Friday, June 20, 2008

The Theme of Romans: Calvin, Barth, and Wright

Contrast the following commentaries on Romans and their conclusion on Rom. 1.16-17:

Calvin: "We have now the principal point or the main hinge of the first part of this Epistle, that we are justified by faith through the mercy of God alone. We have not this, indeed as yet distinctly expressed by Paul; but from his own words it will hereafter be made very clear that the righteousness, which is grounded on faith, depends entirely on the mercy of God" (p. 29).

Barth: "Where the faithfulness of God encounters the fidelity of men, there is manifested His righteousness. There shall the righteous man live. This is the theme of the Epistle to the Romans" (p. 42).

Wright: "Romans has been thought of for centuries as the letter in which Paul expounds his doctrine of ‘justification by faith’. This half-truth has opened up some aspects of the letter and concealed others. As will become clear, the theological content of this substantial opening section contains ‘justification by faith’ within it by implication, but this is not the stated theme of the letter. The theme is, to repeat once more, the revelation of God’s righteousness, God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s justice, in and through the gospel proclamation of the crucified and risen Messiah … but this letter has announced itself as a treatment, not so much of humans, their plight and their rescue (though all of that has its proper place), but of God – God’s gospel, God’s righteousness. We will not understand Romans unless we grasp this from the outset and remember it throughout" (p. 426).


Alex said...

Thanks for posting. I think you've aptly put Barth in the middle because his theme seems to be a synthesis between the other two. You could rephrase his quote as "Where Calvin's theology meets Wright's theology, there is manifested His righteousness."

Though Barth certainly seems to involve man in the process more than most reformed. So in that sense he could be on one end of the spectrum rather than the middle.

For all of them, the focus is on God. For Calvin, the mercy of God; for Barth, the faithfulness of God; for Wright, God's righteousness or even sovereignty.

Alex said...

Sorry to comment twice in a row, but I wonder if you could look into the themes of some other-than-reformed commentaries such as Catholic, Orthodox, etc. I don't own any other than Wright's, otherwise I'd do it and report back.

sujomo said...

Hi Mike,

Perhaps your readers might be interested to know that in 1525 Bullinger gave a series of lectures on Romans (Calvin was only 16 then). Only his handwritten notes up to Romans 5 survive. He went on to write a full commentary on Romans in 1537.

Re Romans 1:17 Peter Optiz, world renowned Bullinger scholar, writes, "Bullinger interprets the Pauline ek pisteos eis pistin as 'The righteousness of God emerges from belief in (his) faithfulness'. Pistis will be initially understood as 'belief' and then as 'faithfulness'. Bullinger means the faithfulness of God which leads a person to faith. Bullinger's understanding of iustificatio receives with that its own character".

cheers, sujomo

Daniel Kirk said...

"As mentioned above, one of the claims entailed in a message of resurrection is that such new life is the means by which God’s own righteousness is vindicated, which is to say, it is the means by which God’s (covenant-)faithfulness to his people is proved true. We therefore meet in 1:16-17 a parallel claim to that of 1:1-4: the gospel reveals God’s righteousness, defined as his faithfulness to the scriptural promises. Our survey of Jewish literature has prepared us to feel the weight of the surprise contained in Paul’s claim. God’s righteousness is unveiled, not in a general resurrection of the just and the unjust, nor in a resurrection of all the faithful, law-keeping Israelites, but in the resurrection of the one who showed his justice by becoming faithfully obedient unto death." (Unlocking Romans, 47)

If only these guys had had me around to unlock Romans for them... ;^)