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Lee, Jae Hyun


Paul’s Gospel in Romans. A Discourse Analysis of Rom 1:16–8:39.


Leiden-Boston: Brill 2010. XVIII, 578 S. m. Tab. gr.8° = Linguistic Biblical Studies, 3. Geb. EUR 146,00. ISBN 978-90-04-17963-9.


Lauri Thurén

In a revised version of his McMaster dissertation, Jae Hyun Lee applies a linguistic discourse analysis on the first half of Romans, based on M. A. K. Halliday’s social-semiotic view of language. There­by, he hopes to identify the text’s central points and to clarify their content. In this task, methodological discussion plays an important role as well. As a result, L. claims to reveal »more clearly what Paul wants to deliver in his gospel«.
Regarding the high goal of the book, it is striking that Rom 1:16–8:39 is studied isolated from the rest of the epistle. L. does not motivate this solution. For him, it is self-evident that the section in­-cludes the core of Paul’s theology. By studying it one can reveal »the overall topical structure and the peak points of Paul’s gospel«. Thereby the role of the issues Paul discusses in chapters 9–11 or 12–16 for understanding his gospel is overlooked.
However, Rom 1:16–8:39 was hardly written as an absolute presentation of Paul’s theology. More likely, the section plays an important role in the whole epistle. This function must to a high degree influence what and how Paul expresses himself in the section. L. admits that by studying one passage only he cannot explain whole Romans, but fails to see the opposite problem: It is unlikely that central issues in one section of a text can be understood in a reliable way if one does not take into account their context, the whole epistle.
A similar tendency to separation labels the methodology. The introduction is promising, as L. states that Romans is not a systematic textbook but aimed at a specific audience. Moreover, he refers to the pragmatic aspect of language. However, in the actual analysis in chapters 3–9, the audience of Romans plays little role. The text-level is meticulously scrutinized as if Paul was neutrally de­-scribing his doctrine on a theoretical level only. L. does not ask, how Paul is persuading his addressees, and how this goal affects the way he discusses theological matters. Such an absolute view of a text is not typical for general discourse analysis. Neither does modern Biblical scholarship assess Romans as a dogmatic treatise anymore.
The choice of methodology is based on a brief introduction of other approaches. This presentation does not seem very well informed. For example, rhetorical criticism appears to be rejected based on a superficial presentation. Yet, as a general perspective, rheto­r­ical criticism is almost identical to the pragmatic aspect of discourse analysis. A glimpse at Wikipedia already shows that rhetoric is ge­nerally assessed as the mother discipline of several methods which are used to study various forms of human communication and persuasion. Biblical research based on this standard view of rhetoric is insufficiently presented in the book. – L.’s final verdict is telling: »If one rejects the rigid adoption of the ancient rhetorical forms, then by what methodology can one analyze the flow of argumentations and evaluate their importance?« As an answer, one could refer to an important offspring of rhetoric, the vast multidisciplinary field of research called argumentation analysis. Its various methods – like the Dutch high-end Pragma-Dialectical Meth­od or Stephen Toulmin’s classical model – offer dependable and well-thought ways of analyzing and criticizing any form of argumentation.
L.’s analysis is based on the assumption that in Romans, Paul is displaying his ideas in a logical manner. Yet, argumentation theorists observed long ago that human communication seldom follows the rules of formal logic. People want to persuade each other, not just state unquestionable facts. Thus, any search for absolute and logical reasoning and theology in Romans may easily result in artificial interpretations. Perhaps this explains the exclusion of Rom 9–11 in L.’s analysis. There, Paul’s reasoning is so determined by his persuasive strategies that describing it as a coherent logical entity would not have been possible.
Due to the problems pertaining to the choice of material and method, L.’s book should not perhaps be read as a study of Paul’s gospel in general. Instead, it is a linguistic scrutiny and commentary of Rom 1:16–8:39. Then the book becomes more promising. In several questions it is heavily influenced by L.’s Doktorvater, Stanley E. Porter. L. applies the chosen method carefully on each passage. The detailed and reliable linguistic analysis may prove useful especially for commentators and translators. It is remarkable that while operating with his own model, L. simultaneously discusses the issues thoroughly with general commentaries and other secondary studies on Romans. This is not always the case with methodologically oriented research. – Despite a modern method, L.’s book remains very conservative, as Paul’s reasoning is not studied in a critical way. For him, there are no obscure expressions, incon­sis-tencies, or unfair reasoning. For example, Rom 7:7–25, which has puzzled scholars for centuries, is characterized as »very impressive«, »attractive and lively«, »vivid«, and »dramatic«. In this sense, 2 Peter 3:15–16 represents a more critical attitude to Paul.
The analysis of Rom 7:7–25 illustrates how L. mostly follows the majority of scholars. The method does not coin any major new interpretations. Most readers know already that »Rom 6:1–7:25 is closely connected to Romans 5«, but perhaps L. gives more support to this. Lack of innovations is not a problem per se: A new method is successful already if it can offer new support to an old solution. Regarding Romans 7:7–25 this is not the case, however, as the question of the identity of ego remains intriguing. With the majority of scholars L. interprets ego as referring to an »unregenerate person« only, but his approach too fails to explain how Paul would have ventured to send to his Roman recipients such a message, which they are likely to misunderstand.
The results are illustrated with several pictures and diagrams. Unfortunately, they are at times more complicated than Paul’s own thinking. Due to the requirements of the method, L. can publish an empty page with headings only (362)! Two appendices, consisting of more than 100 pages, contain a detailed topical and semantic analysis of the text. Probably only L. himself can utilize or even fully understand these appendices. He offers no explanation for why they are printed in the book.
Summing up, L.’s scrutiny of Rom 1:16–8:39 from the perspective of a linguistic discourse analysis shows how a much studied text can be reasonably approached in new ways. The delimitation of the text and the choice of method could have been better explained. L. focuses so tightly on his section of Romans that the context, the audience, as well as alternative relevant methods, are virtually excluded. This yields to a meticulous and multifaceted scrutiny of the text, but the results remain somewhat idiosyncratic and difficult to generalize. Yet, especially the linguistic analysis is accurate and admirable. Thus, despite my perhaps overly critical remarks it remains a fact that the book may offer important basic material for anybody interested in fresh approaches to the difficult opening chapters of Romans.