1.1.1 The self-understanding of the communities as reflected in the prescript of Romans
This epistle starts with a particularly long and serious prescript. In it the Roman Christians are called ἀγαπητοὶ θεοῦ (beloved of God), κλητοὶ ἁγιοι (chosen holy ones) and κλητοὶ ᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ (chosen by Jesus Christ). This is the only place in the whole Bible that the expression, ἀγαπητοὶ θεοῦ is used, but the theme runs throughout the Old Testament with respect to Israel.
According to authentic Old Testament belief, to be loved by Jahweh means to be chosen by him with a preference motivated not by any previous desert on the part of the beloved, but solely by his own sovereign grace. God’s love is expressed in his free choice, and the object of this choice is a people, Israel. p.4
In officially designating the Christians of Rome as ἀγαπητοὶ θεοῦ, Paul is acknowledging their right to a title that belongs exclusively to God’s beloved and chosen People. This already throws much light on the self-understanding of the Christian community. p.5
What is particularly important here is the link to the self-understanding of ancient Israel.
The term ἁγιος reflects one of the most important aspects of Israel’s self-understanding. Israel is essentially ‘holy’: her ‘holiness’ is implicit in her election—that is, in her very existence as God’s People. Moreover, only Israel is ‘holy’, among all the peoples of the earth. With the designation ἁγιοι, Paul attributes to Christians the title which Israel considered to be the expression of her peculiar dignity. ῾Αγίοις confirms the implication of ἀγαπητοὶ θεοῦ, and nuances its content: not only are Christians the true object of God’s elective love, but—as with Israel of old—the effect of this love is to separate them from the ‘world’ and consecrate them to the service of the true God. p.6
The Romans are holy because of God’s calling. The participle κλητοὶς (called) has a particular theological emphasis when used by Paul. God is almost always the “caller” and Christians usually are the ones who are called.
For Paul, God’s call is a verbum efficax (cf. Rom 4:17, 9:25, 1 Cor 1:26f), from which christian existence may be summed up in the fact that Christians have been called... The Christian’s call coincides in time with his encounter with the preached word of the Gospel and his subsequent conversion and Baptism. p.7
Although the call produces a personal decision of faith and so is addressed to individuals, it results in the gathering of a community and the creation of a People,
…indeed, the People of God, succeeding to the prerogatives of Israel (cf. Acts 3:25). For in fact Paul’s theology of the divine call implies the whole biblical understanding of election. The call makes election historical fact. But election is a privilege that belongs to Israel alone. Hence, when Paul designates Christians as ‘(the) called’, he means in effect that they have succeeded to Israel. p.8
However, although the concept of God’s creative calling of Israel is implicit in the Old Testament, the terminology is rarely used. What are we to make of the frequency of Paul’s usage of this expression? An explanation is that Paul
…saw that the Church was being brought into being by his preaching of the Gospel, and that each Christian was a member of God’s chosen People in virtue of his response to an external and audible message—unlike the Jew, who belonged to Israel by birth. We are here touching upon what Paul saw as the novelty of the christian economy—faith, a faith that comes from hearing the preached word (cf. Rom 10:17). God’s summons becomes audible—becomes a call—in the preaching of the Gospel (cf. 2 Cor 5:20)…p.9
When we take this concept together with the idea in Romans 1:7 that they are called to be a holy people a “whole new dimension” is revealed. Christians are holy as a result of God’s electing love, but they are also holy as a result of preaching, so “God’s activity and the Apostle’s activity are indissolubly united (cf. 1 Cor 3:5b; cf. 1 Cor 3:9 with 9:1d).p.10
Updated 2009-09-27 (build:50) by Andrew Fountain