Monday, August 17, 2009

Paul's Cantus Firmus

This post is another exercise in Romans

One might put it under the rubric: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

Our primary texts are the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Concentrating on the New Testament alone misses the point just as concentrating on critical commentaries or even the history of reception can miss engagement with the primary text. E.g. see this post this morning.

David Ker has suggested here that the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings are peripheral to Paul. In what follows, I have listed the words of Scripture that Paul uses in this one letter. Reading them in sequence with no connecting thought reveals the cantus firmus of his mind.

You may find my translations a bit odd - they are from years ago. The links will do a Google search. How many can you identify without looking them up?

descended from David
One who through faith is righteous shall live.
exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal humans and birds and animals and reptiles
exchanged the truth about God
The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands, no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong;
no one does good, not even one.
Their throat is an open grave,
they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood,
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they do not know.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law
Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin
circumcision as a sign
I have made you the father of many nations
So shall your descendants be.
put to death for our trespasses
You shall not covet
cut off
Through Isaac shall your descendants be named
I will return and Sarah shall have a son
The elder will serve the younger. Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.
I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.
I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
Will what is molded say to its molder, Why have you made me thus?
Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'my beloved.'
And in the very place where it was said to them,
'You are not my people,' they will be called 'children of the living God.'
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:
Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea,
only a remnant of them will be saved;
for the Lord will execute his sentence upon the earth with rigor and dispatch.
And as Isaiah predicted,
If the Lord of hosts had not left us children, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomorrah.
They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble,
a rock that will make them fall;
and anyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.
who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it.
But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart,
Who will ascend into heaven?
Who will descend into the abyss?
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart
No one who believes in him will be put to shame
every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart
How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!
Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?
Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.
I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry
I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.
All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.
has God rejected his people?
Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have demolished thy altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life
I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Ba'al
God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.
And David says,
Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution for them let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs for ever.
The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob
and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.
For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.
But, if your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if your enemy is thirsty, give him drink;
for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.
You shall not commit adultery,
You shall not kill,
You shall not steal,
You shall not covet, and any other commandment,
are summed up in this sentence,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.
The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me.
Therefore I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name
and again it is said, Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people
and again, Praise the Lord, all Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him
and further Isaiah says, The root of Jesse shall come,
he who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles hope.
They shall see who have never been told of him, and they shall understand who have never heard of him.


David Ker said...

And yet we do read Romans without conscious reference to the OT texts alluded to. (I'm being devil's advocate here) But it would be worth asking how activated these reference were in the minds of his hearers.

Bob MacDonald said...

I agree, David. Without that activation, there is a limit to the depth of understanding. Moses was preached every Sabbath - so I suspect particularly in this case since I think this letter was sent to 'Synagogue' as well as 'church' (see Nanos - Mystery of Romans) that the references would have been well known by many hearers.

Nanos even argues that the Shema (Deut 6:4) is in view when Paul speaks of God as being both the God of Jews and of Gentiles. (3:30 - God is One). I also missed out many allusions - e.g. circumcision of the heart (2:29).

J. K. Gayle said...

And Paul's effort to write to the non-Jew Hellenes (i.e. to the goyish Greeks or, τοῖς ἔθνεσιν Ἕλλησίν) in Rome is fascinating. Yes, he's using real Greek and not imperial Latin.

Except for his nod also to the Barbarians in 1:14, Paul seems to ignore the actual Italian Romans who are appropriating and over-taking the civilization of pan-Hellenism and who are literally crucifying Jews around the Mediterranean (i.e., τε καὶ βαρβάροις). For Paul, his real audience in Rome seems ostensibly to be the Jews first, and then the Greeks (i.e., Ἰουδαίῳ τε πρῶτον καὶ Ἕλληνι). In actuality, he seems to be writing first to the Hellenes - because the Jews in Rome seem last to recognize his Messiah. (And, as suggested, the Italian imperialists are seen by these Greek followers of Judaism as barbaric polytheists who, worse, are monkeying around with the ethnic goddesses and gods to boot. Is Paul really writing to Romans in Rome?)

So David's question of OT reference activation is critical. Paul is trying to put the Jews first when talking to the Greeks first. It'd be very strange, then, if he ignored the OT altogether. It'd be strange if he didn't go into the scriptures in such detail. The cantus firmus seems to be a tradition that the Messiah called Joshua is allowing Paul to bridge from. The bridge is to the Greeks worldwide; they have seemed considerably more interested in this person and his story than the majority of religious Jews in synagogues in Jerusalem, Judea, and around the old Greek empire.

Paul's letters to Greeks in Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse follow this pattern of writing to Greek and Jew, Ἕλλην καὶ Ἰουδαῖος, and of re-working, perhaps recovering, an ethnic-bridging Judaism with a Roman-crucified Messiah resurrected. I think the references to the OT texts are consciously rhetorical. Christians reading them in the recent centuries need not be as conscious of that bridging/ balancing-act rhetoric (until some dogmatist insists the OT must be normative culturally and otherwise for goyish believers today).

Bob MacDonald said...

"... until some dogmatist insists the OT must be normative culturally and otherwise "

Normative is one of John Hobbins' favorite words. What could be normative from the OT - so many things: election, mercy, loving-kindness, faith, confrontation, judgment, responsibility, love. Yes there is the possibility that legalism might be there too - but that is worse among the Christians than those who love Torah.

Nice use of proper adjectives, Kurk - I think you open us to hearing special implications of Barbarian, Roman, Greek, and Jew.