studying at st barnabas

St Paul, Romans and the Rhetoric of Eschatological Hope (Part 2)


Now, after having read part 1, you might be thinking that my findings were an extended activity in stating the obvious. By way of reminder, my argument was that Romans 15:7 – 13 is explicitly connected with a method of reading the Scriptures which understands the purpose thereof as engendering hope (particularly in how Christ fulfils the words of the Old Testament in a prophetic manner). This conclusory section is grammatically and thematically linked with the beginning of the letter, Romans 1:1-7, indicating that the two bookend the content therein and must frame how we read the letter as a whole.

I wouldn’t blame you if you concluded from reading this, that all I’ve done is repeat the simple fact that that beginnings and ends affect how we are meant to read the things in between. Furthermore, you might think that all I have done is repeat the rather self-evident fact that Paul thinks hope is important. Admittedly, yes, I am presenting rather obvious conclusions, however, I do believe that we should take note of the particular nuances that can be drawn from this and thus reflect on how it affects our understanding of the Epistle to the Romans and what it means to be Christian in the 21st century.

    1. What is rather ironic that a letter so focused on unity of worship in hope was interpreted in such a way to bring about the second most significant schism in Christianity (as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I reserve the right to claim 1054 as the most significant schism in Christianity, thank you very much). Perhaps if we reframed the discussions surrounding, say, justification in a larger framework of eschatology and the Christian hope, we might have fewer disagreements. This should perhaps be our starting point.
    2. It seems logically necessary, therefore, that we clarify what the Christian hope is, and that Romans can (and should) play a role in this task. Perhaps if we focused on clarifying this common hope, other theological discussions might “fall into place” as it were. In my research, it became clear that Paul’s understanding of the Christian hope was widely divergent from the prevalent Roman hope of the eternal empire embodied in the divine son, Caesar, but also different from the Pharisaical expectations of the military Messiah ruling out of Zion. At the very least, we can see that the hope of the Christian transcends the political or social movements of any age and is to be patently manifest in the Church.
    3. Finally, I wonder if our preaching and reading of Romans serve to inculcate hope in us and show the world that we have something to hope in. Paul’s letter would have initially been “performed” in such a way to try and bring this about, our preaching should reflect this. In an age where the future seems bleak and uncertain due to whatever supposed geopolitical or natural disaster, surely we have a message which transcends the dire imaginings of our modern day secular prophets? Surely we have a message that points beyond the mere veil of the old age and into the slowly manifesting reality of God’s recreation of all things? Surely, we can tell the world that there is an other-worldly reality manifested in the Church, which brings us together as one to worship the One God? If we take St Paul at his word, he seemed to think we had something to hope for:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 Anthony Bondarenko

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