Paul Nadim Tarazi on the Epistle to the Romans

My copy of Fr Paul Nadim Tarazi’s “Chrysostom Bible Commentary” on Romans arrived yesterday, and so I thought I would read his analysis of chapter one. I was immediately struck by the following two theses:

1) At the time that Paul wrote his letter, the majority of Christians in Rome belonged to the patrician class (p. 23).

I don’t remember the other commentators I have read mentioning this. Does anyone know what evidence, external or internal, might exist for this claim?

2) Paul consciously wrote his various letters with the intent that they would function as, or be, “scripture” within the Church:

In writing his letters to the churches of the Easter, Paul tried to steer them away from his opponents’ teaching and keep them faithful to the true gospel he was preaching. In so doing he was scripturalizing his teaching (Gal 1:6-9; 5:2; 6:11) so that the future as well as the contemporary generations of all churches, and not only the expressed addressees (Col 4:16), would hear it time and again until the Lord returns: “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed among you!” (Gal 4:19). The reason behind Paul’s decision to write was to have his epistles read together with the Old Testament scripture at church gatherings. In this manner, after his death, his followers would be protected from his opponents’ pressures. As 2 Peter clearly states, Paul’s epistles are put on the same level as the Old Testament books [2 Peter 3:15-16]. … The corollary to this policy is the irrelevance of the perennial question, “How could Paul write to the churches he did not found, such as those in Colossae and Rome?” (pp. 23-24)

Paul writes to Rome, not to respond to any particular crisis or problem, but to introduce himself to the Roman Christians as the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul directs his epistle to the believers in the imperial capital “intending that it be read in all the churches. … The letter being addressed to Rome and thus to the entire empire, according to the Roman tradition of the senatorial or imperial urbi et orbi (to the city [of Rome] and to the entire orb), explains why it incorporates most of the points he had made in his other letters addressed to the capitals of provinces, why it sounds as a magisterial treatise addressed to ‘all the nations among whom are the citizens of Rome’ (Rom 1:5-6), and why it was put in the place of honor at the head of [the] Pauline corpus” (pp. 24-25).

None of the other commentators I have read or glanced at have taken such a position. I am dubious.

I purchased this book because I thought I should at least consult one Orthodox commentary, along with the Catholic and Protestant commentaries I am reading. I have quickly skimmed through the book. I have to say that Tarazi’s viewpoint is … different. I will occasionally cite his positions in my future ruminations, just so everyone can hear his distinct voice, but I am not impressed with the commentary so far. The bibliography at the end of the book indicates that he is acquainted with Pauline scholarship; yet he appears to be ignorant of new perspective contributions–at least I do not see any evidence of it in his analysis. Tarazi seems to fall into Douglas Campbell’s justification by faith model, with a couple of his own tweaks.

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16 Responses to Paul Nadim Tarazi on the Epistle to the Romans

  1. PJ says:

    I was under the impression that most traditional Orthodox looked askance at Tarazi.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I don’t know. I know little about him.

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    • Gabe Martini says:

      He seems to have either raving fans or staunch opponents, with very little in between. I am assigned to read several of his books in my current studies, and so I look forward to hearing him out.

      What’s great about Orthodoxy is we can read and appreciate a wide array of opinions, without having to let any one opinion change the Faith. Despite the name (“orthodox”), there’s a healthy umbrella of discourse, dialogue, and conversation to be had—especially when it comes to interpreting the Scriptures (which don’t have “one” meaning per word).

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  2. john burnett says:

    Most ‘traditional’ Orthodox (i.e., ‘convertsii’) look askance at anyone who, when it comes to scripture, does not espouse the fundamentalist american evangelical perspective they themselves grew up with, and became Orthodox to defend.

    And an actual ‘traditional’ Orthodox (i.e., someone from an ethnic background, born into it) is not usually likely to know enough about the Bible to have an opinion about anything Tarazi writes, at all. Nor are they very likely to read him.

    All that said— it’s true, Tarazi is…. idiosyncratic. I’m not aware that he’s in much serious dialogue with the rest of the scholarly world.

    My suggestion is to stick to Wright. His vision is actually quite deeply Orthodox, except when it comes to saints. He doesn’t quite get the saints, but when i read what he writes about that, i sense that he’s reacting to something we don’t actually find in Orthodoxy. He’s not actually very directly familiar with Orthodoxy, which makes the fact that he gets it so well even more remarkable.

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  3. PJ says:

    John,

    That was rather uncalled for.

    Father,

    This is what I meant: http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/fr-paul-tarazi-from-study-to-heresy.aspx

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I had to chuckle while reading the article. “A liberal Protestant in the Orthodox Church.” From the little I have read, I sure have not detected “liberal Protestantism” in Tarazi! What I have seen is an attempt (whether it is a sound attempt is another question) to perhaps read the Apostle within the context of his historical conditions, and his reading hardly qualifies as “radical” or “critical”–at least not by my standards. Those of us who were trained in the historical-critical method are not going to be scandalized or threatened by Tarazi.

      It does appear that Tarazi holds some interesting views about the relationship between James and Paul (e.g., he alleges that the Jerusalem church rejected Paul’s offering). Tarazi is not alone in believing this, but my impression is that this is a minority opinion. We simply do not have sufficient historical evidence to resolve the question.

      But I suppose the real question is whether critical-historical readings of Holy Scripture are permissible and legitimate. I understand the challenge they pose. Protestantism and now Catholicism are still wrestling with it. Many within Orthodoxy, I suspect, have not even begun to do so, but these folks are probably not reading my blog. 🙂

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      • jrj1701 says:

        Don’t be too sure about that. Hyperdox Herman thought the same thing until Serbian Orthodox Church held a synod about Hyperdox Herman;s facebook page.

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  4. PJ says:

    It does seem to me that there existed a degree of conflict — or at least suspicion — between the conservative Jewish-Christians of Jerusalem, led by St James, and the universalist vision of St. Paul, but I agree that not much can be said for sure about the tension.

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    • Jason says:

      I am currently reading Henry Chadwick’s “The Church In Ancient Society,” and he makes this seem like a rather significant conflict (St. James vs. St Paul, or Jerusalem vs. the Universal Church).

      Is there any consensus about Chadwick’s scholarship here? I am thinking that he is somewhat overblowing the issue, but he does mention St. Chrysostom’s surprise and consternation when he learned that many in his congregation were spending their Saturdays at the Synagogue.

      Are St. James along with the Jerusalem Church the “opponents” of St. Paul that Fr. Tarazi is talking about?

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Years ago I knew a fair amount on this question, as I tried to keep up with commentaries on Galatians. Alas, that is no longer the case, and I find it difficult to access my cerebral databank (don’t get old!). But my recollection is that most scholars believe that the conflict between the St Paul and the Jerusalem church was significant and continued past the Council of Jerusalem (ca. 50), for example. Paul’s openness to Gentiles would have become increasingly notorious as nationalistic and revolutionary tensions increased in the late 50s and early 60s.

        What does Chadwick say about the conflict between Paul and the church in Jerusalem?

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  5. Jason says:

    Forgive me, I’m only just starting this work and am currently in Chapter 8 (61 total chapters) and his comments on this situation are continuting to develop (someone who has gone through the whole book – which I am finding very interesting – should be able to give a more complete synopsis). From the beginning to where I am at now, he has continued to reference this tension as a major factor in the development of the early Church.

    As it stands now, Chadwick has highlighted several areas of contention. For one, the relationship between Jewish Christians and Observant Jews in Jerusalem was competitive, and Gentile Christians were geographically and culturally removed from this situation. As they did not wholly understand the dynamics at play, communication was affected. In addition, Chadwick states that conservative Jewish Christians might have viewed Paul as an “antinomian anarchist” when it came to Paul’s vision of the New Age which made the “Law of Moses a stage in the education of the human race but not God’s final word for all races.” The Christians in Jerusalem wanted to know by what authority his converts were going to live their lives. There are other “Judaizing” controversies Chadwick touches on like circumcision, diet, scriptures, roles of women, etc. that all played a part in creating several degrees of contention between Jerusalem and the Gentile Churches.

    Chadwick references Romans, Galations, I & II Corinthians, and Acts many for these observations. Learning of this is new ground for myself, and at times I feel like Chadwick is being particularly hard on Paul. But I could be wrong in my interpretation of what he’s saying. I do look forward to reading the rest of the book.

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    • Jason says:

      One more addition to my comment above, in his chapter on the Didache, Chadwick states that the author(s) show no knowledge with the writings of Paul at the time and yet the Didache also illustrates some of the tension felt in Jerusalem. Chadwick takes this to highlight that:

      “The community for which the Didache was composed was certainly in a
      state of tension with the Synagogue, a fact which shows that the split between
      Church and Synagogue cannot be attributed entirely to the actions and
      theology of the apostle Paul and his Gentile mission, with which the Didache
      seems to have no contact.”

      Anyway, sorry to post about Chadwick again as the column is about Fr. Tarazi. Still reading and thought it important to show that he makes a point that it’s not all Paul’s fault.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Jason, don’t apologize for sharing what you are learning from Chadwick. I find it fascinating.

        I do not believe that the separation between Church and synagogue can be laid upon Paul and his “abandonment” of Torah (though it no doubt contributed). This would overlook the dramatic impact of the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 upon both Jews and Christians. I would speculate, with N. T. Wright, that the Christian openness to fellowship with Gentiles (collaboration?) would raise serious questions among Jews about the authentic Jewish identity and loyalty of those Jews who believed in Jesus the Messiah; and Christians Jews might well have looked upon the destruction of the Temple as divine judgment of non-believing Judaism.

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      • Jason says:

        Fr. Kimel – I don’t doubt your last point about the Christian symbolism of the Temple’s destruction one bit.

        As I’ve not read any NT Wright, I look forward to (hopefully) doing so in the near future – and your Scribd link of “Romans and Theology of Paul” may well be my starting point. Of note I found Chadwick’s book on Scribd as well, although it may be available elsewhere.

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  6. PJ says:

    We must resist simplification, as well as any attempt to turn non-Jewish Christianity into a sort of Pauline fluke. Recall that Peter, not Paul, initiated the mission to the Gentiles. And, if we believe the Scriptures to be truthful, the risen Christ himself (who had during his earthly life decisively reinterpreted and even reformulated the covenant between God and man) commanded his friends to go and “make disciples of all nations.” He would have acted as a mediating and stabilizing influence between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. We should also keep in mind that Paul himself prioritized the Jewish community in his travels: according to Acts, upon entering a new city he would make a beeline straight to the synagogue.

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  7. PJ says:

    Acts 21:17-26 gives the impression that there existed some confusion and resentment among the average Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, rather than conflict among the apostles. Paul appears honest, earnest, and obedient; James appears enthusiastic but prudent and conciliatory.

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