A Rereading of Romans

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Justice, Jews, and Gentiles

Stanley K. Stowers

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Paul's Letter to the Romans is one of the most influential writings of Christian theology. From the time of Augustine it has been central in discussions about sin and salvation, about guilt, fear of God, and gratitude for God's mercy. In this groundbreaking reinterpretation, Stanley Stowers argues that Christian tradition has interpreted Romans in an anachronistic fashion fundamentally different from how readers in Paul's time would have read it. He provides a new reading that places Romans within the sociocultural, historical, and rhetorical contexts of Paul's world.

Stowers challenges the idea that salvation is the central issue of Paul's letter and that the letter's addressees include Jews. In Stowers's reading, Paul, a Jew immersed in Hellenistic culture, is addressing his letter to an audience of gentiles. Paul says that in faithfulness to his mission and God's promises, Jesus restrained his messianic powers, allowing an opportunity for gentiles to be redeemed. Thus God demonstrated his justice and, by raising Jesus, created a new line of kinship by the Spirit that will lead gentiles to moral and psychological self-mastery. The acceptance and self-mastery that gentiles seek is not to be found in observing teachings from Jewish law. According to Stowers, Romans neither offers an answer to human sinfulness nor presents Christianity as a religion of salvation. Stowers thus reinterprets the relation of Paul's Christianity to Judaism, the meaning of faith, and the significance of Jesus Christ.

Stanley K. Stowers is professor of religious studies at Brown University.

"A novel, carefully considered, intelligent thesis that finds a coherence and persuasiveness in the whole of Paul's letter that is lacking in the conventional synthesis. I will never be able to read Romans in the same way again."—Wayne A. Meeks, Yale University

"Stowers' own mastery of the tools of rhetorical analysis yields an extensive, engaging reconsideration of the social setting in Rome and the message of Romans. The serious reader of Romans will read this book, then reread it."—Mark D. Nanos, Theology

"No interpreter of Romans can afford to neglect this study. . . . It compels the Christian interpreter to won and confront a traditional 'pre-understanding' which can obscure and distort, as well as enlighten, the understanding of Paul."—Brendan Byrne, Catholic Biblical Quarterly

ISBN: 9780300070682
Publication Date: February 27, 1997
396 pages, 6 x 9