‘the saints’ in Romans 1:7

I’ve been convinced by the argument of Donald Robinson and others that when Paul refers to ‘the saints’ in his letters, he is most often referring to Christians from a Jewish background, and especially those in Jerusalem.
This however does not seem to fit well in Romans 1:7 where Paul addresses the roman church in this way:

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Normally I would take this to mean that Paul is primarily addressing Christians from a Jewish background. The problem is, everything else in Romans 1 seems to point strongly to the fact that Paul sees the Romans as a mainly Gentile church (see Romans 1:5-6, 13-15).

One option I thought of was to divide the people Paul is addressing into two groups ‘Those loved by God’ – Christians from a Gentile background, and ‘the saints’ Christians from a Jewish background. There are two problems with this approach. First, there is no ‘and’ between ‘those loved by God’ and ‘called to be saints’ in Greek, so I think they are really the same group. The second problem with the two groups theory is that I don’t think ‘those loved by God’ is a technical term for Gentile Christians.

A second option for interpreting this verse is to take Paul as saying that the Romans have been ‘called to be saints’, that is they have been called to join with the Jewish believers in being God’s people. At this stage I’m leaning in this second direction because it makes more sense in context. But I’d be happy to here any thoughts from anyone (if there’s anyone who still remembers this blog exists….)

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11 Responses to ‘the saints’ in Romans 1:7

  1. Anthony Douglas says:

    I remember that you’re here, but have no real wisdom to share. Other than to say that Gibbo has been working on Romans for something like the last ten years, so he might be worth asking…

  2. Laetitia says:

    I’ve never heard of the idea of Paul – the man famous for things like “there is no Jew or Gentile” – arbitrarily splitting people into such camps. Granted, I don’t know ancient Greek but I’ve always taken things like “To all …. who are loved by God and called to be saints” to mean all those who are believers. After all, isn’t this the same book where Paul talks about that tricky topic of predestination? 🙂 Since he argues that one cannot be a believer unless one is called by God, then I would say they are one and the same group to whom he writes.

    And I haven’t forgotten that your blog exists. 🙂

  3. apricho says:

    Hi Guys,
    thanks for the comments. Laetitia, I don’t think Paul ‘arbitrarily’ splits people into Jew and Gentile camps, and even though he is very clear that Jews and gentiles have been brought together in Jesus, I think he continues to maintain the distinction. For example in Romans 1:16, the gospel is the power of God FOR THE JEW FIRST and then for the Gentile, and similarly in Romans 3:1 he can talk about how there is much value in being a Jew and having circumcision. Probably Ephesians is the clearest place where Paul addresses Jewish believers and gentile believers separately and tells them they have now been brought together in Christ. In Ephesians 1:1 I think Paul literally greets ‘the saints’ and ‘the faithful ones’ who are in Christ Jesus (the ‘and’ is there in Greek, but not the NIV) as separate groups. Hope that helps to clarify where I’m coming from

  4. Al Bain says:

    I’m not convinced by the Robinson/Wright/Campbell thesis.

    It all just sounds too hard to me. That there’s a code that we need to have cracked to get what Paul’s saying. And the fact that it doesn’t fit easily within Romans 1 just confirms my suspicions.

    I read PC’s paper that he presented to the College recently and was worried that the implications back into the OT were just too much. Gods people in Gods place under Gods rule has served me well. And I am not at all confident that it should be jettisoned.

    I have asked PC if anyone else in Christendom has published anything either for or against this thesis but unfortunately it seems to be a minority view. Which is all the more reason to wonder about it.

  5. simone says:

    I’m sold on the PC position. First heard it back in 2003. It does make sense of lots of stuff. A minority view can be the right one. Be brave.

  6. Al Bain says:

    haha. Be brave. I’ll try.

    Of course a minority view can be right. And I’m persuaded about other ones. Just not this one.

  7. apricho says:

    Al, don’t you think we should look at the exegetical questions before the theological implications?

    Leaving the ‘saints’ thing to one side for a minute, I don’t think the observation about the we/you pronouns in Ephesians is a code that needs to be cracked. It’s an observation about the text – that Paul switches between we and you – which has always puzzled exegetes. The ‘we jewish background Christians/You Gentile background Christians’ interpretation is just a way of explaining the observation which seems to work, and furthermore is consistent with the whole argument of Ephesians.

    Admittedly I’m not quite sure what is going on with ‘the saints’ in Romans 1:7, but that is not to say there is no evidence in Romans that Paul uses pronouns consistently to speak of Christians from different backgrounds. Just check out the ‘They’ (gentiles) in Romans 1:18-32 and the ‘You’ (jews) in Romans 2 (should acknowledge that this is originally a PC observation too).

    I guess for me, the nuanced definition of ‘the saints’ grows out of the consistent distinctions I see Paul making elsewhere not vice-versa.

  8. al bain says:

    Al, don’t you think we should look at the exegetical questions before the theological implications?

    Can’t we do both at the same time? Can’t I be thinking of, for example, the story of David and Goliath when I’m reading Ephesians? And can’t I be asking “does this mean that I am identified not with David, and not even with the Israelites, but with the Philistines?”

    They’re the sorts of questions I’m asking myself as I think about your paradigm. And it seems to me at least that your way of reading Paul’s personal pronouns forces me to re-jig my entire OT hermeneutic.

    Have you been doing that when you’ve been preaching through Samuel?

  9. apricho says:

    I guess I’m not convinced that this hermeneutic excludes gentile Christians from identifying with Israel in the Old Testament. It is true that we were ‘strangers to the covenant’ before we were Christians. But it is also true that we have now been grafted in to be co-heirs of the promises. So I think looking back it’s fine to identify with the people of the promise – just remembering that it’s an incredible privilege that Jesus has won for us.

    It is fair to say though, that I didn’t consider the hermeneutical considerations as carefully as I could have in my recent 2 Samuel series.

  10. Al Bain says:

    Thanks for following this through. I’ll keep mulling it over.

  11. Hello!

    It’s a really interesting issue for me. In Ephesians, I reckon it’s pretty clear that Phil’s right. From memory I don’t even think that in Ephesians it’s a particularly new or novel take. (Well, perhaps the implications for a ‘technical’ use of ‘saints’ is, but I don’t 100% follow that anyways.) In Romans, I really don’t think it’s clear. This is one of the reasons that I don’t think that Paul uses the term consistently in the same way at all times, because you need to account for situations like this where it doesn’t fit.

    And on David and Goliath, I’d identify with a gentile who’s sheltering in the nation of Israel. Perhaps Uriah might be giving myself a bit too much of a rap, but if I’m going to identify with someone, why not a mighty man eh? (And yes, I recognise that with Christ things do change in terms of the universality of God’s people, but the analogy still fits. I’m not a Philistine in that story, I’m an adopted child of God.)

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