Paul, Eschatology And The Augustan Age Of Grace -- By: J.R. Harrison

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 50:1 (NA 1999)
Article: Paul, Eschatology And The Augustan Age Of Grace
Author: J.R. Harrison

Paul, Eschatology And
The Augustan Age Of Grace

J.R. Harrison


This article proposes that Paul worked on two cultural fronts in describing the reign of grace (Rom. 5:12-21) and the new creation (Rom. 8:18-39). Paul’s references to the ‘two ages’, the fall of Adam and the new creation, were fundamental to Jewish apocalyptic eschatology. However, Paul’s language of grace in Romans 5, with its emphasis on excess and abundance, would have evoked imperial associations. In the first century, the eschatological age of Augustus marked a watershed in beneficence. Paul’s point to the Roman Christians was plain: Christ’s grace surpassed the very best the Caesars had to offer.

I. Introduction

When Paul describes the reign of grace in Romans 5:12-21, his description has significance in relation to both distinctively Jewish and Graeco-Roman contexts of thought, drawing upon the rich eschatological traditions of both in his portrait of divine beneficence. However, New Testament scholars have traditionally viewed Romans 5:12-21 and 8:18-39 solely from the perspective of Jewish apocalyptic eschatology. Not surprisingly, the ‘two ages’, the fall of Adam, and the new creation have dominated the discussion. As a result, the imperial associations evoked by Paul’s language of grace have been overlooked. A theological tunnel vision has obscured the fact that Paul was writing to Romans who lived in the city of Augustus, the cosmic Saviour-Benefactor. I will seek to demonstrate that the Augustan age of grace was the touchstone for first-century Roman readers who wanted to assess the scope of Christ’s reign of grace. It is my contention that the echoes of Augustan benefaction propaganda in Romans represent an intentional rhetorical strategy on the apostle’s part rather than an unconscious appropriation of familiar motifs.

My approach is indebted to the pioneering work of D. Georgi on Roman imperial eschatology and its relation to the New Testament documents.1 According to Georgi, Paul’s theology has a decidedly political edge. When Paul proclaimed Jesus as Saviour and Lord, he challenged the imperial ideology of power that shaped social relations between the Roman elite and their dependants in the first century AD. Several scholars have followed Georgi’s lead. B. Witherington III has incorporated aspects of Georgi’s approach in discu...

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