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Pauline hapax legomena in Romans 1

February 10, 2013

James McGrath explores an interesting argument, based on an unusually high density of words that appear nowhere else in the Pauline corpus, that the clobber passage in Romans 1 is actually Paul “mimicking” somebody else’s tirade against Gentiles, perhaps from the Wisdom of Solomon 12-14.

If this stylometric evidence is convincing, he suggests it implies that Christians should set this passage aside when considering Paul’s thoughts on the issue.

This doesn’t mean that Paul disagreed with all the points, any more than it can be assumed that a Christian and an atheist, or two people of different political parties, will disagree on everything, even when they quote one another polemically or satirically. But it does mean that one ought not to use Romans 1:18-32 to determine Paul’s own views. We should rather treat this passage like we do Paul’s quotations of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians. Those phrases may, in some instances, be ones that Paul could be happy with. But we are not always certain that is the case, and we often have reason to think that Paul himself would have preferred to put things differently.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2013 4:50 pm

    Very interesting, but I am not sure this is a novel observation.

    For example, I recall that Douglas Campbell’s big book on Romans, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (which, by the way, I can highly recommend) explicitly posits that Romans 1:18-32 is a strawman argument (derived from Wisdom) to which Paul then reacts in Romans 2.

  2. February 11, 2013 9:43 pm

    Could be. I’m familiar with the general argument that Paul is quoting/riffing on a familiar position in order to then undermine it, but I hadn’t seen the stylometric argument based on unique words before.

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