Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Paul the Jew 2

Continued from yesterday...

... Nor is it likely that Paul viewed himself as a moral failure before he "discovered" justification by faith.  This was also one version of the older story.  Paul, plagued by his moral failures as revealed in Romans 7, finally realizes that he must depend entirely on Christ for his righteousness.  Now that he believes, he still cannot do the good he wants to do (7:19), but God now looks at Christ's righteousness rather than his.  Paul is both sinner and righteous, as long as he keeps repenting.

Again, this scenario is a fair description of Martin Luther's pilgrimage, but it is not Paul's. [1] In Philippians 3:6, Paul says that before he believed on Christ, he was faultless, "as for righteousness based on the law."  Indeed, Paul regularly tells his churches confidently to imitate his way of living (e.g., 1 Cor. 4:16-17; Phil. 4:9), and the word repentance rarely leaps from his subconscious in his writings--in fact never in relation to himself.  Paul was not a bad Pharisee.  He simply had an encounter with Christ that led him in another direction!

The vast majority of experts on Romans now agree that Paul never meant Romans 7 to depict a never-ending struggle for believers to do the right thing.  Indeed, we are reading this chapter exactly the opposite of how Paul meant it if we do not read it in the flow of Romans 6-8.  In these chapters, Paul contrasts what it is like to be a slave to sin with what it is like to have the Spirit within.  The end of the argument is Romans 8, where he talks about the Spirit setting a person free from the law of sin and death (8:2).

On the way there, Paul vividly dramatizes in Romans 7 the plight of the person, especially the Jew, who does not have the Spirit but wants to keep the essence of the Law, such as the command not to covet.  At the dramatic climax, he pictures this poor person crying out, "Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?" (7:24) The answer quickly follows, "through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (7:25).  Now by the power of the Spirit, we can fulfill the "just requirement of the law" (8:4, NRSV), which Paul later tells us is to love our neighbor (13:8-10).

Paul does say some things in his writings that paved the way for later Christians like Tertullian to consider Christians a "third race," neither Jew nor Gentile. [2]  In 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, Paul says that "to the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews... to those not having the law I became like one not having the law."  But this statement is really about keeping the Jewish Law--especially the parts like circumcision that distinguished Jew from Gentile--rather than about him abandoning his identity as an Israelite.  Romans 11 gives us the bigger picture.

For a time, the hearts of many Jews are hardened not to believe.  Certainly there remains a remnant of "true Israel" at present (e.g., Rom. 9:6), but most of ethnic Israel does not currently believe.  God is instead at this time grafting into the tree of Abraham the "full number of the Gentiles" (11:25).  Israel's lack of faith, in God's plan, has created an opportunity for the Gentiles to hear and believe the good news as well (e.g., 11:11).  But once that full number of the Gentiles comes in, then Israel itself will believe too: "all Israel will be saved" (11:26).  The "part" that is hardened (11:25) will become the "all" that believes (11:26).

For Paul, Israel thus remained the people of God.  Jews who believed remained part of true Israel.  Gentiles who believed could become a part of true Israel as well.

[1] We have Krister Stendahl, more than any other expert on Paul, to thank for these observations.  See "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West," now in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (***).  I dedicated the second volume of this series to him and N. T. Wright.

[2] To the Gentiles 1.8.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Martin Luther's experience became objectified in Christians evangelical theology.

What you propose is a "living" testimony to such an objective, which is "Christian ministry".

This fits well within the evangelicalism of today's understanding in America. But, it doesn't fit well within Church History altogether.

The broad sweep of Church history is about how the Church divided over its doctrines and developed from them. These caused political conflicts that were based on speculations about Jesus' nature, human nature, etc.

The major question was about Church and State. The Eastern Church doesn't buy into a separation of Church and State, because it sees the "emperor" as "God's Agent" on earth. Government, then, is to be "God's means" of creating a better society. But, all of that changed with Luther, Augustine, and the Founding Fathers!

FrGregACCA said...

Actually, Angie, under the current circumstances, the Byzantine Orthodox are, for the most part, quite happy with separation of Church and State. Also, bear in mind, the non-Byzantine, non-chalcecdonian, "Oriental Orthodox" Churches have never been state Churches (except for the Armenian Church), were in fact persecuted by the Byzantine, East Roman Empire, not to mention living under centuries of Muslim domination; therefore, these Churches, in Syria, Egypt, Armenia, Ethiopia, and India, have always had a fundamentally different understanding of the Church-State relationship.

FrGregACCA said...

Oh, and before Luther, Augustine's experience became objectified as normative for all of Western theology.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

and isn't a Statism of any kind the problem, then, whether religious or secular? And yet, government is needed to address grievances, if the government beleves in civil liberties/rights.

There is a paradox to our Republic, the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the realities of and complexities in the world that can't bring about such realities for everyone.

Ideals are useful to get people to buy into a "system" of belief (or myth, if you will), and then "politics" happens, which is the strategy of leadership, in using people as means to "their end". "God" is just as useful as an "ideal", as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", in promoting their agendas.

There was a research paper (article) I read yesterday that supports this analysis.
"Players in the Rational Game and Morality Play of Regulatory Politics"
By Randy T. Simmons
Diana W. Thomas
Ryan M. Yonk
This article appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of The Independent Review

The Abstract;

Politics makes strange bedfellows, including alliances of profiteers and moralists who lobby for the same regulations, but for vastly different reasons. Whether such coalitions promote alcohol prohibition (as did the bootleggers and Baptists to whom similar “unholy alliances” are likened), tobacco restrictions, NAFTA, or climate-change policies, political entrepreneurs are the glue that holds them together.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I understand FrGregACCA, that the Church is being persecuted under Islam or Secularism today. Such persecutions happen whenever Visions, Texts (theology), God or LEADERSHIP is absolutized which bring about "regulatons" upon the personal aspects of life and liberty. Visions, God, and texts are the "sins" of the religious, in bringing about regulations, while LEADERSHIP is the sin of the secularized and their regulations. Regulations limit the personal. And our country allows for civil liberties, which are about personal rights.

A vision brought about the Church under Paul (Jew and Gentile); and Statism is politicizing leadership, where people are not free, because they are really serving some "ends" of their LEADERS. The "ends" must also be chosen by those that are employed by or follow leaders, which means that leaders can sell their ideas/vision to others. And in America, choice is about personal liberty which should not be regulated by religionist or Statism, but chosen as a personal value!

davey said...

"In Philippians 3:6, Paul says that before he believed on Christ, he was faultless, "as for righteousness based on the law.""

But he was "a slave to sin", so how do you square these?

"For a time, the hearts of many Jews are hardened not to believe ... Gentiles who believed could become a part of true Israel as well"

I suppose a blog is not suitable for arguing about all the assertions here!

Ken Schenck said...

That's the great come back, davey, on the slave to sin question. My sense of the answer will not necessarily please. E. P. Sanders in the end has made the most sense to me when he argued that Paul basically went from solution to problem. Because of his experience, he knew Christ was the answer. His theology of justification was to a great extent his explanation of the problem behind the solution, rather than a theology he played out logically from beginning to end.

So I don't think Paul ever really felt personally like he was a slave to sin in his past. It became however a key part of his explanation of Christ as solution and no doubt it was/is a common experience. I could be wrong. If one wanted to reconcile the two, you could argue that Phil. 3:6 has a more general standard, while Rom. 7 goes deep into a person's inner intentions.

FrGregACCA said...

One can keep the law perfectly and yet be "slave to sin". Outward obedience does not, in and of itself, change the heart.