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Romans 1.18–32: Its Role in the Developing Arguement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2009

Calvin L. Porter
(Christian Theological Seminary, 1000 West 42nd Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46208, USA)


Substantial reasons for rethinking the function of Rom 1.18–32 have emerged in recent studies. The traditional interpretation which continues to be widely accepted asserts that 1.18–32 is one piece of a larger section, 1.18–3.20, which, as a whole, establishes the sinfulness of all humankind. Having shown that to be the case with both Gentiles and Jews, Paul then turns in 3.21 to set forth the solution to that problem. One consequence of this interpretation has been the tendency to isolate 1.18–32 from what follows. The claim of Otto Michel that Rom 1.18–32 is ‘ein Beispiel der Missions-predigt des Pls’ not only illustrates this tendency but is of special interest for the thesis of this presentation.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1994

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1 Michel, Otto, Der Brief an die Römer (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963) 60.Google Scholar

2 Aletti, Jean-Noël, ‘Rm 1,18–3,20. Incohérence ou cohérence de l'argumentation pauli-nienne?’, Bib 69 (1988) 4762Google Scholar. Aletti believes that 1.18–3.20 clearly conforms to a rhetorical pattern: propositio (1.18), narratio (1.18–32), probatio (2.1–3.19), peroratio (3.20). While in this article he does not discuss this pattern, he does investigate the use of such patterns more thoroughly in ‘La présence d'un modèle rhétorique en Romains: Son rôle et son importance’, Bib 71 (1990) 124.Google Scholar

3 Aletti, ‘Rm 1,18–3,20’, 61.

4 Popkes, Wiard, ‘Zum Aufbau und Charakter von Römer 1.18–32’, NTS 28 (1982) 490501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 Popkes, ‘Zum Aufbau’, 494.

6 Popkes, ‘Zum Aufbau’, 499.

7 Popkes, ‘Zum Aufbau’, 499. Jeremias, Joachim (‘Zu Rm 1.22–32’, ZNW 45 [1954] 119–23)CrossRefGoogle Scholar advocated a similar position: ‘1.18–32 hat nur vorbereitenden Charakter’ (121).

8 Thomas Schmeller, Paulus und die ‘Diatribe’: Eine Stilinterpretation (Münster: Aschendorf, 1987). My brief consideration here cannot do justice to his comprehensive consideration of Rom 1.18–2.11 (225–86).

9 Schmeller, Paulus, 279.

10 In his explanation of the expression ‘taktisches Mittel’ Popkes makes his position on this question clear: ‘“Taktisches Mittel” bedeutet selbstverständlich nicht, daβ Paulus inhaltlich nicht zu seinen Ausführungen stünde!’ (Popkes, ‘Zum Aufbau’, 501). Aletti, on the other hand, acknowledges the inconsistency between Rom 2.13 and 3.20 and contends that 3.20 ‘représente à n'en pas douter la pensée de l'apôtre’ (‘Rm 1,18–3,20’, 48) and not 2.13.

11 O'Neill, J. C., Paul's Letter to the Romans (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975).Google Scholar

12 Sanders, E. P., Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983)Google Scholar. See, ‘Appendix: Romans 2’, 123–35.

13 O'Neill, Paul's Letter, 52, 53.

14 Sanders, Paul, the Law, 123.

15 Nygren, Anders (Commentary on Romans [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1949])Google Scholar resolves the question by arguing that the period of God's righteousness succeeds the period of God's wrath and that the content of the two revelations, one given in the Gospel and one coming from heaven, are ‘diametrically opposite’. Rudolf Bultmann [Theology of the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951)]Google Scholar offers a distinctively different solution. For him the revelation of God's righteousness and the revelation of God's wrath are a single eschatological event. They are both constituent elements of the Gospel. Bultmann states his position in this manner: ‘We may speak of God's “grace” only when we also speak of His “wrath”’ (1.262).

16 Cranfield, C. E. B. (The Epistle to the Romans [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975])Google Scholar summarizes the proposals that have been made to address the problem: ‘that διό has lost its logical force and is here used simply as a colourless transition particle; that it should be emended to δίς; that it should be explained as anticipating what follows; that v. 1 is a gloss; that διό connects v. 1 with 1.32a, v. 32b being parenthetic; that it looks back to 1.18–32 as a whole’ (140–1).

17 For a discussion of this problem see Eckstein, Hans-Joachim, ‘“Denn Gottes Zorn wird vom Himmel her offenbar werden.” Exegetische Erwägungen zu Röm 1.18’, ZNW 78 (1987) 74–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Eckstein argues that άποκαλύπτεται όργή θεοῦ in 1.18 is to be construed as a future judgment and that the revelation of God's δικαιοσύνη in the Gospel (1.16–17) stands as the alternative possibility to that future.

18 Sanday, W. and Headlam, A. C., The Epistle to the Romans (ICC; 5th ed.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1902) 41.Google Scholar

19 For a record of this on-going debate see Donfried, Karl P., ed., The Romans Debate (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1977)Google Scholar; Wedderburn, A. J. M., The Reasons for Romans (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988)Google Scholar; Donfried, Karl P., ed., The Romans Debate: Revised and Expanded Edition (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrikson, 1991).Google Scholar

20 Martin, Luther, ‘Preface to the Romans’, in Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (ed. John, Dillenberger; Garden City: Doubleday, 1961) 19.Google Scholar

21 I take 1.18–2.16 to be a section which parallels 2.17–3.19. One concludes with the judgment of conscience and the other with the judgment of the law. Rom 1.18–2.16 concentrates on the exclusionary speech of 1.18–32. Rom 2.17–3.19 focuses on the claims set forth particularly in 2.17–20.

22 Wilhelm Wuellner's important monograph, Hermeneutics and Rhetorics (Special Issue of Scriptura, S3; Stellenbosch, South Africa: Department of Biblical Studies of the University of Stellenbosch, 1989), argues for the reintegration of rhetorics and hermeneutics to revitalize biblical exegesis by focusing on the efficacy of both text and interpretation.

23 For Aristotle's classification see The ‘Art’of Rhetoric 1.3.3 (1358b).

24 In contrast to this identification C. E. B. Cranfield (Romans, 105) takes the position that Paul is ‘describing … the obvious sinfulness of the heathen’. Dunn, James D. G., Romans 1–8 (Word Biblical Commentary 38A; Dallas: Word, 1988) 50,Google Scholar believes Paul is engaged in ‘the analysis of man's tragic decline’. Minear, Paul (The Obedience of Faith: The Purposes of Paul in the Epistle to the Romans [SBT 2/19; London: SCM, 1971])Google Scholar calls the section a ‘colourful appraisal of the Gentile world’ (48).

25 The ‘Art’ of Rhetoric 1.3.3 (1358b).

26 Chaim Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, L., The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1969) 49.Google Scholar

27 Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric, 50.

28 Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric, 51.

29 [Cicero], Ad C. Herennium: De Ratione Dicendi (Rhetorica ad Herennium) (LCL 403; Cambridge: Harvard University, 1954)Google Scholar. Subsequent quotations are from this edition. The editor, Harry Caplan, assigns the treatise to ‘the second decade of the first century B.C.’ (vii).

30 I have taken the repeated phrase παρέδωκεν αύτούς ό θεός to be the key to the structure. This arrangement of the text highlights the root sin as distinct from the consequences. My analysis concurs with the proposal of Klostermann, E. in ‘Die adäquate Vergeltung in Rm 1.22–31’, ZNW 32 (1933) 16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

31 Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca identify repetition as the simplest of figures ‘for increasing the feeling of presence’. They observe that ‘repetition is important in argumentation, whereas it is of no use in demonstration or scientific reasoning in general’ (The New Rhetoric, 174–5).

32 Gilbert, M., ‘Wisdom Literature’, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus (ed. Stone, Michael E.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 308.Google Scholar

33 Note the LXX of Ps 2.10: πάντες οί κρίνοντες τήν γῆν.

34 Tcherikover, Victor, ‘Jewish Apologetic Literature Reconsidered’, Eos 48 (1956) 171.Google Scholar

35 Tcherikover, ‘Jewish Apologetic’, 181.

36 Tcherikover, ‘Jewish Apologetic’, 193.

37 While I have concentrated on the Hellenistic Jewish context to support my thesis, evidence of the use of exclusionary discourse appears in Greek and Latin sources as well. See Plutarch, , ‘That Epicurus Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible’, 1101–7 (Plutarch's Moralia 14 [LCL 428; Cambridge: Harvard University, 1967])Google Scholar. Plutarch's discourse divides humanity into three classes: the evil doers and the wicked, the ignorant and ordinary majority, and the upright and intelligent. He describes this last group as being ‘most highly loved by God’ (θεοφιλέστατον). See also, Cicero Tusculan Disputations 1.29–30.

38 Rhetorica ad Alexandrum (34.5; 1440a) advocates the same strategy: ‘Those replying to exhortations spoken by others must first set out in their introduction the position they are going to oppose …’ (Aristotle, , Rhetorica ad Alexandrum [LCL 317; Cambridge: Harvard University, 1957]).Google Scholar

39 Walker, William O. Jr, ‘The Burden of Proof in Identifying Interpolations in the Pauline Letters’, NTS 33 (1987) 610–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar, makes a significant contribution to the debate on the question of interpolations. For numerous examples of this practice in the Corinthian correspondence see Hurd, John Coolidge JrThe Origin of 1 Corinthians (London: SPCK, 1965)Google Scholar. Throughout this work Hurd addresses the question of Paul's use of quotations out of a letter from the Corinthians or out of oral reporting from Corinth without identifying those quotations as quotations.

40 I do not agree with the translators in this particular case.

41 Leenhardt, Franz L. (The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary [Cleveland: World, 1961])Google Scholar argues that Paul is addressing a ‘fictitious opponent’ (75). Dunn thinks that 2.1–5 challenges ‘anyone who thought himself exempt from the preceding indictment’ (Romans, 79). Watson, Francis (Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach [Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1986])CrossRefGoogle Scholar explains that ‘Paul turns on the Jew … who condemns the idolatry and immorality of the pagans’ and is at the same time ‘being wholly hypocritical, for he is doing exactly the same things himself’ (46). C. E. B. Cranfield argues that since ‘an attitude of moral superiority toward the Gentiles was so characteristic of the Jews … it is natural to assume that Paul is apostrophizing the typical Jew in 2.1ff.’ (Romans, 138). Stanley Stowers, K. (‘Text as Interpretation: Paul and Ancient Readings of Paul’, New Perspectives on Ancient Judaism 3: Judaic and Christian Interpretation of Texts: Contents and Contexts [ed. Jacob, Neusner and Frerichs, Ernest S.; Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987] 1727)Google Scholar argues that ‘an imaginary person who represents a certain vice’ is addressed. This fictitious person is meant to be a ‘type’ depicting the ‘hypocritical judge or the pretentious moralist’ (21).

42 Here I agree with Schmeller (Paulus, 278–85) although he views this identification as only a part of the dialogue style and structure of the text rather than as a part of the actual situation addressed by the letter.

43 The force of διό in Rom 2.1 indicates that the indictment that begins in 2.1 follows logically from 1.18–32. It is not necessary to argue that with 2.1 Paul is addressing a reader whose views must be reconstructed or remain hidden. They are set forth in 1.18–32.

44 Käsemann, Ernst, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1980)54.Google Scholar

45 The verb κρίω occurs ten times in chapters 2 and 3 (2.1 [3x], 3,12,16, 27; 3.4, 6, 7). It does not appear again until chapter 14 where it occurs eight times (3,4, 5 [2x], 10,13 [2x], 22).

46 These are the only occurrences (1.20 and 2.1) of άναπολογήτος in the New Testament. They seem to be intentionally balanced.

47 The only other occurrence of τόν τερον in Rom in 13.8 is especially striking: ὁ γάρ άγαπν τόν τερον νόμον πεπλήρωκεν.

48 Stanley K. Stowers connects the pronoun with the ‘vicious types of people which Paul lists in 1.29–31’, the insolent, the arrogant, and the pretentious (‘Text as Interpretation’, 21). James D. G. Dunn concurs (Romans, 80).

49 Whether κατέχω is to be translated (a) ‘hold back, hinder, hold down, restrain, suppress’ or (b) ‘hold fast, possess, confine, take possession of’ cannot be conclusively determined. Perhaps the two nuances should not be sharply separated as alternatives. If, for example, one ‘takes possession’ of the truth, that act could be construed as ‘suppressing’ the truth.

50 The various contexts in which έριθεία, and related forms, occurs suggests a family of possible meanings: selfish striving for one's own advantage in a group; acting out of self-interest; self-seeking of a political office by unfair means; selfish ambition.

51 Άληθεία occurs in the following places in Rom: 1.18, 25; 2.2, 8, 20; 3.7; 9.1; 15.8.

52 Cranfield, C. E. B. in ‘Changes of Person and Number in Paul's Epistles’ (Paul and Paulinism: Essays in Honour of C. K. Barrett [ed. Hooker, M. D., Wilson, S. G.; London: SPCK, 1982] 280–9)Google Scholar correctly argues that Paul uses the first person plural, especially in the case of οῐδαμεν in 2.2, 3.19, 7.14, 8.22, 8.28 ‘to introduce a statement which the writer can assume will be generally acceptable to those whom he is addressing or whom he has in mind’ (285).

53 Rom 2.6–10 and especially v. 6 (‘For God will repay according to each one's deeds’) appears to present a problem when compared with Paul's concepts of grace and justification by faith. Many have argued that the principle articulated here is ‘unpauline’. The point however that Paul makes is that God's dealing with Jew and Greek is based upon the same principle, the principle of God's justice.

54 Any adequate consideration of this expression must begin with Ernst Lohmeyer's classic analysis (‘Probleme paulinischer Theologie. II. “Gesetzeswerke”’, ZNW 28 [1929] 177207)Google Scholar. Even though he concluded his thorough study by stating, ‘So bleibt die Art dieses Genetives grammatisch unklar’ (207) he argued that the expression ‘bedeutet den “Dienst des Gesetzes” als der religiösen Ordnung, die dem Menschen gesetzt ist’ (202). Thus Loh-meyer located the grammatical problem, the kind of genitive, within a wider perspective. It is a question ‘nicht des religiösen Heiles, sondern der religiösen Weltbetrachtung’ (205). In an order or system defined by the law one can speak of the law accomplishing or doing certain deeds including requiring specific actions. Read from the perspective of Lohmeyer's contribution, Lloyd Gaston's essay, ‘Work of Law as a Subjective Genitive’ (SR 13 [1984] 3946)Google Scholar contributes to an understanding of the activity of the law. I disagree, however, with his interpretation of Rom 2.14–16. He argues that what Gentiles do because they have the effect of the law is sin, described in 1.18–32, and when they sin they are a law for themselves (45). I have argued that 1.18–32 consists of exclusionary discourse about Gentiles made from the perspective of a religious order or system in which law is central. While I cannot develop the case here, I believe it can be argued that the exclusionary discourse is a work of the law. In contrast the τό ργον τοῦ is the οίκοδομή of the community. Thomas R. Schreiner has provided a useful survey in his ‘“Works of Law” in Paul’, NT 33/3 (1991) 217–44.Google Scholar

55 Conscience here is not an ‘inner Lawgiver’ or ‘inner voice’ that guides toward the right and away from the wrong, as it is in some modern thought. It is not what summons to love good and avoid evil, to do this and not that. C. S. Lewis provides a useful survey of uses of the term. See hisStudies in Words (2nd ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1967) 181213.Google Scholar

56 The following sources are especially helpful: Spicq, C., ‘La Conscience dans le Nouveau Testament’, RB 47 (1938) 5080Google Scholar; Pierce, C. A., Conscience in the New Testament (SBT 15; Chicago: Alec R. Allenson, 1955)Google Scholar; Osborne, H., ‘ΣΥΝΕΙΔΗΣΙΣ’, JTS 32 (1955) 167–79Google Scholar; Thrall, Margaret E., ‘The Pauline Use of ΣΥΝΕΙΔΗΣΙΣ’, NTS 14 (19671978) 117–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Jewett, Robert, Paul's Anthropological Terms: A Study of Their Use in Conflict Settings (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1971) 404–46.Google Scholar

57 Pierce concluded his thorough analysis with the claim that conscience in the New Testament materials has nothing ‘to say directly about future acts’ (Conscience, 109). Thrall objected to this conclusion and argued that ‘it remains probable that Paul did think of conscience both as giving guidance for future conduct and also for judging the actions of others’ (‘Pauline Use’, 123).

58 Thrall, ‘Pauline Use’, 124.

59 I am dependent on Lloyd F. Bitzer for the use of this term. See his ‘The Rhetorical Situation’, Rhetoric: A Tradition in Transition (ed. Walter R. Fisher; Ann Arbor: Michigan State, 1974) 247–80Google Scholar. Bitzer defines the rhetorical situation as ‘a complex of persons, events, objects, and relations presenting an actual or potential exigency which can be completely or partially removed if discourse, introduced into the situation, can so constrain human decision or action as to bring about the significant modification of the exigency’ (252).