The appropriate interpretation of Romans 1.6 has represented a point of debate between Biblical scholars. It starts with the question of how to approriately translated the Greek. There are two basic options for translating the passage. Then, from these two options, many scholars then glean information that they use to help them reconstruct the puprose nad occasion of Paul’s epistle to the Romans.
The first option essentially takes prepositional prase ἐν οἷς as the predicate nominative for ἐστε, which then renders κλητοὶ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as function in apposition. This translation would come out to be something along the lines of: “You yourselves are also among them [i.e. the Gentiles], the called of Jesus Christ.” In this case, Paul is construed as suggesting that Paul’s Roman audience is primarily made of Gentile Christians, who Paul makes reference to in v. 5.1 Andrew Das goes so far as to take this Romans 1.6 in support of his argument that the Roman audience was exclusvely Gentile Christians.2 As a consequence, it is common by interpreters to suggest that Paul is giving a grounds for his authority to right to the church in Rome because Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles has authority over the Gentiles Christians in Rome.3
However, there are three points of evidence against Paul’s identification of his audience with Gentiles Christians. Firstly, Paul’s letter has many implicit allusion to the Old Testament Scriptures and, as I have aruged in previous posts, is implicitly engaging in the rebuttal of other Second Temple Jewish literature such as Wisdom of Solomon and 1 Maccabees. It is highly unlikely that Paul would expect a Gentile audience to have such background knowledge necessary to understand his epistle, much less feel the need to rebut such STJ wisdom.
Furthermore, Paul explicitly says that his own mission is to preach where Christ is not named and not to be build on another person’s foundation (Romans 15.20-21). Given that Paul had no relationship to Rome, it would be contradictory for Paul to try to now establish his authority over the Gentile Christians in Rome and then to speak as he does in Romans 15.20-21. While certainly it is possible that a person might conceal an attempt to assert his authority over someone by saying they are not trying to assert such an authority, one would expect such a person to early on mask their claim to authority to mask their intetentions and then let loose their real intentions later on. However, if these interpretations are correct about Romans 1.6, then Paul is doing the exact opposite, giving a claim to his authority and then later in the letter denying it. At this point, then, if there is a contraction between the construal and interpretation of implicit argument made in Romans 1.5-7 wuith what is said in Romans 15.20-21, it would behoove us to to ask if the attempts to explain Romans 1.5-7 are on shaky ground. Are they assuming an attempt to make an appeal to authority over the audience in Rome that just isn’t there?
Finally, if Paul was attempting to identify the Romans Christians as Gentiles, then Paul’s language is a very awkward way to say it. He could have simply written something along the lines of ἐστε καὶ ἔθνη rather than saying it more awkwardly in ἐν οἷς ἐστε. In which case, it would behoove proponents of this first option to ask if there is a better way to make sense of the syntax and discourse. This is not mention that treating ἐν οἷς as the predicative nominative of ἐστε is overlooking the more common function of prepositional phrases: to function adverbially to describe the verb. If, for instance, the equivalent preopositional phrase ἐν αυτοῖς had occurred at the end of Romans 1.6,4, there would not be quite the temptation to treat it as as functioning as a predicate of ἐστε rather than κλητοὶ, which is words in the nominative case that is typically expected for the predicate of εἰμί. In other words, it seems to be the case for at least some of the reason for favoring this first option is due to treating word order as indicating grammatical function. Perhaps, then, it is better to ask if there is another reason for the fronting of ἐν οἷς rather than to treat it as the predicate of ἐστε.
This leads to the second option, which I feel does a better job (1) undersatnding the Greek syntax, (2) fits within the immediate discourse of Romans 1.1-7, and (3) is more coherent with entirety of Paul’s epistle. Rather than awkardly taking ἐν οἷς as grammatically functioning as the predicate nominative of ἐστε, it should instead be seen as what Steven Runge describes a framing device based upon being placed before the verb. As Steven Runge observes:
Koiné Greek is a verb-prominent language, where the least-marked and most basic order of clause components is for the verb to be placed in the initial position. When other elements are placed in the initial position, such placement is motivated by some pragmatic reason. This claim is based not on statistics, but on the varying effects that are achieved by “fronting” of clause elements.5
Runge then assigns two functions to the topical frame: 1) “to highlight the introducton of a new participant or topic” or 2) “to draw attention to the change in topics.”6 I would argue that it is better to suggest ἐν οἷς functions as a topical frame to switch the topic from Paul’s own apostolic mission to that of the Gentiles themselves. In other words, in Romans 1.6 Paul is switching the discursive topic away form his own ministry and mission to saying something about the Gentiles themselves. I will say more about the significance of this switch in a moment.
As a consequence, there is no need to regard the fronting ἐν οἷς as giving it the function of the predicative of ἐστε. Instead, the predicate can be identified with the only non-reduntant nominative substantive in the entire sentence: κλητοὶ. As a result, a rather literal translation of Romans 1.6 can be given as “among whom, you are also yourselves the called of Jesus Christ.”
Going back to the first option, if κλητοὶ is regarded as an appositional nominative as it would be in the first option, this would suggest the idea of the Roman audience being called is peripherial information given in addition to them also being Gentiles. This peripherial information may be given to explicitly identify the Gentiles inclusion into Jesus Christ. While such an appelative might be helpful in reminding Gentile beleivers that they are recipients of God’s promises alongside Jewish believers, we see no further evidence of focus by Paul on the inclusion of Gentiles until Romans 9-11. The most we get in Romans 1-4 is that the Jews and Gentiles stand on the same moral ground, but there is no discussion about the Gentiles inclusion. If Paul was concerned enough about the Roman audience undersatnding their inclusion in Jesus Christ, would we not expect more explicit discussions about the inclusion o the Gentiles to occured in Romans 1-8, rather than waiting for it to occur in chapters 9-11? It would make more rhetorical sense for Paul to bring up what he believes to be relevant to the audience early in the letter, rather than delaying it till the second half of the letter.
However, by making the focus on the Paul’s sentence to being able to identify Paul’s Roman audience as κλητοὶ, the primary information that is encoded about the audience in the sentence. Their presence among the Gentiles as given in adverbial ἐν οἷς is secondary information. In which case, we can notice something that PAul is doing in Romans 1.1-7. The second self-description that Paul gives of himself is that he is a κλητὸς ἀπόστολος. The only other time that Paul introduces himself with κλητὸς ἀπόστολος is in 1 Corinthians, where he later references to his audience as τοῖς κλητοῖς (1 Cor 1.24). In 1 Corinthians, Paul does not used κλητὸς to designate Gentiles from Jews, but rather uses it to describe both Jews and Gentiles. Part of the purpose of Paul in 1 Corinthians is to persuade the the Corinthians to imitate him and how he relates to other teachers, including Apollos who does not have apostolic authority, rather than engaging in a competitive conflict by identifying with different pneumatically gifted teachers. By calling both himself and the audience as κλητὸς, he is subtly drawing upon their common identity, which would function to get them to imitate his own non-competitive attutude of servanthood. I would suggest a somewhat similar function in Romans 1.1-7. By calling both himself and the audience as κλητὸς, Paul is encouraging the Roman audience to share in his own mission to the Gentiles. In other words, just as Paul is (1) called an apostle and (2) is in mission to the Gentiles, so too does he invite the Roman Christians as (1) being called to Jesus Christ to (2) join in the mission to the Gentiles among whom them reside. Thus, there is, I would argue, an informational symmetry between Romans 1.1-5 and the way Paul ‘encodes’ the information in Romans 1.6 on two levels: (1) personal information about Paul and the audience as κλητὸς and (2) a common mission opportunity among the Gentiles.
This informational symmetry would explain the presence of the καὶ as it is Paul’s acknowledge that the the audience, expressly referred to by the otherwise informationally redunant ὑμεῖς, is similar to Paul. Responding to the similar argument by Francis Watson and Steven Mason that the καὶ modifies “called to belong to Jesus Christ” to draw a connection between Paul’s calling and the audnience’s, Das argues that the καὶ is better understood as referring to the inclusion of the Gentiles. Das argues against Mason’s and Watson’s argument by suggesting it wrongly prioritizes the more distant information in Romans 1.1 over the more immediate ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν in Romans 1.5.7
For Das’ argument to work, it entails an exegetical principle that the more immediate information is more sigificant for the meaning of a discourse. In other words, the information in Romans 1.5 is more significant for undersatnd the following verse rather the information about Paul in Romans 1.1. However, this is a fundamentally fallacious understanding of how discourse works. In the flow of communication, the most significant information for undersatnding a clause or sentence is not necessarily the immediately preceding clause or sentence. Sometimes, the most important information is at the beginning of a discursive unit, such as a section or paragraph. This is often the case at the end of a discursive unity, where the end of the unit brings all the information together to provide coherence and conclusion to the entire unit. When we are moving towards the end of a discourse, it is more likely that was comes towards the beginning of the discourse may have more bearing on the meaning and function of the discourse. This doesn’t dismiss the role of the immediately preceding discourse as negligible, as it should be default still be considered relevant informaton, but it may not be the most important information.
In that case, it can be argued that informaton in Romans 1.1-4 is more important than 1.5 for understanding why Paul uses the καὶ in verse 6. The καὶ functions to draw a comparison between Paul and the audience. This connection is evidenced by the fact that καὶ is immediatelly followed by ὑμεῖς, which would otherwise be redunant based upon the encoding of the audience in ἐστε. The typical pattern for καὶ is that it draws a connection of what precedes with what immediately follows. In this case, it draws a connection between Paul’s self-description in Romans 1.1-5 with the audience referred to by ὑμεῖς: both Paul and the audience are called and live among the Gentiles.
Das argues against this connection between a common κλητὸς by suggesting there is a fundamental distinction between Paul’s calling as an apoistle and the audience’s calling to Jesus Christ.8 This fundamentally misunderstands how Paul’s understands the social significance of the Body of Christ. While Paul may use the shorthand phrase κλητὸς ἀπόστολος, Paul does understand the calling from God to be to a specific role, but rather as part of God’s revelation of Jesus Christ, as both Galatians 1.15 and 1 Corinthians 1.24. Instead, the apostolic mission along with other offices and gifts are a consequence of being in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12.27-31) and the unity of God (Ephesians 4.1-13). In other words, Paul’s apostolic mission is how God’s calling to know Christ and be united in Christ works itself out for Paul’s life, but the calling is to the body of Christ. The shorthand κλητὸς ἀπόστολος in Romans and 1 Corinthians is better understood not as a term of distinction between Paul’s callings and the audiences, but only as a shorthand autobiographical description of Paul’s own story; Paul considers himself to have been designated an apostle when he was called by Christ, as Galatians 1.15 suggests. In which case, Das’ objection to the connection between Paul and the Roman audience’s calling falls apart as an artifically technical designation or an anachronistic retrojections of modern undersatndings about the language about calling to specific positions of religious authority that does not take into account how Paul uses the language of calling and apostleship.9
As such, the simplest understanding of both the syntax and the overall discursive significance of Romans 1.6 seems to be that Paul is trying to connect the Roman audience’s identity and mission with his own. If this is the case, there may be one more similarity that is implicitly drawn between Paul and the audience: that they are both Jewish. Paul’s connection of his own identity and mission in Romans 1.1 is contextualized within understanding the Gospel about Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, including Jesus as having a royal, Davidic lineage. Paul’s portrayal of the Gospel he preaches as a fulfillment of the Scriptures would function to make salient Paul’s own Jewishness in virtue of his implicit faithfulness to the Scripture narrative. Paul is partly bringing his own Jewishness to the foreground in Romans 1.1-5. We later see in Romans 9.1-5 that Paul expressed his own wishes in such a way as to affirm his own commitment to his fellow Jews; Paul’s own identity as a Jew is in some degree relevant in Romans. In this case, then, we may also surmise that Paul’s intended audience is also exclusively or primarily Jewish.
In fact, there are multiple good reasons for suggesting such. Firstly, Paul’s self-description in Romans 9.1-5 would make better sense if he was addressing Jews who might have been suspicious of Paul’s loyalty to Israel due to rumors about how Paul’s Gospel and mission is oriented towards bringing in Gentiles: Is Paul really a Jew? Does Paul’s laying aside the Torah suggest he is not authnetically Jewish?
Also, how relevant would Paul have considered Romans 11.1-32, in which the primary focus of Paul’s discourse is to affirm God’s continued faithfulness to Israel, for a Gentile audience? It would certainly be relevant for a Jewish audience that Paul had concerns might suspect him of not being a loyal Jew, but how relevant would it be for a Gentile audience? One could argue that Paul is trying to teach the Gentiles to not be arrogant towards the Jews in Romans 11.1-32 based upon thinking 11.13-24 is evidence that Paul has a Gentile audience. However, we would firstly be lead to ask whether the whole of Romans 9-11 could have been written fundamentally differently so as to argue against derision towards Jews. Furthermore, such an argument for a Gentile audience would unwarrantingly takes 11.13-24 as evidence of the audience, overlooking how Paul uses protreptic and diatribal rhetorical convenctions to argue with hypothetical interlocuters throughout the letter. Taking these objections and rehtorical conventions together, it is better to see Romans 11.1-32 as Paul attempting to persuade his fellow Jews that he is not preaching a Gospel that has God abandoning Israel and his diatribal takedown of a hypotherical Gentile functions to rhetorically solidify that Paul is not capitulating and accomodating to Gentiles, but that he would rebuke them for wrongly judgment Jews.
More significantly, if Paul is primarily addressing his fellow Jews in his letter to the Romans, then we have a simple way of undersatnding what Paul says about them in Romans 1.6: that they are diaspora Jews who have been called to Christ. ἐν οἷς is a brief reference to Paul’s audience as part of the Jewish diaspora in Rome. This would then explain how ἐν οἷς in verse 6 as a topical frame swithcing topic functions: it functions to shift the topic away from Paul’s own mission in Romans 1.1-5 to the Gentiles to the Jewish Christian’s own presence among the Gentiles.
There is further validation for this explanaton in Romans 2-3. NT Wright has argued that Paul highlight’s Israel’s vocational failures to be a light ot the world in Romans 2.17-24.10 While Wright may be overstating the discursive significance of Israel’s vocation in Romans 2.17-24, there is some language that may be considered to echoes of the theme of Israel’s own vocation, such as bringing light to the darkness as an implicit reference toa specific Jewish self-understanding, which may have been based upon Isaiah 42.6 and other Isaianic passages.11 As such, a devout Jew living in the diaspora could be inclined to understand themselves as somehow being a light to the Gentiles. Paul later affirms that God has entrusted Israel with His word for this purpose in Romans 3.212
In this case, Paul’s implicitly understood reference to the Jewish’ audience status as living in the diaspora in Rome does get brought up later in Romans 2-3, even if it is not the most discursively dominant theme of those chapters. As one would expect for a compentent communicator, the significant information that Paul brings up about his audience in the introduction of his epistle is then brought up early in his argument. In other words, whereas interpreting Romans 1.6 as a refering to a Gentile audience and their inclusion would effectly make Paul “burying the lead” of his argument of Romans 1-15, regarding Romans 1.6 as a reference to diaspora Jews means that Paul actaully addresses relevant themes related to this reference in the beginning of his argument.
As such, this undersatnding of Romans 1.6 provides a basis for providing a solution to the “Romans debate” in offering the beginning of how Paul could have understood his purpose in delivering the epistle to the Romans that can also provide a reasonably coherent connection between the epistolary frame of Romans 1.1-7 with the fuller theological argument in Romans. Paul is seeking to persuade the Jewish Christians to be involved in Paul’s hopeful plans to evangelize the Gentiles in Rome by (1) persuading them that he is remains loyal to the God known in Israel’s Scriptures and is committed to the well-being of the Jewish people and (2) dissuading them from holding to any form of Jewish self-understanding given in or derived from some STJ literature, such as the Wisdom of Solomon and 1 Maccabees that would make the Jewish Christians in Rome hostile to the Gentiles Paul is seeking to preach the Gospel to. Romans 1.6 serves as the very beginning of Paul’s efforts to address the Jewish Christians in Rome so as to invite them to share in Paul’s own undersatnding about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his self-understanding of his Jewish socail identity. He starts his letter by suggesting they have a common ground (1) as being called, (2) as having a mission among the Gentiles, and (3), implicitly understood, as Jews. Paul makes an understood reference to the audience’s self-undersatnding as diasporic Jews, which would make the Jewish self-undersatnding of their spiriutal vocation more salient. This then sets up for his protreptic argument of Romans 1-11, which seeks to furher increase their ‘commonness’ by aruging for an intellectual “conversion” to his own theological position about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the resulting significance of Jewish identity and way of life.
- Dunn, Romans 1-8. WBC. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), EPUB Edition, Comments on 1.6.
- A. Andrew Das, Solving the Romans Debate. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), EPUB Edition, Chapter 2, “The Letter Opening (1:1-7).”
- Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary. Hermenia. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007, 111-113.
- The switch to αυτοῖς from οἷς in this hypothetical example would be necessary as the relative pronoun is typically used at the beginning of the sentence to immediately connect with the discourse that is immediately proceeding. If the prepositional phrase were move to the end, then αυτοῖς would be the more likely preferred pronouned. Despite this change, the main point here is to highlight how a functionally similar prepositional phrase would be taken to function in a different place in the sentence.
- Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010), 207.
- Ibid., 210.
- Das, Solving the Romans Debate, EPUB Edition, Chapter 2, “The Letter Opening (1:1-7).”
- I am not presently familiar with Das’ larger argument, scholaship, and personal background to know if he is being artifically technical or historically anachronstic.
- N.T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 489-509.
- To be clear, I am not suggesting Paul’s discourse is intended as a direct or indirect echo of Isaiah as Wright does (Wright, Pauline Perpsectives, 499ff). Instead, it is an implicitly understood refernece to the way some Jewish sages might would have understood their own Jewish identity in relation to God in the diaspora as developed in the Wisdom of Solomon. In the Wisdom of Solomon 5.6 and 18.1-4, we see the juxtaposition of light with is the opposite of darkness. Furthermore, this light ultimately comes from the personified Wisdom in Wisdom of Solomon 7.10, 26, and 29. As the Jewish sage could have understood themselves as possessing this wisdom, they might considered themsleves to be a source of light that the Gentiles mentioned in 5.6 and 18.1-4 did not recognize at the time but only at the judgment. As such, Paul’s reference to light in 2.19 may be comprehended as referring to a hypothetical Jewish scribe’s ‘distorted’ self-undertanding of Israel’s vocation as given in Isaiah as represented in some STJ literature, such as most prominently the Wisdom of Solomon.
- See also N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 837-838.