My church’s Bible study went through Romans 2-3 this morning.
A. Claudius Caesar expelled the Jews, including Jewish Christians, from Rome in 49 CE. The house churches in Rome were now composed wholly of Gentiles and were Gentile in flavor. After Claudius died in 54 CE, the Jews slowly started to return to Rome. The Jewish Christians were surprised to see that the Gentile Christians were not practicing Jewish customs. Why were the Gentile Christians not circumcised? Why were they not observing the Sabbath? According to the pastor, Paul wrote Romans to address these divisions. Paul’s ultimate point is that there are no Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians but only Christians. The Jewish Christians are not superior because they are circumcised and have the Torah, for they, too, are sinners who need forgiveness through Jesus. Paul demonstrates that this is true of all humanity from the Law and also from quotations from the Prophets and the Writings. Circumcision was a physical marker that the Jews were God’s chosen people and a sign of the coming seed, Christ, who would bless all people, and its literal observance is now unnecessary because Christ has come and fulfilled it. The new physical indicator that people are in God’s community, baptism, recalls the death and resurrection of Christ. The fulfillment of the law, God’s intent for human beings, occurs through the Holy Spirit and the spiritual fruit that he produces in believers’ lives.
B. Romans 1:17 affirms that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. Lutherans have traditionally interpreted this to mean from the faith of the church—-its doctrine—-to the faith of the individual believer accepting that doctrine. The pastor had a different interpretation. The righteousness of God is revealed from God’s faithfulness to the faith of the believer. This was the case even in the Old Testament. Abraham, as Paul will show in Romans 4, was right before God, not because he earned it, but because he had faith in God’s faithfulness: that God will give him offspring. The Torah was an indication of God’s faithfulness to Israel, for it was a sign in the Old Testament that Israel was God’s people and God was Israel’s God. Israel, by sinning, rejected God’s faithfulness and placed herself under condemnation. God is the one who needs to act for people to have salvation, and God’s faithfulness is demonstrated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
C. Some Gentiles may object that they are not guilty before God because they did not possess the Ten Commandments and the Torah. But everyone has some notion of right and wrong—-that there are acts that promote and that undermine safety and social cohesion; this standard may fall short of God’s standard but it is still known by people, rendering them accountable and, ultimately, guilty. The class then got into ethical theory: Kant’s insight that we can know what is good and bad by reflecting on what would happen if everyone did the act in question (i.e., harmony or chaos?), and Rousseau’s belief that, if the popular will agrees something is right, that makes it right, a sentiment that contributed to the Reign of Terror in France. The youth pastor commented that, growing up in the 1990’s, what was popular then was moral relativism: what is right and wrong for you may not be right or wrong for me. Now, with the culture wars and BLM, there is a notion that someone is right and someone is wrong.