Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Book Review: Where is Boasting? (chapter 3)

I need to clean up my book list to the right. I've had the key chapters of Gathercole's book Where is Boasting? read for some time, but just haven't got around to summarizing and reviewing it here. Here chapters 3, 7, and 8 are of greatest interest. In chapter 1 Simon scans the lay of the land on boasting and establishes his primary debate partners (i.e., Dunn, Wright, and Sanders). In 2 and 4 he scans background Jewish literature on the topic of boasting. I may look at some of this material later in the summer if I have time in preparation for an intertestamental course I'm teaching this Fall at IWU. The real grist for me is in 3, 7, and 8, however.

Chapter 3: Jewish Soteriology in the New Testament
In this chapter Simon easily shows what is obviously the case: a good deal of the NT sees deeds as an element in the equation of final justification.

Matthew 16:27--"The Son of Man... will give back each person according to what he has done."

Gathercole remarks, "The recompense cannot be for individual deeds within the future kingdom" (113) and "election and grace are prominent in Matthew's gospel... Matthew still believed that salvation was God's gift."

John 5:29--"...those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

Gathercole: "the criterion for whether one is punished or receives life at the eschaton is the 'doing' of good or evil" (114).

John 6:29--"The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

Gathercole: "The 'work' required for eternal life... has been reconfigured and reinterpreted as believing in Jesus" (115).

James 2:14--"Can faith save you?" (final salvation) etc...

Gathercole: "works have a genuine instrumental role in eschatological justification for the believers James is addressing" (118).

Revelation 20:11--"The dead were judged according to what they had done."

Gathercole: "All are judged according to deeds without distinction... this is held together with a strong emphasis on election in the book" (119).

Parables in the Gospels
Simon points out here that the argument between the father and elder brother in the Prodigal Son or between day laborers in that parable is rooted in a "theology of recompense" (121). In other words, the categories of the debate are whether one should be rewarded strictly on the basis of what one does or not. Gathercole's point seems to be to show that the older perspective on Judaism is not completely wrong--at point is at least in part the question of works righteousness.

Commonality between NT and Early Judaism on obedience-based final salvation
A teacher of the Law comes to Jesus and asks, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The man suggests that keeping the two great commandments might do it. Jesus agrees!

Very interesting here is Gathercole's suggestion that the wording of the question in Luke 10:25 is an echo of Leviticus 18:5. Paul in Galatians denies that Leviticus 18:5 is the path to (initial) justification. Because of earlier observations Simon has made about Leviticus 18 in the Dead Sea Scrolls, he comes to question Dunn's claim about this verse that Jews at the time of Christ believed that "the law was given primarily to regulate life within the people of God" rather than leading to future life.

Romans 2
The bulk of the rest of the chapter deals with Romans 2, where Simon sketches out an interpretation similar to my own in many respects (and Hays). He disagrees with the idea that the possibility of a Gentile doing the law is merely hypothetical (126)--"some gentiles may even have defending thoughts on the Day of Judgment" (127). Gathercole concludes that Paul "affirmed the importance of final salvation according to works as part of his theology" (131).

However, Gathercole carefully qualifies this comment:
1. "The things of the Law" for Simon must refer to the law as a whole (127), not to those aspects that are specifically Jewish. He is hammering this because he will disagree with Dunn in Romans 3 that "works of law" primarily refer to boundary issues like circumcision and food laws. I'll wait to comment on Romans 3, but for now let me agree that...

2. the content of the Law is redefined (128), at least in Romans 2. In my view, this has to be the case because a Gentile by definition does not keep several aspects of the Jewish Law. Later in the chapter Simon hints at what he thinks this new definition might involve: "We can see a difference from works of Torah, as the obedience is Christocentric" (130). In this comment Simon is discussing Colossians 3:23-25, which speaks of working as if one is working for the Lord. Also Paul speaks of imitating Christ (132).

I would agree more with Dunn than Simon on this issue. Dunn, following a route that fits well with both Reformed and Wesleyan thought, would agree that "the Law continues to be normative for Christian life, though for the Christian it is in some sense divested of its ritual-ceremonial (or for Dunn, its 'boundary-marking') aspects" (131).

3. Fulfillment of the Torah is a by-product rather than the goal of Christian obedience (128).

I agree with Simon on this interpretation of Paul as well. This is the crucial difference between initial and final justification needed to understand Paul. Torah cannot result in initial justification, but keeping a modified Torah after justification is an expected consequence of the Spirit. The absence of such will prevent final justification.

4. To clarify this last point further, Paul has a "theology of divine empowerment" that makes Law fulfillment possible (132).

I might mention that the following comment probably reflects an ignorance of true Arminian belief: "Paul's pneumatology both in his self-representations and in his more programmatic descriptions of the obedience of Christians in general poses a particular challenge, as D. A. Campbell has already noted, to Arminian conceptions of libertarian obedience" (133). This comment, if directed at Arminian theology rather than its common practice, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding. (I'll wait to discuss Simon's understanding of Galatians 5:17.)

Conclusion
I agree with the bulk of what Gathercole has argued in this chapter. Two of his comments form an apt conclusion:

"Except at Qumran, there are no close parallels to Paul's theology of divine empowerment in Second Temple Judaism" (134).

Both traditions of early Christianity and early Judaism "share an elective grace and also assign a determinative role to works at final judgment" (135). The difference is in the framing of those works.

I might quickly mention one thing that Simon's work has reinforced to me. There is really only a hair's breadth between Wesleyan and Calvinist thinking here. Simon might as well have been laying the groundwork for a doctrine of Wesleyan sanctification. The difference is in the optimism of what divine empowerment can actually do in this life.

Chapters 7 and 8 to come...

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