Paul’s Interlocutor in Romans 2 : Function and Identity in the Context of Ancient Epistolography
Abstract: Romans 2 has long been a crux interpretum. Among matters of dispute is the function and identity of Paul’s interlocutor(s) in the chapter. While scholars agree that the individual addressed in 2:17–29 is a Jew, there is no such consensus with respect to the identity of the person addressed in 2:1–5. On the one hand, the scholarly majority holds that this person is depicted as a Jew and that the same interlocutor is involved throughout the chapter. A weighty minority, on the other hand, argues that the individual addressed in 2:1–5 is a gentile and that there is a shift of interlocutor in 2:17. The former interpretation largely fails to do justice to a linear reading of the letter, whereas the latter appears to neglect the continuous and progressive flow of Paul’s discourse in chapter 2. A fresh approach is needed in which these shortcomings are addressed. This study seeks to allow the larger context and framework of Romans to be of help in assessing the function and identity of Paul’s interlocutor(s) in chapter 2. The epistolary structure and setting of Romans is first investigated in order to determine what factors relating to that structure and setting may inform us about the relationship between Paul and the Roman recipients. The identity of the people to whom Paul wrote his letter is then considered. The utilization of interlocutors by Greco-Roman epistolographers is also assessed and compared to Paul’s use of a dialogical style in Romans 2–11. In view of these aspects of the larger context and framework of the letter, an attempt is made to ascertain the function and identity of Paul’s interlocutor(s) in Romans 2. It is concluded that Paul wrote Romans to a particular group of people in a specific, contemporaneous situation. The letter’s message arose out of the relationship between Paul as an apostle to the gentiles and the Roman audience as subject to this commission of his. Paul wrote the letter exclusively to people of non-Jewish origin. His use of a dialogical style in Romans 2–11 has parallels in other letters from Greco-Roman antiquity, in which fictitious interlocutors normally represent or speak for the letter’s recipient(s) and remain the same throughout the discourse. A linear reading of Romans 1–2 strongly suggests that Paul’s interlocutor in 2:1–5 is a gentile, and that the address to this very person is resumed in 2:17. Contrary to common opinion, the imaginary individual addressed in 2:17–29 is not a (native) Jew, but a gentile who wants to call himself a Jew. The Roman readers are meant to correlate their own views with the gentile interlocutor’s.
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