The Privileges of Paul’s Kinsmen (Romans 9:4-5)

The structure of 9:4-5 is quite tantalizing; it lures you to see intentional patters, but in places it avoids our desire for total symmetry. The first characteristic of Paul’s kinsmen is that they are “Israelites” (Ἰσραηλῖται). It seems that this designation is meant to resonate with all of the further privileges listed, and acts as something of a summary of the rest. I say this first because it stands at the head of the list of privileges, and second, because all of the rest are grammatically subordinate to it. The significance of this title “Israelite” is unfolded for Paul in three relative clauses (ὧν…ὧν…ἐξ ὧν) which in each case have “Israelite” (Ἰσραηλῖται) as the antecedent.

Within the first relative clause (9:4b) six feminine nouns, each simply connected with καί, describe the privileges belonging to the “Israelites”. The formal pattern of these six nouns was audibly obvious, and are visually so as well:

ὧν ἡ υἱοθεσία καὶ ἡ δόξα καὶ αἱ διαθῆκαι

καὶ ἡ νομοθεσία καὶ ἡ λατρεία καὶ αἱ ἐπαγγελίαι

The list falls into two groups of three with endings corresponding between the first and fourth, the second and fifth, and the third and sixth. This alone may be enough to account for the appearance of the hapax legomenon νομοθεσία (“the giving of the law”) rather than Paul’s usual νόμος which would have matched υἷος but not υἱοθεσία; it can also account for the unusual use of the plural αἱ διαθῆκαι to produce assonance with αἱ επαγγελίαι.

This has other implications for our interpretation as well; the willingness to choose some words on the basis of rhyme or assonance implies that the meaning may lie more in the cumulative, unified impact of the six-fold group than in the separate, distinct meanings of each member.

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"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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