Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Corinthians (Part 2)

In Part 1, all of the relevant passages in 1 Corinthians were discussed, except for the section on the resurrection in chapter 15 (the subject here in Part 2); the references in 2 Corinthians well be addressed in Part 3.

The Resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15

Paul’s lengthy chapter on the resurrection is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament, largely due to several key verses that have been enshrined in their King James Version translation. When viewed as a whole, the discussion is considerably more complex, and demonstrates Paul’s inspired gift for giving theological weight and spiritual depth to traditional early Christian material. It will not be possible to treat the entire chapter in detail; here I will survey each section briefly, bringing out some of the more relevant points and features as they relate to Paul’s eschatological understanding.

1 Cor 15:1-2

“And I make known to you, brothers, the good message which I gave as a good message to you, and which you took alongside and in which you have stood, and through which you are saved—what account I gave as a good message to you, if you hold (it) down (in your mind), if you did not trust without (any) purpose.”

This statement serves to introduce the historical tradition of Jesus’ resurrection, which is central (and foundational) to the earliest Gospel preaching (the “good message”, eu)agge/lion, vb eu)aggeli/zw). Paul frames this fact in terms of the Corinthian believers’ own experience of coming to faith, as a way of urging them to accept his instruction. Four verbs in sequence serve as a rudimentary “order of salvation”:

    • “I gave the good message” (eu)hggelisa/men)
    • “you took (it) alongside” (parela/bete)
    • “you have stood (in/on it)” (e(sth/kate)
    • “you are saved (through it)” (sw|/zesqe)

The first two verbs are aorists, indicating past action; the third is a perfect form, referring to a past action or condition that continues into the present; the fourth verb is a present form. The perfect form e(sth/kate (“you have stood”) connotes the continued faithfulness of the Corinthians; from a rhetorical standpoint, this both praises their past faithfulness and encourages it to continue. The present sw|/zesqe (“you are saved”), according to Pauline theology, and reflecting early Christian thought in general, has a two-fold significance: (1) believers are now saved from the power of sin (cf. below on vv. 50-57), and (2) are about to be saved in the coming end-time Judgment. For early Christians, salvation is fundamentally eschatological. The main rhetorical point of emphasis comes at the close of verse 2, where Paul effectively presents his readers with two options: (a) that they “hold down” (i.e. preserve and keep firmly in mind) the Gospel message passed along to them, or (b) that they ignore it (and its implications), meaning that they will end up trusting “without (any) purpose”, the adverb ei)kh=| signifying someone going about randomly or idly.

1 Cor 15:3-8

“For I gave along to you, among the first (thing)s, th(at) which you also took alongside: that (the) Anointed (One) died away over our sins, according to the Writings, and that he was buried, and that he has been raised on the third day according to the Writings, and that he was seen by Kefa, then by the Twelve, then upon [i.e. after] (that) he was seen by over five hundred brothers all at (once)—out of whom the most (still) remain until now, but some (have) lain down (to sleep)—then upon [i.e. after] (that) he was seen by Ya’aqob, then by all the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], and (then), last of all, he was also seen by me, as if (appearing) to (one who had been) cut out (of the womb).”

Paul’s opening words in verse 3 again emphasize how central the resurrection of Jesus is to the Gospel message. This would seem obvious, and is confirmed by a survey of the content of the earliest Christian preaching as recorded in the book of Acts (cf. the series “The Speeches of Acts”), and elsewhere in the New Testament. Here we have a similar kerygma (proclamation), expanded by a listing of post-resurrection appearances by Jesus. In large part these appearances correspond with the Gospel tradition (as presented in the canonical Gospels), and there is little reason to doubt the authenticity of the traditional information Paul records here. The idea of a reliable chain of tradition was fundamental for early Christians, with the apostles and other first-generation believers—who either saw/heard things firsthand or knew those who did—being the transmitters of tradition. Already at this relatively early point (mid/late-50s A.D.), ministers such as Paul were stressing the importance of preserving and guarding this tradition.

1 Cor 15:8-11

“For I am the least of the (one)s sent forth, which (means) that I (should) not (even be) able to be called (one) sent forth [i.e. an apostle], for (it is) that I pursued [i.e. persecuted] the called out (people) of God; but by the favor of God I am what I am, and His favor th(at was shown) unto me did not come to be empty, but even above all of them I beat [i.e. worked] (hard)—not I but, rather, the favor of God [that] (is) with me. (So) then, if (it is) I or if (it is) those (others), so we proclaimed (the message) and so you trusted.”

Paul’s self-effacing description of his apostleship, while doubtless reflecting his genuine attitude, also serves the rhetorical purpose of gaining the sympathy of his readers, so that they are more likely to hear his instruction. It also reaffirms his own position as a reliable transmitter of Gospel tradition; for another example of this, in an eschatological context, cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (and the previous article on that passage).

1 Cor 15:12-19

“But if it is proclaimed (of the) Anointed (One) that he has been raised out of the dead, how is it counted [i.e. thought/said] among some of you that ‘there is not (any) standing up out of the dead’? And if there is no standing up out of the dead, (then the) Anointed (One) also has not been raised; and if (the) Anointed (One) has not been raised, then [even] our proclamation is empty, and your trust also empty, and we are found even (to be) false witnesses of God, (in) that we witnessed according to God that He raised the Anointed (One), whom He did not (in fact) raise, if (it is) then (that) dead (person)s are not raised.

For, if dead (person)s are not raised, (then the) Anointed (One) also has not been raised; and if (the) Anointed (One) has not been raised, (then) your trust (is) futile, (and) you are yet in your sins, and then (also) the (one)s (hav)ing lain down (to sleep) in (the) Anointed (One) (have) gone away to ruin. If we are (one)s having hoped in (the) Anointed (One) only in this life, (then) we are the most pitiable of all men!”

The main point of the passage is now introduced. There were, apparently, some Christians in Corinth who expressed the belief (or at least the possibility) that the bodies of human beings could, or would, not be raised from the dead. They presumably accepted the resurrection of Jesus, as a special and unique event, but not that the bodies of other believers would be raised in a similar way. There would still be a blessed afterlife, but not one involving a raised physical body (on similar doubts and skepticism, cf. Acts 17:32, and views of the Sadducees in Mark 12:18 par; Acts 23:6-8). While such an outlook might be understandable, especially for Greek believers, it runs contrary to a central tenet of Paul’s theology (and Christology)—that the fundamental identity of believers involves our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. So important is this idea for Paul, that he states the relationship here, twice, using forceful language and a clear chain of logic. Taken by itself, and viewed objectively, the actual logic is not all that convincing: why exactly is it that “if there is no resurrection out of the dead, (then) Christ also has not been raised”? Could not Jesus’ resurrection be an example of a special miracle? Similarly, if trust in Jesus leads to a blessed afterlife for the soul (but not the physical body), how would this make Christians “the most pitiable of all men”? Such questions, however, miss the point of the unity believers share with Christ, so that the two cannot be separated—what happens to Jesus must also happen to those united with him. Indeed, Paul goes so far as to say that any such separation effectively nullifies the entire Gospel message! It may not be immediately apparent just why this is, but Paul expounds the matter in some detail in the verses that follow. Here his forceful rhetoric, if nothing else, would likely get the attention of his readers.

1 Cor 15:20-24

“But now (the) Anointed (One) has been raised out of the dead, (the) beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the (one)s having lain down (to sleep). For seeing that death (came) through (a) man, standing up (out of the) dead also (came) through a man. Just as in the Man [lit. ‘Adam] all died away, so also in the Anointed (One) all will be made alive. But each (will be) in his own arranged place: (the) Anointed (One as the) beginning (fruit) from (the harvest), then upon [i.e. after] (that), the (one)s of [ i.e. belonging to] the Anointed in his (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a], (and) then the completion [te/lo$], when he shall give along the kingdom to God the Father, when he shall make every a)rxh/ and every e)cousi/a and power to cease working.”

There are three key strands to this powerful statement, each with a strong eschatological emphasis:

    • Harvest imagery, expressed by the word a)parxh/ (“[the] beginning from”, i.e. from the harvest); according to Old Testament religious tradition, and, especially, the agricultural regulations in the Law of Moses [Torah], the first part of the harvest was marked as belonging to God. Just as the harvest marked the end of the growing season, so it served as a fitting symbol for the end of the current Age. The threshing process, the separation of grain from chaff, represented the time of Judgment—i.e., separating the righteous from the wicked. The eschatological use of harvest imagery is seen, for example, in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt 3:12 par), the sayings and parables of Jesus (Mark 4:29; Matt 9:37-38 par; 13:30, 39; John 4:35), and the visions of the book of Revelation (14:14-20, cf. Joel 3:13ff).
    • The Adam/Christ parallel, best known from Romans 5:12-21 (cf. my earlier discussion on this passage). The eschatological aspect of this may not be immediately obvious to modern readers. However, Adam represents the beginning of the current Age and Jesus Christ its end; the old order of things was introduced with Adam, and the new order (the New Age) with Jesus. Paul will develop this parallel further in the passage (cf. below).
    • The end-time coming (parousi/a, parousia) of the exalted Jesus. Paul refers to this more clearly in 1 Thess 4:13-18, specifically including a reference to the resurrection—i.e. the raising of believers who have died to join those still alive at the moment of Jesus’ return. His coming marks the completion (te/lo$) of the current Age, accompanied by the final Judgment.

This three-fold description is brought to a climax in verse 24, with a uniquely Pauline presentation of traditional Messianic imagery—i.e. involving Jesus’ role as the Anointed One, drawing especially on two strands of tradition: (1) the Davidic Ruler figure type, that is, of the king serving as God’s representative on earth, and (2) the Heavenly Redeemer (“Son of Man”) figure-type (from Daniel 7:13-14ff, etc); for more on these, cf. Parts 68 and 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Here the language reflects the completion of the Judgment, the defeat/subjugation of enemies and opponents of God, carried out by the Anointed One. In so doing, God’s Kingdom is finally realized, with His Rule established over all of Creation. This is depicted in a heavenly ceremonial scene, similar in many respects to the more developed scenes in the visions of Revelation (chaps. 4-5; 7:9-12; 11:15-18; 12:10ff; 19:1-5, 11ff, etc).

1 Cor 15:25-28

“For it is necessary (for) him to rule as king until he should set all the hostile (one)s under his feet—(and the) last hostile (one) made to cease working is Death—for (indeed) he (has) put in order all (thing)s under his feet. But when (one) would say, ‘all (thing)s have been put in order under (his feet)’, (it is) clear that (this is) without [i.e. does not include] the (One) putting all (thing)s in order under him. But when all (thing)s should be put in order under him, then [even] he, the Son, will be put in order under the (One) putting all (thing)s in order under him, (so) that God should be all (thing)s in all.”

Here the Messianic subduing of enemies (v. 24) is cast within a precise theological hierarchy. Paul is apparently sensitive to the exalted status accorded to Jesus, by way of the traditional Messianic imagery of Psalm 110:1 applied to Jesus (Acts 2:34-35; Heb 1:13; 10:13). He takes great care to emphasize that, though Jesus is the Anointed One and Son of God, he is still subordinate to God the Father. Theologians have found great difficulty with this, but the later Christological controversies regarding ‘subordinationism’ are quite foreign to Paul. What Jesus the Anointed One subdues and “puts in order” underneath him (i.e. under his authority) is referred to comprehensively in verse 24 as “every a)rxh/” (that is, every chief ruling power), “every e)cousi/a” (i.e. every one who exercises authority, including the basis by which they act), and “every power” (i.e. the strength and ability by which a person acts). The “last” such ruling power is Death personified. Paul occasionally refers to Sin and Death as personified figures, as rulers who hold humankind in bondage under their power. Christ’s redeeming work freed believers from the power of Sin, but, as human beings, we are still under the power of death (that is, we all die). The resurrection represents the exalted Jesus’ power over death.

1 Cor 15:29-34

“Upon what (then) will they do, the (one)s being dunked [i.e. baptized] over the dead? If the dead are not raised whole, (for) what [i.e. why] even be dunked over the dead? And (for) what [i.e. why] are we in danger every hour? And I die away according to (each) day—(so I swear) by your boast, [brothers,] which I hold in (the) Anointed Yeshua our Lord! If, according to men, I fought wild animals in Efesos, what (is) the gain for me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die off! You must not be led astray: ‘Bad conversations [or, companions] corrupt useful habits’. You must wake out of (this intoxication), as is right, and must not sin; for some hold a lack of knowledge of God—I speak to you toward turning (you) in [i.e. back] (away from this).”

This rather uneven digression includes a number of references that have tripped up commentators, which is unfortunate, since they tend to obscure the primary point being made in the passage. For example, Paul’s mention of the apparent practice of being baptized “over the dead” (v. 29) has proven notoriously difficult to interpret. The preposition u(pe/r (“over”) often has the figurative meaning “for the sake of, on behalf of”; even so, the precise situation referenced by Paul remains elusive. Were baptisms performed on behalf of persons who had died prior to having heard the Gospel proclaimed, so as to bestow salvation or blessing vicariously on them? Or, perhaps, baptisms were being dedicated to believing friends and relatives who had passed away. We cannot be certain. Paul expresses neither approval or disapproval of the practice, and there is no other mention of anything of the sort, either in the New Testament, or other Christian Writings of the first/second century. It is possible that the situation reflects a general concern, regarding the relationship between living and dead believers, such as we find in 1 Thess 4:13-18. There the context is certainly eschatological, and relates also to the resurrection. If dead believers will rise (in their bodies) along with those living, to meet Jesus at his coming, then a denial of the resurrection means that the entire scenario—and the Christian unity it represents—would be negated.

Overall, however, Paul’s point is not so grand here in vv. 29ff. He uses several examples to illustrate the practical implications for human beings if there is no resurrection. The first two relate to believers:

    • Baptisms performed “for the sake of” the dead, whatever this entails precisely; it certainly reflects a care and concern for those who have died (v. 29)
    • The hardship and danger faced by Christians (vv. 30ff)—Paul uses his own example of “fighting wild animals” (in a figurative sense) at Ephesus

In Paul’s view, all such efforts (in the face of death) are rendered meaningless if there is no resurrection for the dead. The last illustration is proverbial (v. 32b), and represents the implication for non-believers: there need not be any concern for the future (“let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die off”), which can lead to self-centered amoral (and immoral) behavior. Paul strongly urges his readers not to be led astray to follow such an example as a result of their disbelief or doubts regarding the resurrection (vv. 33-34).

1 Cor 15:35-41

“But some(one) will say, ‘How are the dead raised? and with what body do they come?’ Senseless (one)! that which you scatter (as seed) is not made alive if it should not (first) die off; and that which you scatter (as seed), (it) is not the body th(at) is coming to be (that) you scatter, but a naked kernel, if it happens (to be) of wheat or of some of the remaining (kind)s, and God gives to it a body even as He wishes, and to each of the scattered (seed)s its own body. Not all flesh is the same flesh, but (rather) a different (one) for men, and a different flesh for creatures (of the field), and a different flesh for winged (creature)s, and a different (one) for fishes. Indeed (there are) bodies upon the heavens and bodies upon the earth, but (also) a distinct honor for th(ose) upon the heavens and (one) distinct for th(ose) upon the earth; (and) a different honor for the sun, and a different honor for the moon, and a different honor for the stars—for star (after) star bears through in (its distinct) honor.”

The agricultural/harvest imagery continues in this section, with the concrete motif of the seed that ‘dies’ only to be made alive as it grows, taking on a distinctive “body”. Jesus was fond of the seed motif in his parables and illustrations (e.g., Mark 4:3-8ff, 26-32 par), using it specifically in reference to his own death and resurrection in John 12:24. Everything in creation has its own “body” (sw=ma), and also its own kind of honor or splendor (do/ca). The distinction of heavenly (i.e. celestial) bodies prepares the way for Paul’s distinction between the physical (earthly) bodies of human beings and the spiritual (heavenly) bodies of believers in the resurrection.

1 Cor 15:42-49

“So also is the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead: it is scattered (as seed) in decay, it is raised (in a form) without decay; it is scattered in (a form) without value, it is raised in (a form with) honor—scattered in a lack of strength, raised in power, scattered (as) a body with a soul, raised as a body with the Spirit. If there is a body with (only) a soul, there is also (a body) with the Spirit. Even so it has been written, ‘The first man Adam into a living soul’, (and) the last ‘Adam’ into a Spirit making alive. But the (body) with the Spirit (is) not first, but the (one) with the soul (is first), (and) then upon [i.e. after] this the (one) with the Spirit. The first man (is) out of the dust (of the earth), the second man (is) out of heaven. Such as the dust (of the earth is), so also (are) those of the (earth-)dust; and such as the (place) upon [i.e. above] the heavens (is), so also (are) those (who are) upon [i.e. above] the heavens. And even as we bore the image of the dust (of the earth), (so) also we will bear the image of th(at which is) upon [i.e. above] the heavens.”

Paul again blends harvest imagery with the Adam/Christ parallel, as in vv. 20-24 (cf. above). The latter motif is expanded into a full-fledged dualism, contrasting the ordinary human being with the believer in Christ. Two main pairs are used for this contrast:

    • Earth vs. Heaven—In verse 40 the word-pair was e)pi/geio$ (“upon the earth”) and e)poura/nio$ (“upon [i.e. above] the heavens”). Here in vv. 47-49, e)pi/geio$ is replaced by xoi+ko/$, which refers more properly to the “dust” (or “dirt, soil”) of the earth’s surface (and beneath it). This establishes a more extreme contrast: the crude dirt beneath the earth’s surface and the pure place above the skies.
    • Soul (yuxh/) vs. Spirit (pneu=ma)—Here the contrast is primarily between the adjective yuxiko/$ and pneuma/tiko$, both of which are Pauline terms. The latter is usually rendered “spiritual”, while the former proves almost impossible to render accurately into English— “soulish” would be comparable, but that scarcely exists as a legitimate word. Most translations opt for “natural”, which is rather inaccurate and misleading, though it can get across the basic idea. Paul’s only other use of yuxiko/$ is in 1 Cor 2:14; it is also used in the letter of James (3:15), as generally synonymous with e)pi/geio$. Jude 19 captures the correct meaning, glossing it as referring to persons “not holding the Spirit”, i.e. ordinary human beings without the Spirit. That is very much what Paul has in mind in 1 Cor 2:14, and also here. A yuxiko/$ person has a soul (yuxh/), but not the Spirit, and thus applies to every non-believer.

Perhaps the most striking point of contrast is in verse 45, where Paul, developing the Adam/Christ parallel, states that “the first man Adam (was turned) into a living soul, the second Adam into a Spirit making alive”. The first phrase, of course, comes from the Genesis narrative, but how are we to understand the second phrase? There would seem to be two aspects to Paul’s thought: (1) it refers to the exalted Jesus after the resurrection, and (2) it reflects an understanding of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, i.e. the living and abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. In my view, it is the latter, the Holy Spirit, that is primarily in view. To say that Jesus was changed/turned into the Spirit may seem odd, but it captures the dynamic character of the resurrection and the ascension/exaltation of Jesus into heaven. In both the Luke-Acts narrative, and in the Johannine tradition, the coming of the Spirit is closely connected with Jesus’ resurrection and ascent to the Father (Lk 24:49-51; Acts 1:8-11; 2:1-4ff; John 14:1-4, 15-18ff, 25-26; 15:26; 16:12-13ff; 20:17, 22). There are two related aspects to the resurrection in this regard: (a) believers’ participation in Jesus’ dying and rising, including the power that raised him, and (b) the presence and power of the Spirit in believers, which enables one to be raised from the dead.

1 Cor 15:50-57

“This I tell (you), brothers, that flesh and blood is not able to receive the kingdom of God as (its) lot, and decay is not able to receive (a form) without decay as (its) lot. See, I relate to you a secret! We shall not all lie down (to sleep), but we shall all be made different, in an uncut (particle) [i.e. moment], in a flicker of (the) eye, in the last trumpet (sound)—for it will trumpet and the dead will be raised without decay, and we will be made different. For, it is necessary (for) this decay(ing body) to sink in(to) [i.e. put on] (a form) without decay, and (for) the dying (body) to sink in(to) [i.e. put on] (a form) without death. And when this decay should sink in(to a form) without decay, and this dying should sink in(to a form) without death, then will come to be the account having been written: ‘Death was drunk down into victory. Where, Death, (is) your victory? Where, Death, (is) your (sharp) point?’ And the (sharp) point of the Death (is) Sin, and the power of Sin (is) the Law; but thanks to God (for His) favor, the (One) giving us the victory through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed!”

These climactic verses represent one of the most famous and oft-cited passages in the entire New Testament. As English poetry, the King James Version remains unsurpassed; still, it is even better (and, in its own way, more powerful) when read in the original Greek, the sense of which I attempt to convey in the literal rendering above. The passage here is filled with eschatological motifs and images, which may be listed out as follows:

    • The idea of inheriting the Kingdom of God, drawn from traditional language related to the afterlife/end-time Judgment scene
    • The specific use of the word “secret” (musth/rion), with its strong eschatological implications—cf. Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 2:1; Col 1:26-27; 2 Thess 2:7; Rev 1:20; 10:7; 17:5ff
    • The sounding of a trumpet to announce the end of the current Age and the end-time Judgment (Matt 24:31; 1 Thess 4:16; Rev 1:10; 4:1; 8:6-13ff; 11:15)
    • The trumpet-blast representing the suddenness with which believers are gathered together at the return of Jesus (1 Thess 4:16; Matt 24:31)
    • The idea of being clothed in new garments, i.e. eschatological use of wedding/festal motifs (Rev 19:7-9; Matt 22:11ff; 25:1ff, etc)
    • The Messianic imagery of being victorious over the enemies of God (and His people); here, the great enemy is Death itself (see vv. 24-26, above)

Throughout, these motifs are expressed in distinctive Pauline theological terms, including his unique view of the relationship between sin and the Law (v. 56). We can see how important that belief is for him by the way that he introduces it here, as an interpretation/application of the Scriptures quoted (Isa 25:8; Hos 13:14), even though it has little immediate relevance to the subject of the resurrection. It also demonstrates that Pauline soteriology focused as least as much on salvation from the power of sin as on the more traditional idea of being saved from the coming Judgment. Deliverance from bondage to the ruling power of sin was the more immediate experience for believers in the present.

It is in verses 50-57 that Paul is closest to the eschatological passage of 1 Thess 4:13-18, in which the resurrection also plays a prominent role. Paul is the only New Testament author who specifically includes those who have died among the believers who are gathered together to meet Jesus at his coming. He likely is simply making explicit what other Christians would have taken for granted. However, in the early years, at least, in view of the strong belief in the imminence of Jesus’ return, the general expectation doubtless was for the vast majority of believers to still be alive when this occurred. By the time Paul wrote (50s A.D.), there would have been a number of Christians who already died before the expected end, so it would have been increasingly necessary to mention the resurrection in the context of Jesus’ return.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (3:21-5:21, Part 2)

This is the second part of the article on Romans 3:21-5:21 (cf. part 1), according to the following outline:

  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    —3:21-31: A description of God’s justice and on being made/declared just
    —4:1-25: Argument from Scripture: The blessing/promise to Abraham (by trust/faith)
    —5:1-11: The effect/result of being made/declared just: salvation from the coming judgment
    —5:12-21: Argument/Illustration from Scripture: Sin and Salvation (Adam/Christ)

Two discussions on the twin theme of Justice/Justification (3:21-31; 5:1-11) alternate with expository arguments (or illustrations) from Scripture (4:1-25; 5:12-21). This concluding part examines Rom 5:1-11 and the argument from Scripture in 5:12-21.

Romans 5:1-11

This section runs parallel to that of Rom 3:21-31 (discussed in part 1); while the emphasis there was on the justice/righteousness of God and the manifestation of it in action (“justification”), here it is on the effect of justification—believers being made (or declared) just/right before God. We can also see this parallel in its relation to the esteem (do/ca, or “glory”) of God—i.e. the honor/glory which He intrinsically possesses, and which should be shown to him:

    • the justice/righteousness of God—the esteem/glory of God (Rom 3:23)
    • justification of believers—the hope (e)lpi/$) of the glory of God (Rom 5:2)

Verses 1-11 can be divided into three sub-sections, each of which describe the result of justification for believers in terms of boasting (vb. kauxa/omai, n. kau/xhma, kau/xhsi$). Nearly all of the NT occurrences of these three related terms are found in Paul’s letters—it was a favorite of his, and one that can be difficult for other Christians to appreciate in the way that he clearly did. It is possible that it reflects his previous religious zeal and devotion (to the Law and Jewish tradition, etc), as expressed in Gal 1:13-14; 2 Cor 11:22; Phil 3:5-6. Paul was well aware, even from his own experience perhaps, that the flesh (as he would put it) can tend to take pride and exult in one’s religious status and accomplishments. Several times in his letters, Paul makes the point that “boasting” ought to be centered on God’s grace, on the Gospel and the person and work of Christ (Gal 6:13-14; Phil 3:3, etc), doubtless influenced by the famous passage in Jer 9:23-24 (cf. 1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17). More often, however, he uses the term in association with the missionary work—his own, and that of other believers—and it is this context that can be hard for modern readers to understand entirely (see esp. the many references in 2 Corinthians). He appears to use the terminology in two basic senses:

    1. In terms of confidence (including the idea of rejoicing) before God—context of divine judgment
    2. In terms of personal pride and satisfaction regarding one’s accomplishments, etc.

Both of these can further be understood in either a positive or negative sense—Paul’s line of argument and rhetoric in the letters often moves between these, playing one off against the other. For his use of the verb, in Romans and Galatians, see Gal 6:13-14 and Rom 2:17, 23, apart from the three occurrences in 5:1-11; for the two nouns (kau/xhma, kau/xhsi$), cf. Rom 3:27; 4:2; 15:17; Gal 6:4.

Verses 1-2: Boasting in the hope of glory—”we boast upon (the) hope of the honor/esteem [i.e. glory] of God” (kauxw/meqa e)p’ e)lpi/di th=$ do/ch$ tou= qeou=). This is prefaced by several statements predicated upon “justification by faith”—”being made just/right out of trust” (dikaiwqe/nte$ e)k pi/stew$):

    • we have/hold [e&xomen] peace toward [i.e. with, before] God (through the Lord Jesus Christ) [v. 1]
    • we have/hold [e)sxh/kamen] the way leading into the favor (of God) [v. 2a]
    • we stand [e)sth/kamen] in this favor (of God) [v. 2b]

Note the word play and assonance of the three verbs (in Greek); the first is in the present tense/aspect, the last two are perfect forms, indicating past action which continues into the present (or is a permanent condition).

Verses 3-5: Boasting in hope through affliction—”we also boast in the (moment)s of distress” (kai\ kauxw/meqa e)n tai=$ qli/yesin). The word qli/yi$ fundamentally refers to pressure, stress, constriction, etc.—it can mean suffering or trouble generally, or affliction and oppression specifically. Verses 1-2 started with believers’ status before God (through justification), and ended with the boast; here vv. 3-5 has an inverse structure, beginning with the boast, and concluding with the presence and work of God in believers (through the Spirit). This structure in vv. 3-5 follows a memorable chain of development:

    • distress/affliction (qli/yi$) which produces…
      • endurance (lit. “remaining under” u(pomo/nh), which produces…
        • proving/testing (“being accepted/received” dokimh/), which produces…
          • hope/expectation (e)lpi/$)

Finally, hope will never shame or embarrass (i.e. disappoint) us (v. 5); the reason for this confidence (“boasting”) is, according to Paul, that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the holy Spirit th(at) is given to us”. Love (a)ga/ph) is parallel to God’s favor (xa/ri$) in v. 2; more notable is the parallel between the “honor/esteem of God” (do/ca qeou=) in v. 1 and the “love of God” (a)ga/ph qeou=) here in v. 5.

Interestingly, we may also find an organizing principle in these verses reflecting the famous triad of 1 Cor 13:13faith (v. 1), hope (vv. 2-5a), and love (v. 5b).

Verses 6-11: Boasting in the sacrificial work (death) of Christ—”we also are boasting in God through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, through whom we now (have) received the katallagh/” (v. 11). This last verse of the section sums up the sacrificial work described in vv. 6-10. The elements are clear—it is: (1) the work of God, (2) that takes place through Christ, (3) resulting in katallagh/ for believers. The Greek word katallagh/ (katallag¢¡), from the verb katalla/ssw (katallássœ), fundamentally means making (something to be) other, or different, i.e. a change, often in the sense of a (mutual) exchange or reconciliation between two parties. Just as God makes the situation right (dikaio/w, i.e. “justification”) for human beings (believers), so he also has made things different—he has eliminated the separation and hostility which existed under the power of sin. Note the elements of this sacrificial work as expressed in vv. 6-10:

    • It involves Christ’s death, which was over (u(pe/r, i.e. on behalf of, for the sake of) those who lacked proper fear/reverence (a)sebh/$) toward God (i.e. the impious/wicked–all human beings, cf. Rom 3:9-20, 23, etc)—V. 6
    • It took place especially for human beings who are wicked/impious (a)sebh/$), and not just/righteous (di/kaio$) or good (a)gaqo/$)—this makes the sacrificial act all the more noteworthy and significant (V. 7)
    • The character of this sacrificial act reflects and expresses the love (a)ga/ph) of God for (“unto”, ei)$) human beings (V. 8)
    • Its result and effect is that people (believers) are:
      • made just/right, i.e. “justified” (dikaio/w), by means of Christ’s very death (e)n tw=| ai%mati au)tou=, “in his blood”), V. 9a
      • saved (sw/zw) from the passion/anger (o)rgh/, i.e. “wrath”) of God which is about to come upon humankind—this also takes place through Christ (di’ au)tou=, “through him”), V. 9b
    • Ultimately, its effect is to make different (katalla/ssw) the situation of separation and hostility between human beings and God, who were effectively enemies (e&xqroi) to each other (V. 10)
      • this reconciliation also is understood specifically as a result of Christ’s death (v. 10a)
      • however, ultimately salvation also comes as a result of Christ’s life, i.e. his resurrection (v. 10b)

Romans 5:12-21

Just as Rom 4:1-25 contained an argument from Scripture, centered on Abraham (Gen 15:6), and God’s blessing and promise to him, so in this section we find a parallel sort of argument, based on Adam, the first human being (according to Scripture and tradition). Paul does not cite a specific verse; rather, he draws generally upon the narrative in Genesis 2-3. It is similar, in some respects, to the ‘allegory’ he uses in Gal 4:21-31, though the argument here in Rom 5:12-21 would better be described as a kind of parallelistic and synchronistic typology—between Adam and Christ. Paul has already used a typological comparison along these lines in 1 Cor 15:21ff.

Romans 5:12-21 is perhaps the best known section of the letter, and is justly famous. However, for good or for ill, it has also served as a springboard for all sorts of speculative exposition, on theological and other matters—from the historicity of the Genesis narrative, to questions on the origin and nature of the human soul, to specific and elaborate ‘theories on the atonement’, etc—most of which are rather far removed from Paul’s original purpose and intent. A good deal of confusion, I believe, stems from difficulty in understanding Paul’s view regarding sin, and the language with which he expresses it. I will be discussing this briefly in a separate supplementary article. Here, I focus strictly on the context of the passage in Romans, with a careful examination of its structure. I would divide it as follows:

    • Vv. 12-14: The first man (Adam)—sin
    • Vv. 15-17: The second man (Christ)—the favor (“grace”) shown (by God)
    • Vv. 18-19: Contrast of sin vs. justice
    • Vv. 20-21: Contrast of Law vs. favor (“grace”)

Verses 12-17 set the comparison (and contrast) between Adam and Christ; verses 18-21 expound and apply the contrast theologically. The comparison works on two levels: (1) the historical/traditional narrative regarding Adam, and (2) a kind of narrative regarding sin personified. God’s responsive action, in the person and work of Christ, relates to both levels.

Verses 12-14: The first man (Adam)—sin. Interestingly, Paul actually says very little about Adam; the story is really one about sin, which takes place (at a deeper level) through (dia/) the first man. The story can be outlined fairly clearly and simply:

    • sin enters (“comes into”, ei)se/rxomai) the world (death also enters through sin) (v. 12)
    • sin was in (h@n e)n) the world, exercising power, prior to the Law (a&xri no/mou, “until the Law”) (v. 13)
    • sin rules as king (basileu/w), with/through death (“death reigned”), until the Law (me/xri Mwu+se/w$, “until Moses”) (v. 14a)

This is set temporally, in the period before the Law and the Mosaic/Sinai covenant, which is important to keep in mind; the entry of the Law is a climactic moment, serving to increase and enhance the reign of sin (vv. 20-21). Verse 14b is transitional, establishing the typology between Adam and Christ—Adam being “the stamp/pattern [tu/po$] of the (one) about to come”.

Verses 15-17: The second man (Christ)—the favor of God. I have translated xa/ri$ as favor, though it is typically rendered as “grace” or “gift”; properly, it relates better to the idea of God showing favor on human beings. In verse 15, Paul again sets the comparison, this time between sin and the favor of God. The word here, however, is not a(marti/a (“sin”), but para/ptwma (“falling alongside”). Paul generally does not use the singular a(marti/a to refer to individual misdeeds (though he will, on occasion, use it this way in the plural); rather, he prefers para/ptwma or para/basi$ (“stepping alongside”). The force of the prefixed particle para/ in these two words can be understood either in the sense of “falling/stepping away” or “falling/stepping over (the line)”. Note the similarity of outline with vv. 12-14 (above):

    • the favor (xa/ri$/xa/risma) of God enters (the world), by/through Christ, unto (ei)$) many people (v. 15)—it is a gift offered without charge or cause (dwrea/)
    • the favor is in the world, working/multiplying, coming “out of” (e)k) many sins, “unto” (ei)$) justice/justification (apart from the Law) (v. 16)—note the contrast between “judgment against” (kata/krima) and “justification” (dikai/wma)
    • the favor—through its abundance, believers reign, in life (v. 17)

In both instances, this three-stage development reflects the transition of the “one” to the “many” (“abundance”, etc):

    • initial act/work which creates an ‘opening’ for sin/favor
    • ongoing work (and its effect), multiplying and increasing
    • ruling/reigning in abundance

Yet Paul also indicates that the gift (work of Christ) is not like the sin (of Adam)—being effectively the opposite and a reversal of the former, ultimately surpassing it. This provides the basis for the exposition in vv. 18-21, building upon the contrast.

Verses 18-19: Contrast of sin vs. justice/righteousness. Verse 18 sets the contrast:

the transgression (para/ptwma) through one (di’ e(no/$)
unto all men (ei)$ pa/nta$ a&nqrw/pou$)
unto judgment against (them) (ei)$ kata/krima)
the (act of) justice (dikai/wma) through one (di’ e(no/$)
unto all men (ei)$ pa/nta$ a&nqrw/pou$)
unto (their) being made/declared just (ei)$ dikai/wsin)

In verse 19, this contrast is defined in terms of disobedience (parakoh/, lit. “hearing alongside [i.e. incorrectly, neglectfully]”) and obedience (u(pakoh/, “hearing under” [i.e. under submission/authority]).

Verses 20-21: Contrast of Law vs. favor. In verse 20, the Law (no/mo$) is said to enter in alongside sin, causing sin to increase and become more abundant. This connection between the Law and sin is unique to Paul’s teaching, and will be expounded further in chapters 6-7. Just as sin reigned through death (v. 14), in verse 21 it is said to reign “in death” (e)n tw=| qana/tw|). By contrast, the favor (xa/ri$) or “grace” of God also has entered (through Christ) and increased and multiplied even more than did sin (v. 20b); and, while sin reigned in death, the favor of God reigns (through justice/righteousness) “into/unto life” (ei)$ zwh\n)—this is eternal life (lit. “life of the ages”). An outline diagram of this contrast may be helpful:

Law (no/mo$)
|
the power/reign of sin
|
death
Favor (xa/ri$) of God
|
the reign of justice/righteousness
|
(eternal) life

It is this last contrastive comparison, of course, which is most relevant to the question of Paul’s View of the Law, the subject of these articles. And it is the relationship between the Law and sin which is a primary subject in the next section of Romans (Rom 6:1-7:25)—to be discussed in the next article.