Ernst Kasemann on Paul’s struggle for Legitimacy

Ernst Kasemann on Paul’s struggle for Legitimacy April 22, 2013

The Apostle Paul struggled for legitimacy. That is evident from Galatians, Philippians, and 2 Corinthians. Some Jewish Christians contested Paul’s apostolic credentials and the validity of his proselytism-free gospel. So when Paul writes to the Romans, with a view to visiting them, it is a risky venture. He knows that his reputation was subject to misrepresentation (see Rom 3:8). Would the Roman Gentile Christians recognize him as their apostle? Could he count on their support for a mission to Spain? Would he able to return to Jerusalem with ALL of the Gentile churches behind him?  There were no certainties here. 

Ernst Kasemann picks up on this point in his comments on Rom 1:13 where Paul explains why he hasn’t visited them:

The most important theological epistle in Christian history is undoubtedly also the record of an existence struggling for recognition and of an apostolicity called into question. Apart from this insight Romans cannot be interpreted correctly.

A true point, which is why Paul feels the need to explain why he has not visited them before, and why he is less polemical in his discussion about the Mosaic Law than in Galatians.

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  • rfellows

    You seem to assume that the theology of the church of Rome was different from that of Paul. However, he tells them that he has written to them by way of reminder (Rom 15:15). Hultgren comments “What he sets forth in this letter is the tradition known to both them and himself. He has not introduced anything new or novel”.

    Kasemann is here assuming that the first person plural in Rom 3:8 refers to Paul alone, rather than to believers generally (including his audience). How can we tell?

    I don’t agree that Paul’s authority was in question in Galatia. Rather, his sincerity was in doubt (see Gal 5:11). Paul is more polemical in Galatians precisely because he is trying to correct the view that he believed in circumcision. He has to use extreme, emotional language, lest the Galatians think “he doesn’t really believe that circumcision is futile – he is just writing it to please the authors of the decree”.