Paul Writes To The Greek “First” And Also To The Jew: The Missiological Significance Of Understanding Paul’s Purpose In Romans -- By: Jackson Wu (吴荣)

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 56:4 (Dec 2013)
Article: Paul Writes To The Greek “First” And Also To The Jew: The Missiological Significance Of Understanding Paul’s Purpose In Romans
Author: Jackson Wu (吴荣)


Paul Writes To The Greek “First” And Also To The Jew: The Missiological Significance Of Understanding Paul’s Purpose In Romans

Jackson Wu (吴荣)*

* Jackson Wu (吴荣) teaches theology and missiology in a Chinese seminary.

I. Why Paul Wrote Romans And Why It Matters

When Paul wrote that salvation is “first” for the Jew and also for the Greek (Rom 1:16), he wrote those words first to the Greek and also to the Jew. To put it more simply, mission drives the theological agenda of Romans. This essay seeks to demonstrate exegetically that Paul wrote Romans in order to motivate the Roman church to support his mission to the “barbarians” in Spain. Paul purposely writes to “Greeks,” not simply “Gentiles.” The letter’s elaborate theology exists so that Paul might preach the gospel where Christ had not been known (cf. Rom 15:20). If this is the case, what are the implications for our own missiological and pastoral practice?

It matters how one begins and ends a letter. In the case of Romans, the consequence of skipping Paul’s introduction can reduce his theology to abstraction. It is easy to forget that Paul did not begin his letter to Rome at Rom 1:16. In fact, this famous “thesis statement” to Paul’s letter begins with a “for” (γάρ), meaning it is simply supporting a previous idea. Prior to verse 16, one must go back to Rom 1:14 to find main verb in Paul’s extended thought: “I am a debtor … ” (ὀφειλέτης εἰμί). The whole verse reads, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish” (ESV).1

In Rom 1:1–4, Paul begins his letter by summarizing the gospel, the good news that Jesus is king. Specifically, Jesus is David’s offspring, God’s son,2 the “Christ” who is “Lord.” Paul simply reiterates Nathanael who confessed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). This gospel was “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (Rom 1:2; cf. 1 Cor 15:3–4). Accordingly, one understands Paul’s remarks in Acts 13:32–33, in wh...

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