What Romans 2:17–29 is all about and how it fits into Romans (in the New Testament)
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What is it about?
This article is a detailed defence of a new reading of Romans 2:17–29 in the New Testament. I think Romans 2:17–29 isn’t directly about salvation, but about teaching. I don’t deny that salvation is a very important topic in Romans, including in the immediately preceding passage (Romans 2:1–16). I also affirm that issues relating to salvation form a vital backdrop to the argument of Romans 2:17–29. However, I argue that the foreground issue in this particular passage (Romans 2:17–29) is not salvation itself, but something related yet distinct: teaching, and particularly Jewish teaching of the law.
Why is it important?
Most commentators don’t spend much time in this passage. They tend to concentrate much more attention on the previous passage (Romans 2:1–16). This means commentators tend to be far too quick to make assumptions about what Romans 2:17–29 is “all about” (i.e. the topic), and so–I argue–end up misconstruing what Paul is actually trying to say in the passage (i.e. the argument). English translations of the passage tend to reflect these assumptions and so perpetuate the misconstruals. I offer an alternative reading of the passage, which is based on detailed engagement with the precise details of the Greek text of this passage. I try to avoid falling into the trap of simply importing all the ideas from the previous passage (i.e. Romans 2:1–16), and instead try to look in detail at the specific concerns of this passage (i.e. Romans 2:17–29). While my reading of Romans 2:17–29 doesn’t take the usual view about the topic and purpose of this particular passage (i.e. that Paul is trying to undermine Jewish advantage in salvation), I think it actually does a better job of supporting classic reformed understandings of the wider context (especially 3:1–8). That’s because my reading of Rom 2:17–29 doesn’t end up with the strange dissonances that result from traditional readings, and so doesn’t require the usual special pleading and exegetical backflips to make sense of the flow of the argument into the following passage (3:1–8). Thus, I argue that my new reading of 2:17–19 fits more smoothly into Paul’s discussion of sin and justification in chapter 3. And that means it supports classic reformed understandings of the nature of sin and justification. At the same time, my reading highlights a theme in Romans that is quite prominent for Paul’s argument but is often neglected or (unintentionally) downplayed in reformed readings of Romans: the theme of preaching and ministry.
The following have contributed to this page: Lionel Windsor