Monday, July 12, 2010

Faith of Jesus Christ (8)

Previously on Paul. I was unhappy with the last version... I felt like I need to relegate my arguments for the "faithfulness of Jesus Christ" interpretation of Romans 3:22 and Galatians 2:16 more to the endnotes. So I continue today where my revision starts. I also made my normal Monday post on the chapter, "The Priority of the Heart" in the ongoing series, A Great Time for the Wesleyan Tradition.

... Yet over time I have come to fall off the log also with those who think Paul, in both Romans and Galatians, started his argument by mentioning Jesus' faith, Jesus faithfulness and obedience to die on the cross. Both sides have made their cases, and neither side has a silver bullet. Where you end up is inevitably your sense of how all the little pieces add up and your overall sense of Paul's thinking in general. If you want to know some of the specific details that led me to this conclusion, I mention three key ones in the endnotes. [1] Here let me just lay out how I like to think Paul's argument runs in Romans 3:21-26.

We start in verse 20. No one, neither Jew nor Gentile, will be declared right with God on the Day of Judgment because of how well they have kept the Jewish Law. "Works of Law" is not just good works for Paul here. True, Paul does not think that anyone can earn or deserve a "not guilty" verdict from God just by how good they are (see Rom. 4:4; 10:32). But it is quite possible that the phrase "works of Law" was one that would have immediately have made a Jew think of the kinds of squabbles Jewish groups had over what did or did not make a person unclean. [2] God will not find the Gentiles worthy because of their "works," and God will not find the Jews worthy just because they are circumcised and have been careful about what they eat or touch.

But God is still a righteous God. Verse 21 speaks of how God has demonstrated that he is still righteous, still in the business of saving his people. He has shown his righteousness in a new way, a way that does not involve the Jewish Law--the covenant rules between God and Israel. But the Law--the first five books of the Scriptures--do witness to this new way, as do the Prophets--the second half of the Jewish Bible. [3] This new way is "through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ," that is, through the faithful, atoning death of Jesus on the cross. [4]

This new way to be right with God is now available to all who have faith, both Jew and Gentile. Everyone in both groups has sinned, with the result that they now lack the glory God intended for humanity (3:23). But anyone from either group can be justified easily, be deemed right in God's eyes, "not guilty," "innocent of all charges," because of God's grace. God's grace is his undeserved favor, his willingness to give us a status we do not deserve.

God has demonstrated that he is still just, that the cosmos is still in order, by offering Jesus as a sacrifice, a sign of God's own faithfulness. [5] His righteousness is proved on every side. He saves his people by providing them a path to redemption, yet he also demonstrates his justice in passing over sins (3:25-26). And God does this to everyone who is "from the faith of Jesus" (3:26). I wonder if Paul means this phrase as a double entendre, rather than us having to decide whether he is thinking of the faithfulness of Jesus or our faith in Jesus. It is both. Those who are from the faith of Jesus are those who have been justified on the basis of Jesus' faith and who at the same time have directed their faith on Jesus.

tomorrow: what difference does it make?

[1] The rest of last week's post and additional thoughts on 2 Corinthians 4:13.

[2] See especially the first volume in this series, Paul: Messenger of Grace, pp. ** in the discussion of Galatians. In particular, one of the documents found among the Dead Sea Scrolls was called "Some of the Works of the Law" (4QMMT), and it is an argument over purity at the temple. See James VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today ()*** When Paul uses this phrase in Galatians, he is especially thinking of things like circumcision that separated Jew from Gentile.

[3] The collection of writings the Jews considered Scripture at this time basically consisted of three groups: 1) the Law (Torah, the first five books, the Pentateuch); 2) the Prophets (the "former prophets" of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings and the "latter prophets" of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets); and the Writings (a miscellaneous collection headed off by the Psalms but whose precise contents were not completely agreed on). See Luke 24:44.

[4] Although I cannot prove it, I wonder if the expression, "through the faith of Jesus" was commonly known in early Christianity, to where a Christian audience would immediately know it referred to Jesus' obedience to death and the atonement it entailed.

[5] On the whole, I think it is more likely that the phrase "through faith" in 3:25 is a reference to God's faithfulness rather than our human faith.

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