The Jubilee of St. Paul--Romans 1: 1-7


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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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 22, 2008 7:33 AM.

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Superb Material from Marcy Heidish is the next entry in this blog.

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