Before I discuss the essay in any of its details, which I'll do, I want to address a few of the key assumptions Rosner brings to the essay. Now I write this well aware that Brian is reading these posts. So I hope to be irenic in my evaluation and that the points I raise will spur on the conversation. Moreover, I trust that Brian will feel comfortable pointing out errors, when there are such, in my representation of his perspective. I think it is good to write with the awareness that the person along with whom you are thinking is present. And I want to thank Brian for an interesting and thought provoking essay. So here we go.
First, there is an assumption that one can create affirmations of Paul’s thought from non-assertions. Rosner refers to this kind of evidence as “implicit” and treats it on the same level with Paul’s, one might say, “explicit” evidence. However, whatever the “implicit” evidence might offer it is in no way equal in weight to the explicit. The whole essay is an argument from silence. Perhaps in no other situation does ones larger construct of Paul come into play than when one seeks to create a “compelling story” (p. 417) from silence. And for this reason it is just as well that implicit evidence is “largely overlooked in treatments of Paul” (p. 417).
Second, to refer to the implicit evidence as “omissions” is to interpret the evidence, non-evidence really, before actually reading it. To label the so-called silences as “omissions” reveals a position on the question before setting out to answer it. It assumes at least in part that Paul decided to leave out something he might have on other occasions or times included. Anyone who has preached the same message to different audiences will understand that one may “omit” information in one setting that was appropriate in another. However, why should we characterize the non-evidence as omissions? By the way, I’m even having trouble knowing what terms to use to refer to Rosner’s evidence.
One other assumption, although this bleeds over into point of view, is the categories with which this essay functions. Rosner seems boil the groups down to either Jew or Christian and concludes that Paul says one thing about Jews and another about Chrsitians. This bipolar perspective on the constituency of Paul’s communities and early Christianity is in need of critical evaluation. Paul himself stands as one who is BOTH a Jew and a believer in Jesus. Paul’s language about himself in the context of Romans 2, which is the focus of Rosner’s essay, moves easily between Jew (notice the first person references – e.g. 2:5) and Christ believer. These then are not airtight categories of identity. Thus, the bottom line is Rosner’s assessment at the end of the day falls down primarily because of its lack of sophistication with respect to Paul’s understanding, and indeed the situation on the ground in the first century, of Christian identity.