December 29, 2015

chad

I hope to have demonstrated the value and necessity of placing Paul’s election language back in its original context, which was a decidedly Jewish one. As we reviewed the Jewish literature, we discovered a view of election that was grounded in God’s promises to the patriarchs. This overwhelmingly emphasized the collective nature of election as a concept that applied to a bounded community. When individuals were in view, their role, their character or their representation of a group was emphasized, never their being chosen for a particular soteriological standing. Likewise, the Jewish literature was decidedly conditional, with the various authors defining who was “in” and who was “out” by different means and markers. This typically meant Gentiles were excluded, along with many or most Jews, from the people of God. We can thus express these tendencies as described below:

1. At times, the description of individuals or a group as “elect” emphasizes primarily their character or piety rather than a particular, predetermined, soteriological standing (Ben Sira, Testaments, Additional Psalms of David, 1 Enoch).
2. When individuals are mentioned as “elect,” the identification either (1) recognizes them as such because they represent or mediate for a corporate group (Jubilees, Testaments, DSS, 1 Enoch), or (2) describes a vocational calling (e.g., king, priest, etc.; see Ben Sira, Psalms of Solomon).
The picture of election is primarily conditional, either implicitly (Tobit, Ben Sira, Baruch, Wisdom of Solomon, Sibylline Oracles, pseudo-Philo) or explicitly (Jubilees, Testaments, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Psalms of Solomon, DSS), in that a number of Jews, whether a majority (Jubilees, Testaments, 1 Maccabees, Psalms of Solomon, DSS, 1 Enoch, Testament of
Moses) or an undefined number (Tobit, Ben Sira, Baruch, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sibylline Oracles, pseudo-Philo), were presently apostate and outside of the covenant. The concept was thus not nationalistic or ethnic, but primarily remnant-oriented.

1. The conditions of the covenant emphasized vary throughout the literature, and included circumcision, general piety, Sabbath observance, ritual purity, abstinence from sexual immorality, avoidance of intermarriage with Gentiles, proper calendrical and festival observances, resistance of Hellenization and idolatry, support for the Hasmoneans, rejection of the Hasmoneans, honesty, humility, proper interpretation and application of the law, rejection of the corrupt leadership in Jerusalem (e.g., the priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, Maccabees or Hasmoneans), and association with/allegiance to a particular community and its understanding of the law or its specially received revelation.
2. In spite of the conditional nature, God’s election of Israel was still primarily presented as a corporate, not an individual, concept. This is clear from the many uses of corporate or national terminology and imagery, such as use of the moniker “Israel” or “Judah” when referring only to the pious, vine and plant imagery, association with a righteous person (e.g., Enoch or Noah) or an explicit invocation of the remnant motif.

Some texts make an allowance for the possible inclusion of Gentiles in the eschatological people of God (Sibylline Oracles, 1 Enoch, pseudo-Philo), though largely Gentiles are considered to be wicked and sinful by nature. God’s mercy and human obedience do not exist in mutually exclusive terms. The recognition of Israel’s sin is widespread throughout the literature. At times, God’s mercy means his decision not to reject Israel completely, though they are deserving of such a fate. This does not create, however, carte blanche for Israel to be licentious, as they needed to remain faithful to the covenant (as variously defined) in order to receive
the covenant blessings.
1. God’s sovereignty and human freedom do not exist in mutually exclusive terms. While certain things, such as the declaration of what is good and what is evil, the final judgment and its rewards or punishments, and the election of Israel/the remnant are described as being predetermined, in no text does this negate human freedom and the responsibility to be faithful to the covenant with God. That God has an overarching plan is clear, but that every nuance within that plan, including the individual actions of humans, is preordained, is not.
2. There is a real possibility, except once the final judgment comes, for the apostates to repent and commit themselves to keeping the covenant as well as for those in the “true Israel” to commit apostasy and reject the covenant and its blessings.

As we looked at Paul’s letters, we did not find a drastically different picture. Paul similarly worked within a collective and conditional framework. Like his contemporaries he viewed the elect as a restricted group. In his most explicit election texts, Paul never concerns himself with God choosing specific individuals to receive eschatological salvation. Rather, in his most explicit election texts (in particular Gal 2–3; Rom 3; 8–11; and Eph 1–2), Paul always concerns himself with what it means for Gentiles to be a part of God’s people. Recognizing this aspect alone should cause us to step back and ask what exactly Paul is doing. When we see these sociological divisions and Paul’s attempt to bring a theological resolution to the problem of Gentile inclusion and majority Jewish exclusion, we recognize that Paul does not explore an abstract theological doctrine of God determining each individual’s eschatological fate, but rather wrestles with how to make sense of God’s actions in light of the covenant with the patriarchs. Paul deals in detail with how to resolve this dilemma, adamant that God has freedom to work how he chooses, has indeed fulfilled his promises to bless the nations through Israel and has renewed the covenant through his faithful and loving act in the Messiah. This public display of Jesus and miraculous vindication through the resurrection act as the sign that God himself has truly intervened.
And through this act, the law took its proper place in the realm of the risen Jesus and the Spirit, where God’s people, those who identify with his Messiah and submit to his Spirit, receive the enablement to fulfill this law and thus receive the promised eschatological life. For Paul, as for his contemporaries, election controversies were more about who God’s people were than how they were God’s people.
Among Jews of the period, the concept of election came to signify the “true Israel” or “remnant,” meaning those Israelites who remained faithful to the covenant. For Paul the terminology takes on quite the same meaning. In referring to those who have trusted in Jesus as “elect” or “chosen” or “called,” Paul claims that it is those who have been united with God’s Messiah who are actually in right-standing with God. Torah-faithfulness apart from obedience to the good news of God expressed through Jesus has become useless. For Paul, obedience to God comes only through identification with Jesus. Thus Jesus’ own faithfulness both grounds the faithfulness of the believer and brings God’s declaration of “rightness” to them.

So What?
Occasionally I am asked something to the effect of “What difference does it make how we think about election?” or “What does this view ‘do’ that others don’t?” It seems to me that this view better fits within the thought-world of Second Temple Judaism. The more we immerse ourselves in that world, the better we will make sense of Paul, a Jewish follower of a Jewish Messiah, and his letters. Several very practical implications also arise from this view. Space does not permit me to articulate these more fully, though we have touched briefly on each at various points in our discussion.
Much of the early Jewish discussion of the “elect” concerned their piety more than whether or not they were, or would be, “saved.” They shared a deep concern, though expressed in different and competing ways, with living faithfully to God’s commands as expressed in his covenant with them. Paul expresses a similar concern in his articulation of the faithfulness required of God’s people in Christ. For Paul, this faithfulness is enabled through the gift of God’s Spirit, but not at the elimination of the responsibility and commitment of the individual. Paul still calls God’s people to obedience to his law, though he expresses this in a more condensed formula based on the emulation of the Savior and the love of God and others.
Paul’s Jewish contemporaries also shared a common concern to distinguish God’s people from the rest of the world. This sometimes resulted in extremes, as we saw at Qumran or in the Maccabees. Each group, however, wrestled with how to remain faithful to God and resist the attractions and temptations of the world. This came, after all, from God’s own declaration for his people to be set apart for service to him. When Paul declares believers, including Gentiles (!), elect, holy, righteous and called, he calls on this rich history of God’s covenantal people. Those in God’s Messiah would likewise need to live in a way that distinguished them from the world, for this was their calling. And again the Messiah himself emulated this lifestyle and God’s Spirit will enable those who belong to him to reflect Jesus. As it was for Israel, this meant living in ways counterintuitive to the larger culture, dying to their own desires that they might live for God, and subsequently, and perhaps ironically from a human perspective, in doing so actually live life as God had intended all along.
The various Jewish sects of the period represented in our literature had deep convictions about how to define the boundaries of God’s people. This likewise fostered an important sense of unity in those communities. Paul too, perhaps more adamantly even, held a deep concern for the unity of God’s people, especially in light of the reconciliation of Gentiles to God. When competing identity markers, such as circumcision or collective cultural wisdom, challenged the centrality of the Messiah and his cross and resurrection, Paul felt compelled to strip those things of their significance. In doing so, he both continued to elevate the primacy of obedient commitment to Jesus as the central marker of identity and sought to promote the unity of God’s people around the primary marker. This unity required people from differing racial and socioeconomic backgrounds to learn to function together as a united, reformed, renewed people of God. In the case of Jews and Gentiles, long held religious beliefs and animosities created tensions and hostilities among God’s people. Paul would not allow these problems to continue to fester but rather dismantled any notion, whether an idea, a practice or a person, that might be exalted to the status which Jesus alone held. Paul would allow God’s people in Christ to be defined by no other means than the Messiah’s life, death and resurrection.
Finally, election from its inception in the biblical text through much of the Second Temple literature, and certainly in Paul, held a central position in the mission of God’s people. God chose Israel for his special possession in order to bring the Abrahamic blessing to the nations. This missional aspect of Israel’s calling is echoed through the prophetic literature of the Old Testament and through many Second Temple texts. For Paul this blessing in one sense had been accomplished since God had brought the Gentiles into his people as full members through Christ.
In another sense, both as it pertains to unbelieving Gentiles, and paradoxically to unbelieving Jews, this missional call of God’s people to bless the nations still endured and had not yet found its final fulfillment since there still existed those “outside the camp.”

What Else?
We have been able only to scratch the surface of this topic in our examinations and reflections of these texts. I hope through this discussion that we might increase our awareness of the Jewish context of the New Testament and the ways in which we can better understand its message within that context. I have attempted to offer an account of the relationship between Paul’s thought and his Jewish background, which is both contextually sensitive and recognizes the connecting points and the divergences between them. In doing so, I have developed a view that attempts to deeply appreciate the continuity between Paul’s thought, the covenantal theology of the Old Testament and his background as a first-century Jew. I have aimed at providing a “thick description” of Paul’s theology of election, accounting for these various contexts as important influences on his theological articulations. These contexts act as spotlights that, when shown on their subject, allow us to appreciate the details of what we view. My study has also aimed at a rich theological description of these beliefs set within the ancient thought world rather than our own. Such a view also, as I have summarized briefly, creates important practical implications for how we understand human responsibility, Christian unity, faithful obedience to God and the core identity of God’s people. Though we face challenges in how we apply these ideas in our own context, which is in some ways very different from Paul’s and in others quite similar, by seeing Paul’s convictions in their historical and cultural contexts we can better allow them to shape our own.

I do not anticipate this to be the final word on this subject. I am grateful for the opportunity to offer a contribution to this area of Christian thought, which has been contentious for millennia. I do believe sincerely that when we aim at a more robust view of Paul’s world we can likewise grasp a more robust view of Paul’s letters. I also believe that what we see in Paul’s letters, specifically in terms of how he thinks about election from a Jewish framework, accords well with what we see in the rest of the New Testament. I have not, of course, developed this here, but I believe further work can illuminate it in a way that effectively accounts for both the world of the New Testament and the place of the New Testament in that world.

December 28, 2015

chad

BEN: In terms of the modus operandi of this book, one of the basic approaches you take is to argue that if an idea is not found elsewhere in early Jewish literature, then it is wise to query whether we can be so sure that this idea is found in Paul’s letter. And this applies especially to the notion of individual predestination unto salvation. Of course it can always be objected that ‘Paul is the exception to many rules’ but I think this sort of approach to the evidence places the burden of proof on those who would want to insist that Paul is eccentric in his beliefs about such important matters. Would you agree?

CHAD: Yes. The way I like to put it is if we think Paul is departing significantly from his Jewish context, we should expect to see significant clarification to explain the departure. We see this with how he speaks about his view of Jesus, for example, where, though sharing in some of the contours of Jewish Messianic thought, there are some fairly startling departures (e.g., applying OT texts about YHWH to Jesus or placing him within a reframed Shema). Those things stand out significantly. When Paul takes up discussion of election, he does so without any significant revision to the framework. Instead, he basically takes the language “as is.” Paul’s startling departure is not with how election is framed, but rather that it is oriented completely around Jesus as the defining marker of God’s people and that the chosen people now include Gentiles as full members apart from full adherence to the Torah. Christianity was birthed out of Judaism, and indeed in its first few decades was in all likelihood viewed as a Jewish sect. We thus should not expect to find too severe a contrast present between them.

BEN: You could conclude that even in Rom. 8.28ff. Paul has said nothing that would contradict the earlier conclusion that Paul takes a corporate and conditional view of election. One of the planks on which you build this conclusion is the fact that Paul uses the language of foreknowing, not only in Rom. 8, but in Rom.9-11 as applied to non-Christian Israel, so foreknowing surely cannot mean ‘foreloving’ forechoosing of particular individuals to be saved from before the foundation of the universe. Unpack your thoughts about these matters for us.

CHAD: Some commentators suggest we should take Paul’s comment about foreknowledge as God’s foreloving of individuals as covenant members. The problem here is that Paul uses the same verb in Romans 11:2 as he is discussing God’s choice of Israel. Paul’s argument there is operating clearly around a corporate framework since only a remnant of Israel has accepted God’s Messiah. It simply cannot be said that foreknowledge here is foreloving unless one holds that God’s covenant love with Israel meant all Israelites were “saved,” when clearly in the context Paul is suggesting otherwise. If we view Paul’s language in both Romans 8:28ff. and Romans 11 as focusing on the collective and not individuals predetermined for particular soteriological states, we can make better sense of the verb in both places. Further, we might also recognize that Paul is borrowing again extensively from OT vocabulary without giving it necessarily new import beyond its reorientation “in Christ” and Gentile inclusion. So when we read a Jewish Paul speaking of “the saints,” “sonship,” “calling,” etc., we must hear these first as concepts which spring from the OT, traverse through Second Temple Judaism, and have a sense of content already as Paul adopts them. Paul is using these terms in a slightly different sense in that this is all oriented now around Christ, but he is not upending the import of those terms and what they stood for in Jewish theology. The language is the language of Israel, applied to the one people of God in Christ, who are heirs of God’s promises.

BEN: You quote my colleague Craig Keener to good effect, namely ‘a sovereign God could sovereignly allow much choice and still accomplish his purposes’. This is so on the macro-scale, but if we scale it down to the individual this would seem to mean that individual human beings have the ability to frustrate or reject God’s purposes for their individual lives. Yes? Or would you say that God does not have specific salvific purposes for individuals, but rather only for the group known as God’s people?

CHAD: I think that humans can reject God’s intentions for them must be clear given what Paul lays out in Romans 9-11. In a sense Israel, or we might say a majority of the Jewish people, has done just that. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone (i.e., rejected God’s Messiah). They are cut off from Christ. They are more Esau than Jacob. They are playing the part of Pharaoh by opposing God’s promises. They are vessels of wrath. They have not pursued God’s righteousness. All of these things are written by Paul as indictments against Jews who have rejected Jesus. In terms of God’s purposes, I take Paul and others in the New Testament to indicate that God’s salvific intention is that all of humanity come to the knowledge of his son, be freed from sin, be given resurrection life, and be transformed to the image of his son. Because God has granted humans to have significant freedom, this is not the case because not all have committed themselves to God’s offer. God’s promises are sure because he is faithful, and his people are secure because they are in Christ. As Oropeza argues, Romans 8:28-39 is written to ensure and encourage the collective because they are going to experience collective persecution. They are promises to the people as a community of faith. They should not be taken as an ordo describing how God’s eternal decrees have been arranged. That, I think, is clearly beyond the intentions Paul has in this section of the letter.

BEN: It is very telling and interesting that in Paul’s little list in Rom. 9.1ff. of the things that Israel’s divine privileges and which set Israel part what he does NOT mention is circumcision, Sabbath, and kosher food laws. What do you make of this? It would seem that Paul does not see Israel as mainly defined by the boundary markers so often debated by the New Perspective folks.

CHAD: You could perhaps smuggle them in in the covenants or the Law, but they are clearly not his focus here. I think in places those come to the fore of the discussion in Paul, particularly in Romans and Galatians, because they were particular issues which had arisen in those communities. Circumcision in particular seems to have become a major issue among early Christians. I think a couple of elements exist which give us some pause from narrowing that completely as Paul’s focus. First, as I have argued, different Jewish authors of the period do not necessarily place the same degree of emphasis upon those elements. They show up with some prevalence across the literature, but they are more important for the author of Jubilees, for example, than they are for the author of 2 Maccabees or the Testaments. So to flatten those issues out as framing the entire discussion I think may be a bit unwarranted. This doesn’t mean those issues weren’t at the fore of what Paul was dealing with, but there seems to be more to the story as well. I think faithful Law observance in general is part of Paul’s target here because he is arguing that Jews must submit to God’s Messiah. Ethnicity and Torah aren’t sufficient in this new age which has broken into history in Christ. If they were, Gentiles would exempt and Jesus would be irrelevant. Going back to the spherical approach, operating within the Law as the primary means of identity for God’s people leaves out Gentiles and the Messiah. The Messiah himself is the primary means of identity, which means Jews who assume ethnic identity and/or Torah observance are sufficient are left outside of the blessings which Jesus secures.

BEN: One of the rabbit trails that Protestantism has run down since its inception is the notion that Paul is contrasting faith with ‘good works’ as though ‘good works’ were somehow problematic for a ‘sola fidei’ view of salvation. You’ve rightly pointed out that Paul has no problem with good works, even says in Ephesians believers were created in Christ to do them, and instead what he takes exception to is the insistence that his Gentile converts must do ‘works of the Mosaic Law’ in order to complete their salvation or better said be truly part of God’s people. To a large extent, we owe this false dichotomy to Luther, rather than Calvin or Wesley and it still haunts us. If you were asked what the relationship is in the Christian life between faith and good works, what would you say? What does Paul mean by ‘work out ya’lls (you plural) salvation with fear and trembling….’ ??

CHAD: I think in part the Pelagian controversy pushed the Church toward that sort of interpretation of Paul’s letters, which Luther then picks up as well. The desire became to remove any inkling of human activity (any “work”) from the process of salvation so as to avoid any Pelagian slips. Because many have divorced the two from one another, we see a great divide in much of popular evangelicalism where we have those who hold to some form of “faith alone” salvation in which good works are optional. In large measure, however, I think we should view salvation as transformative. There are a couple of ways we see this in the New Testament. The “salvation” word-group (soter-) has within it the “healing” or “restoration” aspect of meaning, so salvation can be not just rescue or forgiveness, but also restoration. Justification itself, as many theologians have recently developed, has an ethical orientation. Election, as I have argued in places in my book, has an ethical orientation. I’ve also mentioned this with the “faith” word-group as well (pist-), where these words can take on the dimension of “faithfulness” or “fidelity” in addition to “trust” or “belief.” So God’s salvific purpose are not just redemptive in the sense of forgiving someone of their sins and then letting them go about their business, God’s salvific purposes are ultimately about the complete transformation of the individual into the image of Christ, something which begins in the here and now but ultimately is completed in the eschaton. So as long as we view “good works” as something which comes after salvation as an option or simply as evidence of salvation rather than as its outflow and a part of what salvation itself is, I think we will continue to misunderstand the dramatic sense in which the Christian life is “in the now” reoriented. In terms of Philippians 2:12 (chapter 2 being one of my favorite Pauline texts), comes in the context of 2:1-11, where Paul is instructing the community to live in unity by putting the needs of others above their own just as Christ himself is our example. In 2:12, Paul tells the community (ya’ll, plural) to work out their salvation since God is at work among them. So the whole thrust of the passage beginning in 2:1 is communally oriented, and Paul picks up that emphasis again here after grounding their behavior in Christ’s model of self-sacrifice. So I would saying working out their salvation here is not working to earn their salvation, but rather collectively cultivating their unity as God’s people as the outworking of their identity as the people of God.

BEN: One of the confusions of Tom Schreiner and other committed Calvinists is the assumption that when Paul talks about individuals like Jacob and Esau in Rom. 9, he is referring to them NOT as representative heads of a people, but as isolated individuals, and so Paul must be talking about the double predestination of particular individuals. As you point out even when Paul uses the singular pronoun it can refer to the representative head of a group of people. I find this whole Calvinistic line of argument: 1) far too modern considering the dyadic personality of ancient peoples and how they viewed themselves as primarily parts of collectives; and 2) more to the point it completely ignores for example Gal. 4 where Hagar and Sarah very clearly represent two groups of people—namely they are the prefigurements of the Judaizers and of Paul and those who agree with him. Paul lines up those who represent Arabia, Sinai, and the ‘now’ Jerusalem and slavery in one camp, and those who represent the Jerusalem which is from above and those who are free in another. In some ways I find this just as individualistic and wrong as Mr. Warren’s whole discussion of God having a ‘will’ for your individual ‘purpose driven life’ which is somehow custom tailored to the individual and much more particular than what the NT says about the will of God for believers in general— namely their sanctification, their exercising of God’s gifts in their lives etc. We seem to insist on reading the Bible through highly individualistic late Western eyes, and the reading of Paul especially suffers from this malady. Would you agree?

CHAD: As I developed in earlier chapters, the concept of corporate representation was alive and well in Jewish literature, and at times was specifically connected with the concept of election and the language surrounding it. Jacob and Esau themselves in Jubilees serve as representatives of two groups. Jacob serves such a function throughout the Old Testament as well. Paul is working with this existing framework of Jacob and Esau as representatives, but he reorients what this entails. There is a sense here too that God’s choosings are counter-intuitive. It is not the older, but the younger. I think this is significant because Paul completes his argument by stating explicitly that God’s people are not just made up of Jews, but also Gentiles. This would have been counter-intuitive to many Jews, so Jacob and Esau both serve as corporate representatives and as illustrations of the fact that God is the one who gets to make the rules. I think the bigger problem with the individualistic interpretation is that Paul is not answer the question here of how God decides who to save. He is rather answering the question of why we should think Gentiles can be included as full members in God’s people without submitting fully to Torah and that many Jews are being left out. This is not, then, about God’s “fairness,” as some translate adikia in 9:14, but about his rightness, or faithfulness, if you will. Paul gives the explicit download of the argument from 9:1-23 in 9:24: Jews and Gentiles are both in God’s people, and this is not based on ethnicity or Torah-observance, but their identification with and commitment to God’s Messiah.

BEN: Another ‘Durham man’ B.J. Oropeza has written a very fine book on apostasy in the NT. One of the things he stresses is that Paul’s discussion of ‘the vessels of wrath’ is a discussion of Israel currently cut off from the people of God, but they are capable of being reunited with God’s people by grace and through faith in Jesus, and indeed in Ephes. 2.3 these vessels of wrath can and have in some cases already become followers of Christ. In other words, Paul is not talking about the final pre-determined destiny of particular individuals, but rather their current state of affairs, which Paul goes out of his way in Rom. 10-11 to make clear can be a temporary state of affairs, not a predetermined destiny. In our own age, it seems that one of the reasons for the resurgence of the appeal of hard line Calvinism with its dictums about ‘eternal security’ and a radical reading of God’s sovereignty which must rule out any other viable actors having the power of contrary choice is because of the uncertainties in our changing and progressively less Christian culture. Believers are looks for a kind of absolute theological comfort food when it comes to salvation, rather than having to live by faith and faithfulness, as we are called to do. What is your perspective on these things and our cultural malaise?

CHAD: If we view the vessels of wrath in 9:22 as referring to, at least primarily, Jews who have rejected Jesus, as seems clear from 9:23-24, then to view this as a fixed state, just as in Ephesians 2, does not appreciate the full scope of Paul’s argument, since Paul states in 11:23 that they will be re-grafted if they do not continue in their apistia, their “un-faith” in Jesus. So yes, it seems this is very much about the current state of affairs, and again answers the question of why we should think Gentiles can be included as full members in God’s people without submitting fully to Torah while many Jews are being left out. I suppose part of the issue is that we tend to read the Bible first and foremost as speaking to us in our context. When we step back and try to understand what it meant in its original context first, sometimes we end up seeing things differently. When we approach Romans not as Paul’s timeless articulation of his soteriology, but rather a letter written in real time and space to real people struggling with real issues related to the different ethnic identities which were a part of the early Church, I think Paul’s argument makes more sense. With that in view, it becomes apparent that the first 11 chapters of Romans are basically about Jews and Gentiles in the people of God. Perhaps some of the motivation for that interpretation lies in a quest for certainty. Perhaps it resonates with some as the Church’s “true heritage” since some of the interpretive impetus comes from the Reformers. I’m not sure as to the motivations. I do think, however it lacks explanatory power and scope for what is actually going on this passage and in the letter as a whole.

BEN: At one point in your discussion you object to two familiar lines of argument assumed to be Pauline: 1) that perfect observance of the Mosaic Law was impossible for fallen people (this despite Paul saying in Philippians he was blameless when it came to the observances of the Mosaic law) and 2) the assumption that asserting that one had obeyed the Law= asserting moral perfection. Even when one broke a law, there were provisions in the law to make amends, to make atonement. I find this especially puzzling. I have lived in the city of Lexington for 20 years without violating its laws, but this by no means should suggest that I am a morally perfect person. Moral or spiritual perfection goes well beyond law keeping, just as Christian ethics involves lots of positive things ‘against which [and for which] there is no law’. I don’t think Paul is suggesting the Law couldn’t be kept by devout Jews. To be blameless before the law is not the same as to be faultless. Why do you think this becomes such an issue for Protestant interpretation of Paul?

CHAD: I think that interpretation raises problems on a number of levels. First, it makes the entire Old Testament basically about God teaching humans a lesson about how they cannot be perfectly obedient and thus be saved. It also, as Sanders of course argued to get the NPP ball rolling, ignores that Jews in the Second Temple period weren’t trying to earn their salvation through perfect obedience. They were concerned with faithfulness to the covenant, which is a different matter altogether. The other problem is Paul never says any of this. It is read as an implicit premise, but it is not a necessary one, and one which I think confuses things more than it clarifies them. This was, of course, a large part of Stendahl’s critique in his famous essay. Paul is established as a paradigm for the existential journey to salvation where denunciation of the Law is the sinner’s recognition that they cannot save themselves. Paul is thus decontextualized in order to make his journey relatable. But this also flattens out what he actually says. Paul was not experiencing an existential crisis about how he could be saved, knowing that his works were not good enough, when he encountered Jesus. Augustine’s crisis, which became Luther’s crisis, in the history of interpretation became Paul’s crisis. But Paul never speaks of such a crisis when he gives his own narrative. This is why our starting point in interpretation should begin with the original context, its historical, cultural, and literary setting, and then proceed forward through the history of interpretation. Too often, however, we start with our starting place and end their as well. This reflects our narcissistic culture as well, since it attempts to make our story one and the same with Paul’s.

BEN: On p. 245, you take ‘the righteousness of God’ throughout Romans as referring to Jesus himself, the righteous one, so that when Paul contrasts the righteousness which comes from doing works of the Law, with the righteousness of God, the latter would seem to refer to the righteousness which comes from accepting Christ. Thus you disagree with the view, it would seem, which equates ‘righteousness of God’ with the covenant faithfulness of the Father to his prior agreements with Israel. Have I understood you correctly? And where do you stand on the ‘imputed righteousness’ concept? Does Christ’s righteousness substitute for the need of believers to be actually righteous?

CHAD: I think there is a pretty clear connection between Romans 10:3 and 3:21-22. There Paul very closely associates the righteousness of God with the faithfulness of Christ. This is similar as well I think to Romans 1:17, though different verbs are used, where the righteousness of God is revealed in the good news. If the good news is the message about Jesus, and God’s righteousness is revealed in it, then God’s righteousness is revealed in Jesus’ faithfulness. Circling back to Romans 10:3, when Paul says that they have ignored the righteousness of God and were seeking to stand in their own righteousness, I think he is saying they have ignored Jesus and are continuing on in Torah. The problem is that Torah, Paul says in 10:4, was supposed to lead them to Jesus (I take telos as “goal” rather than “end” here for a variety of reasons). This doesn’t necessarily clearly tie into Romans 3:5, which is the other mention of the phrase “righteousness of God” in Romans, though Paul could be anticipating his further description in 3:21-22. This is less, then, again about Jews trying to earn salvation by keeping the Law or doing “good works” and not being able to measure up, than that they have rejected God’s Messiah, who the Torah should have helped them to recognize and to whom they should submit. So I wouldn’t see Paul’s discussion about righteousness in these passages as primarily about imputation. That doesn’t mean Paul might not develop that elsewhere, but I don’t think that is his focus here.

BEN: On p. 250 you say election does not stand on ancestry or keeping of the Mosaic Law, but rather, in Paul’s view, on whether or not a Jew or gentile embraces the Messiah and obeys the Gospel call to faith as the means of right standing with God. The problem then for Israel is not merit based theology or even legalism but rather the simple failure to embrace Jesus their Messiah. Unpack this for the readers a bit.

CHAD: I think there are a number of indications through Romans 9-11 that this is what Paul is after. I previously mentioned Paul’s Isaac/Ishmael (ethnicity) and Jacob/Esau (Torah-observance) contrasts in the beginning of Romans 9. If election is not based on these factors, the question is raised in 9:14 as to whether or not God is righteous. Paul’s response is to invoke the Moses/Pharaoh contrast, indicating that those who are hardened now are the Jews who have rejected Jesus (which is confirmed in chapter 11, I think further indicating that this is what Paul was talking about in chapter 9). Paul then asks why God still finds fault and who resists his will? He answers by invoking the potter metaphor, which illustrates that God is free to form his people however he chooses, even if that means a people made of both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews who have rejected the Messiah are now vessels of wrath, not the Gentiles who have trusted him. The Gentiles attained the “from faith” righteousness but the Jews did not because they stumbled over the stumbling stone, that is, Jesus (cf. 9:32-33). Paul then remarks at the beginning of chapter 10 that they missed the goal of the Law, which was Jesus (i.e., the righteousness of God). The righteousness which they lacked was Jesus himself, not because they were chasing an unobtainable form of righteousness which could come through obedience to the Law. They must confess Jesus as Lord and embrace his resurrection (10:9). Their rejection is not for the lack of hearing, since they heard the good news but have not heeded it (10:16-18). So though there is a remnant who have trusted Christ, of which Paul is included, the rejection of God’s Messiah means most Jews are outside of the people of God. Paul states, however, that this will be reversed if they do not continue in their lack of faith in Jesus (11:23).

BEN: Admitting that the matter is complex, I am wondering whether you’ve considered the evidence for ‘houtos’ meaning ‘in the same manner’ in Rom. 11.25-26, which would suggest that Paul envisions the final salvation of ‘all Israel’ on the very same basis, by grace through faith in Jesus, as for Gentiles. I would also suggest that when Paul associates the miracle of Jacob’s repentance and turning with ‘life from the dead’ and ‘the Redeemer coming from heavenly Zion/Jerusalem’ to accomplish this task (noting the way he paraphrases Isaiah, largely following the LXX) he must be talking about an event at the parousia which follows the full number of Gentiles coming in. The mystery Paul refers to is the reversal or the order of salvation— Gentiles first, Jews later. Comment a bit.

CHAD: I do think that Paul envisions the Jewish regrafting as occurring through faith in Christ. I think seeing the “Deliverer” of 11:26 as Christ makes sense contextually. I’m not sure if houtos is carrying all of that freight in terms of conveying that Jews will be regathered through the same means as Gentiles, but I think the reading in the context is clear that Jesus is the resolution. I also think that understanding the mystery here as the reversal of the order of salvation makes sense. My understanding of “mystery” language in Paul (which is a transliteration rather than a translation) is that Paul uses it to talk about some secret which was previously unknown which has now been disclosed. So Paul is explaining the mystery, not alluding to some hidden or obscure knowledge which he doesn’t make known. Since he immediately speaks about the fullness of Gentiles and the partial hardening of Israel following that comment, it seems the likely referent. I think it is certainly possible to read the parousia as the time of the occurrence from the coming from Zion language, but Paul doesn’t seem to be concerned here with primarily describing the time frame as much as assuring that this will come about.

December 23, 2015

chad

BEN: The discussion in chapter six about the heavenly tablets in Jubilees and their relationship to the book of life and the book of destruction is especially interesting in light of the discussion in Revelation where we have a warning that some people’s names can be blotted out of the lamb’s book of [everlasting] life, contingent on behavior. It appears that we are being told that while some things seem to be foreordained, one’s eternal destiny is not one of them or at least one’s destiny is in part conditional based on one’s behavior after one is in the book of life— would you agree?

CHAD: The majority of references in Jubilees to the heavenly tablets refer to laws which are eternally ordained along with their consequences. Beyond these occurrences though, certain events are also said to be recorded in the heavenly tablets. Some take this to mean the author is working within an absolutely deterministic framework. In some of these instances, the text seems to indicate that it still has the legal function of the tablets in mind. In others, they act as a register of the righteous and the wicked, recording the deeds of each individual, apparently for use at the final judgment. There are also indications that these records have some fluidity, since names can be blotted out, for example, of the book of life. In other words, they do not record a pre-programmed fate for every individual, but rather are a record of the fate of each individual, which can change should their relationship to God change (e.g., should the wicked repent). So, yes, there are some events which are foreordained, but it seems to overstep the data to suggest that all of human history is thereby foreordained, including the destiny of each individual person. Beyond this, since part of the purpose of Jubilees, just as many books of the period, is to reinforce the faithful and call the wicked to repentance through warnings of judgment, this purpose seems to be defeated by an overarching, meticulous form of determinism.

BEN: I’ve always found it puzzling when hardline Calvinists insist on God’s will being the real bottom line of the divine existence. By this I mean a lot of them seem to say that ‘God knows things in advance, only because he wills them in advance’, otherwise his knowledge would be contingent on various external factors. What furthermore puzzles me is the notion that God’s sovereignty means God can do anything that is logically possible to do, even including doing evil. I would have thought it would be better to say that 1) God can only act in accordance with his nature or character, so by definition God cannot sin, nor can he be tempted or inclined to do so; OR 2) even if it is theoretically possible that God could do evil or sin, since God has the power of contrary choice like humans do, he would never choose to do it because he has a perfect and perfectly holy nature. What I take the almightiness of God to mean in the Scriptures is that he is almighty to save, almighty to do any good thing in accord with his nature, but since his will is not separate from his nature or knowledge, there are ever so many things that happen in this fallen world that God can not be held responsible for, including ironically, what insurers call ‘acts of God’. Of course we can talk about God’s permissive will, things God allows to happen, but does not necessarily condone, but at some juncture one has to have a concept of whether or not God gave beings other than himself the power of contrary choice, or whether he determined all things from before the foundations of the universe. If in fact God made space in his universe for beings other than himself to have some modicum of freedom of choice between one outcome or another, then God is not the only actor in the universe who should be held responsible for his behavior. The question then becomes— are fallen human beings non posse non peccare—not able not to sin, and so in the bondage to sin. I would say there are texts in the OT and NT which suggest this is so, but at the same time there are texts which suggest that by God’s grace one can recover the power of contrary choice, whether by prevenient or saving grace. I wonder what your reflections are on these sorts of complex matters?

CHAD: I tend to view sovereignty through the lens of reigning since the terminology is connected. To say God is sovereign is to say he is the ruler of the cosmos. This does not, by definition, require a meticulous form of determinism. Those who say it does are simply loading determinism into the meaning of “sovereign,” where I don’t think the biblical accounts require that. One of the interesting passages for me which connects to this sovereignty language is the Lord’s prayer. To pray, “May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in the heavens,” seems to recognize that not everything which is happening on earth, then or now, is God’s will. In other words, it is not God’s will when people disobey God’s will! I think saying God is not the only actor is right. Humans have significant creaturely freedom (which of course does not mean they are free to do anything they want or can think of). God is the supreme actor, but this does not mean humans have no role to play. We cannot take this, as you suggest, to mean that humans then can pull themselves from their depraved state and save themselves, or even that they have an uninfluenced path to salvation. This is part of what I found unsatisfying about Wright’s language of the Spirit’s role in salvation is that it seems to want to create both an influencing role and a causal role. In my view, humans do not receive the divine gift of salvation apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, which occurs through receiving the good news about Jesus. The Spirit’s work does not, however, guarantee an outcome, it does not have a causative force, since the human, being drawn and prompted by the Spirit and upon hearing the truth, must ultimately respond to it. So the work of God, both in what Christ accomplished and in the ongoing work of the Spirit through the people of God in the world, precedes any “decision” a person might make. Salvation is truly gracious, it is generously and freely offered by God to the world, on the basis of the work of the Son, through the moving of the Spirit, but ultimately must be received and appropriated.

BEN: One of the things this chapter suggests is that the deterministic language that we find for example even in the Qumran texts has to do with the fact that God set up a moral structure to the universe such that ‘whatsoever one sows, that he shall [eventually] reap’ if he does not repent. Put another way, sinful actions have negative consequences, and the reverse with good deeds. The idea that God has predetermined that actions have moral consequences seems to be what even some of the most deterministic texts at Qumran are really arguing for. Would you agree?

CHAD: Most scholars who study the Qumran materials have taken it as a foregone conclusion that the sect operated under an exhaustive form of determinism. The Hodayot, or “Thanksgiving Hymns,” evidence this perhaps most dramatically. In 1QH 7, for example, we read “the wicked you have created for [the time] of your wrath, from the womb you have predestined them for the day of slaughter.” Seems pretty clearly a form of double-predestination. The hymnist goes on, however, to write, “For they walk on a path that is not good, they reject your covenant, their soul loathes you.” 1QH 12 states that the wicked “have not chosen the path of your [heart] nor have they listened to your word.” This seems to indicate that the sectarian who wrote this hymn understood there to be some place for human volition. So even in these more deterministic texts there are indications that there may be more of an interplay at work. There are petitions, for example, for God to intervene and prevent the sectarian from sin. In the Damascus Document, we seem to find a sort of foreknowledge understanding in which God does not choose those whose evil deeds he knows ahead of time. The author also admonishes his hearers to “choose what he is pleased with and repudiate what he hates.” So viewing this not as an exhaustive form of determinism, but rather as some combination of God ordaining what is good and what is evil (i.e., some pre-existing divine law or order) and knowing ahead of time the actions of the wicked or righteous seems, at least to me, to make sense of some of the tensions we find in the Qumran literature between the more deterministic language and the presence of petitions, admonishments to choose the righteous path, and mechanisms in place to deal with apostasy from within the chosen community itself.

BEN: In the back and forth between divine action and human response, or divine determinism and human responsibility you seem to want to stress that insofar as we are talking about Paul, while he refers to both these things that we should not take him to mean “that God acts in such a unilateral manner so as to make the presence of human responsibility either illusory or meaningless.” (p. 212). You add that Paul does not see God and human beings as equivalent actors in the human drama, so that their actions have the same force or efficacy. You simply want to leave room for viable non-coerced human choice for which they can be held morally responsible— right?

CHAD: Yes, that is exactly right. And that is the interplay which I think we also see across the spectrum of Jewish literature. While some texts (Jubilees, Qumran, 1 Enoch, etc.) emphasize the divine prerogative, they do not eliminate, at least in my view, the presence of human volition. Likewise, texts which emphasize human volition (Ben Sira, Psalms of Solomon, etc.) do not indicate that human agency is somehow independent of the working of God (i.e., there is no works-based salvation in view). There does not seem to be to be any truly deterministic framework present in the Second Temple literature. Rather there is an interplay between divine agency and human agency which exists in the Jewish framework. I think Paul is working within this framework as well. The initiative and prerogative of the work of salvation lies with God. Humans do not bring something to the table which can bring about their own salvation. This does not mean, however, that there is no place for human agency at all. Rather, Paul sees the presence of both, though not of equal measure or efficacy, at work in the divine plan.

BEN: On page 213 you say that the Law is not the problem, but rather sin, the Law being the hireling of the tyrant sin. The problem with this assessment is that even if human beings were not fallen, the Law is still not the Holy Spirit. The Law can tell a person what they ought to do, but it cannot enable them to do it. Furthermore, Paul says that the Law, in effect turns sin into trespassing, a willful violation of a now known law, so if we are talking about fallen human beings, the Law certainly makes things worse. This is not to say that the Law is the bad guy, it’s just that in Paul’s view the Law is impotent. It cannot change human nature. Talk a bit more about your view of Paul’s view of the Law. Why do you think that ‘law’ in Rom. 8.2 must refer to the Mosaic Law? This is not at all clear to me, especially when Paul talks about ‘another law’ at the end of Romans 7 which is clearly not the Mosaic Law, and in fact Paul uses the term nomos in a variety of ways. For example ‘the law of Christ’ does not refer to Christ’s take on the Mosaic Law in toto. It also includes the teaching of Jesus, the teaching of the apostles, as well as those portions of the old covenant that are reaffirmed.

CHAD: This is where I take some queues again from Snodgrass and his “spheres of influence.” Snodgrass takes the genitives here as spherical where Paul contrasts “the Law of the Spirit of life” with “the Law of sin and death.” These are not two Laws or simply “principles,” but rather the Law in the realm of the Spirit where it can properly function because the human actor is empowered, or the Law in the realm of sin and death where human flesh lacks the empowering influence of the Spirit. The problem, as I see it, which Paul discuss in Romans 7 is that sin and death, taking advantage of the impotency of human flesh, coopted the Law and used it for their own purposes (i.e., to bring death and increase sin). So it was not the Law which was the problem, but humans. The Law, Paul says, is holy, righteous, and good (7:12). The two Laws which Paul contrasts in 7:22-23 seem to me to preview what he says in 8:2. The Law of God is at war with the Law of his mind and makes him captive to the Law of sin. These are not different Laws or simply principles, but rather the same Law under different operating forces. The “ego’s” mind (whoever Paul is describing here with “I,” which is, of course, debated), his will, so to speak, is aligned with the Law of God, but his flesh, weakened and lacking empowerment from the Spirit, is enslaved to the Law of sin. Since the focus on chapter 7 has been on the Mosaic Law in particular, and Paul continues with the nomos language, it seems to me that discussion spills over also into chapter 8.

BEN: Talk about your reading of Ephesians 1. It sounds rather like Markus Barth’s view that Christ is the elect one and we are only elect insofar as we are in Him. This would make good sense of the statement that God chose…’in Christ’ because at least Christ existed, according to Paul, before the foundations of the universe, whereas, we did not. It’s not just about choosing before the foundations of the world, it’s about choosing someone back then. I agree with your point about ‘pro-orisas’ simply meaning deciding in advance, without any necessary deterministic component being implied. Do you take the reference to ‘saints chosen in Christ’ to refer to Israel being chosen in Christ the Elect One, or perhaps to Jewish Christians like Paul being chosen in advance to be the light to the nations? However one parses this it seems clear that election is one thing and salvation is another. Jesus is the Elect One and yet he doesn’t need to be saved! Israel’s election was to a particular historical purpose, and some of Israel is clearly ‘not saved’ along the paths of history. In fact, I would say that the OT does not talk about salvation in the Christian sense, of being saved in Christ meaning being given everlasting life.

CHAD: Election ultimately occurs “in Christ” (as I would say as does also salvation, sanctification, etc.), so Paul I think is framing his discussion here in a participationistic model. Those who are “in Christ” are the “chosen people.” So God’s choice occurs before the foundation of the world because Christ has always been God’s chosen sphere of salvation. To put it another way, I think God’s plan all along was for humans to be conformed to the image of Jesus. In the incarnation, of course, that becomes clear. Humanity as it has always been intended to be is what Jesus himself is, and those “in Him” are, are becoming, and will become, just that: like Jesus. I think that the “saints” language in Ephesians, particularly through chapter 3, makes good sense contextually to be seen as referring to Israel, or more specifically to Jewish Christians. So what Paul is actually doing in Ephesians 1:3-13 is developing something of a salvation history of the people of Israel. This section is packed with language straight out of the Old Testament about the people of God. They are “chosen,” “holy,” “in love,” “adopted,” “redeemed,” “forgiven,” full of “wisdom,” have the revealed “will” of God, “hoped beforehand in Christ,” etc. It would take a dissertation (maybe one has already been done?) to tease out all of the Old Testament allusions which are packed into those verses. So they are the people of God, but the divine plan was a single plan all along, so Jewish Christians stand not just in the line of promises made in the Old Testament, but they also stand within the fulfillment of those promises through the work of Christ. If Paul is working toward addressing the problem of the need for Gentiles to appreciate their dependency upon God’s promises to Israel, to establish the history behind those promises first seems to me a necessity, and thus a satisfying interpretation of what is going here at the beginning of the letter.

BEN: Ephes. 1.13 seems particularly crucial for your argument that up to then Paul is talking about the Jewish believers, and the priority of their being addressed first by the Gospel, but in 1.13— the ‘also you’ refers to the turn to the Gentiles. Help the readers understand this exposition by Paul.

CHAD: It seems more than coincidental to me that Paul consistently uses first person plural pronouns in Ephesians 1:3-12. There is a lot of “we” and “us” going on. When he gets to 1:13, he states, “in whom also you (“yall”), when you (“yall”) heard the word of truth…” There is then some interchange between the “we” and the “you” throughout Ephesians 1-3. Some have suggested this is just stylistic variation, which I don’t think sufficiently explains the data. Others have said Paul is probably just referring to his companions with the “we” language, but his companions barely figure at all in the letter. What does figure prominently in the letter, and especially in the first three chapters, is the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the people of God. So in light of that, I think Paul’s “we’s” clearly refer to Jews or Jewish Christians, and his “you’s” refer to Gentile Christians, in particular those who are the intended audience(s) of the letter.

BEN: You deny Paul is talking about double predestination in Ephes. 1. What then are to make of statements about being dead in sin, or being children of wrath? Is Paul talking about their condition before conversion, or at the eschaton?

CHAD: In the context of this statement in Ephesians 2:1-2, Paul has just mentioned the resurrection of Jesus in 1:20. So I think the connection here with death is not describing a predetermined state but rather is working within the conceptual framework of the resurrection life. Those who are not “in Christ” have not shared in his resurrection and thus are dead in sin. I don’t see any need contextually to read any more into it than that. If Paul’s pronouns are indicative of his audience here, which I think they are, Paul is specifically speaking to these Gentile converts who were formerly under the rule of the “powers,” the powers which are still operating over those who are not Christ. That Paul does not intend “children of wrath” or “sons of disobedience” as descriptions of those predestined by God for judgment seems clear since he is talking about the former state of his own audience who are now believers. In other words, their position changed from “out” to “in” when they trusted in Christ, which would not be possible if Paul were referring to a previously determined and fixed state.

BEN: What does it mean to say that God prepared before hand good works for the saved to walk in, rather than saying God prepared the people before hand for good works? What’s the difference?

CHAD: I take this to mean something similar to what we saw at Qumran and in other Second Temple texts where God has determined right and wrong, good and evil, and their boundaries. The kind of works which God’s people, those conformed and being conformed to the image of Christ, are to be doing have been determined ahead of time. From a theological perspective, though this is not explicit in the text, I would say that the good activities which God has for his people to do flow from God’s nature rather than being something which God arbitrarily determined. In other words, because God is good and God is love, the good works which are predetermined for his people are those which flow from God’s very essence as good and love. The intended result of God’s preparations are that his people will walk in the works he has prepared, indicating again, it seems, a serious volitional component to the whole schema. Paul develops the theological framework for that case here and lays out its ethical implications beginning in chapter 4 of the letter.

December 22, 2015

chad

BEN: In Chapter 5 it becomes clear that early Jews mostly thought that election was conditional, and the condition was faithfulness to the Mosaic covenant and its Law. You quote deSilva approvingly as follows “fidelity to the covenant ensures peace, sin against the covenant brings punishment, and repentance and renewal of obedience leads to restoration.” (p. 150). So only faithful Israelites remain in the covenant relationship and they do so by obedience, by being Torah true, and in that sense righteous. Outside the Pauline corpus is there any evidence that ‘all Israel’ will be saved regardless of their behavior, which is to say, is there any evidence of unconditional election of Israel with the outcome entirely determined by the Almighty, not by the human response? It seems clear that some of these texts even think that the majority of Jews will be lost.

CHAD: It seems to me there is not as it relates to the literature which I reviewed. My focus was specifically on materials from the Second Temple Period which were primarily in and around the Judean area (with some exceptions) which pre-date Paul or roughly date to his time period. So I can’t speak definitively outside of that group of texts in terms of, say Philo or post 100 CE Jewish literature. But within that group of texts, which in my mind is the best representation we have of the nature of Jewish beliefs around the period of the New Testament, it seems to me the answer is a resounding no.

BEN: At one juncture in this chapter you suggest that the Jewish Sibylline Oracles may be an exception to the rule that election is conditional on a certain response. But this seems to me to be an argument from silence, namely that just because the Oracles are silent about the judging of wicked Jews does not necessarily imply that the author or authors think ‘all Israel will be saved’. What do you think about this suggestion?

CHAD: Yes, I would say it is an exception to the extent that it is ambiguous. I don’t think there are any clear indications in the Sibylline Oracles of the unconditional election of all Israel and there are some implicit indications of a conditional view of election. So it is not an exception in that it contradicts that model but rather that it just doesn’t make explicit statements one way or the other.

BEN: Was the Testament of Moses the only example of a text which seemed to clearly exclude Gentiles from God’s salvation of human beings, and limit it only to some Jews?

CHAD: In my research it was the only one which so forcefully seemed to reject any possibility for Gentile salvation. In most texts, it is clear that the Gentiles are predominantly viewed as outsiders, but we do not find other explicit statements that they are destined for damnation. In many texts we find positive remarks about Gentiles (e.g., 2 Maccabees) which I think very much leave open the possibility. In others, like the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch, we find wholesale Gentile inclusion at the eschaton. I think the OT prophetic literature itself, with its expectations of the gathering of the nations around Zion, likely influenced most Jews from being too adamant about the damnation of all Gentiles, but the Testament of Moses seems an exception to that larger pattern.

BEN: Some readers of your book, having already read Sander’s classic study Paul and Palestinian Judaism will be very surprised to hear there are early Jewish texts which reject the notion of unconditional election of ‘all Israel’ and quite to the contrary affirm that a majority of God’s people appear to be under his judgment, with only a righteous remnant being saved (see Psalms of Solomon, Dead Sea Scrolls, pseudo-Philo, Testament of Moses). Unless you want to call ALL of these documents sectarian in character and a-typical, it would seem that many if not most of Paul’s Jewish contemporaries operated with a righteous remnant concept. And some will surely ask you— Is this different from the view or views we find in the OT itself? And why is it, do you think that some of these apparently minimalist texts are prepared to entertain the salvation of some Gentiles, at least at the eschaton, while others are not?

CHAD: Yes, it is interesting to me that Sanders came to the conclusion he did concerning the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal texts. He primarily examines Ben Sira, 1 Enoch, Jubilees, Psalms of Solomon, and 4 Ezra. In my reading, each of these texts strongly evidences a more conditional understanding of the covenant, with Ben Sira perhaps being the least obvious. I think this raises some problems for Sanders’ interpretation in places. It seems to me by starting with the Rabbinic material, which I would view, following Neusner, as less reliable depictions of Second Temple thought, that Sanders may have then taken that framework and the famous statement in m. Sanh. 10:1 that “all Israel has a share in the world to come” and applied it as the lens through which he read Second Temple Judaism. I think Sanders’ critique against older views of Judaism as “works-righteousness” based rather than grace based is overall very helpful. But this is one area where I think his study does not adequately account for the data. It is interesting as well that in m. Sanh. 10:1-3, it is said that those who deny the resurrection, those who read from heretical books, those who pronounce the tetragrammaton, Jeroboam, Ahab, and Manasseh, the spies, the wilderness generation, and idolaters, all groups which include or are predominantly Jews, do not have a share in the world to come. So even the Mishnah here portrays covenant belonging as conditional. I do think this largely meshes with how the covenant is portrayed in the Old Testament as well, though what distinguishes it, at least in part, is the emphasis in some of these texts on certain aspects of keeping the Law as primary over and against others. Concerning the salvation of the Gentiles, many of the texts which entertain either a possible hope or a clear hope for the salvation of some or many Gentiles (though not all, since those who oppress God’s people in particular are excluded) seem to me to follow the prophetic tradition of the nations being gathered to God to worship and serve him (e.g., Ps 2:8; 22:27; 82:8; 98:2; Isa 2:2-4; 11:10-12; 52:10; 61:11; 62:2; 66:19-20; Jer 3:17; 16:19-21; 33:9; Ezek 36:22-23; 37:28; Dan 7:14; Zeph 3:9, 20; Zech 9:10). This is met, however, within that same literature with proclamations of judgment and destruction against the nations as well. So part of what is displayed in the Second Temple literature is either maintaining that tension between judgment and salvation as the prophetic literature does, or favoring one aspect of it, as the Testament of Moses does, by declaring the condemnation of the Gentiles.

BEN: On p. 172 you say “God displayed his ‘rightness’ through the faithful obedience of Jesus, even to the point of death [on a cross]”. In what sense was it right for God to send his Son to a death on a cross? Do you mean this was a demonstration of God’s righteous character and his judgment of sin, or do you take dikaiosune as Wright tends to do as meaning something like God’s covenant faithfulness?

CHAD: I think Paul is wrestling here, similar to and as a sort of preview of Romans 9-11, with how to understand God as still being faithful to his promises to Israel if there is large-scale Jewish rejection of the Messiah and if Gentiles are brought in, seemingly dissolving any special relationship God had with Israel. So God’s “right” action (his acting “above the bar” in a sense or acting in “redemptive charity” and “uprightness”) for both Jews and Gentiles has been made manifest in the faithful life and death of the Son. I don’t think construing the dikai- language primarily as “justice” here completely fits in the scheme Paul has set up. Being revealed “apart from the Law” I take to indicate, as a segue of sorts, that Paul is beginning to dismantle the notion that Gentile converts must be fully-Torah compliant, as he begins to make more clear in 3:27ff. So I think in a sense it could be construed as faithfulness to the covenant promises, meaning most likely the promises to Abraham, though Paul does not explicitly establish that here. If used in a non-covenantal sense, I think it would simply refer to God’s upright, charitable, “above the bar” character in his dealings with fallen humanity. I would thus take the relational element in the passage as probably more at the forefront of Paul’s mind based upon how he sets up this section in 3:1-8.

BEN: I must say I find Dunn’s discussion of ‘hilasterion’ unsatisfying, and at some points wrong. That word absolutely is used in wider Greek literature to refer to the assuaging of some deity’s wrath, and so to propitiation. It appears to me Dunn wants to reduce the term to mean expiation of sin, and this does not work, because one has to ask— why for example in the OT the blood is applied to the contact point with God within the tabernacle—to the very horns of the altar. Sin is only expiated if a righteous God is propitiated. Say more as to why you seem to agree with Dunn (p. 172 n. 89).

CHAD: Part of the difficulty with hilasterion here is its limited usage in the NT (only here and in Heb 9:5) and in the OT (only a handful of times, primarily in Exodus and Leviticus). In the OT, it is usually translated as “mercy seat” and identified with the ark of the covenant. The mercy seat is associated primarily with God’s presence in these texts (cf. Exod 25:21; Lev 16:2; Num 7:89) with the exception of the day of atonement ritual described in Leviticus 16:13ff. In Leviticus 16:16, it states that blood is placed on the hilasterion to purify the holy place because of the sins of the people. The atonement for the people appears to take place on the altar outside of the tent, not at the mercy seat, which is described in 16:17ff. So the “mercy seat” as the place of the atonement for the sins of the people doesn’t seem to me to be what is described in Leviticus. Rather what happens at the mercy seat is purification, or removal of the effects of sin on the sacred space, and various OT commentators affirm that to be so. I wouldn’t deny that there are frameworks of propitiation elsewhere within the word group, but it seems to me that the hilasterion language from the LXX as it relates to the day of atonement is more closely related to purification than appeasement. Dunn’s point, which is of course debated, is that atonement in the OT acts on sin (i.e., atonement is “for a person” or “for sin”) rather than on God, and suggests that is the background from which Paul is drawing. I think the closest linguistic parallel to what we find in the New Testament usage probably actually comes from 4 Maccabees 17:22, where the seven martyrs are a hilasterion which prompts God to rescue Israel, which Dunn goes on to address in the section which follows. There are certainly in a sense more questions (at least for me!) than answers in this section of Romans where Paul is mixing various metaphors together, using some unclarified language, drawing on a variety of OT themes, and bringing them all together in a very dense formulation, particularly in 3:24-26.

BEN: I agree with your point on p. 173 that ‘works of the law’ probably is not meant by Paul to just refer to the boundary markers of Judaism (circumcision, Sabbath keeping, kosher), but is used more broadly by Paul to refer to any and all works of the Mosaic Law. I also agree that he is not talking in Rom. 3 about the inability to keep the Law perfectly. He is talking about the basis of right-standing with God under the new covenant as opposed to that basis in the old covenant. Right-standing is obtained by grace through faith in the faithfulness of Jesus. Yes?

CHAD: Yes, going back to the “spheres” notion in Galatians 2-3 again I think is helpful. As Paul will come to inquire in Romans, and argues in Galatians, if the Law in and of itself was sufficient to bring eschatological life, then why did Christ need to come? The Law’s purpose was to both mark out God’s people as distinct from their neighbors and to provide a framework for ethical living fitting of the people of God. But it was limited in what it could effect. If the “works of the Law” (variously understood by different Jewish groups in terms of what has prominence) are the realm of justification or the primary marker of God’s people, then Gentiles must, in essence, become Jews to be in God’s people. This is what I take Paul to mean when he says “for we reason a person to be justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God for the Jews only? Or is he also for the Gentiles? Yes, also for the Gentiles!” If the Law is the defining marker, in that “sphere,” so to speak, Gentiles either must become like Jews or be left out. For Paul, Jesus’ faithfulness, and the initial and ongoing response of the believer to it, is the only means of identifying who the people of God actually are.

BEN: Unpack the idea on p. 174 that the reason Paul uses two different prepositions ‘ek pistis’ for Jews, ‘dia pistis’ for Gentiles is because for Jews who were already in a covenant relationship with God, what has happened is covenant renewal, but for Gentiles it’s a genuinely new covenant, since they enter the chosen people from outside. This seems to require you taking ‘ek’ to mean ‘from within’. But is there really a basis for that reading of the preposition?

CHAD: As we also see in Galatians 2, Paul’s prepositions seem to be making some sort of distinction between Jews and Gentiles. If we take these prepositions spatially, there is a “nearness” which I think is indicated by ek, and a “farness” indicated by dia. This is not to say there are two different ways of salvation for Jews and Gentiles, but rather, I think somewhat in a salvation historical sense, it recognizes they come from two different starting points. As Paul began the chapter (and also brings up in Romans 9), the Jews had certain advantages, but those advantages in and of themselves do not constitute them being right with God (which I think most Jews, again, would have agreed with to some extent). The other option to take would be that there is no distinction intended between the prepositions, which many commentators accept. Their presence seems to be more than accidental or stylistic flare to me.

BEN: What does it mean to say that Abraham is in a sense the first Gentile convert, not the first Jew, in the sense that he was declared in right-standing with God on the basis of his trust in God, and not on the basis of keeping the (later)Mosaic covenant and doing its works of the Law? Abraham was ‘justified’ before he was circumcised and so before he kept any such Law. You interestingly suggest that perhaps Abraham becomes the parade example of how God justifies the ungodly (which ironically is also why he can be called the father of many nations not just the forefather of Jews), and therefore there is no basis in the Abraham story for Jewish exclusivity when it comes to who counts as the people of God—right?

CHAD: There is an interesting development in some of the Second Temple literature where Abraham is portrayed as a paradigmatic Law keeper. We see this as anachronistic since the Law wasn’t yet given, but the presence of this theme in various places (e.g., Pseudo-Philo, Ben Sira, Jubilees, etc.) demonstrates the vision of many Jews of the period that Torah observance was what defined God’s people, and Abraham, being the father of Israel that he was, would then necessarily need to likewise be Torah-observant. Paul turns that argument around in Romans 4, demonstrating “from the Law” (i.e., the Pentateuch) that Abraham was considered right with God prior to his circumcision. Abraham then becomes Paul’s paradigm for Gentile inclusion in the people of God apart from full Torah observance (again, circumcision is his primary focus here, but it need not necessarily be limited to that). Paul asks in Rom 4:9 if the divine blessings come only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised. The conundrum he raises is that if the answer is on the circumcised only, than Abraham himself would have been exempt since the covenant was initiated before he was circumcised! To put it another way, if only those in the sphere of the Law are right with God, Abraham himself would be left out. As both uncircumcised and circumcised, Abraham is capable of being the father of both Jews and Gentiles.

BEN: One of the interesting dances back and forth in Ephesians is the distinction between Jews and Gentiles, with the reminder that Gentiles came into the people of God as the Johnny come latelys, and at the same time the stress that in Christ whatever the person’s background, all are equal. Would you take Ephesians as a sort of object lesson to Gentiles to appreciate their fellow Jewish Christians and the heritage they have shared with them, while at the same time maintaining their equality in Christ, with the ‘middle wall of partition’ that has been torn down being the Mosaic law covenant?

CHAD: Yes, I think Ephesians 1-3 is largely about calling the Gentiles to remember their dependence upon Israel for the inheritance which they have received. Paul does not lay out explicitly what the issue was with this church (or churches), but I think that is a fair conclusion to draw from what he explains in those chapters. So Gentiles need to recognize the historical primacy of Israel for their own salvation, while also recognizing that now they are joint heirs and not just second class citizens in the people of God. There would be no inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s people if there first was not a covenant people. As he demonstrates in Romans and Galatians, Paul (who I take to be the “mind” behind the letter even if it is not penned from his hand) does not expect Gentiles to become Jewish. Those markers which separated Jews and Gentiles in the realm of the Law (Paul mentions only circumcision in the immediate context, but certainly there were other barriers created by the Law as well) no longer separate them in Christ. Gentiles stay Gentiles, and Jews stay Jews, just as males stay males and females stay females, but both are formed into one, unified, cooperating, equal people through the reconciliation accomplished in Christ’s death.

BEN: One of the least convincing parts of Wright’s argument in Paul and the Faithfulness of God is the attempt to say that Jesus=Israel=the church of Jew and Gentile incorporated into Jesus. Ephesians certainly does not support such a notion of Israel, where ‘Israelites’ are clearly distinguished from Gentiles. Gentiles are indeed incorporated into the body of Christ and so into Christ, and thereby are heirs to the promises and connected to the Abrahamic covenant as in Gal. 4, but they are not integrated into the Mosaic covenant and that covenant community of non-Christian Jews. Say a bit about your vision of both the problems and the promise of Wright’s aforementioned big book.

CHAD: I don’t think it’s easy to tie the Israel and Church language together in Paul’s letters to be referring to the same thing. There is a sense in which the national identity takes a back burner and the Church identity comes to the fore. The way I describe it is that there is one people of God who, in the new covenant, is made up of Jews and Gentiles together in Christ. Gentiles do not become Israelites. Israel does not become the Church or vice versa. Paul never makes statements which give us indications that all of these identities are completely collapsed. In terms of Wright’s big Paul book, I certainly overall agree with his starting point and approach in terms of framing Paul’s thought in communication with the Jewish and Greco-Roman world. The biggest problem with Wright’s big book is how big it is! I do appreciate Wright’s attempt to draw together a cohesive narrative from the Old Testament to the New as a means of making sense of Paul and some of the larger contours of what he develops I think are helpful. Wright also focuses on Jesus as the locus of election and works with something of a participationist soteriological model, which I find overall helpful. I think in some way the symbolic representation of Jesus=Israel makes sense in certain places, but in some, if not perhaps most, places I think he tries to make the narrative a bit too smooth where it isn’t obviously present at all. It seems in some places he denies a replacement perspective is what he is articulating, while in others (such as p.831), it seems like that is precisely what he is articulating. This happens also with his narrative approach overall which, again, I think is helpful in some places and feels strained in others. I found, for instance, his description of sin being located and isolated in Israel as God’s purpose of the Torah in order to deal with sin through Israel’s Messiah as confusing (895ff.). Where Wright also sees the Torah as having a majorly negative role (cf. 862), I would articulate things a bit differently. I also felt his discussion of the role of the Spirit in regeneration was a bit unclear (952ff.). In some places he uses stronger causal language to describe the Spirit’s role in creating faith, and in others “inspirational” language. The lack of precision felt a little bit like he was hedging his bets on the matter.

BEN: You finish this lengthy chapter by saying that God’s people are defined around the crucified and risen Jesus and faith in him is the only boundary one has to cross to get into the people of God. You suggest that God’s promise to Abraham to be a blessing to the nations could not be fulfilled any other way, in Paul’s view. Say more about this Christology redefining of the boundaries between insiders and outsiders, between God’s people and even other non-Christian Jews.

CHAD: I think in a sense, Paul came to understand that this redefinition of the boundaries of God’s people was essential in order for a meaningful ingathering of the Gentiles to occur. The corollary of it was also, as he discusses in Romans 9-11, a temporary Jewish rejection, which I think Paul views to ultimately be eschatologically resolved. So as it relates to the Jew/Gentile relationship, the redefinition of boundaries (“in Christ” v. “works of the Law”) was fundamentally necessary. Beyond this, Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishes what the Law could not in that the Law did not have a mechanism to overcome the problem of sin and death. It could not impart eschatological life even if it could lead God’s people into “the good life,” in the sense of their personal flourishing for the remnant who were faithful. So Jesus’ death unbinds the powers of sin and death and his resurrection and the subsequent impartation of the Spirit results in the giving of eschatological life to his people as well as their empowering to walk faithfully in covenantal relationship with God.

December 20, 2015

chad

BEN: Chad in this chapter you talk about the ‘limited non-nationalistic understanding of election’ (p. 135) as permeating early Jewish literature. By this I take you to mean that Jews did view themselves as God’s chosen people, but while their ethnic identity was a primary marker of who was chosen, it was not a sufficient one or even always an exclusive one (i.e. even non-Jews, if they became Torah observant and got circumcised could be considered part of the chosen people). By this I mean that the chosen are said to be those who are the righteous, those who obey Torah, those who keep the commandments, those who are faithful to God, and so on. In short, the election is conditional on the character of the response. Unpack your phrase ‘limited non-nationalistic election’ a bit more.

CHAD: Yes, by this I would mean that Jews viewed themselves as God’s chosen people, but being Jewish (i.e., a part of the nation or ethnic group) was not sufficient for being in God’s people. This looks different for different authors or groups in terms of what conditions or markers they emphasize, but ultimately it was faithfulness to the covenant, variously defined, which marked them as God’s people. The Sibylline Oracles gets closest to a more nationalistic perspective where a majority of Jews are recognized as God’s people, though there are some implicit indications even there which suggest that this may be narrowed to the righteous alone. The Torah, and adherence to its instructions as variously interpreted, was what marked out God’s people, not simply ethnicity or belonging to the nation. This is in contradistinction to the perspective I encountered by many NT scholars who assume that the Jewish view of election was simply nationalistic or ethnic. I don’t think this sufficiently accounts for either what we see in the OT or in Second Temple literature.

BEN: You make the salient point that in texts like Gal. 2.15-3.14 Paul is focused on the locus in which salvation happens, namely ‘in Christ’ and so the issue of identity is primary and modality is a secondary issue. So for example ‘those from the circumcision’ means those who belong to the circumcision party. And ‘those in Christ’ refers to the sphere in which one’s identity is found and shaped. Justification doesn’t come from participation in the works of the Law, but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus. Help us to understand this concept of spheres of influence that establish one’s identity and relationship with God. Explain the difference between Paul’s use of ‘ek’ (from) with Jews, and ‘dia’ with Gentiles when it comes to the issue of being part of the chosen people.

CHAD: I think Paul’s prepositions in Galatians are particularly interesting and seem to follow along the lines of what Snodgrass (though he acknowledges the idea precedes him) terms as “spheres of influence.” Paul’s prepositions (in particular ek, en, dia, and hypo) in Galatians are heavily spatial in their orientation. On this view, the question Paul is answering is not “how is a person justified?,” that is “by what means?,” but rather “where is a person justified?,” or “in what realm or sphere is the locus of justification?” Stowers takes the distinction Paul seems to make between ek and dia as indicating that the Jews’ soteriological arrangement was already in place and Christ died to bring in the Gentiles (i.e., a “two ways” approach). Wright suggests, and I think is more likely correct, that the distinction between the prepositions is a spatial one in the sense that the Jews were already “in” or “near,” having been partakers of God’s covenant promises already (though in a partial sense of course) while the Gentiles were “far off” and had to be brought “in” or “near.” It seems to me that sort of explanation can make sense of why uses these two prepositions here and in Romans in several places without assuming that they are just stylistic accidents. Paul thus turns the partisan language, as Garlington terms it, of those “from the circumcision” on its head in order to determine where their, and more importantly where the Galatians’, principle source of identity actually lies.

BEN: At this year’s SBL session on Paul and Israel, one of the repeated proposals was that Paul’s whole argument in Romans and Galatians is all about how Gentiles alone have come to be saved, or a part of God’s people, or both. Some of the presenters went whole hog for the two peoples of God view, some for the two ways of salvation but in the end one people of God. What is wrong with these kinds of readings of Paul?
My friend Larry Hurtado critiques such approaches as follows, and I’d be curious about what you think of his rebuttal— “John Marshall (University of Toronto) contended that Paul’s promotion of faith-in-Jesus was solely intended for non-Jews (“Gentiles”). So he took Romans 10:9-13, where Paul urges confession of Jesus as “Lord” and faith that God has raised him from death, as having to do with Gentiles making these steps. Noting that Romans seems to have Gentile Jesus-followers (“Christians”) as the addressees (or at least the primary/main addressees), Marshall contended that this should dispose us to read such passages as really about Gentile believers. In Marshall’s view, Paul’s anxiety about Israel in Romans 9-11 was over their failure to endorse and take part in a mission to Gentiles.
I don’t find his case persuasive, largely because I think that the context, for example the immediate context of Romans 10:9-13, makes it fairly clear that Paul wanted both Gentiles and Jews to join him in his faith-stance toward Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Paul’s expressions of considerable anguish in Romans about the religious stance of his ancestral people (e.g., 9:1-5; 10:1-4), together with a similar view of things in 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:6 (where Paul also refers to “hardened” minds and veiled eyes of “the sons of Israel”) seem to me to require us to see Paul as holding that a positive stance toward Jesus was required, the alternate being disobedience to God. That is, as I read Paul, the problem with “Israel” wasn’t that they didn’t join in the Gentile mission, but that they didn’t recognize and confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord.”

CHAD: I think Hurtado is certainly right. It is hard to read Romans 9-11 as not addressing as a part of Paul’s argument the Jewish rejection of Jesus and its consequences. For starters, the stumbling stone in Rom. 9:32, their ignoring of the “righteousness of God” (who I take as a personification of Christ in 10:3), there being “one Lord for all” in 10:12-13, specifically of both Jews and Gentiles, and the crescendo in Romans 11 where Paul states that they have been cut off and that they will be grafted back in if they do not persist in their apistia, all seem to be indications that Paul views Jesus as God’s definitive self-revelation and “way,” to borrow from John’s terminology. Too much gymnastics is required around these issues in the text which are so clearly pointed at Jewish rejection of Jesus in order to make a two-covenants or two-peoples view work. Part of our limitation with Paul is he primarily addresses Gentile audiences in his letters, so we don’t have him fully spelling out what he thinks the relationship between the Law, Jesus, and the Jewish people is. I think we have enough indications, however, in Romans 9-11 in particular, about his concern for his people and his desire to be cut off from Christ for their sake (indicating that he himself, as a Jew, was “in Christ”) to take it with confidence that Paul viewed Jesus as the universal means by which God is reconstituting humanity, both Jews and Gentiles.

BEN: If you had to characterize Paul’s view of the relation of the Mosaic and the new covenant, what would you say? Is it different from his view of the relationship between the Abrahamic covenant and the new covenant, and if so, in what way? What does Paul mean by saying he died to the Law?

CHAD: To use a Facebook phrase, “it’s complicated!” I’ll admit this is an issue I’m still working through, though I have some basic bearings which I’ve found helpful in navigating some of the more difficult texts. I think understanding continuity in the structure and generally in the prescriptions of the covenants helps to ease some tensions that otherwise might come about. As I mentioned earlier, in Jeremiah’s new covenant passages, no indication is given that a new Law would replace the Mosaic Law when the new covenant would come, but rather the Law would be written on their hearts. It seems to me Paul understands this to happen with the giving of the Spirit and so, Romans 8, for example (which I examine with in later chapters) joins up together the Law with the “Spirit of life.” I think Paul, and Jewish Christians in general, continued to be Torah observant, and there was some expectation for Gentile Christians to understand and fulfill the Law to some extent, though there were obviously specific commands from which they were exempt. For example, we don’t see evidence in the NT that Jewish Christians ceased circumcising their male children, but clearly this was not required or even advisable for Gentiles. The purity regulations, festivals, Sabbath, and other aspects of Israel’s Law were not understood to be “in force” for Gentiles, and we see it is around these issues the conflicts often exist. On the other hand, Gentiles were expected to adhere to other aspects of the Law, particularly as it relates to its sexual ethic and the love command. It seems to me it is often underplayed that Paul expects Gentiles to fulfill the Law by obeying one of its commands (love your neighbor) which he views as encapsulating the essence of all of the others. Paul binds Gentiles to other specific commands here and there in his letters, but I think what I already mentioned largely summarize the essence of what was expected of Gentiles, which were largely commands unrelated to specific aspects of Jewish ethnic identity. The Abrahamic covenant is different in the sense that its scope is much broader and is what Paul seems to understand as the area of the OT covenants by which Gentiles are brought into God’s people. This doesn’t mean that the Law is unrelated to Gentiles, since the new covenant has its Law, but Gentiles are not entering into the Sinai covenant as Israel did in the OT. Concerning Paul and dying to the Law, it is awfully hard to resist the temptation to read some of Romans 7 into what he says here in Galatians 2. If I’m right that Paul is primarily focused on identity rather than modality in his works-Law/faith(fulness)-Christ contrast, and if table fellowship is the catalyst for what launches Paul’s discussion in 2:15, it seems that he is saying in 2:17-20 something along the lines of (if I might paraphrase) “if while seeking being justified in Christ, we share table fellowship with Gentile sinners, does being in Christ make us sinners? If I re-erect these boundaries between Jews and Gentiles which I myself have already taken part in breaking down I am a Law-breaker. For through the Law, (which could not impart life to humans) I died to the Law (its natural result apart from the Spirit) so that I might live to God through my identification with and participation in the work of Christ.” I wouldn’t see Paul necessarily saying here that as a result the Law has no consequence for him or anyone. Rather, I think he is recognizing the Law’s limitations and the futility of attempting to go to that realm of existence “under the Law” when the gift of the Spirit has come through being “in Christ” (cf. 3:1ff).

BEN: What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Elect One of God, and those are elect who belong to Him?

CHAD: Going back to the representative head notion, Jesus is the representative head of the people of God (and obviously much more than that as well). Those who are “in Christ” are being transformed into his image, so they share in his identity by being identified with him. The Christian life means a life of conformity; being conformed to the image of Jesus. Jesus is the “Chosen One” since he is God’s chosen agent of redemption. This does not mean he is the “Redeemed One” or that God elected Jesus for salvation. Rather, as I argued in chapter 2, this fits into the “missional” (and “ethical”) understanding of election, which is what is typically applied to individuals. The “elect” then who are “in Christ” take on that mission (and ethic) by nature of their identification with and belonging to him.

BEN: What is the significance of translation Gal. 3.2 as ‘from the works of the Law’ as opposed to ‘from the hearing of faith’. Is faith contrasted here with works, or is it rather hearing that is contrasted with works?

CHAD: I think Paul’s ek uses continue in the line of the “spheres of influence” I mentioned above, so what he is distinguishing is still whether the primary identity marker is the Law or [Christ’s] faith(fulness). Grammatically here, the parallels are between works/hearing and Law/faith. Many translations make the fundamental contrast here between believing and doing. That seems to me mistaken for a few reasons. First, hearing and faith both carry with them behavioral implications (Louw-Nida gives a possible gloss the word for hearing here as “believing and responding to” something). I think it is clear here Paul does not just have audible receipt of information in mind. I also think it is fair to read this in light of the earlier contrasts in Galatians 2, where the “works of the Law” contrast was with the “faith(fulness) of Christ.” I think it is reasonable to assume that Paul expected his hearers to continue to carry that conceptual framework with them here just a few sentences later. I take the force of Paul’s questioning here then as “if you received the Spirit by being “in Christ” (i.e., upon your response to his faithfulness), will you now try to live in the realm of the Law apart from Christ and the Spirit?” In other words, if they received the Spirit, which allows them to fulfill the Law (cf. Rom 8) apart from minding Jewish purity regulations and being circumcised, why did they think that doing these things now would add something to their status? Abraham then becomes the paramount example because he received the promises prior to being circumcised and he belonged to the right party (i.e., “the from faithers” not the “from the circumcisioners”). So Paul is essentially asking them, why would you want to go the wrong way and put yourself at a disadvantage now?

BEN: One of the problems with the New Perspective or at least some of its advocates is trying to limit the discussion of works of the Law to boundary markers— circumcision, Sabbath and kosher keeping. It seems to me this is too narrow a definition of the phrase works of the Law, even if in some cases the focus is on those things ‘because the Judaizers are trying to get Gentiles to cross the boundary into Judaism’. So to contrast that with the notion that ‘the Messiah and his death and res.’ Provide the boundary for God’s people now, is not quite grasping the nettle that Paul is contrasting two entire covenants, and the boundaries of the new one include far more than a Christological affirmation. How do you view these things?

CHAD: Yes, I think the limited view of works of the Law as referring only or primarily to circumcision, Sabbath, and purity regulations does not do justice to the variations within Judaism at this time. Certainly circumcision and purity regulations are at least a part of the problem, or perhaps the majority of the problem even, in Galatians, but in Romans, Paul, while including circumcision in his discussion, seems to have a broader range of meaning in mind. This doesn’t mean Galatians also doesn’t necessarily, but I think it is very difficult to make the case that this is Paul’s concern in Romans as well from the content of that letter alone. I take Paul’s fundamental problem in Galatians to be with Gentile Christians trying to operate in the sphere of the Law (by which I mean that sphere of existence which is marked by Torah and ignores or lacks the coming of the Messiah and the gift of the Spirit) as if circumcision was somehow a pre-requisite for belonging to God’s people. Clearly their receipt of the Spirit is confirmation for Paul that they are already in the people of God, and so to identify themselves with the realm of the Law which is not marked by the Messiah and the Spirit is basically deadly for them. To put it another way, to act as if nothing changed with the coming of Christ and the gift of the Spirit in terms of how Gentiles become a part of God’s people is to underestimate and misunderstand the magnitude of the new reality which has been inaugurated with the coming of Christ.

BEN: Our friend Scot McKnight defines faith as ‘the initial and continual response of trust in and obedience to Christ by a person for the purpose of acceptance with God’ (p.141 n. 164 in your book). This seems to be loading an awful lot into the word faith. Wouldn’t be better to say that obedience flows from faith?

CHAD: I like McKnight’s definition because I think it combines three elements that are loaded within the pistis word-group itself. Now obviously in a post-Barr world, we can’t equate words with concepts, but “faith” is most clearly connected to this word-group, so I think pulling our understanding from its possible range of meanings is helpful. BDAG gives three main glosses for pistis, which are basically 1) faithfulness/fidelity, 2) trust, and 3) belief. Louw-Nida offers similar glosses. I like to say these roughly equate to a behavioral dimension (“faithfulness/fidelity”), a relational dimension (“trust”), and a cognitive dimension (“belief”). I think many evangelicals tend to emphasize the cognitive dimension and may also include the relational dimension, but the behavioral dimension (“the obedience of faith”) is usually missing. McKnight, Murray Harris, Scott Hafemann, Don Garlington, and others in various ways have suggested that the full image of faith in the New Testament includes all three. This does not mean, of course, that every time we see pistis, all three glosses are present, but I think in various places we get a flavor for each as a part of what Paul understands “faith” to be. By including “obedience” or “fidelity” in the definition, this is not to say that we somehow earn our salvation, but instead it recognizes that the transformation of the believer, their “faithfulness,” is not an add on or an option, it is the essence of what salvation is about, not just getting us off the hook for our sins, but conforming us to the image of Christ.

December 18, 2015

chad

BEN: One of the greatest difficulties to overcome in trying to get people to see the Bible with ancient rather than modern assumptions, is the problem of modern radical individualism warping the way we read the text. I remember the day I first realized that the you in Philippians was ‘ya’ll’ when Paul says ‘work out ya’lls salvation with fear and trembling for God is working in the midst of ya’ll to will and to do’. That totally changed the meaning of the text in my mind. What had been viewed as an individual quest, turned into a group project when I finally grasped what Paul was saying. To what degree would you say our individualistic and even narcissistic culture has led to repeated misreading of what early Jewish literature and the NT says about election, salvation, and even God’s choosing of a people?

CHAD: I think another passage which has a strong indication of that mentality is 1 Corinthians 3:16, which could be rightly translated as “Don’t you all know that you all are God’s people and the Spirit of God dwells among you all?” In other words, “God’s Spirit lives among you as the people of God,” not “God’s Spirit lives in the heart of you, the individual Christian.” I also like to point to what I refer to as the “communal imperatives,” which the majority of the commands, found in Paul’s letters where he instructs believers to carry out spiritual directives which can only be fulfilled through relationships with others. There are many other places, of course, from which this point could be brought out, such as the honor/shame dynamics of the ancient world, the nature of the ancient Mediterranean family dynamic, etc. Joe Hellerman’s work has been helpful to me in seeing the importance of the collectivistic mindset of the ancient Mediterranean world and its implications for how we read and apply Scripture. I’m not sure in terms of history of thought when the individualistic mindset became dominant in the West, but the Enlightenment certainly I think was a factor. I think an unintended consequence of the Reformation was also the individualization of Christianity, whereby ecclesial authority was diminished, the individual interpretation of Scripture was elevated, and the importance, maybe even centrality, of the individual conscience became central. These ideas certainly are ingrained into the very essence of the American construction of society as seen in the Declaration and other early American documents. Since we swim in the waters of our culture, I think it is a natural result that we end up reading these texts in this highly individualistic way, and it is not until we understand the dramatically different way in which the ancient world was organized that we can appreciate the radically different way the early church operated in contrast to how most churches understand themselves today.

BEN: In your third chapter you deal at some length with the Qumran material. It seems to me always a risk to use highly sectarian literature as a litmus test of what ‘the average Jew’ in the first century believed. This would be rather like claiming that the Branch Davidians near Waco were characteristic of what Christians in Waco believed at that time. What seems clear to me is that they are sectarian Jews, who think ‘they’ are the true Israel, the righteous remnant, and other Jews are not. Clearly enough election is not ethnically defined for them, at least in a broad sense as including every and just any kind of Jew. Coupled with this is their theology of apostasy to explain why ‘not all Israel is true Israel’. You point out of course that election is a term used of a group, and the evidence of election of an individual unto personal salvation is lacking. This is very interesting since some readers of this corpus of literature have emphasized the focus of the Qumran community being on predestination of certain persons for salvation. You also point out that there is a strong emphasis even to those within the sect that they must keep the Law to ‘stay in’ the elect group. Right? Explain this interesting combination of ideas. In most ways, the material in 1 Enoch seems to share these sorts of perspectives as well. Yes?

CHAD: I’m not sure I would see the Qumran community quite as far on the fringes as the Branch Davidians, but I understand the analogy. I would agree that they certainly weren’t viewed as in the mainline of Jews, but I think that in many ways their beliefs reflect much of what is found in other Jewish texts of the period, which is the main thing I try to bring out. To that extent, I would argue that Jubilees, 1 Enoch, Psalms of Solomon, etc. also view their communities as the true Israel. It is not just a Qumranian phenomenon. In their soteriological structure, I think they roughly parallel most of the Jewish writers, though they seemed to have understood the size of the people of God as much smaller. So, all of these communities were in some sense exclusivistic, but they vary in how broadly that is defined. The overwhelming majority of Qumran scholars interpret the sect as deterministic in their orientation, and thus reflecting some form of soteriological predestination. Even so, I think the focus is still upon the collective, not individuals. But I also argue that the determinism of the sect has been overstated, and there are indications throughout the Qumran literature which seem to me to suggest that this is the case. I wonder at times how much Josephus’ descriptions of the Jewish sects has influenced scholarly opinion on this. I was happy to find a small handful of Qumran scholars who share in my assessment, but it certainly is not the majority. As far as the conditional elements, they were certainly present at Qumran, and probably far more strictly so than any other Jewish sect, and those who were once in the community can be expelled from it, and thus expelled from the hope of eschatological salvation if they break the covenant stipulations. To me, a corporate framework makes better sense of this than saying, as some scholars do, that this means the sect would have viewed apostates as never actually belonging to the community. That is certainly a possibility, but never one that the texts themselves spell out.

BEN: One of the more interesting phrases to study which crops up in early Jewish literature, in the OT, in the Mishnah and in Paul is the phrase ‘all Israel’. I can’t find a single case where it means ‘every last Israelite’, but clearly it is a sizable group that is being referred to. And salvation, when it is mentioned (e.g. both in Paul and the Mishnah) in connection to ‘all Israel’ refers to the salvation of the group with a list of exceptions given in the Mishnah. Corporate election or even salvation doesn’t seem to rule out apostasy or an exclusion list in this literature. And yet, there is not a denial that the apostate were once a part of ‘all Israel’ or ‘God’s Chosen’. Would you agree? This means that election is not unconditional and requires the appropriate response.

CHAD: Yes, there is never an explicit denial of this in the literature, at least that I’ve seen in my readings. The closest we come to in the New Testament is in 1 John, where we are told “they went from us but they were not of us.” That is certainly not consistently stated in the New Testament where cases of apostasy are described. Thus, B. J. Oropeza, in his excellent three volume study on apostasy in the New Testament, qualifies his approach by saying he is looking at the textual phenomenon of apostasy, not the theological framework we apply to understand it. The question of whether these individuals “were never really saved” is largely a theological question, not one which the texts directly address themselves, and so we should recognize that how we answer that question largely depends not on our exegesis (though it of course must be rooted in it), but on larger theological questions which arise from the texts.

BEN: On p. 82 you summarize some of your findings from the exploration of various selections from early Judaism as “while God preserves the chosen people as a whole, each individual’s fate is determined by their keeping or forsaking the covenant.” This suggests that election or salvation when it comes to the individual is conditional in nature. It not merely expects a positive response, it requires it. Yes?

CHAD: Yes. I think it is important to point out that the consequent statement which often rebuts this is that it makes salvation dependent upon humans and not upon God. I would suggest that this is a bit of a non sequitur. This shouldn’t be equated to humans meriting salvation in some Pelagian or semi-Pelagian construal. Rather, this is the arrangement which God himself has instituted and it requires an initial human response and (for Paul, Spirit-enabled) ongoing faithfulness in the life of the believer to the covenant stipulations. There is no divide between salvation and obedience for Paul. Rather, the two must go hand in hand. Just as in Judaism, there are none in the covenant who repeatedly break the covenant stipulations and do not repent, so it is in Paul. The Western evangelical idea that the “saved” can pray a prayer and not follow God obediently is completely foreign to Judaism and NT Christianity.

BEN: Your exegesis of 2 Thess. 2.13-15 I find much more compelling than that of Greg Beale’s. One of the things that I found surprising again and again when I was writing my 1-2 Thessalonians commentary and reading right through Beale was that the assumption that regeneration precedes faith, and indeed causes it, rather than the new birth and faith coinciding as the sinner repents, causes all sorts of misreading of texts like 2 Thess. 2.13-15. Unpack for the readers how your reading of that Pauline text differs from Beale’s exposition. Is the basic reason you disagree with him because your reading makes better sense when Paul is compared to his Jewish contemporaries on these sorts of subjects?

CHAD: There are a number of complications about 2 Thessalonians 2 that make it a difficult passage, particularly in the beginning of the chapter. Concerning specifically 2.13-15, there is a text critical issue in v. 13 (actually one of several in that verse) which raises the question as to whether the text reads the Thessalonian believers were chosen “as firstfruits for salvation” or “from the beginning for salvation.” This obviously significantly changes the meaning of the text. The text-critical information seems to, from a number of directions, favor the “as firstfruits” reading, which would thus mean Paul is making more of a salvation-historical point than a point about the temporal sequence of God’s choosing. There are also several indications in the text that Paul recognizes the place of the human response. First, in the verses which precede 2.13-15, Paul seems to indicate that God’s delusion of the wicked comes after their rejection of him (again, this is something Oropeza has done some very helpful work on). Second, I think there is sufficient ambiguity in the two genitive constructions (ἁγιασμῷ πνεύματος and πίστει ἀληθείας) to hesitate about reading this as a description of an order of salvation. Furthermore, the combination of ἁγιασμῷ and πνεύματος could be taken in several ways, such as “spiritual sanctification”). Beyond the hesitations from the grammatical features, Paul seems to draw a contrast here between those who do not love the truth in 2:10 and those who trust the truth in 2:13. If that is the case, and Paul indicates in 2:10-11 that God’s rejection of the wicked is because of their initial rejection of him, this makes it all the more unlikely Paul is working within a predestinarian soteriological framework here. When this is coupled with Paul’s exhortation in 2:15 for the Thessalonian believers to hold fast to the traditions which they were taught (i.e., an exhortation to perseverance with an implicit warning against apostasy which would be unnecessary in a double predestination scenario), and the collective and conditional nature of Paul’s Jewish background, it seems to me that a deterministic reading does not work well in the context. To put it in other terms, if Paul is departing significantly from Jewish election theology, it seems to me he would do so in much clearer way which distinguishes his thought from his contemporaries. There are not in my estimation sufficiently compelling reasons which suggest that this is what Paul has done.

BEN: One of the real problems for the double predestinarian reading of texts like 2 Thess. 2.13-15 is that it then becomes difficult to understand why Paul insists that the audience must continue to hold fast to the traditions they have received, or behave in particular ways lest they ‘fall from grace’ (a Pauline phrase found in Galatians). It seems especially odd ‘if they could not have done otherwise’. It does not appear, on the surface of things, that ethics amounts to merely the response of a grateful heart for a predetermined final salvation. It looks more to me like Paul sees the response to the Gospel, and the faithful living he exhorts the audience to, as part of the sanctification process, to which the believers themselves must contribute as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling, as God works in their midst to will and to do. Obviously, they cannot do this without God’s grace working within them, but they do indeed have a choice about how they respond to and live out of that grace. In other words, Paul is not an affirmer of the P in the Calvinistic TULIP configuration, and if that is right, then the other four points also have to be reconfigured. Would you agree?

CHAD: Indeed. Some commentators will argue that Paul’s warnings, implicit and explicit, against apostasy are hypothetical warnings. This has always struck me as a bit strange. Would I warn, for example, my children against something which I did not think could actually happen (e.g., be careful playing outside in case aliens try to abduct you!)? The way I discuss this with my students is that regardless of what theological framework you are using to approach Paul (i.e., “once saved always saved” or “salvation can be forfeited”), we need to hear and teach and preach Paul’s warnings with the same urgency he delivers them. There are obviously major pastoral implications with this subject, and we ought not deal haphazardly with it and engender unnecessary doubt in the life of the Christian, but neither should we in good conscience allow the Christian to continue in a mentality which does not take seriously the warnings of Scripture along with its assurances. And yes, I would fully agree, as I discuss in my sections on Romans, that the animating factory in the life of the believer which engenders faithful obedience is God’s grace and the gift of the Spirit. This isn’t simply, as Wright says so well, an encouragement to pull up your moral bootstraps and work your way to heaven. But neither can apathy, complacency, or indifference to the teachings of Scripture be allowed to settle in the Christian life.

BEN: I was struck by your summary in this chapter. The question that should be asked when discussing these inter-related matters of election, calling, persevering, obedience is– Who are God’s people, not how may an individual be saved? This is why the answer to the question is sometimes ‘the righteous’ sometimes ‘those who are keeping the covenant’, sometimes ‘those who persevere in faith despite trials’ and so on. The answer has to do with the human response to the divine call, and in Christian terms, to the Gospel. You quote Capes et al. p. 89 n. 111 effectively “Paul always uses the term ‘elect’ to refer to those who are already members of God’s people. He never uses it to prescribe who is going to be saved. Instead he employs it to remind those who have answered God’s call that they are members of God’s covenant people”. In other words elect or chosen etc. is after the fact language, language used to reassure those who have responded to the Gospel that they are truly God’s people. Our modern individualism has led us to focus on — how can an individual be saved? Paul’s election language focuses on who are God’s people and how can you tell? Right?

CHAD: Exactly. The election debate for Paul and his Jewish contemporaries was not “how are God’s people saved” in terms of teasing out the order of salvation, but rather “who are God’s people” or “what markers or conditions identify them?” In some sense, the debate about election was a debate, as the NPP would put it, about the boundary markers of God’s people in Judaism. I think one of the difficulties with some NPP approaches (of which I generally consider my approach to embrace when the New Perspective is defined as some form of a non-works-righteousness understanding of Judaism) is they see a largely agreed upon definition of what constituted the boundaries in Judaism. I attempt to argue that this was an inner-Jewish dispute with some inherently conflicting definitions, and Paul enters into that discussion with some surprising, and some less surprising, qualifications. If election in the Old Testament is collectively oriented (which I think many if not most would agree it is), to jump to individual predestination in the New Testament without some clear historical, cultural, or social contextual indications, is misguided. Once we recognize what elements constituted the inner Jewish debate, I think it becomes much clearer to see how Paul enters that discussion and does not goes off on some other trajectory completely unrelated to it.

December 17, 2015

chad

BEN: One of the things that surprised me about your response about the covenants is that it does not reflect the work of various OT scholars, like Meredith Kline, who made quite clear how similar the OT covenants, in particular the Mosaic one, were like ANE king/subject or lord/vassal treaties. By this I mean, that when a covenant was broken, and especially when it was flagrantly broken, and repeatedly broken, then the lord, in this case Yahweh, simply enacts the curse sanctions that are part of the covenant, and that covenant is over. The ruler may or may not choose to have a new covenant with the subjects, but if he does it is emphatically not a renewal of the previous covenant. Rather, it is a new covenant entirely, a new contract, which nevertheless the ruler may choose to have some of the stipulations in it as in the previous one. So, I am dubious about the notion of ‘one covenant in several administrations’ even if just applied to the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and new covenants. There is little doubt in my mind that the Israelite broke the Mosaic covenant to pieces, and repeatedly, and God sent them off to exile, both the northern and southern tribes, which was the implementation of the curse sanctions. Thus, while I agree with your point about God’s unconditional commitment to a people, this does not imply a commitment that involves relating to them on the basis of one covenant in various administrations. Indeed, it shows the graciousness of God that he is willing to start over with a new contract in Jesus. I thus find the suggestion of Block unappealing as it ignores the ANE analogies. How would you respond?

CHAD: I suppose I would begin by recognizing that we find throughout the Old Testament a remnant, however small, of those who are faithful to the covenant. Even if the prophets themselves are the only faithful ones remaining, there still remains a portion of the people who continue in the covenant. It is still possible, of course, to view the covenant with the nation as broken based upon the majority having utterly disobeyed the stipulations. The covenant curses also certainly play a part in how we understand what is going on with Israel at various points in the Old Testament, and N. T. Wright, in particular, has taken up consideration of this and placed it in his larger interpretive narrative for what the New Testament authors think is going on with Jesus’ ministry and death and resurrection. The new covenant, even in Jeremiah 31, is envisioned as a “new” thing and it is clear in the context that the prophet understands that Israel has broken the covenant. There is, and I think this was part of Block’s point and where I would push back, still continuity however, in that the Law of God will be put in the people’s hearts. This is not, in Jeremiah, anticipated as a new Law with new stipulations, so in that sense, though there is a qualitative difference between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant in Jeremiah, there remains continuity with Israel being God’s people and following God’s Law. The question, of course, then becomes how the New Testament writers appropriate that material. It seems to me that the discontinuity tends to be overemphasized, so I would be inclined to say that the NT writers understood the new covenant as still bearing a good deal of continuity with what Jeremiah envisioned, though obviously with some new angles as well. So while I would recognize the discontinuity (i.e., there is something “new” about it) and certainly the failure of Israel to faithfully follow God on the whole, I think we should also recognize the way in which the new covenant is framed as being in some sense a continuation of God’s previous relationship with Israel which has been now expanded to the Gentiles.

BEN: In your second chapter you say that in early Jewish literature, elect status is linked to the character and quality of the individual and their faithfulness, rather than to some soteriological status (i.e. of being saved). Could you unpack this notion a bit more for us.

CHAD: In the second chapter I focus primarily upon examining the various ways in which individuals, usually named and usually prominent figures in Israel’s history, are described in some of these election-focused passages. What I find remarkable is that never is there an indication that what the Jewish authors mean by “elect” when talking about these individuals is “chosen by God for eschatological salvation.” Rather, the clear emphasis is either upon God’s choice of an individual for a particular task or role (e.g., Aaron as priest or David as king) or upon the character of the individual, or sometimes both. In the case of the latter, election language seems to primarily take on the meaning of “excellent” (which is in the range of meaning for the word-group) and is used in some cases as largely synonymous with terms like “holy” or “faithful” as sort of a means of piling on the character description.

BEN: You begin your discussion with Sirach, and show, that when the author in fact comments on the basis of election for Moses, it is described as happening in connection with his character—his meekness and faithfulness. This seems quite similar to what we hear elsewhere in Jewish literature about Abraham being credited with righteousness because he faithfully was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac (reading the Abraham story backwards from the Akedah to his call). So you cite S. Grindheim (on p.30) approvingly when he says ‘divine election [is] based on the ethical and religious quality of the elect.” I would see this as exceedingly important because I’ve presented in Jesus the Sage, considerable data to show the influence of Sirach not only on Jesus but also on James, his brother as well. What is even more important is that Jesus ben Sira while reflecting clearly a theology of election, reveals no noticeable theology of the afterlife! In other words, he does not connect election with individual salvation in the hereafter whether by life in heaven or resurrection. Say more about your reading of this data, and the relevance you see it having in helping us interpret the NT data.

CHAD: Sirach has always been one of my favorite Second Temple texts for so many of the interesting developments which it creates as well as for ways it appears to influence the New Testament writers, and as you suggest, possibly Jesus himself. There are a few relevant passages from ben Sira relevant to the topic, but the highlight is probably 44-50 and the hymn of the fathers. Here God’s choosing of Moses, for example, is preceded by the author’s description of Moses’ character. The movement then is from character to choice rather than vice versa. This pattern is reflected in numerous other places as well. Again, it seems the key significance lies in the fact that there is no soteriological linking with this terminology and the character traits precede God’s “choice.” For these individuals to be “elect” is to be of excellent character and/or selected for a particular role. In terms of the New Testament, I think it is important that first we resist the temptation to see this as some sort of Pelagian arrangement in the minds of these Jewish authors since service, not soteriology, is what is in view. Likewise, when we find this kind of language applied to individuals in similar contexts as what we find here, we must also resist the temptation to read some sort of predetermined soteriological arrangement into the terminology when that is clearly not what these Jewish authors meant in their writings as it related to God choosing particular individuals.

BEN: In your discussion of the non-canonical ‘Davidic’ psalms you point out how the phrase ‘chosen one’ parallels the phrase ‘holy one’ and this status becomes the basis for a plea for salvation, or in this case rescue. This suggests to me that the author or authors saw election as one thing, and salvation as another. Am I right? And indeed, as you say, it appears that one sees one’s self as chosen on the basis that one is upright, or holy. It is because David is pious and pure of heart that he is viewed as ‘a man after my own heart’. Yes? David is chosen not because of some inscrutable predetermined will of God, but because God viewed him as the right man for the job? Right?

CHAD: In the “Additional Psalms of David,” I think the psalmist is largely following the pattern we find in the Old Testament where salvation is primarily from physical danger rather than from sin or eschatological judgment. David’s plea in these psalms for deliverance seems to rest on the office which he held, and thus if God did not deliver his “elect one,” that is his chosen ruler over Israel, the success of the Davidic kingdom will be hindered or derailed. Since David’s role is divinely sanctioned, for David to be destroyed means for God’s purposes to be thwarted. It seems clear, as you note, in these psalms that David is the “right man” based upon his character, which is the impetus for God’s choice of him for the job. Again the election language applied to David here individually is clearly character- and role-oriented.

BEN: The material in 1 Enoch seems to further associate being chosen with being righteous, and obeying God’s law. It involves corporate election, and the term ‘chosen’ as Nickelsburg stresses, is particularly applied to the righteous remnant who keep the covenant. In other words, Sanders, at points, in straining to show that ‘being chosen’ is purely a matter of God’s gracious favor, and not a matter of God knowing something about the chosen, has ‘over-egged’ the pudding as the British would say. In fact texts like 1 Enoch say both things. God’s choice is gracious, but the chosen are the righteous, the obedient, in the end. Comment?

CHAD: In 1 Enoch we move into a slightly different situation since there is eschatological salvation envisioned in the book. There is a sense, then, in which we could say the “elect” are the “saved,” if we want to use those terms, but there is no indication in the book that election means a pre-temporal choice by God for these individuals to be delivered. The combination of the election terminology in the book with terms like “righteous” and “holy” seems to again, as Nickelsburg notes, emphasize the quality of the community. Sanders tilts the equation too far in the divine agency side of the equation for most of the Jewish literature he interacts with, ignoring, I think, often the counter-indications in those texts which suggest that obedience and some conditional situation is in view. I focus more on the specifics of that in later chapters, but I do find there to be quite a bit of odd and unnecessary tension between the divine/human situation in terms of how Sanders understand what is going on in these texts.

BEN: As you point out, both in the OT, and in early Jewish sources the focus of the election language is on being chosen for a particular task or function, like ‘my servant Cyrus’, which has nothing to do with that particular individual’s salvation (in the Christian sense of the term). With this sort of Jewish precedent, why do you think it is that Christian readers of Paul have often simply assumed that election necessarily has to do with salvation, rather than function, purpose, or task?

CHAD: As I discuss later, I think there is a sense in which election is connected to soteriology, but it cannot be reduced to it and should not be seen as operating on the individual level as a soteriological activity. There are simply no examples of language used in Second Temple sources which understand God to be choosing individuals for eschatological salvation. There are lots of examples of individuals being chosen for particular roles or tasks. So I think part of the interpretive confusion is that the terminology itself has been filled with concepts which arise in later interpretation and the historical context and original implications of the language has been largely overlooked. There are, of course, passages which lend themselves to being read as reinforcing that kind of interpretation (e.g., Rom 8-11), and I deal with those in later chapters. Where election language and eschatological salvation intersect always has the collective in view.

BEN: I would imagine that one sort of pushback against your presentation in this book would be to say, rather dismissively, ‘well that may well be true of the use of election language in those early Jewish sources, but Paul is different’. I like to say a text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean. It appears to me that if one ignores the bearing of the early Jewish context of Paul’s discourse, then one is very likely to read the text anachronistically, reading into Paul later Christian (and in this case Reformation) ideas into Paul. How do you respond to that kind of pushback and problematic reading of Paul?

CHAD: I have this conversation from time to time with my students when I suggest the necessity of approaching interpretation in conversation with the ancient thought world(s), and in particular with Jewish sources. I think this partly results from accepting too hard of a break between Judaism and Christianity within the pages of the New Testament. While that break certainly came more definitively later, within at least most of the New Testament period, and certainly for Paul, I think the evidence indicates that Christianity was understood as a Jewish sect rather than as a separate religion. The history of interpretation certainly also has something to do with this bent toward reading Paul’s election language. The greater distancing between Christians and Jews which followed in the centuries after the New Testament and the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius both significantly shifted how Christian interpreters approached these questions. Augustine, of course, was greatly influential on the Reformers as well, and with Protestantism taking its theological queues primarily from the Reformers, we thus have distanced ourselves both theologically as well as culturally and historically from the New Testament. I think my response would be simply that if we are not situating Paul’s thought in the first century as a first century Jewish follower of Jesus, than where are we situating his thought? As you suggest, to fail to contextualize his theology in the first century matrix means that we contextualize Paul wherever we want, whether with the Reformers or within postmodern thought, etc. In my view, the only way to truly anchor the New Testament’s teaching and avoid eisegetical understandings is to read it within the thought world of its point of origin.

BEN: Jubilees is a very interesting early Jewish text. Explain if you will the difference between what you call corporate representation (sometimes called federal headship— e.g. ‘as in Adam all die…’) as opposed to the notion of corporate or group election. It would appear you have both such concepts in Jubilees, and election involves both the grace of God, and final salvation involves necessary obedience to the covenant (God will save the faithful). Expand on these concepts for us.

CHAD: Corporate representations involves when a particular figure (such as Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, etc.) stands as a representative of a certain group to the extent that the activities or characteristics of that individual are expected of and/or projected upon the group. In the book of Jubilees, it is most prominently Jacob who functions in this manner as a sort of microcosm of the group which the author identifies as the people of God. Jacob is thus portrayed as a paradigmatic law keeper in that he is properly circumcised, honors his parents, does not intermarry with Gentiles, etc. Jacob’s covenant status is contrasted with that of Esau who likely represents for the author either Gentiles or apostate Jews. God’s choice of Jacob and “some of his descendants” (i.e., it is not progeny alone which counts one among the elect) is based upon his foreknowledge of Esau’s covenant-breaking behavior. The message of the book is thus that those who identify with Jacob (i.e., properly observe the Law as outlined by the author, particularly obeying commands which were Jewish distinctives) are God’s people and all others, or perhaps primarily apostate Jews, stand in the line of Esau as those under God’s judgment. The other implicit message in the book is for the faithful to remain so and for the apostates to change their ways, and thus be reconciled to God and his people. This indicates that the author does not view this as a pre-determined arrangement which cannot be affected by the behavior of the individual. So in a sense, this is a collective view of election, though it focuses on the collective by means of the representative. There are other ways that Jubilees indicates a corporate election scenario, such as the remark that only “some of the sons” of Jacob will be included in God’s behavior. Salvation in Jubilees is not simply a matter of God’s grace through election, though the covenantal arrangement is indeed graciously given. Faithful obedience (though not perfection, since atonement is possible for a majority of sins) is required for God’s people.

BEN: Certainly one of the major agendas of E.P. Sanders in his landmark books, including Paul and Palestinian Judaism, was to make clear that early Judaism was not a religion of works righteousness, as opposed to Christianity which was a religion of grace. He seeks to demonstrate that grace is the basis of salvation in Jewish literature, to which God’s people respond with covenantal nomism. It seems to me that again and again, Sanders reads Judaism in light of the later Christian theology of salvation by grace through faith, often neglecting the evidence that while Judaism was certainly not a graceless religion, nevertheless, there are numerous texts which suggests that God chooses and rewards the righteous, by which is meant those who keep the covenant, whereas the damned are the wicked like Esau, or those who keep breaking the covenant. Say more about where you see Sanders getting the variety of views in early Judaism wrong. For example, in Jubilees election seems to be: 1) corporate (happening within Jacob/Israel and 2) it is tied not to physical descent as the deciding factor but is contingent on righteousness or religious purity.

CHAD: Yes, Judaism certainly does sound very Protestant in many of Sanders’ descriptions. I think it is clear that Jubilees views election as corporate and conditional. I argue in the book that I think this is by and large the way most Jews as represented in the extant literature understood election. The few exceptions do not move away from this framework, but rather are ambiguous in their descriptions. With Jubilees in particular, Sanders puts quite a bit of weight upon 1:17-29, which he sees as envisioning a national future restoration of Israel, and thus the salvation of all (or at least nearly all) Jews. In my view, this ignores or misconstrues the major thrust of the book which warns the Jewish people against the judgment which will result from their disobedience. I think the more likely scenario, as Mark Adam Elliott has argued, is most Jewish writers, and here in particular the author of Jubilees, understood the faithful to be in the minority of Jews, and thus judgment to be in the present upon most of the Jewish people. Thus all the warnings and exhortations to obedience which occur throughout the literature are seeking to point the unfaithful back toward obedience to the covenant stipulations. So this does not mean we should view Judaism as a works-salvation religion any more than we should view Christianity as a works-salvation religion. In both cases, the offer of salvation is graciously extended by God alone, not earned meritoriously through “good works,” but committing oneself to the salvific arrangement (i.e., the covenant) entails obligations on the part of God’s people. Christianity has its own “do’s and don’ts,” and to ignore how that is framed in the New Testament, just as to ignore the situation in Judaism, is to import a theology foreign to it.

BEN: It has always surprised me how NT scholars have frequently neglected the insights one can gain from a work like the Parables of Enoch where we see the messianic figure called the Righteous One=the Elect One=the Son of Man, and his people likewise are the elect ones preciously because they are the righteous ones. Talk to us about the insights for understanding the NT theology of election, and equally importantly NT Christology, from a work such as this or even a work like The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. How is this material relevant to understanding both Jesus and Paul in the NT?

CHAD: 1 Enoch is another fascinating piece of Jewish literature. In particular the Son of Man figure, which occurs in a portion of the work most scholars date prior to the NT, has some interesting parallels with Jesus’ Son of Man language in the Gospels. This is due in part, of course, to both of these traditions drawing upon the Daniel 7 Son of Man material. The Son of Man figure in Daniel 7 is given authority to rule and is served by the nations, and thus is presented as somewhat of an exalted figure. In 1 Enoch, there is a very close identification between this “Son of Man” figure (who is also called “the Righteous One,” “the Elect One,” and the “Before Time”) and the elect (i.e., the people of God). The judgment in this portion of 1 Enoch is focused upon the unrighteous rulers who are oppressing the people. The “Son of Man” secures the victory of God for his people and vindicates them before these rulers and the world. The Son of Man also acts as a light to the nations and is somehow a catalyst for repentance for the unrighteous before the final judgment, when the wicked are destroyed. The conditional nature is thus reinforced in Enoch’s vision, and the fate of the elect ones is closely associated with this Son of Man figure. The Testaments also provide some important insights to Jewish Messianic scenarios. As is sometimes thought of the Qumran materials, the Testaments at times seem to indicate the presence of two Messianic figures, Levi and Judah (i.e., a priestly Messiah and a ruler Messiah). Sometimes the priestly Messiah is prominent in the Testaments, and at other times it is the ruler Messiah who takes center stage. As it relates to election, there is a possibility that Levi and Judah also act as sort of corporate representatives of the elect people in the Testaments who are to be emulated, though this is not as clear as what we find in Jubilees. The emphasis on the righteous character of the elect, though not reinforcing specific legal requirements as Jubilees does, also points to the conditional nature of election for the author of the Testaments.

BEN: You see Gal. 1.15-16 as being about God’s choosing Paul for a specific task, namely being the apostle to the Gentiles, noting the echoes of the calling of prophets (Jerm. 1.4-5; Is. 49.1,5-6) in earlier Jewish literature. The language, in other words is not, or at least not primarily about a soteriological matter. You then stress that Rom. 16.13 connects being chosen with the character of the one chosen, in this case Rufus (perhaps the son of Simon of Cyrene), not as Tom Schreiner suggests, namely that election here is connected with the eternal salvation of Rufus. How would you see the relationship between election and salvation if salvation is a gratuitous gift of God’s grace?

CHAD: In both of these instances, election language is applied to individuals and is not in a context which is soteriologically charged. The only way we would end up interpreting these texts as indicated individual predestination to salvation is if we preload that in the terminology. On the collective level, speaking broadly, I would say that God has chosen to form a people who reflect the image of His son to the world. This people are “the saved,” but election and salvation should not be equated. I wouldn’t see election as a part of an ordo as much as it is a facet of soteriology which has soteriology in broad terms (eschatological salvation but also transformation and mission) in view. I think some of that framework will develop more clearly in the chapters to come.

BEN: Would it be fair to say that Paul, in commenting in 1 Cor. 15 about both Christ and Adam being representative heads of a group of people, may be suggesting that if one is in Adam, one is bequeathed his legacy of sin and death, but if one is in Christ, that one derives salvation and everlasting life? My point would be that election can refer to either of these federal heads, and salvation is to be found only in connection with Christ— those who are in him are the latter fruits, who will rise to a good resurrection when he returns. In other words, there is no salvation if one is not in Christ, the Elect One, but we can certainly distinguish these two concepts. For example, Christ is the Elect One, but he is not ‘the saved one’. He has no need of salvation in the Christian sense.

CHAD: Yes, I think it is safe to say that Paul sees Christ, however we view the Adamic condition, as the only place in which that plight can be resolved. It seems to me there is not case to be made, or at least no plausible one, from the New Testament that any other arrangement was in mind. I’ve tried to read the “Radical New Perspective” with openness to their position, and while I think they can help clarify aspects of Paul’s identity and thought, to suggest some sort of a two-ways scenario, where Jews continue keeping Torah and Christ is for Gentiles exclusively, runs too roughshod over Paul’s theological framework, and especially Romans 9-11. On the other side of the equation, a universalistic understanding of Paul likewise doesn’t obtain, based on how he understands salvation as conditioned (it is only “in Christ”) and in light of his Jewish backgrounds, which always anticipates some sort of final judgment of the wicked. Christ as the “Elect One” certainly could not have the implication of Jesus as one God has predetermined to save, and this again would confirm what we see in the OT and Jewish literature as it relates to election language applied to individuals always being character- or role-oriented.

BEN: Share briefly your understanding of 2 Cor. 5.14-21 and its relevance for your thesis about election in Paul.

CHAD: I would see 2 Cor 5:14-21 as another example of how Paul piggybacks upon the corporate representation framework found in Jewish literature and applies it to Christ. There is representation in the death of Christ in which it both affects believers on a soteriological level while also leading them to their own death. This death to self which Paul sees as a part of the Christian soteriological process I think also reflects Jesus’ own understanding of discipleship as presented in Mark 8-9. There is both, then, as Dunn suggests, a representative and a participatory sense to Christ’s death in which he both takes on and dies the death of humanity while also calling humans to participate in his death for their salvation/transformation. As the end of the passage indicates, this reconciliation to God which they experience then becomes a part of their identity as the reconciled who bring reconciliation. While we often make distinctions between salvation, transformation, and mission, I think the case can be made that Paul sees these as one thing. To be saved is to be transformed. To be transformed is to bring transformation to others. These are not categories which should be wedged apart but which must be seen as mutually informing. Thus, in light of this, Wright suggests that we find the essence of election theology here in this passage since through the faithfulness of Israel’s Messiah, the people of God are transformed to be agents of the kingdom and representatives of the work of God in Christ. In a sense, then, to not see election in this passage is to think of it only as a part of a soteriological ordo and not how it functions in its OT and Jewish context, which, though having soteriological implications, is primarily about the kind of people God’s people should be.

December 14, 2015

chad

One of the most important books I have read in a long time in regard to the theology of election in Paul’s letters is the recent book by Dr. Chad Thornhill of Liberty entitled The Chosen People. Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism. In the next several posts we will be interacting with this fine book through a dialogue with the author. BW3

QUESTION 1: In a detailed study of salvation language in the OT, followed by salvation language in Luke-Acts (see the Appendix to my Acts commentary), I pointed out that salvation in those contexts largely refers to rescue, or healing, or ransoming out of bondage, and does not refer to the later Christian notion of permanent salvation from all sins and the gift of everlasting life. Indeed, the OT says precious little about going to heaven, or a positive afterlife beyond Sheol or ‘being gathered to one’s ancestors’. Only in very late material, such as Dan. 12.1-3, do we begin to hear about actual bodily resurrection as a future for the believers. This led to my conclusion that while we hear a good deal about God electing a chosen people in the OT, and even picking non-chosen one’s like Pharaoh or Cyrus for a special role in human history, that this seems to have very little to do with the salvation of particular individuals as understood in Christian sources including the NT. How would you assess this suggestion?

CHAD: Yes, I think that makes good sense of the Old Testament data. The soteriological language used in the New Testament in a broader, more spiritual sense, tends to be used in a more narrow, almost strictly physical sense in the Old Testament. The exception would be the developments you note in the later prophetic literature, which I think begins to take shape with more clarity in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and is certainly most clearly developed in Daniel. The rescue envisioned throughout the Old Testament is typically either the rescue of an individual from their oppressors (e.g., David), the rescue of Israel from their captors, or some other form of physical delivery, such as healing. Passages which are often read as anticipating spiritual salvation or eternal life in other places in the Old Testament seem to me to be drawn more from Christian assumptions than from the Old Testament contexts themselves. What I think is interesting about how the New Testament develops this, is that Christian interpreters have historically focused almost exclusively on the spiritual aspect, while neglecting the physical dimension of salvation. This does not mean, of course, that God always delivers Christians from harm (nor did he always deliver Israelites), but I think it does mean a more complete view of salvation in the New Testament also takes into account the restorative dimensions of salvation, where the restoration and transformation of the whole person is in various ways in view.

QUESTION 2: Have you had the occasion to read John Barclay’s landmark book Paul and the Gift? It would seem that in various ways it supports some of your major theses.

CHAD: I have not yet read Barclay’s new book though I am familiar with other essays and lectures he has given on the topic (or related topics) and have also read some of your interactions with him on this blog. This is certainly one of the volumes I am most looking forward to reading in the coming months. Without speaking too much out of ignorance concerning how he articulates his thesis in the new work, I think his suggestion that grace carries with it expectations of behavior or obedience is correct, and it seems to me this flows out of both what he argues concerning the nature of gifts in the ancient world as well as how pistis language is used in various places throughout the New Testament, though particularly in Paul. My book will focus more on the latter than on Paul’s understanding of divine grace, but I am of course encouraged to hear that Barclay’s work develops something complimentary.

QUESTION: 3 On p. 20 n. 21 you suggest that we should see that God’s commitment to the covenant is unconditional, but from the human side of the equation it is conditional depending on how Israel relates to the covenant. The condition is Israel’s willingness to abide within the covenant’s demands. The question this raises for me is not the conditional nature of the Israel side of things, but whether we ought to be talking about covenant singular, or rather covenants plural, as Paul does in Galatians 4 and Rom. 1, and whether there are differences between the various covenants between God and his people. Are you assuming the ‘one covenant being renewed again and again in various administrations’ model of covenant theology?

CHAD: I would say there are distinctions between the various covenants, and of course different biblical scholars count the number of covenants differently. I was quite impressed a few years back by a presentation from Dan Block entitled “Covenance” at an annual ETS session. Block’s argument, if I recall correctly, was that the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and new covenants should be viewed as a single line of covenants which clarify and/or renew, but do not necessarily replace or override the earlier versions. The Noahic and Davidic covenants (and possibly others which might be counted separately) are distinct from these. Paul’s discussions typically focus upon the Abrahamic/Mosaic/new covenant(s), and though there are differences between them, I think Block’s suggestion that they stand in a single linear path makes good sense. So in a sense, yes, I would see these as one covenant being renewed over time (so not including Noahic, Davidic, etc.), though there is both a sense of continuity, and discontinuity, as to how the new covenant develops out of these. In terms of the conditional nature of the covenant on Israel’s part and the unconditional divine commitment to it, works like Jubilees and Pseudo-Philo, and even the sectarian literature at Qumran, develop this in some pretty compelling ways and I think subsequently reveal how Jews during the period largely would have understood the covenantal arrangement(s).

QUESTION 4: You adopt the method called speech-act theory. Explain briefly the assumptions and approach of this method, and how it can help the discussion of election.

CHAD: I would first want to clarify that speech-act theory is an aspect of my method which I integrate in ways similar to how Mark Adam Elliott, in his Survivors of Israel, implements it. Speech-act theory goes back to J. L. Austin and recognizes that utterances operate on several levels. It typically recognizes three levels to an utterance: the locution (the utterance itself), the illocution (the intended significance of the utterance), and the perlocution (the effect or intended effect produced by the utterance). In terms of how this relates to interpretation, it recognizes that texts don’t just say something (i.e., convey information), but they also do something (i.e., create intended responses for their readers). So, when accounting for the socio-historical context of a text, I think a part of our interpretive considerations should be what the text was intended to do, not just what we think it meant. Election language, for example, in both Pauline and Jewish literature, at times is utilized in order to encourage or assure the hearers of their position with God’s people (e.g., Romans 8:28ff.), especially when the hearers are currently facing persecution. At other times it is used to serve as a warning against succumbing to certain societal pressures (e.g., 2 Thess 2). How we understand the language then, in my view, should seek to understand the intended effects of the communication in addition to the other contextual factors (social, historical, cultural, lexical, grammatical, etc.) involved in interpretation.

QUESTION 5: While I recognize the need to study early Jewish documents from just prior to the time of Paul’s writings, and the dangers of focusing on later post-70 Jewish works, I am a little puzzled there isn’t a chapter in this book summarizing what the OT says about election and salvation, especially since it is the OT that Paul cites again and again in Rom. 9-11 when he focuses on this subject. Is there a reason for this lacuna?

CHAD: Yes, the reason is primarily that I didn’t have a long enough word count! The OT background to the NT is, of course, immensely important. There has been quite a bit of good work developing what the OT says about election. Most scholarly treatments of that material end up viewing divine election in the OT as a primarily collective/national idea. What I found in my research was that a focused discussion of how this develops and/or shifts in the Second Temple period was largely lacking. There were, of course, those who had examined it in relation to other aspects of Second Temple thought, but none that had done so specifically with the intent of seeing how the Second Temple framework relates to the New Testament, or Paul’s writings. There has also been some very good work lately on Paul’s use of the OT, particularly in Romans 9-11 (Brian Abasciano, for example, has been developing this in great detail), so I didn’t see any particularly unique contributions I could bring in that area. Both of those areas (OT theology and use of OT in the NT) are essential to understanding the NT, but were not the “gap” in Pauline discussions I was seeking to fill.

BELOW IS CHAD’S OWN SUMMARY OF THE CONTENT OF THE CHAPTERS WHICH FOLLOW THE INTRODUCTORY DISCUSSION, GIVEN IN PREPARATION FOR THE FOLLOWING POSTS…

“Preliminaries aside, we will begin our journey in chapter two by looking at how various Jewish sources and Paul’s letters discuss the concept of election as it relates to specific individuals, which I will argue typically either emphasizes the character or designated role of the “chosen one” or depicts him as a “representative head.” The third chapter will show that the Jewish emphasis typically falls on the collective, illustrated through various corporate metaphors and the remnant motif, and suggest Paul shares a similar emphasis. In chapter four, I will seek to tease out how the various groups and Paul defined the parameters of God’s people via what “markers” or “conditions” defined these various groups, both implicitly and explicitly. The fifth chapter will look at how our Jewish texts view Jew and Gentile inclusion and exclusion before examining the same discussion in Paul’s writings. Chapter six will then look at the issue of divine agency and human responsibility across these writings. In chapter seven, I will offer a rereading of Romans 8:26–11:36 based on my examination of Jewish theology and Paul’s thought. Finally, in chapter eight, after a summary of my findings I will ask what we gain from this view and also suggest further work that needs to be done in this area. This is where we are headed, but first we begin with election and the individual.”

December 1, 2017

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Ben. Because of the medieval Catholic theology of ‘merit’ an awful lot of energy is expended by these Reformers on refuting the idea that our good works earn merit, or that anything we could do could fall into the credit category in so far as it could contribute to our salvation or justification. The problem with this is that the NT says nothing about merit, and it says quite a lot about rewards for good works (e.g. 1 Cor. 3). This whole idea of rewards ‘in heaven’ or the eschaton, with salvation not being viewed as a reward itself, comes up a lot in early Judaism, as Chad Thornhill shows, and in the NT. Do you think that the Reformers ‘protesteth too much’ when it comes to the issue of merits, or are over-reacting to the theology they grew up with? How does that sort of focus and repeated denial skew the way they view of Paul, or does it? Take for instance the example you cite on p. 309. Calvin is so wanting to deny anything meritorious in a good work, that he says the work is rewarded just because God loves worker, not because of the quality of the work. Yet this is just the opposite of what Paul says about the work of ministers in 1 Cor. 3— those who build with precious stones get the reward, those who build with hay etc. will be lucky to escape through fire. Calvin seems rather clearly off base here, and out of touch with the early Jewish discussions about rewards (see both Sanders and Thornhill). Also, why would Christ’s righteousness need to cover for the imperfections of our good works? Can’t their shortcomings simply be dealt with by divine forgiveness and compassion? Why drag the imputed righteousness into this discussion when Paul doesn’t?

Stephen. I take us today to be in a very different context from the sixteenth century and so revival of a polemic against merit might not be especially helpful now. Nevertheless, I am in fundamental agreement with them on this issue. I take their basic point to be the incommensurability of divine holiness and human calculations about merit. Even in theologies that propose that God graciously accords to human deeds a worth far beyond their actual worth, there is still a calculation of relative achievement. Calvin’s point in rejecting this is, I think, not that God rewards the work just because God loves the worker, but that it is not what we achieve (which will always be pitiable when measured by divine standards) that counts and is valued by God but rather our affection and willingness to obey. Human reciprocity matters, and God rewards the right use of God’s gifts of grace, but this is more like living into an inheritance to which one is already the heir than it is like meriting something that would otherwise not be yours. It means being judged by a loving father to be ready to receive more of that inheritance. This is why adoption is a such a significant theme for Calvin.

The point about the imperfections of our good works being covered by Christ’s righteousness is not as some kind of alternative methodology to divine forgiveness and compassion but rather that for Calvin it is united by faith with Christ that God’s forgiveness is received and God’s compassion is expressed.

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