Skip to content

“Praise from people” in Romans 2:29 is describing an ideal synagogue teacher

In my book, I argue that the idea of receiving “praise” (ἔπαινος) from human beings in Romans 2:29 is a reference to an ideal synagogue law-teacher.

Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans

The final clause in Rom 2:29 describes the source of the Jewish teacher’s “praise” (ἔπαινος). Scholars have had considerable difficulty in discerning Paul’s purpose in referring to “praise” at this point in his argument. However, the concept of “praise” is quite understandable within the Law-teaching synagogue context which, as we have been arguing, is the setting for Rom 2:17–29.

The ideal synagogue teacher receives “praise from people.” He is acknowledged as a paradigm of Jewish identity; he is thus lauded by his fellow-Jews and by Gentile synagogue adherents for the marvels of wisdom which he derives from the Law. (p. 189)

There are two important Jewish texts which use the terminology of “praise” (ἔπαινος) to describe the ideal of Jewish law-teaching to the Gentile world.

The first is Ben Sira:

The author of the prologue to Ben Sira, for example, claims that his grandfather’s text will demonstrate the universal wisdom of Israel’s Scriptures which will inevitably lead to Israel being “praised” (verb ἐπαινεῖν) for “instruction” (παιδεία) and “wisdom” (σοφία, Sir Prol 1:3). Ben Sira himself speaks of the great Jewish heroes of the past who will receive “praise” (ἔπαινος), both from the “congregation” and also from other “peoples,” on account of their great wisdom (p. 190)

The second is the Letter of Aristeas:

The Letter of Aristeas also uses the ἐπαιν- word-group to describe learned Jews who receive “praise” from others because of their superior Law-based wisdom. It describes an idealized feast in which a delegation of Jews provides detailed instruction on a wide range of matters to the Greek King Ptolemy II. The keyword ἐπαινεῖν is repeatedly used to describe the action of the pagan King as he shows his approval for the wisdom and learning of these Jews … The pattern of Jewish identity is clear here: God’s gift of the Law to Israel provides Jewish teachers with exceptional wisdom, which enables them to instruct others, including Gentiles, who in turn “praise” (verb ἐπαινεῖν) the Jewish teachers. (p. 190)

What is Paul’s purpose in using this well-known ideal?

He implies that this public, human verdict on the Jewish Law-teacher is not, in fact, endorsed by the God in whom he boasts (cf. Rom 2:17). God approves of an alternative view of Jewish identity and Jewish vocation—a view which may well result in rejection and loss of honour in the mainstream Jewish community. (p. 190)

The full details of the argument and further references may be found in chapter 5 of the book (pp. 189-191). The chapter is available from the publisher in electronic format:

Windsor, Lionel J. Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans. BZNW 205. Berlin / Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.

Published inPaulRomans

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

Recent blog posts

  • Colosseum with cross-shaped cloudsChrist’s body: A brief history (Ephesians 4:11–13)
    Paul didn’t write Ephesians 4:11–13 to give us a detailed blueprint for how to organise our ministries. He wrote these verses to point us to God’s grace in Christ.
  • Cathedral CeilingChrist: Up there and down here (Ephesians 4:8–10)
    In these verses, Paul makes a big deal of Christ going up (to heaven) and down (to be with us by his Spirit). Why? to encourage believers as we face all the ups and downs of living for Christ.
  • Genesis 1:27 modified NIVMale and female: Equality and order in Genesis 1:27
    Genesis 1:27 is important in debates between egalitarians and complementarians. It clearly implies equality, yet also seems to suggest a certain order.
  • Gift among giftsGifted beyond measure (Ephesians 4:7)
    How should Christians think about our own individual ‘giftedness’? We need to see our own gifts in the light of God’s wonderful, superabundant grace.
  • Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, Roman ForumThe one and only God (Ephesians 4:4–6)
    In this part of Ephesians, the apostle Paul makes an unavoidably scandalous claim: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the one and only God.
  • Finding praise in the right place (Romans 2:28–29)
    There is a very strong temptation to measure your ministry by looking at how much people are praising you. This passage teaches us where to look for praise.
  • This unity (Ephesians 4:2–3)
    In the classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the King of Swamp Castle issues an appeal for unity: “This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who!” It’s become a classic line used to poke fun at people who are trying to bring peace and unity without showing any understanding of the reality of the situation or the depth of hurt that’s been caused. While we might never end up being quite as absurd as Monty Python, Christians can sometimes talk about unity a little like this. That is, we can treat unity as some ideal state where everybody just gets on, no matter how deep our differences are and no matter what hurt has been caused. And yet—unity really matters. Christians are called to unity. Christian unity is anchored in the truth of the gospel.
  • Feet walking on cobblesThe truth on the ground (Ephesians 4:1)
    Our step by step living, in all the details of life, really matters for Christians. It’s not an optional extra; It’s intimately connected to our calling.
  • Elf on the Shelf Balloon. Photo by Kim on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/thegirlsny/8208193899God: Beyond us—and with us (Ephesians 3:20–21)
    God is nothing like the Elf on the Shelf. God’s power is far beyond us. Yet God’s power is at work in us. So God’s glory is our joyful goal.
  • EducationWhen education is not the answer (Romans 2:17–27)
    When education is not the answer (Romans 2:17–27). Amongst all the pragmatics & demands & struggles of ministry, you first need to know the why of ministry. You need deep and strong theology, and to apply that theology to your life & ministry.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor