Friday, June 19, 2009

Ambrosiaster on Rom. 1.17

This week Gerald Bray has been visiting HTC and he kindly donated to our library a copy of his Ancient Christian Texts: Commenataries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians by Ambrosiaster which he translated. (I have a forthcoming Solum Evangelium podcast with Gerald about this book and his other new book in the new Ancient Christian Doctrine series on God in the Nicene Creed.) Anyways, Ambrosiaster says some amazing stuff on Rom. 1.17:

"Paul says this because the righteousness of God is revealed in the person who believes whether Jew or Greek. He calls it the righteousness of God because God freely justifies the ungodly by faith, without the works of the law, just as he says elsewhere: That I may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Chrsit, the righteousness from God that depeneds on faith [Phil. 3.9]. He says that this same righteousness is revealed in the gospel, when God grants faith to man, through which he may be justified ... Through faith for faith. What does this mean, except that the faith of God is in him because he promised, and the faith of man is in him because he believes the one who promises, so that through the faith of the God who promises the righteousness of God might be revealed in the faith of the man who believes? To the believer God appears to be just, but to the unbeliever he appears to be unjust. Anyone who does not believe that God has given what he promised denies that God is truthful. This is said against the Jews, who deny that Christ is the one whom God has promised"

This to note:
- When I first read Ambrosiaster connecting Rom. 1.17 with Phil. 3.9, I thought, "Doh! Maybe Tom Scrheiner is right after all [in taking the ROG as an objective genitive, as a thing given to others]". But nah, I'm stil not persuaded by the objective genitive, and the subjective has more going for it.
- Interestingly enough, Ambrosiaster seems to support both an objective genitive and a subjective genitive. He includes a cross reference to Phil. 3.9, but he also refers to the "truth of God" and the "faith of God". Thus, seeing the ROG as God's own faithfulness is not the unique formulation of J.D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright but has an ancient pedigree.
- Important also is (a) that Ambrosiaster focuses on the faith (not the righteousness) that God grants to man. (b) Ambrosiaster, as he typically does, is great at elludicating the Jewish context of Romans, but he also sees/uses it as a Jewish polemical tract. (c) There is also a promise-fulfilment motif that emerges, even more so in his comments on Rom. 3.21-26: "Therefore, the righteousness of God appears to be mercy, because it has its origin in the promise, and when God's promise is fulfilled, it is called the righteousness of God. For it is righteousness when what is promised has been delivered". (d) Note also, in Rom. 3.22, Ambrosiaster is definitely an objective genitive proponent. He also has no problem with human faith being the instrument that reveals God's righteousness.
- On Rom. 2.13-16, he seems to see this as a reference to Christian Gentiles not as a hypothetical statement about the possibility of being justified by works if one really did keep the law. "Paul says this because those who hear the law are not justified unless they believe in Christ. This is what it means to keep the law."


Mick Porter said...

Wow, useful quotes. It's almost as if Ambrosiaster wanted to hedge his bets with both the OPP and NPP - maybe he was afraid of getting hammered by bloggers!

I find that last point (about Rom 2:13-16) highly significant. It was only when I heard Wright mention the Christian Gentile view that it hit me just how deliberate Paul's use of New Covenant language is there, yet I'd always seen it as "obviously" Gentiles in general.

Steven Coxhead said...

The new covenant is about the law being written on the heart (Jer 31:33). Gentiles becoming torah keepers without being circumcised physically but through the circumcision of the heart, which by the way is the same circumcision that God was going to perform for eschatological Israel (Deut 30:6). Makes sense to me to see that as part of the Rom 2. You Jews think you're so special, but God has opened up torah keeping to the Gentiles, something which you claim to have but really don't! Would the true torah keepers please stand up?

As for the righteousness of God, I reckon the answer lies in the use of this concept in Isaiah and the Psalms. Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God (Ps 98:1-3). What else does Paul have in mind in Rom 3:21 apart from that?

Dwight said...

Thanks for providing this text from Ambrosiaster. But I have a question that's bothered me for years--a question about grammatical labels.

I'm assuming that when you refer to the "subjective genitive" with respect to ROG, you mean "God's own righteousness." But wouldn't "God's own righteousness" be a possessive genitive (i.e., the righteousness of God, the righteousness which belongs to God) rather than a subjective genitive? I've never been sure what a subjective genitive of the ROG could mean.

At any rate, just a thought.

Dwight N. Peterson

Michael said...

Another interesting find, Mike! It also strikes me that Ambrosiaster is yet another early Christian who displays at least some tension between the OGR and SGR in the PX concept, even if he takes a OG in Rom 3.22. Interesting...

Alex said...

When Ambrosiaster talks about God granting faith, I interpret him in the context of the works/faith antithesis and the mention of the gospel in v. 17. In other words when he says that God grants faith to man, he follows that up with the phrase "through which." I interpret that to mean, contrary to my Reformed friends, that God is granting mankind (rather than individual man) a route through which he may be justified, rather than granting the faith itself. I think a lot of my Reformed friends and relatives would say that God grants the faith itself to individuals. But I'm thinking, and I think Ambrosiaster is saying, that God, in his righteousness, in his faithfulness, fulfilled his side of the covenant promise by providing the world with a way (route) to be justified.