Paul's "indebtedness" to the barbarian (Rom 1:14) in Latin west perspective

James R. Harrison*

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Scopus)


In moving the geographical focus of his mission from the Greek East to the Latin West (Rom 15:23-24, 28; cf. 1:9-10, 13), Paul states that he was indebted to "Greek and barbarian" (1:14). Paul's language of "indebtedness" not only relativises the ethnic and linguistic divide of antiquity (v. 14 a), but also cultural and educational stereotypes, including the denigration of barbarians (v. 14 b). The apostle's thought here should not be restricted to the evangelisation of the Latin West and the pastoral care of its churches, even though that is the focus of the pericope (vv. 8b-9a, 11-12a, 13b, 15-17). His language of "indebtedness" occurs in various contexts, several of them social (1:14a; 4:4; 13:8; 15:1, 27). It evokes the world of Roman political and social parlance, with its interplay of imperial patronage and the reciprocation of favour in the western provinces where many barbarian tribes resided. After examining renderings of barbarians in select Roman writers and the Augustan triumphal iconography, the article explores the notion of "obligation" in the Gallic and Spanish inscriptions. The author proposes that Romans 1:14 articulates what "indebtedness" meant for the believer's mission to the marginalised people groups outside of the body of Christ. This would enable Paul's house-churches not only to embrace the peoples from barbarian tribes with whom the Romans had patronal relations, but also those tribes in the Latin West whom the Romans had punished for their non-compliance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-348
Number of pages38
JournalNovum Testamentum
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Augustan triumphal iconography
  • Barbarians
  • Debt of love
  • Ethnic and cultural stereotypes
  • Gallic/Spanish inscriptions
  • Grace
  • indebtedness
  • New humanity
  • Obligation
  • Patronage
  • reciprocity
  • Romans


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