February 3: Romans 1:1, 16, etc

The letter to the Romans is probably the best known of Paul’s surviving letters, for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the comprehensive theological argument that is developed and expounded throughout the first 11 chapters. It may also be fair to say that these chapters represent the definitive exposition of what Paul means when he uses the word eu)agge/lion. It thus will prove useful to rely on Romans for a clear understanding of the Pauline meaning and significance of the eu)aggel- word group. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the noun occurs at both the beginning and the end of chapters 1-11, showing its importance as a key word and thematic reference point for the letter. The noun is used 3 times in the opening verses of chapter 1 (vv. 1, 9, 16, and again at 2:16), while the verb is used once in context (v. 15). Then, in chapters 10-11, at the close of the main body of the letter (probatio) the noun occurs twice (10:16; 11:28), and the verb again once (in context, 10:15). We can be fairly certain, I think, that this usage gives us the clearest sense of the meaning of the word group at the time of Paul’s writing (mid-late 50s A.D.), and how it had come to be developed in his thought.

Romans 1:1

Here in the opening words (prescript) of the letter, Paul introduces something of his own well-developed usage of the word eu)agge/lion. There are two aspects to be seen here immediately, which have already been discussed in the previous notes: (1) Paul as a chosen messenger and (2) God as the source of the “good message”, that it relates to what He has brought about for humankind through Jesus Christ. The phrasing brings this out:

“Paulus, a slave of the Anointed Yeshua, called (as one) se(nt) forth [i.e. an apostle], having been separated unto the good message of God (v. 1), which He gave forth as a message… (v. 2) about His Son… (v. 3)”

We can see the sequential structure:

  • Paul…called…separated
    • unto the good message of God
      • which He gave forth as a message…
        • about His Son…

As messenger of the Gospel, Paul is bringing to people a message from God, a message (about Jesus) which is rooted in the Sacred Writings (esp. the Prophetic oracles). The relative pronoun (o^, “which”) at the beginning of the verse 2 clause (vv. 1-7 making up a single long sentence in Greek) serves to explicate and summarize just what this “good message” from God actually is. As noted above, this is done throughout the entirety of chapters 1-11, but begins here in the prescript of the letter (1:1-7), is mentioned again in the exordium (1:8-15, v. 9), and then in the main proposition (propositio, vv. 16-17). The wording here in vv. 1-3ff corresponds with the three distinct expressions, using the noun eu)agge/lion, which we outlined in the prior note on 1 Thessalonians:

    • my/our good message”—the message entrusted to Paul and his fellow ministers to proclaim
    • “the good message of God“—a subjective genitive, indicating God as source (used here in v. 1)
    • “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}“—an objective genitive, referring to the content of the message

This content is summarized in vv. 3-4, which are thought by many commentators to represent an older creedal formula adopted by Paul. It reflects a somewhat earlier point of Christological development, such as expressed in the sermon-speeches in the first half of the book of Acts, and, for example, in the core Gospel (Synoptic) Tradition. The two principal points of this Christology are: (1) Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah, prim. the Davidic ruler figure-type) who has appeared on earth, and (2) with the resurrection, God exalted him to a position in heaven, according to which he can be understood as Son of God. To this, Paul adds the result of Jesus’ death and resurrection:

“…through whom we received (the) favor (of God) and (our be)ing se(n)t forth…among all the nations, over [i.e. on behalf of] his name, among whom you also are called of Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 5-6)

This is the essence of the message proclaimed by the early apostolic preaching (by Peter, and others), emphasizing both: (a) the favor (or grace) that comes through Jesus, and (b) that the early believers were chosen to be apostles (one sent forth by God [and Jesus]) to proclaim the message to others. This latter point is developed by Paul in the introduction (exordium), where the verb katagge/llw is used (v. 8), and the expression “the good message of His Son” (v. 9), as also in the closing words of the exordium (v. 15), with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai.

Romans 1:16

The word eu)agge/lion is expounded further in the central proposition (propositio) of the letter in vv. 16-17, where Paul states famously:

“For I do not feel shame upon the good message, for it is the power of God unto salvation for every (one) trusting—for the Yehudean {Jew} first, and (also) for the Greek. For in it the justice/just-ness of God is uncovered, out of trust (and) into trust, even as it has been written, ‘the just (person) will live out of trust’.”

The italicized words give a clear and concise definition of what the good message is:

  • “the power of God”—i.e., God’s power is manifest in and through it, being communicated to those who hear
    • “unto salvation”—the prepositional expression indicated the purpose (and result) of the message
      • “for everyone trusting”—the message brings salvation only for those who trust in it

That this applies to Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) equally is a distinctive Pauline emphasis (though not exclusive to him) and is a major theme of Romans. The statement in verse 17 also reflects Pauline thought and (theological) expression, and is epexegetical here—it further clarifies the proposition in v. 16. A similar structure may be discerned:

    • “the justice/just-ness [dikaiosu/nh] of God…”
      • “…unto/into trust”
        • (everyone trusting will live): “…the just will live out of trust”

This is not the place to attempt a detailed exegesis of this powerful and profound declaration (itself an interpretation of Habakkuk 2:4), only to state here that it is a fundamental theological proposition of Paul’s, and that he spends the better part of Romans expounding it (especially in chapters 2-4). In literary and theological terms, he is doing very much what he expressed in 1:15: “…to bring the good message also to you the (one)s in Rome”.

Romans 10:15-16

At the end of the main body (probatio) of the letter, we find the famous (and controversial) chapters 9-11 on the place of Israel in God’s plan of salvation. For the first (and only) time in Paul’s surviving letters, he addresses the problematic question of how it is that so many of God’s chosen people (Israel) have rejected or failed to respond to the Gospel. The point of difficulty is summarized in verses 15-16 of chapter 10. First, Paul refers to himself (and his fellow ministers) again as ones chosen to proclaim the good message, citing Isaiah 52:7, one of the key (Deutero-)Isaian passages in which the verb eu)aggeli/zw is used in the Greek (cf. my earlier note). The early believers (including apostles such as Paul) fulfilled this passage as messengers bringing the good news to all people, and yet much of Israel did, or would, not accept the message, as Paul states in verse 16: “but not all heard under [i.e. responded to, heeded] the good message”. This rejection effectively turns many/most Jews into “enemies” of the Gospel—

“…according to the good message (they are) enemies through [i.e. because of] you” (11:28a)

which seems to be in direct contrast to their status as God’s chosen people:

“…but according to the gathering out (they are one)s loved through [i.e. because of] the Fathers” (v. 28b)

Paul’s attempt to explain and reconcile this apparent contradiction in chapters 9-11 is highly complex, and his line of argument, and how it can/should be interpreted, remains much discussed (and disputed) by commentators today. What is important to note here is how the “good message” (eu)agge/lion) is central to the religious identity of believers. As in Galatians (cf. the previous note), Paul frames the Jewish-Christian conflict over religious identity in terms of response to the Gospel message.

The eu)aggel- word group occurs four more times in Romans, including three times in the personal exhortation(s) of chapter 15 (vv. 16, 19-20). Paul’s work as minister of the Gospel is expressed three ways, which should by now be familiar:

    • “the good message of God” (v. 16), using the unusual phrase “working as a sacred official [i.e. priest] (for) the good message of God”; on numerous occasions, Paul compares the Gospel ministry to the ancient priesthood
    • “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}” (v. 19), where Paul, referring to the total of his lifetime of ministry, as “to have fulfilled [peplhrwke/nai] the good message of the Anointed”
    • with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai (v. 20)

The noun eu)agge/lion occurs again in the closing words of the letter (16:25ff), which echo the opening sections (cf. on 1:1, 16, etc, above) in wording and theme:

“…according to my good message and the proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to the uncovering of the secret having been kept silent for age(-long) times, but shining forth now…”

Note the three parallel expressions, which I have arranged as a chiasm:

    • “my good message”
      • “the proclamation of Yeshua”
    • “the uncovering of the secret”

Paul thus equates the Gospel message which he proclaims with the revelation of a great mystery long kept hidden (by God), and that both—Gospel and Revelation—are identified as proclaiming the truth about Jesus.