Category Archives: Bible

Romans 2: CryptoJustification

circucisionfirst

Considering Paul’s use of diatribe, what is Paul arguing in Romans 2?  Clearly he is arguing against a Jewish fleshy supremacy over gentiles.  According to Paul, being a circumcised Jew is not anymore beneficial  before God then a gentile.  He deconstructs his Jewish opponent’s arrogant stance in several ways.  Firstly, in 2:1-5 Paul says that their prideful stance makes them oblivious to their need for God’s mercy.  Secondly, in vv. 6-11 Paul appeals to the impartiality of God the judge; He gives to each person his due, to the Jew first and also the Greek.  The Jew receives no special benefit before the throne of God.  Thirdly, he exposes their hypocrisy in vv. 17-24.  Though they have been given the law and the wisdom of God they still do not obey their own teachings.  They say don’t steal yet they steal and etc.  Lastly, Paul deals with works and covenant identity.  This is probably the most controversial aspect in this chapter of Romans so I will deal with it with more care.

In v. 13, Paul writes, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”  This verse alone seems contradictory to Grace.  How can anything man does justify him before God, especially in light of the fact that Paul has already condemned the deeds of the gentiles and exposed the judgmental hypocrisy of the Jews?  Who can do the works necessary to be justified before God?  It is at this time that we need to take a closer look at the text.

In v. 12-16 Paul is contrasting the Jews and the Gentiles.  In v. 14 he writes, “For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law by nature, do what the law requires, they are law to themselves.”  Paul reiterating the fact that God is impartial. The Jews who have the law but do not obey it will be condemned.  The Gentiles who do not have the law but do the deeds of the law will be judged worthy.  The problem is what gentiles actually do the deeds of the law?  It is certainly not the idol worshipping Gentiles from Romans 1.

I believe the solution is to be found in Paul’s understanding of redemptive history and eschatology.  Paul has eschatological categories in mind in Romans 2.  He is thinking of the future judgment of God as demonstrated by his use of the phrase “on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment is revealed.”43 He also writes in vs. 16, “on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”  Paul is clearly working with an eschatological framework.

This is important to consider when answering the aforementioned question, “what Gentiles are the doers of the law?”  According to v. 15, they are the ones who “show that the work of the law is written on their hearts…”  Paul is alluding here to Jeremiah 31:33, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” 44 The main difference between these Gentiles and both Jews and Pagan Gentiles is that they are in the New Covenant.  It is those who belong to the New Covenant that have the law written on their hearts and obey God.  It is not an obedience of the outward flesh but an inward change of the heart that bears the fruit of good works.  The Jews have the law in letter but Gentile Christians have it in their heart.45 It is the inward heart that God judges.

This is made clear in v. 16, “on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” According to Paul’s gospel, God judges the secrets (κρυπτα) of men.   What are these “secrets of men” that God will judge?  Paul makes this clear in vv. 25-29.  Here Paul is discussing the relationship of covenant identity (i.e. circumcision) with obedience of the law.  Verses 28-29 are very significant when he states, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one secretly (κρυπτω), and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”  The “secrets of men” that God judges are whether or not people are inwardly Jews. God’s judgment is not about ethnicity but it is about the work of the Spirit which creates a new covenant identity.  This covenant identity entails bearing good fruit.  Outside of this new covenant community it is impossible to bear the fruit of God.  Therefore, both Pagans and Jews are equally condemned outside of Christ.  Circumcision of the flesh is no benefit.

What are the implications of this understanding of Romans 2?  Firstly, justification (in this instance) is considered forensic in nature, meaning that it is God declaring his people righteous.  Secondly, works are a result of our covenant status (i.e. circumcised heart) and not the vice versa.  We do not work our way into the covenant but we are recreated into the New Covenant people through the Holy Spirit.  The New Covenant was created because of the grace of God.  Lastly, this justification happens in the future when “God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.”  In the Day of Judgment, God will declare us righteous based on the ontological renewal He has worked in us through the Spirit of Christ.46

It is important to remember that Romans 2 is not a comprehensive nor systematic understanding of justification.  Rather, Paul is framing justification in a specific way in order to humble his fictitious Jewish opponent.  The status of the New Covenant members is not based on ethnicity but on the preeminent grace of God who circumcises hearts in Christ.  As we will see he continues this argument into the next chapters of Romans as he brings up how the atonement also justifies those who have faith.  We have to keep our understanding of Romans within a polemical framework.

Romans2: Diatribe called Quest

The Epistle to the Romans is Art!  It is many things: a letter, pastoral care, deep theological truths, Apostolic witness, God’s revealing love…; yet, this content is all weaved together into a masterful piece of literature.  God has given His beautiful Word to the Church, through the medium of beautiful whispers.

Paul,a master rhetorician, uses many tools when composing Romans; one of these is Diatribe.  Diatribe is a rhetorical technique where one creates a dialog with with a fictitious opponent. In this dialog, there is a back and forth questioning between the two people.  This rhetorical technique is advantageous because it highlights the strengths of one person’s views and the weakness of the others.

This is significant because Paul begins using this technique in Romans 2.1-4 when he states,

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
(Rom 2:1-4)

As we can see, Paul goes on the offensive as he attacks his opponent(s); but, who is his opposition?  Are they legalistic Christians or Pagans?  I think Paul gives us some clues.  Firstly, he attacks his opponent by vocatively addressing him as “O man” (ἄνθρωπε).  In my opinion, he ties his opponent to the greater HUMANity that has been fallen since the beginning.  This fallen humanity is specifically mentioned in Romans 1.18-32.

Although Paul’s opponent is certainly part of the greater humanity, I do think he has something more specific in mind.  In 2.17 he states, “What about you? You call yourself a Jew; you depend on the Law and boast about God…”   His “adversary” is a Jew.  This point is pertinent to one trying to understand Paul’s presentation of the Gospel in Romans.  The Gospel that he is giving to the Gentile Roman church (1.13) is not a situationless truth; rather, it is a polemic against a contemporary Judaic world view.  The question being answered in Romans is not, “what is the gospel?”  Instead, the question is “how does Paul’s gospel trump the Judaic belief system?”

With this in mind, I hope to show how Paul uses Diatribe to demonstate the importance of justification.

Paul and Justification

After walking in the shadow of the Reformed tradition and the larger Ecclesial heritage, I will now attempt to probe the doctrine of justification as presented by the Apostle Paul. This is quite a pretentious endeavor because to do real justice this subject I would have to produce a lengthy manuscript dealing the entire Pauline corpus. Sadly, this would take up too much time and it is a stretch considering my abilities. Instead, I will examine how justification by faith interacts with works in Romans 2 and 3. Needless to say, this will hardly be comprehensive.

By the way, I would love feed back from anybody reading these next posts.

Justification Collaquy

We are all right smack in the middle of the Holiday season so I know we are busy.  Yet, since we really haven’t done much on this blog lately I thought it would could if we all could write and discuss the topic of justification.  I just wrote a paper on it so its been on my mind alot lately.  So if you guys have any papers on the subject then you should put it up on this here blog.  The cool thing about it is that we have people who can contribute in so many different ways.  PhiloTheosophically (Schneeburger/Big Nate), Historically (DeSpain), Exegetically (Any of us).  I will start off with the first contribution where I define what the Reformed definition is since we most of us come from this broad tradition in one form or another.

My thoughts on the New Pauline Perspective

If anybody is interested in the New Perspective, here is a paper I just wrote on it. I put a lot of work into it and I based most of it on primary sources. I would love to hear some of your thoughts about the NPP and on whether or not you agree or disagree with my conclusions.

Click Here for some Crazy NPP Action!

Apologetics, Subjectivity, And the Glorious Christ

Many people in the world today do not see a connection between logical proofs or historical realities and the belief in God. To many, faith in God is a personal subjective experience that is not provable. Each person believes in what best suits them. Regardless of whether or not this assumption is true, should Christians be afraid engaging people who think like this? Can the Church possibly interact with this world view? Some Christians would say, “No, we need to push them towards rationality so that we can logically show them that God is true. If we don’t then how can we possibly prove anything to them?” But I disagree, I know God is awesome enough to dominate this world view. So what if people believe faith is subjective? What other faith is subjectively better then faith in Jesus Christ? If someone obsessively thinks that a light bulb is the greatest light in existence, you don’t give them highly constructed arguments why they are wrong. Rather, you open the door and lead them outside and let them bask in the blinding radiance of the Sun itself. When Truth is glorious it is self-authenticating.

I think there is historical precedence to this idea. St. Anselm’s ontological argument flows in the same vein. His primary assertion in the Proslogium is that “God is that than which a greater cannot be conceived.” I believe this to be true. Not only is God better then non-existence but He is certainly better then any other religion that is man made. Furthermore, it seems as if Pascal concurs with this in his line, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” There is something about the Gospel that reason can reach but it cannot grasp, but the Gospel takes hold of us and makes world grow strangely dim.

More importantly, Scripture itself argues in this manner. Genesis 1 is a great example of this. It is well attested that there are other creation accounts that are similar the one found in the Bible. In the surrounding Ancient Near East cultures their gods actually did battle with elemental deities until they were brought into submission and order. But in Genesis we see our God who merely speaks and creation happens. There are no other deities that He battles but all things obey His powerful word. Nothing else is even on par with Him. He is simply the greatest. Likewise, our cultures creation account tells us that humanity is result of impersonal forces and at best our sole identities should found in being sexual creatures. We have seen this world view pillage the dignity of millions of people. But our God has created us in His image. We have intrinsic dignity and the far greater purpose of being His kings and queens. Which is better? Of course there is nothing better then what our faith offers.

Now, I am not saying that we should discard logic or empirical evidence. In fact, a subjective apologetic is properly rational and as my friend Scott Schultz has noted there is something subjectively beautiful in a concise rational argument. But I do want to conclude with this, all too often as Christians we feel the need to defend creationism, the Gospel, etc. But if our message is really that beautiful and God is truly greater then anything that can be conceived then isn’t its own defense? Truly, when people are obsessed with there with dimly lit beliefs, maybe all we need to do is bring them to radiant glory of Jesus Christ and let them fall down at His feet.

Systematic Theology

                                                  

The power of wind on rock, shaping it as it blows against it.

Hey guys. This semester has been a frustrating, amazing, blessing filled semester. I have been taking a class on Modern and Post-Modern Theology, and in my countless hours of trying to understand one word that I have been reading, one thing has become very clear to me. It seems as if, since the Enlightenment (which is the culmination of several currents of thought ranging from the Renaissance to the Reformation), the task of theology has been dominated by a man-centered view, but in a very strange, hopeless way. I know that we all can agree that Modernity has ushered in an age of anthropocentric idolatry, placing man as the central character of history. But it seems that this turn to self is subtly influencing the way even we do theology in the sense that it is forcing us to answer questions on Enlightenment-Modernity-Post-Modernity’s terms.

The fundamental question is this: What do we start with? Theology Proper? If we start with God, what is the basis of OUR knowledge? What about Bibliology? If we start with the Bible, we give a grounding to the basis of OUR knowledge, but how can WE justify OUR belief that the Scriptures are orienting our pursuits towards the true God? These questions seem like the right questions. If we are to have a right view of God, we do need to have a rational response to these questions. But my concern is that these questions have become the central focus of the task of theology, and the problem with that is it’s fundamentally man centered in its approach to our knowing God.

I have been thinking through the consequents of this, and I have just begun to roll around in the ol’ noggin an answer to the question of the proper jumping point for theology. This is just a thought, and I covet your responses in support of or correction of, but what about starting the task of theology with Pneumatology? There are several reasons I am leaning towards this, and here are some of ’em:

It is the Holy Spirit that wrote, protected, and illuminates the Scriptures.

1. He wrote them through divine inspiration, guiding the authors’ pens.

2. He protected them by moving through the Fathers whom He indwelled to put together a canon and closing it.

3. He illuminates them today, moving in the hearts of the elect, guiding them into all truth and sanctifying them through an encounter with God.

Like I said, this is just the beginning of my working through this, but it seems like a good way of moving theology past the chaos that results from focusing on the limitations of humanity’s perspectival knowledge and into the beautiful confidence and rest that flows from the glorious truth that we can know God because He Himself is the basis of our knowledge of Him. It seems risky, as it takes us past the foundationalism that is the byproduct of Descarte’s thought, but perhaps faith that the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth and protect the sacred deposit of truth found in the Scriptures will elevate our theology from the mechanical connection of propositions to a sublime flow of the power and love of God as the Holy Spirit sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts. Just a thought.

P.S. I do think that the bible is made up of propositions that contain truth, and that these propositions can be known rationally. I hold to the Correspondence Theory of truth, that a thing is true if and only if it corresponds to reality, and a step further, that reality is what God says it is in Scripture- placing the Bible as the final authority of what is real. All I am saying is, it might be beneficial to begin our theology not from the starting point of the limitations of man, which is presupposed when beginning theology from the Theology Proper/Bibliology question, but from the study of the active agent in our knowing God, presupposing instead the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the elect for the task of knowing and proclaiming God in the world.

P.P.S. Love you guys. Let me know what you think.