ROMANS 16 FROM THE GREEK TEXT

In the words of Jim Morrison, ‘This is the end.’  Not the end of everything, mind you.  Just the end of my translation of Romans.  It took me a little longer than I thought it would, because, you know, life.  Nevertheless, I have enjoyed each step, and feel that I know the book of Romans far better than I previously did, and that I know Paul better.  My continual prayer, however, whenever I study the scriptures is to learn more about the Lord, his ways, and how I can follow him as I interact with the world around me.  Study must be devotional or it is only a mind game.

TRANSLATION NOTES

The beginning “greet” in verse 5 is not in the actual text, but is instead borrowed. That fragment should rightly go with the previous verse.  I generally view each new “greet” as a new sentence.

In verse 10, “those from Aristobolus’ household” likely means those who are slaves belonging to a man named Aristobolus, and not a reference to his family.

Paul wants to say “Hi,” to Rufus’ mother in verse 13, but it is difficult to know what he means by “and me” at the end. He probably means “Greet Rufus’ mother, because she has been a mother to me as well,” but the language could also be “Greet Rufus’ mother, and my mother too” meaning that his mother was with Rufus’ mother. I left it literal, attempting to maintain the ambiguity.

The end of this chapter is a textual mess.  There is no verse 24, and there is doubt that verses 25-27 are genuinely Pauline.  I am not a textual critic, but a simple reading does indeed indicate that the end of verse 20 is the logical conclusion for his greetings to Rome, and then a perfunctory return greeting from those who are with him, followed by the brief benediction at the end of verse 20 makes sense.  The last line, one would assume, should be the amanuensis named Tertius and a reference to his host Gaius and friend Quartus.  It makes little sense to put the glorious doxology (and it is indeed glorious, verse 25 alone is a real gem) after the signature line, thus I lean toward thinking that 25-27 are a later addition and not the hand of Paul.

THEOLOGICAL NOTES 

Chapter 16 might be my favorite chapter in Romans because it is so personal.  For the love of all that is good and decent, do not just skip over the names here, because they matter.  Here are three highlights.

First, Phoebe is probably the person delivering the letter, and charged with the primary goal of fundraising for the upcoming trip to Spain.  Paul calls her a deacon, which may well mean generic “servant” or “minister” because offices were very fluid and not codified in the early church.  However, the tendency to translate the word “servant” here but “deacon” whenever it applies to a man is sexist and reflects poor hermeneutics.  In context, it is clear that she was a leader of some sort from her home church and Paul had sent her as a leader with leadership authority.  Indeed, note the first two people he greets are both women.

Second, Paul seems to know a lot of people in Rome, especially considering he’d never been there.  This reflects the transient nature of the first century, but also the missionary strategy of early church leaders–get into the cities–the major cities, and work from there as a base of operations.  My instinct tells me that it was the understood goal of all in Paul’s circle of co-workers that getting to Rome, the seat of empire, culture, economics, and religion was a high priority.

Third, I am obsessed with the mention of Rufus (v. 13).  Let me draw it out simply.  Paul calls him “Chosen” which means something specific, something unique to him.  What can that be.  Here is my hypothesis:  Paul’s ministry is closely linked with Luke, who wrote his own gospel and the book of Acts, and John Mark, who may have been the author of the Gospel of Mark.  Both Luke and Mark tell of the man Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross of Jesus at the crucifixion.  Mark tells us that Simon had two sons named Alexander and Rufus.  Paul’s shout out to Rufus’ mother, who had nourished him as well, could indicate that this family had been integral in Paul’s early spiritual formation in the faith.  Of course, I can’t prove any of this but it does fascinate me.

Chapter Sixteen
1. And I introduce to you our sister Phoebe. She is a deacon of the church in Cenchrea,
2. so welcome her in the Lord, in a way worthy of the saints. Help her with whatever issue might come up, for she is a protector of many, and was for me.
3. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Messiah Jesus,
4. for they risked their own necks for my life, and not for me only do I give thanks, but all the churches of the gentiles.
5. Greet their home church. Greet Epaenetus my beloved, who is first-fruit of Asia in Messiah.
6. Greet Mary, who worked hard among you.
7. Greet my relatives and fellow prisoners Andronicus and Junia. They are famous among the apostles and were in Messiah before me.
8. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.
9. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Messiah and my beloved Stachys.
10. Greet Apelles, who is tried and true in Messiah. Greet those from Aristobolus’ household.
11. Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet the ones from Narcissus who are in the Lord.
12. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa who work in the Lord. Greek Persis, the beloved, who works so much in the Lord.
13. Greet Rufus, the one chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
14. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters with them.
15. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus, and his sister, Olympus, and all the saints with them.
16. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches in Messiah greet you.
17. Yet I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to watch for those who bring dissension and difficulties against the teaching you have learned; stay clear of them.
18. For such people are not serving our Lord Messiah, but their own belly, and by pretty words and flattering speech they deceive the heart of the simple.
19. For your obedience in all things reached us, therefore I rejoice over you. I wish you to be wise in good things, but innocent in the bad.
20. The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet quickly. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
21. My co-worker Timothy, and my relatives Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater greet you.
22. I, Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23. My host Gaius greets you, as does the whole church. Erastus the city steward and brother Quartus greet you.
24. —
25. To the one being able to strengthen you by my gospel and the preaching about Messiah Jesus, according to the revelation of the eternal mysteries preserved in the silence of time,
26. but having been revealed now in the prophetic scriptures by the command of the eternal God, to make known the obedience of faith to all people,
27. to God who alone is wise, through Jesus the Messiah, to whom is glory in eternity. Amen.

ROMANS 14 FROM THE GREEK TEXT

I read verses 7-8 of Romans 14 every time I officiate a funeral.  They are good words for a funeral.  However, Romans 14 is not about the dead, it is about the living, and how we, as servants of the Lord live by faith.  In that way, Chapter 14 is textually linked to the beginning of Romans (1:17).

Translation Notes

I changed the noun “arguments” in verse 1 into the verbal infinitive “to argue” for the sake of sounding better.  Without that change, it sounds psychologically unstable.
In verse 10, I chose “sibling” instead of the literal “brother” because of the way Paul is using the idea. I could have gone with “brother or sister” but I decided that there was already a gender neutral word that meant that. Notice In verse 15 I use both constructions to bring tension to the foreground for the reader.
There is a textual variant in verse 12. The prepositional phrase “to God” at the end of the verse is not in the earliest manuscripts. As I read it, it seemed to me like it didn’t belong, and was clearly a later addition.
Beginning with verse 13 we are introduced to two words that can both be translated as ‘stumbling block.’ These synonyms are used by Paul to describe the responsibility of the ‘strong’ to the ‘weak’ Christ-follower. I chose to clarify it with the words spiritual and moral, but that is a rather subjective choice, so be advised.

Theological Notes

Romans 14 answers the question asked by Cain at the beginning, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The answer is yes.  We each have the sacred responsibility for making certain our actions do not cause spiritual crisis or destructive doubt for other people.  To be certain, discipleship and education are intended as the backdrop of this chapter because one of the goals of a faith community is to make everyone strong, not to permanently tolerate a weakened state of faith.  Nevertheless, the instruction is clear:  Do not let personal choices or habits destroy other people.

The last verse of the chapter puts things into a stark black and white frame.  Everything we do–raising our families, eating dinner, watching television, reading a book, or choosing which church to attend is either an act of faith (belief that God is in control and we are his servants) or it is an act of sin.  It is an act of sin when what we do serves to satisfy our lust, greed, anger, materialism, pride, and any other of the host of vices that compete with trusting faith.  Whatever is not of faith is sin.

Chapter Fourteen
1. But welcome the one who is weak in the faith, choosing not to argue.
2. One believes everything is okay to eat, but the other who is weak eats vegetables.
3. The one eating must not despise the one not eating, and the one not eating must not judge the one eating, for God himself welcomed him.
4. Who are you, judging another’s servant? To his own lord he stands or falls, but he will be made to stand for the Lord is able to stand him up.
5. Some judge some days different than other days, but others judge every day the same. Let each person make up his or her own mind about it.
6. The one who considers some days different, considers it for the Lord, and the one eating gives thanks to God, eating to the Lord, while the one not eating gives thanks and abstains unto God.
7. For none of us lives for himself and none of us dies to himself.
8. Indeed, if we live, we live to the Lord. If we should die, we die to the Lord. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
9. It is for this that Messiah died and came to life, so that he might establish rule over the dead and living.
10. But why do you judge your sibling? Why do you despise your sibling? Everyone will come and stand before the judgement seat of God.
11. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, that every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess to God.”
12. Each of us, then, will give an account about himself.
13. Do not judge one another any longer, therefore, but judge it more important to not put a moral obstacle or a spiritual barrier in front of a sibling.
14. I know and I have been persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is automatically unclean, except when someone thinks it to be unclean.
15. For if by food your sibling grieves, you no longer walk in love. Do not destroy with food this brother or sister for whom Messiah died.
16. Do not let good be blasphemed by you.
17. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
18. Serving the Messiah this way is pleasing to God and accepted by people.
19. Now, therefore, let us pursue the things of peace and the things that help one another.
20. Do not undo the work of the Kingdom of God on account of food. For while everything is clean, it is evil to eat something that is a moral obstacle for another person.
21. It is good not to eat meat, drink wine, or anything else if it is a spiritual barrier for your sibling.
22. Your faith is your own business, what you have is before God. Blessed is the one not judging himself in what he approves,
23. but the one beginning to doubt while he eats will stand condemned, because it is not from faith. Everything not of faith is sin.

DESERT ISLAND DEVOTION

A cruel, mean-spirited thought entered my mind this morning.  It was so heartbreaking I just had to share it with you.

What if, in some bizarro Rod Serling moment, you were marooned on an island.  You had plenty of supplies to live out your life to a long old age, so food, water, and shelter were not problem.  The problem was in this nightmarish world you could only choose five of the books in the Bible to have with you.  It is a similar conundrum to the ubiquitous “Psalm 126” where you’re stranded and can only have five albums of music.

Told another way–perhaps you’re stuck in a bleak story, something like Fahrenheit 451, and you can only have five books of the Bible because that is all you can safely hide from the book police.

Which five would you take?  It is heartbreaking because the whole Bible is precious, a “perfect treasure” that is linked to my very being.  So which ones?  If I had to make such a choice, here is what they would be.

  1. Psalms.  Without a doubt, if I’m on a desert island, I’m gonna need Psalms–all 150 of them.
  2. Isaiah.  It was close between Jeremiah and Isaiah, but in the end I decided the poetics of Isaiah would be helpful in my exile.
  3. Exodus.  I can’t have both Genesis and Exodus, and while Genesis is a great book, I think I’d take Exodus because it contains the great deliverance story of Israel, the decalogue, and a lot of other spiritual data.
  4. LukeJohnLuke.  John.  See, this one is tough.  Of the synoptics, Luke is the easy choice, but choosing between Luke and John, now that is hard.  I need a gospel on this island, and in the end I chose John simply because of the devotional, meditative quality of the material.
  5. Romans.  Of course it is Romans.  Romans contains such dense theological material and it is littered with many scripture quotations (which gives me insight into other books I couldn’t choose) all of which allows me plenty to chew on on this imaginary island.

I sure hope I never have to make this choice.  I would be interested to know what choices you would make?

ROMANS NINE: TRANSLATED FROM THE GREEK TEXT

Translating slowed down the past couple of weeks because we had “to summer.”   That involved a lot of driving, lakes, rivers, and spooky lights.  Never fear, however, here is Romans 9.  I might get finished with Romans before October.  Maybe?

Theological Notes:  Many have suggested that Romans 9-11 is unnecessary for Paul’s argument in Romans, and that the text is better if we move straight from Romans 8 to 12.  By contrast, I believe that 9-11 are essential to Paul’s overall argument–that gentile and Jewish Christians are no different in the eyes of God, and that both are responsible for their individual parts of his plan to include all of humanity in his act of grace.

To this end, Romans 9 builds the case that the Jews, though special, missed something important, and that the gentiles have now become special and gained what the Jews missed.  Through Messiah, both Jews and gentiles can become one in faith, and actually are one family–the spiritual descendants of Abraham.

As one who was adopted, this passage has an emotional connection for me.  That God chose us is not a kind of election/predestination question, but more about the love involved when someone chooses to include you into their family.  God chose to include me, and gentiles, into his great big family.

Translation notes: The text of verse three describes the people who are causing so much anguish for Paul as “the kinsman of me with flesh.”  It could be rendered “my relatives by way of flesh” or something like that.  We might use the word ‘biological’ today to refer to this, but the root word for kinsman is “gene”, plus when I take what he is speaking about, Jews, it is clear that he is referring not to relatives but to his race. So for kinsman I put ‘genetic’ and for flesh I made a big leap and put ‘race.’

Most English texts of verse 4 supply the verb ‘belong’ but Paul wrote it more like a list of adjectives that describe what it means to be an Israelite—so I tried to capture that feeling, even if it doesn’t sound quite right when read aloud.

In verse 27, I supplied “even” and “only” to the verse after careful consideration of its word structure and implied meaning.

“The time” has been added to verse 28 because the verb ‘cut short’ doesn’t have an object. Cross reference Isaiah 10:22-23. However, I freely admit it is altogether possible that both the prophet and the apostle do not mean ‘cut short the time’ but instead are referring to a limit that the Lord has put on his people because of their sin. In other words, when things are carried too far, God shuts it down by cutting them off.

Chapter Nine
1. I speak truth in Messiah; I do not lie. My conscience bears witness along with the Holy Spirit
2. that my sorrow is great and there is continual pain in my heart.
3. I keep wishing for myself to be accursed from the Messiah for the sake of my brothers and sisters, my genetic race.
4. Who, being Israelites, are the adopted family, the glory, covenant, law bearers, worship and promise.
5. From whom the patriarchs, and from them the Messiah, who is what these things are all about, came in the flesh. God be blessed eternally. Amen.
6. Of course, it is not that the word of God had failed, for not all those from Israel are Israel.
7. Nor are all of Abraham’s children actual descendants; for, “In Isaac your seed will be called.”
8. That is, it is not biological children who are the children of God, but the children of the promise; these are counted as descendants.
9. The word of promise is this, “That about this time I will come and Sarah will have a son.”
10. Not only this, but also Rebecca, from one bed, made Isaac the father of us all.
11. Though not yet born, not doing good or bad, even so they were preserved by the free choice in God’s purpose.
12. It was not from works but from the calling that she was told, “The elder will serve the younger.”
13. Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.”
14. What should we say then? Not that God is unjust? No way.
15. For he says to Moses, “I will show mercy on whomever I show mercy, and I will have pity on whomever I have pity.”
16. So now it is not desire, nor effort, but it is the mercy of God.
17. For the scripture says of Pharaoh, that “For this reason I raised you up, for my power to show itself in you, and so that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
18. Now therefore, he shows mercy on whomever he wishes, but he also hardens whomever he wishes.
19. You will then say to me, “Why then does he still blame people? For who can resist his will?”
20. O man! Truly, who are you to talk back to God? Will the creature say to the creator, “Why have you made me this way?”
21. Does not the potter have the power to make out of the same lump an object of honor and one of dishonor?
22. What if God, wanting to demonstrate his wrath and to make known his power endured with great patience objects of wrath, prepared for destruction?
23. And also that he might make known his riches upon objects of mercy prepared for glory beforehand
24. to those he called, not only we who are Jews, but also out from the gentiles.
25. As it says in Hosea, “I will call those ‘not my people my people’, and the one ‘not loved, loved.’
26. In the same place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’ they will be called children of the living God.”
27. But Isaiah cries out for Israel, that “Even if the children of Israel number as the sand of the seas, only a remnant will be saved.
28. For the Lord will accomplish the words and will cut short their time upon the earth.”
29. Just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless the Lord of hosts left descendants for us we might have become as Sodom and made like Gomorrah.”
30. What therefore can we say, except that gentiles, who were not searching for righteousness received righteousness, and a type of righteousness from faith.
31. But Israel pursed a law type of righteousness. A law they did not attain.
32. Why? It was not faith but works. They stumbled on the stumbling stone.
33. Just as it is written, “Behold, I put a stumbling stone and a scandalous rock in Zion, and those believing upon him will not be disappointed.”