bible open to Romans

Rereading Paul #1

bible open to Romans


In this “Rereading Paul” series, I aim to persuade you of the insights introduced to the world by Douglas Campbell in his massive volume The Deliverance of God. I add my own twist, of course. I will focus persuading you to abandon the “justification theory” reading of Paul and urge you rather to see him as an apocalyptic, messianic, Jewish thinker.

If you want to experience a revolution in your understanding of Paul, here is a simple exercise. Pick up a New Testament. Turn to Romans 5. Read chapters 5-8 and imagine for a short while that this is where Romans begins. Forget about chapters 1-4 temporarily. How does this way of reading change your preconceived notions about Paul’s letter to the Romans?

Instead of arguing about homosexuality and God as the stern judge in chapter 1, you are reading about God who loved us while we were sinners. Instead of wondering who the hypocrite is in chapter 2, you are thinking about Yeshua reversing the death that came to us all in Adam. All the tendentious arguments about God’s wrath, being saved by works, judgment by means of the law, Jews and Gentiles, the value or non-value of circumcision, the identity of all of us as sinners, and the meaning of justification are absent from chapters 5-8. What we find here is good news.

Love has been poured into our hearts. We have been justified, having been loved while we were enemies, so that we are now reconciled to God. Death has been reversed. A free gift has been given. Justification has happened for all people. The problem of persistent evil inside us has been referred to the resurrection. And then chapter 8 soars into extraordinary promises of unimaginable beauty.

Usually the beauty of chapters 5-8 is undermined during our reading of Romans by concerns about issues from the first four chapters. Reading them as an isolated unit, something changes in our thinking. This good news that Paul wrote about really is good. How has the wonder of these chapters been marred by the disputation of the early section of the book? How can this damage be undone.

It almost seems like two different Pauls. And that, in fact, is an answer not far from the truth. As this series on rereading Paul unfolds, that is where I will begin.

The first point to be made: interpreters keep reading Paul through the lens of Romans 1-4, but Romans 5-8 deconstructs and overwrites Romans 1-4. The two sections don’t read in a compatible manner unless we try and force them to. Why should we prefer Romans 1-4 over 5-8?

Douglas Campbell taught me to see Paul’s authentic voice in Romans 5-8 and to see two voices in Romans 1-4: Paul and a rhetorical opponent. Paul is arguing there with an unseen third party, and some of those words belong to the opponent rather than Paul.

After I have demonstrated this, the second major building block of this rereading will be to deconstruct “justification theory.” I will demonstrate that even in Romans 1-4 much of the text is not part of the justification theory base text. It may just mean, and I will argue it stridently, that justification theory is an inadequate summary even of these chapters.

We have a long road ahead of us in this Rereading Paul exercise. I hope you’ll be with me through it all. In the comments, please feel free to share any thoughts you have when you read Romans 5-8 as if it is the beginning of Romans.


  1. Hi, Derek — I’m going to challenge just one single statement you offered above: “Justification has happened for all people.”. I assert that such a statement is invalid unless modified to state that justification has been made *available* to all people. They don’t get to take advantage of it unless they choose to cooperate with HaShem and His principles for human behavior and attitude; and avail themselves of the sacrificial model for forgiveness, redemption, and atonement, preferably the one symbolized in Rav Yeshua’s martyrdom. Only thus does justification “happen”.

  2. According to Romans 5:1, if properly translated, “we have been justified by faithfulness.” That is, Messiah’s faithfulness, not ours. It does not depend on us. I’ve blogged about it several times including here:

    Also, Romans 5:12ff says in Messiah all are made alive as does 1 Cor 15:22, just as in Adam all died.

    Did we have to do something to die in Adam in Paul’s theology? Of course not. Hence, it follows, he did not make revivification conditional either.

    1. Actually, Derek, we *did* have to do something to “die in Adam”. First, we had to be born into the family of Adam, and then we had to sin. Then, in order to be counted among those to whom the statements in Romans are addressed, we would have to have joined ourselves to those who trust in the work performed by the messiah’s faithfulness. It *is* his faithfulness that accomplishes the justification, but we are not passive recipients. Rav Shaul’s theology, or soteriology, cannot exist in isolation from Torah. Therefore some presuppositions are a given, before one begins to interpret his assertions. I don’t know whether Douglas Campbell has any appreciation for that criterion. Consequently, in reference to Rom.5:12, the notion of all those who are made alive is conditioned by the notion of what it means to be “in the messiah”. It is possible for a human to exist outside of that purview (many do), and thus not to experience the benefits of those within it, just as it is possible for even righteous gentiles to exist outside of the covenant that HaShem made with Jews only and thus not to be bound by all its requirement nor to experience all its benefits. Those gentiles who have been grafted by their faith in messiah onto the metaphorical olive tree, to share the nourishment of that trust along with Jews, thus benefit analogously to Jews who enact their faith within the covenant.

      And a note to “tina” — I think you might have a rather hard time finding any scriptural basis to justify a notion of meriting bodily resurrection because of belonging to the messiah but not meriting the eternal life that goes with it. If you couple the resurrection scenario of 1Cor.15:51-52, including its “last trumpet”, with Yohanan’s vision in which the first of two resurrections, pertaining to the righteous ones, occurs at the last of seven trumpet soundings, then it is clear that there is no alternative except the resurrection of the unrighteous after a thousand years of kingly messianic rulership. So if one is counted among the righteous, one’s beneficial eternal destiny is secure. The unrighteous, on the other hand, comparable to the goats in Rav Yeshua’s parable of sheep and goats in Mt.25, are the ones who don’t fare so well and seem to be headed for that fiery lake of utter destruction that appears also in Yohanan’s vision.

  3. And we are off to a great start! just what I expected….

    2 questions is 1 Cor 15:22 only talking about a bodily resurrection? it’s not inferred here all those are given eternal life?

  4. Justification has happened for all of us and does not depend on us. My adult son has bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder and is seriously mentally ill, and may never be able to “choose to cooperate” regarding behavior, attitude, or doctrine. He is fully justified by the faithfulness of Yeshua. I have learned so much about the compassion of G-d in the midst of his struggle. Brain disorders are estimated to affect one in four families, and that is a staggering number of people who have attitudes and behaviors and beliefs directly influenced by biology and illness. I believe Derek’s interpretation of 5:1 is correct, and complements Yeshua ‘s demonstration of the Kingdom in his healing ministry which included those without the ability to conform to correct behaviors or beliefs.

    1. Paula,
      My brother is mentally disabled. So I totally get what you’re saying. I believe God judges us according to the Light we HAVE received. In other words, to the best of our capacity/ability have we sought to know our Maker? And then according to the Light revealed to us, HOW have we lived our lives in light of this?
      Yeshua said: “If I had not come and spoken to them they would not be guilty. But now that I have spoken to them they have no excuse.” John 15:22
      It is my understanding that we are judged according to the DEGREE of revelation shown to us coupled with our CAPACITY to understand. Some have been given much and are able to understand much, others less. God is 100% just in His judgments. As for my brother and your son, I believe they are already covered by God’s all-encompassing love through his salvatory provision in Yeshua (just as children and babies who die young are likewise covered). It’s those of us who are “given more” that have the greater responsibility. Luke 12:48b

    2. Dear Paula — Surely you realize that when Rav Shaul wrote his letter to the Roman assemblies he was not addressing people of diminished capacity, nor was he addressing the theological or legal issues related to such a condition. Hence your example is not a valid interpretive method to justify universal justification. That sort of justification contradicts justice itself, by eliminating any possibility that HaShem will demand accountability of those who resist Him, and countermands HaShem’s directive in His Torah to the Jews to pursue justice (viz: Deut.16:20). It would therefore be contrary also to Rav Yeshua’s observation in Matt.5:18 that the Torah (and Prophets) remain valid in all their finest details as long as heaven and earth endure. I believe I stand on rather firm ground to insist that Rav Shaul was not saying any such thing about the freely-available justification provided by HaShem in the messiah’s martyrdom.

      Thankfully, before I wrote this reply, Merrill had already submitted a very compassionate reply that highlights the need for us to evaluate a person’s capacity in order to consider their degree of responsibility. I couldn’t have wished to express it any better.

      Jewish law also recognizes the status of minors as a class not subject to the most dire punishment. Minors are considered inherently deficient in judgment until they reach majority. References include: BT Hagiga 2b, BT Yevamot 99b, and BT Gittn 23a. Therefore, Jewish law does not hold them responsible, but shows them mercy because of their diminished capacity. A general principle of Jewish law is that minors are not punished, even in cases that call for capital punishment, as referenced in BT Tractate Sanhedrin 52b, 54a, & 54b. The Talmud states that even if a minor was deliberate in his transgression, God has mercy on him, in BT Tractate Sanhedrin 55b. These principles clearly prohibit the execution of a juvenile offender. They can be extrapolated to any category of individuals with diminished capacity; and they demonstrate that the interpreters of Torah understood that HaShem’s mercy does not obviate His demands for justice. Rav Shaul was likewise such an interpreter of Torah, particularly to determine which aspects should be applied to gentile disciples; and certainly we would have to agree that eternal damnation is the most dire punishment that any category of humans could wish to avoid.

      Consequently I stand by the logic of my previous reply.

  5. This should be a fun discussion. What about dying to our old man and Teshuvah? I agree it is a gift for all, but not all will avail themselves to the gift. As for brain disorders, mental capacity and those who have not heard? HaShem promises to judge all by the light they are given.

    1. Gavri’el,

      Good to hear from you, old friend.

      Repentance and transformation are things we need. And they will happen for all of us at some point, in this present world or from the place of separation after death (redemption from hell — hell being understood not as a place of conscious torment, but separation). It is not that God will not help us until we repent. It is that the change we need includes repentance. That is, it is not a condition of God’s love and favor, but a condition of our own happiness and fulfillment.

  6. I suppose I should ask, Derek, if Campbell addresses any sort of balance or interaction between the messiah’s faithfulness that accomplishes justification and the faith or faithfulness of individual branches that places them and keeps them on the metaphorical olive tree that represents the community of faith in Rom.11? Since some branches can be broken off or re-grafted depending on their faith (or faithfulness), it is clear that it is not the messiah’s faithfulness that is being addressed — because his faithfulness would apply equally and unchangeably to all. Consequently we must distinguish between the accomplishment of justification as a general opportunity and the application of it to specific individuals.

    1. Hello PL,
      If you google “Douglas Campbell” on YouTube you will find several interviews where he discusses his work. In answer to your specific question: yes, Campbell does believe God’s gift through Messiah involves cooperation and response. It is a God initiated relationship providing complete, all encompassing provision for our salvation. But this provision does not unilaterally override our free agency to engage (or not engage) in this relationship.

  7. Derek,

    As a follow-on, I’m having issues reconciling with Messiahs words talking about knowing by their fruit. Also 1 Yochanan states “Sin is a violation of Torah” and those who keep sinning have no part in HaShem my understanding of below.

    4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

    Thoughts? Universal salvation would be great, but as far as I can tell, only group who have a near blanket (notice I said near) seems to be Israel.

  8. In 2 Corinthians 5:15-21 it writes of the same reconciliation as Romans 5. then in Colossians chapter 1 the same thing again. Then the fact that the Lord Yeshua made atonement so that is why their trespasses were not held against them allowing them to be reconciled. because Yeshua’s propitiation was not just for our sins but the whole worlds. So people previous trespasses are not held against them. Then you have this generation thing, how Yeshua is the propitiation (atonement) for the whole worlds, but not just the 1st century generation either for 2000 years later also. He is the atonement for the whole world for all generations that came after his atonement, that was 2000 years later. So this reconciliation if it is still going on has been going on for 2000 years.

  9. Pingback: Rereading Paul #3 - Derek Leman

  10. I began my ” homework ” of reading Romans 5 in the Complete Jewish Bible. Considering the discussion of Yahweh’ s faithfulness , it is interesting that this translation uses the word “trust” instead of “faith”.
    This is in agreement with the idea that we trust in the faithfulness of Yahweh. We are told to trust in the Lord and not to lean on our own understanding. We TRUST in the covenant He has made with us, which is our surrender and acknowledgement of His sovereignty. We Jews have also been a people of HOPE, which also implies that without knowing the outcome, we still have hope that as the people of Yahweh, we will never be rejected by Him. To say that I was justified by my faith would leave me feeling very insecure, somehow. My faith is way too small but my trust is great.

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