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Interpretation and the Claims of the TextI recently read a fascinating chapter by Beverly Gaventa on “The ‘Glory of God’ in Paul’s Letter to the Romans”. Gaventa contributed this chapter in the book Interpretation & the Claims of the Text: Resourcing New Testament Theology (Baylor University Press, 2014), a collection of essays in honor of Charles Talbert.

On the premise that relatively little scholarly work has been done on the phrase “the glory of God” (δοξα του θεου) in Paul’s letters Gaventa sets out to demonstrate three things (pg.29):

  1. That “glory of God” is an important motif in Romans
  2.  That it draws on earlier Jewish associations connecting God’s glory with God’s salvific presence
  3. That it plays a role in Paul’s apocalyptic interpretation of the gospel

In her survey of glory of God language in Romans, Gaventa highlights two particularly disputed passages: Romans 3.23 and 5.2.

With regard to Romans 3.23 Gaventa makes two moves. Firstly, she suggests that it should be translated (following Leander Keck and also The New American Bible) as follows: “all are deprived of the glory of God”. This brings our the passive voice of the verb (contra. the more common renderings “lack” or “fall short of”). Secondly, she draws attention to what exactly is meant by “glory of God” in the claim that humanity is deprived of it. She concludes that Paul “refers not to humanity’s own original state of glory but to the loss of its proper, worshipful relationship to God” (pg.31). As a side note, the Good News Translation of the Bible supports Gaventa’s reading of the glory-of-God language in this verse: “everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence” (Rom 3.23 GNB).

In regard to Romans 5.2, the phrase is usually read as hope for humanity’s own eschatological glory. Gaventa suggests rather that to hope in the glory of God means to expect God’s triumphant presence.

This leads into her discussion of how the Old Testament and other Jewish literature uses glory-of-God language to refer to God’s own presence (e.g. inter alia Ex 24.16; 40.34; Lev 9.23; Ps 56.6; Ezek 11.23). But she points out that in many places it is not just a general presence that is signified by the phrase “it is God’s presence as that presence powerfully triumphs over God’s intractable enemies” (pg.33, emphasis added). In other words, “God’s δοξα is not just God’s presence, but God’s presence for the purpose of an eschatological establishment of God’s saving kingdom” (pg.34).

This claim is supported by a survey of the ubiquitous, but little noticed, conflict language throughout Romans. Again, she concludes that “the ‘glory of God’ signals not only God’s own presence but something more — God’s presence as it triumphs over God’s own enemies, most especially the enemies named Sin and Death” (pg.36).

Among other ramifications of this reading for understanding Paul is that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not primarily a proof of his divinity or his identity as the messiah (although it is that, to be sure), but instead the “beginning of God’s triumph. That is why Paul can go on to say in Romans 6.9-10 that Death and Sin no longer rule over Christ; they have been defeated by the “glory of the father” (pg.36).

More could be said but I will stop here. Gaventa has certainly given us something to consider which has profound implications for how we understand a concept as important as the glory of God. As always her work is thought provoking and well worth the reading.

Soli Deo gloria.