Introduction to Romans 12-16

N.T. Wright
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Paul and His Letter to the Romans: Part Three

Prof. N.T. Wright walks students through the final portion of this profound Epistle written by the Apostle Paul.

03:40:23 of on-demand video • Updated October 2019

  • Embrace the beauty of this magnificent letter from the pen of the Apostle Paul.
  • Understand the historical background that is so important to discerning the meaning of this pivotal epistle.
  • Discern how the Apostle Paul brings forth an argument with majesty and complexity.
  • Explain the movement of the main themes in Paul's Letter to the Romans.
  • Dig deeply into the intricacies of specific sections within the letter.
  • Explicate how the strands of key thoughts keep interweaving through the text much as a major symphonic orchestral work returns to movements that reinforce the underlying elements of the work.
  • Discuss how key theological ideas and thoughts are worked through by the Apostle Paul.
English [Auto] The final section of Romans chapters 12 to 16 often gets fairly short shrift from lecturers and commentators alike partly because we're so exhausted by working through those first great 11 chapters and then it seems comparatively straight forward almost a downhill slope from here. But also I think because of the long Christian tradition in theology of treating doctrine and ethics as two quite different things and then putting all the emphasis on what we call doctrine. So this is what you believe in because we're justified by faith. That's what matters. And then ethics are kind of well he has some rules for how to behave because you need to know how to navigate through this world and so on and so people have often just disregarded sections like this as though they're not quite as important. But I think for Paul Romans 12 to 16 is every bit as important every bit as weighted as what's gone before now to be sure it's like 9 to 11 stands firmly on the platform which he has made in Chapters 1 2 8. That's how this great four movement symphony works on those two first sections 1 2 8. We find 9 to 11 and then 12 to 16 and they're not just in parallel as though these are two different constructions standing on that foundation because Chapter 12 begins. I beseech you therefore by the mercies of God I'm appealing to the cause of them and the mercies of God and what he's been talking about in 9 to 11 particularly. And the appeal then in chapters 12 to 16 is not simply for some rules for how to behave it's following through the belief which is so strongly expressed in Romans 3 and 4 particularly that what God has done in the Gospel is to construct a new community. The messianic people defined by the faithfulness of God revealed in the faithfulness of Jesus expressed in their own faithfulness and so much of chapters 12 to 16 is all about what it means to live as the faithful people as the community who are doing the Gospel who are being the gospel who are living in the new way in the world. It may be difficult for us in the Western world which has been so shaped in various ways not in all ways. Be it said but in many ways by the culture of Christianity so that many people in the country where I live at least know plenty of bits of Handel's Messiah or would know what you are talking about if you referred to Pilgrim's Progress or Johann Sebastian Bach Matthew Passion or whatever and some of the great works of art some of the great paintings in our long culture in the whole history of the West Europe and America and other countries that have flowed out from them these are soaked in literature imagination music art which speak of the Christian message. And so we kind of take that for granted. But in fact when we read chapters 12 to 16 and place them not in our world but in the world of Paul's day the world of the Greek philosophers the world of the Roman empire the world of armies and military expeditions coming through the Middle East this way and that the world of Empires carving up the world in their way. We say actually this must have been an extraordinary vision. Nobody was living like this. The world was divided according to social class according to gender and particularly according to the slave free divide which cut right through ancient society so that nobody in Paul's world would have imagined a society living in the way that he wants the followers of Jesus to live. This is revolutionary stuff because it is about the eschatological community. This is the community of the new age who are to live as such and Romans 12 to 16 therefore is all about living in God's new age. There is Paul is saying a radically new and different way to be human. And because of the mercies of God you have to figure out where you are within this plan within this sketch. Paul is saying you have to learn to think because people who live within the new age even though that new age is chafing against and rubbing against the old age so that the two are often in conflict. And it's a difficult and tense and dangerous place to live but you have to have your mind's awakened to the fact that you live in the New World and where we jump from there to the end of Chapter 13 we see that he's saying the same thing only more fully It's now high time to wake out of sleep because the night is nearly over and the dawn is appearing and we are to people who learn how to discern the dawn how to live as daytime people. Even though the rest of the world still is sound asleep and is behaving in the way that in Paul's metaphor sleepy people behave so the whole point is he wants people to think differently so that they can live differently because the new age has broken in and you are to exemplify and model and celebrate what it means to be new age people. And as a result in particular he says at the end of chapter 12 that you are to live within the eschatological vision that you know that the God who made the world is going to call this world to account. Chapter 2 Verse 16. God will judge the secrets of all human hearts according to the gospel through Jesus the Messiah. Well he says in that case one of the key things you need to learn is that God is the one who is judging the world. Therefore you are to live in this penultimate way as he says in first Corinthians 4. Don't try and judge anything and everyone before that time there will come a time when God will call in all accounts and that is why Christian vengeance is ruled out at the end of chapter 12. But that goes straight into the often controversial passage in Chapter 13 where he's talking about human government and it's clear that Paul like almost all Jews of his day believed that God wanted the world to be ruled through wise human or authorities. But here we see part of the point of that that just as God will call the world to account. So God sets aside human governance and all authority in order that that judgment can be there in a measure even in the present world. By that means and therefore it is appropriate for Christians not to be just wild revolutionaries or anarchists but to live within wise and stable government obviously that's complicated. We'll come back to that when we deal with that in more detail and then Chapter 13 ends with two short paragraphs one of which is about the true eschatological fulfillment of Tarrar and the other of which is about the dawn already breaking and therefore the obligation on all followers of Jesus to put Jesus on like a suit of clothes as the way to live in the daytime rather than in the nighttime. And then Chapter 14 1 through to 15:13 we find Still the eschatological note the subject matter is about how different traditions of Christian behavior can sit side by side traditions which say we do or don't eat or drink certain things we do or don't keep certain holy days. And Paul saying we have to learn how to navigate that. Because the imperative is unity as so often in Paul's writings because you are learning to think differently. You must find your way into unity and holiness. He's already talked about wholeness and unity in chapter 12 and now in chapters 14 and 15. He's talking about unity and the difficult task of bringing together groups of Christians who have already settled into certain cultural practices which they see as defining them over against other Jesus followers. Paul is very careful how he goes around those loops. He doesn't actually say some of you come from a Jewish background. Some of you come from a gentile background. He doesn't want him to focus on that. He wants them to see the issues simply as things that they can work around. And so it reaches its climax in 15 1 to 13 which is the summing up of the theology of the whole letter. Here is how the community must be because this is what the Messiah himself did 15 7 and 8. And as a result of all that the aim is united worship with one heart and voice glorifying the God and Father of Jesus and he produces a string of texts from the law the prophets and the writings climaxing with Zire 11 to talk about the Messiah who rises to rule the nations. And in him the nations will hope that as I say is really the summing up of the theological exposition of the letter. But there's more to come because Paul now has to pick up from what he said right back in chapter 1 and in 15 verses 14 to 33 he explains his travel plans. He is coming to Rome but he doesn't want to stop in Rome. He wants to go on from Rome to Spain and he is hinting in a very delicate and gentle way that he would like their support. He perhaps wants them to see themselves as his new home base. He says he's got no room for further work in the eastern Mediterranean. So now rather than seeing himself going to and fro between Antioch and the mission field or between Jerusalem and the mission field he now wants to make Rome the starting point to go out west from there to the farthest ends of the earth as far as they knew time and then having set out those plans and solicited their prayerful support for his forthcoming trip to Jerusalem which is going to be a much more complicated than he could possibly imagine when writing this letter. Then in chapter 16 he gives us the longest list of greetings of any of his letters. It's as though he wants to say to every single house church in Rome. I bring greetings to you not just one or two leaders but this little group and this meeting and that church and so on and so on. And also some greetings from his own friends who are with him. And then there's a great doxology at the end. So powerful and theologically ornate that some have even suggested it doesn't really belong here and some of the manuscripts have moved it to somewhere else. But I think it matches exactly with what we find right from the very start of the letter. The message about the Messiah through which is unveiled the mystery of the gospel of God. So Romans 12 to 16 then is all about the people of God as themselves gospel people shaped by the Gospel to be living in and modeling the new way of being human the way which has come to birth in the Gospel bringing about the new age which has dawned and is dawning and most characterize this people as being a people quite unlike any social or human grouping before or since there is in other words a new way to be human. It's a way rooted in the mercies of God. It's a way which Paul will not only write about but exemplify in his own mission and teaching.