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Porter, Stanley E. When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 435 pp. Pb; $34. Link to Cambridge
Second Corinthians 5:16 is usually read as if Paul is denying that he knew Jesus prior to the dramatic event on the Damascus Road. When confronted by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul asks “who are you, Lord?” This too is taken as an indication Paul did not recognize Jesus and is used as evidence Paul did not know Jesus prior to his conversion. But there have been a few scholars in the early twentieth century who suggested Paul may have seen Jesus in Jerusalem prior to the crucifixion and perhaps even heard Jesus teach at some point.
In this monograph, Stanley Porter attempts to revive this idea by examining the relevant texts in the Pauline epistles as well as the book of Acts. Beginning with William Ramsay, Johannes Weiss, and J. H. Moulton, Porter suggests it is at least plausible to understand some of the texts used to show Paul did not know Jesus as meaning the opposite, he did recognize Jesus on the road to Damascus and he had heard Jesus teaching in person (chapter 1).
Although he admits he has not survey every work on the life of Paul (a nearly impossible task these days), Porter claims to have found only one recent scholar who is open to the possibility Paul heard Jesus teach at some point before the crucifixion (Tim Gombis, in Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed). Even works with a vested interest in connecting Jesus and Paul dismiss the possibility Paul knew Jesus prior to his conversion. Porter cites David Wenham who wrote a popular book on Jesus and Paul. Wenham simply states “Paul did not have firsthand experience of Jesus’ ministry (cited by Porter 175).
So what happened? Porter lays the blame for the common assumption that Paul did not know Jesus at the feet of F. C. Baur, followed by William Wrede and most significantly Rudolf Bultmann. As Porter says, “The short answer in Rudolf Bultmann and the long answer i the general history of Pauline scholarship” since Baur (45). There are several assumptions which make the possibility Paul knew Jesus less likely. First, Baur reduced the Pauline canon to Romans, 1-2 Corinthians and Galatians. Second, he assumed Acts altered history in order to make the contrast between Paul and Peter more clear. This led to the third assumption, Peter and Paul represented the two sides of the early church which eventually resulted into the synthesis of the next generation of Christianity. Bultmann argued Jesus’ teaching was irrelevant (and unknowable), and Pauline theology does not really depend on Jesus. Porter interacts length with Bultmann’s 2 Corinthians commentary since the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:16 s critically important for the thesis he wants to defend in this monograph, that Paul not only knew the teaching of Jesus, but had heard Jesus teach, perhaps on several occasions, and may have interacted with Jesus during his earthly ministry.
As a result of the influence of Baur, Wrede, and Bultmann, most scholars reject the idea Paul knew Jesus or do not even raise the question. For many, there is a gap between the teaching of Jesus and the theology of Paul. Porter cites James Dunn, “Paul’s influence in determining the beginnings of Christianity was almost as great as that of Jesus” (Porter, 71).
With respect to method, Porter realizes many scholars reduce the number of authentic epistles and often reject the Pastoral Epistles, but there is little in the disputed epistles which supports his case. He fully accepts the book of Acts as evidence for the details of Paul’s life and prefers to date the book as early as A.D. 63 (an early date even for conservative Acts scholars). Scholarship on Pauline chronology often favors the epistles, Porter sees no problem using both as sources this study.
His third chapter surveys the data in Acts and the Pauline epistles, including the three reports of Paul’s conversion in Acts, focusing especially on the phrase “Who are you Lord?” For Porter, both Jesus’ statement and Paul’s response imply recognition, that is, Paul saw Jesus a recognized him because he knew him before the encounter (94). Porter gently suggests the phrase “I am Jesus” is similar to a Johannine “I am” saying, so that Jesus is using a Christological formula to identify himself (the human Jesus) with the God (92).
Turning to the epistles, Porter begins with 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Porter offers a detailed exegesis of this passage, comparing it to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 to argue that Paul had seen Jesus just as the other apostles had. With respect to 2 Corinthians 5:16, Porter interacts at length with Bultmann’s highly influential commentary. Bultmann understood this verse to say Paul did not know Jesus before the Damascus road encounter, that he did not know Jesus “according to the flesh.” Porter offers a detailed exegesis of eleven key points in this verse and concludes it is plausible the verse indicates Paul once knew Jesus only as a human, but now (after the resurrection) Paul knows Jesus as the resurrected Lord. He is careful suggest this as a possible reading of the text, but along with 1 Corinthians 9:1 and the book of Acts, there is a strong possibility Paul had known Jesus prior to his conversion experience.
In chapter 4 Porter develops some of the implications of Paul knowing Jesus before the resurrection. This would imply all had firsthand knowledge of Jesus’ teaching because he had heard it for himself at some point in the ministry of Jesus. To support this, Porter examines five passages inn Paul’s letter which seem to reflect the teaching of Jesus: Romans 12:92-21 (loving, blessing, cursing); Romans13:8 and Galatians 5:14 (loving one’s neighbor); 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (on divorce); 1 Corinthians 9:14 and 1 Timothy 5:18 (paying ministers of the Gospel); 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (the Lord’s return).
After examining these passages in detail, Porter concludes Paul had firsthand knowledge of the teaching of Jesus corresponding to three phases of Jesus’ ministry. Romans 12:9-21 alludes to the Sermon on the Mount (which Porter argues was a single sermon preached in Galilee). Loving one’s neighbor alludes to Jesus’ encounter with a lawyer during Luke’s travel narrative, or the road to Jerusalem who asked him how he might inherit eternal life. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 alludes to the Olivet Discourse, part of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples in Jerusalem. Although Porter does not offer details, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 is perhaps a better example of a possible allusion to the Olivet Discourse. Obeying the government in Romans 13 may allude to Jesus’ saying to “give unto Caesar.”
I have several questions about this section of Porter’s argument. First, acquaintance with the teaching of Jesus does not necessarily mean firsthand knowledge. If Romans12:9-11 does allude to the Sermon on the Mount, it is not necessary for Paul himself to have heard Jesus teach the words himself. The writer of the Didache also alludes to the Sermon, but no one would assume that author personally heard Jesus teach. Although it is not necessary to argue Paul had a copy of Q with him wherever he traveled, it is just as plausible that he knew of some sayings sources often attributed to Q. This would account for material in Paul’s letters which would later be used by Matthew and Luke.
A second and related issue concerns the method for used for demonstrated Paul had firsthand knowledge of Jesus’ teaching. Porter must walk a fine line between verbal parallels with the Gospels and general allusions. If Paul heard Jesus teach in Galilee and wrote his recollection of that teaching in Romans some twenty or more years later, it would be remarkable if the words he used were exactly the same as the gospel of Matthew. Porter recognizes this as a problem for the vocabulary for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 (148-50), eventually concluding Paul offers a paraphrase of what Jesus said.
This raises a third concern. Sometimes a common Jewish source is a simpler solution than Paul heard Jesus teach. For example, that both Jesus and Paul summary the law as “love your neighbor” is not remarkable at all since this was a well-known summary of the Law in Second Temple Judaism based on Leviticus 19:18. That a Jewish lawyer would respond to Jesus in this way is not a surprise. In addition, it is possible to find parallels to Romans 12:9-21 in Jewish wisdom literature.
Finally, sometimes Porter makes a suggestion that goes well beyond the evidence. He very tentatively suggests Paul was the “the lawyer who asked the question” in Luke 10:25-28 (147). Similarly, that Paul “overheard Jesus’ words regarding the worker being worthy of his/her wages” (159) seems to go beyond the evidence or that Paul overheard the Olivet Discourse and “heard enough” of Jesus at that point (167). All of these are of course possibilities, but move into the area of speculation which cannot be supported by evidence.
In his conclusion, Porter cites A.M. Pope who asked what benefit to understanding of Paul if it can be shown Paul knew the life and teaching of the human Jesus. Aside from historical curiosity, the connection between Jesus and Paul would serve to further strengthen Pauline studies which place Paul in a Jewish context. The wedge driven between Jesus and Paul ought to be removed, but so too the wedge between Judaism, Jesus and Paul.
Conclusion. This is a fascinating book which makes a bold claim and supports that claim with detailed evidence and careful argumentation. Porter makes his case that it is at least plausible Paul knew the teaching of Jesus prior to the crucifixion and that he had personally seen Jesus on occasion.
NB: Thanks to Cambridge for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Gorman Michael J. Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 731 pp. Pb; $48. Link to Eerdmans
In the introduction to this second edition of Gorman’s textbook on the Pauline letters, Gorman offers ten approaches to the Apostle Paul’s letters. As is common in a Pauline introduction, the first two are the familiar traditional and new perspectives on Paul, but he also includes narrative-intertextual (Richard Hays), apocalyptic (Martyn, Gaventa, and Campbell), anti-imperialist (Richard Horsley), the “Wright-ian perspective” (N. T. Wright), Paul within Judaism (Mark Nanos), social scientific (John Barclay), feminist (Lynn Cohick, Amy-Jill Levine), and participationist (Douglas Campbell, Morna Hooker, Udo Schnelle). The reader of his introduction to Paul will find references to all of these perspectives in Gorman’s presentation since all make a contribution to our understanding of Paul.
The first six chapters of the book deal with background issues (Greco-Roman context, Pauline Mission and Paul the letter-writer) and theology (the Gospel, Pauline Spirituality and Theology). Since Gorman’s other work on Paul reflections a participationist model, it is not surprising to find this language throughout the book. (See my review of Gorman’s Becoming the Gospel). For example, Gorman Romans 8 as the “cruciform life in the Spirit” and 1 Corinthians 13 is the “rule” of cruciform love. Gorman understands justification through this lens as well. Justification in Paul is both a liberation from sin and a transformation to righteousness (175).
In his chapter on Pauline theology, Gorman offers twelve fundamental convictions (which he summarizes in a single sentence, albeit about a half-page in length). Rather than list these, I will focus on what I think are the most important for understanding Gorman’s approach to Paul over all. First, following N. T. Wright, Gorman sees Jesus’s death on the cross was the “climax of the covenant.” What the cross accomplished in Jesus what Israel could not and initiated the new age of the spirit. The present age is the overlap of this age and the age to come. Second, Gorman describes the “law of the messiah” as cruciformity, the cross is not just the source of salvation, but also the shape of salvation (177). In a text like Philippians 3:10-11 Paul can claim to be like Jesus in his death, even though he is still in this life. Third, Gorman has always challenged readers by describing the church as an alternative community. The ones who participate in the new cross-shaped life in Christ form an alternative to the world in which they find themselves. For Gorman, this is a rich source for the application of Pauline theology to present church life. If churches are to be an alternative community, then they ought to model their participation in new life by transforming communities through justice and peace-making.
Following these introductory chapters, Gorman provides a chapter on each of the thirteen Pauline letters. He begins with the title of the book with a short tagline and key verse. The first section for each chapter is the “story behind the letter.” This section briefly sets the letter into the proper cultural and historical context (including the context of the book of Acts). The second section of the chapter, “the story within the letter,” works through the outline of the book the book offering a short running commentary of each pericope. Occasionally Greek words appear transliterated in footnotes, so a student with little or no Greek will have no trouble reading the body of the chapter. Gorman provides bullet-point summaries at the end of sections for larger books. The third section in each chapter is the “story in front of the letter.” Here Gorman collects a series trenchant quotations from historical and contemporary commentators on the letter (and occasionally a non-specialist). Each chapter concludes with a series of questions for reflection and a “for further reading” list, divided into both general and technical works. This provides a student with resources to write responses and papers based on the reflection questions.
Rather than survey each chapter, I will highlight a few of the usual things people want to know about a textbook on Pauline letters. Gorman lists 1-2 Thessalonians first, and although he considers the north Galatia theory to be the scholarly consensus, he thinks the south Galatia better accounts for the data and considers Galatians to be written between 48-51. With respect to the unity of 2 Corinthians, Gorman surveys the major view for dividing 2 Corinthians into three separate letters and suggests that Paul’s use of rhetoric may account for the apparent disunity of the book. He says what unifies 2 Corinthians is the “Spirit-filled cruciform shape of the transformed life” (346). With respect to the purpose of Romans, Gorman argues the main purpose is Jew-Gentile friction in Rome, but there is far more to Romans than this one issue.
With respect to the Prison epistles, Gorman thinks an Ephesian imprisonment for Philippians is simpler, but it does not make much difference for the interpretation of the letter. His comments on Philippians 2:5-11 are the most detailed in the book primarily because Gorman considers these verses to be Paul’s “master story.” Understanding Paul’s presentation of Philippians 2:5-11 will help to interpret other problem texts in the Pauline letters. Gorman does not think the a decision on the authorship of the unit is necessary, Paul may have used a preexisting hymn, adapted a hymn, or composed the text himself.
The authorship of Ephesians and Colossians is always a major point of discussion in introductions to Paul. Gorman concludes Paul likely did not write Colossians word-for-word, but it is so close to Paul’s thought that it must be written by someone close to Paul who knew him well (551). He suggests Tychicus, the bearer of the letter, is the most likely candidate since he may have acted as scribe for Paul and then interpreter of the letter when it was first delivered. He thinks this is the same case for Ephesians, Tychicus wrote the book “maintaining the voice of Paul” (580).
For the Pastoral letters, Gorman discusses 2 Timothy first because he thinks the content of the letter comes from the time of Paul and accurately represents his thoughts, but may have been written after Paul’s death. 1 Timothy and Titus come from a later time and reflect the church after Paul’s death (614).
There are illustrations and maps throughout the book. The map of Corinth is particularly well done, I would have liked to see these for each of the locations (although that is not always possible based on the evidence). Many of the photographs were taken by Gorman or his students on his trips to Pauline sites in Europe and Turkey. Although they are reproduced in black and white, they are not the usual photographs found in these sorts of textbooks.
Conclusion. Apostle of the Crucified Lord continues to be a valuable introduction to the Pauline letters. Gorman’s presentation of Pauline theology challenges contemporary church leaders not only to know Pauline theology, but to live as cross-shaped people who seek to transform their world.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
In the previous post, I argued that Paul commands obedience to the government. I pointed out that the Roman government at the time was as oppressive as any in history and permitted any number of practices that we modern American Christians would not put up with more a moment. Yet Paul said quite clearly that the Christian was to submit to the government because it was God’s appointed minister of justice!
The recent US election resulted in a bad person taking the office of president. I might have written this at any time in the last fifty years and made at least 50% of the US population happy. But in the days following this election the protests seemed louder and more bitter than the anti-Obama or anti-Bush protests. As an American, people have the freedom to protest within the limits of the law and there is nothing illegal about these kinds of protests. It is almost a traditional now to have a small segment of the population enter into a kind of apoplexy when their candidate loses.
Like the Occupy Wall Street movement a few years ago, many anti-Trump protesters are law-abiding and legal protests. Most of the time the people involved work with city officials, obtain permits, etc. The issue that they are raising is important as well: America is incredibly rich and ought to do more to care for the less-wealthy. There is no way anyone in America should be hungry, malnourished, uneducated, or lack access to health care. For most of these protesters, electing a billionaire who appoints other billionaires is not going to solve the problems American faces (unless you are a billionaire already).
Despite the fact Paul says to obey the government in Romans 13, I am not as happy with the solution offered by the Occupy Wall Street or any presidential candidate. They essentially argue the government is the solution to the real problems of America. The government needs to do something to “spread the wealth.” The highly charged rhetoric of the Trump campaign appealed to people by saying the government can “make America great again.” Trump got elected by saying he could save the country and make people prosperous gain.
For me, this is not a capitalist/socialist issue. It is a matter of responsibility. I do not think the government should be caring for the poor in a society, but rather the Church. As I read Romans 13, I see nothing about the government providing a social safety net. The government is ordained to enforce law and keep the peace. The church is to care for the poor and needy and do the job so well there are no poor and needy people. If we are looking to the government for our physical salvation or the president (emperor), are we really any different than the Romans who looked to Caesar as “lord and savior,” the one who makes the world peaceful and prosperous?
I hinted at the end of the last post that Paul did in fact have rather subversive plan to reverse the evils of the Empire. Like Jesus, Paul is interested in transforming people from death to life. These members of the new creation will then transform society. Paul was interested in caring for the poor and underclass, and the followers of Jesus modeled their meetings after the table fellowship of Jesus himself. All shared food and fellowship equally. That all are equal in the Body of Christ is amazingly subversive in a society which was predicated on social strata and inequality.
An example of the sort of subversive action which had an impact on poverty in the early church is found in 1 Clement 55. In this letter written at the end of the first century, Clement praises Gentile Christians who have risked plague in order to save fellow citizens, allowed themselves to be imprisoned to redeem others, and sold themselves into slavery in order to feed the poor. I cannot imagine anyone in the twenty-first century taking out a second mortgage and donating the money to a local inner city ministry that cares for the poor. Someone may have done this, but it is exceedingly rare.
I think the church does a good job on some social issues, but given the wealth flowing through most American churches, much more could be done. I am not necessarily talking about throwing money at the problem. There are many creative low-cost efforts to relieve the conditions which cause poverty.
What would happen if the Church dedicated itself to solving poverty in the inner cities of America instead of building big glass churches? What if a single mega-church dedicated their offerings to poverty relief rather than building improvements? What if we spent as much on helping African orphans as we do on the sound systems for our churches?
Remember that Paul is not talking only to modern America. Every Christian in the world had to work out what it means to “submit to the government” and impact their culture in order to present the gospel to their culture in a meaningful way. I would love to hear from some international readers on this issue, since I am sure my American eyes are not seeing things clearly.
The transformed life ought to effect one’s relationship with government. This is based on common idea from the Hebrew Bible that God ordains the rulers and the nations. Since Paul is speaking about the Roman empire, it must mean that the Christian ought to obey even an evil government. Paul uses the same verb here in Romans 13 as he did in 8:7, with reference to submitting to the will of God.
Paul therefore means the transformed believer must obey the government because it is God’s appointed authority. By extension, when you obey the government, you obey God.
But most people immediately ask: if that government abuses its power and rules unjustly, is it then appropriate for a Christian to rebel to change that government? Usually Christians will say they will obey the government insofar as the government commands that are not contrary to God’s commands.
What if the government restricts my personal freedom? What if the government wants to take my guns away? What if the government permits same-sex marriage, abortion, or the use of marijuana? What if the government were to be controlled by Islam and Sharia law is imposed on us? Should we rebel against the government then?
I think it is critically important to realize that in the first century, no member of Paul’s congregation would have ever asked this question. No one would have plotted the fall of the Roman empire, nor would a Roman Guy Fawkes attempt to blow up the Roman Senate. Rome really did bring peace to the world and Rome really did provide services which raised the social and economic fortunes of everyone. No one would have considered joining the “Occupy Appian Way” movement to protest the outrageous economic practices of the Roman Empire, nor (in the interest of being fair and balanced), would anyone dream of complaining about their taxes and joined the Tea Party.
Those categories simply do not exist in the first century, and if they did, Rome would have silenced them with extreme prejudice! It was impossible for members of Paul’s churches to protest their emperor or hold up “Impeach Nero” signs in public.
Consider what the Roman empire was like in the mid-first century. They did oppress people, the enslaved millions, they promoted the worship of every god imaginable, and they imposed their religious laws on everyone. Infanticide was practiced and homosexual relationships were permitted (although nothing like gay marriage really existed). Paul does not add any sort of condition to the command to obey the established government, despite the fact that the Roman government was one of the most oppressive regimes in history!
I do not read anything in Romans 13 or in Paul’s relationship with Rome that sounds anything like a protest against the government. Paul’s method for dealing with social ills was far more subtle than mass protests – and much more effective. He told the church to fix the problems themselves by caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan. There is nothing in Romans 13 which would support the overthrow of Rome, either in the first century or the twenty-first.
Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 that the one who is in Christ is to present themselves as a living sacrifice by renewing the way they think about the world. This is in contrast to conforming to the way the world answers the big questions about life.
The result of this changed thinking is knowledge “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God. If we do really renew our minds and change the way we think about things, then we can discern the will of God in new situations. The phrase εἰς τo δοκιμάζειν is an articular infinitive used to indicate the purpose of the renewing of our mind, it is for the purpose of discerning the will of God. In a given situation, transformed thinking may very well be radically different than the culturally accepted answer.
Early Christians encountered many ways in which their new found faith called into question the way the Greco-Roman world things. Although Paul will list many examples in Romans 12-15, there are many more issues which will come up as Christianity comes into contact with the world. It cannot be the case that Paul will cover ever potential issue which might arise as more Gentiles commit their lives to Christ. Some things may seem obvious to us. It seems remarkable someone might ask if a Christian is permitted go to a temple, share in a sacred meal and enjoy the company of prostitutes. The Greco-Roman worldview might not object to this behavior, but transforming the way one thinks about marriage and sexual unions will result in a different view.
But the good and perfect will of God may change in a given situation. For example: Should Christians serve in the Roman military? It may possible for someone to serve Rome without worshiping the gods of Rome (on the analogy of Daniel serving Babylon), but is service to the Roman military a proper career for the first century Christian? What about a soldier who converts Christianity, can he continue to serve?
This process of thinking about new ways in which God’s will applies to new situations is a function of the Spirit of God in every generation (one cold ask about serving in the army of a Christian king in the middle ages, or a Chinese Christian who must serve in the army by Chinese law, or an American Christian serving in the modern military. If killing is the issue, can a Christian serve as a police officer, or in an industry which supports the military industry?
Any number of medical ethical issues can be included here, since Christians in the twenty-first century are the first to think through beginning of life, quality of life and end of life issues in ways no other generation of the church needed to think.
These are all important questions which people with renewed minds much continually think through in any given context. When the believer is yielded to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit will continually renew our minds so that we think more clearly about important issues which go beyond the text of the Bible.
What are some other issues which perhaps have changed over the years for Christians with respect to God’s will?
Paul uses a metaphor for the Christian life in this verse: the “in Christ” people are to be like “living sacrifices” to God. This is a metaphor that a Roman, Greek, or Jew would fully understand. Typically a sacrifice is killed on the altar, but here Paul says that the sacrifice acceptable to God in the present age is to remain alive.
Nobuyoshi Kiuchi suggested that the background for this living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to the Lord is the Hebrew Bible, specifically the Azazel-goat in Leviticus 16:10-22. As a part of the Day of Atonement ritual, two goats were selected. One would be sacrificed, the other was “presented alive.”
As the high Priest laid his hands on the goat he confessed the sins of the people and the goat was released “into the wilderness” or “for Azazel.” The Mishnah reports he would say to the goat: “Bear our sins and be gone!” (Yoma 6.4). As Kiuchi points out, this is the only sacrifice for sin in the Hebrew Bible that is a “living sacrifice.” The tradition that the goat was pushed over a cliff and killed comes from the Mishnah and is not found in Leviticus.
A potential problem for Kiuchi is that the Azazel-goat is never called a living sacrifice in Second Temple literature. In the Mishnah and other texts it is the “sent-away goat” since it represents the sin of the people being carried away into the wilderness. While Kiuchi suggests that Paul’s allusion to the Azazel-goat is intended to draw attention to Leviticus rather that contemporary practice (p. 259), it is hard to see how this is helpful for unpacking the metaphor since it is Jesus that bears away the sin of the believers. Jesus is the “living sacrifice” who solved the problem of sin and human estrangement from God. In this view of the metaphor, the sacrificed goat would be Jesus and the believer is the “living sacrifice.”
The solution is to see the sacrifice in Romans 12:1 as a reference to the new life of the believer in Christ. From a Gentile perspective, living a morally virtuous life is of more value than the worthless dead sacrifices happening in the temples. Even if the Jewish sacrifices are in mind, a life that is lived as a “spiritual form of worship” is better than the daily sacrifice in the Temple.
One aspect of this metaphor of a living sacrifice that is rarely mentioned is the fact that the early Church had virtually no ritual elements compared to other ancient religious movements. Christians did not go to a temple to sacrifice to their god like virtually everyone else in the world at that time. Paul says here that the acceptable sacrifices are not animals, but the worshipers themselves.
How would person living in the first generation of the Church actually go about being a “living sacrifice”?
How radical is this calling that Paul describes here?
Bibliography: Kiuchi, Nobuyoshi. “Living like the Azazel-goat in Romans 12:1B,” Tyndale Bulletin 57 (2006): 251-61.
After concluding Romans 8 with the great promise that nothing can separate those who have been declared righteous and adopted into the family of God from the love of God, a reader might object that God has in fact rejected his people Israel. God made promises to Israel which seem to remain unfulfilled because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Chapter 9 argued God this is not a problem of God’s faithfulness. Like Ishmael, Esau or Pharaoh, Israel’s failure to respond to God is an opportunity for God to show mercy (or not) on whomever he wills. But this does not mean Israel was not responsible for their failure to obtain righteousness through the Law.
But God’s sovereign choice does not mean Israel bears no responsibility for their failure to obtain righteousness through the Law. This is true even though the Law was not able to produce righteousness in the first place.
For Paul, Israel did not pursue righteousness through faith, but rather by works. Does this implies righteousness could be obtained by the following law, but Israel pursued righteousness in the wrong way? Schreiner does not think this was Paul’s point at all (Schreiner, “Israel’s Failure,” 213). Earlier in Romans Paul has argued the Law could not make someone righteous since that was not the purpose of the law in the first place (Rom 7:4-6).
Israel failed to obtain righteousness assuming a right relationship with God depended on total obedience to the Law rather than God’s grace. For example, in is likely that the worship offered by the northern kingdom of Israel was properly performed, all sacrifices were made according to the Law, yet God says that this worship is a stench to him because the people are not acting justly (Amos 5:21-24).
The verb translated “reaching” in verse 31 (φθάνω) can refer to attaining a particular status or state. Schreiner detects a racing metaphor, citing the verb “pursue” in this verse and “to run” in 9:16. I would also add the idea of a “stumbling block” in 9:32 could be part of the metaphor of running a race.
The Jewish people pursued the law of righteousness yet did not attain the goal of the Law. Looking ahead to 10:4, Paul will conclude this paragraph by stating clearly that Christ is the goal of the Law.
The Law was the standard to which Israel held themselves, but they could never obtain that standard. They therefore failed because they were seeking the wrong goal from the beginning. It really did not matter how close they came, they were never able to reach the goal since it was the wrong goal for them in the first place.
To extend Paul’s metaphor of a foot race, imagine competing in 100 meter sprint. You wear the right shoes and get into the proper starting crouch, and make an excellent start when the gun sounds. You bear down and sprint the 100 meters, finishing well ahead of all the other runners, absolutely certain you have won the contest. But as it turns out, you were competing in a 26.2 mile marathon. Your excellent start, perfect performance and stellar finish do not count for anything, since the goal set before you is still 26 miles away.
By way of analogy, Israel pursued righteousness by pursuing the Law. Many kept the Law as well as they possibly could, yet found themselves falling short of the glory of God since they were pursuing as if the works of the matter rather than faith in the grace of God who has called them into a unique relationship with God.
Although this is aimed that Paul’s Jewish dialogue partners, I suspect this warning is important also for Christians. It is easy for us to think we are pursuing Christ well by doing the right things, or by having a vibrant (emotional) worship time, by reading the right blogs, by voting for the right candidates or supporting all the right causes. These are not the standards by which we were declared righteous in the first place, nor is it the standard by which we maintain our relationship with God.
Before dealing with the problem of God’s faithfulness, Paul lists many advantages the Jews have as God’s people. In Romans 3:1-2 Paul initially raised the question of the advantages the Jewish people have with respect to God. Historically, some Jews were wholly unfaithful to the covenant they were given and even those who were not unfaithful failed to keep the covenant fully. By Romans 7, Paul explained the reason for this failure was the purpose of the Law. But the failure of Israel still stands as a potential objection to God’s faithfulness to his promises. Paul proves his point that God’s present rejection of Israel is not inconsistent with His Promise by looking at the history of Israel
Sons of God by adoption. ἡ υἱοθεσία (“the sonship”) is never used in any Jewish literature including the Septuagint to describe Israel’s relationship to God. For Barrett (Romans, 166), Paul refers to a status of sonship “conferred upon Israel at the Exodus” (Exod 4:22; Isa 1:2; Hosea 11:1). In the previous chapter, Paul his describe the Christian as having the status of “Sonship” using the same word. It is possible that he begins his list of advantages with the status of adoption in order to create continuity between God’s people in the Old Testament and God’s people in the new age.
The sons of Israel were shown his glory, an allusion to the Exodus. Paul has in mind the pillars of cloud and fire at the crossing of the Red Sea (Exod 15:6, 11) and/or the theophany at Mount Sinai (Exod 24:16).
God made the covenants with Israel. There is a textual variant with a singular covenant, the mosaic covenant. But if this is plural, then possibly a reference to “the three covenants within the great covenant of the Exodus—a covenant at Horeb, a second in the plains of Moab, and a third at Mounts Gerizim and Ebal” (Barrett, 166). Perhaps it is not a problem, since the plural “covenants” appears in several documents in the Second Temple period.
Wisdom of Solomon 18:22 He conquered the wrath not by strength of body, not by force of arms, but by his word he subdued the avenger, appealing to the oaths and covenants given to our ancestors.
God gave the law and the temple worship and the promises. The noun “law” in this line is ἡ νομοθεσία, only found here in the New Testament. Jewett refers to a similar usage in 2 Macc 6:23, a reference to “the holy and God-given legislation” honored by Eleazar. The noun translates “temple worship” would evoke sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem, but to a Roman, the word λατρεία “would be understood by the Roman audience as referring to worship” (Jewett, Romans 564).
To Israel belongs “the fathers of the race.” Abraham is normally considered the father of the Israelites, but Isaac and Jacob are also “the fathers”. This anticipates the next section in which Isaac’s children Jacob and Esau will be featured.
Most importantly, from Israel springs the Christ himself. The phrase “according to the flesh” recalls help Paul begin the book of Romans, by declaring that Jesus Christ was in the line of David according to the flesh. It may also anticipate Paul’s argument in the next section. Those who are descended from Esau are “according to the flesh” as opposed to from the spirit.
It is therefore ironic that God’s people rejected Jesus as the messiah, but also that the rejected the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 as well as Paul’s preaching (for example, the synagogue sermon in Acts 13). To what extent would Roman believers (Jewish or Gentile) have understood the failure of Israel to respond to Jesus as Messiah? Were these advantages squandered?
Romans 9-11 deal with the “problem” of the Jewish people in the present age. If God has begun a new program to deal with all peoples equally without giving a special advantage to Israel, one might ask if Israel is completely cut off from God’s blessing. What about the promises that God made to Abraham and David? Would he fulfill those promises at some point in the future? Or has God completely cut off Israel’s special place in his plan due to their unfaithfulness.
Paul’s intention in Romans 9-11 is not to give a complete exposition of predestination and election, he restricts his comments to God’s choice of Israel as a favored nation, and within Israel those who believe, the true Israel (Dunn, Romans, 546). A few general comments about God’s choice of Israel as his people are possible.
The election of Israel was not based upon works. Paul makes this point by using the election of Jacob as an illustration in verse 12. Before the children were born and could do deeds of merit or sinful deeds, the choice was made. Even the choice of Isaac is made before he is born. Paul cites Genesis 18:10-14 to show Isaac was the son of promise, not Ishmael. It was not Sarah’s faith that was the basis of the choice since she laughed at the idea of having a child. One cannot even say it was through Abraham’s faith his son was chosen since the promise of a child was made in the initial promise in Genesis 12, before Abraham had believed.
In the first paragraph of Romans 9 Paul lists the advantages of Israel’s election, including their adoption as sons, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, the promises, and patriarchs. Even the Messiah is a blessing given to Israel. Yet the fact they have all of these things and preform the Works of the Law and Temple worship does not guarantee them salvation.
If the election of Israel is not based on works, on what is it based? The key phrase in this section is in verse 11: God’s electing purpose. The “purpose” of God is rooted in the Old Testament idea of an eternal God whose will transcends human will. Israel is God’s people because of God’s free decision. This decision not based upon any conditions. For Paul, there is not a need to explain the reasons for God’s choice, they are summed up by the phrase “electing purpose of God.”
Paul argues that because Israel has been elected by God to be his people, the nation still has advantages even in unbelief. In in 9:4-5 these advantages are outlined in very brief straightforward statements. These advantages are not in the past, but in language suggesting the benefits are Israel’s at the present time. Paul vividly describes his sadness of Israel’s rejection of Christ. But it also serves to show that the election of Israel has some meaning in the present time.
Paul is therefore arguing God is faithful to his promises despite the current state of Israel’s unbelief. Will God be faithful to the promise to Abraham and restore Israel in the future? Does their present state of unbelief mean they will not receive a promised restoration in the future?