“Boasting” in Romans 2-5

I have so enjoyed working through the Greek text of Romans over the last year with some friends. I’ve thought of rolling out some thoughts in this space, to enjoy further discussion, and may do so in the future. These are some provisional thoughts from working through Romans 2 and following.

It seems that “boasting” (καύχησις, καυχάομαι) in Paul has something to do with asserting an identity. It could be negative or condemnable, such as when it comes to attaching an identity to human strength, human skills, trumpeting a lofty social status or seeking to establish an identity because of some kind of achievement.

But it does not merely have to do with bragging, and it is not merely negative, since Paul “boasts” in the Lord, citing the Jeremiah 9:24 text twice (“the one who boasts must boast in the Lord”) (1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17). Paul “boasts” in his weakness (2 Cor 11-12) and in the cross of Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14).

So, it seems that it is some kind of celebration of identity or one’s association with another entity, whether good or bad: An exultation in an identity shaped by lofty social status and association with the honored socially attractive and impressive (negative), or an exultation in an identity associated with Christ in his humiliation, with the suffering church of Jesus Christ, with the Lord of the church who is known through the crucified Christ.

The question in Rom 3:27, and the dialogue in 3:27-31, are strategic to his purposes in the letter, undercutting an illegitimate boast and replacing that with another boast. Rom 3:27-31 ties together a section of text that runs from 2:1-5:11.

Rom 2:17 – καυχᾶσαι ἐν θεῷ

Rom 2:23 – ὃς ἐν νόμῳ καυχᾶσαι

Throughout Romans 2, Paul confronts those judging in the Roman house churches and notes that they “boast in God”—a celebration of a Jewish identity that he regards as illegitimate. And they boast in the possession of Torah, which indicates the same. The repetition of καυχᾶσαι in this section indicates that the social situation is on Paul’s mind—that of the fracturing network of house churches along the lines of adoption or non-adoption of Jewish identity, and the subsequent “boasting” of The Weak over-against The Strong. They are boasting in the possession of Torah and claiming that in some way they are “godly,” whereas The Strong are “unclean” and “ungodly” “sinners.”

Rom 3:27 – Ποῦ οὖν ἡ καύχησις;

The reality of how God is rectifying those “under Sin,” which is everyone—Jew and Greek (3:9) is through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ without reference to works of Torah (3:20-26). No one is rectified through works of Torah (v. 20) and God has already revealed that the rectification of God has been manifested apart from works of Torah (3:21-26).

This move of God eliminates καύχησις. There is no more boasting in an ethnic identity (legitimately Jewish or supposedly Jewish). The claims of The Weak over-against The Strong are eliminated because of how God rectifies. Further, in light of how God has manifested his rectification, boasting is a denial of rectification from faithfulness and it is a denial of the Shema (3:30).

Rom 4:2 – εἰ γὰρ Ἀβραὰμ ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη, ἔχει καύχημα, ἀλλ᾿ οὐ πρὸς θεόν

The chapter division at 4:1 obscures the continuous flow of dialogue between Paul and his interlocutor. The question at 4:1 comes from the interlocutor who raises a question about Abraham, asking (though the form of the question is disputed), “What will we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?” Or, it may be, as Hays has argued: “What will we say then? Has Abraham been found our forefather according to the flesh?”

But 4:2 returns to “boasting,” which indicates that coming out of 3:27-31, this is still the point that Paul is pressing. So, I wonder if perhaps the question at 4:1 actually involves boasting: “What will say then that Abraham has found, our forefather according to the flesh, [with regard to boasting]? For, if Abraham was rectified from works [of Torah], he has a boast, but not toward God.”

The “not toward God” note indicates that Paul is talking about intra-community inter-group boasting—the trumpeting of an identity that makes a claim for supremacy over-against The Strong (thought it also eliminates any claims of The Strong over-against The Weak). It is, after all, a boast driven by works. So, basically, the interlocutor raises Abraham as a topic for discussion—the exemplar of faithful law-keeping in 2T Judaism—in order to see if he can at all be a support for The Weak in their quest to be boasting in Torah.

Rom 5:2 – καυχώμεθα ἐπ᾿ ἐλπίδι τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ

Rom 5:3 – ἀλλὰ καὶ καυχώμεθα ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν

Rom 5:11 – καυχώμενοι ἐν τῷ θεῷ διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

The section that follows his discussion of Abraham (5:1-11) has three instances of καυχάομαι. After eliminating a cause of boasting associated with Jewish identity, Paul reconfigures their boast so that they are boasting in the hope of the glory of God (eschatological transformation into the image of Christ), boasting in their afflictions which produce perseverance and hope, and boasting together as one unified group in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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