Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators

By J. Patout Burns Jr.; Constantine Newman | Go to book overview

Interpreting the New Testament

The traditional greeting on Easter morning is “Christ is risen!” To which the response is: “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” This ancient phrase echoes the greeting of the angel to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph as they arrived at the sepulchre to anoint the body of Jesus: “He is not here; for he has risen, as he said” (Matt 28:6). After the two disciples recognized Christ in the breaking of bread on the road to Emmaus, they immediately rose and returned to the others gathered in Jerusalem, announcing: “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34).

The resurrection of Christ is the ground of Christian belief and the wellspring from which the books of the New Testament flow. The Gospels culminate in the resurrection, at the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans Paul invokes the resurrection as warrant for his apostleship, and he brings 1 Corinthians to a close with a magnificent peroration on the resurrected body. In places 1 Peter reads like an Easter baptismal sermon (“we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” [1 Pet 1:3]), and in the Acts of the Apostles the disciples of Christ are portrayed again and again as “witnesses” to the resurrection (1:22; 2:32; 3:15, et al.).

The New Testament is a collection of books whose authors bore witness in their lives (and some in their deaths) to the living Christ. “It is no longer I who live,” writes St. Paul in Galatians, “but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Before there was a book, there were persons who handed on Christ’s sayings and told of the marvelous things God had worked in him. First came Christ, then the witnesses, then the books. This ordering of things is at the heart of the early interpretation of the New Testament. The goal was to delve more deeply into the mystery of God revealed in Christ, to whom the writings bear witness. In introducing the volumes on the New Testament in this series, it may be helpful to say a few things about how the early Christians approached this task.

We are inclined to begin with the book, with historical context and social setting, words and idioms, grammar and literary forms, religious and theological vocabulary, and the many other topics that command our attention. But the early Christians began with the risen Christ, and long before there was a book the faith was handed on orally. Although St. Paul said that he had received his commission “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:12), not from a human intermediary, he associated himself with traditions that he had received from others. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also

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Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Church’s Bible i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Interpreting the New Testament xiii
  • An Introduction to Romans xxiii
  • Preface to Romans 1
  • Romans 1 13
  • Romans 2 37
  • Romans 3 61
  • Romans 4 83
  • Romans 5 102
  • Romans 6 132
  • Romans 7 154
  • Romans 8 182
  • Romans 9 217
  • Romans 10 245
  • Romans 11 260
  • Romans 12 289
  • Romans 13 314
  • Romans 14 334
  • Romans 15 359
  • Romans 16 381
  • Appendix 1- Authors of Works Excerpted 394
  • Appendix 2- Sources of Texts Translated 396
  • Index of Names 414
  • Index of Subjects 417
  • Index of Scripture References 422
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