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John Chrysostom’s Interpretation of Romans 1:1-7 :: The Fathers of the Church

I have summarized highlights of John Chrysostom’s interpretation of the introduction to the book of Romans.  I believe they foreshadow much of his interpretation of the rest of the book.  Wanting my citations to be easily traceable but using an online version of the text (which does not supply the page numbers of the original), I have cited his homilies on Romans this way: § 1.1:1 = Chrysostom, “Homilies on Romans,” Homily 1, comments on Romans chapter 1, verse 1.  Where no citations appear after quotations, you can see from the biblical text where I am pulling the commentary from Chrysostom: I have used the RSV in my English translation.

John Chrysostom, “Homilies on Romans,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,First Series, Vol. 11, translated by J. Walker, J. Sheppard and H. Browne, and revised by George B. Stevens; edited by Philip Schaff (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889); revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/210203.htm (accessed 11.10.12).

Romans 1:1-7

(1) Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God 

The fact that Paul (unlike Matthew, John, Mark, and Luke) attaches his own name to his letters becomes a textual irritant that requires explanation—a twofold irritant, since Hebrews was thought at that time to have been written by Paul but did not bear his name as in his other letters (§ 1.1:1).  Chrysostom argues that it would’ve been superfluous for Moses or the gospel writers to attach their names to their writings because they were writing for people “who were present” and therefore already knew the author, whereas Paul was writing for people far away.  As for Hebrews, Paul left off his name because he didn’t want to prejudice his hearers, since some of the target audience was “prejudiced against him,” thus leaving the work anonymous “subtly won their attention by concealing the name.”

God changed Saul’s name to Paul’s so that he could acquire the same preeminence of the other apostles.

Paul calls his message “gospel” because unlike the prophets who bore messages primarily of judgment, Paul’s message is primarily of the “countless treasures.”

(2) which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 

Paul emphasizes that his message has been prophesied “expressly” and in “temper” already in the Old Testament because some have accused him of novelty (§ 1.1:2).  God announces beforehand his great deeds “to practise [sic] men’s hearing for the reception of them when they come.”

(3) the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 

Paul mentions that Jesus was born “according to the flesh” before referring to his divine origin “according to the Spirit” because “he who would lead men by the hand to Heaven, must needs lead them upwards from below”—which is the same reason Jesus was first revealed as a man, then later as God; for the same reason also Matthew, Luke, and Mark began from “below” as well with their genealogies in their gospel accounts.

(4) and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

This passage is “made obscure by the close-folding of the words” (§ 1.1:4).

It is made plain that the person of Jesus was also the Son of God by way of his generation: 1) the testimony of the prophets, 2) the way of his generation (“he broke the rule of nature” [in being born of a virgin?]), 3) by his miracles which revealed power, 4) “from the Spirit which He gave to them that believe upon Him, and through which He made them all holy, wherefore he says, ‘according to the Spirit of holiness.’ For it was of God only to grant such gifts,” 5) from the resurrection.

Chrysostom appears to take the Greek word horízô in the sense of “declared” (cf. KJV, NRS, NASB, NIV, ESV) rather than in the sense of “designated” (cf. RSV, CEB).

(5) through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 

Paul “calls the things of the Spirit, the Son’s, and the things of the Son, the Spirit’s” (§ 1.1:5).

That grace is what causes the apostleship that brings about faith shows

… it was not the Apostles that achieved it, but grace that paved the way before them.  As also Luke says, that “He open their heart” Acts 16:14; and again, To whom it was given to hear the word of God.  “To obedience” he says not, to questioning and parade of argument but “to obedience.”  For we were not sent, he means, to argue, but to give those things which we had trusted to our hands. (§ 1.1:5)

Here Chrysostom emphasizes that the word of God is only to be received by the apostles as opposed to handled “curiously” by adding to it or making an “argument” for it.  The apostles were sent out to preach so that “we for our part should believe.”

Not that we should be curious about the essence, but that we should believe in the Name; for this it was which also wrought the miracles.  … And this too requires faith, neither can one grasp anything of these things by reasoning…(§ 1.1:5)

Here we can see Chrysostom developing a dichotomization between argument, reason and novelty on the one hand, and what the role of the apostles were on the other: they were only to receive the revelation and then deliver it.  Likewise, those who receive the revelation in faith are not to be “curious about the essence” because it cannot be grasped by human reason.

Chrysostom takes Paul’s claim to have received apostleship “among all nations” as an irritant that requires explanation since Paul did not literally travel and preach to all nations.

What?  Did Paul preach then to all the nations?  Now that he ran through the whole space from Jerusalem to Illyricum, and from thence again went forth to the very ends of the earth, is plain from what he writes to the Romans; but even if he did not come to all, yet still what he says is not false, for he speaks not of himself alone, but of the twelve Apostles, and all who declared the word after them.  And in another sense, one would not see any fault to find with the phrase, if about himself, when one considers his ready mind, and how that after death he ceases not to preach in all parts of the world. (§ 1.1:5).

Paul “attaches no more to [the Romans] than to the other nations” even though they were at the top of the world so to speak, but numbers them among the Scythians and Thracians “and this he does to take down their high spirit and to prostrate the swelling vanity of their minds, and to teach them to honor others alike to themselves.”

(6) including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; 

Paul continues to humble the Romans with the use of the word “called” here which emphasizes: “you did not come over of yourselves” (§ 1.1:6).

(7) To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul continually uses the word “called” to humble the Romans since it was likely that among them were high ranking people alongside common and poor people.  Thus, Paul is “casting aside the inequality of ranks” by writing to them “under one appellation” (§ 1.1:7). In verses 5-7 of Paul’s introduction, then, Chrysostom already sees the development of a Pauline tact to humble certain Roman Christians, which implies that Chrysostom thought that at least part of Paul’s motivation in writing the letter was his pastoral concern to humble certain high-minded Roman believers.

Chrysostom interpreted the close arrangement of these two thoughts of being both beloved and called as a sign that the one flows from the other; hence “love presented us with grace.”  That those who are called in Rome are beloved “shows whence the sanctification was.  Whence then was the sanctification?  From Love.  For after saying, ‘beloved,’ then he proceeds, ‘called to be saints,’ showing that it is from this that the found of all blessings is.  But saints he calls all the faithful.  ‘Grace unto you and peace’.”

Chrysostom takes the chain of causation further and argues that love causes grace and grace causes peace.  Peace he understands in terms of happiness, joy, pleasure, and delight—and all of which he understands to come in this life (not exclusively reserved for the life to come).  His rational for understanding grace as causing peace shows that his primary understanding of grace is not forensic, but transformative.  He argues that peace only comes when we keep “an exact watch” on our holiness so as to have “spiritual success and a good conscience.”  The implication is that grace is what causes us to persevere and grow in holiness.

For he that holds on in the adoption, and keeps an exact watch upon his holiness, is much brighter and more happy even than he that is arrayed with the diadem itself, and has the purple; and has the delight of abundant peace in the present life and is nurtured up with goodly hopes, and has no ground for worry and disturbance, but enjoys constant pleasure; for as for good spirits and joy, it is not greatness of power, not abundance of wealth, not pomp of authority, not strength of body, not sumptuousness of the table, not adorning of dresses, nor any other of the things in man’s reach that ordinarily produces them, but spiritual success, and a good conscience alone. … If then we wish to enjoy pleasure, above all things else let us shun wickedness, and follow after virtue; since it is not in the nature of things for one to have a share thereof on any other terms, even if we were mounted upon the king’s throne itself (§ 1.1:7)

The key link in grace leading to peace is holiness.  Grace leads to peace through holiness, which produces spiritual success and a good conscience.  This common apostolic greeting “grace and peace” is thus interpreted in a way that centralizes holiness as the product of grace and the necessary condition of peace and happiness.  He also interprets Paul’s “fruits of the Spirit” in these terms, citing Galatians 5:22 which includes among them love, joy, and peace as the first three.  He closes his first homily by encouraging his hearers to grow in this fruit “that we may be in the fruition of joy here, and may obtain the kingdom to come, by the grace and love toward man of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom and with Whom, be glory to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, now and always, even unto all ages.  Amen.”

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