Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Romans 1:1-7 -- Continuity Through Contiguity and Concurrence (Or, The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same)

That's a heavy title, and you will have to read the second half of the post to know exactly what I mean by it. But let me tell you what I am doing here:

We started the book of Romans this past Sunday. When I have time, I may use this blog to review important details from the Sunday sermon and point out some things I did not have time to cover in the pulpit.  You can consider this a review and an opportunity to dig a little deeper than what we had time for on Sunday morning.

A Review

The first seven verses form Paul's introduction.  In epistolary form, they tell who is writing the letter and to whom the letter is addressed.  The kernel of the introductory paragraph forms its bones:  Paul is set apart as an Apostle to communicate 1) the Gospel 2) that concerns the Son of God, 3) who is Jesus Christ our Lord.  Everything else surrounding these three kernel points is the flesh on the skeleton, but the bones provide the underlying structure. 

The flesh and muscle on the bones 1) connect the Old Covenant with the New Covenant and 2) introduce the Gentiles to the Jews as the proper objects of the Gospel message.  This helps the Jews understand that Paul is underscoring and highlighting the true value of their Jewish heritage, not casting it aside. It also gives the Gentiles a proper perspective on and respect for the place of the Old Covenant in the Gospel message. So first, Paul connects the Gospel message of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant through three phrases or clauses in the introduction: 
  1. Verse 2 - which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 
  2. Verse 3 - concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 
  3. Verse 4 - and was declared to be the Son of God [Messiah] in power. 
Then, second, the Gentiles are introduced to the Jews through two phrases or clauses in the introduction: 
  1. Verse 5 - to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 
  2. Verse 6 - including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 
In these thoughts, Paul opens the Jews up to the legitimacy of their adopted brothers and sisters. And to the Gentiles, Paul shows the grace of God through their adoption into the family of God. 

Paul does not say as much as I have said in his opening paragraph. He just gives its seeds. The context is his claim to be an apostle: He is qualified--yea, even commissioned--to address these ideas.  Having this mission, his goal is to bring about the obedience of faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ among all tribes, tongues, and nations.  It doesn't matter whether you are Jew or Gentile, all are in the same sinking boat, and the same rescue boat was sent to save them both. 

P.S. Don't miss the beautiful grammatical and conceptual parallel in verses 3 and 4 that points out the spiritual and physical identity of the Son--the Son of David, the Son of God: 

  • concerning his Son, who 
      • was descended from David
      • according to the flesh and
      • was declared to be the Son of God in power
      • according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,

Dig a Little Deeper

Now, for those who don't mind wading through some heavier language, here is a little more commentary: 

Romans is about Continuity and Difference.  In the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, some things stayed the same and some things became very different. Paul’s introduction to Romans prepares us for this continuity and difference.

The continuity of the Covenants is both contiguous and concurrent.  By contiguous I mean that the Covenants meet back to back. Jewish and Gentile participants in the Church at Rome needed to hear this. Gentiles needed to hear that the Old Covenant is not a false religion in the same category as paganism. It is the foundation for the New Covenant. They both form one contiguous religion, transformed from the Old into the New by the work of Christ. The Gospel is the fulfillment of the Law, and Christ is the fulfillment of the Promises. A butterfly out of a caterpillar. The Gentiles need to understand that they have been adopted by God’s grace into the same family to whom the promises were originally made through Abraham.

The continuity of the Covenants was also concurrent. The faith that saves under the New Covenant is the same faith that saved under the Old Covenant. The Jews needed to understand that it was God’s plan to bring the Gentiles into the family from the start. The true family of God was never blood-related; it was always faith-related. Faith is thicker than blood. Salvation was by faith during the Old Testament; it is by faith during the New Testament. From faith then to faith now--from faith to faith. Gentiles and especially Jews needed to understand that God saves all his saints the same way--through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Thus the Covenants have contiguous continuity and concurrent continuity.  But there are also differences.  Chief among them is that under the Old Covenant, the Law was external--laid down upon the Jews from the outside; under the New Covenant it is internal--moved from the outside to the inside in the form of love. Under the Old Covenant, law was the measure of obedience.  Under the New Covenant love is both the measure of and motivation for obedience.  Other differences that will receive an explanation in the book include promise/fulfillment, flesh/spirit, law/grace, blood/faith, works/faith, death/life, slavery/freedom. Note that these contrasts only works if contiguous continuity is assumed.   These contrasts are a part of one complete Gospel message in continuity. You cannot have one without the other. 

When I say, "The more things change, the more they stay the same," I mean that the Covenants may have changed significantly from one to the next, but salvation has always been by faith through them both. 

By the way, the introduction's ideas are echoed  point for point in the closing doxology of the book. That's no accident. Paul's rhetorical skills, ideas, organization, and logic are already being laid out, like two slices of bread that will make for a complete sandwich.  He knows where he is starting and knows exactly where he wants to end. 


Jews and Gentiles were both participating in the Church at Rome. They both needed the Gospel clarified, including how important was the Old Covenant and how different was the New. They needed to understand they were both in the same family, regardless of bloodlines; and they were both brought into that family the exact same way, through faith in the God's promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  These are the ideas at which Paul hints in his introduction to the book of Romans.  This is what he is commissioned by Jesus Christ to explain. 

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