Paul’s Universalizing Hermeneutic In Romans -- By: Douglas Moo

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 11:3 (Fall 2007)
Article: Paul’s Universalizing Hermeneutic In Romans
Author: Douglas Moo

Paul’s Universalizing Hermeneutic In Romans1

Douglas Moo


In this article, I focus on Paul’s Old Testament “justification” for the inclusion of Gentiles in the new covenant people of God within the Epistle to the Romans. While not, in my view, the central purpose of Romans, the inclusion of Gentiles and the related question about the unity of salvation history is a critical issue in Paul’s explanation and defense of the gospel. Analyzing Paul’s OT-based argument for this critical move in salvation history provides us with a large though not always clear window through which we can observe Paul’s hermeneutics of OT appropriation.

How large is the window? Precise identification of quotations is a difficult matter, but, counting each place where Paul breaks the flow of his own words with several or more words verbatim from the OT, we arrive at about 100 quotations in all the letters of Paul.2 More than half of these—fifty-five—are found in Romans. And thirty-five of these fifty-five quotations—over sixty percent—are related in some fashion to the issue of the inclusion of the Gentiles.

How clear is the window? Not very, apparently, as the volume and diversity of proposals explaining this facet of Romans demonstrate. We may take the monograph of Terrence Donaldson, Paul and the Gentiles, as an example.3 Arguing that the epochal shifts in Pauline scholarship over the last thirty years have rendered untenable traditional answers to the question, Donaldson sets out to discover just why it was that Paul came to believe that Gentiles should be included in the new people of God. Donaldson concludes that Paul’s universalism was simply the extension of the view of Gentiles that he had held as a Jew. Paul the Jewish covenantal nomist believed that Gentiles could become members of God’s people by identifying with Israel via circumcision and law-keeping. Paul the Christian continued to believe that Gentiles could be saved by identifying with Israel, God’s people, although this identification now came via faith in Christ and not by circumcision and torah.

Donaldson’s argument is careful, wide-ranging, and often illuminating. But what is especially relevant for our purposes is Donaldson’s contention that Paul could not have derived his belief about Gentile inclusion from the OT. For Paul’s appeal to the OT on this topic is often contrived and, viewed on its own merits, unconvincing. Passages are wrested from their contexts, misapplied, and elements within the texts that are uncongenial to Paul’s interpretation are suppressed. Cl...

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