The Good: The majority of this chapter holds good advice about not judging others, making up your own mind, live and let live. Maybe more present-day Christians should heed it.
The Bad: However, the reason for this advice is more complex than Paul just wanting to be Mr. Nice Guy. He’s trying to prevent or mend rifts in the early church, between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians from varying backgrounds. Decisions whether or not Christians need to be circumcised, follow Jewish dietary laws, or keep the Sabbath, were serious issues for the early church. Interestingly, Jesus had already ruled on dietary laws (Mark 7:14) but Paul doesn’t refer to this (or anything else that’s in the gospels, as previously mentioned). Anyway, in his zeal to promote harmony among believers, Paul goes a little overboard. In v 14-23 he makes it an offense to cause anyone else offense. Huh? He has just told believers that whichever side they choose is OK, then changes that and tells them that it is wrong to do something that offends the other side. Sorry, can’t have it both ways. And do people have the right not to be offended?
The Ugly: V 7-8 promote a fatalistic attitude, encouraging people to accept whatever happens and make no effort to remedy a bad situation, for example by seeking medical care when they are ill. And v 10-12 again reinforce the idea that we should not seek justice in this world, but wait for the next.
I can’t decide if this is good or bad. It’s so sweet it’s sickening – full of fuzzy-wuzzy feel-good Christianese. Lots of hope and encouragement, thankfulness and Good News, laced with out-of-context verses from Psalms and Isaiah. This chapter reminds me of “I’d like to teach the world to sing, In perfect harmony…” (For once, I’ll spare you the link; I’m sure everyone knows this song.)
Near the end of the chapter, Paul changes his tone and gets all newsy, talking about his missionary work and travel plans. He mentions taking donations to the believers in Jerusalem (v 27). And then there’s a syrupy close-off in v 30-33, full of prayers and blessings. If you read these verses in a modern translation, they could just as easily have been written by any missionary or church outreach worker today. Truly nothing changes….
The Good: Well, we begin with a female church worker; that has to be a good thing. It’s not clear who Phebe was, though; some translations refer to her as a deaconess, others merely as a servant, which could be anything. Ditto with Priscilla and Aquila in v 3 – helpers? Co-workers? Well, it’s a start.
The Bad: According to a note in the SAB, v 7 has been problematic. It implies that Junia (a woman’s name) was an apostle. But there is no mention of a female apostle in the Gospels. Scholar Bart Ehrmann claims that some translators changed the name to Junias to disguise this conflict, but the 3 translations I am looking at (including the KJV) all use Junia. So either there was a female apostle, and her name was omitted from the gospels, or this is just another contradiction in the bible… a mess either way, but what else is new. Then on and on with the name-dropping…. Zzzzz.
The Ugly: Paul’s final instructions in v 17-18, include the following: “Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them.” These verses are used by some churches (notably JW’s) to justify shunning or disfellowshipping people who leave the flock. They are also used to shut down critical thinking, discouraging people from outside reading or prohibiting them from even listening to outside opinions.