Gnosis and the New Testament, Part 2: Knowledge and Salvation

A fundamental aspect of gnostic (and Gnostic) thought is soteriological—that is, salvation in terms of, or by way of, knowledge. This aspect, however, is hardly unique to the quasi-Christian religious groups of the first centuries A.D. (i.e., what is usually labelled “Gnostic” [cf. Part 1 & my article on Gnosticism]); it can be found, in various forms, all throughout the New Testament. Even so, there may a wide range for what is meant, or assumed, with regard to the nature and object of this “knowledge”. It is important, then, to examine the various passages in the New Testament carefully. This I will do in the present article, providing a survey and summary for the most relevant passages, while giving more details exegesis of several key verses in the separate daily notes.

The Terminology

The basic word rendered “save” in New Testament Greek is sw|/zw (sœ¡zœ), occurring more than 100 times. Its fundamental meaning is to make or keep (someone) safe. It can refer to any form of physical protection (esp. in battle), usually with the idea that serious harm (or death) threatens. Sometimes it has the specific sense of rescuing someone (i.e. bringing them to safety), and, in a medical context, can also refer to healing from disease. Naturally, it could be used in a religious context as well, in several ways: (a) protection by the divine powers from harm or loss, (b) deliverance from personal sin and its effects, often through ritual means, and (c) passing through the divine/heavenly Judgment after death. When dealing with this word-group, Christians tend to have (c) in mind, but that is not always the sense which is meant, and assuming it can cause considerable confusion among readers and commentators; the context of each reference must be examined closely. Several important words are derived from the verb sw|/zw: (i) swth/r (sœt¢¡r), “one who saves, savior” [24 times]; (ii) swthri/a (sœt¢ría), “safety, saving, salvation” [46 times]; and (iii) swth/rio$ (sœt¢¡rios), “(adj.) saving” [4 times], used as a substantive “(means of) salvation/protection”. The compound verb diasw/zw (“bring through safely, to safety”) also occurs several times.

There are a number of other words, some partly synonymous, which can relate to the idea of salvation or being saved:

    • r(u/omai, lit. “drag (to safety)”, i.e. rescue, deliver
    • lu/w, “loose”, and esp. the compound a)polu/w, “loose from (bondage, etc)”, i.e. from prison or debt; the related verb lutro/w, with the nouns lu/tron, lu/trwsi$, etc, refers to providing the means for release (from prison, slavery, etc), i.e. ransom, redemption
    • a)fi/hmi, with the noun a&fesi$, “release, loose”, in particular from sin—so used frequently in the NT
    • dikaio/w, “make right, make just, do justice”, with the related noun dikaiosu/nh, adjective di/kaio$, etc.
    • zwopoie/w and zwogone/w, “make alive”, “give/preserve life”, etc
    • words related to healing, health and wholeness: i)a/omai, qerapeu/w, u(giai/nw, etc

In addition there is some vocabulary and idiom which is distinct to early Christian and Jewish thought of the period, such as, for example:

    • the idea of entering or inheriting the kingdom (of God)
    • the way leading toward God
    • finding (eternal) life
    • the words related to resurrection

Concept and range of meaning

Quite often in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel and book of Acts, the verbs sw|/zw (with the noun swthri/a) and r(u/omai refer either generally to saving/protecting a person from physical harm or specifically (in the case of sw|/zw) to healing from disease—cf. Mk 3:4; 5:23, 28; 6:56; 10:52; 13:20; 15:30-31 pars; Luke 1:69, 71, 74; John 11:12; 12:27; Acts 4:9; 14:9; 27:20; Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 1:10; 2 Thess 3:2; Heb 11:17; James 5:15; 2 Pet 2:7-9; Jude 5, et al. If we exclude these references, we are left with the idea of salvation in the deeper religious (and/or metaphysical) sense—of the soul, or of the person in an eschatological (final) sense. The sifting of these references must be done carefully, since there are a number of passages which are ambiguous or which make use of wordplay with different (levels of) meaning, such as Jesus’ famous saying in Mark 8:35 par, or the shipwreck scene in Acts 27 (cf. vv. 20, 31). However, it is possible to isolate two main ways salvation is expressed, from a religious/metaphysical standpoint, in the New Testament and early Christian tradition:

    • Salvation from sin—either: (a) from the effect of personal sins, or (b) from the power and control of sin
    • Salvation from the end-time Judgment by God, often described in terms of being saved from the anger/wrath of God which is about to come upon humankind

Interestingly, the aspect of salvation which is probably most commonly in mind with people today—that of the individual’s personal salvation following death (i.e. from the punishment [of Hell])—is not emphasized particularly in the New Testament. This, of course, was a popular way of thinking even in ancient times, usually depicted in some manner as the person standing before a divine/heavenly tribunal after death to be judged according to his/her deeds and actions while alive. The background of this idea is retained in early Christian thought, as for example, in the Beatitude form (Matt 5:3-12 / Lk 6:20-26) and the image of entering/inheriting the Kingdom (i.e. of the heavenly/eternal life), cf. Mk 9:47; 10:23ff; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 25:34; Jn 3:5; Acts 14:22; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:21, etc. However, specific references to the traditional (afterlife) scene of Judgment are somewhat rare in the New Testament (cf. 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 2:6ff; 14:10-12; also Matt 10:32-33; 12:41-42 par; 25:31-46). This is largely due to the fact that the eschatological emphasis has shifted to the (imminent) coming of the end—that is, the coming of God’s Judgment upon the earth, expected to occur soon, within the lifetime of most people. Early Christians widely shared this expectation, along with many Jews of the period; the distinctly Christian component was the role of Jesus as the Anointed One (Christ) of God and heavenly “Son of Man” whose coming (back) to earth from Heaven would usher in the Judgment. Thus the idea of salvation meant being saved from the Judgment (the anger/wrath of God) about to be visited upon sinful, wicked humanity (cf. the “day of YHWH” motif in the Old Testament Prophets). Christ, as the divine representative of YHWH, oversees the Judgment, but also acts as savior and deliverer of the Elect—that is, of God’s faithful people, the believers. This eschatological context for salvation is found all throughout the New Testament; of the many passages, I would note the following:

A similar (generalized) sense of eschatological salvation is found widely in early Christian thought—e.g., Luke 3:6 [Isa 40:5]; John 3:17; 5:34; 10:9; 12:47; Romans 10:9; 11:14, 26; 1 Cor 1:8; 3:15; 9:22; 10:33; 15:2; Phil 1:6, 9-10; 2:16; 1 Thess 5:23-24; 2 Thess 2:10; 2 Tim 2:4, 10, (15); 4:16; James 1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:20; 1 Pet 1:5, 9-10; 4:18? [Prov 11:31]; (2 Pet 2:9); (Jude 23); Heb 1:14; (7:25); 9:28. Virtually the entire book of Revelation deals with this theme.

With regard to the second main aspect of salvation—that of being saved/delivered from sin and its power—this is likewise expressed frequently, and in a number of ways, throughout the New Testament. Salvation from sin, either in a general sense, or in terms of (the effect of) personal sins, is commonly described in terms of “release” (a&fesi$), as of from a debt, bond, or burden. Baptism was originally seen as symbolizing the washing/removal of sin, when it was preceded by genuine repentance. This is the primary sense expressed in the Gospels, with the movement from baptism (as administered by John) to “release” being announced/declared by Jesus (and the apostles) through the authority of his word. Only rarely, however, are the words sw|/zw and swthri/a connected explicitly with salvation from sin (cf. Matt 1:21; Luke 7:50; 19:10 [par]; also James 5:20; Jude 23); even more rare is the direct connection of salvation with repentance (cf. Acts 2:40; 2 Cor 7:10), though the idea of repentance is common enough in the New Testament. Along a similar line, in the apostolic teaching (in the Pauline writings, etc), ethical instruction and exhortation, while frequent, is generally not described in terms of salvation from sin. Much more common is the idea of being loosed or freed from the power and dominion of sin, as from bondage to a wicked and oppressive ruler. This view is central to the theology (and Christology) of the Pauline letters:

It also underlies the Pauline language of purchase/redemption out of slavery (i.e. bondage to sin)—cf. 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; Gal 2:4; 3:13; 4:4-5; 5:1, 13; Rom 3:24; Col 1:14; Eph 1:7; Tit 2:14. This emphasis on freedom from bondage (to sin) is also found in the Johannine writings, including the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel. It often includes the specific motif of being delivered out of one domain (of sin and darkness) and into another (of truth, light and [eternal] life). These references will be discussed in more detail in a separate article, but it is important to note here that they have a good deal in common with the gnostic viewpoint; and is also expressed variously by Paul in his letters (cf. Gal 1:4; Col 1:12-14; [2 Tim 2:26], and note the entire discussion in Rom 5:12-8:2ff).

Salvation as knowledge

In turning to the idea of salvation specifically in terms of knowledge, we must keep in mind the two primary aspects of salvation outlined above—being saved (1) from the end-time Judgment, and (2) from the power (and domain) of sin. It is the latter aspect which is tied most directly with knowledge (gnw=si$), both in the New Testament and in gnostic thought. The terms “save/salvation” (sw|/zw / swthri/a) and “knowledge” (gnw=si$) appear together in several key passages:

    • Luke 1:77—part of the hymn/oracle of Zechariah, which moves from the deliverance of God’s people from the power of their (historical) enemies (vv. 71, 74) to deliverance from the power of sin. In verse 76 it is prophesied of John that he will act as the messenger of Mal 3:1, who will make ready the way for the Lord when he comes. The main purpose of John’s ministry will be “to give knowledge of salvation [gnw=si$ swthri/a$] to His people”; this knowledge will be disclosed and made manifest in the “release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”, which is symbolized in the ritual act of baptism. In verse 79, this knowledge is described using the image of light—”to shine upon the (one)s sitting in darkness and (the) shadow of death”.
    • 1 Cor 1:21—”For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through the wisdom, God considered (it) good, through the ‘stupidity’ of the proclamation [i.e. of the Gospel], to save the (one)s trusting”. I have discussed this verse as part of a series of notes on 1 Cor 1:18-2:14.
    • 2 Cor 2:14ff—For this important passage, cf. the studies in this series on 2:14 and 4:6.
    • 2 Pet 2:20-21—Again salvation is described as deliverance from sin, but with a slightly different nuance, emphasizing the action of those who come to faith (“fleeing from the defilement of the world”); this action, however, occurs strictly according to the knowledge of the Lord—that is, in our coming to know [e)n e)pignw/sei] him (Christ), who is identified as our savior (“the Savior Yeshua [the] Anointed”). This is personal knowledge of Christ—who he is and what God has done through him—but it is also, in verse 21, connected in religious terms to “the way of justice/righteousness”.

Elsewhere, this soteriological aspect of knowledge is expressed a number of ways, as:

As indicated previously, the motif of knowledge is fundamental in the Johannine writings; even though the noun gnw=si$ does not appear, the verb ginw/skw (“know”) occurs 86 times (56 in the Gospel), while the largely synonymous ei&dw (oi@da, “see, know”) occurs 113 times (85 in the Gospel). These passages are surveyed in a separate article, but several key verses should be noted here, which strongly express the idea of salvation by way of knowledge:

    • John 4:22—”you worship what you have not seen/known, we worship what we have seen/known—(in) that [i.e. because] salvation is out of the Jews”. This saying reflects the wordplay and dual-meaning typical of the discourses of Jesus in John. On the one hand, he seems to be expressing simply the traditional religious (and nationalistic) view that the Jews, rather than Samaritans, have preserved the true faith. However, according to the deeper spiritual meaning of his words, we have the idea that salvation comes “out of” (from) the Jews in the sense that Jesus himself came to be born and appear among the people, though without their knowing/realizing it. This true religious knowledge only comes by way of the Spirit (v. 23, cf. 3:3-8).
    • John 8:32—”and you will know the truth and the truth will make/set you free”. I discuss this verse in a separate pair of notes. For the idiom of knowing the truth, cf. above.
    • John 14:4-7—all of the important terms and motifs of knowledge and seeing, the relation between Father and Son (and the believer), etc., are encapsulated in this sequence of verses, centered around Jesus’ famous declaration: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life—no one comes toward the Father if not through me”. Knowledge of the way (o(do/$) which leads to God and (eternal) life involves knowing/seeing the Son who manifests the Father. Cf. my notes on this passage.
    • John 17:3—the declaration by Jesus in this verse is perhaps the most explicitly “gnostic” soteriological formulation in the New Testament (cf. the separate study):
      “And this is the life of (the) Ages [i.e. eternal life]: that they should know You the only true God and the (one) whom You se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed”.
    • 1 John 4:7—I include this verse because of the close connection it gives between knowing God and coming to be born from Him, drawing upon the distinctly Johannine relationship between spiritual birth (regeneration) and salvation (cf. John 1:9-13; 3:1-21, etc).

A gnostic approach in the New Testament?

Based on a number of the passages cited and discussed above, a strong argument can be made that there is, indeed, a gnostic component to the view of salvation expressed in the New Testament, especially within the Pauline and Johannine writings. At the same time, however, several other aspects of early Christian thought serve as a check or counterbalance toward the development of any (exaggerated) gnostic tendencies. Here, in conclusion of this article, I highlight what are probably the three most important elements in the New Testament in this regard, each of which will be discussed at different points in the remaining notes and articles of this series:

  • The emphasis on trust/faith—Much moreso than knowledge, salvation is expressed in terms of trust (pi/sti$), specifically trust in Christ as the means and embodiment of the (way of) salvation provided by God. When Jesus speaks of being “saved” by trust, it is usually in the context of physical healing (i.e., trust that Jesus has the power to heal); but, occasionally, the reference is to salvation from sin or eschatological salvation (Lk 7:50). In the early Gospel preaching and in the subsequent writings, it is trust/faith in the person and work of Jesus which is in view. This is especially prominent in the Pauline writings—cf. 2 Thess 2:12; 1 Cor 1:21; Gal 2:16ff; Rom 3:21-22; 10:9-13; Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 3:15; 1 Tim 4:10—and is ultimately expressed through the developed Pauline concept of “justification” by faith (Gal 2:16-21; 3:6-14, 21-22ff; 5:4-6; Phil 3:9; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:4-7, and frequently throughout Romans). Ephesians 2:8 provides the most explicit statement:
    “For by (the) favor (of God) you are (one)s (who) have come to be saved, through trust; and this (comes) not out of you (yourselves), but (is) the present/gift of God…”
  • The person of Christ, and the believers’ union with him—While a central savior figure, who reveals the knowledge of salvation, is common to gnostic (and Gnostic) thought, the primacy and centrality of Christ in the New Testament and early (orthodox) Christianity is especially significant. Salvation comes through knowing Christ, as poignantly expressed by Paul in Phil 3:8-10 (cf. the note on this passage). An even stronger Christological aspect of salvation is found in Col 1:26-27 and 2:2-3 (also discussed in a separate study). This orientation is still more pronounced in the Gospel and letters of John, as will be discussed in a separate article. It is no coincidence that the disputes between (proto-)Orthodox and Gnostic Christians of the 2nd and 3rd centuries tended to be christological in nature—that is, precisely how one should properly regard Jesus Christ as the Savior. The presentation of Jesus in the Pauline and Johannine writings could easily be interpreted in a decidedly gnostic manner. It is possible that 1 John already shows this dynamic at work (cf. 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:6-12), and the attempt to combat it.
  • The emphasis on love—The “love command (or principle)” is fundamental to early Christianity, normative for guiding behavior and relationships within the Community. It derives from Jesus’ teaching and has special prominence even in those writings (i.e. the Pauline and Johannine) which exhibit the greatest affinity with gnostic thought. In 1 Corinthians, Paul goes out of his way to set love over against any exaggerated sense of (spiritual) knowledge—cf. 8:1ff; 12:31b-14:1a; 16:14. Here he is referring to knowledge as a (prophetic) gift of the Spirit, not in the fundamental sense of knowing Christ. Indeed, Paul would surely say that knowledge of Christ, for the believer, means being guided by his presence (through the Spirit), following his example, which is epitomized and demonstrated perfectly through love.

The Salvation of “All Israel” in Romans 11

This article, which is supplemental to the study on Paul’s View of the Law (in Romans 9-11), will attempt to clarify Paul’s complex address in chapter 11, particularly with regard to the declaration in verse 26a: kai\ ou%tw$ pa=$  )Israh/l swqh/setai (“and thus all Israel will be saved”). To begin with, it is important to keep the overall context of Romans 9-11 in mind when studying chapter 11; the following observations are especially significant:

    • The first argument (in Rom 9:6-13) of the section as whole, begins with the statement: “for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel” (v. 6b), i.e. not all Israelites are (the true) Israel.
    • Paul expounds this with the examples of Abraham and Isaac, to emphasize that true sonship and inheritance (of the blessing, etc) comes not from natural birth and ethnicity, but from the promise and favor of God (and God chooses and calls out whomsoever he wishes).
    • This is further applied in relation to the proclamation of the Gospel (the main theme of chapter 10)—Gentiles have responded to the Gospel, trusting in Christ, while many Israelites, God’s elect people, have failed (or refused) to accept Christ.

There is thus a fundamental connection between 9:6b and 10:15a:

“for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel”
or, “for not all the (one)s out of Israel are Israel” (9:6b)
“but not all (of them) listened under [i.e. obeyed] the good message” (10:15a)

Both use the expression “not all” (ou) pa/nte$), though the syntax of 9:6b makes this more difficult to see in translation. In any case, the implication is clear—only those (Israelites) who accept the Gospel are the true Israel. Now, to continue on with an analysis of chapter 11:

Paul’s initial address in Rom 11:1-12 contains a central argument (from Scripture), bracketed by two rhetorical questions (introduced with the formula le/gw ou@n, “I relate therefore…”). The central argument (in verses 3-10) draws upon the narrative in 1 Kings 19:9-18, of God’s revelation to Elijah as he sought refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb. Paul refers specifically to verses 10, 14, where Elijah laments to YHWH that he is the only prophet (of YHWH) left who has not been killed, and that the rest of Israel has forsaken the covenant (Rom 11:2b-3); God responds in verse 18 to the effect that there are still seven thousand in Israel who have not “bowed the knee to Baal”. Note how Paul phrases this in Rom 11:4: “I have left down [i.e. left behind] for myself seven thousand…”—the addition of e)mautw=| (“for/to myself”), shifts the meaning slightly from the original context of being spared from death (by the sword) to being chosen by God. We should observe carefully the points that Paul expounds from this passage:

  • Verse 5—he applies the situation in 1 Kings 19:9-18 to his own (current) time: “so then, even now in (this) time, there has come to be a (remainder) left behind [lei=mma] according to (the) gathering out of [i.e. by] (the) favor (of God)”. In verse 4, the verb used is kataleip/w (“leave down, leave behind”); the noun lei=mma is related to lei/pw, indicating something which is left (behind), either in a positive or negative sense. The word lei=mma is typically translated as “remainder” or “remnant”; but here, as indicated above, this remnant is understood as a people gathered out (the noun e)klogh/, from e)kle/gomai, “gather out”), i.e. elected by God, just as Israel herself was chosen as his people.
  • Verse 6—this gathering out is the result of the favor (xa/ri$) of God, and not because of anything the people have done. Here Paul moves away from the Old Testament passage again, which seems to tie the people’s being spared with their particular religious behavior; instead, he emphasizes that the gathering out is no longer (ou)ke/ti, “not yet, not any more”) based on works (“out of works”, e)c e&rgwn). He has already applied this very idea to the example of Abraham in Galatians 3 and Romans 4.
  • Verse 7—only the remnant obtains what Israel seeks after (cf. Rom 9:30-33), the rest were hardened (lit. turned to stone). The metaphor of “hardening the heart” is common in the Old Testament, most famously in the example of Pharaoh in the Exodus narrative, which Paul references in Rom 9:14-18.
  • Verse 12—this verse is transitional, following Paul’s answer to the (second) rhetorical question (in verse 11), and leading into the address of vv. 13-24. He introduces the first of several qal wahomer exclamations, arguing from the lesser to the greater—i.e., if in this lesser/inferior case it is so, then how much more so when…! The contrast is between Israel’s h%tthma (“loss, defeat”), parallel with para/ptwma (“falling alongside [i.e. over the line]”), and their plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”). The exact meaning of plh/rwma here is important for the overall flow and force of Paul’s argument; I think it is best to understand it in the sense of a restoration (filling up) of what was lost.

Romans 11:13-24 is the first of two addresses Paul makes to Gentile believers specifically, with regard to Israel and its salvation (vv. 13-14).

  • Verse 14—”if… I will [i.e. that I might] save some of them”—note Paul’s use of ti/$ (“some of them”)
  • Verses 15-16—Paul applies three more qal wahomer-style arguments, similar to the one in verse 12:
    • Israel’s a)pobolh/ (“casting away from”) and their pro/slhmyi$ (“taking/receiving toward”); it is not entirely clearly whether these should be understood as subjective genitives (their rejection/acceptance of the Gospel) or objective genitives (their rejection/acceptance by God), since either is possible, and they actually represent two aspects of the same situation.
    • The (currently) small number of Israelite believers as the a)pa/rxh (“beginning of [lit. from]”, i.e. the first grain of the harvest) and the (future) full number as the fu/rama (“[mass of] mixed/kneaded [dough]”).
    • This may also refer to the current “remnant” of Israel as the r(i/za (“root”), and those who will follow as the kla/doi (“branches”); though the “root” perhaps should be understood more generally as the true people of God (faithful Israel) extending back to Abraham. The context of vv. 17-24 strongly suggests this latter, wider interpretation.
  • Verses 17ff—in the illustration of the olive tree and its branches, some branches are “broken out” (e)cekla/sqhsan) and others are (currently) being “poked in” (e)nekentri/sqh$); the sense generally is that the new branches from the “wild olive” tree (i.e. Gentiles) take the place of those that were broken off.
  • Verse 20—the branches were broken off specifically for “lack of trust” (a)pisti/a), i.e. a failure (or unwillingness) to trust in Christ. This has to be understood in terms of Rom 9:6; 10:15 (cf. above).
  • Verse 23—similarly the grafting back in of branches broken off depends entirely on “not remaining in [i.e. upon] a lack of trust”—that is, they must come to trust in Christ.

Romans 11:25-32, the second of the two addresses directed at Gentile believers deals more directly with the question of Israel’s ultimate salvation. Paul now adopts a more decidedly eschatological focus.

  • Verse 25—Israel’s hardness (i.e. their inability/unwillingness to accept the Gospel) lasts until “the fulness of the nations should come in”. The use here of plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”) for the nations (Gentiles) is parallel to that in verse 12 for Israel; Paul probably understands it in the sense of the full (or complete) number, measure, etc. It is only then, once the Gentiles have fully come to Christ, that “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26a).
  • Verse 26-27—the Scriptures Paul cites here are important for an understanding of v. 26a; the primary citation is from Isaiah 59:20-21a, along with Isa 27:9—the combination of elements is significant:
    • “the one rescuing” (o( r(uo/meno$)—Christ himself (1 Thess 1:10, etc), or God working through Christ.
    • “he will turn away from Jacob [i.e. Israel] a lack of (proper) fear [a)sebei/a] (of God)”—cf. Rom 1:18; here a)sebei/a (lack of fear/reverence) is synonymous with sin and wickedness in general, but also, specifically, with a lack of trust (a)pisti/a) in Christ. On the idea of Christ turning people from evil (using the verb a)postre/fw), see Acts 3:26.
    • “and this is the (agreement) set through [diaqh/kh] to them alongside [i.e. with] me”—diaqh/kh here in the sense of an agreement (covenant) between two parties (according to the Hebrew tyr!B=), referring to the “new covenant” in Christ and not the old covenant of Sinai and the Torah (cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18). For the principal Old Testament passage relating to the “new covenant”, see Jer 31:31-34.
    • “when I should take away from (them) their sins”—probably an allusion to Isa 27:9, here set in parallel with the citation from Isa 59:21a, i.e. “turning them away from” and “taking away from them”. For the specific association between removal of sin (and its power), through the death of Christ, and the “new covenant”, see Jesus’ words in Mark 14:24 (par Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20).
  • Verses 28-29—the juxtaposition (me\nde/ “on the one hand… on the other hand…”) Paul establishes in verse 28 must be analyzed and treated with great care:
    • me/n (on the one hand)—
      • kata\ to\ eu)agge/lion (“according to the good message”)
        • e)xqroi/ (“[they are] enemies“)
          • di’ u(ma=$ (“through you”, i.e. for your sake)
    • de/ (on the other hand)—
      • kata\ th\n e)klogh/n (“according to the gathering out”)
        • a)gaphtoi/ (“[they are] loved“)
          • dia\ tou\$ pate/ra$ (“through [i.e. because of ] the fathers”)
    • Paul uses this construction to highlight the sense in which they are (currently) hostile to the Gospel—it is for the sake of Gentiles, that they should come to Christ, as Paul describes earlier in vv. 11-24, 25 (cf. also 10:19-21). For more on this difficult teaching, see below.
  • Verse 31—the mercy which will be shown to Israel is the same that has been shown to Gentiles—that is, the sacrificial work of God in Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel, which has the power to make human beings right before God and to free them from the enslaving power of sin.

Finally, it is left to address specifically the statement in v. 26a: “and thus all Israel will be saved”. There are a number of ways this has been interpreted, which I represent by the following five options:

    1. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved by the mercy and favor of God, but apart from their coming to faith in Christ.
    2. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved collectively through the work of Christ, but in a mysterious way understood only by God, and not necessarily in the sense of “becoming Christians”.
    3. All Israelites alive at the return of Christ will come to faith in him, and will thus be saved.
    4. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all Israelites (and Jews) who trust in Christ.
    5. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all believers in Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Based on the statement in Rom 9:6 and the olive tree illustration in 11:17-24, Paul certainly would have affirmed the fourth and fifth views above, in the sense that the true Israel is to be identified with believers in Christ (cf. also Rom 2:28-29). However, in Romans 11, and especially in verses 25-32, it would seem that he actually has something like view #3 in mind—namely that, at the end of the age, upon the return of Christ (or shortly before), there would be a widespread conversion of all Israelites and Jews currently living, that together (and/or all at once) they would come to faith in Christ. It is important to remember that, when Paul penned Romans, many, if not most, of the Israelites and Jews of his own generation, who had failed or refused to accept the Gospel, were still living, and he could envision the possibility that they could all still come to faith. As is abundantly clear from his letters, Paul, like most early Christians, expected Christ’s return and the end of the current age to occur very soon, presumably within the lifetime of most believers. In this context, Paul’s eschatological hope for Israel here makes good sense. Admittedly, it is rather more difficult to apply to the situation today, where nearly two thousand years have gone by, and many generations of Israelites and Jews have passed away—a situation, I am quite certain, that never would have occurred to Paul. Even so, it is still possible to affirm the belief (or at least the hope) that there will be a widespread conversion of Israel before the return of Christ; and, indeed, may Christians today hold just such a view.

Interestingly, in recent decades, there have been an increasing number of commentators and theologians who would adopt an interpretation along the lines of #1 and 2 above, at least in the sense that Israelites and Jews will be saved by God without having to “convert” or “become Christian”. This may be related to what is called the “Two Covenants” or “Dual Covenant” theory, which I will discuss briefly in an explanatory article.

Most distinctive is Paul’s teaching that Israel’s ‘hardening’ against the Gospel is directly related to the missionary outreach to Gentiles. This reflects historical reality, in that there were Jews who fiercely opposed the early Christian mission, according to Paul’s own testimony and the narrative in the book of Acts. Persecution often fuels the success of a religious movement, galvanizing support and helping to forge a strong and distinctive identity. This may also reflect, at some level, a degree of “cognitive dissonance”—Paul and other Christians were forced to explain the success of the mission among Gentiles throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece and Italy (Rome), while many Jews, who (as the elect people of God) should have been more receptive, did not accept the Gospel. This leads Paul to two different explanations which he brings together in these chapters:

    • Not all Israelites are the true Israel (9:6), and
    • They fell away (i.e. refused to believe) in order to make room for the Gentiles to come to faith
      —this last proposition is most vividly illustrated by the image of the olive tree and the branches (11:17-24)
      • Paul viewed Christianity as the outgrowth of (faithful) Israel stretching back to Abraham (i.e., the “remnant” is the root of the tree)
      • The branches which are faithful and remain in the tree (cf. John 15:1-11) are the early Jewish believers
      • The branches of the wild olive tree are the Gentiles—believers are grafted into the tree of ‘true Israel’
      • The branches which were broken off (i.e., unbelieving Israelites and Jews) may yet come to faith and be grafted back in

Once the full number (or measure) of Gentiles have come to faith, then the unbelieving Israelites and Jews will have the covering removed from their mind (2 Cor 3:14-15) and will come to trust in Christ as well. This, at least, is how Paul appears to have viewed the matter. Fitting it into a particular eschatological framework today is, of course, especially difficult, as indicated by the wide range of interpretive approaches that have been adopted over the years.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (9:1-11:32)

Romans 9-11

These famous chapters in Romans have been notoriously difficult to interpret, not least in terms of how exactly they fit into the overall structure of the letter. From the standpoint of rhetorical analysis, Rom 1:18-8:39 clearly represents the probatio, the presentation of arguments in support of the main proposition (Rom 1:16-17). I have already discussed in detail each of the four main sections which make up the probatio, according to the thematic division presented as four announcements:

Through the arguments in these sections, Paul effectively expounds his central (two-fold) proposition:

“I do not feel shame upon [i.e. about] the good message [i.e. Gospel],
for it is the power of God unto salvation to every (one) th(at is) trusting—to the Yehudean {Jew} first and (also) to the Greek.
For the justice/righteousness of God is uncovered in it, out of trust (and) into trust, even as it has been written: ‘but the just/righteous (person) will live out of trust’.”

In chapters 9-11 he further expounds one portion specifically: “unto salvation to every one that trusts—to the Jew first and (also) to the Greek“. This section has been referred to as a refutatio—a refutation by Paul of (possible) arguments made especially by Gentiles in Rome with regard to the role and position of Jewish believers (cf. B. Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Romans Eerdmans [2004], pp. 237-9). However, I do not see Paul’s approach here as being appreciably different from the one he takes in earlier in chapters 2-4; there is an interesting symmetry and balance of presentation:

    • Rom 2-4—addressed primarily to Jews, emphasizing that Gentiles are on an equal footing before God with regard to both judgment and salvation
    • Rom 9-11—addressed primarily to Gentiles, emphasizing the (future) salvation of Israelites/Jews and their inclusion into the body of Christ

In between (Rom 5-8) Paul presents a kind of “salvation history”, an exposition of the Gospel message for all human beings—Jews and Gentiles alike. Chapters 9-11 actually have the character of a personal appeal or confession—indeed, this characterizes each of the sections (matching the numbered chapters):

The opening verses of each section, with their personal and moving tone, lead into a presentation of arguments. The main issue at hand is how the Israelite/Jewish people relate to the new Christian identity. As a missionary and representative (apostle) of Christ, Paul saw how many of his fellow Israelites and Jews had been unwilling to accept the Gospel, some even being openly hostile to his missionary work (as narrated repeatedly in the book of Acts, cf. also 1 Thess 2:14-16, etc). Even Jewish believers could be opposed to his presentation of the Gospel, especially his unique view of the Law and his missionary approach to the Gentiles, as seen in Acts 15:1ff and throughout Galatians. At some level, this must have been traumatic for Paul, and difficult to understand—how could so many of God’s elect people, Israel, fail to trust in Christ? While he never really addresses this directly in his other surviving letters, it is clear that he had thought about it a good deal. The result is the wonderful, if somewhat enigmatic, exposition here in Romans 9-11.

I present my analysis of these chapters in summary, outline form, discussing several key verses in more detail in separate notes.

Romans 9

Rom 9:1-5—Paul’s personal address: Israel (“they are Israelites…”, vv. 4-5)

In vv. 1-3, Paul offers a moving confession of the sadness and burden he feels for his fellow Jews, whom he refers to as “my brothers” and “my kin (lit. ones coming to be [born] with me)”, and who, most notably, are Israelites (ei)sin  )Israhli=tai). This leads in vv. 4-5 to an announcement of the benefits and honors accorded to Israel by God, culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh (“according to the flesh”, kata\ sa/rka). The setting forth (establishment) of the Law (nomoqesi/a) is, of course, one of these honors.

Rom 9:6-13—Argument: Not all Israel is the true Israel.

This is defined clearly by Paul in verse 6:

“But (it is) not so that the word/account of God has fallen out [i.e. failed]: for these—all the (one)s out of Israel—are not Israel.”

The specific syntax of this last statement is important. The negative particle ou) governs the statement as a whole: ou) ga\rou!toi  )Israh/l (“for these…are not Israel”); and these (ou!toi) refer to the preceding phrase pa/nte$ oi( e)c  )Israh/l (“all the ones out of Israel”). Secondarily, one may also read the negative particle with pa/nte$, “not all the ones out of Israel.. are Israel”. The preposition e)k here means “out of” in the sense of physical/biological descent from (i.e. “offspring of the flesh”, v. 8). In other words the true Israel is not simply the same as all Israelites taken in the ethnic/cultural sense. Paul builds on this by returning to the example of Abraham from chapter 4 (cf. also Gal 3-4), emphasizing that Isaac was his “seed” according to the promise of God, and not simply out of his flesh. Abraham’s true descendants likewise are the “offspring of the promise” (ta\ te/kna th=$ e)paggeli/a$), v. 8. In a similar manner, Paul emphasizes that Isaac’s son Israel was chosen (“called out”) by God beforehand, in contrast to his other son Esau—i.e., the blessing was not based simply on birth or genealogy (vv. 11-13).

Rom 9:14-33—Exposition: Three arguments, each beginning with a rhetorical question:

    • Vv. 14-18—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]? There is not injustice [a)diki/a] alongside God (is there)? May it not come to be (so)!”
    • Vv. 19-29—”You will therefore declare to me [e)rei=$ moi ou@n]: For what [i.e. why] then does He yet find fault (with us)? For who has stood against His counsel [i.e. what He has resolved to do]?”
    • Vv. 30-33—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]? That the nations not pursuing justice have taken hold of justice…but Israel, pursuing (the) Law of justice…did not arrive (first)…?

The first two arguments (vv. 14-29) relate to the example of Isaac in vv. 6-13, of how God chose Israel beforehand (over Esau). These verses came to be central to subsequent theological debates regarding “predestination” and the sovereignty of God—i.e., how God may accept one person and reject another, quite apart from anything done to deserve such blessing. Unfortunately, this doctrinal emphasis tends to wrench the passage well out of its original context, as is quite clear from the the concluding argument in vv. 30-33, where Paul returns to the main statement of v. 6. Because of their importance to Paul’s view of the Law, verses 30-33 will be discussed in a separate note.

Romans 10

Rom 10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)

Paul offers a personal confession, similar to that in 9:1-3; here he expresses his desire (and prayer) that Israel might be saved—”(my) need (expressed) [i.e. prayer] toward God over them unto (their) salvation” (v. 1b). In verses 2-3 he offers his diagnosis regarding Israel’s current situation:

“For I witness regarding them that they hold a fervent desire of God, but not according to (true) knowledge upon (Him); for, lacking knowledge of the justice/righteousness of God, and seeking to stand (up) th(eir) own [justice/righteousness], they did not put themselves (in order) under the justice/righteousness of God.”

Then follows, by way of contrast, the famous statement in verse 4, functioning as a concise (and controversial) summary of the Gospel:

“For (the) Anointed {Christ} is (the) te/lo$ of the Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at) is trusting.”

This verse (along with vv. 2-3) will be discussed in a separate note.

Rom 10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.

This argument is essentially a commentary on Leviticus 18:5, which Paul also cites in a similar context in Gal 3:10-14. It is part of his regular contrast between the Law, which one observes by doing (“works of the Law”), and trust/faith (in Christ). The contrast is stark indeed—”justice/righteousness out of the Law” vs. “justice/righteousness out of faith/trust”. His supplemental usage here of Deut 30:11-14 is interesting, illustrating dramatically the righteousness based on doing, taken to extremes: “step up into the (high) heaven…step down into the deep (pit)”, adding the detail that the purpose is to “bring the Anointed down” and “bring the Anointed up”. The idea seems to be that this righteousness through deeds (i.e. observance of the Law) effectively takes the place of the true righteousness of God found in Christ, as expressed in v. 3. Another difference is that true righteousness is realized through the “utterance in the mouth… and in the heart” (v. 8, citing Deut 30:14); this utterance (r(h=ma) is then identified with the “word” or proclamation (kh/rugma) of the Gospel. Paul cites a kerygmatic formula in verse 9, expounding it in vv. 10-11, and applying it to all people—Jews and Gentiles equally—who trust in Christ, and confess this trust, i.e. “all who call upon him” (v. 12f, citing Joel 2:32 [cf. Acts 2:21]).

Rom 10:14-21—Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:

    • The proclamation of the Gospel (vv. 14-15)
    • Israel’s response to the Gospel—not all have faith (vv. 16-17)
    • Evidence of this in the Scriptures (vv. 18-21, citing Psalm 19:4; Deut 32:21; Isa 65:1-2)

The statement in v. 16, “not all have obeyed [lit. listened/heard under] the good message”, relates back to the main argument in 9:6—not all Israelites are (the true) Israel. The implication is, that the true Israel is represented by those who accept the Gospel and trust in Jesus Christ. This is the message of chapters 9 and 10, in summary form. It is important to keep this in mind when studying chapter 11 (below).

Romans 11

Rom 11:1-12—Paul’s address (and argument): The People of God (“His people”, vv. 1ff)

The structure of this chapter is somewhat different from the previous two—here Paul’s personal address in relation to Israel is embedded within a larger discussion of Israel’s role as the people of God. Verses 1-12 actually form an argument from Scripture (vv. 3-10), framed by two similar rhetorical questions:

    • Vv. 1-2: “I relate then [le/gw ou@n]…”
      Question: “God has not pushed his people away from (him, has he)?”
      Answer: “May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]!… God has not pushed away from (him) his people whom he knew before(hand).”
    • Vv. 11-12: “I relate then [le/gw ou@n]…”
      Question: “They have not started to fall (so) that they should fall (completely, have they)?”
      Answer: “May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]! But by their falling alongside, the salvation for the Gentiles (has come), to bring them [i.e. Israel] along to a burning (desire) [i.e. to jealously].”

The central argument from Scripture (vv. 3-10) draws upon the narrative from 1 Kings 19:9-18, and the idea of a faithful remnant of Israel—”so then also in this time now there has come to be a (remainder) left over, according to the gathering out of [i.e. by] (the) favor (of God)” (v. 5).

Rom 11:13-32—Exposition: A Two-fold address to Gentile believers:

    • Vv. 13-24—Illustration of the olive tree and its branches
    • Vv. 25-32—Discourse on the (eschatological) salvation of Israel

Rom 11:33-36—Doxology on the wisdom and knowledge of God

Because of the importance of this chapter, especially verses 13-32, in terms of Paul’s view of the Law, as well as the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Christ, it will be discussed in more detail in a supplementary article.

July 31: 2 Corinthians 5:21

In today’s note I will be looking at Romans 8:3-4 in comparison with 2 Corinthians 5:21. These two passages connect the incarnation of Christ with God’s work of salvation for humankind. From the beginning, Christians understood the sacrificial and salvific character of Jesus’ death, and that he was God’s unique representative; but here, in these two letters, perhaps for the first time, we find a developed doctrine blending soteriology with Christology. As 2 Corinthians was likely written before Romans, I will begin with 2 Cor 5:21.

2 Corinthians 5:21

“the (one) not knowing sin, He [i.e. God] made (to be) sin over us [i.e. for our sake], (so) that we might come to be (the) justice/righteousness of God in him”

The context of this passage (2 Cor 5:11-21) is similar to that of Phil 2:1-11—an appeal for peace and unity among believers is connected with the example of God’s sacrificial and saving work in Christ. Here in 2 Corinthians, the emphasis is on reconciliationkatallagh/, vb. katalla/ssw, to make things different, mutually, between two parties. In vv. 18-19, Paul makes two statements:

    • God is “the (One) making (things) different [katalla/canto$] (for) us with Himself through [dia/] (the) Anointed” (v. 18)
    • God “was [h@n] in [e)n] (the) Anointed, making (things) different [katalla/sswn] (for the) world with Himself” (v. 19)

In both instances, a participial form of the verb is used: the first in the aorist (indicating a past action), the second in the present. In verse 18, it is “us” (believers) for whom the situation has been changed with God; in verse 19, it is the entire world. This particular work of reconciliation is glossed and interpreted by Paul as “not counting for them (the instances of) their falling alongside [paraptw/mata]”, i.e., not reckoning their sins and failures, understood as violations/transgressions of the Law, especially in its moral/ethical aspect. We also see, in each statement regarding God’s work of reconciliation in/through Christ, a corresponding declaration of the work of reconciliation God intends for believers (focused primarily in the apostolic ministry):

    • “…and (also) giving to us the service [diakoni/a] of making (things) different [i.e. reconciliation, katallagh/]” (v. 18)
    • “…and (also) placing in us the word/account [lo/go$] of making (things) different [i.e. reconciliation]” (v. 19)

It may be helpful to examine each element of verse 21:

to\n mh\ gno/nta (“the [one] not knowing”)—i.e. Jesus Christ; here the verb know (ginw/skw) probably should be understood in the sense of familiarity.

a(marti/an (“sin”)—The expression mh\ gno/nta a(marti/an is sometimes translated as “knowing no sin“; but the negative particle relates primarily to the verb, and thus the emphasis is on “not knowing sin”. Paul doubtless would affirm something corresponding to the later orthodox belief regarding the sinlessness of Christ; however, when referring to specific sins or misdeeds, he typically uses the words para/ptwma (cf. in v. 19), para/basi$, or a(marti/a in the plural. The use of the singular here could indicate the idea of sin in the more general, abstract sense; or, as often in Romans especially, of sin as a power. To describe Jesus as “the one not knowing sin” probably means, for Paul, that he was the only person who was not enslaved under the power of sin, i.e. did not know Sin has his master. The word a(marti/a fundamentally means a failure—in the conventional Israelite/Jewish religious sense, this would be a failure to observe the commands and regulations of the Law (Torah), and, in particular, moral failure. In English, the word is normally rendered as “sin”; it is generally synonymous with the corresponding afj in Hebrew.

u(pe\r u(ma=$ (“over us”)—The preposition u(pe/r literally means “over”, but often in the metaphorical sense of “on behalf of, for the sake of”, etc. What God did through Christ was done “over us”, covering us, and it was done for our sake.

e)poi/hsen (“he made”)—God is the implied subject, with “the one not knowing sin” (Christ) as the object, i.e. God made Christ to be (like/as) sin. How should we understand this “making”? I have previously suggested three possibilities:

    • he was made into the form of (sinful) human “flesh” (Rom 8:3, cf. below); the idea of incarnation, cf. Gal 4:4; Phil 2:7
    • he was made like unto the (enslaving) power of sin, in order to conquer and destroy it (cf. Rom 8:2-3; Gal 3:13-14)
    • he was made into a sin-offering; note the similar double meaning of afj in Hebrew, which can be used both for sin and the offering made on behalf of sin

i%na (“that”)—the particle here introduces a final clause, indicating either purpose or result (or both), i.e. “so that…”

genw/meqa (“we might come to be”)—the common existential verb indicating becoming, i.e. the purpose and result of God’s work is that we (believers) will come to be something new. The aorist subjunctive form could here could also be rendered: “that we should come to be…”

dikaiosu/nh qeou= (“[the] justice/righteousness of God”)—Paul’s use of this expression is familiar from Romans, where it appears numerous times (Rom 1:17; 3:5, 21-22; 10:3, also 3:25-26; 6:13, etc). More than half of the instances of the noun dikaiosu/nh come from the undisputed Pauline letters (34 times in Romans). I have discussed dikaiosu/nh (and the dikaio- word-group) extensively in the articles on “Paul’s View of the Law” (note also the article on Justification). Where this particular expression is used in Romans, it should be taken fundamentally as a characteristic or attribute of God Himself, but which is expressed primarily in the person and work of Christ.

e)n au)tw=| (“in him”)—that is, “in Christ”, e)n Xristw=| being a favorite Pauline expression, indicating the union (and unity) of believers with Christ (and with God through Christ). Here it should also be understood as the focus of our becoming the “justice/righteousness of God”—it takes place in Christ. Elsewhere, Paul refers to Jesus as the very embodiment of justice/righteousness. The parallel in 1 Cor 1:30 is especially noteworthy:

1 Cor 1:30: he came to be the justice/righteousness from God for us
2 Cor 5:21: we come to be the justice/righteousness of God in him

The interplay reflected in these two verses is fascinating indeed!

What does it mean precisely, that believers should “become” or “come to be” the justice/righteousness of God? I will leave this question until I have discussed Romans 8:3-4, which I will do in the next daily note.

February 5: 2 Cor 4:3-4, etc

In the previous note, on 1 Cor 15:1-2, as well as the earlier note on Rom 1:1, 16, etc, I discussed how Paul, in his letters, only rarely expounds the theological aspects of the term eu)agge/lion. Most prominently this is done throughout the main body of Romans (the probatio, 1:18-11:36). There are, however, a few other passages where it is touched on—notably, in 1 Cor 15:1-2, and 2 Cor 4:3-4, which we will examine below.

It may be worth recalled the background of the eu)aggel– word group (and the corresponding root rcb in Hebrew/Aramaic). It was often used in the context of (good) news involving the outcome of a battle, or other public action (by the ruler/government) related to public welfare and protection; however, the military aspect—victory in battle, deliverance from danger—was prominent. Interestingly, there is little indication that this context (or connotation) was primary for the earliest Christians in their use of the word group. The main influence, as I discussed, was from the use of the verb rc^B*/eu)aggeli/zw in several key passages of (Deutero-)Isaiah, most notably 40:9; 52:7; 60:6, and, especially, 61:1. In these oracles, the idea of “good news” is tied to the future/end-time restoration of God’s people (the faithful remnant of Israel). The passages came to have a marked eschatological and Messianic sense—especially Isa 40:3ff and 61:1ff as they appear in the Gospel tradition, and as used by John the Baptist and Jesus himself. This eschatological/Messianic dimension appears to have shaped the earliest Christian usage of eu)agge/lion and the verb eu)aggeli/zomai; in this regard, the “good message” may be summarized as follows:

  • Jesus is the Anointed One sent by God, whose appearance was promised/prophesied in the Scriptures
  • Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has exalted him to the divine/heavenly status and position as Son of God; at the same time the exalted Christ is also identified with the “Son of Man” savior-figure who will appear at the end-time
  • The faithful ones—identified as those trusting in Jesus—will be saved/rescued from the end-time Judgment that is about to come upon humankind

For the earliest Christians, salvation was fundamentally eschatological—being saved from the end-time Judgment. Paul very much followed this emphasis, as we can see from the opening of the probatio (1:18ff); that is to say, he begins his exposition of the Gospel with a warning of the anger (o)rgh/) of God that is about to be revealed upon all sin and wickedness in the world. This is the end-time Judgment that Paul declares so succinctly in the Athens speech of Acts 17: “…He established a day in which He is about to judge the inhabited (world) in (His) justice” (v. 31).

However, Paul’s understanding of salvation was certainly not limited to this eschatological aspect. More than any other New Testament author (or speaker), it is Paul who also defines salvation fundamentally in terms of deliverance from the power of sin. Interestingly, though, this understanding is presented in detail only in a few passages. By far, the most prominent and clearest presentation occurs in chapters 5-8 of Romans. After the eschatological warning of 1:18-32, Paul, in chapters 2-4 of the letter, argues vigorously for the proposition that all human beings—Jew and non-Jew alike—are justified (“made right”) in God’s eyes, and thus are saved, only (and entirely) through trust in the “good message” of Jesus Christ. The old covenant and observance of the Torah does not lead to salvation in any sense; quite the opposite, in Paul’s view (his view on the Torah is discussed in detail in the series “The Law and the New Testament”, soon to be posted here). But what, exactly, does this salvation entail? From Paul’s standpoint there are two principal, related aspects for the believer, which follow, as a necessary consequence, from the eschatological aspect:

  • Believers in Christ are saved from the coming Judgment
    however, since the Judgment is due to sin and wickedness, it is first necessary that human beings be freed from sin, for which there is a dual aspect:
    • (1) We are cleansed from sin, and
    • (2) We are freed from the power of sin

The first aspect is central to the very earliest preaching, going back to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the first apostles (Mark 1:4-5, 15 par; Matt 3:2; Acts 2:38; 3:26, etc). It is tied to the ritual of baptism, and is associated with the role (and presence) of the Holy Spirit. The second aspect, on the other hand, is more distinctly Pauline, informing the soteriology expressed by Paul in his letters. And he expresses the idea of the power of sin in various ways. In Romans 5ff, for example, sin is personified as tyrant, a conqueror who enslaves the population. All of humankind is in bondage to the ruling power of Sin. However, the sacrificial death (and resurrection) of Jesus perfectly and totally reverses this situation, freeing from bondage (to sin) all who trust in him.

Much of this same basic idea may be found in Paul’s declaration regarding the Gospel in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 which I will now discuss briefly.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4

In this passage, Paul personifies sin and evil in a different way, using the expression “the god of this Age” (o( qeo\$ tou= ai)w=no$ tou/tou). Like many Jews and Christians of the time, Paul held the fundamental worldview that the current Age was thoroughly wicked, dominated by sin and evil. This was related to a dualistic mode of thinking common to the eschatology of the period—i.e., a contrast between “This Age” and “the Coming Age”, which will be ushered in by God at the Judgment. The current Age (and world-order, ko/smo$) was seen as sinful/evil and opposed to God; Paul expresses this dualism just as forcefully as the Johannine writings, if not through such distinctive use of the word ko/smo$. Rather, Paul tends to use the word ai)w/n (“life[time], period of time, age”); it occurs, in a negative (and contrastive) sense, in 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6ff; 3:18; Rom 12:2; Gal 1:4; also Eph 2:2. The word ko/smo$ (“world[-order]”) is used in a similar way in Gal 4:3, 9; Col 2:8, 20; 1 Cor 3:19, etc. In Gal 1:4, he uses the expression “the evil Age (that) has been set in (place)”. In referring to the “god” (qeo/$) of this Age, Paul presumably has in mind the Satan (or ‘Devil’) and various unclean/evil (“demon”) powers which God has allowed to exercise influence and control over the world (cf. 1 Cor 15:24; Gal 4:8-9; Col 2:8-10; 2 Thess 2:9; Eph 2:2, etc).

Here in 2 Cor 4:3-4, the power of sin, wielded/controlled by “the god of this Age”, is described in terms of a darkness which blinds the eyes of human beings (cf. 2 Thess 2:9-12). This, of course, is another way of referring to humanity as being in bondage to sin (note the play on bondage/blindness in Isa 61:1 MT/LXX, discussed in the earlier note). The dualism of Light vs. Darkness is natural and was widespread in the ancient world; Paul makes use of it, though not so thoroughly as the Johannine writings and discourses of Jesus do. The entire section of 3:7-4:6 develops the theme of seeing and revelation (vb. a)pokalu/ptw, literally “take the cover [away] from”, “uncover”). Believers in Christ are able, through trust, and through the Spirit, to see the glory/splendor (do/ca) of God in a way that was impossible (even for Moses) under the Old Covenant. Here in 4:3-4, the implication is that it is the very Gospel message (eu)agge/lion) that illumines believers and allows us to see the glory of God in the person of Jesus.

Salvation—freeing believers from the power of sin—is thus described in terms of (1) dispelling the darkness and (2) restoring sight to the blind. In the Gospel tradition, the association of the Gospel with recovery of sight (by way of Isa 61:1 LXX), was taken literally, being fulfilled in the healing miracles of Jesus (cf. the note on Lk 7:22 par). Paul, however, understands this symbolically, in a spiritual sense—the “good message” of Christ does away with the blinding power of sin (for a similar development, or interpretation, see John 9). There is then an absolute contrast between believer and non-believer in this regard:

“But if our good message is covered (up), it is covered (up) among the (one)s going away to ruin, (among) the (one)s whom the god of this Age (has) blinded the minds, the (one)s without trust, unto (there being) [i.e. so there would be] no shining forth of the good message of the splendor of the Anointed (One), who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:3-4)

Note the conceptual structure, which may be outlined as a chiasm:

  • the good message
    • is covered up
      • the ones going away to ruin (i.e. lost, perishing)
        • the message is covered up/over for them
          • the Age of sin and evil (“god of this Age”)
        • their minds are blinded
      • the ones without trust (in Jesus)
    • it does not shine forth
  • the good message

This structure helps to demonstrate how and why many do not respond to the Gospel—it involves a complex dynamic between the reigning power of sin and the person’s ability/willingness to trust in the Gospel. Paul details a similar sort of dynamic in Romans 7. It is also worth noting the significance of the double use of eu)agge/lion that brackets this passage:

    • the good message [eu)agge/lion] that is proclaimed by Paul and his fellow ministers (v. 3a)
    • the good message [eu)agge/lion] characterized as being that which reveals (“shines forth”) the splendor of the Anointed (do/ca tou= Xristou=), the Messiah Jesus being further described as “the image of God” (ei)kw\n tou= qeou=) (v. 4b)

Thus the common/traditional (early Christian) usage of the term eu)agge/lion is transformed into a powerful Christological statement, about who Jesus is in relation to God the Father. Through this, Paul effectively explains his earlier declaration in Rom 1:16, that the good message is “the power of God unto salvation”. It is just this Christological statement in 2 Cor 4:3-4, which, in turn, frees believers from “the power of sin.”

February 4: 1 Cor 15:1-2, etc

If we look at the remaining occurrences of the eu)aggel- word group in the Pauline corpus, especially in the undisputed letters (of 1-2 Corinthians, Philippians, and Philemon), we find two main themes which continue (and develop) the usage examined thus far in 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, and Romans:

    1. Paul (and his fellow ministers/apostles) as chosen messengers, i.e. chosen (by God) to proclaim the “good message”, and
    2. The religious identity of believers defined by the “good message” which they heard and received

These two aspects bind believers together with Paul (and the other ministers) in a special bond of unity. This is expressed variously by Paul in these letters, both where he is attempting to resolve points of conflict with the congregations to whom he is writing, and also as a way of exhorting believers to support him in his labors and to join with him in suffering on behalf of the Gospel. Here is a summary of these references:

Clearly, the noun is more frequently used by Paul than the verb (as we have already seen). The specific expression “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}” also appears to be distinctively Pauline (1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Phil 1:27, as in 1 Thess 3:2; Rom 15:19; Gal 1:7; cf. also 2 Thess 1:8; Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 4:4).

What stands out is how well-established the meaning of the noun eu)agge/lion, especially, is for Paul (and his audience) at the time these letters were written (c. 50-60 A.D.). For the most part, Paul makes no attempt to explain his use of the word; moreover, there is rather clearly a range of theological (and Christological) associations present with the use of eu)agge/lion which, likewise, it was not necessary to clarify. Only in Galatians and Romans does Paul feel the need to expound the term, and for somewhat different reasons:

    • In Galatians, Paul is addressing views of other (Jewish) Christians regarding the religious identity of believers in Christ—that is, whether such identity was defined entirely by faith in Jesus Christ, or also involved observance of the Torah. Paul argues vigorously for the former position, while his Jewish-Christian ‘opponents’ took the latter view. Paul characterizes their view as a “different Gospel” (Gal 1:6-7, cf. also 2 Cor 11:4).
    • In Romans, Paul is writing to believers who, for the most part, were unfamiliar with his preaching and theological outlook. In 1:15, he states his eagerness “to bring the good message” to them, even though they are already believers. As I mentioned in the previous note, chapters 1-11 of Romans could be described fairly as Paul’s definitive exposition of what he means by the term “good message” (eu)agge/lion).

In the prior note, I discussed Paul’s central declaration in Rom 1:16, where he states that the “good message” (Gospel) is “the power of God unto salvation”. It is really only in Romans that Paul goes over thoroughly what this means, though it certainly would have been implied elsewhere by his use of the term (above). From a rhetorical standpoint, in the body of the letter (the probatio, 1:18-11:36), Paul presents various lines of argument to “prove” the proposition (propositio) of 1:16-17, using just about every literary/rhetorical device and approach at his disposal. By studying these sections of Romans carefully, we can begin to fill out the important soteriological dimension of the eu)aggel- word group for Paul (and for other early Christians as well).

To supplement such a study (which I encourage you to take), I would point out two other passages in the undisputed letters, where theological and soteriological aspects of eu)agge/lion are brought out. The first of these is 1 Corinthians 15:1-2.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2

Here, in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, at the beginning of a paraenetic (instruction) section, dealing with the question of the (end-time) resurrection, Paul exhorts his readers, including a summary declaration regarding the “good message”:

“I would make known to you, brothers, the good message [to\ eu)agge/lion] which I brought as a good message [eu)aggelisa/mhn] to you, which (indeed) you received alongside [parela/bete], (and) in which also you have stood [e)sth/kate], through which also you are saved [sw/|zesqe], by what account [i.e. lo/go$] I brought as a good message, if you hold down (onto it), if indeed you (have) not trusted (in it) futilely.”

In many ways, this serves as an excellent summary of Pauline theology; each phrase could be isolated and treated as a specific chapter in a detailed theological study. Here I wish to focus on the central phrases which qualify the “good message” (presented emphatically by doubling of noun and verb together). First note the overall structure:

  • “…the good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion), followed by a sequence of simple relative clauses:
    • “which [o^] I brought as a good message [eu)aggelisa/mhn] to you”—i.e. Paul’s proclamation
    • “which also [o^ kai] you received alongside [parela/bete]”
    • “in which also [e)n w!| kai] you have stood [e(sth/kate]”
    • “through which also [di’ ou! kai] you are saved [sw/|zesqe]”
      • “by what account [lo/go$] I brought as a good message to you…”

Of the four relative clauses, the first two form a pair, both syntactically and conceptually:

    • “which I brought as a good message”—Paul’s role as messenger, proclaiming the Gospel
    • “which…you received alongside”—the Corinthian believers’ response to the message; the verb paralamba/nw (“take/receive along[side]”) implies acceptance and the bringing of someone/something in close

Similarly, the last two clauses form a pair:

    • “in [e)n] which…you have stood”
    • “through [dia/] which…you are saved”

Each statement represents an aspect of the effect that receiving the good message has on believers, utilizing a different preposition and verbal tense. The first statement uses the preposition e)n (“in”) with the verb i%sthmi (“stand”)—believers stand in the good message of Christ. Paul tends to use this verb in relation to the trust/faith (pi/sti$) of believers (Rom 11:20; 14:4; 1 Cor 10:12; 2 Cor 1:24). A careful study of these (and other) passages reveals the core Pauline idea that, as believers, we trust primarily in the favor (xa/ri$) God has shown in what He has done for us through the person and work of Jesus (cf. Rom 5:2). This is expressed more directly by the second clause, using the preposition dia/ (“through”) and the verb sw/|zw (“save”). We are saved through the good message, together with all that it entails.

Interestingly, the first verb is in the perfect tense (“you have been saved”), while the second is in the present (“you are [being] saved”). We might rather have expected the opposite—i.e., “you have been saved”, and now “you stand”. This, however, reflects a different understanding (or aspect) of salvation. Modern-day Christians tend to think of “being saved” as something which happens to an individual at a particular (past) moment in time (i.e., when a person come to believe/accept Christ). By contrast, early believers in the first-century tended to view salvation primarily as something which was to occur in the future—specifically being saved from the coming (end-time) Judgment. Paul, in particular, added to this a most distinctive soteriological aspect, one expressed elsewhere in the New Testament, but never so clearly than it was by Paul: that believers are (even in the present) saved/rescued from the power of sin in the world that currently holds humankind in bondage. This point will be discussed further in the next daily note.