Sunday, February 6, 2011

Paradigms for reading Romans

How do you read your Bible? Did you know you could get so much more from it depending on how you read it? The same is especially true about the Book of Romans, the perspective you choose will dictate how much you get out of it. There are two major schools of thought when it comes to reading the Book of Romans, first there is the Reformation point of view, and the newer New Perspective.

The oldest and most widely adhered to point of view is the Reformation perspective. So coming from the reformation you can hear the battle cries of sola fide and sola gratia (by faith alone and by grace alone). This point of view believes that Paul was arguing against the legalism that had taken root in the nation of Israel, saying that justification is by faith alone. Carson and Moo elaborate by saying, “Against this legalism, Paul proclaimed that justification before God could be attained only by faith in the completed work of Christ, a faith that excluded, by its very nature, any deeds of obedience of any kind.”[1] Another point the Reformers took was that Paul was referring to the individual and not only the corporate understanding. One of the greatest strengths of this point of view is it shows us that there is nothing that we can do of our own merit to earn favor with God. On the other hand however, for some people knowing that there is nothing they can do to earn their justification they tend to do nothing at all. Please keep in mind that this is a brief overview of one of the things the reformation perspective comments on.

The newest point of view has been deemed the New Perspective on Paul. This new point of view has taken hold in several circles, but is denied in some of the more conservative congregations. One of the major ideas to this view is commonly referred to as “covenant nomism”- Moo defines it as, “Thus, Jews were “saved” by God’s grace in the Jewish covenant. To be sure, they understood that they had to obey the law God had given them. But they did not obey it to “get saved”; they obeyed to maintain the salvation God had already given them.”[2] This view also begins to focus on more toward a corporate understanding of Paul’s writings and less individualistic. One strength of this view is that it makes us consider the fact that Jews of ancient Israel may not have been as legalistic as we once considered. But one of its greatest weaknesses is stated by Carson and Moo, “But on Sanders’s own showing, it is also believed that if one “got in” by grace, one “stayed in” by obedience.”[3]

While Moo in his commentary has no explicit section titled the best way to read Romans he does say the way we have read Paul’s works is not far off the mark, and while it may need some adjustments they don’t need to be as extreme as those proposed by N.T. Wright and others of the New Perspective.[4]

I generally hold tightly to the Reformation perspective and still hold to it, but after studying the understanding behind convent nomism I have become a little (tiny bit) more open to understanding that Jews may not have been so legalistic. However we need to take each section of scripture and examine it as the Bereans did to find out what context we should view it in. It is my hope that after reading this you would get more out of your time in Romans and your Bible over all.


Carson, D. A., and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids,, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The NIV Application Commentary- Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

[1] Carson, D. A., and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. [Grand Rapids,, MI: Zondervan, 2005], 375.

[2] Moo, Douglas J. The NIV Application Commentary- Romans. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000], 119.

[3] Carson and Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament, 383.

[4] Moo, The NIV Application Commentary- Romans, 121.