The Outline of Romans

Hardly a week goes by when I’m not working on Romans, and lately I’ve been spending time with Thomas Tobin’s Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts: The Argument of Romans. One of Tobin’s noteworthy contributions is his outline of the letter, particularly in how he groups chapter 8 with what follows rather than what precedes. I don’t think anyone has suggested this before.

Tobin’s rationale for grouping 8 with 9-11 is as follows. He finds that each the four sections of Rom 1:18-11:36 begins with a short expository section which served as a basis for the more lengthy and argumentative diatribe following. Rom 8 is the short expository piece leading into the controversial argument of Rom 9-11 (instead of wrapping up the chapters preceding). Tobin thus outlines (pp 87-88):

1. Rom 1:18-3:20
a. 1:18-32 (expository)
b. 2:1-3:20 (argumentative)

2. Rom 3:21-4:25
a. 3:21-26 (expository)
b. 3:27-4:25 (argumentative)

3. Rom 5:1-7:25
a. 5:1-21 (expository)
b. 6:1-7:25 (argumentative)

4. Rom 8:1-11:36
a. 8:1-30 (expository)
b. 8:31-11:36 (argumentative)

Tobin is on good grounds with the structure, though perhaps not thematically, as the themes of chapter 8 go more with what precedes.

So that’s food for thought. Here are five outlines of the letter (including Tobin’s) for comparison. I like Esler’s for theme, Tobin’s for structure.

Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans, pp 96-101.

1:16-4:25 — Justification by faith
5:1-8:39 — Assurance of salvation to those justified
9:1-11:36 — Justification compatible with God’s promises to Israel
12:1-15:13 — The demands of upright life in Christ

Ulrich Wilckens, Romer, 1:ix-x; 2:vii-viii; 3:vii.

1:18-5:21 — Justification of the godless by faith
6:1-8:39 — Reality of justification in Christian life
9:1-11:36 — Reality (paradoxical) of election
12:1-15:13 — Exhortation

James Dunn, Romans, vii-xi.

1:18-3:20 — The wrath of God on the unrighteous
3:21-5:21 — God’s saving righteousness by faith
6:1-8:39 — Outworking of the gospel in relation to the individual believer
9:1-11:36 — Outworking of the gospel in relation to Israel
12:1-15:13 — Outworking of the gospel in everyday terms

Philip Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans, passim.

1:18-3:20 — Jews and Gentiles judged (outside Christ)
3:21-4:25 — Jews and Gentiles justified (the new identity in Christ)
5:1-8:39 — Jews and Gentiles die in the new identity, and live by the spirit
9:1-11:36 — Israel and the Christ-movement
12:1-15:13 — Descriptors of the new identity in Christ

Thomas Tobin, Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts, pp 425-430.

1:18-3:20 — The sinfulness of Gentiles and Jews
3:21-4:25 — Righteousness apart from the law, but confirmed by the law
5:1-7:25 — Salvation in relation to Christian living, sin, and law
8:1-11:36 — Eschatology and the place of the Jewish people
12:1-15:13 — Issues of Christian living: harmony, accommodation, the greater good

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