McKnight on Reading Romans Backward

Reading Romans Backward: at Jesus Creed, McKnight has been teasing this new book for several weeks, with the intriguing reference to reading Romans from back to front.  Now he is exposing some of the content, and it sounds like a must-read.

Readings of Romans are notoriously front-loaded (i.e., focused only on the perceived theology of chapters 1-8).  McKnight here articulates five reasons for reading Romans backward.  Some excerpts:

[First, the debates over chapters 1-8 are so powerful and captivating that many people never get past chapter 8.] If we don’t read it first we may never get to it, and if we never get to it we will not be reading the letter in its own, fuller context.

Second, our readings of Romans, many of which are profound, will lack social realities if we ignore Romans 12-16. Here we encounter the mission of Paul to go to Spain, … the names of those in the house churches in Rome (16:3-16), … Phoebe, … a leader in a church next to Corinth and was a benefactor of Paul and others.

Most importantly here we encounter the Weak and the Strong. There are debates here, and I took sides, but whichever view one takes there are almost two chapters addressing them (and the same terms are used in 1 Cor, leading some to think the problems are not that different).

How can we read Romans well if we ignore these social realities? …

Third, Romans becomes a pastoral, ecclesial letter the moment one learns to read the letter in light of Romans 12-16. It’s not abstract theology …

Fourth, once we begin to plumb Romans out of this social reality context we see things we may not have noticed, and one example is Romans 11:13. Why does Paul here suddenly say he’s now talking to the gentile believers in Rome? … Once we read Romans this way the issue of reconciliation of two groups of Christians at odds with one another becomes paramount in Romans.

Fifth, … once we begin to read Romans in light of 12-16 we see rhetorical moves that otherwise we seem not to see. 

This sounds like a REALLY fascinating book.  I have been arguing for years for a more holistic approach to the letter (even as I spent 75% of my class time focusing on chapters 1-8, mea maxima culpa), and McKnight seems to be articulating a really strong case for this holistic approach.

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