Thursday, January 14, 2010

James Dunn on the Reason for Romans

In Beginning from Jerusalem (which is a goldmine of sober historical thinking about early Christianity), Jimmy Dunn returns to the subject of the purpose of Romans esp. in light of Paul's situation at Corinth:

"In these circumstances [finished his mission in the east], and given the relative calm of his few weeks in Corinth, Paul probably concluded that it was time to reflect on his mission to date, on its character, on the tensions and dissensions it had provoked, on what had proved carefully thought through and set down. No doubt the exercise was partly at least with a view to the apologia he might have to make in Jerusalem, and part at least to persuade the Roman believers of the scope and implications of the gospel. But Paul's primary objective, I suspect (with Dahl and Lohse), was to think through his gospel in light of the controversies which it had occasioned and to use the calm of Corinth to set out both his gospel itself and its ramifications in writing with a fullness of exposition which the previous trials and tribulations had made impossible and which would have been impossible to sustain in a single oral presentation."


pennoyer said...

I'm a little surprised at Dunn's assessment here. While working through Romans (and Cranfield) some years ago in Seminary, I became convinced that Romans was dealing with live issues at Rome - especially the tensions there between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians. In this situation the more "objective", "broad picture" or circumspect approach taken by Paul in this letter is largely a function of the fact that he had not founded that particular community (but would, of course, be visiting sometime soon). This is quite a different perspective from what Dunn seems to be proposing here, even calling Romans a theological "exercise".

But this is a wake-up call for me to think this through again. Besides, who am I anyway? I don't even know the esteemed J.D.G. Dunn as "Jimmy"!

Thanks, Ray

John Thomson said...

Outside of an inductive reading of Romans Dunn is speculating as much as anyone else. Perhaps from a more learned position, however, scholars can get their speculations wrong too, often spectacularly. Witness history.

Jonathan said...

I would agree, a number of scholars and a legion of commentaries and journal articles have been written attempting to interpret Romans based on a supposed historical context in Rome. Doubtless it is the unmistakable Jewishness of the letter as well as its generality in terms of what he addresses that makes the question an intriguing one that refuses to submit to historical inquiry.
Dunn's proposition is commendable in that he restrains himself from going too far down the speculative route and being general enough as to avoid major controversy. But in the end this assessment adds little new insight into the letter, Paul's motive for writing it, or its intended audience.