Peace in the Epistle to the Romans

and in the Malagasy Culture


Andrianjatovo Rakotoharintsifa

(Facultť de th√©ologie F.J.K.M., Antananarivo)


1. Introduction          


alking about peace in Romans is crucial for Malagasy people today, not only because of present political instability and incipient social violence, but also because of its intrinsic link with the central Malagasy concept of fihavanana. A dialogical approach of the theme will help the Malagasy churches and believers to appreciate the relevance of mutual criticism and clarification between Paul's epistle and their local culture. In this respect, the main contribution of this paper lies in the possible renewal of the concept of fihavanana through a Malagasy-oriented reading of Romans. We will then take into account two fundamental principles of interpretation, the first of which comes from the reader-response criticism:

Meaning exists formally only in human beings. In the case of a human being who is also a reader, meaning is generated by a reader reading a text. In this operation, which the reader initiates, a mysterious interaction ensues between reader and text, in which the latter imposes powerful constraints on the reading process. Nevertheless, apart from a reader and a reading, a text is simply ink on paper.[1]

The second insight is worked out by the ideological criticism :

Ideology is normally lived as if it were totally natural, as if its imaginary and fluid discourse gives a perfect and unified explanation of reality. Once it is work into a text, all its contradictions and gaps are exposed. The realist writer intends to unify all the elements in the text, but the work that goes on in the textual process inevitably produces certain lapses and omissions which correspond to the incoherence of the ideological discourse it uses: 'for in order to say anything, there are other things which must not be said'.[2]

Consequently, we will focus our attention, firstly, on the semantically constraining, and probably correcting, function of the biblical text vis-à-vis the contextually motivated reading and, secondly, on the possible 'silences' and incoherences of the Pauline discourse on peace.

2. Peace in Romans

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† 2.1. In this paper, the concepts of peace and reconciliation will be studied together, because (a) in the Malagasy Bible eijrhvnh is translated, according to the contexts, by fiadanana (peace) or fihavanana (reconciliation, good relation); (b) in the linguistic study of the New Testament, the semantic domain of reconciliation is intrinsically connected with that of peace[3]. In this respect, the linguistic findings show that three semantic domains are relevant for our discussion about Romans: (1) favorable circumstances and states (Louw and Nida's N¬į 22.G: eijrhvnh Rom 1.7; 2.10; 3.17; 5.1; 8.6; 10.15; 14.17,19; 15.13,33; 16.20); (2) reconciliation (N¬į 40.A: katallavssw Rom 5.10ab; katallaghv Rom 5.11; 11.15); (3) peaceful behavior (N¬į 88.N: eijrhneuvw Rom 12.18).

            2.2. Before we comment briefly the above mentioned passages, we should establish the importance of the theme inside the epistle. First of all, the concept of peace is related to the propositio in Rom 1.16-17: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is power of God, for the salvation of everyone who believes, to Jew first and to Greek since the righteousness of God is disclosed in it, progressively from faith into faith as has been written: The righteous will live from faith"[4]. It shows that the relationship between Jews and Greeks is one of the main concerns of Paul in this letter as chap. 9-11 and some passages in the exhortation part (chap. 14; 15.7-12; 15.26,27) will confirm. The function of peace in the persuasion strategy of Paul is always crucial whether the epistle is considered as a peace memorandum for Jews and Gentiles (in Rome and outside)[5] or as a doctrinal apology for a mixed audience[6].

Moreover, a statistical comparison within the Pauline corpus enables us to perceive the relative importance of our topic in Rom:



Occurrences in

Rom only

Occurrences in

other six letters

katallavssw / katallaghv

2  /  2

4  /  2

eijrhneuvw / eijrhvnh

1  /  11

2  /  17

            2.3. We may start our analysis with the most overarching category of letter inclusion: as a matter of fact, the opening salutation cavri" uJmi'n kai; eijrhvnh (1.7 grace and peace be to you) frames the letter twice with the closing salutation in 15.33 oJ de; qeo;" th'" eijrhvnh" meta; pavntwn uJmw'n (May the God of peace be with you) and with the final promise and blessing in 16.20 oJ de; qeo;" th'" eijrhvnh" suntrivyei to;n satana'n uJpo; tou;" povda" uJmw'n ejn tavcei. hJ cavri" tou' kurivou hJmw'n jIhsou' Cristou' meq j uJmw'n (the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you). These words can be treated as clichés, but in the concrete argument of Rom they earn an added meaning: they reflect Paul's conviction system according to which the reality of peace is a gift from God who establishes communion with his people and destroys the power of his main ennemy. K. Haacker is right when he says that here we can recognize the theological foundation of peace thinking[7]. The German theologian explains with this phrase the divine origin of peace, but we can also emphasize upon the word grace which gives a Pauline flavour to the discourse. Indeed, peace is not only an apostolic project for the community, but a consequence of the salvation event in the Lord Jesus.

Such an uterrance is understandable in a cultural context in which peace is a social and political treaty between families or larger social groups, and according to the local traditions, it comes into force only after animal sacrifices and the invocation of the ancestors and God the Creator. Here God is not the gracious source of peace as such, but the sacred guarantor of any peace agreement or taboo removal conceived by belligerent communities or conflicting individuals[8].

            2.4. In Rom 2.10,11 Paul wrote: "Glory and honour and peace to everyone who accomplishes good, both to Jew in the first place and to Greek; for with God there is no partiality!" One of the clues of this sentence lies in the phrase peace to everyone (eijrhvnh panti;) which contains the idea of universality and fairness of God's eschatological retribution. In this sentence, peace stands for a very positive reward which will restitute the wholeness of those who will have committed themselves to the well-being of humankind. In addition, by linking peace with two other core values, i.e. glory and honor, Paul suggests that the notion of peace is inseparable with a successful integration in the final salvation community. This irreversible condition comes from God who "does not accept people on the grounds of social status (Gal 2.6), or correctly-offered ritual"[9].

That peace is thought of as a reward from God's just judgment can be interpreted by a Malagasy reader as a confirmation of the ancestral belief according to which each moral act contains its own consequences and sends them back to the initial agent. It does not need any special intervention of God, because the perceived reality has been build in such a way[10]: There is no retribution, but what you have done comes back to you. Good works will necessarily bring honor and peace. At this level of analysis, the appeal to divine impartiality seems to be superfluous. Unfortunately, the other face of social reality shows the failure of such immanent retributive machinery, so that people should restate in pessimistic proverbs their responses to this cognitive dissonance: (a) Whatever the king does we should always say to him: "Long live, His Majesty". (b) Antananarivo [the capital city] has got beautiful houses, but the youngsters from Ivakiniadiana  [a rural area] have thereafter become bald-headed[11]. Consequently, the application area of the retributive return (tody) is reduced to a minimum which still insures its limited validity in people's mind[12]. That is why some proverbs are emphatic about the moral function of God for the individuals: (a) Don't look at the lonely valley, but fear God upon your head. (b) I still await God whom other people cannot wait for. This incipient personalized relationship with the divinity in the Malagasy moral philosophy has been widely exploited by early foreign missionaries and indigenous Christian rhetoricians.

            2.5. The next occurrence in Rom 3.17 goes in the same direction. We quote the larger passage: "Their feet swift for pouring out blood, destruction and misery in their ways. And they have not known a way of peace (oJdo;n eijrhvnh", Isa 59.8a LXX). The fear of God is not before their eyes. We know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are in the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and that the whole world may be subject to God's verdict; for which reason, 'no flesh will be made righteous in his presence' through works of the law, for it is through the law that the full knowledge of sin comes" (3.15-20). It concludes the refutation of a series of objections against the relevance of God's justice disclosed in Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, the pessimistic image of the Jewish society in Isa 59 supports Paul's rhetorical strategy in Rom 1,18-3,20 which tries to "prove that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin" (3.9). As a first approach, we can say that the ignorance of a way of peace concretely means living under the power of sin. The African Bible gives an illuminating definition of that reality : "Sin is basically the rupture of the order willed by God. It is the rebellion of human beings against God and produces social desintegration" (Rom 3.9 note 37). First, the rupture of order shows a real dysfunction inside the creation; second, rebellion unveils a high (the highest?) degree of symbolic conflict between God and human beings; third, social desintegration discloses a breaking down of the controlling influences of society, i.e. the emergence of anomie. In front of such description of human reality, any sociological theory[13] would tell you that the society in question reaches a phase of serious instability and finds itself in a critical situation. From a theological viewpoint, the absence of peace constitutes one of the indicators of human total depravity and points at the necessity of God's universal grace. It is useless to call upon human beings to perform law-abiding actions in order to acquire dignity before God, for such an orientation would only increase human anxiety (inner perspective) and have people miss God's salvation initiative in Christ Jesus (outer perspective)[14].

Such a radical and overwhelming understanding of sin is unknown in Malagasy traditional thoughts. Social therapeutic means are always available for the natives in each region in order to atone taboo transgressions or to neutralize moral injuries or even to take the liability for committed mistakes away from people[15]. In the ethnological study on the Merina group in the central region of the country, Louis Molet (1979 : p. 238) discussed the social problem of irresponsibility:

The Merina willingly believes that the fate of human being, determined from the birth by astral circumstances, is out of his reach [¬Ö] Then, in order to live, the Merina observes as adequately as possible the practices of his religion and looks for the favor of the humanly conceived supernatural powers, through vows and scarifices [¬Ö] Concerning important matters as well as concrete decisions, he usually consults the soothsayer or the astrologist and follows his indications, being - by this very fact - exempted from choosing or making a decision.

In this religious system, the finiteness of human being does not exclude the possibility of social and spiritual peace, because in principle the traditional society has at its disposal all symbolic arsenals for tension-management.

            2.6. In Rom 5 Paul reaches a decisive step in his argumentation: "Being made righteous therefore by faith, we have peace [eijrhvnhn] with God through our Lord Jesus Christ […] For if when we were enemies we were reconciled [kathllavghmen] to God through the death of his Son, all the more so now, having been reconciled [katallagevnte"], shall we be saved by his life. And not only that, but we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we now received reconciliation [katallagh;n]" (5.1,10,11). Peace is understood as the positive result of God's recognition and restoration of human beings as covenant partners. It is a biblical orienting concept which exerted its influence on Paul:

It is to the genius of Cremer that we owe the fundamental insight that √ßedaqah, in its basic sense, refers to an actual relationship between two persons, and implies behaviour which corresponds to, or is consistent with, whatever claims may arise from or concerning either party to the relationship. The relationship in question is that presuposed by the covenant between God and Israel, which must be considered as the ultimate norm to which √ßedaqah must be referred. The Hebrew concept of √ßedaqah stands in a class of its own ¬Ė a class which Cremer brilliantly characterised as iustitia salutifera[16].

Nevertheless, the most important theological input of the apostle resides in his christology: Christ's sacrifice (v. 10 dia; tou' qanavtou tou' uiJou') has radically changed the nature of relationship between God and the humankind. First, human beings ¬Ė formerly threatened by the divine judgment ¬Ė have access again to the holy God; second, they acquire a different type of existence (as a matter of course, the first meaning of katallavssw is to give rise to change, to a different [a[llo"] state of things); third, the atoning sacrifice of Christ put an end to the cultic sacrificial system as such[17]¬†and gave the first place to faith (v. 1 ejk pivstew").

This interpersonal character of justice and peace is not far from the traditional Malagasy conception of fihavanana (the edification of kinship among human beings; from the root havana = kin) which consists in three basic attitudes: in speech exchange, in mutual customary visits and in concrete solidarity[18]. Concerning the use of speech in the process of fihavanana, we can say that the Malagasy people believe in the mysterious power of word as a medium of life and cannot think about a peace-building activity without delivering a traditionally codified speech, in order to strengthen past ties and to weave a new relationship. We may add, in this respect, that fihavanana is a positive result of the pleasure of speaking and hearing. Moreover, this speech act occurs at some specific moments of social life when the entire families and the neighborhood gather and receive visitors: in good things (birth, circumcision, marriage, tomb building, exhumation¬Ö) and in bad things (death, catastrophes, breach of alliance¬Ö). Any Malagasy citizen who has got a classical education in his family knows that his major social duties should be accomplished through visiting and standing before the families affected by lucky or ill-fated events. Lastly, fihavanana needs to be bound with palpable, yet symbolic acts of solidarity such as physical help, social counselling, communal meal and financial contribution.

One can already notice that the Malagasy understanding of peace has a horizontal character, i.e. it aims at creating an extended, ever reconciling family in which every social partner (family member [tapaka, mpihavana], close friend [namana] , neighbor [havana], companion [sakaiza]) has his assigned place. Even if Malagasy people seal some symbolic peace rituals (namely, blood brotherhood, family fusion, taboo removal¬Ö) with animal sacrifices, they do not consider the peace with God as a meaningful goal of religion, because the ancestors practically insure in everyday life divine functions such as blessing, personal identity, value protection, family unity.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† 2.7. The next occurrence of peace is found in Rom 8.6,7,11: "Now, the minding [frovnhma] of the flesh is death, but the minding of the spirit is life and peace [eijrhvnh]. For the minding of the flesh is enmity against God, since it is not subject to God's law, nor indeed can it be [¬Ö] But if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will cause your mortal bodies to live, through his Spirit dwelling in you". In this passage, the concept of peace is dependent upon the further reflection about the law and God's Spirit. In fact, the law is unable to fulfil ¬Ė in the real condition of human life ¬Ė its intended goal : to bring life to humankind (cf. Rom 7.10 hJ ejntolh; hJ eij" zwhvn). The problem lies neither in the will of the law-giver nor in the quality of the law enunciation, but in the basic orientation of the law-receiver : this latter does not have the inner power to obey to God's law, because his vision and performance are determined from the outset by motivations diametrically opposed to God[19]. So it is useless to exercise influence on humans at the level of moral life. One should radically change his life-orientation, namely his attitude toward God, through personal encounter and resurrection-like empowerment:

The authentic Christian can and knows how to take care of himself, to walk alone, without selvage. Not because he was abandoned to himself, but because he has received an interior endowment which makes him mature and completely free from any conditioning. And once again we should note that the filial adoption does not consist in a purely judicial declaration, but comes into being with the gift of a new dynamic principle, called Pneuma (Spirit).[20]

Then, peace is based upon the removal of the enmity against God and upon the transformation of human bodies into living sanctuaries of God[21]. In that way human existence can be changed from within and deep-rooted modifications in social and personal life can be obtained.

Concerning the Malagasy traditional anthropology, it recognizes the fallibility of the humans vis-à-vis the divinity, but does not promote such a radical vision of sin as in Paul's thought[22]. Some well-known proverbs state, for instance:

God cannot be blamed, the Creator cannot be criticized, because it is the humans who are full of deviances.

Just as honey is sweet but has dregs, and the eel is delicious but has bones, so is the human being: nobody is without handicap, but each one is blameworthy.

Nonetheless, that situation did not lead the Malagasy thinking to adopt a pessimistic view of the human nature, for the most intolerable common transgression concerns taboo violation, which demands the offering of a bloody sacrifice[23]. In the Malagasy symbolic universe, sacrifices can make the world upside down, for example in case of an incestuous marriage, which ¬Ė in principle, inacceptable ¬Ė becomes <normal> through a ritual of taboo removal called fafy[24]. Moreover, the above-mentioned proverbs consider anomie and imperfection as obvious everyday realities, which can be spatially limited and partially corrected through socialization and, specifically, through the fihavanana process[25].

            2.8. The free quotation of Isa 52.7 in Rom 10.15 caused a text-critical problem : (a) the shorter text (without tw'n eujaggelizomevnwn eijrhvnhn) can be dismissed on the basis of homoeoteleuton error; (b) the longer text (including tw'n eujaggelizomevnwn eijrhvnhn of them that preach the gospel of peace) may be accused of textual harmonization with the Greek Isaiah text. In this paper, we maintain the longer text, for there is no complete uniformity between the two texts:

LXX Isa 52.7

wJ" w{ra ejpi; tw'n ojrevwn, wJ" povde"

eujaggelizomevnou ajkoh;n eijrhvnh", wJ" eujaggelizovmeno" ajgaqav


Rom 10.15

wJ" wJrai'oi oiJ povde"

eujaggelizomevnwn eijrhvnhn, tw'n eujaggelizomevnwn ta; ajgaqav

What value-added meaning can be drawn from this longer reading?

(1) The idea of peace is a part of Paul's core message in this letter and has received a proeminent place in the history of interpretation and in the Christian spirituality:

It is not a chance that in the history of piety after the Reformation the harsh word <justification> has less penetrated the heart than the message concerning the <peace with God>. This motto is a gift of the epistle to the Romans, which ¬Ė unlike the epistle to the Galatians ¬Ė interprets the justification not so much as freedom, but as reconciliation and peace foundation.[26]

(2) In the concrete argument of this chapter, "peace" ¬Ė as a relational concept ¬Ė describes better the center of the salvation through the Lord Jesus (10.9 if you confess the Lord Jesus with your mouth ¬Ö you will be saved) than "good things" alone. As a matter of fact, Jews and Gentiles are called upon to respond positively to God's peace initiative in Christ[27]; in addition, the religious integration of the Gentile Christians into the church of God (10.12 there is no gulf between Jew and Greek, there is the same Lord of all) gives a second dimension to the concept of peace.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† In this Israel section of the letter, we find another occurrence of katallaghv (11.15) : "For if the rejection [of the Jews] is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be, other than life from the dead?" The massive refusal of the gospel by Israel permitted a decisive extension of Christian mission beyond the Jewish frontiers (eij" pa'san th;n gh'n, eij" ta; pevrata th'" oijkoumevnh" 10.18). In fact, God's policy of jealousy[28]¬†(I will provoke you to jealousy 10.19; 11.11,14) shows that (1) Israel is not completely abandoned, but should be seduced again by God; (2) Israel is not considered as an exclusive people of God; on the contrary, she should be and is an inclusive one ¬Ė paradoxically, because of her unbelief ¬Ė: since then, the nations have been inserted in the midst of God's people through faith (you, being a wild-olive, have been engrafted in them 11.17); (3) Israel has no proper right to reintegration apart from faith and mercy (11.22,23,32); her renewal is unthinkable, except in the category of resurrection. Consequently, reconciliation means here the changing status of the nations vis-√†-vis God's historical commitment.

The Malagasy understanding of fihavanana knows existential tensions within the blood relationship in the family, on the one hand, and within the duty-based social solidarity, on the other hand. Firstly, the kinship can be broken [in Malagasy, "tapaka"] through hierarchy-challenging attitudes, which demand a ritual of taboo removal, and damaged [in Malagasy, "simba"] through immoral behaviors, which could be corrected with severe admonitions by the Elders. Such a possibility shows that fihavanana cannot be reduced into a biological link, but should be conceived as an experimented life-situation[29].

Secondly, the cohesion of a social group can be endangered by indifference [He is neither my inner organs nor my hair = I have nothing to do with him] and enmity. The former can be resolved by weaving ties between the two parties (for instance, emphasis on common values, advantage of union in front of dangers...), whereas the latter can be traditionally overcome through mediation, direct negotiation, or matrimonial reciprocity. The failure of a series of classical solutions can lead to open conflicts or war. Nevertheless, despite all efforts toward reconciliation, the division between kins and non-kins does exist in many regions of the country and becomes obvious at the burial (even spouses should be separately buried because of caste hierarchy).

            2.9. In the hortatory section of the letter, Paul gives some basic instructions concerning Christian behavior toward the Roman society: "If possible, insofar as it depends on you, make peace [eijrhneuvonte"] with all people" (Rom 12.18). This openness to the out-group is determined by the renewed understanding of peace in the early Christianity: according to G. Theissen, the imagination of the first Christians has been strongly influenced by the demilitarisation of social peace, promoted by some Old Testament prophets and Jewish religious thinkers[30]. In principle, a peaceful coexistence with non-Christians is possible for Paul, provided that Christians may live according to their faith, without being persecuted. We would add that Paul envisions a possible integration of nascent Christianity in the multireligious framework of the Roman Empire, as a propounder of an alternative peace conception:

This peace is based upon religious convictions: peace between God and the human being is found in Christ and fulfils itself as social peace in small communities. This social peace coexists with political wars in the world, safeguarding its autonomy toward it. It is, at the same time, a positive model for a world which is unable to find peace. And thank to this <oppositional autonomy>, it can have possible impacts on political peace.[31]

Moreover, it is clear that peace process is not a one-sided initiative, but a mutual commitment. When an individual or a social group is not willing to accept the otherness of another person, it seems to be difficult for the latter alone to maintain peace ¬Ė in the long run ¬Ė within a hostile environment, for peace essentially has a dialogical structure. Despite this fact, the Roman believer should have a peaceful behavior toward the unfaithful and avoid conflicts with them, insofar as his relationship with Christ is not broken.

            The last passage we have to examine talks about peace inside the Christian community: "For the Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace [eijrhvnh] and joy in the Holy Spirit… For this reason therefore, let us pursue what pertains to peace [ta; th'" eijrhvnh"] and to mutual upbuilding" (Rom 14.17,19). This chap. discusses the aftermath of food taboos among the first Christians: on the one side, the majority of Jews still avoid forbidden foods and find it compatible with the faith in Jesus, the Father of whom is the same as the God of their ancestors; on the other side, a number of Gentiles do not eat some foods they associate with the former practices of idolatry. The most free-minded Roman believers would consider such attitude as cowardice and inconsequence. As usual, Paul re-frames the problem in another perspective: (1) In order to designate the first-order evangelical value, he uses the Jesuanic phrase Kingdom of God which does not refer to another system of food taboos or their rejection, but to a charismatic (in the Holy Spirit) type of relationship with God and fellow Christians[32]. Righteousness and peace (cf. Rom 5.1) constitute the founding events of Christian life, whereas joy is its main feature in interpersonal relations. It seems obvious that this last element bears the emphasis, because mutual accusations and criticism bring sorrow and pain in the community's life. (2) The apostle establishes the cause of peace as a principal goal of Christian existence: the Roman Christians should seek above all a moral consensus (for instance: mutual tolerance, acceptance of plural attitudes vis-à-vis food prohibitions, taboos as adiaphora for salvation…) which could strengthen peace-loving brotherhood and create better communal conditions for spiritual upbuilding.

            The Malagasy culture gives an important place to the inclusive character of fihavanana and to taboo observances. According to Paul Ramasindraibe, the fihavanana process with all people is determined by four-fold relations reflected in the couple of phrases tapaka sy namana, havana aman-tsakaiza:






(friends through similarity)


(quasi-kins through neighborhood)


(friends by choice)

Type of contact

biological ties

common ideas

common territory


Main function

basic education

punctual collaboration

social duties

long-term friendship

Social domains

family, marriage

free association, profession

local customs

interpersonal relationship

Each Malagasy should be involved in these social networks in order to preserve his/her own identity and, then, to make peace with everybody. But what is really expected from each individual? The Malagasy traditions suggest that three kinds of actions should be fulfilled according to opportunities: adequate speeches reinforcing mutual respect, brotherhood and friendship inside the group; physical presence attesting sympathy and good will to others; and concrete help showing solidarity and charity among the family and the village. Consequently, we can affirm that here peace means successful socialization of the individual.[33]

Concerning the eating of taboo food, it is crucial to notice that the fundamental understanding of sin (ota) in Malagasy traditional communities is related to the transgression of taboo (fady): this fatal attitude is called manota fady ("doing wrong to taboo"). Since it seriously endangers the wrong-doer's life, the Malagasy neither try to challenge local taboos nor get their fellows to break eating restrictions. As a matter of fact, the divinities themselves are committed to watch over the transgression of taboos and to inflict punishments to the culprits (such as barenness, banishment with curses, inability to earn a living, premature death, partial paralysis, no ritual burial, a terrible death, a filthy and worthless life¬Ö):

Why do they leave the punishment to the gods when its is a matter of taboo-breaking? It is not sufficient to say that it is a mystic power which works automatically. But by grouping the taboo-conceptions together and seeing them in their context, one will find that the punishment corresponds with the founding of the taboos. They have been founded by calling on Andriamanitra [God], that he must bear witness that what they have determined is true and correct. And in the ceremonial cursing he is called on to execute the punishment on the one who has broken the taboo in question. In this way the taboo-tradition is always a living and present factor, binding everyone to the rules.[34]

Among the numerous plant and animal taboos commented by J. Ruud, let us choose the prohibition of the eating of lemur in some regions and learn the subjective meaning attached by Malagasy people to this social norm:

According to Malagasy beliefs and conviction the animals have souls (ambiroa), which live after death, like human beings. After death, however, it is not called soul (ambiroa), but spirit (angatra), and this word is only used about the beyond. From the word angatra the verb manangatra is formed, which is used about the spirits of the departed ones revenging themselves on people. This revenge is even more present when it is a human-like being, like lemur, which is revenging itself, than if it is another animal. The lemur, however, only revenges itself if it has been mocked at alive, or if it is killed in a cruel way [skinned alive, roasted and eaten]. The consequence is always misfortune in one way or the other.[35]

That's why no traditionally-educated Malagasy would say that he/she can ignore food taboos because of other highly respected values (friendship, honesty, faithfulness…). Nevertheless, he/she would accept without difficulty Paul's last remark, according to which "the one who is undecided whether he may eat is condemned, because he does not act from faith; and everything that is not from faith is sin" (Rom 14.23-24), but would translate the words from faith  by out of respect for taboo-tradition. Anyway, a supernatural sanction will reach the wrong-doer:

If one breaks the taboo one becomes guilty in relation to the ancestors, and one knows, according to what is learnt in childhood, that the punishment will come. It is the conscious feeling of guilt for having opposed the will of the sacred ancestors which results in contagion. If we ask a Malagasy why a transgressor is struck by disaster, he will usually reply that it is because the taboo is broken, but as a further he will say that in fact the person was to blame in relation to his forefathers.[36]




1. New Testament Texts and Reference Works


Louw J.P.¬Ė Nida E.A., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (New York : United Bible Societies, 1988).

Merk A. ¬Ė Barbaglio G., Nuovo Testamento greco e italiano (Bologna : Edizioni Dehoniane, 1990).

Ny Soratra Masina amin'ny Testamenta Vaovao [The Holy Scripture in the New Testament] (Antananarivo : Malagasy Bible Society, 1968).

The African Bible. The New Testament ¬Ė Standard Edition, transl. by Conor Murphy (Nairobi : Paulines, 1995).


2. Selected Studies on Romans, Biblical Theology and Methodology


Adler a., Le sens de la vie. Etude de psychologie individuelle (Paris : Payot, 1991).

Aletti J.-N., Isra√ęl et la Loi dans la lettre aux Romains (LD 173; Paris : Cerf, 1998).

Barrett C.K., The Epistle to the Romans (2nd ed., BNTC; London : A & C Black, 1991).

Bartsch H.W., "Die historische Situation des Römerbriefes", Studia evangelica vol. 4, 1968, pp. 281-291.

Bassler J.M., "Divine Impartiality in Paul's Letter to the Romans", NT 26, 1984, pp. 43-58.

Bell R.H., No One Seeks for God. An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 1.18-3.20 (WUNT 106; T√ľbingen : Mohr Siebeck, 1998).

Brown R.E., An Introduction to the New Testament (ABRL; New York : Doubleday, 1997).

Brown S., "Reader Response: Demythologizing the Text", NTS 34, 1988, pp. 232-237.

Burton G.E., Hevi-teny Romana [Commentary on Romans] (Antananarivo : Imprimerie protestante Imarivolanitra, 1958).

Dods M., An Introduction to the New Testament (The Theological Educator; London : Hodder and Stoughton, 1892).

Donfried K.P., "False Presuppositions in the Study of Romans", JBL 36, 1974, pp. 332-355.

Dunn J.D.G., "Paul's Epistle to the Romans: An Analysis of Structure and Argument", ANRW II.25.4, 1987, pp. 2842-2889.

Eco U., Lector in fabula (Paris : Grasset, 1985).

Eichrodt W., Theologie des Alten Testaments (Leipzig : J.C. Hinrichs, vol. 1: 1933; vol. 2-3: 1939).

Foerster W. ¬Ė Von Rad G., "eijrhvnh", ThWNT 2, 1935, pp. 398-418.

Gignac A., Juifs et chrétiens à l'école de Paul de Tarse (Sciences bibliques 9; Montréal : Médiaspaul, 1999).

Haacker K., "Der Römerbrief als Friedensmemorandum", NTS 36, 1990, pp. 25-41.

Haufe G., "Eirene im Neuen Testament", Communio viatorum 27, 1984, pp. 7-17.

Henslin J.M., Sociology. A Down-to-Earth Approach (Boston etc. : Allyn and Bacon, 1997).

J√ľlicher A., "Der Brief an die R√∂mer", in: Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments vol. 2 (G√∂ttingen : Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1917), pp. 223-335.

J√ľngel E., Das Evangelium von der Rechtfertigung des Gottlosen als Zentrum des christlichen Glaubens (3rd ed.; T√ľbingen : Mohr Siebeck, 1998).

King G.L. and Rabary, Ny epistily ho an'ny Romana. Hevi-teny [The Epistle to the Romans. A Commentary] (Antananarivo : Imprimerie L.M.S., 1931).

Luz U. et al., Eschatologie und Friedenshandeln (SBS 101; Stuttgart : Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1981).

McGrath A.E., Iustitia Dei. A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (2nd ed.; Cambridge : Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998).

Milbank J., "Stories of Sacrifice: From Wellhausen to Girard", Theory, Culture & Society 12, 1995, pp. 15-46.

Montgomery W., Hevi-teny amy ny epistily ho any ny Romana. Fizarana I: toko I-VIII [A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Part I: chap. 1-8] (Antananarivo : LMS Press, 1887).

Moo D.J., "Law, Works of the Law, and Legalism in Paul", WTJ 45, 1983, pp. 73-100.

¬Ė¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† "Paul and the Law in the Last Ten Years", SJTh 40, 1987, pp. 287-307.

Penna R., Paolo di Tarso. Un cristianesimo possibile (Milano : Ed. San Paolo, 1992)

Perrot C., "L'√©p√ģtre aux Romains", Cahiers Evangile 65, 1988, pp. 1-67.

Refoulé F., Marx y San Pablo. Liberar al hombre (Bilbao : Desclée de Brouwer, 1975).

Selden R. ¬Ė Widdowson P., A Reader's Guide in Contemporary Literary Theory (3rd ed., New York, London etc. : Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993).

Schnackenburg r., Gottes Herrschaft und Reich (Freiburg etc: Herder, 1963).

Spicq C., "eijrhvnh ktl", Lexique th√©ologique du Nouveau Testament (Paris¬ĖFribourg : Cerf¬ĖEd. Universitaires, 1991), pp. 438-453.

Stuhlmacher P., Der Brief an die Römer (NTD 6; Göttingen : Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1998).

Theissen G., "Pax Romana et Pax Christi. Le christianisme primitif et l'idée de paix", RThPh 124, 1992, pp. 61-84.

V√∂gtle A., Das Neue Testament und die Zukunft des Kosmos (D√ľsseldorf : Patmos, 1970).

Wengst K., Pax Romana. Anspruch und Wirklichkeit (M√ľnchen : Ch. Kaiser, 1986).

Westerholm S., Preface to the Study of Paul (Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 1997).


3. Writings on Malagasy Culture


Andriamanjato R., Le Tsiny et le Tody dans la pensée malgache (Paris : Présence africaine, 1957).

Colin P., Aspects de l'√Ęme malgache (Paris : √Čd. de l'Orante, 1959).

Domenichini-ramiaramanana B., Du Ohabolana au Hainteny. Langue, littérature et politique à Madagascar (Paris : Karthala, 1983).

Dubois R., Olombelona. Essai sur l'existence personnelle et collective à Madagascar (Paris : Ed. L'Harmattan, 1978).

Hardyman J.T., Madagascar on the Move (Westminster : Livingstone Press, 1950).

Heseltine N., Madagascar (London : Pall Mall Press, 1971).

Houlder J.A., "Madagascar and its Proverbs", The Antananarivo Annual 2, 1881-1884, pp. 45-57.

—              "Proverbial Illustrations of Malagasy Life and Character", The Antananarivo Annual 2, 1881-1884, pp. 386-396.

—              "Ohabolana or Wit and Wisdom of the Hova of Madagascar", The Antananarivo Annual 5, 1894-1896, pp. 188-204; 281-291; 436-445; 6, 1897-1900, pp. 175-184, 277-287, 437-450.

—              Ohabolana ou Proverbes malgaches, with French translation by H. Noyer (Antananarivo : Trano Printy Loterana, 1960).

Mack J., Madagascar. Island of the Ancestors (London : British Museum Publ., 1986).

Molet L., La conception malgache du monde, du surnaturel et de l'homme en Imerina (2 vol.; Paris : L'Harmattan, 1979).

Navone G., Ny atao no miverina. Ethnologie et proverbes malgaches [What is done comes back] (Fianarantsoa : Ambozontany, 1987).

Raharilalao H.A.M., √Čglise et fihavanana √† Madagascar. Une herm√©neutique malgache de la r√©conciliation chr√©tienne selon St Paul, 2 Co 5,17-21 (Fianarantsoa : Ambozontany, 1991).

Ramasindraibe P., Ny Fihavanana. Fomba fifandraisan'ny samy Malagasy [Fihavanana. Modes of Relationship among Malagasy People] (Antananarivo : Imprimerie catholique, 1971).

Razafimpahanana B., Le paysan malgache (Antananarivo : Trano Printy Loterana, 1972).

Razafintsalama A., Ny finoana sy ny fomba malagasy [Malagasy Beliefs and Customs](Antananarivo : Ed. Md Paoly, 1998).

Ruud J., Taboo. A Study of Malagasy Customs and Beliefs (Oslo : Oslo University Press; Antananarivo : Trano Printy Loterana, 1970).


[1] S. Brown 1988 : p. 232. Cf. U. Eco 1985 : pp. 61-77.

[2]¬†R. Selden ¬Ė P. Widdowson 1993 : pp. 89-90.

[3] See Louw - Nida 1988 : the semantic domain 40.A on reconciliation includes the word eijrhnopoievw.

[4] Every New Testament quotation is taken from the African Bible edited in Nairobi in 1995.

[5]¬†O. Pfleiderer (1885 Hibbert Lectures): "The epistle suggests that the relations between the Jewish and Gentile sections of the Church were strained, that the healthy development of the Church was thus daily placed in increasing peril, and the more so as through the rapid growth of the Gentile section,the Jewish, which had undoubtedly formed the principal element of originally, had sunk into the position of a powerless minority" (see M. Dods 1892: p. 91); H.W. Bartsch 1968: "Damit wird aber der sachliche Grund das Bem√ľhen des Paulus im R√∂merbrief deutlich, da√ü auf die Einheit der Gemeinde aus Judenchristen und Heidenchristen gerichtet ist" (p. 291); K. Haacker 1990: "den R√∂merbrief als ein Pl√§doyer f√ľr Frieden in verschiedenen Dimesionen und geschichtlichen Kontexten durchsichtig zu machen" (p. 29).

[6] M. Dods 1892: "In substance the letter is a justification of the Apostle's mission to the Gentiles, a justification first to his own mind, and secondly to the Christian community at Rome" (p. 92); R.E. Brown 1997: "Rom was in a way a summary of Paul's thought, phrased with an air of finality as he pulled together his ideas before going to Jerusalem where he would have defend them" (p. 563).

[7]¬†K. Haacker 1990: p. 41. C. Perrot (1988 : p. 16) thinks that "par-del√† les divisions qui secouent les √©glises, y compris celle de Rome, l'ap√ītre lance d'abord un message de paix, dans le respect des diversit√©s. Au fait, cette paix est mentionn√©e tant dans le souhait qui d√©bute l'ensemble (Rm 1.7 '√† vous gr√Ęce et paix') que dans la finale de l'Ep√ģtre, avant les salutations: 'Que le Dieu de paix soit avec vous tous. Amen' (15.33)". It should be precised that the chap. 16 agrees completely with the preceding chapter by reformulating the action of the God of peace.

[8] "The son who dishonoured his father by being disobedient or by slighting him in the presence of others, is inexorably expelled from his family and his relatives […] If the son had anything to give as a sacrifice, be i an ox or a fowl, he had to give this before leaving. On such occasion allthe people of the village are gathered at the place of sacrifice where the sacrifier renders an account of the matter to Andriamanitra [God] and the dead ones of the family, mentioning them by name and asking them to accept the sacrifice as an atonement" (J. Ruud 1970 : p. 21).

[9] The African Bible 1995 : ad loc. note 23. Jouette Bassler (1984 : p. 54) bases the indisputable character of the divine judgment upon this principle: "The fact of God's impartial justice over both Gentiles and Jews is, of course, a necessary presupposition for the charge that all are under sin and accountable to God. Impartiality precludes any qualification of this charge on the basis of ignorance or privilege".

[10] "Le tody [Engl.: retribution] se présente comme quelque chose d'absolument impersonnel. Nous voulons dire que ce n'est pas Dieu qui intervient personnellement pour faire venir le tody. Dieu a fait l'ordre. Le tody est ce qui advient en vertu de cet ordre et comme conséquence d'actes bien définis. Tout ce qui arrive n'est pas fatal. L'homme a l'entière responsabilité d'agir ou de ne pas agir. C'est lui en définitive qui se fabrique pour ainsi dire son tody" (R. Andriamanjato 1957 : p. 77).

[11] "C'est d'abord dans les relations sociales des grands avec les petits que se manifestent les défaillances de la loi de rétribution. Une structure de la société fort hiérarchisée se prête en effet à des injustices de toutes sortes" (G. Navone 1987 : p. 181).

[12]¬†The Jesuit ethnologist G. Navone describes in the following way the traditional dissonance-resolving move : "Comment alors ces √©checs sont-ils v√©cus? Tout d'abord, sauf certains cas tr√®s rares et bien circonscrits, ils ne sont pas dramatis√©s: qu'il s'agisse de la mort, de la douleur, des imperfections du monde, du mal origin√© par l'homme ou de la plupart des injustices sociales, ils sont consid√©r√©s comme ds √©l√©ments 'normaux' de 'ce' monde o√Ļ nous vions, avec lesquels il faut composer [¬Ö] Ainsi, en fait, le domaine o√Ļ s'applique v√©ritablement la loi de r√©tribution est assez r√©duit. A l'int√©rieur de ces limites, les formulations g√©n√©rales de la loi peuvent retrouver leur v√©rit√© dogmatique" (1987: p. 219-220).

[13] See J.M. Henslin 1997 : p. 3-31.

[14] "<Works of the law> cannot justify, not because they are inherently wrong, nor only because a decisive shift in salvation-history has occurred, but fundamentally because no man is able to do them in sufficient degree and number so as to gain merit before God. The logic of this argument presume, however, that <works of the law> has reference to actions performed in obedience to the law; <works> could be expected to establish a situation of merit" (D.J Moo 1983 : p. 98). In his Forschungsbericht on Paul and the Law, the same author (1987 :  p. 297-298) gave the following "reasons why it is thought that Paul rejected the law as a means of justification: 1. The 'quantitative' explanation: human beings are incapable of doing the law perfectly. 2. The 'qualitative' explanation: doing the law is wrong in and of itself (this approach is associated particularly with Bultmann and has received severe criticism). 3. The 'nationalistic' explanation: the law fosters Jewish exclusiveness. 4. The 'dogmatic' explanation: Paul rejected the law simply because nothing must compete with Christ."

[15]¬†According to Pierre Colin (1959 : pp. 77, 81), "le mot ota peut et doit se traduire par 'faute', 'manquement', 'transgression'; mais il ne correspond pas √† la notion chr√©tienne de p√©ch√© [¬Ö] Le rite appel√© afana est une pri√®re expiatoire faisant appel √† Zanahary pour effacer les souillures, les impuret√©s l√©gales ou religieuses, car la distinction du <pur> et de l'<impur> est, en quelque sorte, un dogme fondamental de la religion malgache. De m√™me que chez les Hindous et les S√©mites, on retrouve, chez les peuples de la Grande Ile, la croyance que l'√Ęme criminelle peut √™tre purifi√©e par les aspersions d'eau lustrale et les ablutions rituelles, par le feu et par les sacrifices".

[16]¬†A.E. Mcgrath 1998 : p. 8 (cf. W. Eichrodt 1933 : p. 121). It should be noted that this Israel-centered vision was afterwards extended to the world in the Old Testament itself: "Schon bei Deuterojesaja r√ľckt ja das Verh√§ltnis des Sch√∂pfers zu seinen Gesch√∂pfen in den Bereich des Bundes, sofern Jahves <Gerechtigkeit> d.h. seine bundesgem√§√üe G√ľte, Treue und Hilfe als die Handlungsweise des Weltregenten beschrieben wird; gerade indem er seinem Volk den Gottesknecht als Bundesmittler schenkt und ihm das vollkommene Heil in der Form des Bundes gew√§hrt, l√§√üt er sein Licht √ľber den V√∂lkern der Erde aufstrahlen" (W. Eichrodt 1939 : p. 147).

[17]¬†This paragraph resumes some insights of E. J√ľngel's recent theological treaty on justification: "Friede ist in der Tat die Kategorie, die das Ziel und die Fr√ľchte des S√ľhnopfertodes Jesu Christi sachlich angemessen begreift [¬Ö] Die biblische Dimension des Friedens, des Schalom, ist erst da erreicht, wo diese Negation des Unheiligen den positiven Zugang zum Heiligen er√∂ffnet. In diesem Sinne sagt Paulus, da√ü wir als Gerechtfertigte Frieden haben und Zugang zu Gott (R√∂m 5,1) [¬Ö] Christus ist als wahre S√ľhnopfer unser Friede, weil und in sofern er uns die verlorene Ganzheit des Daseins gew√§hrt ¬Ė jene Ganzheit, die mehr ist als die Summe ihrer Teile und die deshalb Heil genannt zu werden verdient [¬Ö] Grunds√§tzlich hat die Kategorie des Opfers mit dem S√ľhnopfertod Jesu Christi ihren kultischen Sitz im Leben verloren. Der Opferbegriff wird zur Metapher" (1998 : p. 141-142).

[18] P. Ramasindraibe 1971 : p. 8, 22-30 ; see the sociological approach by B. Razafimpahanana 1972 : p. 45-54 ; the well-documented anthropological analysis by H.A.M. Raharilalao 1991 : p. 117-186.

[19]¬†"<Law>, in this Pauline usage, stands not simply for the concrete commands and prohibitions found in the Torah, but also for the mode in which these obligations encounter rebellious humanity <in the flesh>: as commands that are externally imposed (their inscription on the tablets of stone is in marked contrast with demands recognized and endorsed within human hearts) upon a will bent on its self-assertion" (S. Westerholm 1997 : p. 92). In connection with the flesh metaphor, we may refer to a classical understanding of sin as a breach of relationship: "Der Begriff der S√ľnde und entsprechend der Begriff des B√∂sen kommen f√ľr die Theologie nur als Relationsbegriffe in Betracht, und zwar als Begriffe, die eine negative Relation zu Gott bzw. die partielle oder auch totale Negation einer Relation zu Gott aussagen. Die S√ľnde und das B√∂se sind so etwas wie die Negation der Beziehung zwischen Gesch√∂pf und Sch√∂pfer. Die S√ľnde und das B√∂se betreffen das Gottesverh√§ltnis der Kreatur in der Weise der Verh√§ltniswidrigkeit" (E. J√ľngel 1999 : p. 79).

[20] R. Penna 1992 : p. 116.

[21]¬†The Italian exegete Lorenzo De Lorenzi (1989 : p. 256) explained the phrase the Spirit dwelling in you in a sacral manner: "Dio non solo non gli √® indifferente n√© lo abbandona; al contrario, egli ha trasformato il credente in sua propria abitazione ¬Ė come si sarebbe potuto dire del tiempo ebraico ¬Ė grazie al dono del proprio Spirito, poich√© egli viene da Dio e egli comunica la stessa presenza divina, lui che √® la stessa realt√† operativa creatrice e munifica di Dio".

[22]¬†See among others the analysis of alienation according to Marx and Paul by F. Refoul√© (1975 : p. 69-86) and the theology of sin by E. J√ľngel (1998 : p. 75-125). The Malagasy philosophy about human finiteness is explained by G. Navone (1987 : p. 138-139) in the following way: "Ce qui est li√© √† la <finitude> n'est pas ressenti comme un <mal>, c'est-√†-dire comme quelque chose qui n'est pas celle qu'elle devrait √™tre. La finitude est une <donn√©e> cosmique, elle entre dans la normalit√©. On ne va pas r√™ver d'un monde sans imperfections. La contingence des choses ne fait pas scandale. C'est plut√īt l'homme qui peut faillir √† ce qu'il devrait √™tre, sortir de la normalit√©, introduire le <mal>."

[23] "The observation of customs was so precious for the ancestors that, in case of serious infractions, Malagasy people often offered atoning sacrifices" (A. Razafintsalama 1998 : p. 137).

[24] Cf. R. Dubois 1978 : p. 13-41.

[25] "Le fihavanana n'est pas d'abord une affaire d'<atomes crochus>, mais la reconnaissance d'une co-participation à un donné réel, sans lequel ne saurait s'établir la communion des personnes; avant d'être unité, il est intégration […] Le fihavanana promeut l'intégration des personnes dans un tout, cependant que philanthropie et amour poursuivent l'amélioration des relations interpersonnelles" (R. Dubois 1978 : p. 115-116).

[26] K. Haacker 1990 : p. 31.

[27] "The proclaimed Word of God challenges the hearer to conversion (Rom 10.14-17). Conversion implies a radical rupture with the past and the acceptance of Jesus with all its implications [Rom 6.1-11]. The church should not fail in presenting the gospel as a call to the radical change and newness of life in Christ [Rom 7.1-6]" (The African Bible 1995 : note on Rom 10.14-17).

[28] In the subsequent history, the jealousy in question came not from the Jews, but from the Gentiles who had a long-term unstable identity vis-à-vis the Jewish people (cf. Paul's warning in Rom 11,21-22) and had been led astray by eliminating this 'trouble-making' group. It can be interpreted as a result of the mimetic violence: "To win our identity we can only take over the identity of the other, outdo him through greater excellence in the same pursuit, through gaining what he fails to gain, or else through a slight differentiation that presents itself as an improvement. If we are directed by a model, then, to follow this model, we must also remove it. This, is according to Girard, characterizes the universal,<raw> condition of human desire" (J. Milbank 1995 : p. 33).

[29] Cf. R. Dubois 1978 : p. 71-76.

[30] G. Theissen 1992 : p. 63-64, 66-71: "En tant que réponse au défi de la Pax Romana (et à la crise qui y est associée), le christianisme primitif développe une conception tout à fait nouvelle de la paix, que j'ai appelée l'idée d'une paix sociale, d'une paix qui ne dépend pas de la puissance militaire. C'est là que prend place la démilitarisation et non la dépolitisation de la paix" (p. 70-71).

[31] G. Theissen 1992 : p. 83.

[32] "Denn Paulus schaut bei jener dynamischen und pneumatischen Anwesenheit der Gottesherrschaft doch eher auf das Gemeindeleben, wenn der Heilige Geist auch in jedem Glied wirkt" (R. Schnackenburg 1963 : p. 204).

[33] This corresponds to an important insight from Alfred Adler's individual psychology: "Il ne persiste qu'une seule mesure d'après laquelle nous pouvons évaluer l'être humain: sa réaction, son mouvement en face des problèmes inéluctables de l'humanité. En effet, trois problèmes nous sont imposés d'une façon irrévocable: l'attitude envers nos semblables, la profession, l'amour. Tous les trois, reliés entre eux par le premier, ne sont pas des devoirs fortuits mais inévitables. Ils résultent du comportement de l'individu envers la société humaine, envers les facteurs cosmiques et envers l'autre sexe. De leur solution dépend le sort de l'humanité et son bien-être. L'homme est une partie d'un tout" (1991 : p. 14-15).

[34] J. Ruud 1970 : p. 270-272.

[35] J. Ruud 1970 : p. 100.

[36] J. Ruud 1970 : p. 283.