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Announcing the Human: Rethinking the Relationship Between Wisdom of Solomon 13–15 and Romans 1.18–2.11

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2011

Jonathan A. Linebaugh
Durham University, Department of Theology and Religion, Abbey House, Durham DH1 3RS, England. email:


Although the relationship between Rom 1.18–2.5 and Wisdom of Solomon 13–15 is variously interpreted, those who detect a level of textual engagement tend to agree that while Rom 2.1–5 critiques Wis 15.1–4, Rom 1.18–32 stands as a compressed yet theologically consistent restatement of Wis 13.1–14.31, 15.7–19. This paper challenges this virtual consensus by rereading Rom 1.18–32 in light of the rhetorical turn at Rom 2.1. The kerygmatic location of Paul's polemic, together with a series of alterations to the Hellenistic Jewish polemical tradition, suggest an interpretation of Rom 1.18–32 that runs directly counter to Wisdom of Solomon's rhetorical and theological purposes in chs. 13–15. Whereas Wisdom of Solomon's polemic functions to reinforce the anthropological distinction between Jew and Gentile on the basis of true and false worship, Paul reworks the aniconic tradition to establish the essential unity of humanity.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1 Grafe, E., ‘Das Verhältniss der paulinischen Schriften zur Sapientia Salmonis’, Theologische Abhandlungen: Carl von Weizsäcker zu seinem siebzigsten Geburtstage 11. December 1892 gewidmet (Freiburg: Mohr Siebeck, 1892) 251–86Google Scholar. Sanday, W. and Headlam, A. C., The Epistle to the Romans (ICC; New York: Scribner's, 1896) 51–2Google Scholar, 267–9 introduced these parallels to English-speaking scholarship. For a detailed survey of scholarship, see Dodson, J. R., The ‘Powers’ of Personification: Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans (BZNW 161; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008) 413CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Nygren, A., Commentary on Romans (trans. Rasmussen, C. C.; London: SCM, 1952)Google Scholar, compare p. 112 with 114–17.

3 Dunn, J. D. G., Romans 1–8 (WBC 38a; Waco: Word, 1988) 82–3Google Scholar; Fitzmyer, J. A., Romans (AB 33; London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1992) 298Google Scholar; Moo, D. J., The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 133Google Scholar; Lohse, E., Der Brief an die Römer (KEK 4; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003) 86, 99CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Hays, R. B., The Moral Vision of the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996) 389Google Scholar.

5 Schmeller, T., Paulus und die ‘Diatribe’: Eine vergleichende Stilinterpretation (Münster: Aschendorf, 1987) 225–86Google Scholar.

6 Porter, C. L., ‘Romans 1.18–32: Its Role in the Developing Argument’, NTS 40 (1994) 210–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Campbell, D. A., The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 542–93Google Scholar. In Campbell's reconstruction, it is not Wisdom of Solomon that speaks, but an adversarial teacher for whom Wisdom of Solomon was a theologically formative text.

8 Gaca, K. L., ‘Paul's Uncommon Declaration in Romans 1.18–32 and Its Problematic Legacy for Pagan and Christian Relations’, HTR 92.2 (1999) 165–98Google Scholar. Others (e.g. Bell, R., No One Seeks for God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 1.18–3.20 [WUNT 106; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998] 76Google Scholar) have noticed that Rom 1.18–32 differs from Wisdom of Solomon in a number of ways, but this has generally been used as evidence against Pauline interaction with Wisdom of Solomon. However, as Watson, F. (Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith [London: T&T Clark, 2004] 405 n. 77)Google Scholar notes, this assumption ‘implies that “influence” and “differences” are mutually limiting… In fact…the depth of Paul's engagement with this text is evident precisely at the points he also differs from it’.

9 That the interlocutor of Rom 2.1–16 is the same figure explicitly identified as a self-proclaimed Jew in 2.17 will be argued below.

10 Jewett, R., Romans (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007) 152–4Google Scholar, like Dabelstein, R., Die Beurteilung der ‘Heiden’ bei Paulus (BBET 14; Bern: Lang, 1981) 73–9Google Scholar before him, argues for the inclusion of Israel within the polemical scope of Rom 1.18–32, but this argument is made at the expense of Paul's engagement with Wisdom of Solomon rather than, as this paper intends, on the basis of a close comparison between Rom 1.18–32 and Wis 13–15.

11 Cranfield, C. E. B., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [2 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975] 1.104 n. 1)Google Scholar seems to have intuited a similar reading, but he never developed it outside a footnote.

12 For a detailed list of the lexical parallels, see Laato, T., Paul and Judaism: An Anthropological Approach (trans. McElwain, T.; Atlanta: University of South Florida, 1995) 94–5Google Scholar.

13 Watson, Hermeneutics, 405.

14 Campbell, Deliverance of God, 360. While this argumentative sequence is particular to Romans and Wisdom of Solomon, Philo's De decalogo offers something of a parallel to Wisdom of Solomon in that its denunciation of false-worship moves from the less deplorable act of worshiping heavenly elements or bodies (52–56; Wis 13.1–9) to the absurd practice of worshiping created images (66–77; Wis 13.1–9; 14.15-21; 15.7–13) which finds its most risible expression in Egyptian animal worship (77–81; Wis 15.18–19); cf. Barclay, J. M. G., Jews in the Mediterranean Disapora: From Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE–117 CE) (Berkeley: University of California, 1996) 186Google Scholar.

15 For a detailed analysis of this section, see Gilbert, M., La critique des dieux dans le Livre de la Sagesse (Sg 13–15) (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1973)Google Scholar; cf. McGlynn, M., Divine Judgement and Divine Benevolence in the Book of Wisdom (WUNT 2/139; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001) 132–69Google Scholar; Wintson, D., The Wisdom of Solomon (AB 43; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979) 247–91Google Scholar.

16 For a detailed tracing of Wisdom of Solomon's polemic see Gilbert, La critique, 245–57; cf. Larcher, C., Le Livre de la Sagesse, ou, La Sagesse de Salomon (3 vols.; Paris: Gabalda, 1983) 1.122Google Scholar.

17 Watson, Hermeneutics, 407.

18 Klostermann, E., ‘Die adäquate Vergeltung in Röm 1,22–31’, ZNW 32 (1993) 16CrossRefGoogle Scholar; cf. Gathercole, S., ‘Sin in God's Economy: Agencies in Romans 1 and 7’, Divine and Human Agency in Paul and His Cultural Environment (ed. Barclay, J. M. G. and Gathercole, S. J.; London: T&T Clark, 2006) 162–3Google Scholar.

19 Codex Alexandrinus (A) has ἀδίκα instead of δίκαια; see McGlynn, Divine Judgement, 158 n. 73.

20 Campbell (Deliverance of God, 548) helpfully refers to this rhetorical tactic as ‘universalization’—‘an argumentative concession that can be forced onto the proponents of any position by insisting that the principles within that position…be applied consistently to its proponents’.

21 See e.g. Stowers, S. K., A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles (New Haven: Yale University, 1994) 101–4Google Scholar.

22 So Watson, Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles, 198; Gathercole, S. J., Where is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul's Response in Romans 1–5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 198–9Google Scholar.

23 Wischmeyer, O., ‘Römer 2.1-24 als Teil der Gerichtsrede des Paulus gegen die Menschheit’, NTS 52 (2006) 356–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar (359).

24 Käsemann, E., An die Römer (HNT 8a; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1973) 49Google Scholar.

25 Larcher, Livre, 3.847–49; cf. Hübner, H., Die Weisheit Salomons (ATD Apokryphen 4; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999) 183–4Google Scholar.

26 Barclay, J. M. G., ‘“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy”: The Golden Calf and Divine Mercy in Romans 9–11 and Second Temple Judaism’, Early Christianity 1 (2010) 82106CrossRefGoogle Scholar (91).

27 Barclay, ‘ “I will have mercy’”, 91.

28 Gathercole, Where is Boasting, 211 notes that Rom 2.21-24 and 3.9-18 also provide what he terms ‘phenomenological evidence’ and ‘scriptural evidence’ for Israel's sinfulness.

29 On Paul's use of Wisdom of Solomon's theology and language against his interlocutor, see Watson, Hermeneutics, 410.

30 Pace Yinger, K. (Paul, Judaism and Judgement according to Deeds [SNTSMS 105; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1999] 152–3)Google Scholar who argues that Paul is not disputing a Jew ‘claiming “we have not sinned”…but Jews or Jewish Christians claiming that they will not be treated the same way as the “sinners” in the judgement’. This reflects a representative tendency among Pauline scholars (e.g. Longenecker, B. W., Eschatology and the Covenant: A Comparison of 4 Ezra and Romans 1–11 [JSNTSup 57; Sheffield: JSOT, 1999] 182Google Scholar; Wilckens, U., Der Brief an die Römer [3 vols.; EKKNT; Neukirchen: Benziger, 1978–82] 1.121-24)Google Scholar to abstract Wis 15.2a (‘even if we sin’) from the more basic insistence that ‘we will not sin’ (15.2b) and ‘human art has not misled us’ (15.4).

31 Watson, Hermeneutics, 410.

32 While it would be over-determined to argue from Paul's use of ἄνθρωπος to the broadening of his polemical target, it is nevertheless suggestive that ἄνθρωπος is explicitly and intentionally inclusive in Rom 3.28 (cf. Gal 2.16) and 5.12–19. Even in Rom 2.1 where ἄνθρωπος is limited to the Jewish judge, Paul argues from within ‘der innerjüdische Israel-Diskurs’ to ‘eine universale Verurteilung’, and therefore his use of ἄνθρωπος has ‘universal-anthropologische Dimensionen’ (Wischmeyer, ‘Römer 2.1–24’, 376).

33 Bornkamm, ‘The Revelation of God's Wrath’, 54.

34 Stuhlmacher, P., Gerechtigkeit Gottes bei Paulus (FRLANT 87; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966) 80–1Google Scholar.

35 Lagrange, M.-J. (Saint Paul: Épitre aux Romains [Étbib 13; Paris: J. Gabalda, 1922] 21)Google Scholar translates the γάρ with ‘car’, but argues that in this context is has ‘une légère opposition’ (cf. Dodd, C. H., The Epistle to the Romans [MNTC; London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1932]Google Scholar 45 who refers to the ‘adversative conjunction but in 1.18’).

36 The Pauline gospel (1.17), defined by a saving righteousness, is set in juxtaposition to the ‘Teacher's’ gospel (1.18), which is centred on an eschatological exercise of retributive wrath (Campbell, Deliverance of God, 542–3). This construal requires reading Rom 1.18–32 as a summary of the rhetorical opening of Paul's opponent whose theology is decisively shaped by Wisdom of Solomon. Such a thesis is seriously called into question by the numerous and significant differences between Rom 1.18–32 and Wis 13–14.

37 Cranfield, Romans, 1.106–7.

38 Campbell, Deliverance of God, 543.

39 Sanday and Headlam, Romans, 40.

40 Lietzmann, H., An die Römer (HNT 8; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 3d ed. 1928) 31Google Scholar. A variant of this reading does not relate the two eras chronologically but views wrath and righteousness as two spheres of existence corresponding to being outside (wrath) or inside (righteousness) the gospel (e.g. Zahn, T., Der Brief des Paulus an die Römer [KNT 6; Leipzig: Deitchert, 1910] 86–7)Google Scholar.

41 Bornkamm, ‘The Revelation of God's Wrath’, 49.

42 Campbell, Deliverance of God, 542–3, attempts to soften the syntactical connection between 1.17 and 1.18 by interpreting the present tense verb of 1.18 as ‘a rare future present’ (cf. Bell, No One Seeks for God, 14; Eckstein, H.-J., ‘“Denn Gottes Zorn wird vom Himmel her offenbar warden”. Exegetische Erwägungen zu Röm 1,18’, ZNW 78 [1987] 7489)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, but the present time reference of the identical occurrence of ἀποκαλύπτεται in 1.17 makes this unlikely.

43 Cf. Barth, K., A Shorter Commentary on Romans (trans. van Daalen, D. H.; London: SCM, 1959) 24–6Google Scholar (see also Church Dogmatics I/2, [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956] 304–5). While Barth's explicit association of the revealed wrath of Rom 1.18 and the cross is theologically appropriate, it is exegetically premature. Though divine wrath finds its eschatological manifestation on Golgotha, Rom 1.18–3.20 is that part of the apostolic kerygma which announces God's wrath which properly stands over humankind and which, as Paul only later reveals, is enacted and exhausted on the cross.

44 Jewett, R., Romans (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007) 150–2Google Scholar. This is not to suggest that God's wrath is not operative prior to the gospel events (cf. Rom 1.24, 26, 28).

45 Campbell, Deliverance of God, 16–17. Campbell's theological concern is to combat a ‘prospective soteriology’ (i.e. plight to solution) which he insists rests on a faulty epistemology that requires an essentially rational rather than revelatory apprehension of the human condition. (This is contrasted with a ‘retrospective soteriology’ [i.e. solution to plight] which allows the liberating gospel to inform its object about its prior captivity.) This epistemological criticism, however, is neutralised if the anthropological content of Rom 1.19–3.20 is situated within the revelatory disclosure of 1.16–18.

46 Seifrid, M., ‘Unrighteous by Faith: Apostolic Proclamation in Romans 1.18–3.20’, Justification and Variegated Nomism. Vol. 2, The Paradoxes of Paul (ed. Carson, D. A. et al. ; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004) 105Google Scholar.

47 Cf. Watson, F., Text and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997) 242–67Google Scholar.

48 M. Barth, ‘Speaking of Sin’, SJT 8 (1955) 288–96.

49 Cf. Bietenhard, H., ‘Natürliche Gotteserkenntnis der Heiden? Eine Erwägung zu Röm 1’, ThZ 12 (1956) 275–88Google Scholar.

50 Bornkamm, ‘The Revelation of God's Wrath’, 59.

51 Watson, Text and Truth, 258.

52 Gaca, ‘Paul's Uncommon Declaration in Romans’, 165-98. Barth (CD I/2, 304) anticipates Gaca in his suggestion that the gospel's universality implies a corresponding crisis in which ‘the complaint of apostasy is now expressly and seriously leveled against them all’.

53 Bell, No One Seeks for God, 94.

54 Watson, Text and Truth, 261.

55 Cf. Watson, Text and Truth, 274 n. 41, who rightly notes that the Pauline affirmation of primal revelation occurs within a theological interpretation of the phenomena of idolatry.

56 Cranfield, Romans, 1.116.

57 Westerholm, S., Perspectives Old and New: The ‘Lutheran’ Paul and His Critics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004) 386Google Scholar.

58 Those who find Adam in Rom 1 include Jervell, J., Imago Dei: Gen 1,26f. im Spätjudentum, in der Gnosis und in den paulischen Briefen (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1960) 317–18Google Scholar; Hooker, M. D., ‘Adam in Romans I’, NTS 6 (1959–60) 297306CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bell, No One Seeks for God, 26; Dunn, Theology of Paul the Apostle, 91–3; Levison, J. R., ‘Adam and Eve in Romans 1.18-25 and the Greek Life of Adam and Eve’, NTS 50 (2004) 519–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar. However, see the cautionary article by Wedderburn, A. J. M., ‘Adam in Paul's Letter to the Romans’, Studia Biblica 1978 III (ed. Livingstone, E. A.; JSNTSup 3; Sheffield: JSOT, 1980) 413–30Google Scholar. The strongest evidence for the presence of Adam in Rom 1 is (1) 1.23 probably echoes Gen 1.26a (LXX) in which ἄνθρωπος, εἰκών and ὁμοίωσις (a possible synonym with Paul's ὁμοίωμα) are all coordinated, (2) the references to ‘exchange’ (Rom 1.23, 25), ‘desire’ (1.24) and service to the creaturely subservience (1.25) may be allusions to Gen 1–3 which have been, as Levison (‘Adam and Eve’, 523) argues, ‘refracted through the lens of a tradition such as we find in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve’, (3) the possible reflection of Jewish traditions about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the contrast between presumed wisdom and actual folly in 1.22, (4) the points of contact between Paul's references to sexual immorality and traditions (e.g. 4 Macc. 18.7–8; 2 En. 31.6) about Eve's temptation relating to unchastity.

59 While Wisdom of Solomon explains the entrance of death in relation to the devil's agency in Eden (2.23–24), Adam's particular theological significance is not as the archetypal sinner, but rather as the first figure in a long history of Wisdom saving those who are ‘worthy of her’ (10.1–2; cf. 6.16).

60 Gathercole, ‘Sin in God's Economy’, 161 n. 3; cf. Wright, N. T., The Climax of the Covenant: Paul and the Law in Pauline Theology (London: T&T Clark, 1991) 39Google Scholar. 4 Ezra 3.7, 20–27 offers a similar account of the replication of Adamic sin in Israel's history.

61 Jewish sources (e.g. Apoc. Mos. 19.3; Apoc. Abr. 24.9) commonly cite ‘desire’ as the root of all sins and therefore link the prohibition against desire to the Eden narrative (Dunn, Theology of Paul the Apostle 87–8, 98–9).

62 Bornkamm, G., ‘Sin, Law and Death: An Exegetical Study of Romans 7’, Early Christian Experience (New York: Harper & Row, 1969) 87104Google Scholar; Hübner, H., Das Gesetz bei Paulus. Ein Beitrag zum Werden der paulinischen Theologie (FRLANT 119; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978) 66–9Google Scholar; Käsemann, An die Römer, 186.

63 Moo, D. J., ‘Israel and Paul in Romans 7.7–12’, NTS 32 (1986) 122–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Watson, Hermeneutics, 335–80. This is established primarily on the basis of Paul's use of νόμος, the similarity between the narrative sequence of this text and, in Moo's words (123), ‘a Pauline theological pattern having to do with the redemptive-historical experience of Israel, the citation of the tenth commandment, the link between the law and life (cf. Lev 18.5; Sir. 45.5) and the connection between “desire” and Israel's experience in the desert (cf. 1 Cor 10.1-10)’.

64 Watson, Hermeneutics, 359.

65 Moo, ‘Israel and Paul in Romans 7.7–12’, 123 n. 8.

66 Theissen, G., Psychological Aspects of Pauline Theology (trans. Galvin, J.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1987) 204–6Google Scholar; Chester, S. J., Conversion at Corinth: Perspectives on Conversion in Paul's Theology and the Corinthian Church (SNTW; London: T&T Clark, 2003) 186 n. 29Google Scholar.

67 Chester, Conversion at Corinth, 187 n. 129.

68 Watson, Hermeneutics, 363.

69 Barth, ‘Speaking of Sin’, 291: ‘All that Paul says about the foolishness of those that think themselves to be wise, and of the fabrication of quadripedal idols, he says by allusions to OT sayings’.

70 Barclay, ‘I Will Have Mercy’, 93.

71 Watson, Hermeneutics, 411.

72 Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 93. Dunn appears to overlook the oddity of having these two indictments side by side and that the presence of such a phenomenon represents a significant Pauline alteration to the polemical tradition from which he draws.

73 Stowers, A Rereading of Romans, 93.

74 Wis 2.24 does introduce a supra-human cause within the account of death's origin, but here the non-human is demonic (διάβολος) not divine.

75 Gaventa, B. R., Our Mother Saint Paul (Louiseville: Westminster John Knox, 2007) 113Google Scholar (italics added).

76 Cf. Gathercole, ‘Sin in God's Economy’, 162–6.

77 Gaventa, Our Mother Saint Paul, 114.

78 Gaventa, Our Mother Saint Paul, 119.

79 Cf. Gathercole, ‘Sin in God's Economy’, 159–69.

80 Barth, ‘Speaking of Sin’, 290.

81 Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 392.

82 Watson, Hermeneutics, 407.

83 Levison, ‘Adam and Eve’, 530, 533.

84 Watson (Hermeneutics, 407 n. 82) considers this possibility: ‘The Pauline conflation might be regarded either as a crude misunderstanding or as a sign of theological sophistication’.