A Revelation-Historical Interpretation of Romans 2:1–29

Dr. Marcus Mininger, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, speaks about the theme of revelation in the book of Romans. In his book, Uncovering the Theme of Revelation in Romans 1:16–3:26: Discovering a New Approach to Paul’s Argument (Mohr Siebeck), Dr. Mininger argues for approaching Romans 1–3 through a new interpretive paradigm that features revelation over reading Paul’s words primarily through a soteriological or sociological framework. In this second episode of a brief series with Dr. Mininger, we look into a revelation-historical interpretation of Romans 2.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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Emerson Fulton

7 months ago

Hi –
I have found the episodes with Mr. Siebeck super interesting. They are definitely making me think through the first chapters of Romans. My question is have we really missed Paul’s argument in its entirety for the first 2,000 years of the church if Mr. Siebeck’s exegesis is correct? Based on the episodes it seems that this does not impact at all the soteriological conclusions or justification by faith alone but I can’t help but wonder why no one has ever seen this before. Thanks for any insight into this!
Emerson

Marcus Mininger

7 months ago

Hi Emerson,
That is an excellent question. I hope that we will address that directly in the last podcast we do. But in the meantime, a few things. (1) Your instincts here are great, because in general we *should* be hesitant when significantly new arguments arise. I’m that way too. Yet at the same time, the church’s own theologians have long recognized Rom 2 as presenting real problems for understanding. And when this happens over a long stretch of time, we have to acknowledge that we seem to be missing something and try to figure out what is, because the text of Scripture is always supreme. We stand under it. (2) Each period of the church has tended to focus on certain topics in theology and especially notice things in Scripture related to them. Early in the church it was the Trinity and Christology. For Luther it was justification. Such focus has helped people in each age contribute ultra clear insights into certain passages. But it has also meant various ages not yet seeing other things in Scripture related to other topics or not yet understanding certain passages very well. Luther and many after him focused all attention on justification, which led to not seeing certain other things about Rom 1-3 and so struggling to make good sense of much of Rom 2, for example. Thankfully, some developments in our own age, like more attention to redemptive-historical interpretation, have also helped draw more attention to what Paul says about revelation in Rom 1-3, and this might help us make certain advances in understanding while still standing on the backs of and generally agreeing with those who have gone before. (3) You are completely correct that my interpretation does not disagree with Reformed conclusions about soteriology. In fact, part of what it tries to do is place those conclusions on better exegetical footing by explaining more clearly how Paul arrives at those conclusions. Hopefully this will become clearer in the third and fourth podcasts. But what that means is that, as to their soteriological conclusions, the church of many ages was not at all wrong. They were right! And one of my hopes is that my argument helps show that even more clearly. If so, perhaps some who deny Reformed soteriology today, because they think the Reformed church can’t explain Rom 2, might be persuaded to change their minds. At least we can pray for that.

So again, great question. And I hope to touch on this issue again in one of the future podcasts too.

Emerson Fulton

7 months ago

Thank you so much for your reply! This is super helpful!

Coen Tate

7 months ago

Hi! I’m enjoying these episodes.

My question: Dr. Mininger mentioned the parallel between the discussion of patience and kindness in the Wisdom of Solomon and Romans 2. Seeing that Wisdom discusses that God is patient and kind to the Jews in contrast to the revealed wrath towards their enemies (Egypt, etc.), could it be that Paul refers to this because it was in the consciousness of the Jews? This could mean that Paul is talking to a Jew, not to a general person against whom the wrath of God is not revealed. This seems to make sense of the rest of the pericope as it follows where Paul concludes in 2:10-11 that the receipt of temporal kindness and forebearance isn’t determinative of safety from divine judgement. He expresses this by saying that God judges according to works both for the Jew and for the Gentile, emphasizing the point by explaining that this is because “God shows no partiality.”

I might need to clarify a couple of point there, but I would love to know anyone’s thoughts on this, particularly what Dr Mininger’s thoughts are on the potential import of that Wisdom/Romans parallel are for determine Paul’s interlocutor in the first part of Romans 2.

Coen Tate

7 months ago

And I don’t know that this is necessarily contra the revelation-historical interpretation. And I seem to recall that perhaps others have said this within the soteriological interpretation (or whatever the moniker for the traditional interpretation is).

Marcus Mininger

7 months ago

This is a very observant question, Coen. The answer, in my view, is that it does not necessarily mean the interlocutor in the first half of Rom 2 is a Jew but it probably does help suggest that any Jews who thought this way were still foremost in Paul’s mind. You could say, borrowing from Paul’s language in Rom 1:16, that Paul is thinking of Jewish examples of this kind of thought first but also similar ones among the Greeks.

There are at least two main reasons to say that the interlocutor in 2:1 does not represent only Jews for Paul. First, Jewish literature of the period sometimes identifies the Jews as those receiving God’s patience right now but sometimes it identifies the Gentiles that way. It depends somewhat on which author you read and what circumstance he writes to address (in fact Wisdom of Solomon itself isn’t even entirely consistent on this point, as Nygren pointed out about Wis 11:23). Second and more importantly, Paul himself describes the interlocutor in 2:1 as “every one who judges.” The Greek word translated “every” is a buzzword in this section of Romans that Paul uses to accent inclusion of Jews and Gentiles (e.g., 1:16; 2:9-10). This makes a strong case for saying that “every one who judges” includes both Jews who do such judging as well as any Gentiles.

At the same time, though, the flow of Paul’s argument, which you correctly point toward, does seem to suggest that he is *primarily* concerned here with Jews who think God favors them. As you mentioned, the specific points Paul makes in 2:10-11 (really in 2:9-15 as a whole) zero in on issues and questions especially related to Jewish identity and its importance.

On balance, then, I think it’s important to respect the inclusivity of Paul’s language in 2:1 regarding *every* person who judges. Some Gentiles are apparently included there too. But it is also important to see that Jews would likely provide the leading examples of what he has in mind.

(Actually, we may be able to go even a step further here and say that the Gentiles Paul has in mind in 2:1f. may especially be Gentile proselytes who attach themselves to the synagogue and feel they also experience God’s patience as a result of their association with the Jews. One of the issues facing the Christians to whom Paul wrote in Rome was whether Christians in general should assimilate toward Jewish identity by adopting certain Jewish food and day-observance practices [see Rom 14]. It is possible, then, that Paul’s language is broad and inclusive in 2:1f. especially in order to keep the false claims of both some Jews and some Gentiles-identifying-themselves-with-Jews before the Roman Christians’ minds. But that is more conjecture than anything definitively clear.)

Coen Tate

7 months ago

Thanks for the interaction! Point taken.

George Koehl

7 months ago

I have listened to parts one and two, I am wondering if I am understanding the issue at hand? If the section is revelation, it would be the proclamation or disclosure of new truth applicable in the church age (one that does not have a direct correlation with a teaching from the old testament) is that a correct understanding of the topic at hand?

Marcus Mininger

7 months ago

You’ve put your finger on an important issue here, George, so thank you for that.

The Bible speaks about revelation in different ways. In this particular section of Romans, Paul is talking about situations where otherwise invisible realities like God’s wrath or his power are revealed by coming to visible expression in the world by the visible effects they produce in people or in creation. This means that Paul is not talking about “revelation” merely as the communication of a truth to human minds, such as might happen through a vision or a spoken word that helps us know about something. Instead, he is talking about revelations that involve visible embodiment in creation or in the observable human condition. So then, while the Bible tells us that God is angry with every sin, Rom 2 still says that that wrath is not *visible* and so is not *revealed* right now against certain people. It is only presently revealed against those in whom its effects are already seen, as described in Rom 1:18-32. This is a very specific kind of revelation, then: not just when something is known about in the mind, but when something is seen in the observable condition of creation or of people.

Understood in this way, it becomes clearer how such revelations are also not necessarily new covenant specific. For example, Rom 1:19-20 talk about how God’s eternal power and divinity have been clearly seen in creation ever since God’s act of creating the world. That’s because the effects of his divine power are clearly visible in the existence and design of the creation. In that case, this particular revelation is therefore present and visible at all times during all periods of history. By comparison, in Rom 9:17 Paul talks about God showing his power in Pharaoh through Pharaoh’s destruction at the Exodus. That is a revelation that specifically occurred during the Old Testament, which is also true of what Paul describes in 3:9-20 (which we should get to in the next podcast). Again, in Rom 3:21-26 and 5:8 Paul talks about revelations of God’s righteousness and love in Christ’s cross. Those obviously are New Testament specific. But then in Rom 2:5-10 and 9:22-23 he also describes revelations that will only take place at the final judgment.

You can see, then, that there is considerable variety regarding when these revelations occur. But the key to that is understanding the kind of revelation being described: not just knowing about something in the mind, but seeing it embodied in the world around us. That’s why Paul makes such a point in Rom 2 about things that are presently hidden (not seen by us), which will only be revealed later. We already know about God’s righteous judgment in our minds, because Scripture tells us about in both Old and New Testaments. But we have not yet seen it. That kind of revelation, where God’s judgment is seen through its visible effects in each person, will only come later. If you keep that definition of revelation in mind when reading Rom 1-3 (and most of the rest of Romans, really), I think it helps make Paul’s argument clearer, which is essentially what my book is trying to show.

Thanks again for your question, because it brings up a key point. Maybe what I’ve said here can help make these podcasts clearer for everyone.

Timothy Joseph

7 months ago

Well, I can see why no one else has seen the connection that Dr. Mininger has made. In order to have any chance to come to the conclusions he reaches in Romans 2, you have to reach into Paul’s mind and then see the same things that Mininger does.
This idea that the interlocutor is arguing that he individually is different than other earlier sinners since he is not being judged immediately is only possible if you read it into the text. He reads the text like it is not a single letter written to a church, but instead some kind of systematic theology that even the original hearers would struggle to recognize.
The traditional and orthodox understanding does not require mind reading.
Of course relying on an apocryphal text as the source for your argument is always dangerous.

Tim

Marcus Mininger

7 months ago

Hi Tim,

You are right to be concerned about how non-canonical texts are used in biblical studies, which is often a problem area. Scripture is unique and as such must remain the sole authority in interpretation, not put on a par with other texts. In this case, though, my point is that Wisdom of Solomon seems to express the view Paul is fundamentally *disagreeing* with in Rom 2, which I believe is very appropriate to do while still having a high view of the absolute uniqueness of God’s inerrant Word.

Maybe that helps allay at least one of your concerns. Unfortunately it’s not clear to me how the other ones really apply to what I said. So I’m not sure how to help on those. But I certainly appreciate your interest in God’s Word and in defending its proper interpretation. So thank you for that.

David Behar

7 months ago

I’m wondering if the exposition of God’s revelation in chapters 1-3 set us up for Ch 4 where in Abraham we find the big picture of all that was revealed and hidden (his imputed justification) in Abraham ??????

Marcus Mininger

7 months ago

Great question, David. We’re actually going to touch on this in podcast #3. The theme of revelation itself does not continue into Rom 4. But Paul’s survey of revelation-history does establish the difference between a principle of works (receiving what corresponds to your actual condition) and a principle of grace (receiving what directly contrasts your actual condition), and this extends directly into Rom 4 with Abraham, who was justified while still uncircumcised and received what he did not deserve. So there is a very close thematic connection here, just like you thought.

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