Reading Romans through the Ages: Puzzling over Paul's Most Debated Letter

Course details

From £205.00
10 CATS points

22 Jan 2019 - 26 Mar 2019
Day of week

Reading Romans through the Ages: Puzzling over Paul's Most Debated Letter


Not only is Paul's letter to the Romans widely held as the central writing of Christian theology, it is often claimed that this text’s influence on Western Thought is unparalleled. More specifically, Romans indispensable for those who wish to study St. Paul himself. What did Paul really think? What did he really mean?

For centuries Romans was read as Paul's great theological treatise, the one text in which Paul set out his thought in a(n un characteristically!) detached and measured manner. This made Romans the theological standard by which to organise the more contingent material in Paul's other letters. For many, like Luther and Melanchthon, Paul did more than sum up his own theology in this letter; he summed up Christian theology itself. In the past forty years biblical scholars have sought increasingly to place the letter in its historical context, which has led many (but not all) away from viewing Romans as a detached, timeless treatise and toward searching the text for clues to the immediate mid-first-century Mediterranean context in which Paul sent it.

And much progress has been made, but not in terms of any consensus about the meaning of the letter. Interpretations remain profoundly diverse. Indeed, commentators often remark on how fiendishly difficult it is to follow Paul's thought in this letter. Most scholars wrestle to accommodate Paul’s *apparent* self-contradictions. Some notable scholars have concluded, after decades of study, that Paul was simply confused.

We delude ourselves to think that we can simply bypass previous generations' interpretations to "discover what Paul *really* meant." The influential interpretations of the past powerfully and subtly guide how we read the text. Previous generations crafted the very glasses through which we read. So we must first become more aware of the previous interpretations before we venture to “read Paul on his own terms.” In this course we will look at Romans each week through the eyes of important interpreters, in an effort to trace some of the ways in which Romans has been read. All the while we will also consider  how Romans MIGHT be read.

Programme details

Term Starts: 22nd January   

Week 1:          An outline of Romans: Gathering impressions

Week 2:          Augustine of Hippo

Week 3:          Martin Luther

Week 4:          Calvin

Week 5:          Albert Schweitzer

Week 6:          Karl Barth and Rudolph Bultmann

Week 7:          E.P. Sanders and his Jewish predecessors

Week 8:          The New Perspective and its critics

Week 9:          J.M.G. Barclay

Week 10:        What do we think?


Background Reading

Morgan, Robert., Romans. New Testament Guides. Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press, 1995

Donfried, Karl P. (ed.)., The Romans Debate: Revised and Expanded Edition. Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1991

Wedderburn, A. J. M., The Reasons for Romans. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988

Ziesler, J., Pauline Christianity, Oxford: OUP, 1990

If you are planning to purchase books, remember that courses with too few students enrolled will be cancelled. The Department accepts no responsibility for books bought in anticipation of a course.

If you have enrolled on a course starting in the autumn, you can become a borrowing member of the Rewley House library from 1st September and we will try to ensure that as many titles as possible are available in the Library by the start of each term. If you are enrolled on a course starting in other terms, you can become a borrowing member once the previous term has ended.

Recommended reading

All weekly class students may become borrowing members of the Rewley House Continuing Education Library for the duration of their course. Prospective students whose courses have not yet started are welcome to use the Library for reference. More information can be found on the Library website.

There is a Guide for Weekly Class students which will give you further information. 

Availability of titles on the reading list (below) can be checked on SOLO, the library catalogue.

Recommended Reading List


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To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

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Course fee: £205.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Dr Jonathan Norton

Jonathan Norton specialises in  early Jewish and Christian writings. He has lectured in the University of London for over twelve years.

Course aims

To become acquainted with the text of this difficult letter by exploring how it has been interpreted though the ages.

Course Objectives

To guide and support students in the following.

1) To increasing students' familiarity with the content of Paul's letter to the Romans in English.

2) To reflect critically on central historical and contenmporary debates about the letter and its importance for understanding Paul's own theology and important trends Christian theology more widely.

3) To develop and  practice  key skills of: reading a biblical text in its own cultural setting; using critical commentaries on the text; and developing insight into the potential and limitations of available approaches.

Teaching methods

- Specified weekly reading in preparation for class. This will take the form of selected articles and book chapters. Most of this can be provided (subject to copyright) either as photocopies, or in the form of electronic pdfs.

- A combination of classroom lecturing, class discussion and group work.

- Students will be asked to make small presentations arising from their weekly reading and reflection.     

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1) have become conversant with several important traditions of interpreting Paul's letter to the Romans; and be able to form critical judgements in regard to these traditions.

2) have gained a fair command of skills involved in the study of Romans and other New Testament texts

3) have inght into how these approaches and their results bear on perennial debates about the nature of Paul's theology and its importance in Western thought

4) use bibliographical, library and online resources to facilitate future study of Paul's letters in English.

Assessment methods

Option A

- One 500 word article review (titles and focused reading to be provided)

- One 1,000 word essay (titles and focused reading to be provided)

Option B

- One 1,500 word essay (titles and focused reading to be provided)

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)