Romans2: Diatribe called Quest

The Epistle to the Romans is Art!  It is many things: a letter, pastoral care, deep theological truths, Apostolic witness, God’s revealing love…; yet, this content is all weaved together into a masterful piece of literature.  God has given His beautiful Word to the Church, through the medium of beautiful whispers.

Paul,a master rhetorician, uses many tools when composing Romans; one of these is Diatribe.  Diatribe is a rhetorical technique where one creates a dialog with with a fictitious opponent. In this dialog, there is a back and forth questioning between the two people.  This rhetorical technique is advantageous because it highlights the strengths of one person’s views and the weakness of the others.

This is significant because Paul begins using this technique in Romans 2.1-4 when he states,

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
(Rom 2:1-4)

As we can see, Paul goes on the offensive as he attacks his opponent(s); but, who is his opposition?  Are they legalistic Christians or Pagans?  I think Paul gives us some clues.  Firstly, he attacks his opponent by vocatively addressing him as “O man” (ἄνθρωπε).  In my opinion, he ties his opponent to the greater HUMANity that has been fallen since the beginning.  This fallen humanity is specifically mentioned in Romans 1.18-32.

Although Paul’s opponent is certainly part of the greater humanity, I do think he has something more specific in mind.  In 2.17 he states, “What about you? You call yourself a Jew; you depend on the Law and boast about God…”   His “adversary” is a Jew.  This point is pertinent to one trying to understand Paul’s presentation of the Gospel in Romans.  The Gospel that he is giving to the Gentile Roman church (1.13) is not a situationless truth; rather, it is a polemic against a contemporary Judaic world view.  The question being answered in Romans is not, “what is the gospel?”  Instead, the question is “how does Paul’s gospel trump the Judaic belief system?”

With this in mind, I hope to show how Paul uses Diatribe to demonstate the importance of justification.


6 responses to “Romans2: Diatribe called Quest

  1. J, great post…and worth, in my opinion, of ‘title of the year.’ I’m waiting for your forthcoming comments on Q-typ-ology. Love you man.

  2. Justin,

    Isn’t it interesting that Paul addresses one who has “call[ed] yourself a Jew,” or more literally, “a Jew being named”? I think this is an unusual way to refer to a Jew. I submit that Paul is referring to either 1) an anonymous, imaginary Jewish teacher of Gentiles, not present in Paul’s expected readership but employed for the sake of Gentiles, or 2) a Gentile who has taken up the Law and thus sought to educate Gentiles in Judaism. A Torah-observant Gentile would have ‘called himself a Jew,’ so to speak. Recall that Paul’s explicitly stated expected audience are Gentiles (ethne: Rom1.5-6, 13). Further, his “obligation” list does not include Jews, and is the grounds for his desire to preach the gospel in Rome to his readership (1.14-15). So, I submit that Paul does not address Jews in Romans. Rather, he is addressing Jewish issues as they relate to Gentiles. His comments on circumcision and the Law should be read in that light: circumcision and taking up the Law are dangerous for Gentile Christians, even “killing” them (7.9-11).

    For what it’s worth…


    • LTD,

      Yeah, I agree with your first proposition. It is most certainly and imaginary Jew, who is being used to demonstrate the superiority of Paul’s gospel over contemporary Jewish beliefs. I wouldn’t be surprised if many in Paul’s audience were previously Gentile God-fearers who had close ties with the Jewish community. This Gospel presentation would strengthen their convictions in regards to Christ. I need to post some more on this.

  3. Please post more. This is very interesting.

  4. You start off on the right track with diatribe and rhetoric. Please see the work of Mark Nanos (Commentary on Romans in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, as well as his essay on Paul and Judaism) and Pamela Eisenbaum (Paul was Not A Christian: The Original Message of A Misunderstood Apostle) to discover how Paul the fully Jewish apostle can best be understood in his original context. Good luck!

  5. Also read, Reinventing Paul, by John Gager.

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