“I want you to know brothers that” 02

23 02 2009

When it comes to Romans, Paul follows the letter form very well in 1:1-15. He starts with himself as the author (“Paul a servant of Jesus

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Christ…”; 1:1), adding details about the gospel he is set apart to present (1:1b-6; NOTE FURTHER BELOW!!). He states the recipients of the letter (“To all God’s beloved in Rome…”; 1:7). Then gives his usual greeting (“Grace and peace to you…”; 1:7b). After this comes the prayer (“First I thank my God…”; 1:8-12).

The “disclosure formula” comes next as letter theory predicts – “I want you to know brothers that…” (RSV, ESV). But what does this say about the his purpose in writing the bulk of the letter – 1:16-15:13? What is it he “wants them to know”? People have commonly struggled with this because they think he simply continues his theme of “visiting” – which ought to be part of the opening and closing frame of the letter (c.f. 15:14f), not the body. They chose to write-off this formula as our clue, in favor of 1:16-17 which is commonly seen as the purpose statement for all that follows. But 1:16-17 is only the statement for the rhetorical argument of the first five chapters (a subject for another day). 1:13-15 really is the purpose for the letter body:

Romans 1:13-15 I want you to know, brethren, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.  14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish:  15 so I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

He speaks here not only of visiting, but also of an exchange. Owing the gospel to them, and hoping for a return harvest from them. As you go to the end of the letter the theme of receiving something back comes up – he hopes they will now support his mission (15:24) and partner in prayer for Jerusalem (15:30). Mainly material support is sought in exchange for spiritual instruction which is exactly what the illustration of 15:25-27 is about (using the same Greek word as in 1:13).

So what is the purpose of the letter body? Simple. It is to pay the debt of his gospel, i.e. it is a presentation of Christ’s gospel of which he is servant (1:1-6) with the hope of return fruit.

So with a group he is yet to visit, he is creating an exchange relationships (c.f. 1:11-12… “I long to see you that I may impart some spiritual gift… i.e. that we may be mutually encouraged). He writes to offer them the gospel and then asks for something in return, because he wants them to be connected in Christ’s service and apostle and Gentile followers of God. The disclosure formula is crucial to understanding Romans.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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