Today at St Philip's Cathedral in Birmingham Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat (yes there are that many vowels) held a workshop on radical re-readings of Romans.
Sylvia started us off by looking at the context of Paul's ministry: life under Roman rule as a Jew. Both Sylvia and Brian hold to the belief that Luke was correct in asserting that Paul was a Roman citizen, making his assertion of being a 'slave' of Christ all the more radical.
A lot of effort went into establishing the readership of Romans. It was a church of Jewish and Gentile Christians. However, many Jewish Christians would have left when Jews were expelled from Rome by Claudius in 49 C.E. leaving a paranoid Gentile church unsure about its Jewish spiritual heritage. Furthermore, the return of Jewish Christians under Nero in 45 C.E. would be problamatic for a now established gentile-oriented congregation.
The Jews were commonly used as scapegoats for unrest in the Roman empire. Enter Paul - taking the side of the marginalised, "to the jew first then to the gentile."
Sylvia also pointed out that, since Christian faith meant the imperial liturgy of many of the guilds became unconcionable, many Christians were marginalised for their alegiance to Jesus and may have lost both guild protection and freedom to work at their craft.
Most interesting was Sylvia's exegesis of Romans 12 and Brian's sermon on Romans 13. Together thay affirmed that the two chapters should be read as a whole with the Christian action of Romans 12 contrasting the violent "peace" of a Roman empire that liked to project itself as benign exposed in Romans 13. "Remember," Sylvia affirms, "Nero claimed not to rule by the sword." "To any loyal Roman hearing Romans 13 it would not have come accross as patriotic but seditious" Brian adds.
Brian and Sylvia were visiting Birmingham as part of a wider tour of the country facilitated by "Blah"; part of the fresh expressions emerging network.