Paul's Interlocutor in Romans 2
Function & Identity in the Context of Ancient Epistolography

By Runar M. Thorsteinsson
December 2003
Almqvist & Wiksell International
ISBN: 91-22-02047-0
283 pages, Illustrated, 6 ¼" x 8 ¾"
$79.50 Paper Original

Thorsteinsson's study of Romans poses a thoroughly argued challenge to Pauline scholarship. His argument has the potential of invalidating a reading of the Romans 2 that has contributed to a perception of Paul as utterly negative towards his fellow Jews and first century Judaism. Among matters of scholarly dispute is the function and identity of Paul's interlocutor(s) in chapter 2 of Romans. Scholars agree almost universally that the individual addressed in 2:17-29 is a Jew, but with respect to the identity of the interlocutor of 2:1-5, there is no such consensus.

The majority of scholars hold that the interlocutor is a Jew throughout the chapter. A weighty minority argues that the individual addressed in 2:1-5 is a gentile and that there is a shift of interlocutor in 2:17. In his investigation into the pros and cons of these positions Thorsteinsson endeavors to challenge both majority and minority. Basic to his approach is to allow the larger context and framework of the letter to be of help in assessing the function and identity of Paul's partner(s) in dialogue. Thus, the epistolary structure and setting of Romans, the relationship between Paul and his audience, the identity of the audience, and the dialogical style of the letter are used to ascertain the function and identity of Paul's interlocutor(s) in Romans 2. By engaging an imaginary interlocutor, Paul utilizes a well established epistolary technique in Greco-Roman antiquity.

Thorsteinsson concludes that Paul wrote Romans to a particular group of people in a specific, contemporaneous situation. The letter's message arose out of Paul's missionary obligation to proclaim God's "good news" to gentiles in Rome. The minority view that Paul's interlocutor in 2:1-5 is a gentile is combined with the majority opinion that there is but one interlocutor throughout the chapter. In sum, "the common opinion that Romans 2 contains Paul's piercing critique of his fellow Jews should be rejected. The individual censured in the chapter is not a Jew…" but a gentile who claims to be a Jew.

Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series, No. 40

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