Paul's Letter to the Romans
(RL 399W/RL 505)
last update26 August 2005
Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.
Professor of Biblical Studies & Early Christianity
Department of Religious Studies
Contact Dr. McGinn
Undergraduate prerequisites: RL 101; RL 205 or RL 408 or instructor permission; EN 103-112 or 111-112 or 114-116
RL 505 prerequisites: RL 400 & equivalent of RL 205 or RL 408 or instructor permission

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This seminar introduces students to Saint Paul's letter to the Romans, the most influential of his entire corpus, through a simulation of the various first-century house churches in Rome and other more traditional academic approaches. after an introductory survey of the history of research on Romans and discussion of "epistolography" (including the question of how to categorize this last contribution to Paul's corpus), students will practice exegesis, interpretation, and contemporary application of this letter through methods such as form criticism, source criticism, literary and rhetorical criticism, textual criticism, redaction history, social history, feminist hermeneutics, and theological reflection. Course readings will be coordinated with role-play, discussion sessions, and lectures using various texts from Romans to illustrate how to apply these methods of biblical interpretation.


This seminar is a "Writing Intensive" course in the undergraduate Core Curriculum, which means that we will pay particular attention to the form and content of written work, and the process of producing it. Students will receive explicit instruction in analysis and composition of research papers in historical theology, and especially in writing a thesis-based paper. There will be specific attention to types of writing pertinent to scripture studies in particular, and theological writing in general.This will include"mini-workshops" in class as well as peer and instructor review of student papers. Students will receive careful feedback on preliminary drafts of the paper (including peer review), and will be expected to provide other seminar members with feedback on their papers as well.

CONSULTATION: I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about your academic and research interests before or after class, during my office hours, or at other times by appointment.  I really do welcome your feedback at any time, especially any suggestions about how to make the class a more fruitful experience for you.

ASSUMPTIONS: Since this is an upper-level course, I assume that students have basic knowledge of the New Testament and of key historical events of the New Testament period (e.g., the birth and death of Jesus, first Jewish-Roman War, destruction of the Second Temple). A basic understanding of where Paul fits in first-century Christianity is essential to a scholarly investigation of this letter. The first session will provide a rapid review of these events to refresh your memory, but it is unlikely to give enough background for students with no prior exposure to the New Testament. If you are concerned about your background knowledge, please consult the NT surveys indicated in the list of recommended texts below.

OBJECTIVES: Successful completion of this course will provide students with the following skills:
    1. Ability to summarize the current phase of discussion of the exegesis and interpretation of Paul's letter to the Romans
    2. Facility with the standard bibliographical and reference tools for biblical study.
    3. Experience in producing a critical Biblical research paper characterized by appropriate format, rigorous argumentation of the thesis, and thorough documentation of sources.
CLASS FORMAT: seminar; formal lectures and student presentations will be complemented by active and critical student discussions on the basis of the primary texts and secondary literature.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: It goes without saying that students are expected to submit their own original work. This includes properly citing not only direct and indirect quotations, but any ideas you learn from other sources--including Scriptural ones. I am glad to work with anyone who needs clarification of this.

STUDENT RESPONSIBILITY includes preparing the assigned readings before each class meeting, actively participating in class discussions, and submitting written work on time. It is expected that all assignments be completed in order to receive a passing grade for this course.  See the Course Schedule for further details.

ATTENDANCE: The University expects prompt and alert student presence at every class meeting. Seminar discussion comprises a substantial component of the course grade, and one must be present to participate in discussion. Hence, students who absent themselves more than two times during the semester will have their total course grade docked one letter grade, and then one additional grade level for each subsequent absence. If you are ill, a medical excuse is necessary to receive an excused absence. If you have an unavoidable conflict which will prevent you from meeting class, please present your documentation of this conflict before the class absence.
    Absences from class do not excuse the student from submitting the required course work on time, since every assignment is listed in this syllabus under the course schedule. Late assignments will be docked one letter grade for each day they are overdue.



REQUIRED TEXTS: The Bible! Yes, it is true, we actually will read Paul's letter and other pertinent Biblical materials. The best English editions of the Bible are: The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha (NRSV); the Oxford Study Bible (REB); and the Catholic Study Bible (NAB). See instructor for a "pre-owned" copy.
    In addition, we will read the following:

  • Brendan Byrne, Romans (Sacra Pagina Series; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1996); or, Daniel Harrington, Romans: the Good News According to Paul (New Ci, 1997); or, Luke Timothy Johnson, Reading Romans (Crossroad, 1997).
  • Karl P. Donfried, ed., The Romans Debate, revised edition (Henderson, 1991).
  • Sheila E. McGinn, ed., Celebrating Romans: Template for Pauline Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004).
  • Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983)
  • Wayne Meeks, ed., The Writings of St. Paul (Norton Critical Editions; New York/London: Norton, 1972), pp. xiii-xiv, 66-94, 151-276, 422-444.
REFERENCE TOOLS: these will come in handy for the research papers and class discussions.
  • Raymond Brown & John Meier, Antioch & Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity (New York/Ramsey: Paulist, 1983), 87-216.
  • Francis & Sampley, Pauline Parallels (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984).
  • For Greek readers: Nestle and Aland, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th edition (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1987).
  • Various and sundry commentaries on the letter of Paul to the Romans are available. Pick one or two and follow them along with the class discussions.
RECOMMENDED TEXTS: Students with limited background in Biblical study are encouraged to consult one or more of the following introductions. In addition, introductory NT course packets are available at cost.
  • David L. Barr, New Testament Story: An Introduction, Second Edition (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1995).
  • John H. Hayes and Carl R. Holladay, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner's Handbook, Revised Edition (Atlanta, GA: John Knox, 1987).
  • Raymond Collins, Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday/Image, 1983).
  • Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1982); two volumes.
  • Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her (New York: Crossroad, 1984, 1994).
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