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July 20th, 2013

                Verse of the day:  “To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ.”  (Romans 16:27)

                Key thought:  Paul concludes by interrelating all his major themes:  “the power of God, the gospel of Christ, the evangelization of the nations, and the praise of God’s wisdom” (Stott).

                Prayer:  God of all wisdom, we humbly give you thanks that your Holy Spirit called, saved, and inspired Saul of Tarsus, transforming his life through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and through him the world.  May we join him in his passion to live and proclaim this good news as our highest priority.  Amen.

(Here’s another reminder to let me know, this weekend if you can, what this Romans series has meant to you.  I plan to write one final devotional next week (#100!) with your comments, although I don’t plan to use names – just some quotes from e-mails I’ve received throughout the series, capping off with your feedback this weekend.)

Romans 16:25-27 presents a bit of a problem because it doesn’t appear in all ancient copies of Romans, and even when it does it’s not always in the same place.  Without going into technicalities of the early process of copying and distributing the New Testament, I think the best explanation is as follows.  Paul wrote his letter in the form we have it to the Christians at Rome.  But most of chapters 15-16 were considered of little interest to anyone outside Rome, so when the letter was copied for wider distribution (remember, at the beginning no one was yet calling it “Scripture”), copyists simply removed the Rome-specific verses – and not always at the same place.  Thus we ended up with variations in the book.

I am no scholar, but I think Romans 16:25-27 belongs in the letter, ties up and summarizes the message nicely, and sounds like Paul.  (Not everyone agrees with those points.)  One evidence is that it’s a very long run-on sentence!  The vocabulary in use is also typical of Paul, and so critical to his message –

  • Now to him who is able to establish you…  I think I like the old King James word “stablish” because it has a different connotation than “establish.”  The idea is to “strengthen” something so that it will be stabilized – made steady.  This one word will be the subject of Sunday’s sermon.
  • …by my gospel… Paul uses this word 12 times in Romans, concentrated at the beginning and end of the letter.  The “gospel” is the good news of Jesus.  Paul calls it “my gospel” (also in 2:16) not out of pride or possessiveness but because he is aware that God has given him a unique understanding of and responsibility for this message.
  • …and the proclamation of Jesus Christ…  Kerugma  is used outside the Bible to refer to a public announcement made by the “town crier.”  In the New Testament it becomes a technical term roughly comparable to “gospel,” which means that Paul is saying “my gospel” IS “the proclamation of Jesus.”
  • …according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past…  This is also Pauline language, an explanation of why Old Testament believers didn’t “get it.”  It wasn’t time yet.
  • but now revealed and made known…  Paul again uses consecutive synonyms to reinforce the idea that we can no longer claim ignorance or inaccessibility for this message.  Christ has made God plain.
  • …through the prophetic writings…  The truth was always there in the Old Testament, but only through the lens of Christ can we read the Scripture correctly and understand the mystery.  What’s important for Paul is that his gospel is not original.  He stands firmly on God’s revealed truth.
  • …by the command of the eternal God…  Leon Morris wrote of Romans, “God is the most important word in this epistle.  Romans is a book about God.  NO topic is treated with anything like the frequency of God…There is nothing like it elsewhere.”  So here it is only because of God’s command that this mystery has been revealed.
  • …so that all nations…   This too is a theme of Romans.  The 2010 NIV update uses “Gentiles” instead of “nations,” one of 23 times “Gentiles” is used in Romans.  The Greek word is ethne, and it generally refers to non-Jews.  The point is to stress one more time, as Paul has argued all through Romans, that this proclamation is for the whole world, not just the Jews.
  • …might believe and obey him…  The NIV should have left this more literally…”the obedience of faith.”  Paul is contrasting the kind of obedience to the Law that enslaves us in fear with the kind of obedience that comes from the freedom of faith.  Obeying God out of gratitude for liberation is much different than obeying God out of fear for judgment and punishment.
  • …to the only wise God…  Paul echoes back to Romans 11:33, “Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”  This universal inclusion that opens the door of God’s mercy to the whole world brings Paul to continue….
  • …be glory forever through Jesus Christ… This is Paul’s version of Revelation 4-5, where the elders and creatures eternally give God and Jesus Christ praise and worship.
  • Amen.  So let it be.

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