Romans Challenge #1

There are literally thousands of manuscripts of the Greek New Testament in existence. The science of textual criticism studies these manuscripts, comparing them with one another to analyze how the text has been transmitted to us. Good textual criticism can trace transmission errors and provide us with the most reliable manuscripts for translation.

Textual criticism shows that there were two versions of Romans circulating in the first few centuries after Jesus: the 16-chapter version we have now, and a 14-chapter version (chapters 15 and 16 omitted). The questions for you to ponder are: 1) which one is the authentic version, and why? and 2) how did the other one come into existence, and why?

Give it some thoughtful study. No off-the-cuff blogosphere ignorance, please… make an informed conjecture. As you read Romans in your Bible, how do the last 2 chapters fit in the flow of the argument? What would the letter gain if they were added, or what would the benefit be if they were subtracted? Can you envision a context in which an “edited” version would be useful?

Let’s hash it out. Post your thoughts.


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  1. I’ll give it a go…

    As I read through the end of Romans the other night, I felt a strong continuation from chapters 14-15 in extending the argument, however, at the end of chapter 15 there appears to be a reasonably logical ending to the book.

    Chapter 16 is a long list of greetings, and I guess we could do without them, but digging through early church history is aided by following people, so the names are helpful.

    I struggled with the challenge because I felt a pretty strong conviction from the beginning that I am unlikely to uncover anything supremely noteworthy in a week that early church fathers were not able to easily address. There is a second bit of reservation as well: I am comfortable with the idea that God guards His word well, as His self-disclosure to us in Jesus is of the utmost importance.

    With that said, I can’t imagine a scenario where chapters 15 and 16 should be left out, and I feel that 15 especially undergirds the case Paul is making in previous sections.

    Most of the textual criticism I could turn up on the web related to Romans centered around abiguity in Romans 5:1 for a particular manuscript.

    That’s about all I’ve got. It’s not off the cuff, but I have admitted to the fact that there is plenty that I don’t know about the matter.

  2. Come on Bob, give us a few days to read through Romans!

    Here is a theory- chapters 15 and 16, because they are mostly personal and specific to the original audience, were removed in a more widely circulated version of the letter intended for a broader audience.

    The beginning of chapter 15 is a restatement of the argument of the previous chapter, more or less. Ch. 15 continues with Paul’s summary of his own ministry and future plans. Ch. 16 is almost entirely personal greetings. All of these could be left out without appreciably affecting the theology of the letter.

    I think the 16-chapter version is the original one, addressed specifically to the Roman church, and the 14-chapter version came to be in the circulation of the letter throughout the early universal church.

  3. I was stumped on this one and so I did some research.

    Apparently, there is a lot of debate about whether Ch. 16 was actually addressed to the church in Ephesus and attached to the copy of Romans that Paul sent there. There is a decent summary of the argument at Proponents of this theory argue that many of persons greeted by Paul in Romans 16 were actually members of the church in Ephesus at the time (Prisca and Aquila; Erastus the treasurer; etc.). As Bob said on Sunday, Romans was Paul’s version of an old-school missionary support letter so maybe Ch.16 was his update letter back to the community where he had more connection and support?

    I think that a look at the text supports this view as well. Paul’s final sentence in Romans 15:33 reads “The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” This formula of ending with a blessing followed by an “Amen” shows up in the very last sentence of several of Paul’s letters. (1 Cor. 16:24; Gal. 6:18; Philippians 4:23). Even where the “Amen” is left out, a blessing very similar to 15:33 is included. (2 Cor. 13:14; Ephesians 6:24; Col. 4:18; 1 Thess. 5:28; 1 Tim. 5:21). I believe that this evidence argues strongly for 15:33 being the original ending verse of Romans. This could be one reason why 16 might be left off of circulating copies of Romans.

    As to why Ch. 16 is retained in our present Bible, I am less certain. There must be a great reason, but I have no novel explanations for why, other than the obvious images of brotherly love, perseverance, Christian concern, and exhortation included in Paul’s greetings.

    Because vv. 14-33 of Ch. 15 share many of the same characteristics of Ch.16 (only addressed to the church in Rome rather than the church in Ephesus), I suppose that it could be kept in or left out of circulating copies for the same reasons.

    However, as Charlie indicated, the first part of Ch. 15 seems to be an extension of the argument in Ch. 14 and I don’t see how that beginning part could be left off of any version of Romans. Paul ends Ch. 14 with the message that we are not to eat, drink, and follow/disregard reliegious laws for the satisfaction of our own desires and visions of what is righteous, but that we should participate or refrain from those things for the benefit of those who are weaker in the faith. We don’t get the full reason why this is until verses 2 and 3 of Ch. 15 which state: “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’”

    For me personally, I can often grasp the basic concept of Christain freedom, but until I am pointed to the cross, where Jesus chose the will of the Father, where he chose to shoulder the punishment that was supposed to be placed upon me, that I can understand that my freedom from eating, drinking, and legal restrictions has been given so that I will not be held back in any way from similarly laying down my life for others (and even then, I am still prone to failure and selfishness – God help me).

    It is my humble opinion that Paul’s words in 15:2-3 directing us to look upon the cross are necessary to complete the argument put forth in Ch. 14 and that any version of Romans would be incomplete without it.

  4. Interesting discussion.

    Without alot of textual evidence. . .I would say this in response to a couple of Bob’s questions.

    1)”What would the letter gain if they were added?”
    Paul’s personal greetings/ instructions gave more creedence to the whole letter in my opinion. It shows that these universal truths had context. It helps the digestion of a heavy argument to know that Paul was addressing it to real folks, like you and I. It also might have helped some people in the early church believe the authenticity of the book in the early days, because there were real people mentioned. Authorship was an issue in the early church “I write this with my own hand” Paul said in Colossians 4:18. So, I think it fits and helps, though perhaps not supporting the argument in a direct way.
    2) “What would be the benefit if they were subtracted?”
    I really don’t see one. I think the word/canon has been preserved for a reason. And, even if some find this to be an attachment from Paul, I think his greetings are helpful and even instructive for us, to help us to remember to honor one another in this way. “All scripture” is useful, and I see some usefulness in this passage, although perhaps not a strong theological one.

  5. Lane gets the award on this one. He’s right on. Nick, excellent research, you just forgot that our starting point is always the authority of Scripture, because, as Charlie says, “God guards his word well.” We assume that what we have is what God wanted us to have, and then we inquire from there.

    Nice work, Lane.

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