Blogging Romans: 2:17 - 3:20

I apologize for the delay in continuing this blog. Life can be wild.

Okay, so last time Paul took a cheap shot at homosexuals and argued with Jews inappropriately. He wouldn't be Paul if he hadn't. The cheap shot is the twisted midrash on a particular sex act - who wouldn't feel that twinge of regret at having their sexual acts revealed? Paul continues to take the Jews down a notch in this next section of Romans, but his only redemption here is that he's placing all humanity on the same level - all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Paul's diatribe on Jewish hypocrisy in judgment could easily be applied to the second audience I mentioned at the beginning of this blogging: the Gentile judges who would try Paul, or expel Jews themselves. The names of the divinities must have been cursed by Gentiles a few times because of their actions.

But Paul quickly moves on to clearly Jewish matters: the value of circumcision. The Jew is the favored one of God, and Paul never abandons this notion. But playing off Deutronomy 10:16, he transfers the notion of God's favor to an internal state - setting up the role of faith in salvation.

Coming from the Churches of Christ as I do, I find it very instructive to insert the word "baptism" in place of "circumcision". Both are physical acts, both are seen as the moment when God's favor is bestowed. But Paul will soon be pointing out that Abraham received praise from God before his circumcision. Indeed, there's a definite theme of God weaning his people away from the idea of a holy place - such sacralization comes from the idolatrous impulse, the original confusion. God gave the Israelites plans for a tabernacle, a tent that travelled with them, shattering the concept of a holy place and instilling the idea of the holy heart, the sacredness of a community wherever they may travel.

Yet people must have their mysteries. The Catholics transform the bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Christ, scholars ponder the conundrum of the Trinity, and the church of Christ sees the forgiveness of sins bound irretrivably in the waters of baptism. The Red Queen could believe six impossible things before breakfast, so devout was her faith. To be sure, I always understood that baptism saved because "God said it did." There's nothing present in the water or the baptizer that had anything to do with it. It was a faithful heart responding to how it perceived the commandments of God.

So much for the tangent. At the beginning of Chapter 3, Paul claims that there are some advantages to being a Jew, but in the matter of justification, no human being has an advantage. Both Jew and Greeks are under the power of sin. God gave them up to the power of sin - the debased mind, the confused thoughts. This is the mind of the flesh, the worship of the created, not the Creator.

Some look to their special relationship with God, thinking it gives them an advantage with God's wrath. It does not. Some think that they might as well do evil so that good can come to God's glory, and this also is no advantage. Neither path is better off - all are condemned. "Let us do evil so that good may come!" That's a terrible doctrine and a terrible lifestyle. Good isn't at the mercy of evil for its existance. "If we weren't sinning, you couldn't come down here and show us how good you are!" That's nonsense. Good can demonstrate itself in far more ways than in wrath over evil acts. (The translation Are we any better off? is the preferred one: it refers to the we that is saying, Let us do evil so good may come. Paul inserts another parenthetical Their condemnation is deserved! before getting back on track with What then? It's a confusing little passage, but it's being dictated, so we should expect some rough segueways).

Paul finally gets to his laundry list of Old Testament passages: Humans hold no advantage over each other when they stand before the wrath of God. The whole world may be held accountable to God. All of us participate in the entropy of the world - we have all acted badly. Paul's statement of a universal felt need is quite adroit, if culturally bound. What shall be his solution?