Who We Are
Blog (reguarly updated)
Podcast (link) (new)
Bookstore (link) (new)
Commentary on Romans
by Michael Bugg
Note: Since these are my teaching notes for Beth HaMashiach, I am using the Complete Jewish Bible as my default translation. Since Paul's letters are where David H. Stern's paraphrase really shines, this will hopefully serve to enhance the commentary. Nevertheless, readers may wish to consult with a more literal translation for comparison.
Introduction: The Background of Rabbi Sha’ul
1) Born in Tarsus, “no insignificant city” (Acts 21:39, 22:3)
a) Mentioned in an Assyrian Obelisk from 850 BCE – probably over a thousand years old in Sha’ul’s time
b) Sided with Caesar Augustus during the Roman civil wars, and was made a “free city” by the emperor
c) Renowned as a place of education; Strabo compares it to Athens and Alexandria. Was also a major trading center and port.
2) “Brought up” (ἀνατρέφω) in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3)
a) Ανατρέφω is used to denote raising/nourishing children in Luke 4:16 (of Yeshua growing up in Nazareth) and Acts 7:21 (of the raising of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter.
b) Rabbi Gamaliel ben Simeon ben Hillel, aka R. Gamaliel the Elder or Rabban Gamaliel HaZaken (information from Hegg, Writer, pp. 37ff)
i) Led the Sanhedrin from 20-40 CE
(1) The first to lead the Sanhedron single-handedly
(a) previously it was ruled by zugot, “pairs,” like Hillel and Shimmai
(b) was therefore given the title of Rabban (“Our Teacher”),
ii) Was known for his light halakhah
(1) Lightened the Sabbath laws for witnesses, midwives, and other public servants (b. Rosh Hashanah 23b)
(2) Enacted laws to protect women and others and generally lighten the yoke of the Law (m. Shekalim 3:6)
(3) Ruled in favor of a woman who claimed her virginity against her husband’s word (b. Ketuvot 10b)
(4) Was tolerant towards the new Messianic sect, as shown in his mercy to Kefa and Yochanan (Acts 5:38f)
iii) Was also known for writing “epistles” – three are preserved in the Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 11b, Tosefta, San. 2:6; y. Sanhedrin 1:2, 18d)
Finally, was known for encouraging his students to study Greek
and Greek philosophy:
(1) We see this in Paul who three times quotes Greek philosophers in the canonical Scriptures:
(a) In Athens, he quotes Aratus, a local philosopher (Acts 17:28)
(b) To Titus, he quotes the Cretan philosopher Epimenides (Tit. 1:12)
(c) In 1Co. 15:33, he quotes Meander, an Athenian author
a) Of the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1, Php. 3:5), the same tribe as King Saul (1Sa. 9:21) and Mordecai (Est. 2:5)
b) His parents were both P’rushim (Acts 23:6) and Roman citizens (22:28). The family was likely both monied and influential, since they secured Sha’ul an education with the Elder of Israel.
c) If some of his family rejected him, not all did; had a sister and nephew in Jerusalem who acted to protect him (Acts 23:16)
d) Rom 16:13 - Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.
4) Acts and Sha’ul’s Religious Identity
a) Before the Damascus road
i) Though taught at the feet of Gamaliel the grandson of Hillel, Sha’ul’s subsequent actions against the Nazarines are more consistent with the School of Shimmei.
(1) What caused this change?
ii) Actively used his influence to persecute the Ekklesia
b) After the Damascus road
i) Nowhere does the Bible say that Sha’ul converted from Judaism to “Christianity”—rather, he repented from his persecutions of Yeshua’s followers
(1) Paul’s change of heart is what revealed Yeshua’s power to change lives and affect repentance.
(2) His name
(a) The idea that he changed his name from Sha’ul to Paul as a part of his conversion is a Christian myth – continued being called Sha’ul through Acts 13:9, which then notes that he had a dual name.
(b) Sha’ul = Gr. Saulos, “the haughty walk of a prostitute”
ii) Initial activities after T’shuva
(a) Before going to Arabia, he preached in Damascus until some of his opponents tried to kill him (Acts 9:22-25).
(b) It was in Arabia where he apparently received his revelation.
(i) Later in this same letter (4:25), he mentions that Mt. Sinai is in Arabia; is it possible that that is where he went to learn?
(c) Paul’s return to Damascus is not mentioned in Acts, most likely because Luke did not want to de-emphasize the very real danger to Paul’s life there. However, this visit would have taken place before his first trip to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26f).
(d) “make [his] acquaintance” = historesai (ἱστορῆσαι), not a casual visit, but one with a purpose: to inquire deeply into the person visited.
(i) Was not initially received until Bar-Nabba took a chance and introduced him to the others (Acts 9:26f)
(2) Returned to Tarsus after a plot to kill him was discovered (Acts 9:29f)
iii) First journey among the Diaspora
(1) Formally set apart by the Spirit to go to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2)
(2) Successfully preached the Besorah (Good News) in Cyprus, even converting the proconsul, Sergius Paulus
(a) Defeated Elymas in a “power encounter”; made him blind
(3) Went to Pisidian Antioch
(a) Invited to speak – given the honor of a respected rabbi
(b) Presents Yeshua from the prophets
(c) Initial reception of the message is cautious interest
(d) God-fearing gentiles beg him to speak again next Sabbath; the next week, the synagogue is overrun by Gentiles
(i) This is what turns the Jews in Antioch against the Besorah (Good News)!
(4) Journeys in Galatia
(a) Similar responses to that in Pisidian Antioch become something of a pattern
(b) A group of troublemakers start following Sha’ul around to stir up trouble and suppress the Besorah
(5) The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15)
(a) The controversy
(i) Gentiles were coming en masse to the synagogue on the Sabbath to hear about the Messiah; what is to be done with them?
(ii) The questions:
1. Must Gentiles be circumcised (become Jewish) in order to be saved? (v. 1)
2. Must Gentiles keep the whole Torah (written and oral) in order to be saved? (v. 6)
(iii) Note that whether Jews should keep the Torah is never brought up; it is assumed that they should!
(b) Paul’s actions
(i) Comes to Jerusalem as an emissary (v. 2)
(ii) Privately meets with the leaders of the Ekklesia and gets their initial approval (Gal. 2:1-10)
(iii) Writes his letter to the Galatian assemblies he had founded before the Council (otherwise he would have referenced the Council’s ruling)
(iv) Disputes the Judaizers before the Council with Kefa and Ya’akov’s support.
iv) Returns to Antioch (Syrian)
v) Second Journey in the Diaspora
(1) Separates from Bar-Nabba over the issue of Yochanan-Mark; travels with Silas
(2) Takes Timothy as a disciple in Lystria
(a) Circumcises him to facilitate their mission (Acts 16:4)
(3) Travels through Macedonia, passing through Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens.
(4) Goes to Corinth
(5) Returns to Antioch
vi) Third Journey in the Diaspora
(1) Travels again to Galatia
(2) Stays in Ephesus until a riot forces him to flee
(3) Returns to Macedonia
vii) Composes Romans while staying in Corinth (Acts 20:2-3, Rom. 15:25ff).
c) Never ceased identifying himself as (and therefore living as) a Pharisee
i) Act 23:6 - But knowing that one part of the Sanhedrin consisted of Tz'dukim and the other of P'rushim, Sha'ul shouted, "Brothers, I myself am a Parush and the son of P'rushim; and it is concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead that I am being tried!"
ii) 2Ti. 1:3 (NASB) - I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did . . .
iii) Continued to follow the whole Torah, even the sacrificial Temple service
(1) Act 18:18 - Sha'ul remained for some time, then said good-bye to the brothers and sailed off to Syria, after having his hair cut short in Cenchrea, because he had taken a vow; with him were Priscilla and Aquila.
(3) Act 24:17 - "After an absence of several years, I came to Yerushalayim to bring a charitable gift to my nation and to offer sacrifices. It was in connection with the latter that they found me in the Temple. I had been ceremonially purified, I was not with a crowd, and I was not causing a disturbance.”
W.D. Davies, former Professor of New
Testament studies at Princeton University, concludes,
d) His beliefs about his mission
i) Gal. 1:15 - But when God, who picked me out before I was born and called me by his grace . . .
(1) Jer. 1:5 - Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you. Before you came forth out of the womb, I sanctified you. I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.
1. “Slave” = Gr. δοῦλος, equivalent to Heb. ‘eved עבד
2. Like Abraham’s ‘eved Eliazer, a sheliach (an emissary) “sent forth” to bring Isaac back his bride from the lands of the Gentiles
The Good News
i. The Shalom Offering
i. Quoted by Yeshua in regards to Himself in Luke 4:18f
The Hymn of Messiah
i. Isa 11:1, 10-11, 12 - But a branch will emerge from the trunk of Yishai, a shoot will grow from his roots. . . On that day the root of Yishai, which stands as a banner for the peoples - the Goyim will seek him out, and the place where he rests will be glorious. On that day Adonai will raise his hand again, a second time, to reclaim the remnant of his people . . . from the four corners of the earth.
i. 2Sa 7:12-16 - When your days come to an end and you sleep with your ancestors, I will establish one of your descendants to succeed you, one of your own flesh and blood; and I will set up his rulership. He will build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a father for him, and he will be a son for me. If he does something wrong, I will punish him with a rod and blows, just as everyone gets punished; nevertheless, my grace will not leave him, as I took it away from Sha'ul, whom I removed from before you. Thus your house and your kingdom will be made secure forever before you; your throne will be set up forever.'"
ii. Psa 2:7-9 - "I will proclaim the decree: ADONAI said to me, 'You are my son; today I became your father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance; the whole wide world will be your possession. You will break them with an iron rod, shatter them like a clay pot.'"
i. Belief in the Resurrection of the Dead was so important to Pharisaic (P’rushi) Judaism that those who denied it were said to be denied a place in the ‘Olam Haba, the World to Come.
ii. However, Yeshua was set apart by His unique, individual Resurrection, the Firstfruits of all who would follow (1Co 15:20f), as proof that the Father accepted His Sacrifice
1. Isa 53:10 - . . . yet it pleased ADONAI to crush him with illness, to see if he would present himself as a guilt offering. If he does, he will see his offspring; and he will prolong his days; and at his hand ADONAI's desire will be accomplished.
i. i.e. “Yeshua the Annointed King, by virtue of being David’s Son, and Lord of all Creation, by virtue of being God’s Son, proven by His Resurrection.”
ii. Php 2:6-11 - Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be possessed by force. On the contrary, he emptied himself, in that he took the form of a slave by becoming like human beings are. And when he appeared as a human being, he humbled himself still more by becoming obedient even to death - death on a stake as a criminal! Therefore God raised him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name; that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow - in heaven, on earth and under the earth and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is ADONAI - to the glory of God the Father.
1. Isa 45:22-24 Look to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God; there is no other. In the name of myself I have sworn, from my mouth has rightly gone out, a word that will not return - that to me every knee will bow and every tongue will swear about me that only in ADONAI are justice and strength."
Called and Elected
i. Here Sha’ul is speaking of Israel as a whole receiving a mission to be ambassador of the Good News—a mission that only a few took up
ii. grace = χαριν, an unmerited favor, esp. from a patron, shown in the form of a concrete gift
1. The socially-required response to χαριν was to give back to the patron in the form of loyalty. To refuse to do so brought dishonor on the recipient, not the patron. [find ref]
2. Heb. equiv. chen (חן), favor, acceptance, “find favor in the eyes of”
i. Mat 22:14 – “. . . for many are invited (κλητοι, ‘called ones’), but few are chosen (εκλεκτοι, ‘elect ones,’ e.g., chosen and sealed with election)."
Personal Greetings and Background on Roman Messianism
i. Ch. 16’s “shout outs” suggest seven or eight Messianic assemblies (Nanos, Romans 77, n. 124)
i. Christian inscription and artifacts in Jewish catacombs
ii. “shared literature such as hymnals and prayer books”
1. A form of the Amidah was used as a liturgical prayer in the early Ekklesia [find reference]
iii. Christian use of non-rabbinic Jewish apocrypha
iv. “shared language and idioms,”
v. “shared Sabbath and food regulations,” (e.g., not eating blood or strangled meat, Acts 15:29)
vi. The Ekklesia borrowed heavily from the synagogue in its own organization and service
Rome’s Reputation and Fall
i. Irenaeus was the disciple of Polycarp, who was the disciple of Yochanan the Emissary.
i. Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, replied that he was not afraid of Victor’s threats.
ii. Irenaeus, while sympathetic to Victor’s views, rebuked him for overstepping his authority.
i. Tertullian of Carthage, the “Father of Latin Christianity,” called him a Usurper
A Debt to All Cultures
i. Priscilla and Aquilla (Rom. 18:2)
ii. Claudius “expelled the Jews from Rome, who were continually making tumults, being moved thereunto by one Chrestus” (Suetonius, The Life of Claudius, ch. 25).
i. The expulsion would have left the Gentile Christians for a time without Scriptures, rabbinic teaching, or the ability to keep any of the “Jewish” commands without risking exile or worse themselves.
ii. By the time the Jewish believers were allowed back, the Gentile Christians would have had to develop their own practices apart from the Torah in order to survive.
iii. Sha’ul’s unique gift among the Emissaries was his ability to bridge the gap between Jew and Greek, drawing both together by subtle allusions to their respective cultures in his writings.
iv. He was apparently successful, given the close ties the Ekklesia and the synagogue seem to have enjoyed in Rome for some time thereafter (see notes on 1:7, above).
i. Sha’ul’s special mission was to the Gentiles, but he never ceased to love and strive for his own people.
ii. If he could bring peace between the estranged factions of Jew and Gentile in Rome, this would be a great confirmation of his calling
A Debt to the Gentiles
i. Similarity to Philo (cf. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism 96f)
1. Philo was a fully Torah-observant Jew
a. “He roundly condemned those Jews who ignored the literal meaning of the Law as being worthless in favor of a symbolic meaning. Thus circumcision might be interpreted as a ‘sign of the excision of pleasure and all passions’, etc., but nevertheless had to be observed literally.” (ibid.)
2. However, he borrowed frequently from Greek ideas.
3. Object was not to use the traditions of Judaism to support Hellenistic philosophy and mystery religions—but the other way around!
a. “Judaism not only in the Dispersion but even more so in Jerusalem itself was eager to adopt any convention of Hellenistic religion in order to exalt the one God and His Torah; Judaism could indeed be assimilated to a mystery cult to a remarkable degree—for missionary ends.” (ibid., 97)
ii. In the same way, Paul may have used imagery from both mainstream philosophy and the pagan mystery religions in explaining Messiah to his varied audiences. Examples:
1. Another Adam as a “spiritual” man and divine figure in contrast to the earthly Adam (1Co 15:45)
2. The concept of dying with a deity in order to be raised again into a new life (cf. Col. 2:20, 3:3)
3. True union with Deity, e.g., “in Messiah” (εν Xριστω)
1. Religious works from both the Jewish and Christians sides
ii. Movies and TV
v. Political discourse
“Whenever we read a good book, tour a foreign country,
comfort a distraught friend or engage in a stimulating conversation, the
experience prompts physical changes in our brain. This remarkable process,
which scientists call sproutina, involves the rapid growth of new neural
connections—dendrites, axons, and the synapses between them . . . stimulated
neurons produce new synapses in as little as ten minutes!
In other words, there is a danger that the meme can go both ways—subversion of paganism or subversion to paganism!
ii. Lent and Easter
i. Eph 4:27 - Do not give the Enemy a foothold
ii. Php 4:8 - In conclusion, brothers, focus your thoughts on what is true, noble, righteous, pure, lovable or admirable, on some virtue or on something praiseworthy.
iii. 2Co 10:3-5 - For although we do live in the world, we do not wage war in a worldly way; because the weapons we use to wage war are not worldly. On the contrary, they have God's power for demolishing strongholds. We demolish arguments and every arrogance that raises itself up against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey the Messiah.
1. The key of obedience to God’s Word:
a. Philo took every Greek philosophical idea and made it point to the God of Israel and His Torah—by continuing to keep the Torah in all of its particulars even as he subverted the Greek culture.
b. So did Sha’ul!
iv. Rom 12:2 - In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of the 'olam hazeh (the present world). Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed.
to help Restore the Hebrew Root?
All donations are Tax deductible