There is no doubt that Deuteronomy profoundly shaped the theology of the apostle Paul. However, what if his most famous letter – Romans – is completely structured around Deuteronomy? This is exactly what C. Marvin Pate argues in his book Apostle of the Last Days (and his Romans commentary in Teach the Text Series). In his words, “the outline of Romans matches the covenant components of Deuteronomy” (p162). It’s as if Romans is the new Deuteronomy; as Deuteronomy was the document for the Israelite (Old) covenant, Romans would be the formal document for the New Covenant.
Deuteronomy and the Old Covenant
Pate outlines and summarizes Deuteronomy’s covenantal structure as follows:
- Preamble. Deut 1:1-5.
- Historical Prologue. Deut 1:6-3:29. A description of Yahweh’s saving actions.
- Stipulations. The ten commandments (Deut 4-11) and general commandments (Deut 12-26)
- Blessings/Curses. Deut 27-30. The two paths and consequences for obeying or disobeying the covenant.
- Document Clause. Deut 31:9, 24-26. Instructions for keeping the Law written on stone inside the ark of the covenant.
- Appeal to Witnesses. Deut 31:26-32:47. Yahweh appeals to the history of His own faithfulness.
Romans and the New Covenant
- Preamble. Rom 1:1-15
- Historical Prologue. Rom 1:16-17
- Stipulations. Rom 1:18-4:25. Faith in Christ, not the law of Moses.
- Blessings. Rom 5-8. Covenantal blessings on believers.
- Curses. Rom 9-11. Covenantal curses on unbelieving Israel
- Appeal to Witnesses. Rom 12:1-15:33. “Renewal of the covenant ceremony” (p164).
- Document Clause. Rom 16. “on a letter not on stone” (p164).
By following a similar structure, Paul, in Pate’s words, “subverts the old covenant of Moses by replacing it with the new covenant of Christ” (p164).
I’d love to hear comments on this proposal, but here are some initial thoughts of my own.
- It doesn’t force Romans into an unnatural shape. That is, most scholars agree that Rom 1:16-17 is the “thesis” of the letter and that Romans has four large movements, found in Rom 1-4, 5-8, 9-11, and 12-16. This structure is maintained in Pate’s.
- If it’s true that Paul consciously intended this structure, then the currently out-of-fashion idea that Romans is Paul’s “systematic theology” should be reconsidered somewhat, and harmonized with the other theories for Paul’s purpose in writing.
- Pate doesn’t acknowledge it, but for this structure to work, he has switched the Appeal to Witnesses and Document Clause sections. What’s more, these headings don’t really jive with the content in my opinion.
- The heart of the structure is in Rom 1-11. The blessings and curses headings make sense of the material in 5-8 and 9-11, and particularly highlight the important element of covenant blessings and Israel remaining under the curse. However, one need not recognize this structure to have more of a covenantal reading of Romans.
All in all, while I admire Pate’s intentions, I remain unconvinced by his structure. Could Paul have been dictating Romans with Old vs. New Covenant ideas in the back of his head? Yes, and I think he was. He could have even considered the basic flow of Deuteronomy while he dictated Rom 5-11. However, such a point for point structure does not hold. That said, reading Romans with the new covenant in the background is certainly the way to go, and Pate helps bring that into focus.
Many thanks to Alban books for providing a review copy of Apostle of the Last Days. Their generosity in no way affected my review.