Fortress Press

The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul's Letter

The Mystery of Romans

The Jewish Context of Paul's Letter

Mark D. Nanos (Author)


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Paul's letter to the Romans, says Nanos, is an example of Jewish correspondence, addressing believers in Jesus who are steeped in Jewish ways—whether of Jewish or gentile origin. Arguing against those who think Paul was an apostate from Judaism, Nanos maintains Paul's continuity with his Jewish heritage. Several key arguments here are:
  • Those addressed in Paul's letter were still an integral part of the Roman synagogue communities.
  • The "weak" are non- Christian Jews, while the "strong" included both Jewish and gentile converts to belief in Jesus.
  • Paul as a practicing devout Jew insists on the rules of behavior for "the righteous gentiles."
  • Christian subordination to authorities (Romans 13:1-7) is intended to enforce submission to leaders of the synagogues, not Roman government officials.
  • Paul behaves in a way to confirm the very Jewish portrait of him in Acts: going first to the synagogues.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800629373
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 448
  • Publication Date January 6, 1996


Winner of the 1996 National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Christian Relations

A "tour de force"

"As one who has argued that Romans 9–11 is the climax of the letter (esp. 11:11-36); and that 15:14-33 are decisive for understanding the letter as Paul's apologia for his mission ... I find myself outdone by this tour de force. ...
"This is a well done book, and its extensive notes constitute an interesting tapestry of relatively recent insights in Pauline studies."
— Krister Stendahl
Harvard Divinity School


"A provocative new book on Paul that takes seriously the notion that Paul was a Jew within the Jewish community and yet also a person for whom the experience of Christ made an important difference. This book will challenge older notions ... and help build a new consensus."
— Alan F. Segal
Barnard College


"Nanos views Romans through an insightful prism. His arguments are made with clarity and fairness."
— Thomas H. Tobin, S.M.
Loyola University of Chicago

Table of Contents


    Chapter 1: To the Jew First and Also to the Greek

    Chapter 2: The Historical Backdrop and Implied Audience

    1. Diaspora Judaism in Rome at the Time of Paul's Letter
    2. The Implied Audience for Paul's "Reminder" to Rome

    Chapter 3: Who Were the "Weak" and the "Strong" in Rome?

    1. The Problem with Prevailing Views of the "Weak" and the "Strong"
    2. Must One Assume that the "Weak" and the "Strong" are Christians?
    3. The Identity of the "Weak" and the "Strong" in Romans
    4. Paul's Instructions to the "Weak" and the "Strong"
    5.The Impact of Redefining the "Weak" and the "Strong" on the Purpose and Message of Romans

    Chapter 4: The Apostolic Decree and the "Obedience of Faith"

    1. Monotheism and the Shema as the Basis of Paul's Arguement
    2. The Apostolic Decree and the Message of Romans
    3. The "Obedience of Faith" and the Apostolic Decree

    Chapter 5: Paul's Two-Step Pattern and the Restoration of "All Israel"

    1. Paul's Two-Step Pattern in Romans and Reflected in Acts
    2. Romans 11:25-29
    3. Exegesis of Romans 11:25-29
    4. The "Fullness of the Gentiles" and the Restoration of "All Israel"

    Chapter 6: Romans 13:1-7: Christian Obedience to Synagogue Authority

    1. Exegetical Feasibility
    2. Contextual Feasibility
    3. The Feasibility of this Proposal as Demonstrated in Paul's Example of "Subordination" (A Final Concern)
    4. Summary
    5. An Expanded Contextual Translation of 13:1-7, 8

    Summary and Appendix 1: Peter's Hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-21) in the Light of Paul's Anxiety (Rom. 7)

    Appendix 2: Some Problems with Reading Romans through the Lens of the Edict of Claudius


    1. Index of Passages
    2. Index of Selected Subjects
    3. Index of Greek and Hebrew Words
    4. Index of Authors