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Understanding the Letter to the Romans in the Sect-Cult Development of Early Churches

Department of Philosophy, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078, USA
Religions 2020, 11(5), 257; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11050257
Received: 26 April 2020 / Revised: 5 May 2020 / Accepted: 12 May 2020 / Published: 20 May 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conflict and Coexistence: The Korean Context and Beyond)
This article examines how the model of sect-cult development in antiquity helps us understand Paul’s discussion of Jewish traditions in the Letter to the Romans. In the traditional Augustinian–Lutheran scholarship, Romans has often been interpreted within the binary framework of Judaism and Christianity, as Paul showcasing one of the earliest examples of Christian opposition to Judaism. Based on the recent studies on Second Temple Judaism and the modified model of sect-cult reflecting the ancient context, I argue that Romans reveals internal conflicts between cultic and sectarian tendencies present among early churches of the first century C.E. The cultic tendency is reflected in Roman gentile believers’ assimilation of the Jewish tradition with the Greco–Roman virtue of self-mastery and their growing separation from Judaism. Paul, on the other hand, tries to establish the unity between believing gentiles and Israel as exhibiting his sectarian understanding of the gospel and the gentile mission. By placing Romans in the trajectory of sect-cult development of an early church, we stop reading it as a text that justifies the Christian antagonism to Judaism, but as a text that shows an early apostle’s passionate effort to create a unified people of God in the hope for the final salvation.
Keywords: New Testament; the letter to Romans; Paul; sect; cult; anti-Jewish discourses; Jews and gentiles; unity; second temple Judaism; Roman empire New Testament; the letter to Romans; Paul; sect; cult; anti-Jewish discourses; Jews and gentiles; unity; second temple Judaism; Roman empire
MDPI and ACS Style

Kim, J.Y. Understanding the Letter to the Romans in the Sect-Cult Development of Early Churches. Religions 2020, 11, 257.

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