In his recently published Paul and the Synagogue: Romans and the Isaiah Targum , Delio DelRio attempts to explain the force of Paul’s unique phrase “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5). He explores the use that Paul makes of Isaiah, and the interpretation of the prophecy found in the Isaiah Targum. He draws some interesting conclusions.

One is that there is evidence of a direct intertextual relation between the Targum and Romans. DelRio writes, “material common to the Isaiah Targum and Romans yet absent from the text of Isaiah . . . suggests a direct intertextual relationship. The parallel occurrence of the term and theme of boasting in reference to Isa 52, the application of Pharaoh in reference to Isa 10, and the treatment of the word(s) of the Messiah in reference to Isa 53 all substantiate the possibility of a direct intertexual relationship” (118). More crucially, both Paul and the Targum include “obedience” in describing the nations’ relation to the Messiah when citing Isaiah 11:10.

Given this overlap, the divergences between the two texts are significant.

DelRio suggests that a tension between “inclusivism” and “particularism” runs through Isaiah, and is manifested in the way Isaiah was used in Second Temple Judaism. Those are rather broad and unwieldy categories, and can be harmonized in various ways. Surely a truly “inclusive” reason should be inclusive enough to include particularism!

Despite the rather clumsy categories, DelRio shows in detail that Paul reads Isaiah quite differently from the Targum, and that Paul’s divergences are consistently in the direction of welcoming the Gentiles. In the Targum of Isaiah 52, “the boasting of the Gentile nations over Israel’s exile and subjugation is the reason for God’s pronounced imminent salvation of Israel . . . and judgment and captivity of the nations.” Paul cites Isaiah 52 in Romans 2, and likewise speaks of boasting , but for a very different purpose: “According to Paul, Jewish ‘boasting’ in the law while breaking the law was the reason for the Gentiles’ blasphemy. The boasting against God’s name placed in the mouths of Gentiles in the Isaiah Targum was shifted polemically to the mouths of the Jews in Romans” (100). Paul places blame for the unbelief of the Gentiles firmly on the shoulders of unfaithful Jews.

Similarly, the Targum gives Isaiah 65:1 “in such a way that Isaiah’s original implication that God is found by those not seeking him is entirely absent. Isaiah’s statement regarding the availability of God was transformed by the meturgeman into an accusation against Israel for not praying or seeking God correctly.” In Romans 10, the same text is used “to demonstrate the reality of God’s self-revelation to the Gentiles” (107).

From these parallels and contrasts, DelRio concludes that Paul’s “obedience of faith among the Gentiles” has a polemical edge, as Paul intervenes in an intra-Jewish debate between “inclusivists” and “particularists.”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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