An Orthodox Reading of Romans

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” These words open the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, one of the earliest Christian reflections on the proper relation of church and state. Last fall, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press released a new commentary on Romans, Romans: An Orthodox Commentary, by Patrick Henry Reardon, senior editor at Touchstone Magazine and an Orthodox priest. Here’s the publisher’s description:

God seems to have chosen the Apostle Paul to demonstrate—arguably more than in any other person in Christian history—how the life “in Christ” arrives at insight through experience. If this is the case of Paul more than any other person in Christian history, the reason may be simply that Paul’s words are the Word of God. His epistles stand forever as the divinely chosen model of how the Christian arrives at truth through experience. Unlike so many theologians of later times, Paul did not inherit a Christian worldview. His vocation, rather, was to create such a thing from his own experience. For this reason, Paul’s thought ever remains the Church’s cutting blade, the biting edge of her apologetics and evangelism.

To affirm, as everyone does, that Romans is unique in the Pauline corpus should serve to indicate the necessity of caution in using it as a guide to the other epistles. But in recent centuries the Christological and ecclesiological core of Paul’s thought has been displaced by a preoccupation with religious and moral psychology; all the epistles were interpreted through a Romans lens. This is a false turn, which runs the risk of reducing salvation itself to a sub-division of religious anthropology. To misinterpret Paul is to misunderstand the Gospel itself. Fr Patrick Henry Reardon guards against this error and offers a fuller and more balanced picture of the Letter to the Romans, reading it in the context of the entire Pauline corpus and relying upon the best ancient sources, the Apostle’s earliest disciples and defenders, those Christians in the churches that Paul had a hand in founding. These churches, closely associated with the composition and copying of the epistles rightly enjoyed a recognized authority in the determination of early Christian doctrine.

McKnight & Modica (eds.), “Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not”

3991Last month, InterVarsity Press published Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies, edited by Scot McKnight (U. of Nottingham) and Joseph B. Modica (Eastern U.). The publisher’s description follows:

The New Testament is immersed in the often hostile world of the Roman Empire, but its relationship to that world is complex.

What is meant by Jesus’ call to “render unto Caesar” his due, when Luke subversively heralds the arrival of a Savior and Lord who is not Caesar, but Christ? Is there tension between Peter’s command to “honor the emperor” and John’s apocalyptic denouncement of Rome as “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots”?

Under the direction of editors Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, respected biblical scholars have come together to investigate an increasingly popular approach in New Testament scholarship of interpreting the text through the lens of empire. The contributors praise recent insights into the New Testament’s exposé of Roman statecraft, ideology and emperor worship. But they conclude that rhetoric of anti-imperialism is often given too much sway. More than simply hearing the biblical authors in their context, it tends to govern what they must be saying about their context. The result of this collaboration, Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not, is a groundbreaking yet accessible critical evaluation of empire criticism.

NB: Peter Leithart reviews the book at First Things.

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