Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Illustration by Tobias Mayer, 2022

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
Romans 1:1-4

An introduction to Paul's letters: Of the thirteen1 books attributed to Paul there is now general consensus among serious theologians that only seven of them are genuine. In chronological order these are 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians and Romans. Of the other six letters, three are disputed, and three known to be written by other hands. The six non-genuine letters all offer a quite different theology to the genuine Pauline letters. This understanding of the authorship, particularly of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus helps make sense of the sharp theological discrepancies found across the letters.2 Romans, the subject of the next few days, is the last letter written by Paul, and dated 57 AD. The seven genuine Pauline letters were all written several years before any of the four gospels.

In the opening words of the epistle to the Romans, Paul describes Jesus as the Son of God with power. So familiar are we today with the term "son of God" that the radical nature of such identification passes us by. Paul is writing to Romans, in Rome. At that time Rome had its own "son of God", the current ruling emperor, at that time the newly-crowned Nero. To claim anyone else was God's anointed, let alone God's offspring would have been considered high treason. The early Christians were radical revolutionaries, confronters of the status quo. For three hundred years before Rome adopted Christianity and domesticated it Christians were rebels, living on the edge of society and speaking out loudly and clearly against all the injustices of the time. Many were put to death for this subversion. It's important we remember the roots of this faith. Many today still find themselves on the edge of society, in opposition to the same oppression and debauchery that was rife at the time of Christianity's inception. At its core the Christian movement is still vital, and still righteous—in the best meaning of that word. Even though Christianity was co-opted by the state at Nicene in AD 325, and used as a tool of state control ever since, the true Christian will rise above that and continue to stand up for what is right.

1 The count is sometimes given as fourteen, when Hebrews is included, but this book makes no claim to be authored by Paul, and is not in the form of a letter but something more like a formal essay.
2 A thorough treatise on Paul's letters is offered in the 2009 book, The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon by M.J. Borg and J.D, Crossan, now available as a free pdf.