22 Comments

  1. Eluros Aabye

    Thanks for the post, Joel.

    On a very closely related note, I’ve been doing some research on the topics surrounding this issue, and I found (linked from your Huffington Post article) your post about prosopopoeia in Romans:

    http://unsettledchristianity.com/2010/01/pauls-use-of-prosopopoeia-in-his-epistle-to-the-romans/

    It actually makes a lot of sense to me; it seems consistent with the overall picture of Romans, it doesn’t remove/denigrate the theological content from Romans, and it appreciates the context that it was written in.

    With the holidays, conversations around the table about Duck Dynasty will come up, and Romans 1 will inevitably come to the forefront. On the one hand, I’d love to be able to bring up your argument and see how it furthers the conversation. My concern is that I can’t think of a way to boil it down; trying to explain how Romans 1 might be an example of rhetorical dialogue to English readers untrained in Hebrew and working from a somewhat fundamentalist background sounds like a near impossible task.

    Do you have a way that you express your approach to Romans 1 in “nutshell” situations, when you need the 3-sentence summary to relatively unintellectual people?

    Appreciate your insight.

    Reply

    1. Whew…

      Let’s see.

      Paul is going to see new people who have a different understanding of the Gospel, let the one he sees in Galatia. So, to introduce himself, he talks to the understanding of the gospel he is going to meet. He dialogues with others so that he can show how he is different.

      One of the shortest examples, and the one that seems to be the ah-ha moment for many is Romans 7.7-13 where Paul is clearly answering questions/objections to his gospel.

      Does this help?

      Reply
      1. Eluros Aabye

        Thanks, Joel. That does help. The only other question I have (before I’d be comfortable explaining it in a semi-casual setting) is, actually, the difference between Romans 1 and Romans 7. Romans 7 makes it very clear, from the English-translation context of the passage, that there’s a reductio ad absurdum taking place– “My opponent says this? Look at the crazy results!”

        However, in the English translations of Romans 1 (that I’ve seen, anyways), I don’t see any reason to think that’s occurring. There may be a break, at some point, between Paul and his rhetorical opponent, but I don’t see it in the plaintext. There are theological reasons why we might think so (but depending on those might be begging the question), and there’s the whole issue of the Greek γὰρ (which is, at the end of the day, an argument from authority, because neither I nor the people I would be explaining this to read New Testament Greek), but the text in English in all the translations I’ve read except for NLT doesn’t imply a change in voice.

        Is this simply a poor translation job? I’m sure the response I will get is that the text, in no way, implies a change in voice, except for the NLT (which is only one of many translations). Is there a reasonably un-academic/un-rigorous response to this challenge?

        Again, appreciate your insight. On an unrelated note, I bought “From Fear to Faith” as a Christmas gift for a friend who’s going through the sort of paradigm shift it sounds like you and others describe in the book. Keep up the great work!

        Reply

        1. I’m not sure if it is a poor translation issue so much as it is a missed rhetorical clue. The word “gar” is present, but unless you understand gar/for is often times a rhetorical clue in this setting, then the translation doesn’t matter.

          There is a translation coming down soon, however, that does make use of this. The break and dialogue is seen in the Greek as read by the rhetorician. As far as something non-academic, I’m not sure.

          I’m trying to find some modern examples (in English)…

          http://otago.ourarchive.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10523/1668/HaynesPenelope2011MA.pdf?sequence=1

          What I would possible do, after introducing them to the concept of Romans 7, is to start with Romans 2 where Paul seemingly breaks with the previous statement. Follow that along and then go back to Romans 1. Once you establish the pattern, then look for the beginning (or, rather, urge your listeners to look for the beginning).

          For instance, Romans 2.2 points directly back to Romans 1.18-32. Paul then counters their defense (2.2) of their position (1.18–32) in 2.3.

          Look at Romans 2.25–29:

          25 Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.

          No real breaks there, but you can see something of the dialogue.

          Position: Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.

          Question: So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?

          Answer: Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.

          This continues in Romans 3:

          3 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews[a] were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written,

          “So that you may be justified in your words,
          and prevail in your judging.”[b]

          Let’s break that down:

          The position is already stated in 2.25

          Question: Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?

          Answer: Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.

          Question: What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?

          Answer: By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written,

          “So that you may be justified in your words,
          and prevail in your judging.”

          Is this helping?

          And thanks for the purchase! Anything I can do in that regard, please let me know!

          Reply
          1. Eluros Aabye

            Thanks, Joel! Really appreciate your willingness to dialogue about this– it’s certainly an opportunity for me to help understand and explain things better than I could on my own.

            Before I jump in, can you share the upcoming translation that will make clear this sort of interpretation? I’d love to read it, when it’s available.

            So, are you saying that Romans 2:2 is Paul conceding the point without affirming it? When Paul says, “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth”, is he actually affirming this, or merely assuming it to be true for the sake of argument?

            I feel like this gets right to the crux of the matter. If Paul, in 2:2, 1:26-27, et cetera, concedes to his opponents’ argument in order to prove a stronger point (“losing the battle to win the war”), doesn’t Paul’s strong point lose its weight if the argument it’s hinged on is false?

            Let’s say that Paul said this:

            “Tony Perkins, you say that, because of the sinful desires of their hearts, they exchanged God’s truth with a lie, and people abandoned natural relationships for unnatural. God’s judgment against people who do such things is based on truth. You do the same things, though, so by passing judgment on another, you also are condemning yourself!”

            I think that’s a fair paraphrase (apologies if not). If so, even as Paul tells Tony Perkins not to judge/condemn, he’s also affirming that what Perkins accuses them of is sinful; if not, doesn’t the argument against Perkins (that he’s condemning himself) lose all its weight? It sounds to me like this is the core of Paul’s argument:

            “X is sin, but if you judge people for X, you also sin.”

            If X fails to be a sin, I’m not sure that Paul’s argument still works. Maybe it does, though?

            Again, appreciate your insight. No pressure to get back to me, but certainly appreciate it if you do.


          2. I believe the translation will be a redone version of the Easy to Read Version.

            I don’t think Paul is conceding the point – only that he is restating succinctly their position as their point. BTW, here is where translations can help. Note the NRSV’s translation of 2.2: 2 You say,[a] “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” ([a] points to a footnote noting “you say” is lacking.)

            Actually, I think that is a fair paraphrase. I wouldn’t go so far, however, as to say “X is sin, but if you judge…” I think Paul is calling attention to the hypocrisy without speaking to the previous judgement so that he doesn’t ruffle more feathers than he needs to at the moment.

            Something like this:

            “You say X is a sin and thus they are unworthy of knowing anything about God but his wrath. What makes you any different than the ones you deem unworthy? Is it just by being a Christian? I think not. You judge and yet you are just as guilty as the ones you think unworthy.”

            Remember, 1.18-32 is the Jewish objections against Gentiles being in the covenant. Let’s say we bring up to today.

            Position: Their skin is black and thus they are unworthy of salvation.

            Answer: You have no reason to judge someone based on skin color because we are all, when it comes down to it, “mixed” races.

            At this point, I am not saying being black is a sin. I am saying that if you think it is a sin, you’ve got issues because you simply don’t have a leg to stand on because we are all sinners in what you declare sin.

  2. Adam

    I really enjoyed this:

    “I believe Robertson believes in Hell as a place of eternal torment God will send some to. Further, I believe Robertson believes the Gospel as he knows it will keep people out of Hell. Both are as real to him as the sun and the moon. In his mind, then, homosexuality is a sin that may send someone to Hell. Thus, he has a charge to speak the truth and warn others not to engage in sin so that they will not end up in Hell. This is not hate. This is love. I believe he is wrong on a few theological issues and his understanding of Romans 1.18–32, but I am not willing to allow that he is hateful. I will rather state his love, admirable, is misdirected and could use some serious theological reconstruction. If you refuse to allow he needs amending in his views but would rather cast him off, you, my friend, are the one in the wrong.”

    My hope and prayer for humanity is that we can learn to apply this type of grace to everyone, even when it’s hard.

    Reply
  3. Gary

    Only saw it once, for about 5 minutes, when I stopped on it during channel-surfing. From what I saw, the people are total idiots. Nothing to do with race, religion, or gays. It is their use (or total irresponsible use) of guns. I’ve been around guns all my life, and I know how to use them. They do not.

    Reply
  4. Eluros Aabye

    Responding to Joel’s comment #1247064 above:
    http://unsettledchristianity.com/2013/12/the-unsettled-christianity-official-statement-on-duck-dynasty/#comment-1247604
    (I think because of how nested it was, the page wouldn’t let me reply directly)

    Wow… that actually makes a lot of sense. It actually seems like you could read all of Romans this way!
    (I hope you’re laughing a little, because I’m sure you’ve been saying that all along, but I’m only now realizing the scope of what you’re saying.)

    Consider Romans 3:

    “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written”…

    Translates to,

    Saul: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?”
    Paul: “Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were intrusted with the oracles of God.”
    Saul: “What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?”
    Paul: “By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written…”

    If I’m understanding/doing this right, there’s some pretty awesome stuff, here! I’d really love to see the whole book written out like this, or at least as much as fits this mold. Does that already exist? If not, I may have to give it a shot and see how it works. Certainly opens up Romans to a whole new avenue of exploration.

    Reply

    1. It doesn’t exist that I know of… at the moment 😉

      I do think it opens up Romans – and the justification argument – up to a whole new age. And that scares people. I mean, what if you can no longer use 1.18-32 as a means to harm people?

      Reply
      1. Eluros Aabye

        Absolutely– pretty intense stuff, right there.

        I may take a crack at breaking Romans down into that sort of format and see how it goes; sounds like it could be a really rewarding project. Just looking at this for Romans 1-3 has been very enlightening, and I’d love to see how it could be extended further.

        Reply

        1. I completely agree and please let me know when you get it done. I’d love to see it.

          Also, check out Stanley Stowers’ book on Rereading Romans.

          Reply
          1. Eluros Aabye

            Joel,

            I appreciate your insight from earlier. I’ve finished my project, going through Romans and breaking down where I’m guessing Paul is speaking (and to whom he is speaking, the “rhetorical speaker”, the congregation, or Gentiles). It’s been a really enlightening and encouraging project. I may not be correct on everything, but I’m glad I went through it.

            Let me know if you’d like to see a copy. I have it in Google Drive and would be glad to give you a link.

            This has been a major encouragement to me– I don’t want to get into it here on the open internet, but this actually ended up preparing me for some majors news involving this issue and how it affects my family. Thanks for your good work and willingness to converse.

  5. Just Sayin'

    Silly show, never watched it.

    Reply

  6. Thanks for this nicely balanced article.

    One issue that I would like to bring up, perhaps from my European perspective: Phil Robertson has been fired or suspended from his job for expressing his Christian faith – at least that is one reading of the situation. That is not an infringement of his rights under the US constitution, because the action was not taken by the government. But it can still be a violation of his human rights.

    The European Court of Human Rights has recently ruled, in the case of Nadia Eweida, that an employee of a private company suspended from work for insisting on expressing her Christian faith had suffered a violation of human rights. Admittedly three other rather similar cases brought by Christians were lost. So there is no certainty that even in Europe Robertson would win a human rights case.

    Nevertheless the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes “Everyone has the right to work” as well as “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, which surely implies a right not to be fired for expressing one’s opinion. So there is a human rights issue here even if it is not directly covered by the US Constitution. Whether Robertson has or should have any remedy in US law against denial of these rights is a separate issue.

    Reply

    1. Peter, you have just single handedly dried up the conservative base for Robertson! When they see they are supporting the UN, well…

      Reply

  7. This post is a refreshing commentary on Robertson’s statements and the reaction to them. I agree that elements from all sides displayed their hypocrisy by their reaction. BTW, I should note that I am a political Leftist who disagrees with the actions taken by A&E.

    But I struggle with the weight put on Robertson being a product of his own time and place. Are we willing to judge everyone that way? If so, then consider Hitler and the Nazis because anti-Semitism was the long standing rage in Europe and spiked after WWI. If we consider what Luther told Germans how they should treat the Jews, we could say that Hitler and the Nazis tweaked more than startled the morality of their time and place. I don’t think that is how we should regard the level of immorality they plunged to.

    To put too much weight on time and place for one’s words or actions is to push relative morality. At the same time, note that what we say about Robertson ends but there is no comments made about the values of his time and place. So we give Robertson a discount for how wrong his statements were while his time and place receive no criticism.

    In addition, there is one more hypocrisy we should consider. Those of us who believe that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word often describe homosexuals in ways that ask society to treat them as less than equal. We are often guilty of “piling on” when it comes to describing homosexuality because it isn’t enough for us to say that it is sinful, we all too often make comparisons that are intended to scare society into persecuting them. And we strongly associate this piling on with calling homosexuality sin. Thus, those who listen to us get the idea that to say homosexuals sin is a call to practice inequality because we seem to be trying to distance our own sinfulness from the sin of homosexuality. And our hypocrisy is found in our feeling persecuted when society punishes us for saying homosexuality is sin.

    We shouldn’t tolerate some of the statements made by Robertson but all too often to say we will not tolerate causes people to expect that we will punish those who do what is forbidden. What if we meant that we will attempt to practice a corrective intervention whenever we say will not tolerate what is said or done? Perhaps more of our sinful attitudes could be brought to the surface and dealt with than equating not tolerating with punishment.

    Reply

    1. I think in considering Robertson’s context doesn’t mean we cannot still judge him as wrong. I believe he is wrong. I do not believe we can afford him a discount, just a recognition that his speech and ideas are based in a different setting.

      Reply
  8. Jerry

    Is it possible that the reaction is in proportion to Mr. Robertson’s social position and perceived influence? For these reasons his statements potentially carry an outsized impact.

    Reply

    1. It is possible, but the reactions are generally an over reaction. I mean, who didn’t know he felt this way?

      Reply

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