Three Myths about Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Introduction


Before the Reformation took place Martin Luther spent several years lecturing on the Bible. As he studied these Scriptures, he allowed the plain meaning of the text, as opposed to the dogma of the Catholic church, to instruct him in the truth. As a result, he came to believe that many of the teachings of the Catholic church were incorrect. When he offered to hold a debate on one of these topics, the church responded harshly, and the result was the Protestant Reformation.

Anyone who wants to be revolutionary in his thinking need only submit himself to the plain teachings of Scripture, and choose to live accordingly. For this reason, RevolutingNow will post articles that teach the truths of God’s holy word. What better place to start than with the book of Romans, the very book that transformed Luther’s life, and from which came the revelation of justification by faith. That doctrine became the central tenet of the Reformation. Luther’s teachings from Romans were so revolutionary that they got him excommunicated from the church.

Ironically, some of the teachings you will read from this blog will appear revolutionary to many people, including those whose doctrines follow the pattern established by Luther and the Reformers. At this point I will give fair warning on two subjects where I differ from the majority of commentators:. First, I am not Calvinist (and neither am I strictly Arminian) in my interpretation of Romans. Second, I am certain that Paul was not teaching the normal Christian life in his discourse in Rom 7:14-25, and when I explain these passages according to the inner logic of Romans and the rules and methods of ancient Greco-Roman rhetoric, the entire book of Romans will make much better sense and form a consistent whole.

Luther was condemned because his interpretation of Scripture contradicted the traditions of the church. Again, it is ironic that many in the Lutheran and Reformed tradition react scathingly at interpretations of Romans whenever they contradict their own tradition’s teaching. Luther’s response to Roman Catholic censure was to declare that the church’s tradition’s must bow before the plain teachings of Scripture. I will approach the text in a way similar to what Luther did – insisting that the text itself dictate how we are to interpret it, rather than our own tradition. I trust that the readers of these articles on Romans will do the same.

I will begin with a little background information that will help us understand the content of Romans better. This comes in the form of three myths about the book of Romans that have contributed to the misinterpretation of Romans by scores of scholars and commentators who have been guided more by their traditions than they probably realize.  The myths are: 1) that Paul intended the congregations at Rome to read his letter, 2) that Romans is a theological treatise, and 3) that justification by faith is the central teaching of the book of Romans. The first is an assumption that is not attached to any theological tradition. The next two myths are tied to theological traditions, and these myths may hold the place of a sacred cow of sorts in the minds of some. But the text must speak for itself, and where a sacred cow needs to be kicked over, so let it be. The next article on Romans will be an correction of the first myth, that Paul intended his letter to be read by the Roman church.

Traditions are not inherently wrong. I am not without traditions myself. We all have them. But traditions must not guide the way we interpret the Bible. The text and the Holy Spirit must guide us. We must be aware of our traditions and how they may affect our interpretation and make account for it, just as pilots in Alaska have to make account for the deviation in their compasses for the difference between true north and the North Pole, which is what tradition tells us it is. Here, we are in search of a “true north” interpretation of Romans in the hopes that all our traditions will derive from the truth.


2 comments on “Three Myths about Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Introduction

  1. tony says:

    can’t wait to read more!

  2. […] myths people hold about Romans: that Paul expected the church to read his letter. For part 1, click here. The obvious question in many readers minds is how it could be possible for Paul to write a letter […]

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