Romans- Israel, the Gentiles, and God’s Creative Gift—Part IV: Paul & the Gift

The fourth and final part of Barclay’s book consists of a reading of Romans. He establishes the coherence of the letter; too often the letter is dissected as individual lessons which make up a collection (i.e. the righteousness of God in 3:1-26 or the contrast between Adam vs. Christ and what it means for the locus of believers in 5:1-8:39). For Barclay, however, the literary analysis necessitates approaching the letter as a whole. He incorporates a theological lens through which grace should be seen in its relationship to Israel and the Christ-event, versus the Christological lens with Galatians. There is an appreciable difference between Galatians and Romans which can be embraced by the reader. Barclay writes—

            “The Christological focus of Galatians placed emphasis on the novelty of the Christ-event, with no reference to Israelite generations between Abraham and Christ…Christ is not added to a prior human narrative, but is the hermeneutical center of a scriptural witness that ‘pre-preached’ the good news (Gal 3:8). The theological focus of Romans enables Paul to place the Christ-event on a historical line, with a past as well as a future: the origins of the Abrahamic family (Rom 4) and the means by which Israel was formed and preserved (Rom 9:6-29; 11:1-5) are here significant in themselves, and not merely as types of the present” (p. 558).

How does Barclay read Romans and which of the six perfections are revealed by his reading? Through exegetical and theological work, he shows us that Paul assumes the priority of God’s giving throughout the letter, but this is significant chiefly in underlining its incongruity—“God does not give in return, to match a prior gift: there is no correspondence in this or any other respect. It is that absence of correspondence that makes God’s mercy so unnerving, and at the same time pregnant with such promise for the future” (p. 556). Incongruity, however, is not the final word for the apostle’s letter to the Romans—“As we have seen, the motif of ‘wealth’ evokes the superabundance thematized in Romans 5:12-21, and there are statements here that emphasize the priority o God’s call or gift (9:11; 11:2,35) in a way that supports its lack of correspondence to human worth. There is a general sense of the efficacy of grace, in the fact that the Christ-event, and its preaching, elicit faith, but no reflection on the mechanism or means of that efficacy as many have developed this perfection” (p. 558).

What I found most interesting is even with Paul’s radical emphasis on the incongruity of grace by there is no implication for its non-circularity. From the conversations I’ve held regarding grace, non-circularity seems to be the characteristic associated the most to the western understanding of Paul’s grace.  with as much weight as its incongruity. This speaks volumes to the way we understand and preach grace today, bringing to question if we should level the playing field… Should our expression of grace reflect the proposed circularity as much as its incongruity?

Furthermore, the implications of grace/gift are profound for Paul’s vision of creating a new community, especially within an honor/shame culture where barriers are present and social hierarchy established.  Paul invites people into a community where these barriers are no longer present. Barclay writes, “Since God’s incongruous grace dissolves former criteria of worth, it forms the basis for innovative groups of converts, by loosening their ties to pre-constituted norms and united them in their common faith in Christ” (p. 566).

This concludes my four part series of Paul & the Gift by John Barclay. As was stated in my initial  review of the book, this was an eye-opener to my understanding of grace as Paul preached it, and I highly recommend it to anyone willing to be challenged by such.  It champions over any other literature I’ve explored, setting a new standard of excellence for Pauline scholars. This book has offered a new approach to the concept of “grace,” a new analysis of Second Temple Jewish theologies of divine beneficence, and a new reading of Galatians and Romans through the lens of Paul’s theology of grace; if any of these topics have intrigued you, then I urge you to grab a copy before reading anything else related. I promise it will encourage fruitful dialogue for you and your peers.

(click here to purchase). 

Here are the links to the first 3 parts of this series:

Part I: The Multiple Meanings of Grace and Gift
Part II: Divine Gift in Second Temple Judaism
Part III: The Christ-Gift in Galatians




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