Sacrifice, Brotherhood and the body: God's promise to Abraham and the transformation of the Ethne in Paul's Letter to the Romans
McMurray, Patrick Lindsay Stuart
This thesis rereads Paul’s use of sacrificial language in Romans. Its central argument is that in 12:1, in which Paul appeals to the ethne to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice, Paul uses the language of sacrifice to construct and to ratify a relationship of brotherhood between the ethne and Christ (8:29) and consequently between the ethne and Israel within the Abrahamic lineage (4:16-18; cf Galatians 3:29). In this way Paul uses sacrifice to promote the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham, that he will be the father of many peoples (plural), as reflected in his eschatological vision of 15:10 cf the role of Christ 15:8. All of Paul’s sacrificial language within Romans will be considered. Generally, we argue that Paul is addressing the ethne (in line with his explicit statements within Romans). Our understanding as to the function of sacrifice builds on the work of Nancy Jay and Stanley Stowers, who have demonstrated the role of sacrifice in the construction of the family and kinship relationships. Our analysis flows from Romans 1, in which Paul makes it very clear that the fundamental problem is misguided latreía (idolatry). The sins of Paul’s “vice list” are a secondary issue, consequent on the handing over to the cosmic power of Impurity and the Passions (1:24,26). Romans 3:25 has often been interpreted in sacrificial terms. By employing the methodology of J. Ross Wagner, however, we will demonstrate that the connection often made with Leviticus 16 is not in fact secure i.e. the allusion is not well-evidenced. We will put forward an alternative reading, based on the idea of truce (anoché), part of the general dynamic of cosmic conflict against malign powers, and which is corroborated by the surrounding text. Similar arguments apply to the idea that Jesus was a sin offering (8:3). Subsequently, and building towards our analysis of Romans 12-13, we will demonstrate that familial and ethnic categories, not least those of brotherhood (8:29; 4:17-18) and those pertaining to Israel, play an ongoing and indeed central part in Paul’s message. Ultimately, we will argue that ethnic Israel, while needing to call upon Christ, retains ongoing legitimacy in Paul’s eyes. We will also evidence Paul’s attitude towards the body, and will argue that there is a strong element of asceticism within Paul’s message and practice. The body is eschatologically instrumental for Paul, and we will call this Paul’s “eschatological asceticism”, of which the dynamic of 12:1 is a part. In 12:1 Paul very significantly brings together the language of the family with that of sacrifice. This constructs brotherhood and hence family membership within the family of God and the Abrahamic lineage. It also furnishes the ethne with a new latreía, which will operate in tandem with and alongside that of the Israelites (9:4). This is profoundly transformative, as strongly emphasised in 12:2, these consequences being further articulated and indeed moulded throughout Romans 12-13. New family membership leads to a transformed relationship with God (inheritance of gifts, protection), to new moral capacity, to the arrival of love and the spirit and to becoming the image of Christ (8:29), and to the acquisition of the characteristics of their new fathers (God and Abraham). The transformed moral capacity of the ethne means that their new lives of love fulfil the law (Romans 13:8-10). The standard that Paul has invoked throughout Romans is thereby now fulfilled by the ethne, who are now both worshipping God and fulfilling the law alongside their new brothers the Israelites (cf 15:10). The ethne’s moral transformation constitutes their circumcision of the heart, with Abraham as their father of circumcision (Romans 4:12) and Christ as the servant of circumcision, as it is through him that the promises to the fathers will be fulfilled (15:8), circumcision of the heart being linked to fulfilment of the law in Romans 2:25-29. Our argument complements that of Caroline Johnson Hodge, but we argue that by using sacrifice to construct and to further ratify family membership Paul is doing something new in Romans. Romans 15:16 further articulates Paul’s use of sacrifice to describe and to facilitate the incoming of the ethne (cf Isaiah 66:20-21). This whole dynamic is both familial and profoundly eschatological in nature. In this way, Paul uses sacrifice to promote the fulfilment of both God’s promise to Abraham, and the law (meaning that God’s kingdom is arriving), and thereby to promote the arrival of the end of time.