the handle at them in the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians. What I am trying to figure out is just why Paul is so defensive, and why he doesn’t want any competition for people’s hearts and minds. I am guessing I’ll get more information on this as I progress through the books. :)

    I do agree that, every now and then, Paul turns into an excellent orator. It’s usually when he’s delving deeply into scripture. You can – or I can – see his expertise and knowledge coming to the forefront, both in what he presents and how he interprets it. You can tell he spent a lot of time in Greece – I loved Luke’s description of Paul’s time there in Acts, btw – and is versed in Greek deliberation. I don’t agree with him on most points, but he is at least entertaining.

    Everything else that I’ve read of him? Not so much.

    Thanks for the comment! And for letting me know that comment submission was broken. I’ve fixed it. :)

  3. Dan Schwartz

    A couple thoughts on Paul’s defensiveness:

    Jesus’ teaching presupposes Judaism. He taught in a fully Jewish environment, and his message was mainly an elaboration and clarification of what God expected via the Mosaic law that his hearers were already well aware of. Paul, on the other hand, is writing raw pagans-turned-Christians of the Hellenistic world, whose former religious practices were very different from what Jesus was addressing.

    I think Paul gets defensive, because the churches he established were veering wildly off course, and they needed, in his opinion, to be set straight–and quick.

    In 1 Corinthians, you had people open divisions and fractions occurring, misuse of the “spiritual gifts”, people feeling that the freedom of Christ’s love entitled them to indulge in incest, temple prostitution, and other various immoralities, etc.

    In Galatians, hardcore Judaizers were promoting a full-fledged return to the law of Moses–including circumcision–for all Christians.

    In Thessalonians, people being so concerned about the 2nd Coming of Christ that they had stopped working for a living and were just sitting around waiting for it, and so on.

    On these and other occasions, Paul would write and say, “Look guys, this isn’t the way,” and often they’d respond with “Oh yeah? Who put you in charge?” Thus his various defenses of his position, authority, credentials, etc. Especially in 1 and 2nd Corinthians. (Not to mention in a lot of his letters–it’s kind of veiled and hard to see–Paul is trying to raise money for the Jerusalem church. That always hits a nerve.)

    Lastly, his various differences of opinion were rarely versus the other apostles. Usually they were Paul versus a local faction of a local church which HE founded. In his absences they would get certain ideas, and then feel that he had no right to correct them, and he’d return with, “Well, I’m the one who taught you all this… I think I know what the message is.”

    Interestingly enough, in Galatians Paul says that he presented his “version” of the gospel, or what I guess we could call rudimentary Christianity, to Peter and John for approval, and they didn’t have any disagreements, or anything to add. In 2 Peter, Peter (Cephas) endorses “brother Paul”, and his letters, showing agreement there as well.

    Pretty much all the apostles–Paul, Peter, John (especially john!), James, Jude, take the same tone in their letters. They’re definitely pastoral and interested in correcting wrong thinking and clarifying what the message is and how it’s to be lived.

    Anyway, good luck as you progress. I imagine you’ll have fun with chapters 6 and 7. :-)

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