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Romans 2.14-16; Christian Gentiles Who Do the Law

Romans 2.14-16, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

In my previous post I looked at Tom Schreiner’s interpretation of Romans 2.13, which reflects what Paul says in 2:6 that God “will render to each one according to his works.” Schreiner, saying that verse 13 reiterates the essence of verse 6, says, “Those who do good works will receive justification” and they “who do the required works will be declared to be righteous by God, the eschatological judge, on the day of the Lord” (128).

Hypothetical

Paul could be speaking hypothetically about “doers of the law.” The Jews (though not the Jewish Christians hearing the letter being read) thought they were acceptable before God because they had his Torah. Paul could be saying, “Look, those who keep the law perfectly will be justified by God. The gentiles sure don’t keep it, but neither do you. Thankfully, there is Christ’s sacrifice.”

General Gentiles

Could verses 14-16 be speaking of general gentiles? Schreiner understood it that way in his first edition. Here, gentiles have the work of God’s law on their hearts so that they know and keep aspects his law, though they don’t realize that their morality reflects upon God’s handiwork. They will be judged based on whether they obeyed those “norms” pressed upon them by their conscience. If so, Paul would be saying that both the Jews and gentiles will be judged for not keeping the law, as all know the law (or at least aspects of it): The Jews through the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament and the gentiles though “natural law,” that is, they are born naturally knowing that certain moral actions are correct to do. 

Christian Gentiles

However, Schreiner now believes Paul to be speaking of Christian gentiles. The flow of thought could be represented like this: 

Those who only hear the law will not be righteous before God,

but those who do the law will be justified.

How do we know this?

For the Christian gentiles who do what the law requires show that the law is written on their hearts, fulfilling what Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 31.31-34 about what God would do for those who are in the new covenant.

So these gentiles are in the new covenant. Jeremiah 31.31-34 says,

31 “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—my covenant that they broke even though I am their master”—the Lord’s declaration. 

33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration.
“I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 

34 No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.

Israel was given God’s Torah in Exodus 20-23. The gentiles were. Gentiles who converted to Judaism took on the task of following the law, but gentiles all across the world weren’t given God’s law. Israel, at Mt. Sinai, received God’s law. So how do these gentiles, who do not have the law, do what the law requires?

They do it by nature. They have a new nature. They are new creations, and they have God’s Spirit working in them. Paul brings up this same idea in Romans 8.3b-4 when he says, “[God] condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” 

Finally, in my next post, I’ll look at what Paul means about Jews and true circumcision and how that relates to Christian Gentiles.


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Romans 2.13; ‘Doers of the Law will be Justified’

tom schreiner romans 2

Romans 2.13, For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

In Romans 2.1-16, Paul’s flow of thought goes something like this:

2.1-5: Unrepentant Jews criticize gentiles for their sins while committing those same sins.

2.6-11: God is not partial; he will bless those who do good and judge those who do evil. He “will repay each person according to his or her works” (Schreiner’s translation, 121).

2.12-16: Schreiner observes, “Jews can scarcely use the Torah as a talisman, for anyone (whether Jew or gentile) who observes the law will be vindicated before God on the day of Jesus Christ” (126). Jews will be judged by the law, and gentiles will be judged by a “fair standard” (126).

Is Paul really saying that people will be judged according to their works? In Romans 3 Paul argues that no one is righteous (3:10) and all have sinned (3:23). The knowledge of sin comes through the law (3:20). How could any law-doer ever hope to be justified if “no one will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law” (3:20)?

Yet even Solomon, David, and Jeremiah all speak of God repaying one according to their works.

Proverbs 24:12: If you say, ‘But we didn’t know about this,’
won’t he who weighs hearts consider it?
Won’t he who protects your life know?
Won’t he repay a person according to his work?

Psalm 62:12: and faithful love belongs to you, Lord.
For you repay each according to his works.

Jeremiah 32:19: the one great in counsel and powerful in action. Your eyes are on all the ways of the children of men in order to reward each person according to his ways and as the result of his actions. (see Jer 17.10; 25.14; Job 34.11; Psalm 28.4).

So, at least looking at what we have so far, if someone keeps the law, he (or she) will be declared righteous by God (Rom 2.13). Paul says in Romans 2:6 that God “will repay each person according to his or her works” (121). Schreiner says that verse 13 above reiterates the essence of verse 6: “those who do good works will receive justification” and they “who do the required works will be declared to be righteous by God, the eschatological judge, on the day of the Lord” (128).

It was not enough for the Jews to own the law and only hear it; they also had to keep it. They wouldn’t get away with condemning gentiles for their sins only to turn around and commit the same sins against God’s kindness without repentance (2.4-5). But how could Paul say that those who do the law will be justified? Schreiner says that Paul did accept the idea that “those who perform the required works will be rewarded” (128).

Tom schreiner romans second edition

So is Paul speaking hypothetically? Is he saying, “If someone could keep the law, then, yes, that one would be justified before God, (but, in reality, all sin and no one can keep the law)”? Or does he mean that “gentiles know the law in their hearts, [but] they are condemned since they don’t keep it perfectly” (129)? Or does he mean that gentile Christians show that they have God’s Spirit in them by obeying the law?

In the next post I’ll look at how Paul’s argument continues in Romans 2.14-16.

(There are more interpretations on what Romans 2.13 means. You can read more on the different interpretations on this blog). 


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Review Books: Winter 2018

As I am finishing up school, I like to think I’ll have a lot of time to read. And so I ask for books. All of them. Why do I do this to myself? Because I enjoy reading, and reviewing forces me to finish books.

Received Books 

A Hermeneutic of Wisdom – J. de Waal Dryden

As Kelly Kapic notes in her endorsement, “Dryden believe the Bible is primarily meant for spiritual formation, shaping us so that we might faithfully commune with God and neighbor.” The Bible wasn’t written so we could fill our heads with technical doctrines and talking about PhD topics with one another. It was to fill us with wisdom and love for living in God’s world, worshiping our Savior and Creator, and loving our neighbor. The Bible forms us spiritually, which means it shapes our whole selves. The Bible brings together meaning, ethics, application, and doctrine. His central thesis: “The Bible is a wisdom text” (xvi).  

Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed. – John Walton

John Walton has studied the ancient Near East for over thirty years, and has updated his book on how the Old Testament fits into the ANE culture. People from different countries think very differently from you. Thirty years ago, people from your own state would think different about most things in life than you do today. 3,000 years ago, people on the other side of the world thought about pretty much everything differently than you do today. Walton has tried to understand their world and has written numerous books to reveal how an OT Israelite thought about life. Covering topics such as gods, cosmic geography, cosmology, kingship, law, wisdom, life after death, and more, this will help you to understand you OT better by understanding the ways in which Israel thought like everyone else and the ways their theology differed from everyone else’s. 

Angels – Michael Heiser

After writing The Unseen Realm and Supernatural, Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern scholar Michael Heiser has written a book about the Bible’s commonly misunderstood heavenly host. He looks at the terms the Bible uses for God’s heavenly host. the different capacities in which they serve God, important angels, how the heavenly host is understood in the Second Temple Period and in the New Testament. Heiser also answers important questions and long-held myths about angels. Not many books are written on angels by biblical scholars, so this is an important book. Heiser, like Walton, has studied the Old Testament and its ANE context for a long time, and he wants Christians’ understanding of God’s heavenly host to be shaped by the Bible instead of culture.

Biblical Eschatology, 2nd ed. – Jonathan Menn

I reviewed Jonathan Menn’s first edition a few years ago, having read it from cover to cover during one summer. It was fascinating. He looks at prophecy, apocalyptic literature, eschatology and the Bible’s structure, the significance of christ’s second coming, the millennium, the “rapture,” the “antichrist,” Revelation, the importance of eschatology, and ends his book with seven appendices. Regarding the importance of the “end times,” Menn says, “By understanding eschatology, we can have a well-integrated theology that enables us to live authentic Christian lives with confidence and hope. Such lives will demonstrate the present reality of the kingdom while we look forward to the final consummation in all its glory” (351).

Discovering the New Testament (Vol. I: The Gospels and Acts) – Mark Keown

Having just released a massive two-volume commentary on Philippians, Mark Keown, NT professor in New Zealand, is releasing a three-volume introduction to the New Testament. With Christ at the center, the New Testament letters “show us how to live the ‘in Christ’ life” (1). Keown represents the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts, has two chapters on critical methodologies and how scholars have understood the way in which  the four Gospels were written, and then looks at the content and theology of all four of those Gospel and Acts. He ends with looking at the kingdom of God, miracles, and parables. 

The Elder Testament: Canon, Theology, and Trinity – Christopher Seitz

This book is a “commentary on critical method,” looking at various interpretations of the Old Testament, such as canonical and theological interpretations (4). The “Elder Testament” is made up of 39 books which all tell the story of Israel serving the one true God. The ordering of the OT is important, even though it differs between the Hebrew (MT) and Greek (LXX) texts (think Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty or Goswell/Lau’s Unceasing Kindness). All the Scriptures, both old and new, both “elder” and younger, speak of Christ. Here Seitz draws together old and new and examines the Trinity, wisdom, time and creation, Christ’s “speaking” in the letter to the Hebrews, and theophany. The Old Testament is not old and outdated, but it is older than the New Testament. Yet this “Elder Testament” still speaks of Christian theology about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the New Testament authors drew upon it. 

Romans, 2nd ed. (BECNT) – Thomas Schreiner

The Baker Exegetical Commentary series aims to be both readable while paying careful attention to important Greek exegetical matters. Each volume is written with pastors and teachers in mind so they can teach God’s uniquely inspired word. Tom Schreiner’s first volume was published in 1998, and has been a massive help for many who have studied, taught, and preached through Romans. Schreiner’s commentary is attuned to understanding Paul’s flow of thought, which is very important to understand anything Paul says in the letter. No verse is an island, and each reflects an aspect of Paul’s theology as shown throughout the full letter. Twenty years later, Schreiner has reworked his commentary, changing his mind on a few bigger issues and on numerous smaller issues. Schreiner has been a NT and Pauline scholar for almost 40 years now, so be sure to pick this one up. I’ve written more about Tom’s commentary here on my blog

Suffering – Paul David Tripp

Paul Tripp is a pastor, author, and biblical counselor. Not wanting to admit it, we have idols, and they live in our hearts. Suffering reveals to us what our idols are: in what do we put our focus, attention, and trust? What are our ordered loves? Is God actually first? Tripp tells of a few years where he had multiple surgeries and treatments for his failing kidneys, which caused him to cut back on his productive ministry. He thought his productive life was from his own hand, forgetting that any success or productivity we have comes from God. There’s more to the book than that, but Tripp shows that we can trust in our loving and faithful Father, who uses our hardships to shape us into the very image of the perfect Christ.

Books on the Way

1 Corinthians – Tom Schreiner
1-3 John – Marianne Meye Thompson
A New Testament Theology – Craig Blomberg
An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. – David deSilva
Conformed to the Image of His Son – Haley Jacob
Romans (ZECNT) – Frank Thielman

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Three Troubles in Romans 2

When I think of difficult passages in Romans, I think of Romans 5.12-21, 7.7-25, and all of 9-11. It wasn’t until I sat in on Lindsay Kennedy’s Romans class at CCBCY that I found out that many scholars think Romans 2 is the most difficult chapter in the letter. Why is this? There are three sections in Romans 2 that can be understood in a few different ways.

1. Romans 2.13, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

2. Romans 2.14-16, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

3. Romans 2.29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”

In the first point, is Paul saying that those who do the law are justified? Doesn’t he say that we are released from the law (7.6) and so we can now serve in the way of the Spirit? In the second point, who are these Gentiles? They don’t have the law, but they show that the work of the law is written on their heart. Does the pagan Polynesian show that somehow he ‘knows’ God’s commands? Or are these Gentiles Christians who, fulfilling Jeremiah 31.31-34, have God’s law written on their hearts? And thirdly, in perhaps the most well-known verse on the list, does Paul mean to say that Christian Gentiles are true Jews? How would that work?

This series will continue looking at Tom Schreiner’s revised Romans (BECNT) commentary because Schreiner has changed his interpretation of 2.14-16 since writing his first edition, and his understanding of the other two sections is helpful. I may write up separate posts on each text because that will make them shorter and more ‘bite-size.’


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God’s Righteousness as Forensic

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

This series has given some snapshots of Tom Schreiner’s arguments over “the righteousness of God” in his revised Romans (BECNT) commentary. Again, he summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). I’ve looked at the arguments that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness to his covenant people, and the argument that his righteousness is transformative. In his first edition, Schreiner understood God’s righteousness as being both forensic and transformative, with one aspect being emphasized more than the other in certain verses. Now he understands it as entirely forensic. God’s righteousness is a gift given to sinners so that they would be declared righteous in God’s sight. Though they are sinners, they stand not guilty before him.

He gives nine arguments for understanding God’s righteousness as being forensic, but I put a few together here.

Forensic Righteousness

1. Righteousness, Faith, and Believing

“Righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) is placed near to the words “faith” or “believing.”

Romans 4.11, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,”

Romans 10.3-4, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Galatians 5.5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”

The one who believes by faith stands not guilty in God’s presence. They are declared righteous, but that righteousness won’t be seen by all until the day of resurrection.

2. To be Counted

Those who believe by faith are not “made” righteous but are “counted” righteous.

Romans 4.3, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (see Rom 4.5, 6, 9, 11).

3. A Gift from God

This righteousness is a gift divinely granted to people.

Romans 5.17, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

God is the origin of righteousness, and he gives that status to the ungodly (see again Rom 4.3, 5, 6, 9, 11) .

1 Corinthians 1.30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Here, Jesus is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from God. Paul’s comment in Philippians 3.9 refers to righteousness as a gift from God. So in Romans 1.17 and 3.21-22 “God’s saving righteousness is given as a gift to those who believe” (70).

Philippians 3.9, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

So “God’s righteousness may be both an attribute of God and a gift of God, but it doesn’t follow logically that it is also transformative” (70). Philippians 3.1-9 can be paralleled with Romans 10.1-5. Just as Paul couldn’t have a righteousness of his own from the law, Israel as a whole has tried to establish their own righteousness from the law. Paul received God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Israel must do the same. It is not about keeping the law; it is about trusting in Jesus.

4. Second Corinthians 5

In 2 Corinthians 5.21, Paul writes that Jesus who had no sin became sin so that we could “became the righteousness of God.” God was not “counting their trespasses against them,” meaning he forgave those who put their faith in Christ. Christ died on the cross, and those who put their faith in him, though they are sinners, take on God’s righteousness.

5. Romans 3.21-26

If all have sinned, how can anyone be righteous? Schreiner observes, “Paul argues… that a right relation with God is not obtained by keeping the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. All people who trust in Christ are justified by God because of the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus (3:24)” (71).

6. Lawcourts

Romans 8.33 says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

Schreiner writes, “The lawcourt background here is unmistakable. Paul followed the usage of the LXX… and other Jewish Second Temple literature… in assigning a forensic meaning to δικαίουν [‘to justify’].”

2 Samuel 15.4, “Then Absalom would say, ‘Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.'”

1 Kings 8.32, “then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness.”

Judges didn’t make anyone wicked or righteous. They made declarations about the wicked and the righteous. God declares us righteous, and he will transform us at the resurrection.

Proverbs 17.15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”

Schreiner: “Paul… does not think God violates any standards of justice, since Christ bears the curse that sinners deserve” (72).

7. Righteousness and Forgiveness

Romans 4.7-8 quotes Ps 32.1-2. David’s sins are forgiven and he stands “in the right before God” (73). David is not transformed, but forgiven.

Conclusion

Honestly, with some of these points (#3) I do wonder why God’s righteousness being a ‘gift’ ‘from God’ means his righteousness is to be understood forensically. We can’t transform ourselves to be righteous. We need another (2 Cor 5.21). So whether it is forensic or transformative (or both), it is still from God. However, do to other points (#6) and parts of Scripture, I can still see how God’s righteousness is purely forensic.

God justifies sinners when they believe the human Christ Jesus died and was resurrected. He is currently ruling over all things, and he is the King. We are justified in the eyes of God. We stand “in the right” or “not guilty” before him because we are “in Christ.” Being justified in and of itself doesn’t transform Christians, but other aspects of the order of salvation that occur immediately (e.g., the reception of the Spirit) and other parts will occur over time (e.g., sanctification) will cause us to be transformed. God conforms us to the image of his Son by working in us through his Spirit. Through that, we are transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3.18), awaiting our final transformation at the day of resurrection (1 Cor 15.49, 51-53). Christians are sinners who are declared righteous now and will be made righteous in the future.


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God’s Righteousness as Transformative?

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

In my previous post I noted that in his revised BECNT commentary on Romans, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). Commentators have come to different interpretations as to what God’s righteousness is. Schreiner explains three of the different interpretations in his commentary.

Last time I wrote about those who think that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness. This time I present Schreiner’s arguments for (and against) God’s righteousness being transformative.

Arguments For

1. Revealed

God’s righteousness being revealed refers to God’s eschatological (end-time) activity that has invaded history. It makes sense that God’s righteousness here means his saving activity if we ask the question ‘What is being revealed?’—a new status (forensic) or divine action (transformation)?

In fact, both God’s righteousness (v. 17) and his wrath (v. 18) are revealed.

17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

God’s wrath is actively poured out against human sin, and so it fits the parallel that his righteousness would also refer to a divine activity. Schreiner notes, “Since verses 16–17 are connected with a γὰρ (gar, for), we can conclude that the saving power of God is intertwined with the righteousness of God” (68).

So as Paul writes, the gospel is God’s power for salvation to all who believe for in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed. The gospel is God’s salvation-bringing power. It is a divine activity, and his righteousness is actively revealed in it.

2. Old Testament Usage

Many of the uses of righteousness in the OT refer to God’s saving action.

Psalm 98.1–3

‘Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.

The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.’

After God brought Israel through the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army, Israel praised Yahweh as a ‘man of war’ (Exod 15.3) whose ‘right hand’ is ‘glorious in power’ and ‘shatters the enemy’ (v. 6). He stretched out his right hand that the earth would swallow up the army (v. 12). He led his people safely through the waters in his ‘steadfast love’ (v. 13; Ps 98.2). God’s salvation is an active salvation that rescues his people from their enemies. See also Isaiah 45.8; Micah 6.5 and 7.9.

3. Made righteous

Later in Romans 6 Paul says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died has been freed (δεδικαίωται) from sin” (6.7). Schreiner writes, “The use of the verb ‘to justify’ [translated as ‘freed’]… demonstrates that God’s declaration of righteousness really frees people from sin” (69). In Romans 5.19, many in Adam were made sinners; in Christ, they are made righteous. “God’s forensic declaration is effective because the Lord who was crucified on behalf of sinners was also raised from the dead (Rom. 4:25), and thus sinners now live in a new way (Rom. 6:4)” (69).

Pushback

As Schreiner explains in his commentary, there are a few problems here. I won’t list every rebuttal; you can find that in his commentary. But I will present a few of them. 

Problem 1: Revealed

God’s righteousness (1.17) is the grounds for God’s power (1.16). The two terms are not synonymous. Simply because God’s righteousness in Christ is apocalyptic does not mean that his righteousness is transformative. “God’s declaration about sinners is an end-time verdict that has been announced before the end has arrived” (73). Referring to Linebaugh, Schreiner says, “Justification… is the final verdict, which is pronounced now” before the end has come (73).

Believers, in union with Christ, stand in the right before God, but that does not mean they are automatically transformed because of that verdict. Rather, Christians are transformed through the reception of the Holy Spirit, becoming new creations, being sanctified—conformed to the image of Christ—and ultimately by being glorified. At the resurrection we will truly be transformed. It is then that we will be like Christ—righteous and perfect.

Problem 2: Old Testament Usage

Simply because the words righteous and salvation are in parallel (as in Psalm 98.1-3) does not mean they are equivalent. Schreiner says, “Words may overlap in meaning, but it doesn’t follow from this that they have an identical meaning. The righteousness of God, then, denotes the ‘rightness’ and justice of God’s salvation in Psalms and Isaiah” (73).

Problem 3: Made righteous

“Virtually all scholars agree that in the vast majority of cases the verb ‘to justify’ (δικαιόυν) is forensic” (74). Most English Bibles translate δεδικαίωται as “freed.” Even if δεδικαίωται here held a transformative connotation, it does not mean that every use of ‘justify’ or ‘righteousness’ holds that same connotation.

Schreiner observes, “God’s declaration that sinners are in the right before him is the foundation for a changed life” (74). Because believers are justified, are in union with Christ, and are given the Holy Spirit who works in us to image Christ. We are transformed not because of our ‘not-guilty’ verdict, but because God’s Spirit works within us.

As for Romans 5.19 and people being made sinners or made righteous, 2 Corinthians 3.9 points to a forensic use of righteousness. There, righteousness is contrasted with condemnation, “a declarative term” (74). When God condemns someone, he doesn’t make them wicked. They don’t turn into wicked people. They already are wicked. Similarly, God’s declaration that someone is righteous doesn’t mean he turns him into a righteous person. “The declaration that Jesus,” vindicated in his resurrection, “stands in the right is granted to all those who belong to him, to all those who are united to him by faith” (75).

Conclusion

One of the major differences between Schreiner’s first and second editions is his move toward God’s righteousness indicating a forensic status instead of both a forensic status and transformative state. Think about this scenario. Harry and Marv rob a bank. They have committed a crime. They are bandits. They are criminals. A judge declares Harry and Marv to be guilty of their crime. The judge’s sentence does not transform them into criminals; they became criminals when they robbed the bank.

We are sinners. Yet those who believe on Jesus Christ are declared to be “in the right” by God. I am still a sinner. I am not a ‘righteous’ person. As I said above, when Christians receive their resurrected bodies, they will be like Christ (1 John 3.2; 1 Cor 15.49, 52-53). They will be righteous, and they will be perfect. God sees what they will be in the future and he declares them to be that now. Christians have the status of righteousness even though they are still presently sinners because we are now in Christ.

In my next and final post I will look at what Schreiner has to say about God’s righteousness being forensic.


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God’s Righteousness as his Covenant Faithfulness?

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

In my previous post I noted that in his revised BECNT commentary on Romans, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). Commentators have come to different interpretations as to what God’s righteousness is. Schreiner explains three of the different interpretations in his commentary.

Proponents

The first here is the understanding that God’s righteousness refers to his covenantal faithfulness to his people Israel. Those who argue for this position understand God’s righteousness to be “both effective and forensic” (67). His faithfulness toward Israel is due to his covenant with them and it is seen in his saving activity—that is, it is seen when he saves them from their enemies.

In his commentary Romans 1–8, James Dunn says, “God is ‘righteous’ when he fulfills the obligations he took upon himself to be Israel’s God, that is, to rescue Israel and punish Israel’s enemies” (41). God’s righteousness is to be understood as his covenant faithfulness (Rom 3:3–5, 25; 15:8). It is “God’s act to restore his own and to sustain them within the covenant (Ps 31:1; 35:24; 51:14; 65:5; 71:2, 15; 98:2; 143:11; Isa 45:8, 21; 46:13; 51:5, 6, 8; 62:1–2; 63:1, 7)” (41). 

In his book, Pauline Perspectives, N. T. Wright says, “God must be true to his covenant” with Abraham who would be the father of a great nation and who, by following God, would be a blessing to the world. He continues, “Paul [in Romans 4] quotes extensively from Genesis 15 and 17 to prove that covenant membership always depended on grace and faith” (31). Wright notes that “as God ‘redeemed’ his people from Egypt with the covenant blood, so now the blood of Jesus Christ becomes the blood of the new covenant, shed for the worldwide forgiveness of sins, achieving the redemption (3.21) of the true family of Abraham. God has dealt with sin; he has renounced partiality; he is true to his covenant. The Gospel of Jesus Christ reveals that God is in the right (Romans 1.16f.)” (31). Through the death and resurrection of the Son, God has saved Israel, Jew and Gentile—“the true family of Abraham”—from their ultimate enemies: sin and death.

Finally, Wright says, “The ‘righteousness of God’ is the divine covenant faithfulness, which is both a quality upon which God’s people may rely and something visible in action in the great covenant-fulfilling actions of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit” (74-75).

Old Testament References

Schreiner says, “God’s saving actions are rooted in his faithfulness to the covenant enacted with his people. That the righteousness of God involves his loyalty to the covenant is defended by OT and Second Temple antecedents” (75).

Psalm 36.5–6

“Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord.”

Psalm 88.11–12

11 “Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?”

God’s righteousness is compared to his faithfulness and steadfast love to his people Israel seen through his wondrous works.

Psalm 142.1 (LXX)

In the Septuagint, the psalmist draws a parallel between God’s truth and his righteousness when he says,

“O Lord, hearken to my prayer.
Give ear to my entreaty with your truthfulness.
Hear me in your righteousness.”

God is both truthful and righteous to his covenant people.

Pushback

Yet just because terms such as ‘righteousness,’ ‘truthfulness,’ ‘faithfulness,’ and ‘steadfast’ are paralleled does not mean that they all denote the same thing. Even though the idea the idea of God being faithful to his covenant is present in the broad context of the above psalms, Schreiner points out elsewhere that “God’s salvation of his people is also the right thing to do; he vindicates his people in saving them.”

Israelite judges were to “acquit the innocent and condemn the guilty” (Deut 25.1). Schreiner notes the forensic aspect of their judgments saying, “Judges do not make someone righteous or wicked. They render a forensic declaration based on the reality that is before them.”1

While in Romans 3.1–8 Paul links God’s ‘righteousness’ (3.5) with his ‘faithfulness’ (3.3), ‘reliability’ (3.4), and ‘truth’ (3.7), Schreiner points out that Romans 3.5 speaks of God’s judging righteousness. The Jewish opponents ask if God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on them. God, in his righteousness, judges guilty sinners and pours out his wrath upon them (1.18). God is right and just to judge sinners.

Because God is righteous and doesn’t “pervert the right” (Job 8.3), he faithfully and steadfastly fulfills his OT saving promises and his covenant promises. However, “it is quite another thing to say that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness” (75). Schreiner writes, “The righteousness of God, then, denotes the ‘rightness’ and justice of God’s salvation in Psalms and Isaiah,” which displays itself in his faithfulness to his covenant people (73).


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1 Schreiner, 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, 111.

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What is the ‘Righteousness of God’?

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

After explaining how eager he is to preach the gospel of the resurrected Jesus Christ in Rome, Paul tells the church in Rome that he is not ashamed of the gospel (Rom 1.16). Why? It is the power of God that brings salvation to all who believe it. In the upcoming second edition of his Romans (BECNT) commentary, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 as, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63).

But just what is the ‘righteousness of God’? This is an important question to ask because “in the bulk of the letter, Paul fills in the content of this gospel so that the Romans will understand why he is so desirous to preach the gospel in Rome and Spain. The letter as a whole focuses on the content of the gospel because the gospel gives Paul boldness to preach in places where Christ is not named (Rom 15:20–21)” (63).

Yet many commentators understand God’s righteousness differently. In a series of posts, I will look at three different understandings of the righteousness of God from Schreiner’s new commentary. Commentators understand God’s righteousness as: 

  1.  Covenantal faithfulness
    1. God’s faithfulness toward Israel is due to his covenant with them and is seen in his saving activity—that is, it is seen when he saves Israel from their enemies.

    2. N.T. Wright says, “The ‘righteousness of God’ is the divine covenant faithfulness, which is both a quality upon which God’s people may rely and something visible in action in the great covenant-fulfilling actions of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit” (Pauline Perspectives74-75). 

    3. Proponents: James Dunn, Robert JewettN.T. Wright, etc.
      .
  2. Transformative
    1. On this view Schreiner says, “God’s forensic declaration is effective because the Lord who was crucified on behalf of sinners was also raised from the dead (Rom. 4:25), and thus sinners now live in a new way (Rom. 6:4)” (69). In his first edition he says that God’s declaration of righteousness is a gift that “is an effective declaration, so that those who are pronounced righteous are also transformed by God’s grace” (67).

    2. Romans 5.19, “For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

    3. Proponents: Ernst Käsemann, Eberhard Jüngel, Adolf Schlatter, Tom Schreiner 1.0 (he advocated for both the forensic and transformative meaning in his first volume). 
      .
  3. Forensic
    1. God’s righteousness is a gift given to sinners so that they would be declared righteous in God’s sight.

    2. Philippians 3.8b-9, “so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.

    3. Proponents: Martin Luther, John Calvin, C.E.B. Cranfield, Doug Moo, Tom Schreiner 2.0 (he now advocates for only the forensic understanding).

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The Center of the Center of the Center of the Sermon on the Mount

Sermon on the Mount

In his new book The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, Jonathan Pennington says that in the Gospel of Matthew, “Matthew’s literary skill is all about structure” (106). When comparing Matthew’s stories of Jesus’ healings and miracles with the two other Synoptic Gospels, Matthew generally gives shorter retellings. Throughout the Bible, structure is often just as important as what is said.

The biblical authors didn’t use chapter headings, (parentheses), italics, bold, or different colors to frame different sections. They often used words and themes in a literary technique called an inclusio. Why does this fancy word matter?

Imagine holding a dark, rustic 5×7 picture frame. You intend to hang your annual family Christmas photo (the serious one) in your living room. You are not going to put a 3×5 picture in a 5×7 frame—that would look silly. Neither will you try to cram a 5×7 picture into a 3×5 frame; that would destroy the picture and tell people that you don’t care for your property (and that you have bad taste!) Because you appreciate aesthetics, you place your 5×7 annual family photo into that dark, rustic, 5×7 picture frame. The smooth frame matches the pleasant picture. It fits (while your silly Christmas picture will go into the neon frame).

Matthew’s skill isn’t seen in telling elaborate stories. Pennington says he “appears to be less concerned with the individual narratives per se than with how these stories fit together in conjunction with major teaching blocks to tell a larger story” (106). Matthew presents the message of his Gospel through the shape of his Gospel. He frames texts with intentionality. Beginning with the whole Gospel of Matthew:

Abraham

1.1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

[Matthew’s Gospel]

28.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In Genesis 12.1–3, Yahweh commissioned Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. Although Matthew doesn’t cite Abraham’s name at the end of his book, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the true King, the new “David,” his disciples receive the commission to proclaim his kingship to every nation that they would be converted and would follow him, continuing his line (or “genealogy”).

The Presence of Christ

1.23 Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

18.20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

28.20 …And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Three times Matthew states that Jesus (or God) will be with his people. The presence of Christ frames the text, and it is the proclamation of his present-and-coming kingdom which brings a separation among humanity seen throughout Matthew’s Gospel (110).

The Gospel of the Kingdom (of God)

Narrowing our search down, it is well known that there are five major blocks of teaching in Matthew. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7) is located within a larger block of narrative (4.17–9.38).

4.17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

4.23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

[Sermon on the Mount; 5–7]

[Healing and Calling Disciples, 8–9]

9.35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

This block of narrative (4.17–9.38) is framed by a call to repentance, a prayer for more laborers (disciples), and the phrase “the gospel of the kingdom.” Pennington says this whole section is “to be read as one unit, the theme of which is the call to discipleship (through repentance) that comes from the coming of the kingdom of heaven” (114).

The Sermon is meant to be read as the explanation of what it means to live according to God’s coming kingdom” (114). The Sermon is the perfect example of an “exposition of what repentance toward God and his Fatherly reign looks like (4:17), of what the life of discipleship looks like” (114).

The “New Law” of the Sermon

5.1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

[The Sermon on the Mount] 

7.28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. 8.1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.

The Sermon itself is framed by Jesus ascending up the mountain (5.1–2) and descending down the mountain (7.28–8.1). Jesus, the greater Moses, taught the people what it should look like to live in God’s kingdom. He spoke with authority, unlike the scribes who pretend to have Moses’ authority (23.2).1

The Law and the Prophets

Pennington provides a three-fold outline to the Sermon:

  1. Introduction: The Call to God’s People (5.3–16)
  2. The Body: The Greater Righteousness for God’s People (5.17–7.12)
  3. Conclusion: Three Warnings Regarding the Prospect of Eschatological Judgment (7.13–27)

The Body of the sermon is framed by the phrase “the Law and/or the Prophets.”

5.17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

[Greater righteousness for God’s people]

7.12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Pennington says that the theme of the sermon is “greater righteousness.” To be a repentant and forgiven disciple in God’s kingdom, and to be in covenant with God and to know his word (Ps 1.1; 2.12), is to live life as it was meant to be lived. It is a “whole” life; it is a flourishing life (cf. the blossoming, fruitful tree by the rivers of water in Ps 1.3, which resonates Garden of Eden imagery). The Pharisees were hypocrites who performed the right actions but with evil hearts. To have “greater righteousness” is to be whole and complete like the Father in heaven (5.48). It is to be “pure in heart” (5.8). It is to follow God’s instructions both outwardly and inwardly. Christ fulfilled the law, and we live under the law of Christ (1 Cor 9.21; Gal 6.2).

Rewards from the Father in Heaven

  1. The Body: The Greater Righteousness (GR) for God’s People (5.17–7.12)
    1. GR in Relation to God’s Laws (5.17–48)
    2. GR in Relation to Piety Toward God (6.1–21)
    3. GR in Relation to the World (6.19–7.12)2

6.1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

[Greater righteousness in one’s piety toward God]

6.19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Here, point two of the Body is framed by a few words/ideas. Both sides speak about rewards/treasures either from God in heaven or with the treasure being in heaven. Good deeds are not to be done to impress people (on earth), but to honor God who is in heaven. The Pharisees, who do not have pure hearts, want to receive all of the honor (as do the scribes, for they sit in the “seat of Moses,” 23.2), yet they give none to God. They will obtain no reward from the Father (vv. 4b, 6b, 18b) for they perform their pious acts in public to gain honor from others who see them (vv. 1, 2, 5, 17).

The Lord’s Prayer

Finally, at “the center of the center of the center of the Sermon” lies the Lord’s Prayer (125).3

6.7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do [cf 5.48], for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

[The Lord’s Prayer]

6.14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Being the center of the center of the center of the Sermon, Pennington says, “We should expect that the Lord’s Prayer has much to teach us about the whole, and such is the case,” for it “is a model of what kind of petitions and God-orientation should mark the Christian life. It is the scaffolding around the tower of prayer or the guiding handrails along which the disciple walks in forming his or her own prayers” (222).

In the first half of the prayer (vv. 9–10) oriented toward God the Father, Jesus tells his disciples to ask “our Father” to “give us this day our daily bread” (6.11). Bread is an item that is repeated throughout Matthew’s Gospel. In Jesus’ temptation, he refused to turn stones into bread but obeyed God instead (4.3). Later in Matthew 14 and 15, Jesus feeds thousands of people with bread and fish. At the Last Supper, the bread that was broken represented Jesus’ soon-to-be broken flesh (27.17–30, see v. 28). Within the Sermon, God the Father always knows our needs and provides for us (6.10, 25–34; 7.7–11). Our Father “gives good gifts to those who ask him” (7.11).

The second half of the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 11–13) is the “human-oriented part of the Prayer [which] focuses on interpersonal sin and relational conflict” (226). This is “reiterated in the conclusion to the Prayer” (6.14–15) and is seen throughout Matthew, such as in 5.7, 9.1–8, 12.31–32, 18.15–20, 21–35, and 26.28 (226).

Without giving away too many details about the Lord’s Prayer, Pennington says, “The introduction to the Prayer is an exhortation to focus on heart-driven, simplicity of prayer. The conclusion likewise focuses on the heart and inner disposition” (228). The conclusion seems to come from out of left field, especially as the conclusion to the frame. It doesn’t seem to match the introduction (6.7–8). Pennington adds that this concluding remark “is a commentary on the Prayer that is meant to drive home the weightiness of interpersonal relationships among God’s people” (229). The one who seeks forgiveness is ready to forgive from the heart (18.35).

Knowing the ways Matthew frames his whole Gospel and sections of his Gospel helps us to interpret what occurs in the middle. Keeping the larger picture in view, Pennington gives the reader an avenue for even the most difficult parts of the Sermon on the Mount.

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1 Pennington also says that the “flourishing” statements that make up the Beatitudes (in the Sermon—Jesus’ first discourse) are contrasted with the “woes” to the Pharisees in Matthew 23—the beginning of Jesus’ fifth and final discourse in Matthew.

2 I won’t get into how points two and three overlap (they both use 6.19–21) only to say that those three verses serve as a bridge between the two sections.

3 Amongst all of the inclusios I’ve shown, this is not to say that the Lord’s Prayer is the center of Matthew. That should be obvious (it’s the first of five discourses). Rather, it’s more likely that Matthew 13 (the third discourse) is the center (if Matthew is written as a chiasm, p. 110).

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The Uncomfortable Cross

I’ve been reading Brett McCracken’s new book Uncomfortable about how church is uncomfortable and why that’s a good thing. We grow through discomfort. It’s not only the people in church who are uncomfortable, it’s everything about Christianity, even down to what saves us—the brutal death of the God-man on the cross. “Just as it scandalizes by embracing humility in a world where pride reigns, the cross is also unpopular because it champions weakness in a survival-of-the-fittest world. This is why Friedrich Nietzsche rejected Christianity, ‘the religion of pity’ which ‘makes suffering contagious’” (47). McCracken lists five likely losses “that come with truly embracing the cross of Christ” (48):

  • The Loss of Being Your Own Boss

    • We wish to follow our own dreams, but “following Jesus requires a surrender of will” (48). Bonhoeffer said, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (The Cost of Discipleship, 44-45). As long as grace doesn’t challenge who we are, our decisions, and what we want to do, we will easily accept it, but we won’t conform to it.
  • The Loss of Consumer Religion

    • We are not Christians because of what we can get, get, and get more, more, and more. We are loyal to the one who serves, and so we ought to serve and sacrifice as well. Our service shouldn’t be what we will get out of it, but how it will benefit the other person.
  • The Loss of Pride

    • Living a good life doesn’t put us on a higher plane of Christian living than the ex-murderer who turns to Christ. We don’t earn or deserve anything. Nothing we do can save us. Only Christ saves us.
  • The Loss of Power, Coolness, and Cultural Respectability

    • We are “strangers and exiles” (Heb 11.13) on this earth. As time goes on, our beliefs only become stranger and more offensive to the world around us. We are not cool. The old, rugged cross makes us uncool.
  • The Loss of Health, Wealth, and Comfort

    • Discipleship calls us to loosely opening our wallets instead of tightly clasping our hands shut (Matt 6.19–21; Lk 12.33–34). We are to put Jesus above even our own families, which can be uncomfortable (Matt 10.34–39; Lk 8.19–21; 11.27–28). We should even hold Jesus above our own lives (Mark 8.34–38; 2 Cor 11.16–33).
      .
      Yet the New Testament speaks of persecution and suffering as events which grow us and cause us to flourish.
      “Suffering is perhaps the most literally “uncomfortable” thing about following Jesus that nevertheless grows us, strengthening our bonds as people that suffer together, deepening our devotion to and identification with Christ. The suffering of Jesus on the cross is something we can understand, something we can return to in our own moments of pain and hopelessness” (55).
  • The Gain

    • All that we suffer and lose is not the end of our story. “They lead to victory, resurrection, and eternal gain” (56). Jesus came as a humble servant and died. But what happened next cannot be missed. He was resurrected and ascended to the throne of the Father. He is given the name above all names. Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Christ’s story becomes our story. “We descend to ascend” (56). We will be exalted with Christ (Rev 2.26–27; 3.21). Victory is promised for us, but so is suffering.
      .

      • Romans 8.17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
        .
      • Romans 8.28-30And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
        .
      • Romans 8.36-37As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
        .
      • Colossians 1.13–14He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

See my review here.

Uncomfortable McCracken Review

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Romans 7, Who Am ‘I’?

Another article on this topic that you can read is written by my friend Lindsay and can be found here

Who is Paul talking about in Romans 7.7-25? Is it the present believer or the pre-Christian believer? For all of my life I thought it was the state of the Christian until I took a class on Romans at CCBCY with Randy McCracken, where I was introduced to a few differing opinions.

Why do many think that Paul is talking about the Christian state of living? “This [opinion] is driven first by our own [first-person] experience (we often do what we know not to be right) and then confirmed by the use of the present tense in Romans 7:14–25, which would seem to indicate that Paul must be talking about his current condition” (620).

Though the believer, according to Romans 6.1-7.6, is “living beyond the reach of sin,” our struggle now shows us that there is a conflict. Part of our groaning in this present life “is due to the lingering power of sin over the believer” (620).

Nature_of_Good_and_Evil_by_Young_Wolf-e1400813608950

(Yeah, I guess something like that is the idea)

The Problem

Romans 6.22 says, But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Yet Paul, if he is speaking of himself in Romans 7.14, would be saying that he is still sold under sin.

  1. “[What] then exactly what did Paul mean when he said that Christian believers were “set free from sin” (Rom 6:22) and that we have “died to sin” and no longer to “live in it” (Rom 6:2)?
  2. What did Paul mean when he said “sin will have no dominion over you” (Rom 6:14) if the believer is still at the mercy of sin (Rom 7:17–18)?
  3. How can Paul at one point affirm that only the “doers of the law” will be justified (Rom 2:13) but later be content with the mere desire to do good?
  4. How can we “present our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness” (Rom 6:13) and “yield our members to righteousness unto sanctification” (Rom 6:19) if “I can will what is right but I cannot do it” (Rom 7:18)?”

This isn’t simply Paul modifying what he said in Romans 6.1–7.6. This is “a complete recantation of the newness of the life Christ has provided” (620).

A Possible Solution

It may be that Paul is using the “I” in Rom 7.7-25 as a “rhetorical device known as prosopopoiia, where the speaker presents a vivid characterization of some figure or position through first-person speech” (620). So Romans 7.7-25 would be “an expression of life apart from Christ and, in particular, life under the law apart from Christ” (620).

Romans 7.7

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

DeSilva states,

The key to this speech is found in Romans 7:7: Paul is wrestling with the question of the function of the law… and speaks from a particular vantage point in salvation history—the position of humanity convicted by the law but powerless to keep the law. This, then, provides a more vivid depiction of the plight from which Christ frees the human being through the gift of the Spirit (Rom 6:1–7:6; 8:1–17). The verdict of ‘no condemnation’ is in effect because the ‘law of the Spirit of life’ has in fact set the believer free from the ‘law of sin and death’.

The past tense of Romans 8:2 shows Romans 7:23 (and thus Rom 7:7–25 as a whole) to be describing a past state as well…. God is to be thanked precisely because the gift of the Holy Spirit has made it possible to live beyond the dominion of the passions of the flesh, reversing the state of Romans 1:18–32. Now God’s righteousness can take hold of the believer, and God’s standards of righteousness take shape within the believer (620).

So Then What is the Law?

Paul’s opinion of the law seems to be much different than that of other Jewish authors.

  • The Book of Sirach 17.11 says, Beside this he gave them knowledge, and the law of life for an heritage, and in 45.5 declares, He let him hear his voice and led him into the dark cloud, where, face to face, he gave him the commandments, the Law that gives life and knowledge, so that Moses might teach the covenant regulations to the Israelites.
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  • Baruch 3.9 states, Hear the commandments of life, O Israel; give ear, and learn wisdom!
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    • However in Romans 7.10, Paul says of the law that “the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me,” which is putting the opinion of the Law in stark contrast with that of there other writers. Paul understands the Law as “the occasion for sin to increase its stranglehold on humanity” (626).
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  • In fact, the author of 4 Maccabees says in 2.6, In fact, since the law has told us not to covet, I could prove to you all the more that reason is able to control desires. Just so it is with the emotions that hinder one from justice. So if the Law commands it, humans are able to perform it.
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    • Paul, on the other hand, quotes the same commandment (“You shall not covet”) and provides a negative perspective: For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead (Rom 7b-8).
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  • The author of 4 Ezra is the most similar to Paul’s view, yet he doesn’t solve the dilemma the individual faces when confronted with the Law. DeSilva gives us the text on page 626:

You bent down the heavens and shook the earth…to give the law to the descendants of Jacob, and your commandment to the posterity of Israel. Yet you did not take away their evil heart from them, so that your law might produce fruit in them. For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the hearts of the people along with the evil root; but what was good departed, and the evil remained. (4 Ezra 3:12–27; 7:92).

The Hope We Have In Christ

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Why does Paul have such a negative view on the Law, when most of the previous Jewish authors (including David, Ps 19; 119) had nothing but good to say about God’s Law? DeSilva gives his answer:

Paul’s view of the role of the Law is profoundly influenced by his experience of the risen Jesus and the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit. In view of the glorious liberation from the power of sin that came with the Spirit and its ongoing leading and empowerment, Paul comes to a new view about the limited role of the Law. This ‘limit’ is also established by God’s endowing both Jews and Gentiles with the Spirit, whereas the Law largely served to keep Jews apart from Gentiles rather than extending God’s righteousness to them as well.

While the Law reveals God’s just requirements, it falls to the Spirit to empower human beings to live out those requirements. Only the Spirit is sufficient to overcome the power of sin, against which the human being only had his or her own moral resources prior to the gift of the Spirit…. (627).

Schreiner, in his book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law,

[In] Psalm 119:159, ‘Give me life according to your steadfast love.’ Life comes from God’s steadfast love, that is, from his grace and mercy. Human beings do not merit or gain life by observing the law. Psalm 119:88 is even clearer, ‘In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.’ Life comes only from the grace of God, and the consequence of such life is the keeping of God’s testimonies and precepts. The psalmist does not teach that life is gained by obedience. Life finds its origin in God’s gracious work. Surely this sentiment is very Pauline (85-86).

deSilva

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Mary, Martha, and the Good Portion

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her (Lk 10.38-42).

Why does Martha always get the heat in sermons? What did she do that was so wrong? All she was doing was serving, and she simply wanted some help. Luke helps his readers by giving us two key words: Martha was “distracted with much serving.”

DeSilva gives us some timely words on this passage, ones that all believers need to hear.

The story of Mary and Martha speaks in a timely way to an increasingly phrenetic and frantic society (Lk 10:38–42). Jesus points Martha—and all of us who are so very much like Martha—to the core necessity of life. If we possess this one thing, it gives life to all that we do; if we lack it, we cannot compensate for that lack no matter how much we do. The one needful thing is to sit at Jesus’ feet, spend time in his presence undistracted and listen for his word. This is a hard word for many people, myself included, to accept. It is a hard word to believe in an active society where doing and visibly achieving are emphasized so strongly. But if anything must suffer this day, Luke says that it cannot be our spending time with God. We have books to read, committee meetings to attend and leaves to rake, but first and above all, we have to sit at Jesus’ feet, wait on the Lord and seek God’s face (346–347).

Psalm 27.4 says, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.“

Jesus’ challenge to Martha and to all who resemble her more than her sister is to reverse [the] mindset [that waiting on the Lord when there is work to be done is procrastination] and to let the way we spend our time help us to be guided in all things by God’s Spirit, not driven in all things by the demands of our studies, our congregations or our own ambitions (347).

Reordering Our Lives Around Christ

It can be, no, it is difficult ordering our lives to revolve around God and his word. It is difficult to read his word and spend time with God. I can easily get caught up in what I need to do, whether it be reading a book to review, learning Norwegian, or, most importantly, spending time with my wife. All of these things are good and I have to (and like to) spending my time doing these things (not that learning a language is always fun), but when time feels tight I must remember that God has ordered this world that I live in and interact with. There is time for him and his word. I can spend time with him. We can make time for him and his life-giving word.

I can easily relate to Martha. I am the Martha of the story. “But Martha was distracted with much serving.” And the Lord answered Martha Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.

“[S]pending time in God’s presence, sitting at the feet of Jesus… is the place where lives are reordered, hearts healed, balance attained and stability found. Our hearts will never find rest until they rest in God, and rest means spending time resting in God’s presence” (347).

deSilva

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Approval in Matthew

Approval. We all want it, whether by one or many. My school consisted roughly of 300 people. And this is my school, not my high school. My school went from Kindergarten up to 12th grade. Junior and Senior high were combined and made up approximately 150 people. The popularity polls really start to make their rounds when students hit 7th grade and they enter into the world of both Junior and Senior High. Every one is bigger and older and stronger than you. They can drive too. It’s a scary place. Yet when I look back, for many students popularity was a high honor in high school. Yet out of 7,000,000,000 people on earth, some felt proud to be among the Top Ten in a high school made up of 150 students.

Of course most schools have more than 300 students. According to one website, Chicago International Charter School borders on 8,900 students, which is roughly 1,000 more students than my alma mater, Nicholls State University. The point remains, being #1 out of 8,000 high school students, out of 320,000,000 in the USA, out of 7,300,000,000 on earth… just isn’t impressive.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew helps to make firm the Christians’ commitment to Jesus “in the face of pressure and rejection from the synagogue” (284). DeSilva shows what Matthew does, that he

“demonstrates Jesus’ credibility and honor as a teacher and the Pharisees’ dishonor and unreliability as teachers of God’s way. Matthew included a striking number of confrontation stories between Jesus and other Jewish teachers (e.g., Mt 9:1–8, 10–13, 14–17; 11:2–6; 12:1–8, 9–14, 24–42; 15:1–20, 21–28; 16:1–4; 19:3–9; 21:15–17, 23–27, 28–32, 33–46; 22:15–22, 23–33, 34–40, 41–46). These confrontations have been rightly analyzed as competitions for honor and, as a result of that honor, the right to speak as authoritative interpreters of God’s Law” (284).

The Finisher

Here how the challenges work. There are three parties:

  1. The Challenger (usually the Pharisees)
  2. The Challenged (usually Jesus)
  3. The Audience

The Challenger (the Pharisees) poses a question to Jesus, the Challenged. If the Challenged doesn’t come up with an answer to win the debate, he loses honor and the Challenger gains honor. “Jesus repeatedly emerges as the victor in these exchanges in the eyes of the public. Without exception he is able to demonstrate that his actions and his teachings are truly in accord with God’s Law, while his opponents distort and miss God’s intentions“ (284).

Test Case: Matt 12.9-14

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And [the Pharisees] asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, ‘Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Mark’s account says, And he said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart…” (Mk 3.4-5a).

Jesus gave the Pharisees his response, and “they were silent.” There was nothing they could say. If they said they wanted to save life, then Jesus would heal the man and, in their eyes, break the Sabbath. They would be approving the actions of a lawless man, a Torah-breaker. If they said they wanted to kill, then of course nobody is going to follow them and instead, they will all follow Jesus. Here we see that Jesus “is able to demonstrate that his actions and his teachings are truly in accord with God’s Law” (284).

How Does This Help Matthew’s Readers?

What this brings to the readers of Matthew is knowing that when they are persecuted by the Pharisees and scribes for following Jesus, they are being persecuted by those who really don’t know God’s Law. These Christians should look “exclusively to Jesus as the teacher of the divinely approved way of fulfilling Torah [Mt 17:5]…. Following the opinion of the dishonorable is to risk becoming dishonorable” (285). Even in persecution the Christians can rejoice that they follow the One who is true and teaches the way of God truthfully (or “in accordance with the truth”, Mt 22.16). Even more so, according to Matt 25, Jesus is the eschatological Judge over all of the universe, and  when the Day of the Lord comes he will separate the sheep from the goats, his people from those who are not his people. DeSilva says,

Matthew 11:20–24 and 12:41–42 suggest that those who reject Jesus’ message will fare far worse than the worst of [pagan] cities” (285). And “[if] the majority, who are entering the broad and easy road to destruction, despise the Christians as dishonorable fools, the Christians will be able to neutralize the force of such pressure to conform by contemplating the ultimate end of the outsiders—destruction. The way of life promoted within the church, even if held as dishonorable by the majority of people, is nevertheless the road to life and eternal honor before the court of God and the Son. (285).

But if Matthew wants to preserve the Christian body of believers, why does he speak about church discipline in Mt 18?

As those who do the will of God, they are the family of the Son of God, hence part of God’s family (Mt 12:48–50) and partners in the honor of the head of that family. Within that family there is a mandate for applying social pressure ‘positively’ on group members who are straying from commitment to the group and its distinctive values (Mt 18:10–14). Within the group all the faithful must be honored and affirmed as they walk in line with the group’s values (Mt 18:10) and on no other basis…. The church is in a position to enforce the wayward member’s conformity with the ethical ideals of Jesus. After all, what member would willingly endure excommunication from the church as long as he or she believed it truly has the authority to bind and loose, and remains the place where the presence of God as mediated by Jesus can be known? If the narrow road is the way to the eternal inheritance of God’s kingdom, the church is the gateway to that inheritance. Attachment to the community and vital engagement of its values is therefore a strong assurance also of God’s approval of an individual’s life and worth, a strong counterbalance to society’s claims to the contrary (286).

Today

While it’s good to have the approval of others (your spouse is a good example) and it’s important to have the approval of others (it’s always good when your boss [and your spouse] actually likes you), ultimately Christians are to seek the approval of Christ. Christians will never be the most popular people on earth. If the world hated Jesus, they will hate his followers as well (Jn 15.18). They will always have something against us because we have been chosen out of this world (Jn 15.19). Let us remember this when we read Matthew, the Gospels, and the whole Bible, that Jesus is the one who has and bestows true honor. He is the only one we are to follow (Mk 8.34).

deSilva

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Money in the Gospel of Luke

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Money. Some pastors love preaching about it. Some brag about buying “not one jet, but two!” with cash. Others, because of the first group, hate preaching about it. They don’t want to be associated with the money-mongers. It’s unfortunate because Jesus set the example for preaching about money (and while the TV evangelistis would probably tell you the same thing, they would never tell you all that Jesus said about money).

Luke 3.14

Soldiers also asked [John the Baptist], “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

Luke 16.13-15

“‘No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.’ The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’”

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Other examples could be given, especially that of the other side (16.1-9). And perhaps I’ll write on this too one day soon, but for now I’ll focus on the task at hand. If wealth could have ever been an idol, more so than in ancient Rome, it’s today. We have the “American dream.” Work hard enough and you can get anything. You can work your way up to the top. There are magnitudes of amounts of ways now to make money (whether they work or not is a different story).

Commercials abound and try work their magic to give you the sense that your life will be worse if you don’t have this toy, computer, and this house, or if you’re not listening to this music or watching these movies, or if you don’t have this beach body, or if you can’t do these awesome tricks or tell these incredible jokes, or especially if you’re not taking this medicine taken from this long-extinct but recently discovered skunk (with 3 easy payments of $39.99!). (Speaking of commercials, Norway barely has them! They’re usually at the end of the TV program, and they’re not very long either).

About this lifestyle DeSilva says,

Because of the idolization of the abundance of wealth, however, even people in the Western world who live at a level far above the well-to-do in third-world countries consider themselves and are looked upon by others as ‘poor’. Within a culture that claims ‘more for me’ it is difficult even to hear Luke’s word ‘share with all’ (345).

Zacchaeus, You Come Down

I like the Zacchaeus story in Lk 19.1-10. In 19.8 Zacchaeus says to Jesus, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” The odds are that for many of us, we wish someone would say this to Jesus too, and that we would be the receivers. Somewhere down the line someone has stolen money from us, and we hope we get it back. Who cares that Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost” (19.10) and that salvation has come to Zacc’s house (19.9)? What about my money?

Before an individual can respond to the Gospel like Zacchaeus, he or she must unlearn the definitions of enough and sufficient that our society offers (if it understands these words at all) and learn a definition that is truly in keeping with human need rather than human wants and expectations. This is a difficult task when the entire advertising industry lives by training us to “need” more. We must learn that to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must use our possessions as much for our neighbor’s good as for our own (345).

Why did salvation come to Zacchaeus just because he gave money away? Because unlike the rich ruler (18.18-30), Zacchaeus not only promised to give money back (19.8), but he even began to follow Jesus (19.6).

Long Division

Throughout his Gospel Luke shows us how divisive money can be:

  • The hoarding of wealth cut off the rich man from Lazarus because the rich man valued money more than the life of his neighbor [16.19-31].
  • Covetousness over an inheritance pitted one sibling against another (Lk 12:13–15)—they valued money more than kinship.
  • For years Zacchaeus was cut off from his fellow Jews on account of his valuing of money over solidarity with his people [19.1-10] (345).

The Solution

What is Luke’s solution? The money comes from, and belongs to, the Lord.

A Christian’s wealth belongs to the Lord, to be used as the Lord directs for the good of all rather than the good of the “owner”. This attitude enabled the quality of fellowship found in the early church, the realization of God’s desires for human community (Acts 2:42–47; 4:32–37). Ultimately the true good of the one can only be achieved in concert with the good of all (345).

deSilva

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Enemies in Philippi

Philippians is a letter that overflows with joy and thanksgiving. Paul thanks the Philippians for their gift which was brought by Epaphroditus. He was sick but now has recovered and is returning to Philippi. Paul is content in any situation, even in prison, and he is thrilled that people are hearing about and accepting Christ.

I’m reading David deSilva’s An Introduction to the New Testament. While most introductions go book by book, giving the bare facts of date, authorship, and what the book is about, deSilva strives to show the cultural and social settings in the lives of the apostles and their readers. When we look at a text from the Bible we often (more often than we like) think, “Why does he say that?” That same question applies here. In a letter so full of joy, “Why, then, did Paul speak about those who ‘preach Christ out of envy’ (Phil 1:15–18), the Judaizing missionaries whom he calls ‘dogs’ (Phil 3:2), and those Christians who live as ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’ (Phil 3:18–19)?” (656).

If you don’t remember those verses I’ll give you a refresher.

1. Those who preach Christ out of envy; 1.15-18

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

2. The Judaizing dogs; 3.2-3

“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh….“

3. The Christians who live as enemies of the cross; 3.18-19

“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

Friendship and Enmity

DeSilva says that that fact that this is a letter of friendship actually helps us to figure out Paul’s motives.

In the ancient mind friendship is directly related to enmity. ‘Constant attentiveness to friends automatically meant constant watchfulness of enemies’. Since their friendship is based on mutual commitment to shared values and ideals, the bond of friendship—not just between Paul and the church but among the Philippian Christians who have begun to experience internal conflict—can be strengthened by the awareness of others who do not share these values, who are in fact committed to contradictory values. History has repeatedly shown that a group’s internal cohesion and cooperation can be enhanced by drawing attention to the ‘real’ enemies outside the group (656–657).

By having Paul refer to the “dogs” and “evil workers” (3.2) and the “enemies of the cross of Christ” (3.18), Paul is reminding the Philippian Christians “of those who are truly unlike them, thus reminding them of their essential unity and commonality” (657). Paul presents these three groups as contrasts against a “true Christian mindset” (657). While the “dogs” are “evil workers” who “mutilate the flesh,” Paul places him and the Philippian Christians on the same team by saying that they together are “the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (3.3). And then Paul presents the virtuous behavior of a mature Christian in 3.7-16.

Rather than living in strife, rivalry, and selfishness as the rival preachers do (1.15a, 17), the Philippian church is to be of the same mind, have the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (2.1). They are to look out for the interests of others (2.4) just as Christ did when he became a servant who obeyed God and died on the cross (2.5-8). He did this in the midst of an adulterous and sinful generation (Mk 8.38), just like crooked and twisted generation the Philippian believers live in (2.15). The situation in Philippi, then, does not involve rival Christian teachers; rather, Paul makes frequent and brief references to “enemies” in order to build up unity and cooperation within the group (657).

deSilva

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