Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sin and Romans 4

Romans 4 has a few images and references to sin, although the chapter is more concerned with righteousness.

4:7 uses the word anomia, "lawlessness," as well as hamartia, "sin."

"Blessed are those whose violations of law have been forgiven
and those whose sins have been covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not reckon."

Paul is quoting Psalm 32. He is rejoicing in the fact that God forgives sins and that we are not justified on the basis of our performance of the law. It is rather by grace that we are justified. These are of course references to initial justification.

A second comment of interest is in 4:15: "law brings wrath." Presumably Paul is saying that violation of the law brings wrath.

Finally there is the statement in 4:25, which may actually have been a statement that Paul himself drew from elsewhere: "Who was handed over because of our transgressions [paraptoma] and was raised because of our justification."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Who Decides on Amazon

At long last, the book I wrote for a Westminster John Knox contest is published, Who Decides What the Bible Means? However, not with WJK :-) Nor was it published by Zondervan or Abingdon, who took a gander. WJK found it very interesting. Zondervan was curious to see if anyone would publish it. Abingdon published another book along these lines.

I finally decided just to publish it myself. So here it is, off to the right side, now available thanks to CafeTutor Publishing :-)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sin and Romans 3

Romans 3 has more than one word related to sin.

The first is apisteo, to disbelief or to be unfaithful. The unfaithfulness of some Jews does not nullify the pistis of God (3:3).

3:5 has the interesting claim that "our adikia confirms the dikaiosyne of God." In other words, God's justice and righteousness is confirmed as He judges our unrighteousness. Paul's train of thought seems to anticipate some of the thinking in Romans 9 and is the playground of Piper types. However, Paul does not connect this image to the logical conclusions of the 5 point Calvinist.

"It isn't true that God who brings wrath is unrighteous, is it? Of course not! How then will God judge the world?" In 3:8 Paul implies that some accuse him of teaching that we should sin boldly that grace may come. This is not his theology.

The fact is that both Jew and Greek are "under sin" (hamartia) or as he will put it subsequently, "all have sinned and are lacking the glory of God" (3:23). The following collection of verses bombard our senses with the sinful tendencies of humanity. Paul seems to take most of these out of context, in the sense that they were originally directed at the wicked in contrast to the righteous, whereas Paul's point is that there are none who deserve the label righteous.

He leads up to 3:20: by works of law no flesh will be justified before Him, for through the law is the knowledge of sin. We are now looking at "initial" justification as opposed to final justification. Chapter 2 and elsewhere in Paul have made it clear that works are a major factor in final justification. But the difference between Paul and other Jews is that Paul factors Christ and the Spirit into the equation. Christ atones for pre-Christian sin and the Spirit empowers a person to be victorious over post-Christian sin.

Although no one can be justified on the basis of keeping the law--for all have failed to keep the law perfectly--God has, through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, made justification possible through his blood. In this way God can be just even though he is passing over previously committed hamartemata.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sin and Romans 2

Romans 2 is one of those curious spots in Paul's writings whose intriguing aspects may actually reveal major blind spots in thinking about Paul. Interpreters like N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, and Simon Gathercole I believe are on the right track with their approach to this chapter.

After Paul has paraded stereotypical Gentile sins before his readers in Romans 1, he now turns in chapter 2 to those who think they are exempt from God's wrath because they know better and condemn the behaviors of chapter 1. Of course the primary type of person who was in a position to do so is the person who "call yourself a Jew." This obviously would refer to Jews, but I am willing to believe it might also apply to "God fearers" as well who valued Judaism without fully converting.

Paul certainly evens the playing field here--in perhaps a shocking way. We know that God's judgment against those who practice the things of chapter 1 is true and appropriate (2:2). So if a person does these same things--whether they are a Jew or not--they also stand under the judgment of God's wrath. It is God's graciousness, his kindness, his hesed, that allows them to repent rather than simply destroying them outright (2:4).

[Notice that I fall of the log thinking that it is anachronistic to see prevenient or irresistable grace as the point here--it is God's grace within you causing you to repent. Rather, I suspect the point is that God's is gracious to allow repentance at all. I am not fixed in this interpretation. It is my current hunch.]

The person who does not repent, however, those who think the fact that they are Jews will suffice to escape God's wrath, these individuals are "storing up for yourself wrath on the Day of Wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (2:5). What will happen on that day? God "will repay to each according to his works" (2:6).

The repayment, Paul argues will not be affected one way or another on the basis of whether a person is a Jew or not. God will repay eternal life to those who seek glory and honor and immortality by persistence of a good work (2:7). On the other hand, God will repay wrath and rage to those who disobey the truth in strife and who are persuaded with unrighteousness (adikia). Those who practice the evil, they will encounter at that time tribulation and hardship, whether they are Jew or Greek (2:9). Those who do good, they will receive glory and honor and peace (2:10). God does not show favoritism.

These are striking words, both to the ancient Jew and to the modern Protestant. When Paul comes to speak of the final judgment and final justification, he speaks of a judgment according to works. This is shocking to the ancient Jew, because they thought that God punished them differently. Not that God didn't punish them. But with the Jews he punished them a little at a time and they endured. With the Gentiles, he stored up His wrath and then blasted them from existence. Paul says all face God's wrath equally.

For the Protestant, it is shocking to hear Paul saying that it is only those who actually do good who will receive eternal life. There is no mention of God looking the other way from our sin. The grace is on the front end, in the possibility of repentance as we approach God. But afterwards, if our lives do not show true righteousness, we will be fried all the same.

The next verses reinforce these same thoughts (2:12-16). It is not the hearers of the law who will be justified on that day (final justification), but the doers. Those who have sinned "without law" also will perish without law. And as many as have sinned with the law will be judged through the law. Once again, Paul speaks of a final judgment by way of the law.

This seems to contradict things he says elsewhere about not being under the law, leading some to think that this entire chapter is unreal, that he will discard this line of thought when he gets to chapter 3. But other comments Paul makes in 3:31 and chapters 6 and 8 preclude this suggestion.

What is interesting is Paul's reference to those who do not have the law doing the law. They demonstrate the law written on their hearts, something Paul elsewhere implies is a matter of the Holy Spirit and the new covenant (2:15). They demonstrate the work of the law written on the their hearts, even though they are Gentiles. I agree with the growing number who believe this is a reference to Gentile Christians. Paul indicates that the consciences of these individuals might actually "defend" them on the Day when God will judge the hidden things of the heart (2:16).

So for the Jew, and I believe Paul would equally say the Christian, it is not enough simply to know the law. It is not enough to know that stealing is wrong or adultery is wrong or worshipping idols is wrong. You must show the law written on your hearts and not do these things as well, or God will judge you all the same on the Day whether you are Jew or Christian.

Paul ends the chapter by redefining what a Jew is. A Jew is not someone who is a Jew outwardly. A Jew is someone who is one inwardly. And the Gentile who keeps the righteous standard of the law (dikaioma; see 1:32; 8:4) will condemn the Jew who follows the letter (2:27).

This is potentially a very confusing passage. First, Paul cannot be using a definition of law that entails the entire Jewish law. An uncircumcised Gentile de facto cannot keep the law! For a Gentile to have the law written on the heart or to keep the righteous standard of the law, that dikaioma must not be the entire Jewish law. It must be some essential core to the Jewish law, one that does not include circumcision but does include things like stealing, adultery, and idol worship.

1. The definition of sin here seems to be all the things of chapter one and chapter two that Paul indicates are sins. In chapter 2, the ten commandments feature large as measures of sin.

2-3. The dikaiomata of the law for Paul are apparently required of believer and non-believer. Whether believer or non-believer violate these, they will be judged on the Day according to their works. The secret is to have the law written on your heart by the Holy Spirit.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sin in Romans 1

The "proposition" of Romans appears in 1:16-17 with statements about how the gospel is the power of salvation for all who have faith and that it reveals the righteousness of God, a reference to God's righteousness, particularly as it is revealed in his salvation.

But the real points of interest for me begin at Romans 1:18. The wrath of God, Paul says, has been revealed against ungodliness (asebeia) and unrighteousness or injustice or wrongdoing (adikia) of humans who hold the truth in unrighteousness. Some view this wrath as a kind of "realized wrath," a wrath that is somewhat passive on God's part as he "abandons" various parties to the consequences of their sins.

To be sure, some of this thinking is present in the chapter. But Paul goes on in chapter 2 in a way that implies that this is only half the story. There will be a real judgment, Paul says, in the future (Rom. 2:5). So this reading turns out to be a subconscious attempt to avoid parts of Paul's thinking that some find distasteful. In my method, that is a matter for theology. Paul meant what he meant and we just have to deal with it.

Interestingly enough, in 1:19-23 seems to imply culpability on the part of humans because they should have known better. In other words, Paul brings consciousness of the truth into the equation of moral culpability for not worshipping God appropriately. Paul seems to imply that the ungodly consciously exchanged the truth of God for a lie in their turn to idolatry (1:23). This of course is a difficult proposition to maintain in mission work, but that's another issue.

Once they have started down this path, however, God "abandoned them" to the desires of their hearts. Somewhat curiously to us, Paul immediately seems to turn to sexual sins. He somehow sees a connection between at least some forms of sexual immorality and idolatry. This of course would be easily explainable if he has temple prostitution in mind, but it seems questionable whether, for example, the kind of homosexual sex he goes on to mention was primarily to be found in conjunction with pagan temples. I rather doubt it myself.

It is generally agreed that Paul is drawing some of his imagery and thought here from the book of Wisdom. Wisdom 14:12 says that "the idea of making idols was the beginning of porneia." Wisdom rails against the stupidity of praying to a piece of wood. Like Paul, it points to a failure of "knowing God": "Then it has not pleased them [simply] to err concerning the knowledge of God, but also living in a great battle of ignorance they call such great evils peace" (14:22). The beginning of every evil is the worship of idols (14:27).

So, because they dishonored God by worshipping idols, Paul says, God abandons them to all sorts of sexual sins. He uses homosexual sex as an example of the kind of shameful behavior that has resulted from an appropriate understanding of God (Rom. 1:27). It is very difficult for us to follow this logic, but this seems to be the train of thought.

But sexual sins of this sort are not the only consequences of a fundamental failure to recognize God as God. Humanity abandoned by God falls into unrighteousness (adikia), wickedness (poneria), covetousness (pleonexia), evil (kakia), full of envy (phthonos), murder (phonos), strife (eris), deceit (dolos), craftiness (kakoetheia), gossips (psithyristes), slanderers (katalalos), God-haters (theostyges), insolent (hybristes), arrogant (hyperephanos), boastful (alazona), devisers of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding (asynetos), without faith (asynthetos), without heart (astorgos), without mercy (aneleemos).

Paul concludes the chapter with somewhat of a generalization. Humanity should have known the "just standard" or "righteous judgment" (dikaioma) of God. What is this standard of rightness? It is "that those who practice such things are worthy of death." Instead, humanity applauded those who practice such things.

What does Romans 1 tell us about sin?

1. As far as definitions of sin, Paul once again connects intentionality in a very broad way with justice. It seems significant to him that humanity know what is right for God to judge us for wrongdoing. Idolatry and sexual immorality feature prominently in this chapter as key examples of humanity's ungodliness and unrighteousness. Indeed, Paul presents idolatry as the fundamental sin from which all other sins result. Other kinds of sins thus follow from God abandoning humanity to its own desires.

2. Paul is not thinking of the believer in 1:18-32. He speaks to humanity under the wrath of God. He primarily has Gentiles in mind, even though he doesn't say so. To some extent, this passage is a "sting operation" to set up the hypocritical individual who calls himself a Jew in Romans 2.

3. For our purposes, the sins of this chapter are generic sins that Paul finds contemnable whether one is a believer or non-believer. Whatever theoretical constructs he may argue for subsequently in relation to the law and the power of sin, the sins of Romans 1 remain a constant in Paul's theology. Although he is not talking about believers in chapter 1, he believes that all who practice such things, believer or non-believer, are worthy of death.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Book Review 1: Seized by Truth

Time to move on with my book reading. Over the next few weeks (mostly on weekends), I want to run through Joel Green's new book, Seized by Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture. I am very sympathetic to the thrust of Green's thoughts in these books. I've been surfing the same waves he is, although we land in slightly different places on the shore.

This weekend I want to look at his first chapter: "Reading the Bible, Reading Scripture." The basic thesis of this chapter is one that I myself have made a number of times: "Reading the Bible is not necessarily the same thing as reading Scripture" (3). Green mentions the dryness that can accompany the methodical pursuit of the original meaning. He concludes, "The best methods rightly used guarantee neither a Christian interpretation of the Bible nor a reading of the Bible as Christian Scripture" (10). He goes on: "Paradoxically, they might even get in the way of a Christian interpretation of the Bible or a reading of the Bible as Scripture."

By the way, does he have Asbury's famous English Bible Method of Jack Traina and David Bauer fame or Ben Witherington in the back of his mind when he says, "Others have embraced scientific methods, urging that we can and ought to derive "what it means" from "what it meant"--and indeed, that the only way to know " what it means" is by first establishing "what it meant"--leading to a hermeneutical motto like this one: observation leads to interpretation, and interpretation to application" (17)?

Green goes into the obstacles that stand in the way of biblical understanding: the fact that we have to read one word at a time and can't get the whole picture simultaneously, the fact that language is selective in what it tells and so leaves gaps, the ambiguity of language, the fact that language is culturally embedded. I've mentioned some of these in the first chapter of my Who Decides What the Bible Means?, which will be available on Amazon in about a month.

You'll hear echoes of Keith Drury in Green's mention of biblical studies' tendency to dissect the biblical text like a frog. Scientific methods of biblical interpretation treat the Bible as an object (which I think it inevitably is, see an argument I made once upon a time). Nevertheless, the result is, as Green claims, to divide the text from us, its world from ours.

Green's answer is to lead us from this conceptualization of modernity into a more postmodern conception (see here for my own description of the progression from pre to post-modernity in biblical hermeneutics). He wishes to deny the chasm between the text and us.

In the final section of the chapter, Green dives into one of his more recent interests, namely, cognitive science and how it affects our memory and knowing. He talks about how believing is seeing in the sense that our presuppositions shape what we see in the world. His goal is to reform the way our brains believe so that we will read the Bible as Scripture rather than as object.

The chapters that follow will make what he means by this a lot clearer. I think many of you will find it very attractive, even if I'm not sure if I can go there completely myself.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sin and 2 Corinthians 12-13

So we finish 2 Corinthians with chapters 12-13.

In 12:7 Paul speaks of a thorn in the flesh that God gave him so that he would not become too proud at the fact that he had incredible spiritual experiences. There is a perverse interpretation that sometimes surfaces about this being flesh in a spiritual sense--some sin Paul struggled with. But this does not fit with Paul's theology elsewhere and in fact Paul likens it to a weakness or hardship. Given the comments Paul makes about his eyes in Galatians, I go with a physical problem here.

In 12:13 Paul is being ironic. He asks the Corinthians to forgive the injustice (adikia) he did them for relying on support from other churches rather than from them.

12:20-21 give us a number of things that Paul clearly considers to be sin. In fact perhaps he even coins a word (proamartano), "to sin previously." He refers to wrongs done previously: uncleanness, sexual immorality, and licentiousness. In the previous verse he has mentioned strife, jealousy, wraths, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and fracture.

13:5 mentions the possibility that they are unproven (adokimos). Paul prays that they will not do bad (kakos) but good (kalos).

Here endeth 2 Corinthians

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sin in 2 Corinthians 10-11

The tone of 2 Corinthians changes significantly at chapter 10. Since this new tone comes out of the blue and seems to conflict with what Paul has said in the first 9 chapters, perhaps most scholars conclude that these are from a different letter Paul sent.

10:6 is a bizarre verse to me, but perhaps I do not understand it. "Holding in preparation to punish every disobedience whenever your obedience should be fulfilled." Is Paul saying that when those who are "in" are under obedience, those who are "out" will be punished? Very puzzling.

11:3 mentions the deception of Eve by the serpent. Unlike her, Paul does not want their thoughts to be led astray from sincerity and purity toward Christ.

The word sin (hamartia) appears in 11:7: "Or have I done sin, humbling myself in order that you might be exalted." It seems to have the meaning, "Did I do wrong, when I did this..."

Paul talks about how Satan disguises himself as an angel of light in 11:14, making it no surprise that his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Here righteousness seems to have its more conventional sense of goodness, rightness. "whose end will be according to their deeds" (11:15).

In 11:29, Paul mentions individuals being scandalized (skandalizo), a relevant word in relation to sin.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sin in 1 Corinthians 7-9

Nothing particularly striking in these chapters, but some variety of words and some hints of their meanings.

In 7:2 Paul says that he and his coworkers have "wronged no one." The word here is adikeo, the noun form of which is "unrighteousness." We would expect the root to have some sense like "to do unjustly," but it seems to differ little at this point from hamartano when it means to wrong someone or "sin against" someone.

2 Corinthians 7 is one of those few places where Paul talks about repentance. I agree with Stendahl that repentance did not feature large in Paul's subconscious. But it is there. In 7:9-10 Paul talks about how he initially regreted sending them a harsh letter of rebuke. But since they "changed their attitude" or repented as a result, he decided he did not regret sending it: "For grief in relation to God brings about repentance leading to a salvation without regret" (7:10).

Although the exact situation is sketchy, Paul uses the same word as in 7:2 in relation to what someone at Corinth had done. Someone had wronged someone (adikeo) and someone had been wronged (adikeo) (7:12). But by disciplining the individual, the community showed itself to be pure (hagnos) in the matter (7:11).

Chapters 8-9 of course deal with the offering that Paul is collecting to take to Jerusalem. Some argue that these chapters might be one or even two letters from Paul sent on separate occasions from 1-7. In the absence of compelling evidence, I've stuck with them being part of the same letter as 1-7.

In 8:20 Paul uses a word for blame or find fault (momeo).

In 9:8 gives Paul's wish that the Corinthians might abound in "every good work." Paul equates this with God sowing righteousness in the world, and he implies that the good works of the Corinthians are their righteousness (9:10).

In 9:13 Paul says that they will glorify God by their obedience to the confession towards the gospel of the Christ.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sin in 2 Corinthians 5-6

This chapter is quite significant for the topics we've been exploring.

5:10 is especially important: "It is necessary for all of us to appear before the judgment seat of the Christ so that each may be paid back with respect to the things done through the body, whether good or bad."

This verse seems to indicate a judgment by works at the final judgment both for believers and non-believers. Interesting to me, it does not exactly say that all the dead will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, although one could take the contrast with the body to indicate that the dead are being judged. In any case, the verse plays into 1 Corinthians 3 and the idea that even the righteous might experience some purgation at the time of judgment for their works.

5:14 says that one died for all. Here Paul focuses on Christ's death rather than resurrection as that which was key. Believers accordingly live differently, namely, for Christ (5:15).

5:19 mentions transgressions (paraptoma)--we haven't seen these words for a while. Paul says that in Christ God was "not reckoning their [the world's] transgressions to them." This is presented at this point almost as a governmental decision. God decides that Christ's death will suffice.

5:21 is of course a classic text: "The one who had not known sin, for us God made sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him." N. T. Wright has argued, counterintuitively to us, that the righteousness of God here is not a reference to us becoming righteous but to God's righteousness being shown by way of Christ's death for sins.

Although I have doubts, I fall off the log with Wright. Two reasons:

1. I accept what I think is the consensus that "the righteousness of God" was a phrase with a history in Judaism (see especially middle Isaiah, but also the Dead Sea Scrolls). It particularly refered to God's propensity to save His people, but also His propensity to justice. Thus,

2. I think this verse is basically saying the same thing as Romans 3:24-25: "being declared innocent freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God offered as an atoning sacrifice, in faithfulness, by means of Christ's blood, to demonstrate His righteousness even though he passed over the sins that had previously been committed. God did this because of his forebearance to demonstrate His righteousness at this present time, so that he might be just [righteous] and the one who justifies [declares righteous] the person who has the faith that Jesus had."

So 2 Corinthians 5:21 is a metonymy. Christ became sin or rather an offering for sin, so that our salvation would demonstrate God's righteousness (cf. Rom. 1:16-17).

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 is an odd passage. In comes out of nowhere and disappears just as suddenly. You can read straight from 6:13 to 7:2 and not miss anything. Although there is no textual evidence for it, I strongly suspect it did not originally go here, even if I have no problem believing that it comes from Paul--somewhere.

It has much relevant to our study. Unbelievers are associated with wickedness, while believers with righteousness (6:14). Unbelievers are associated with Belial. Paul divides the world into two and only two camps: in and out.

7:1 is a strong statement of the need for purity: "Let us purify ourselves from every pollution of flesh and spirit, completing holiness in the fear of God." The previous verses have spoken rather vaguely of coming out from them and being separate and of not touching any unclean thing. The most concrete referent is to temples of idols (6:16).

P.S. 5:5

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sin in 2 Corinthians 3-4

2 Corinthians 3 does not discuss sin directly. Paul does comment that the competence he has is "through the Christ toward the God" (3:4). He also speaks of the new covenant as a matter of the Spirit, which gives a glory that does not fade, unlike the glory of the law.

Paul refers to the "ministry of condemnation" in association with the law, surely an allusion to the theology he will develop in Romans 5-8. The new covenant of the Spirit is by contrast a "ministry of righteousness."

In 2 Corinthians 4:3 indicates that those to whom the gospel is veiled are perishing. The god of this world has blinded them (4:4).

Chapter 5 will give us more juicy tidbits!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Theology Sundays: Pre-Existent Spirit

In Genesis 1:2, the spirit of the LORD seems to be the breath of God (ru'ach). The breath or the wind of God hovers over the chaotic waters of pre-creation (cf. NRSV). It is not clear whether the spirit of God is personal or how it relates to God himself.

In Judges, the "breath" or "spirit of God" comes on people like Jephthah and Samson (Judg. 11:29; 14:6). These are not particularly righteous people, by Christian understanding. The spirit of the LORD comes on Jephthah right before he makes his famous vow that ends with him sacrificing his daughter. The spirit of the LORD comes on Samson enabling him to rip a lion apart as well as kill hoards of people. In each case the spirit involves empowerment to do various tasks.

In Samuel, the "moral neutrality" of the spirit is very clear when the spirit comes on Samuel as he in the process of trying to kill David (1 Sam. 19:23). The spirit of God in such cases seems to be an empowerment or, in Samuel's case, the ability to prophesy.

The connection between the Spirit of God and prophecy is also apparent in Isaiah 61, a passage that Jesus quotes in Luke 4 about himself: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted..." In its original context, this is a word from the prophet to the discouraged in Jerusalem after their return from captivity. They are told that God will "build up the ancient ruins" (61:4), a statement that indicates a great deal of time has passed since Jerusalem was destroyed in 586BC.

Yet what the Spirit is here is ambiguous. It is something that issues from God to be sure. In Joel 2:28-29, God promises that He will pour out His Spirit on all flesh after He restores Israel. On the Day of the LORD, the nations that have persecuted Judah will be destroyed, but those who call on the name of the LORD will be saved. Afterward all that remain will experience the Spirit and will prophesy, particularly those who escape in Zion.

The parallelism of Psalm 51:11 is helpful: "Cast me not away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me." The spirit of God is thus God's presence with the psalmist.

The picture that emerges is that the spirit of God is one of the ways in which He acts in people. He empowers through His spirit and prophesies by way of it. It is His presence in the creation. For the OT, it is not clear that the idea of God's spirit makes sense apart from the existence of a creation. Even in Genesis 1:2, it is present over the primordial waters.

In the New Testament, the nature of the Spirit is not much clearer, although the NT at points uses personal language in relation to the Spirit. Paul can speak of both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, but he is unclear whether these two are the same thing. My hunch is that they were slightly different for Paul.

There is the intriguing passage in 2 Corinthians 3 where Paul says, "The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2:17). I personally do not think that Paul is equating Jesus and the Spirit here. Rather, I think Paul is engaged in an allegorical comparison of Exodus 34 to the new covenant. The LORD in that story of the old covenant represents the Holy Spirit in the new covenant. Just as the LORD came to Moses with a glory that faded in the old, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus comes on believers in the new with a glory that doesn't fade.

If I were doing more research on this topic, I would look at Gordon Fee's new book on Pauline Christology and in Dunn's chapter on the Spirit in Christology in the Making.

The Spirit of course does many things in the NT, but our focus is on the "pre-existent" Spirit in this post. We have little to go on in this regard. Certainly Paul in more than one place speaks of God the Father, Christ, and the Spirit in a way that points to three distinct things (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14). But if scholars debate whether Paul saw Christ as literally pre-existent, we could also debate whether he saw the Spirit as pre-existent.

One key question is whether the NT yet understands God to have created the world out of nothing, a topic we will visit next Sunday. It makes sense to suppose that as long as the material of the creation has existed, chaotic or not, Jews would have understood the Spirit of God to be present in and around it.

We have already noticed that John more than any other NT author makes the pre-existence of Christ explicit. Christ was there before the creation (John 17:5). John also is (I think) the only NT author to use masculine pronouns in relation to the Holy Spirit (e.g., 14:26). What is striking about this masculine reference is that the word for spirit itself is neuter, pneuma. We would thus expect grammatically for John to refer to the Spirit by way of neuter pronouns.

While John specifically states that the Spirit will not come until Christ ascends, this certainly does not mean that the Spirit did not yet exist at that time. We can probably infer that, for John, as long as there was "stuff" apart from Him, there was a Spirit to be His presence there.

Perhaps the dynamics of the Spirit of God being God in relation to the other can be extended in the manner of the western church to suggest that the Spirit does indeed proceed from the Father and the Son, by way of their very relationship. Such thoughts seem light years beyond the New Testament, but they do not seem to contradict it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Book Review: An Introduction to the Study of Paul

I'm about done with David Horrell's An Introduction to the Study of Paul, second edition. It is a great book! Mark Goodacre, of Duke University, has a blurb on the front where he boldly asserts, "Put your other books on Paul to one side and begin here." Although Stephen Westerholm found this comment a bit much, I will agree that I have not found a better survey of Pauline studies yet.

I have generally used Tom Wright's What Saint Paul Really Said as my survey of Paul book and may still do so. But this book is a God-send for graduate students and serious students of Paul. It is almost the book I wanted to write a couple years back. Practically all the issues that are under debate in the field of Pauline studies are somewhere in this book. In a skilled hand it could save you years of groping around in the dark.

The second chapter covers the relationship between Acts and Paul and discusses the pre-believer Paul, including pre-Pauline formulae. The third chapter discusses his "conversion," or should we say his "call," as well as issues in Pauline chronology.

With the fourth chapter we are discussing Paul the letter writer and rhetorical criticism of his writings. Chapter 5 is a rather lengthy treatment covering Paul's theology: his theology, Christology, pneumatology, eschatology, ethics, and so forth. I would have tried to find a way to break this Behemoth up, but a skilled hand would be able to cover all the relevant issues by way of this chapter.

Chapter 6 deals specifically with Paul, the Law, and Israel. It's a difficult topic to survey, but all the key players are mentioned. Chapter 7 seems a bit oddly placed to me, but it deals with important matters of a sociological nature in the study of Paul, the character of his churches, etc... Chapter 8 then deals with the authorship of the disputed Paulines.

Hurray for this 164 page book. It was incredibly good for me and, especially if one has a guide, would be incredibly useful for a class intending to help a person survey the entire land of Pauline studies.

Congrats to David Horrell on this excellent book!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sin in 2 Corinthians 1-2

I would place 2 Corinthians not long after Philippians, not long after Paul was released from imprisonment in Ephesus, written from Macedonia.

In the first chapter we have talk of boasting on the Day of the Lord. Paul boasts that he and his coworkers have behaved with holiness and godly sincerity, by the grace of God (1:12). He believes that the Corinthians will be proud of them at the Day (1:14).

1:22 mentions the Holy Spirit as the seal of God's ownership on a believer. We know from elsewhere that the Holy Spirit empowers a believer in relation to the flesh.

2:5-11 give us a snippet of Paul's saga with the Corinthians over a particular wrongdoer. Paul encourages reconciliation and reaffirmation of love toward the person. The majority have also punished this person in some way. The saga bears on how sin is disciplined in the church. This is also one of the few places in Paul's writings where he talks about forgiveness, which is not a major category in his written correspondence.

2:15-16 divide the world into those who are going to be saved and those who are going to perish, with life and death associated with each respectively.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sin in Philippians 3-4

Today we finish Philippians.

Philippians 3 gives us some of the most precious autobiographical information on Paul we have. Paul lists his "accomplishments" as a Jew. As far as the righteousness that is available from the law is concerned, he was blameless (3:6). I thus side with Stendahl in his claim that Paul did not struggle much with a guilty conscience prior to believing on Christ. Paul's peace with himself continued after faith as well, as he regularly encourages his churches to imitate him (3:17).

But those things that were his gains from a fleshly perspective, he now considers loss and crap when set next to knowing Christ (3:7-8). The righteousness he is interested in not his own righteousness (here Paul uses the word in the sense I argued is not his usual for it). He is interested in a righteousness or justification from God on the basis of his faith. This is a righteousness not based on law but on the faith of Jesus Christ (3:9).

In this chapter Paul implies the possibility that he might not attain to the resurrection of the dead. Mind you, I don't think he had serious doubts along this line, but his rhetoric implies the possibility that even Paul's salvation was not absolutely secured. He presses on for the prize of an upward calling (3:14). He has not already received absolute assurance of the resurrection of the dead (3:11-12).

Meanwhile, the enemies of the cross of Christ will meet with destruction (3:19). My hunch is that Paul is thinking of the "dogs" he mentioned at the beginning of the chapter whose god is their belly as they focus on food laws and such, earthly things.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sin in Philippians 1-2

Philippians comes next for me after Galatians, written from Ephesus during the imprisonment alluded to in 2 Cor. 1:8.

Words for sin are not used in Philippians 1-2, however, there are number of comments of interest.

1:10--Paul desires for the Philippians to be "pure and blameless" on the day of Christ's return.

1:27--Paul urges them to conduct their life in a manner worthy of the gospel. The comments that follow focus on unity of spirit and courage in the face of persecution. Unity in particular seems to come up again and again when Paul is talking about Christian ethics and dissension seems a principal category of the flesh.

2:12--work out y'alls salvation with fear and trembling, a clear indicator that effort is involved in attaining salvation, another Pauline theme we see from time to time. To be sure, God is the one at work among you to bring this about (2:13).

2:15-16--In contrast to unbelievers, the Philippian believers shine like stars. They are not "crooked and perverse" like those around them. If they grumble and question (2:14), they will not be blameless and innocent. Despite where they are at now, failure could result that Paul's labor would be vain, for they would not make it to the end.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Christianity Today: "Rethinking Paul"

The most recent edition of Christianity Today has an article by Simon Gathercole on the so called "new perspective" on Paul. We're in a phase right now of strong reaction to Sanders, Dunn, and Wright, as I've mentioned before. The Presbyterian Church of America is actually disciplining any of its ministers who are sympathetic to it, and thus the politics of religion are alive and well in the twenty-first century.

Gathercole is not as rabidly against the "new perspective" as some others. For a more detailed explanation of it, see the series that Scot McKnight is doing on his blog: http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=2688. To be honest, there is a good deal of variety even within the new perspective camp. I disagree with Dunn and Wright on a number of issues, but would generally be sympathetic to the trend.

Gathercole begins by saying what it is and what it isn't. It isn't a rethinking of everything about Paul. It basically has two parts: first, a rethinking of Judaism and then a rethinking of Paul in that light. The rethinking of Judaism is an acknowledgement that Luther interpreted the Judaism with which Paul sparred far too much in the light of the Roman Catholicism of his day, that Judaism was not a works religion.

Gathercole and others have pointed out that works were a significant element in Jewish religion in relation to ultimate acceptance before God. So we have this dialog:

1. Bultmann--the Jews believed they could earn their salvation by good works.
2. Sanders--the Jews did good works in response to the gracious election of God. It was about "staying in," not "getting in."
3. Gathercole--OK, Bultmann and friends completely missed that grace and election were important to the Jews, but Sanders also underestimates the role that works played in Judaism.
4. Schenck--Who cares? Judaism involved both election and works in the mix of salvation... Paul does too!

That brings us to the second part, the application of the new perspective on Judaism to Paul himself. Here we have significant diversity.

Sanders: Paul is arguing from solution to problem. He knows the Gentiles are in. His theology is his attempt to explain how that can be the case without denying God's faithfulness to His covenant with Israel. His arguments over justification by faith are all about showing that the Gentiles are in--it is not the centerpiece of his theology but a result of his arguments with opponents.
Dunn: When Paul talks about works, he is primarily talking about works of Jewish law. Not on justification by works in general. The "works of law" that do not justify are things like circumcision, sabbath observance, food laws, etc...
Wright: The problem was that Israel boasted in national righteousness and thus withheld God's grace from the Gentiles, a grace God always intended for everyone. So Paul is not talking about individual works but about national works of righteousness. Faith is a badge of covenant identity, not a means of justification. Faith shows you are in. It doesn't get you in.

Gathercole critiques six tendencies of the "new perspective":

1. Works were a part of final salvation for Judaism and Jews talked about them as if a person could do them on their own. Paul believes only the mighty acts of God make salvation possible.

Fair enough. The New Testament does exactly the same thing, Paul included. The empowerment of the Spirit for works is the unique element in Paul's theology, as Simon indicates elsewhere. But basically this is a big fuss because of the Pelagian controversy of Augustine and the Reformation arguments. Paul himself, on the other hand, doesn't care nearly as much about dotting these i's as everyone else does.

2. Gathercole disagrees with Dunn's assessment that "works of law" primarily refer to boundary issues like circumcision and so forth (Westerholm is also a significant contender here as well). He thinks works of law refers to works of the whole Jewish law. So when Paul tells the Romans they are not justified by works of law, he means they cannot be justified by doing those parts of the law that are particular to Jews.

I personally think Dunn comes closer to the right balance on this issue. Dunn has recently made it clear that he was not restricting the phrase just to Jewish boundary works like circumcision (in The New Perspective). But I agree with Dunn that this is primarily what Paul has in mind.

What did we find that Paul was thinking about in Galatians 5:3 when he was talking about being justified by the law? Circumcision! They are observing sabbaths and other festivals (4:10). And in Romans, what example does Paul focus on in regard to not being justified by works? It's circumcision again (Rom. 4:10).

So while Paul can and does broaden his argument to say that works of any kind cannot result in justification (e.g., Rom. 9:6), the boundary issues are clearly what he is picturing in his mind in all these cases.

3. Simon disagrees with the move to talk about corporate righteousness among new perspective advocates like Wright. Individual and corporate are not at odds with one another.

I also think that Wright goes overboard with some of his corporate stuff, particularly his signature "Christ=Israel" motif. I suspect Gathercole errs just a tad on the individualistic side, but not too much. The ancient world thought of individuals through the lens of the groups to which they belonged. I believe this is the appropriate language through which to read Paul as well.

4. Gathercole argues that some new perspective scholars confuse the consequences of justification with justification itself. In particular, justification becomes inclusion in the people of God to the exclusion of justification being about how believers can be considered righteous before God. Thus,

5. It can lead to a downplaying of the sin of Israel. Some extreme new perspective scholars see Paul as only added another house to the house of God, not modifying Israel's part of the house at all (Stendahl, Gager).

6. So Romans can become a politically correct commentary on mutual acceptance and ecumenism between Jew and Gentile.

On these last three points I substantially agree with Simon. I continue to understand justification to be about the legal acquittal of a person, whether Jew or Gentile. I remain unconvinced of Wright's sense of justification as a word referring to inclusion within God's people. It results in that, of course, but I remain unconvinced that the word itself means this.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Tribute to Frankfort Pilgrim College

Frankfort Camp Meeting ended last night. My mother has attended all but one her entire life--that's 80 camp meetings. The camp is held on the grounds of what used to be Frankfort Pilgrim College, which was merged with what became United Wesleyan College in (I think) 1972. Then of course UWC merged with Houghton in the early 90's.

I personally think it makes little sense for the records of FPC to be at Houghton when IWU is only about an hour away from where the college stood. Even many Frankfort reunions are held at IWU. Any politics is ancient history and a lesson in human insignificance--the players in Frankfort's closing have zero power today, just as all of us young whipper snappers will have zero power tomorrow.

Frankly, any power any of us today might think we have is ludicrous in the light of reality. Put any of those who boasted of power in Wesleyan circles in the 70's next to Richard Nixon, and it becomes laughable. Put any of our boast to power today next to that of Dick Cheney, and we seem pretty foolish (at least until he is impeached :-). Then put Cheney next to God and, wait, where did he go? He's so small I can't even see him. No man (or woman) can boast before the LORD!

The Indiana Central District of the Wesleyan Church voted this year to allow the board to sell the property for a million dollars if they find an appropriate buyer. The Pilgrims in the area--groups that pulled out of the church at merger--were a great candidate to buy it at first. Then the Wesleyans might have leased it for a couple weeks a year and the camp meeting could continue. But the Pilgrims are already in negotiations for property in Anderson and are divided in their interest in it anyway.

I am a sentimental person in feeling, although a pragmatist in action. The pragmatist in me recognizes that without a prophet with a vision, the money spent on the property might arguably benefit the kingdom more if it were used in some other way. No doubt someone could make something great for the kingdom from this property, but that person has not presented herself. I don't know the details of the situation, but there is a possible world in which my conscience would have to vote for the selling or closure of such entities.

But of course many an argument "for the betterment of the kingdom" ends up whittled away in something far less valuable than what we started with. I have an impression of many a cocky leader of the past thinking themselves to be something, arguing the "better for the kingdom" argument to change something, only to erect some shallow substitute in its stead. Many a youth professes himself to be wise, but ends up looking like a fool.

So my pragmatic side recognizes that selling the camp ground might very well be the right thing to do (although I do not know the actual data or arguments). But my sentimental side feels loss at this dishonored and abandoned part of my heritage. The boomers across the denomination have shunned the camp meetings just as much as they have shunned entire sanctification and the legalism they associated with it. Many of their complaints were justified. If I had been in power in those days, I might have voted with them.

But I think it is important to preserve the memories that inhabit those grounds, one way or another. My grandfather taught at the high school there for many years, without a salary for many of them. He was one of those that those in power knew they could get by without paying because he wouldn't complain. My mother's family lived off of runny potato soup in the cafeteria during the Depression. Most of my sisters finished high school there and at least started college. It was not a prestigious place. It wouldn't have stood a chance at secular accreditation without massive overhaul. From most perspectives today, it would be a rather odd place.

But it was the very stuff of the holiness movement. A person cannot be completely healthy unless she comes to peace with her past. And Frankfort Pilgrim College and the other places like it are part of our Wesleyan past.

A newspaper article from 1924, three years before the college started, indicated that 7000 people were in attendance for Sunday services on the camp grounds, with 2000 on average per day during the week. This was in the old tabernacle, torn down since the late 50's. It was in the shape of a T, much like a cross, although I doubt anyone planned it that way.

The chairs in the "wings" of the sanctuary faced the pulpit, much like a medieval cathedral. On the left was space for about a 50 person orchestra with tuba, drums, and violin. Those who participated received a free meal ticket in reward. On the right all the pastors and their wives sat, again, facing the pulpit. Behind the pulpit going up in bleacher-like fashion sat the youth. Everyone else sat in the normal place in front of the platform. Underneath the "youth section" of the platform, underneath the bleacher-like part, were cots where men could sleep for a dollar a night.

When district superintendent F. J. Goins built the current tabernacle, they intentionally built it too small for the youth to be up there--didn't like the youth being there. The result is that Frankfort did not have much in the way of an orchestra on the platform in my lifetime. Funny to look back at the politics of the past. The worship bands today are nuthin' new, or are drums or guitars. They were doing that in the 20's.

The college was closed soon after merger. Too many Wesleyan colleges in the same vicinity. Fair enough. Marion was accredited and more mainstream. I think by and large the Wesleyan Methodists were better educators than the Pilgrims. Frankfort was a Bible College with significantly less academic clout. Frankly, I'm just guessing at the arguments that might have been made at that time.

So the days of my childhood were days of buildings disappearing one by one. The old tabernacle was torn down five or ten years before I was born. I have fun memories of sneaking into closed buildings as a child--the condemned boy's dorm with its cob webs, what used to be the chapel and cafeteria with an old walk in refrigerator (that we walked in). We snuck in what used to be the library and found a jar with a brain in it--or at least that's the way I remember it.

The cottages that still stand are precious from the standpoint of memory, embarrassing from the standpoint of realty. They're a fun week in the summer, but sobering to remember that faculty and others one time lived all year round in these sorts of structures. A secret storage compartment behind one of the stairs houses my can collection with cans dated 1976, 1986, 1996, and 2006 (remember real aluminum cans?).

The grounds echo of the Depression and poverty in some respects. The spot where the old library stands had a building for old people in the 20's. In 1929 an anonymous German Baptist there (still with an accent) sprinkled my mother, thinking she ought to be baptized. My grandfather was part of the Quaker influx into the Pilgrim Holiness Church. To my knowledge he was never baptized to the day of his death.

Underneath grass at one point are the remnants of a brick sidewalk where many a couple once walked (probably not allowed to hold hands). A circle of sidewalk puzzles the person who doesn't know that a stone fountain once stood there.

It's like many a place half abandoned. The unaware walk through ghosts and memories without even realizing it. Me--I don't own the rights to these memories... I don't even have very many. They are really the property of others. I wouldn't have gone to Frankfort even if it had still been open when I was of college-going age.

But I can still write a tribute to Frankfort Pilgrim College. Let those who think their memories are more valuable because they are different or more sophisticated, be reminded that they too are dust and as grass that withers. No one's memories are more valuable than anyone else's if they are truly valued.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Sin in Galatians 5-6

With Galatians 5 we reach a crucial chapter for Wesleyan theology. The chapter begins with the theme Paul has strongly been proclaiming: freedom, freedom from the law in particular. What aspects of the Jewish law does he have in mind? Circumcision. If the Galatians get circumcized, Paul says, they will be obligated to keep the entire law. But this is something Paul does not believe they can do, as he has said.

On the one hand, Galatians 5:5 might be taken quite contrary to Wesleyan theology: "For we ourselves expect by means of the Spirit on the basis of faith the hope of righteousness." Does Paul mean we hope to become righteous in the future when we are glorified, but that we are not righteous now?

I don't think so because I don't think Paul uses the word righteousness in reference to human goodness but rather 1) in reference to God's goodness--"the righteousness of God" (e.g., Rom. 1:17) and 2) in relation to human justification (another translation of the word), either at the point of receiving the Spirit or at the final judgment. My inclination is thus to take the hope here as the hope of justification. We can rankle over whether Paul means justification now (initial) or later (final).

I might note that 5:6 says that the only thing that matters is "faith working through love," another indication that Paul does not see faith and works as polar opposites.

At verse 13, however, we get the other side to the freedom coin. After Paul has emphasized their freedom from the law, particularly as it relates to circumcision and observance of the Jewish calendar (Sabbaths, feasts, etc...), Paul now pulls back on the reigns:

"You yourselves were called on the basis of freedom, brothers, only not freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be a slave to one another" (5:13).

Paul is trying to walk a torturous line here. On the one hand, he is arguing freedom from the law. But what he really means is freedom from those parts of the law that were particular to Jewish ethnicity. He is not wanting to ascribe freedom from those aspects of the law dealing with sexual behavior or idolatry.

This fine line apparently got Paul into trouble at Corinth. Their slogan "All things are lawful for me" was probably an echo of Paul's own rhetoric--"not under the law." The same is true here where he speaks so strongly of Christian freedom. But he wishes also to forbid them the indulgence of the flesh at the same time.

The theological feat that Paul is attempting to accomplish here is very difficult. Its complexity is responsible for the spectrum of interpretations on Paul and the law of which Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Wesleyanism are just a small part. Here is the logic as I understand it:

1. In Christ we are no longer under the law (Gal. 5:18).
2. Without the Spirit we cannot keep the law (Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7).
3. Some believers, including Peter, do not keep the Jewish law (Gal. 2:14; 6:13).
4. The Spirit empowers a person to fulfill the law (Rom. 8:3), not to fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
5. There is a law that believers keep, the law of love, the sum of the law that is at the same time different from the entire Jewish law (Gal. 5:3, 14).

Very brain twisting indeed.

In the above list, I've mentioned several of the verses of interest in the rest of the two chapters.

Galatians 5:13-15--Paul indicates that loving one another is an adequate keeping of the law. Apparently, however, the Galatians are biting and devouring one another. This is not loving one another :-) Paul certainly expects a believer to be able to do this.

Galatians 5:16-18--"Walk by the Spirit and you certainly will not fulfill the desire of the flesh."

This verse relates both to 5:13, which says not to use Christian freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, and to the previous verse, which mentions biting and devouring among the Galatians. Walk in the Spirit, Paul says, and you certainly won't act like that. It is very similar to what Paul told the Corinthians in relation to their divisions in relation to the flesh (1 Cor. 3:1-3).

The flesh desires against the Spirit. The believer oriented around the flesh will not be able to love. This person is a "double minded person," to use James' imagery. This person wants in a way to do the right thing, but their flesh does not allow them to (Gal. 5:17).

But the person lead by the Spirit is not "under the law" (5:18). This verse alone might lead a person to believe that the standard of the law is simply removed from the equation, even though we continue to sin all the same. But what is Paul talking about? He is talking about loving one another, and he will immediately talk about the contrasting fruit of the flesh and the Spirit--in other words, action oriented things. The Lutheran interpretation of 5:18 thus cannot be correct. Not to be under the law for Paul implies more than simply not being judged by the law. It must imply an impowerment for action.

The fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit contrast. The person with the Spirit loves, has joy, has peace, is patient, is kind, is good, is faithful, is gentle, has self-control. The person who lives from the flesh includes the likes of the sexually immoral, the unclean, the licentious, the idolatrous. They use witchcraft, are hostile, cause strife, are jealous, have rage, sow discord, divide, cause factions, envy, get drunk, carouse, etc. These are all things Paul does not believe should apply to a believer as typical of their lives.

People who do these sorts of things, whether they are in the church or not, will not inherit the kingdom of God (5:21). Those who are "of the Christ" have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (5:24). This is no legal fiction. Paul is talking about how we behave in this world, as the next verse says: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also conduct ourselves by the Spirit" (5:25). Paul expects Christians not to boast about themselves, provoke one another, or envy one another (5:26).

Galatians 6 begins then by addressing the person who has trespassed (caught in transgression--paraptoma). Loving restoration is the epitome of the "law of Christ" (6:2).

We might close Galatians with a warning from Paul. Those who sow to their flesh will not reap eternal life. It is those who sow to the Spirit who reap eternal life (6:8).

Friday, August 03, 2007

Sin in Galatians 3-4

These chapters seem like the top of an iceberg whose base we cannot see. I've wondered if this thick argumentation came from Paul's instruction in the Hall of Tyrannus at Ephesus. How much of this argument did the Galatians actually follow--it seems so minute?

For our purposes, perhaps 3:22 is the best place to begin:

"The Scripture has shut up everything under sin, so that the promise might be given by the faith of Jesus Christ to all who have faith."

What Scripture, we might ask, and what does it mean to be under sin? Is it the law itself, which is part of Scripture? Is it Habakkuk 2:4: "the one who is righteous on the basis of faith will live."

Perhaps it is not just one Scripture. The combination of Deuteronomy 28:58 with Habakkuk 2:4 seem to make Paul's point for him in 3:10-12. Deuteronomy 28:58 reads, "Cursed is everyone who does not remain in all the things that have been written in the book of the law to do them." Paul implies that no one remains in all the things in the law, therefore, all are cursed on the basis of the law and are "under sin."

It would not be clear from 3:22 alone whether Paul was thinking of sin as a power. It seems possible to read the chapter and only conclude that a person's violation of the law--a person's sins--showed them that they were in the category of sinful.

Nor does Paul clarify here what he means when he says that the law was added "because of transgressions" (3:19). Does he mean to control transgressions (unlikely). Does he mean to point out transgressions to those who sinned? Romans is clearer on these questions in that the law told the Jew what sin was and drew attention to their powerlessness to keep it.

The law did point toward the coming of Christ and the coming of faith. So perhaps the law was added to show us our transgressions (parabasis) and thus to show us our need for the promise (3:19).

Chapter 4 probably implies the enslavement dimension of sin that Paul will expand on in Romans 6-8. However, he does not actually mention sin in this chapter. Before Christ came, all were enslaved "under the elements of the world" (4:3). This expression is intriguingly similar to his earlier statement that the law has shut up everything under sin.

Being enslaved in this way is to be "enslaved to things that are not by nature gods" (4:8), presumably these same elements of the world. Paul strikingly equates enslavement to these "empoverished elements" (4:9) with the observance of days, months, seasons, and years in the Jewish law (4:10). Such calendar items of course relate to various heavenly bodies which many ancients considered to be deities. We remember that Paul considered the law to have been delivered through angels, who were thought to inhabit the various layers of heavens. Evil angels and demons were thought to inhabit the lowest sky or heaven.

Getting into Paul's head is very difficult here but let me give it a try. Although he does not develop the line of thinking very much, Paul seems to consider the physical realm, the elements, to be under the power of spiritual forces of some kind, things that are not by nature gods. Angels for Paul are not clearly the good guys, as we see in 1 Corinthians 6:3. It is possible to read Galatians 3:19-20 as Moses mediating between God and the ambiguous angels in the deliverance of the law (Hubner). Difficult to know exactly what Paul was thinking.

Flesh, which Paul will expand on, is of course composed of these elements and is thus susceptible to these powers. Perhaps we should, in the end, see sin as a power in these chapters, a power connected to spiritual forces that currently hold sway in the physical realm and the realm of the lower heavens where the more ambiguous angels dwell.

Summary: These are very difficult chapters!
1. With regard to definitions of sin, two (or three) seem to show up in these chapters. The first is the transgression of the law. But in Galatians 3-4 we also seem to have sin as a power over the elements of the world, the parts of the universe in the lower heavens and on the earth. This is a domain where angels currently function. A third possibility is that sin is a category, "sinful," under which heading all things are located (I'm not going for this one today).

2. All things are "under sin." Before Christ came (4:4), all were under a curse because no one was able to do the things of the law (3:10). All were enslaved to the impoverished elements of the world. All were in the flesh, as Paul will say.

3. The implication is that those who have faith are no longer enslaved to the elements of the world and are no longer under sin. Gentiles believers do not need to observe the feasts and sabbaths of the law. Indeed, we should see the turning of this state of things not just in the individual pilgrimage of a believer. No, in the greatest sense, the change of affairs took place with Christ and the redemption from the curse of the law (3:13).

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Sin in Galatians 1-2

At the moment, I date Galatians right after 1 Corinthians. With Galatians, we're in the thick of it!

The word hamartia appears in the prescript! Jesus "gave himself for our sins" (1:4). This is the same basic expression we just saw in 1 Corinthians 15:3. Without calling it a creed, I suspect this was a common expression in Paul's circles, "for our sins." The same comments we made in the last post apply.

Sin is not mentioned in the rest of Galatians 1 or in the continuation of the story through 2:14. Galatians 2:15-21, in my opinion is the "proposition" of Galatians, the core blurb on the jacket of the book. It deals primarily with justification, which of course has implications for the subject of sin.

In 2:15, Paul uses the word "sinner" (hamartolos): "one who has sinned." He speaks of Gentiles as sinners. The NIV has this in quotes because we tend to think of this as stereotypical thinking. We are so Paulinized we think--Gentiles aren't less righteous than the Jews just because they're not Jews.

But of course Gentiles by definition did not keep the Jewish law in the OT, and what other standard would be the starting point for discussing sin? So sin in this verse is implied to be violation of the law, in this case the Jewish law. Yes, by definition, a Gentile was a sinner.

In 2:16, Paul indicates that works of law--of the Jewish law--do not justify, do not make a person righteous before God. Our trust in the faithfulness of Jesus to death justifies.

In 2:17 we encounter the word hamartolos again. Now Paul has startlingly turned the tables. What if we Jews, while seeking to be justified in Christ, were also found to be sinners? In my opinion, Paul is pointing out that people like Peter and the Judaizers are violators of the Jewish law as well. As he will say in 6:13: "Not even the ones trying to circumcise you themselves keep the law"

So Paul poses the question: if Christ makes it possible for us to be innocent before God even though we are violators of the law, does this make Christ a minister of sin? Paul says, "No!" We have died to the law, presumably as the standard by which sin is judged? If I reconstruct that "righteousing system," yes, I establish myself as transgressor (parabates: 2:18). But in Christ, I am judged by his faithfulness: I live in the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

It is easy to see where Luther got his simul iustus et peccator. Paul does seem to use the idea of imputed righteousness here. I am a transgressor of the law, but in Christ, I am not judged by that standard. Paul seems to imply that Christians remain violators of the Jewish law even subsequent to faith. But what does he mean?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Sin in 1 Corinthians 15-16

Today we finish 1 Corinthians. The most interesting material we encountered on sin came in chapters 5-6, where we saw that to sin was to wrong or do wrong. Parties wronged included 1) the body of Christ (sexual sins), 2) a brother, and 3) Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 15, we encounter for the first time Paul's more abstract perspective on sin in the singular (as opposed to sins in the plural).

We begin with 15:3, where Paul is recounting some fundamental Christian traditions: "Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures." This is the word hamartia now, the more typical word for sin, as opposed to hamartema that was used in chapter 6.

A couple questions immediately spring to mind: 1) what does it mean to die "for sins" and 2) what Scriptures does Paul have in mind.

What does the expression "for our sins" mean? It could mean that he died for our sins instead of us dying for our sins. This is a general sense of penal substitution although it would overread the text to suggest this is some exact substitution of penalty.

The expression could simply mean he died "because of" our sins, as a consequence of them. This meaning seems too weak for what Paul is saying.

The expression could presuppose a sense of Christ's death as an atoning sacrifice. His death in some way Paul does not unpack made reconciliation with God possible just as sacrifices did.

Perhaps we could gain clarity on exactly what Paul had in mind if we knew what Scriptures he had in mind. Certainly Isaiah 53 has to feature high on the list of possibilities. This passage would imply a weak form of penal substitution as well as possibly a sacrificial element:

He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds we are healed...

It was the LORD's will to crush him... and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring.

Later on in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul indicates that if there were no resurrection, the Corinthians would still be "in your sins" (15:17). This is an interesting comment because it is talking about the resurrection rather than the death of Christ. Apparently, Paul does not believe the death of Jesus could be effective in its action for sins unless the resurrection had followed.

With such sparse information, it is difficult to figure out how Paul's logic works here. One unusual possibility is that he believes death to have normal atoning value for sins sans resurrection. Notice Romans 5:14; 6:6, 7. But when Christ dies for sins, resurrection becomes a possibility for those who die with Christ and are buried with him in baptism.

But we see in 1 Corinthians 15:17 the normal association between death and sins. Christ's resurrection defeats death and substitutes for the penalty of sin and makes possible the resurrection of others rather than the normal atonement by death without resurrection.

Sin is mentioned twice in 15:56. For the first time in Paul's writings we have sin used in the singular. We will see later that Paul tends to discuss sin as a power when he uses the word in the singular.

"Sin is the sting of death, and the power of sin is the law."

My sense here is that sin is the stinger that brings about death. The power by which it does that is the law. Paul will go to lengths in Romans 7 to indicate that the law itself is not bad. It just facilitates death by way of sin. This short comment anticipates Paul's theology in Romans.

The word sin does not appear in chapter 16. The closest Paul comes is when he curses anyone who does not love the Lord.