Friday, January 22, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 50-52)

Moo is near the end of his comments on the first paragraph of Romans, 1:1-7. Paul's first words should give us a way to see the direction we are invited to walk with him as we read his letter.

Let's imagine ourselves as recipients.... Has Moo helped us think of ourselves as recipients? Certainly. Paul says "among whom [among the Gentiles] you also are the called of Jesus Christ." The called of Jesus Christ are among the Gentiles. It is "unto" (ε ἰ ς) obedience of faith among all the Gentiles that Paul received grace and apostleship, and so writer and readers are matched.

The major events of the turn of an age are all here: the good news of God -- the death and resurrection of God's Son who is also a descendant of David; the designation of the Son's Lordship; the grace received, through Christ, which is behind Paul's mission as well as behind all of their calling as saints, his and theirs. This turn of an age is worth writing a letter about! The Messiah has risen from the dead, given apostleship (to Paul) and sainthood (to both) through grace (to both) and by calling (to both); this is all new, and the ongoing spread of the news is great and important.

There are some problems when Moo descends from what Paul says here in 1:1-7 to what readers of the commentary might be thinking. (Like a documentary film, a narrator is describing a situation, then, we are jolted when the narrator turns and talks to the camera, looking at it in the eye and saying "I know what you are thinking. Here's what I say about that!" It's an unfortunate distraction from being a commentator on Paul, and we should notice when he does so, commenting on the comments of our day, if you will.

More important, whether commenting on Paul, or on us, is how Moo deals with other views, and how he supports his own assertions. Moo's distinctive way of interaction is to mention other views, and the sources of where they are discussed, but then to give an opinion as if to break the deadlock of other views that are different then his. Moo will sometimes give a reason for his chosen view, not always.

The hardest thing to do is notice one's own blindspots. These take the form of what we think is "obvious," most of the time. "Of course -- that's obvious." Think of what you have heard others say under that rubric!

Even when an opinion is not is not contradicted by other commentators, that doesn't leave it in the clear, as if by default.

On these three pages, the problem is trying to set up a complex relationship between two concepts which are yet to be explained properly, obedience and faith. But let's let it pass for now. We are only in the first paragraph of Paul. And Maybe Moo is only winking at us.

1 comment:

Larry said...

(pp. 51-52) What are we to make of the options discussed for "the obedience of faith"?

Moo's first observation is to notice that the tendency is for one of the two words to eclipse the other, in people's understanding. His two phrases for that are "putting faith into a subordinate position" and "evaporating 'obedience' into faith."

What Moo forgets is that Paul is not making a textbook definition of the relationship, to cover all the aspects of the relationship here. Becuase Moo thinks so, he shutters them up as definitions of one another.

What is the effect of that? In particular, what does he say that ensures that obedience does not exclude faith? When he gets to that, he makes a self-contradictory remark: (p. 53) "we can obey Jesus as Lord only when we have given ourselves to Him in faith."

Is not giving ourselves to Him an act of obedience to Him as Lord? Therefore the sentence is non-sensical, and leaves us wondering what faith could possibly be. We can obey Jesus as Lord only when we have obeyed Him as Lord in a particular, but undescribed-as-yet way? No.

So his attempt for faith and obedience to be mutually defining is an attempt to do something for a textbook, and in the process, faith loses out.

If all this is correct, the error here is procedural, but it leads to leaving out what Paul meant by "the obedience of faith" in this verse (1:6). How does the phrase show what Paul's call to be an apostle to the Gentiles was for?

The letter certainly shows it! It is the thing that he describes later about the Gentiles, in their relationship to Abraham: for them, like Abraham, to "believe without being circumcized, that righteousness might be credited to them" (4:11) -- just as Abraham's righteousness was credited to him before and without being circumcized.

Does faith, then, not have subsequent steps? Most certainly it does! The subsequent steps of faith, however, are not the same as the subsequent steps of the group Paul calls "those who are of the Law." (4:14). The obedience of faith is the faith that Abraham had in Gen 15:6, and associated with it, in Abraham's life, and in every Christian's, is the "steps of the faith of our father Abraham" (4:12).


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