A friend told me recently that he liked the book of Romans because it was “wholly dogmatic.” Another friend has told me that Romans is the closest we have to systematic theology within the New Testament. I’d agree with the latter but debate the former.
Romans 16 is the main reason for my debate. In Romans 16 we read Paul referring to a woman as an apostle (Romans 16:7). We also get the powerful: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Romans 16:20). But besides that it is at first glance boring, let’s be honest.
Here’s a selection:
Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.
Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.
Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test
Awkward names and an absence of instantaneous inspiration, it has many of the marks of the often skipped Old Testament genealogies. So I understand why my friend who referred to Romans as “wholly dogmatic” later confessed, “I never read that last chapter. I stop at 15.”
But Romans 16 shows us that it is not “wholly dogmatic” but actually “wholly pastoral.” Romans is written to people desiring to grow in their relationship with Christ. Romans is written by Paul who is seeking to pastor them towards growth in Christ. Without Romans 16 it is easy to forget that it is not a textbook for seminary student, but a letter from a pastor.
I remember Bruce Hindmarsh, a seminary professor of mine saying “letters are always occasional.” What he meant was that we always write letters for an occasion, something provokes them. They exist in time. If we ignore this our interpretation of the New Testament letters will always be stunted and perhaps wrong.
Donald Bloesch, and many before him, have noted that the Bible like Jesus Christ, is completely human and completely divine. Is the Bible affected by its historical context: yes. Is the Bible completely inspired: yes. Like so much in the life of following Christ the error lies in escaping the tension.
Ways to Grow in Your Biblical Understanding
- Go Beyond your Study Bible: Study Bibles are great but if you want to get your heart and mind around a book of the Bible you may have to go beyond the small amount of notes your Bible offers. Look at the Bible Speaks Today series from IVP. They are classic mainstream evangelical, don’t skimp on scholarship but easy to read. Also buy How to Read the Bible for all it’s Worth, it’s worth the purchase and the read.
- Read the Bible aloud: When we read the Bible aloud we notice things we would not have otherwise noticed. We pick up on certain phrases. We are less passive in our reading, more engaged. Also, this is how they were originally received. Not quietly read but heard aloud.
- Read large sections of the Bible at once: Recently I sat down and read all of Romans. I’ve done this with many of other books of the Bible as well. It’s good to pick a smaller piece of the text but when we read an entire book at once it’s easier to trace out the the development of the argument or the pulse of the narrative. You might want to grab some coffee before starting a large book.