Michael F. Bird on Romans
Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians has been one of the most influential documents of the New Testament. One needs only to look at it’s impact on such men as Augustine, Luther and Wesley. Additionally, specific texts in Romans have also been the center of debate between students of the Bible in regards to issues of justification, predestination and ethics. Because of the influence and importance of Romans we have decided to interview Michael Bird who is the Lecturer in Theology at Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry. He has received his Ph.D from the University of Queensland and is the author of several articles and books, including an upcoming commentary on Romans. We hope that this Q & A will be helpful for anyone interested in studying Romans. Below is a link to Dr. Birds personal blog. We strongly recommend checking it out! - Dan and Casey
1) What are the Major themes of Romans?
I would say the “righteousness of God” understood as the saving righteousness of God to deliver Jews and Gentiles from the penatly and the power of sin. Also, God’s plan to unite Jews and Gentiles in one body, because there is an interlocking destiny between Jews and Gentiles in redemptive-history, and finally, God is using to Paul to create and consecrate a holy people for himself among the nations, Gentile, who praise God and are obedient to God.
2) What does the righteousness of God mean in Romans 1:17?
I don’t think it is a righteousness we get from God, it is fundamentally a divine attribute, however, God shows his righteousness by his saving action and saving power that justifies and transforms believers.
3) Why does Paul contrast Adam with Jesus in Romans 5?
In Rom 5.12-21, Paul broadens the scope from the individual Gentile believer receiving salvation in Christ, to show that all of humanity stands behind one of two respective heads: either Adam or Christ. Adam was the conduit through whom came sin, condemnation, and death, and Christ is the conduit for grace, justification, and life. What is more, Paul sets up Romans 6-8 by showing that the entrance of law did not fix Adam, it only served to show how sinful his progeny were, and exacerbated the sin/desire/flesh problem. What counters Adam is not Law but Grace!
4) Does Romans 8:18-25 mean God is going to renew the whole cosmos?
The issue is whether Paul is referring a renovation or a re-creation. On an initial reading, it looks as if God intends to renew the whole world in a cosmic event that coincides with Christ’s return and the final judgment.
5) What does Predestination mean in Romans 9?
Well, even as a self-confessed Calvinist, I don’t think Romans 9 is really “about” a doctrine of individual predestination. Paul is arguing that in God’s plan there has always been an Israel within Israel, an Israel according to the promise in contrast to an Israel according to the flesh, which is called by God’s grace and not merited by anything anyone ever did. The shocking thing is – and you get this in the citations from Isaiah and Hosea in 9.24-29 – is that Gentiles have been predestined to be part of this promissory Israel.
6) How has the theology of Romans shaped your scholarship and personal life?
In many ways! Just yesterday I finished teaching a course on Romans and it was a wonderful pleasure to spend the final hour just getting the students to summarize Romans brick by brick in Paul’s argument. I try get my students to not only memorize several parts of Romans (1:3-4, 16-17; 3:21-26; 6:23; 8:1-2; 12:1-2; 14:19; 15:7), but to carry a mental map of Romans with them wherever they go. That is because Romans is not a systematic theology, but it is freighted with big picture theology, about God’s plan in Christ to call a people to himself through Israel from among the nations (see Rom 15:7-13). Romans is not a road to salvation as much as it is Paul’s attempt to show how God has planned to create a Christ-shaped family from among Jews and Gentiles. Paul believes that God has planted a network of five or so house churches acclaiming Jesus as Lord, right under the nose of the Roman emperor, a shining light in a pagan city, heralding the good news that Jesus is Lord and he is the one who will rule of the nations (see Rom 15.12). I love it because of its themes of gospel, baptism and ethics, law and grace, assurance and hope, how to relate to unbelieving Israel, how to be the church in a pagan world, and how to be a missional community.
Here are some books by Bird that you should check out and buy.