Paul the persuader concludes as he began, With affirmation of his audience, Showing respect to people in Rome (and the implied audience everywhere) and offering some self-deprecation, acknowledging the boldness of his arguments.
As at the beginning of the letter, Paul claims a divine calling to evangelize Gentiles, For the sake and benefit of Gentiles. He also references the acts and events around him Across the Roman province of the Orient And up into Illyricum, the next province north (which we know as Turkey and the Balkans) Is he bragging about his role, or minimizing it?
Paul asserts his decade of work and well-known conflicts through these eastern provincial extremities of the empire, to explain, not excuse, his delay in visiting the imperial centre. He immediately reminds everybody his destination is Spain – the western extremes of the empire, Iberia, Gaul, Britannica.
This is a movement from the fringes and frontiers, rather than a centralized command-and-control plan. Even as he proposes an itinerant visit, ‘on the way’, for mutual satisfaction, face to face – Paul claims his priority is to visit Jerusalem, with a collection of relief money, from Gentile converts in Asia Minor to ‘saints’ in poverty in Jerusalem.
I resist thinking of the donors as ‘Christians’, or the recipients as ‘Gentile Christians’ in Jerusalem. We are a decade before the final ‘Jewish Wars’ uprising,not yet starkly facing the challenge of post-Temple faith.
Poverty among ‘God-fearing’ Jerusalemites must have been real, fertile ground for militants planning rebellion – but also for a range of houses of worship and mutual support, of both genders and all ages, and varying politics.
Who is Paul calling ‘unbelievers in Judea’?
Who would resist generous aid to the poor of Jerusalem?
I resist thinking of the ‘unbelievers’ as Jews denying Jesus’ good news.I imagine them as local authorities cooperating with Roman rule, and also, in separate groups, those preparing revolution against it. Perhaps temple leadership had a stake in opposing Paul – his relaxation of ritual observances would be bad for their work. I read the rationale for Gentile believers to give this offering, and I see a motive of reciprocity to the home community of Torah – spiritual export from the Israelites, in the Holy Land, reciprocal financial aid from Syrians, Turks, and Greeks. Might the argument of hinterland support for the homeland, the frontier feeding the faithful heartland, be heard in Rome as ‘evangelism from the outside in’,
From the ends of the earth back to the centre of the earth? I’ve used most of my words on the first 2 days – we’ll close with the usual list of specific greetings, then a new set of admonishments in a different tone, and a nearly Gnostic closing poem on Friday – were any or all of these bits added, by a different author, at a later time?
Even on the face of the text, ‘Tertius’ the stenographer claims a voice – how could copyists resist ‘improving’ the original?