What do the topics of exile, renewal in the Spirit, the Abba cry, and believers as metaphorical sheep for the slaughter all have in common? They are all mentioned in the Romans 6-8 and involve intertextual echoes from the Old Testament. Intertextuality has to do with the presence of a text in another text. In the New Testament we find numerous text presences that frequently originate from the Old Testament or traditions originating from Jesus.
For our study we will once again draw on the study of Dr. Channing L. Crisler, Associate Professor of New Testament at Anderson University, who has recently written a multi-volume set entitled, An Intertextual Commentary on Romans (Pickwick Books). This article focuses on his second volume, Romans 5:1–8:39. In our previous installment with Dr. Crisler, he gave some of his insights from Romans 5 and Romans 7:7–25. We now continue with more questions, this time on topics in Romans 6–8.
Echoes of Exile from Deuteronomy and the Prophets: Romans 6
Oropeza: In comparison with Romans chapters 1–4 and 9–11, I don’t find Paul quoting many Old Testament (OT) texts in Romans 5–8. I’m curious what you find Paul doing in these chapter intertextually.
Crisler: Romans 5–8 largely appears to lack the kind of intertextual engagement that characterizes the rest of the letter. On a cursory reading, such an appearance is particularly striking in Rom 6. On further review, however, the intertextual subtexts here are quite robust. This includes the way that OT slavery language shapes Paul’s characterization of slavery to sin and righteousness, respectively.
For example, Rom 6:15–23 evokes OT pre-texts in which obedience from the heart would mark an eschatological (end-time) return from exile. Deuteronomy 30:1–6 and Jeremiah 24:1–10 are informative in this regard since they relate to Israel’s exile into foreign nations (such as Babylon).
Paul locates this exile in the way God “handed over” Jews and Gentiles to the power of sin in the same way God banished ancient Israel to geopolitical foes on account of Israel’s idolatrous rebellion. Moreover, in describing their liberation from the exile of sin, Paul evokes the promise of renewal as it is described in Ezekiel 36:16–18. The prophet portrays Israel facing God’s wrath in exile due to idolatry, sexual immorality, and social injustice.
Oropeza: But that’s not the end of the story, is it?
Crisler: Despite the exile, in Ezekiel’s prophecy, God promises renewal characterized by a return to the land, cleansing from moral impurity, the gift of a new heart and Spirit, a command to be “ashamed” of their past transgressions, and to make their land “fruitful.”
Paul takes many of these characteristics and reworks them around God’s work in Christ including the gift of the Spirit, shame for past transgressions, and fruitfulness.
The Holy Spirit in Ezekiel and Romans 7 and 8
Oropeza: You touched on the gift of the Spirit. Do you happen to see any pre-texts behind Romans 7:6?
I translate it as follows: “But now we have been released from the law, having died to that which used to confine us, with the result that we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not the oldness of the written code” (i.e., “letter”). Also, is this tied in with Paul’s exhortation to walk in the Spirit in Romans 8:2–14?
Crisler: Romans 7:6 echoes Ezek 36:16–18 which I mentioned above (Rom 6:19–23). Once again, this portion of Ezekiel provides Paul with an outline that characterizes the eschatological renewal of God’s people. Divine gifts mark this renewal, particularly a new heart and Spirit (Ezek 36:26–27). Reflection on Ezekiel’s prophecy in Rom 7:5–6 is reflected in Paul’s description of bearing fruit to God through service to him by “the newness of the Spirit” rather than by “the oldness of the letter.”
In Romans 8, Paul once again picks up the intertextual thread from Ezekiel. For example, Rom 8:9–11 evokes Ezek 37:1–14 where we encounter the prophet’s famous vision of the valley of dry bones. The pre-text takes up lexemes such as bones, sinews, skin, flesh, and divine breath, which Paul then takes up.
For Paul, Ezekiel’s vision of resurrection, in which corpses are animated by the breath of the Spirit, has already begun in Christ and in believers who have the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.
Oropeza: The raising to new life has started but has not finished?
Crisler: Those who are in Christ do not yet experience the fullness of Ezekiel’s vision. They must first suffer with Christ and await the experience of the risen Christ, which the Spirit assures them of through facilitating cries to the Father and interceding with cries not even believers can understand (Rom 8:15–16, 26–27).
More Echoes from Romans 8
Oropeza: There are so many different issues in Romans 8, I don’t know where to begin. What would you say are some of the unique interpretations that you bring to the table in this chapter based on intertextuality?
Crisler: I couldn’t agree more. Romans 8 is one of the densest texts in the entire New Testament. The textual density includes Paul’s intertextual engagement. I will try to highlight a few intertextual considerations that sometimes receive less consideration among other interpreters.
The Cry of Abba
Crisler: First, there’s the cry “Abba, Father” in Rom 8:12–17. It echoes both cries of distress with Psalms of Lament and Jesus tradition related to Jesus’s lament inv the Garden of Gethsemane when he cries, “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36).
Psalms of Lament (LXX) often employ krazô (κράζειν: to cry out, call out) and divine vocatives to address God in the way that Paul portrays the work of the Spirit in the hearts of believers (see, e.g., Pss LXX 3:5 [3:4 English translation]; 16:6[17:6]; 21:3[22:2]; 29:3[30:2]; et al.). These kinds of pre-texts are combined with the Jesus tradition with the rare use of “Abba” as a divine vocative. In short, Paul envisions the sons and daughters of God crying out to their father in the same way that both OT lamenters and Jesus himself did.
Along these lines, they can confidently expect the kind of divine answer that their lamenting exemplars received. On the one hand, that answer is actualized in their participation by faith in the crucified and risen Christ. On the other hand, since the Romans remain in unredeemed bodies, sin continues to wage its deceitful and overpowering war.
A tension arises that is reminiscent of what OT lamenters experience, namely, the assurance of acceptance by God and the reality of ongoing affliction that could be misinterpreted as divine condemnation. Therefore, the Spirit testifies of the Romans’ adopted status before God and prompts trust-filled cries to their Father.
Oropeza: It goes to show that not all echoes come from the Old Testament. Here we have also an allusion to Jesus’s own prayer.
Crisler: A second intertextual connection happens with the interplay between the catalogue of afflictions and a citation from a classical psalm of lament in Rom 8:35–36. This suggests that Paul and his recipients appear to be under God’s wrath with no proper cause.
There are echoes of divine condemnation in Rom 8:35 with Paul’s reference to tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword. There are a combination of afflictions found in pre-texts such Deut 28:53, Isa 8:22, Lam 2:21, Jer 5:12 and 24:10. In each of these wider contexts, divine wrath is announced against his people for their idolatrous and lawbreaking disobedience.
According to Paul’s gospel, those in Christ are no longer under condemnation (Rom 8:1). Therefore, why do they experience a list of afflictions normally reserved for those under divine condemnation according to Israel’s Scriptures?
There is an inexplicable dynamic to this experience for the Romans, which Paul recognizes through his citation of Ps 43:23 LXX (Ps 44:22 ET). This is a classic communal lament in which the speaker extols God’s past saving acts, but he protests God’s inexplicable and unprovoked rejection of his people as well.
Those among the people are indeed like innocent lambs led to the slaughter by God. Paul takes up the intertextual strands of divine condemnation and inexplicability to acknowledge that the Romans experience something similar. He reassures them that, despite the appearance of God’s wrath against them, nothing can separate them from God’s love in Christ.
Oropeza: Thank you once again, Channing, for your intertextual insights from Romans!