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“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.

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