Friday, July 11, 2008

Paul among the Evangelicals, §5: Conclusion

Finally, where would Paul place himself among the evangelicals? Here I will necessarily be brief. First, the centrality of human faith in Christ is a hotly contested issue in contemporary New Testament studies, and on this point, it seems, Paul does not stand with the evangelicals. While it is not textually self-evident whether Paul leans more toward an objective or subjective genitive in using πίστις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, the Pauline letters seem to indicate that James Dunn is wrong to assert that the parallel between the works of the law and faith in a passage like Gal. 2:16—“pistis as the opposite of erga nomou”—actually favors interpreting faith as “something on the human side of the salvation process.”74 As J. Louis Martyn argues, Paul does not set up faith and works of the law as two human possibilities—on the analogy of the Two Ways in the Didache or the two paths of Hercules, for example—but rather faith is only a divine possibility. Faith is part of the new creation (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17), whereas law—and the human choices that go along with it, e.g., circumcision or uncircumcision, obedience or disobedience—remain part of the old creation. Jesus Christ nullifies the old world of competing human possibilities and establishes the new world in which what is humanly impossible becomes and remains a divine possibility. Evangelicals have yet to grasp this point, and Barth is an interlocutor who could prove helpful in developing a more biblically faithful concept of faith.

Second, Paul has a much more complex view of the relation between reconciliation, justification, and salvation than most Christians (evangelicals included) seem to articulate. In Rom. 5 alone, the verb δικαιόω is used twice (vv. 1, 9), both times in the aorist passive with reference to faith and the blood of Christ. The verb σῴζω is used twice (vv. 9, 10), both times in the future passive, the first time in distinction from δικαιόω and the second time in distinction from the verb καταλλάσσω. This latter word is used in Romans only Rom. 5:10 (occurring twice, both in the aorist tense), and it is used elsewhere in the New Testament only four other times: once in 1 Cor. 7, and the other three times in 2 Cor. 5:18-20. In other words, it is a Pauline word which is directly related (apart from 1 Cor. 7) to the event of reconciliation accomplished in Jesus Christ. These three words are often conflated in discussions of salvation. Bell, for his part, argues that justification refers to a reality in the life of the believer, so the future tense usage in Rom. 5:19 must be a logical rather than real future.75 But the situation is more complex than this. More work still needs to be done on this topic. A textual study examining the relation between past, present, and future in Paul’s narrative of reconciliation is one that needs to be carried out.

Finally, even if Barth’s early work is too indebted to a time-eternity dialectic which renders any realized eschatology quite problematic, it is nevertheless true that Paul himself thinks, in a sense, dialectically. His numerous antinomies—faith/law, Spirit/flesh, Christ/Adam—are at the heart of his letters. And yet, also like Barth, Paul does not leave these hanging as static contrasts. Paul definitely affirms the arrival of a new world order in the Christ-event, and this new world is not merely a potential reality but an actual one. Something has indeed changed—even for all. In his own way, the Barth of Romans II recognizes this. The dialectic of time and eternity, like Paul’s own dialectics, are only for a time; they, too, will pass away (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12). With that, I close with a comment by Barth on Rom. 8:33-39, of which I think even Paul himself would approve:
Monstrous to us are even those final inevitable contrasts—knowing and not knowing; death and life; divine and human nature; past, present, and future on the one hand, futurum aeternum on the other; here what can be observed, there what is invisible; relativity and absoluteness; earth and heaven¬—to us they are endless finiteness, endless concretion, endless createdness—but in God, as negations which have been negated, as positions which have been dissolved, they are at peace, reconciled, redeemed, and resolved; in Him they are one. For the love of God in Christ Jesus is the oneness of the love of God towards men and the love of men towards God.76

To see the outline of the series, click here.

74. J. D. G. Dunn, “Once More, ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ,” in Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ, 270.

75. Bell, “Rom 5.18-19 and Universal Salvation,” 424.

76. Barth, Romans, 329.


CJD said...

Good post, and one with which I largely agree.

But what about piety? Surely evangelical piety (at its best, not to be confused with sentimentality) comports with the doxological nature of Paul's writings?

David W. Congdon said...

Certainly, piety is something which Paul would share with the evangelicals. But the focus of my series is on Romans 5:12-21. This is the conclusion to that series. I'm not speaking about "Paul among the Evangelicals" in general, though that's certainly an interesting idea.

CJD said...

Sorry about that, I misunderstood your project. I look forward to making my way through the rest of your argument.