Summary: Year A. 4th Sunday of Advent Romans 1: 1-7 Title: “God became a human.”
Year A. 4th Sunday of Advent Romans 1: 1-7 December 23, 2001
Title: “God became a human.”
“The Letter To the Romans,” appears first in the Pauline corpus, the collection of letters either written by Paul or by a disciple of Paul, because it is both the longest and the most important. As such it has played a major role in the development of Christian theology throughout the centuries. It was written and sent from Corinth in the winter of 57/58AD to a long established Christian community composed of both Jews and Gentiles. Probably the gospel came to Rome from Jerusalem as early as the 40s and the Christianity lived and taught there was of the Jewish, more conservative, more versed in the Old Testament and Jewish heritage, bent rather than of the Gentile type we find in the churches Paul himself had founded. In the first century AD it is estimated that there were between 40,000-50,000 Jews in Rome. Throughout the Empire Jews numbered about 4,500,000 among a total population of about 60 million. Some proportion of these would also be Christian. Jews would have made their way to Rome, as to other cities, as merchants, immigrants, fugitives and even captives from the Palestine/Syria region. Some of these would also be Christians, bringing the faith with them to a new land.
While Paul makes the same points in Romans about justification by faith vs. the Law as he did in Galatians, he does so in a much more reasoned way, more respectful of Jewish ears and sensibilities. Paul intends to make a missionary trip as far west as Spain, having finished his mission in the eastern Mediterranean, and Rome would be an excellent base for that mission, much as Antioch and Philippi were for his work in the east. He wants to introduce himself and his theology to the Romans before he gets there. They might have heard of his letter to the Galatians. Some scholars would say Romans is the first “commentary,” on Galatians or even read it and entertained some doubts about Paul’s orthodoxy. Before going to Rome he was about to take a collection, raised from his Gentile churches, to Jerusalem. Given the connection between Roman Christians and those of Jerusalem, a friendly word from Rome would not hurt his cause if they were convinced he was not prejudiced against Judaism. Also, at Rome, as elsewhere, there was the tension between the “strong,” those who did not feel bound by the dictates of the old Law, and the “weak,” those who did, see Romans 14. Paul, ever the apostle, would feel a responsibility to do what he could to present the gospel as he had received it from the Risen Lord himself.
In verse one, Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ. A Greek would not refer to himself as a slave of a king or even a god. Since the time of Greek democracy in the fifth century BC that sort of thinking was frowned upon. Yet, a Hebrew would use such language not only to describe his relationship to the king but to God. Moses, David and the prophets from Amos on, all were called or called themselves “slaves,” of God. Paul is completely at his Master’s disposal.
Called to be an apostle. “Apostle,” like “slave,” is a somewhat technical term from Jewish culture. In Hebrew shaliah, “messenger, ambassador, apostle,” means “one sent.” Such a one was legally empowered to act, within pre-arranged limits, on behalf of the sender. Such as covered by the law of agent/principle today. In the Christian Church it could mean anyone of the large numbers sent out from Jerusalem and other places to spread the gospel or it could refer to the Twelve as apostles. Paul here equates his ministry with that of the Twelve. He is a special envoy with a special mandate. He is “set apart,” for the express purpose of proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles. Anything or anyone “sanctified,” or “consecrated,” was considered “set apart,’ “holy” in Hebrew as belonging to the sacred sphere, the property of God. Hence, a “slave of God,” God’s property, is to be used for God’s purposes and only for those purposes. The Greek word used here, aphorizo, would sound somewhat like the Hebrew root, p-r-sh, for “separate,” a root at the base of the word “Pharisee,” the separated ones.” Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion.
In verse two, promised previously through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. Paul is not only establishing the legitimacy of what he preaches, rooted in the Old Testament revelation, but his own legitimacy to do so. He is saying, in effect: “I believe the traditional faith just like you.”
In verse three, descended from David according to the flesh. Here begins a creedal formula consisting of two lines in antithetical parallelism. Line one relates Jesus to the “flesh,” earth, his Davidic ancestry, his human origin; line two relates him to the “spirit,” heaven, his divine origin.