Bible and Bible Study: July 2008 Archives

from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual grace, to strengthen you: 12 That is to say, that I may be comforted together in you, by that which is common to us both, your faith and mine. 13 And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that I have often purposed to come unto you, (and have been hindered hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. 14 To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor; 15 So (as much as is in me) I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are at Rome.

from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

11For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

12That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

13Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

14I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

15So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

In Greek

Paul expresses his longing to see the Church of Rome. This has been a goal of many of his missionary trips and he had yet to set foot in the place. Little did he know that soon enough he would find his last residence there.

The purpopse of his mission to Rome? This may be among the more beautiful sentiments and emotions expressed in this letter--"that I may impart unto you some spiritual grace, to strengthen you: That is to say, that I may be comforted together in you, by that which is common to us both, your faith and mine. " For mutual strength and comfort. In the company of believers, even believers we have never met, if we are rightly focused, we should experience this mutual aid society. I know that when I walk by a cubicle where there is some evidence, no matter how small, of Christian belief, I am comforted--there is a sense that here is someone else upon whom I could rely for prayer and support in the midst of the storm. To this end, I have discretely displayed six different small icons and a plaque bearing the biblical admonition, "This is the day the loard hath made, let us rejoice and be gald in it." And having these, I have been approached from time to time to pray with others who are undergoing trials. Openness about our faith is something Paul will mention again--indeed in the verse that follows today's passage, when he launches into the profound theological reflections that make up the body of the letter. However, he touches on one of the reasons for it here--when we are in community, part of the body, we should support one another as the body supports all of its parts. It isn't an option, it is a requirement of a fully functioning body. Indeed, we don't have the "option" to respond to calls for prayers from those around us, we have the responsibility--prayer functioning something like the lungs, heart, and immune system of the body as a whole.

Paul goes on to say that he has often thought of coming to Rome, but the providence of God has not yet determined the time for it. The love that comes through these words, while expressed in something of a restrained fashion, perhaps because of the need for translation, is rooted in Christ and profound to the depths of St. Paul's being. If we refer to the Greek, the first word expressed in verse 11 is much more plangent than , "I long to see you." The Greek word means to yearn after or intensely crave possession. Longing is nice, but yearning speaks of a deeper beat of the heart. And part of this yearning is for what is expressed in verse 13, he longs to come to help the people within the Church to grow and to help the Church itself to grow in numbers (that I might have some fruit among you.)

Verse 14, while still within the salutation and greeting, begins a theme that will be repeated throughout the letter. Paul notes that "To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor." Which is to say, that Paul takes the wisdom of God from where it is to be found--sometimes with the wise, sometimes with the simple, sometimes with the people who profess His name, sometimes with those who know Him but dimly. It is a credo of courage and the root of the Catholic tradition. It is why the Church was unafraid to translate the Bible into many languages (after a time) and also why the liturgy is so constructed as to reflect some elements of the culture in which it is celebrated without altering the eternal center of the Mystery celebrated. There is wisdom to be found all around us--God speaks to us through the people we meet and the events that occur in the day. If we screen out ninety percent of what He has to say because it does not come from an approved source, then we deprive ourselves of enormous benefits potentially available to us. We should follow St. Paul's example and be indebted to wise and simple, greeks and barbarians.

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from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)
8 First I give thanks to my God, through Jesus Christ, for you all, because your faith is spoken of in the whole world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make a commemoration of you; 10 Always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may have a prosperous journey, by the will of God, to come unto you.

from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

9For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

10Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

In Greek

Here, we learn something interesting about the Roman community--Paul has yet to visit them. He writes from Corinth--most scholars place the date of the later sometime in the fifth decade of the first century--perhaps 52 A.D. Paul is about to embark on a journey to Jerusalem to deliver some of the money and relief he has received from the Churches in Asia Minor to the Church at Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, he will be arrested and imprisoned for the final time--and he will at last achieve his goal of traveling to Rome.

In the words of greeting, Paul at once expresses his deep love for the Church of Rome, his desire to go there, and his constant prayer for them. He is the role model for intercessory prayer, demonstrating in thought, word, and deed that one can pray for people one has never seen.

Because Paul has never visited with the Romans, the letter has a peculiar character. Most of the other letters attempt to address an immediate problem within the community. However, the letter to the Romans does not do so. Instead, it is a deeply theological reflection on the meaning of Christianity and of the salvation that God has fashioned for all people through time.

(The substance of this entry is derived from the introductory material to William Barclay's The Letter to the Romans, excerpts of which are available here.)

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from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)

1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2 Which he had promised before, by his prophets, in the holy scriptures, 3 Concerning his Son, who was made to him of the seed of David, according to the flesh, 4 Who was predestinated the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of sanctification, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead; 5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith, in all nations, for his name; 6 Among whom are you also the called of Jesus Christ: 7 To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 8

from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

2(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

3Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

5By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

6Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

7To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

[In Greek]

First, a note on the Greek site listed above. It is amazing and beautiful--the requested text appears in Greek. Upon mouseover, the word is parsed and defined. My particular reason for using for this passage was to get the particular word in Greek used here for "slave" so that all of the nuance could be understood. (Mouseover and see.)

Second, a short personal comment. While I've undertaken to attempt this way of honoring St. Paul, I must admit from the beginning my own defects in this mission. I am NOT a theologian in any professional sense, nor am I a qualified biblical scholar. For those things that do not spring from my own head (definitions of words and nuances, etc.) I am indebted to any number of commentaries, but in the course of my writing i shall probably rely upon two--one that I've come to trust (William Barclay's), and one that is freely available in any number of locations on the web (Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary), which has a time-honored place in the protestant tradition.)

Third, before comment, allow me to say that this may be the only passage of Romans on which I am capable, on my own steam, of making any intelligible comment at all. I invite you all to share with me as we go along, and so enrich the experience for all of us.

Now to Paul, who was to have been the centerpiece of this entry. In this, possibly the longest of the salutations in the letters, Paul sets out to describe clearly who he is and what place he holds in the line of the revelation of God. We note first that Paul is doulos of Jesus Christ. Quick reference to the Greek Bible tells us that doulos is a word used to refer to a slave--either literal or figurative, and either voluntary or involuntary. Both the DRC and the KJV use the milder term "servant," and that is a shame because it robs the statement of some of its impact and drama.

Because of its origin in the revelation on the road to Damascus we could look upon the inception of this slavery as involuntary and unasked for. However, there is no question that by the time the letters are written, Paul is the willing subject of his Lord--he sees slavery with Christ as more ennobling than freedom without Him.

Matthew Henry shares this insight:

He here builds his authority upon his call; he did not run without sending, as the false apostles did; kletos apostolos--called an apostle, as if this were the name he would be called by, though he acknowledged himself not meet to be called so, 1 Cor. xv. 9. Separated to the gospel of God. The Pharisees had their name from separation, because they separated themselves to the study of the law, and might be called aphorismenoi eis ton nomon; such a one Paul had formerly been; but now he had changed his studies, was aphorismenos eis to Euangelion, a gospel Pharisee, separated by the counsel of God (Gal. i. 15)

From Pharisee separated unto the law, to the new Pharisee, the real Pharisee, what the Pharisee set out to become--separated unto God--in this particular case through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

When we stop to think about it, Paul, of all the Apostles, probably has the greatest thing of all to boast about. He was so valuable to the faith, so important to what was to become Christianity, that he indeed was chosen, directly by Jesus Christ AFTER the earthly time of Jesus. Paul's closest direct encounter (that we have evidence us) was his approbation of the Martyrdom of St. Stephen. God raised up and invited into that elite company of the Founding Fathers, St. Paul. He used St. Paul's genius to inform, enlighten, and reveal much of the thought and understanding that would become the foundation of the Church. That's pretty phenomenal. As St. Paul writes his letter to the Romans, specifically to the Jewish community living in Rome, he is under house arrest for, basically, being a Christian. Not a good thing in the early years of the Empire.

So far we've gotten to the end of the first verse. Small wonder then that most commentaries are extended--although rarely protracted, and often densely argued, examining every shade of meaning of every word. Thus we launch into the second verse, which continues the pedigree by saying exactly who this was who called Paul to the Apostleship of Christ.

Paul is "set apart for the Gospel of God" which God himself had promised through the prophets. (The pronouns and their antecedents are a little unclear in the English translation, while, by their relationship within an inflected language are perfectly clear in their reference.) This gospel, this Good News, is the message of God's Son, Jesus Christ, and in this next set of clauses, Paul launches subtly into the body of his message and the core of the truth of Christianity because he notes that Jesus is and was really human--by the flesh, descended from the line of David the King, but by the Spirit of Holiness (God himself) declared, marked out, defined, decreed, appointed or specified (see the Greek) the Son of God in the Spirit.

Within the first four verses of this book even within the salutation of the Letter, Paul has already laid out a fundamental and "impossible" truth of the Christian Faith. Jesus Christ is both completely human and completely divine--human and God--the incarnation of the Spirit of Holiness that had come upon the prophets of old, who had met with Moses in the desert and who had led and guided His chosen people to this revelation for all people--Jews first and then gentiles.

It is this selfsame God-man who has given Paul the grace to be an apostle and to call all people to Jesus Christ, even those in the Jewish community living in Rome at the time. This community of Jews who are called by God to be Saints, holy people, separated from the world and devoted entirely to God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. To this singular people, Paul commends himself.

So, in a simple salutation, we have the recapping of two thousand years or more of the revelation of God to His people--the final emphatic statement of this revelation the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead. So, we encounter many of the central elements of our faith--essentials of the creed and essentials of our spiritual life before Paul even begins to make his argument. He's barely stepped through the door and he's already opened up the entire revelation of God for his audience. St. Paul is nothing, if not a fast worker, and a worker of great subtlety because he has already tied Jesus to one of the central figures of the Jewish faith and tradition--He has anchored Jesus squarely in the center of the chosen people of God, in such a way that He cannot be repudiated without repudiating the essentials of the faith.

And, I fear, the letter becomes only more dense. However, because I also do, subsequent comments will likely be shorter and more to the point because the essence of this should be the celebration of St. Paul and not the celebration of Steven blabbing on about St. Paul.

Hope this was helpful, useful, or otherwise to your taste. If you are more of a scholar than I am, please feel free to comment, correct, and help anyone who reads here better understand what St. Paul intends.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Bible and Bible Study category from July 2008.

Bible and Bible Study: May 2008 is the previous archive.

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