Saturday, June 20, 2009


This fall I will have the privilege of teaching the book of Romans for the second time. The following is an excerpt from my course syllabus:
Paul’s letter to the Romans has exerted a profound influence on many of the movers and shakers of Christian history:
  • St. Augustine (354-430), the most influential Christian thinker between the New Testament and the Reformation, was converted after reading Romans 13:13-14.
  • Martin Luther (1483-1546) “felt [him]self to have been born again” while studying Romans 1:17; his conclusions about the meaning of the “righteousness of God” triggered the Protestant Reformation.
  • It was after reading the preface to Luther’s commentary on Romans that John Wesley’s (1703-1791) “heart was strangely warmed”; his subsequent preaching about salvation by faith played an instrumental role in England’s Evangelical revival and in the founding of the Methodist movement.
Romans is also one of the most bewildering books in the New Testament—partly because many of the basic assumptions of Paul, the first century Jew, and the issues that preoccupied him, are foreign to a predominantly Gentile church twenty centuries later, partly because Romans is such a complex, tightly argued letter.

In this course we will make a concentrated attempt to follow Paul’s argument on his own terms and in his own context. We will examine what can be known about the historical setting and purpose of Romans and look at Paul’s Greco-Roman and Jewish context as it relates to the interpretation of the text. We will become familiar with debated topics in current scholarship on Romans and pause to consider hermeneutical issues raised by different approaches to the letter. We will discuss at least some of the many theological questions raised by the letter and consider how Paul’s instructions to Christians in Rome can be appropriated by believers today. By the end of this course you will be able to summarize your understanding of the structure of Paul’s argument and be able to justify it with evidence from the text. You will also be equipped for ongoing study of Romans. But the point of it all is to engage Romans and, I hope, to be transformed in the same way that Augustine, Luther and Wesley were.
  • I may change a few things yet (students didn't react well to the online discussion component when I tried it in Acts), but the current syllabus is here.
  • I confess I haven't read much on Romans (or Paul) since 2007 when I last taught the course. Any recommendations for summer reading to get me up to speed? I've got a few ideas of my own, but I'd like to hear what you think. I see that Michael Bird recommends Peter Lampe's From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, which looks good. Anything else? What are the one or two works on Romans (or Paul) that everyone should read?
  • Other suggestions about teaching Romans are, of course, welcome too.


John Ottens said...

Kevin Scull has a glowing recommendation for Donfried's revised edition of The Romans Debate, and Michael Bird seems to agree with him. I see that you already have it listed in the syllabus, but if you haven't read it yet that might be a good place to go. I haven't read it, but I'm hoping to do so at some point in the (reasonably) near future.

d. miller said...

Thanks, John. I worked through Donfried before teaching Romans the first time. It *is* important, but unfortunately rather dull (in my opinion). I found Pauline Theology: Volume III: Romans (eds. David M. Hay and E. Elizabeth Johnson; Atlanta: SBL, 2002), much more interesting.

simon said...

I would add Philip Esler Conflict and Identity in Romans and Katherine Grieb The Story of Romans to your list. I'm about to preach Romans in my church and I'm thinking of using Haltemann Finger's Paul and the Roman House Churches to help our home groups grasp the context in which the letter was first heard. She uses Lampe and Jewett, though her book predates Lampe's book appearing in English.