Wrestling with Romans ? Part One

Adrian Graffy

This year marks five hundred years since Martin Luther wrote his Commentary on Romans. In two articles, Adrian Graffy explores the doctrinal teaching in the first twelve chapters of Romans. The author is Director of the Commission for Evangelisation and Formation in the Diocese of Brentwood, and was recently appointed by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

I must begin with a confession. The title given to these articles is not my own. In 1979 the New Testament scholar John A.T. Robinson, who was most famous for his 1965 book Honest to God, published a short commentary on Romans under this title.

But why ?wrestling?? Anyone who approaches Romans does so tentatively. When we think of Romans, verbs like ?grappling?, ?struggling?, and so even ?wrestling? are appropriate. For most people, Romans is confusing and even intimidating.

Clever minds have wrestled with Romans. Spanning the centuries, some of those great wrestlers were St Augustine of Hippo, and numerous other Fathers of the Christian church; Martin Luther, for whom the interpretation of God?s ?justice? was critical; John Calvin, with his ideas of predestination; John Wesley, convinced of the immensity of God?s love; and the great twentieth-century theologian, Karl Barth.

John Robinson writes: ?I do not promise only blood, sweat and tears. On the contrary, the Epistle to the Romans offers what Winston Churchill also called the sunlit uplands, indeed the very heights of Christian experience and theology.?1 It is worth the trouble wrestling with Romans.

Difficulty with Paul?s writing is not a new phenomenon. In 2 Peter we read: ?There are some things in Paul?s letters which are hard to understand; these are the points that the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.? (2 Pt 3.16)

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