Well, I got back from The Martin Bucer Institute for Biblical Studies and for the first time got to share some ideas with people who were familiar with where I am coming from. This was helpful to figure out what is uniquely mine and what is not.
There are several things going on in discussions of the meaning of the book of Romans. For starters:
- Is “God’s righteousness” in Romans a shorthand for “a righteousness imputed from God” or does it simply mean God’s righteousness or faithfulness? (And, related: are English translations of the Bible being faithful to their readers or to God when they switch from “the righteousness of God” to “God’s righteousness” in the same paragraph for the same exact term?)
- Is it “faith in Jesus Christ” or “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”
- To what extent is Romans related to theodicy?
- The meaning of “the works of the law,” the identity of those “of the law,” etc.
- Is Romans 7.6ff about a person (regenerate? unregenerate?) or about the history of Israel.
I have an opinion on these issues, but they aren’t new with me.
What I offer I think is the following:
- Paul’s argument in 1.18ff is not about the generic human sinfulness that is true at all times and places, but rather the apostasy that is characteristic of his own time.
- The timing of the life and work of Christ in history is important to Paul’s message.
- The way the law increases trespasses is a process in history in the nation of Israel, not an individual’s behavioral response.
- That God’s used the growth of sin into trespass to provoke a judgment day in which Christ could offer himself as a substitute propitiation.
- Postmillennialism is essential to proving God’s righteousness.
Also, I don’t think many people are acknowledging that Romans 1.18ff has nothing to do with general revelation and how pagans with no testimony about the true God respond to “the light of nature.” Rather it is about Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world that was filled with the influence of the Jews of the diaspora. I figured most of this out in Romans 2, but Kevin Bywater had done some stellar work on Romans 1. Also, I think I was provoked to go in this direction from conversations with Kevin many years ago.