Campbell-thoughts on righteousness, faith, and the occasion of Romans

I have read on through the rest of Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul and I have the following items:

Douglas Campbell has a chapter that looks at the meaning of the words we translate as righteousness (noun) and justify (verb) in Paul. His main thrust here is that we have used these words as if they were legal and judicial when they are actually more administrative. The righteousness of God refers to his administrative action as king who frees humanity from powers through Christ. To justify is to decree emancipation by executive order more than to render acquittal as judge.

This could be anachronistic. The distinction between executive and judicial is modern. Still, he makes a good point about the over use of courtroom language in justification theory.

He has another chapter on the use of the word we often translate as faith. In Galatians and Romans the phrase translated as “faith in Christ” seems actually to mean the faithfulness or fidelity of Christ. We are saved, not by an individualistic act of the will or mind in responding to Christ with faith, but by the act of God in Christ being faithful to save humanity.

I think he is right about Paul’s formula. There is background for this in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

However, if we look at the whole New Testament, we will have to raise more questions. Jesus apparently went around telling people that their faith had healed them. There does not seem to be any way to turn that into him saying, “my faithfulness has healed you.” This was not necessarily individualistic. Sometimes it was other people’s collective faith that counted (Mark 2:5). The human response, though, was not overwhelmed by divine fiat.

I guess my main problem with both Campbell and the responses is that they often make this into a kind of parochial discussion within reformed theology (there are two appendices about Scottish theology). Calvin and Barth (okay, also Athanasius) are the heroes and “federal theology” with its contractual foundationalism is the villain. This is not a bad thing. Obviously, there are people who are interested in this. And, because contractual foundationalism finds expression in evangelical pop theology like the Four Spiritual Laws, it does have impact beyond reformed orthodoxy.

However, my interest is in the first-century context of Paul’s thought. It seemed to me that this popped out once in a while, but too often got lost in all the references to later theology.

We never did get to a detailed defense of Campbell’s theory of the occasion of Romans, which is what I was looking for.

There is a place in the chapter on dikaio (righteousness) where Campbell summarizes the theory he put forth in Deliverance. At Rome there was a Teacher who represented a Messianic Judaism. He and his followers espoused this position:

“Only the cutting off of the sinful passions through circumcision, and subsequent control over the passions exerted by a mind instructed by the Torah, in their view, facilitated righteous behavior. And yet this ethic could and did affect righteousness, they thought, presumably and especially when transgressions were cleansed by the dying Messiah. The result of a disciplined pursuit of all this would then be an appearance before the throne of God on Judgment Day and a firmly anticipated judgement of ‘righteous,’ at which point those so affirmed could enter into the blessings of life in the age to come.”

It looks like Campbell has joined a view of the opponents from Galatians with some of the themes from the speech-in-character he sees in Romans 1:18 ff. to arrive at this description. It is an interesting idea.

But what is the real evidence that the opponents of the wholly Gentile mission in the wilds of Galatia were also active in the mixed Jewish/Gentile house churches in the capitol city? How does it tie in with Paul’s circumstances when sending off the letter to the Romans from Corinth? He had just finished his collection and was setting off to Jerusalem and ultimately to Spain (15:24 ff.).

We know Paul was on his way to face Jewish opponents in Jerusalem (15:31). Since he had never visited Rome, we don’t know how informed he was about individual teachers there.

My seminary teacher of Romans, M. Jack Suggs, suggested that in Romans Paul is really addressing opponents in Jerusalem. I have never been able to shake the idea that that might be the case.

Furthermore, I am intrigued by Paul’s difficult reference to temple robbing in Romans 2:22. Were there Jewish opponents who were somehow trying to divert Paul’s collection?

Anyway, since I have yet to read Campbell’s full defense of his theory, I can’t say much except that I am aware of alternatives.

In spite of these doubts, I agree with Campbell about the need to go beyond even the new perspective on Paul.   So I want to do another post about this based on thoughts from J. Christiaan Beker and Mark Nanos.

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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