Romans 1:2-6 – An anti-Marcionite Interpolation?


1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,


1:2 which he promised afore through his prophets in the holy scriptures,

1:3 concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,

1:4 was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord,

1:5 through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name's sake;

1:6 among whom are ye also called to be Jesus Christ's:


1:7 to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world.



Much of the following argument derives from points made by Hermann Detering’s “The Falsified Paul” (JHC vol.10, no.2 Fall, 2003). The criteria used are from William Walker’s “Interpolations in the Pauline Letters”.



  1. Text-critical evidence for interpolation – inexplicable failure of Tertullian to cite the Son of David reference here: Tertullian (Contra Marcion 4.36) relishes the use of Bartimaeus addressing Jesus as “Son of David” to counter Marcion’s assertion that Jesus had no human lineage or social recognition at his coming. Since Tertullian knew Paul was Marcion’s sole apostle it is perplexing that he did not conclusively push his argument against Marcion by citing this passage in Romans if it were known to him. He had opportunity to do so in CM 4.36 when discussing the Bartimaeus passage and again in CM 5.13 when discussing Romans. Even if we surmise that the reason he did not address the Romans passage was because it had been expunged by Marcion despite being kept in the gospel then we have even deeper perplexity since Tertullian would have loved nothing more than another opportunity to accuse Marcion of scandalous, hypocritical inconsistency.


  1. Contextual evidence for interpolation: Romans 1:1-3 is an unnaturally extended epistolary introduction. (The normal ancient introduction was simply modest handful of words expressing little more, often no more, than “From X to Y”.) The formal introduction of a letter is simply not the place to embark on a lengthy digression to discuss several specific doctrinal and biographical points and is not found in any other ancient letters.


“Which he promised afore through his prophets in the holy scriptures”: This passage is a digression about the gospel Paul preaches and it stands oddly in the middle of a personal greeting at the opening of a letter. One is led to imagine an author in advanced state of dementia who loses track of what he is saying and wanders off before he can even finish a conventional “Hello, I’m Paul, I’m very glad to see you!” and thereby wandering off into possibly the longest letter opening in history.


Another conceptual jarring within these opening lines is one claim that Paul’s apostleship is of singular importance and set him apart for a “separate” function (1:1) and another that his apostleship is a communal “we” affair (1:5). There is no obvious room for both these views side by side: is the author feeling a bit on the bipolar side with the very first lines of his essay?


The longer text is not only unique in its length for an ancient letter but forms a clumsy transition to 1:7 by its awkwardly adjacent repetitions of what they are called to be:


             Among whom are ye also called to be Jesus Christ's:

             To all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints


Without 1:2-6 we find that Rom.1:1 is followed naturally and smoothly, and consistently with ancient letters, by 1:7. Indeed, that 1:1 directly anticipated 1:7 is seen by the dual threefold conceptual correspondence:



                 a servant of Jesus Christ,

                     called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God


             To all that are in Rome,

                 beloved of God,

                     called to be saints



3.   Ideational evidence for interpolation: 1:3, by virtue of being at the opening of the letter as an explanation of the very gospel Paul preaches, imputes great significance to the idea that Jesus was the Son of David. This contradicts Paul’s firm insistence elsewhere that he has no interest in the fleshly lineage or heritage of Jesus, even dismissing any such interest as a waste of time:


                  Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer (2                           Cor.5:16)


Later in Romans the author further says that Jesus came to earth only in “the likeness” of sinful flesh, thus again contradicting the idea that he could have been a literal Son of David:


                  God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom.8:3)


The opening verses introduce the adoptionist doctrine that Jesus was only declared to be the Son of God at the resurrection. This also contradicts Romans 8:3 (quoted above) where the author accepts that it was “his Son” that God sent to earth, ostensibly “as” His Son, prior to any death and resurrection.



  1. Comparative evidence for interpolation: I have already referred to the apparent contradiction of Paul in one line asserting his separating personal apostleship and in another the commonality of his apostleship with others. The former assertion, that his apostleship sets him apart in a singular way, is certainly consistent with his assertions of a unique apostolic calling expressed in Galatians; while the latter assertion, that of a “communal apostleship”, would appear to be consistent with the way Acts, contrary to the letters, depicts Paul as one of several other apostles, even subordinate to them.


      1:5 speaks of the Romans’ “obedience to the faith”. Yet one of the widely accepted features of “the genuine” Pauline letters is his concept of faith as an act or a mental state or response. The Pastorals, on the other hand, view faith as a regulatory set of teachings or dogma to which one subscribes. Partly for this reason the Pastorals are widely thought to be non-Pauline. So when we read in 1:3 of “obedience to the faith” we must think of this sort of faith as something that can be obeyed, i.e., as a non-Pauline understanding of the term.



  1. Motivational evidence: This passage in question touches the major doctrinal controversies in the early history of Christianity – the uniqueness of Paul or his subservience and identity with the other apostles; the relationship between faith and obedience; the nature of Jesus when he appeared on earth, and what was meant by the Son of God; and the status and relevance of the Jewish scriptures for Christianity. Macion claimed Paul as his authority and the sole true apostle for all, rejected the physical genealogy of Jesus and viewed him as the Son of God from the beginning, and denied the relevance of the Jewish scriptures to his gospel. One can imagine an anti-Marcionite redactor of wanting to “save” Paul’s writings, and the souls of his readers, by steering them into a “correct” understanding of the great apostle, even reminding them of their need for “obedience” to the precepts of the “faith” as taught by the authorities, such as himself, in the church.



  1. Locational evidence: Why here, in the opening greeting? The intrusion of doctrinal and biographical information in what should otherwise be a simple greeting might suggest that someone has tried to guide a reader into a correct understanding as they commence to engage a notoriously controversial letter. Tertullian admitted the letter “looks very much as if it abrogated the law”, but this introduction takes time out to speak of “obedience” to a non-Pauline concept of “faith”; this passage wedged in the greeting also counters any tendency to see Paul as a Sole Apostle for all his greatness; it especially sets “aright” one’s understanding of the nature of Jesus as a real man with human ancestry before one encounters any subsequent potentially “confusing” references to Jesus being in only the “likeness” of flesh; and finally it prepares readers for an adoptionist understanding of the Son of God.



      Neil Godfrey @