Sola Scriptura: 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:12-14

Sola Scriptura

We have here been considering the primacy of the Apostolic Tradition as a source of religious authority for early Christians. The Apostolic Tradition has three fundamental components:

    1. The proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel
    2. The words of Jesus—sayings, teachings, parables—along with his example (of what he said and did), preserved and transmitted by the apostles to the early congregations
    3. The authoritative teaching by the apostles

The first two components were discussed in the previous two studies (last week and the week prior); it now remains to example that last of these three.

3. Authoritative Teaching by the Apostles

We may begin by returning to our previous examination of Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, which is based on three different authoritative sources:

    • Verses 10-11: Paul cites a Jesus tradition (saying/teaching by Jesus) as a command— “not I, but the Lord”
    • Verses 12-14ff: He gives a similar directive, for which no Jesus tradition was available, based on his own inspired apostolic authority— “I, not the Lord”
    • Verses 25ff: He has neither a command from Jesus, nor an inspired directive of his own; rather, Paul offers an authoritative opinion (gnw/mh), as advice, or by way of a recommendation, for believers.

The last two sources fit under the same heading for this article, representing two kinds of authoritative apostolic teaching. The New Testament Epistles are replete with examples of apostolic teaching, which may be divided into three general categories:

    • Theological and doctrinal teaching
    • Ethical instruction, and
    • Guidance on congregational activity and organization

Rather than selecting from the hundreds of passages that deal with these areas, it is perhaps more useful here to consider the place of the Apostolic Tradition as a whole, embracing all three of the components outlined above. The principal noun referring to this Tradition is para/dosi$, from the verb paradi/dwmi (“give along, give over”); it thus signifies something that is “given along”, or ‘handed down,’ from one person to another, and from one generation to the next. Our word “tradition” is cognate to the Latin traditio, which has a comparable meaning to para/dosi$.

Para/dosi$ occurs 13 times in the New Testament; however, eight of these are part of a single Synoptic episode (Mk 17:3, 5, 8-9, 13; Matt 15:2-3, 6). The other five occurrences are in Paul’s letters, thus making the word something of a Pauline term.

The earliest of these, in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, is significant, in light of our previous study on 1 Cor 7:10ff (cf. above). If we combine the evidence from both Thessalonian letters, it is possible to compare Paul’s eschatological teaching in 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 with that of 2 Thess 1:5-2:15. The teaching in 1 Thessalonians is rooted in “an account by the Lord” (or, “a word of the Lord,” lo/go$ kuri/ou), which could refer to a variety of eschatological sayings/teachings by Jesus, such as those contained in the “Eschatological Discourse”. The wording in 5:2-4ff almost certainly is based on sayings by Jesus as well.

By contrast, 2 Thessalonians 1-2 represents more distinctly Pauline teaching—that is, stemming from Paul’s own, inspired status as an apostle. He attempts to explain and expound the early Christian eschatological framework, such as is found in the “Eschatological Discourse”. Paul concludes his eschatological instruction with these words in 2:15:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold firmly to the (thing)s given along [parado/si$ plur], which you were taught, whether through an account (of speech) or through our (letter) sent to you.”

Paul includes his current eschatological instruction as part of the various authoritative apostolic teachings he (and other apostles like him) have ‘given along’ to the Thessalonians. The mention of an e)pistolh/ (epistle) simply means that the apostolic authority was the same, whether it was spoken (when the apostle was personally present), or conveyed through writing (when he was absent). It does, however, also anticipate the preservation of letters like 2 Thessalonians, and their eventual inclusion among the New Testament Scriptures.

The same noun (para/dosi$) occurs in 3:6, in connection with Paul’s ethical instruction. The faithful and upright conduct, to which he exhorts the Thessalonians, is contrasted (as a warning) with the conduct of “…every brother walking about (in a) disorderly (manner) and not according to the (thing) given along [para/dosi$] which you received alongside [vb paralamba/nw] from us”. The verbs paradi/dwmi (“give along”) and paralamba/nw (“receive along, take long”) are similar in meaning, describing the same dynamic from two different vantage point—i.e., the giving of the tradition (by an apostle), and the receiving of it (by the congregation). For examples of paradi/dwmi in this context, cf. Luke 1:2; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Rom 6:17; 2 Peter 2:21; Jude 3. For other instances of paralamba/nw, cf. 1 Cor 11:23; 15:1, 3; Gal 1:9, 12; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:1.

Another verb, which can be used, even more forcefully, for the giving (and preservation) of the Apostolic Tradition, is parati/qhmi, “set/place alongside”. This verb can be used in reference to the act of teaching (e.g., Acts 17:3), but it is not used this way in the NT Epistles. Rather, it specifically means “place (something) along into one’s care,” i.e., entrust it to someone (cf. Lk 12:48). It can refer to entrusting a person into another’s care (Acts 14:23; 20:32); however, in the Epistles, it is the Apostolic Tradition, we may say, that is entrusted. This is the specific context in the Pauline Pastorals, in which the apostle (Paul) “places along” the authoritative tradition(s) to ministers such as Timothy (2 Tim 2:2; cf. also 1 Tim 1:18), who will then transmit them to the believers (and congregations) under his charge.

The related noun paraqh/kh, derived from parati/qhmi, when used in this context, is more or less synonymous with para/dosi$, but entailing also the added meaning associated with the verb parati/qhmi described above. The Apostolic Tradition that is “given along” (para/dosi$) is also “placed along” (paraqh/kh) into the care of ministers like Timothy, to be preserved and guarded carefully. This latter noun occurs just three times in the New Testament, and all in the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy). The main passage, in which the noun occurs twice, is 2 Timothy 1:12-14:

“…I suffer these (thing)s, but I am not ashamed, for I have seen the (One) in whom I have trusted, and I have been persuaded that He is able to guard the (thing) placed alongside [paraqh/kh] me unto [i.e. until] that day. You must hold (firm to the) under(lying) pattern of words being [i.e. that are] healthy, which you heard alongside [para/] me, in (the) trust and love th(at is) in (the) Anointed Yeshua; the beautiful (thing) placed alongside [paraqh/kh] you must guard, through (the) Holy Spirit th(at is) dwelling in us.”

Note the chain of transmission, presented as a chiastic outline:

    • God guards [vb fula/ssw] the Tradition
      • this Tradition was placed alongside [paraqh/kh] Paul
        • Timothy heard it alongside [para/] Paul
      • the Tradition was placed alongside [paraqh/kh] Timothy
    • Through God’s Spirit, Timothy is to guard [vb fula/ssw] the Tradition

Timothy is similarly commanded to “guard” the Tradition (paraqh/kh) at the conclusion of 1 Timothy (6:20). It is worth mentioning that most critical commentators regard the Pastoral Letters as pseudonymous ‘Deutero-Pauline’ works. As such, they likely would have been written toward the end of the first-century (c. 90-100), rather than the early 60’s. The specific emphasis on guarding the Apostolic Tradition (from false believers and ‘heretics,’ etc) does seem to reflect a later development, but it is possible that Paul could already be using such language c. 63-64 A.D. I tend to regard 2 Timothy (on objective grounds) as a genuine work by Paul, but find the arguments for pseudonymity reasonably strong in the case of 1 Timothy.

Similar critical considerations go into judging the date (and thus the context) of 2 Peter and Jude—two letters which share with 1-2 Timothy a concern for guarding the Apostolic Tradition against false believers. Note, for example, the wording of 2 Peter 2:21 in the overall context of the eschatological-ethical warnings in chaps. 2-3. Jude is even more pointed in this regard, with the warnings and exhortation framed by the grand statement in verse 3:

“Loved (one)s, (in) making all haste to write to you about our common salvation, I held (myself with) constraint to write to you, calling you along to struggle over the trust once (and for all) having been given along [vb paradi/dwmi] to the holy (one)s.”

By this rhetorical syntax, the author prepares his audience for the forceful warnings that follow. He “held (himself) with constraint” in writing, because he knew that it was necessary to give the tough message warning his readers against the dangers posed by false believers within the congregations. This statement, in my view, truly does represent a relatively late development, as can be seen by the way that the noun pi/sti$ refers, not simply to trust in Jesus, but to the authoritative (apostolic) Tradition as a whole.

In conclusion here, it is also worth mentioning the reference to the letters of Paul in 2 Pet 3:15-16, usually taken by commentators as a sign for a late dating of 2 Peter (and for its pseudonymity). Whether or not this critical opinion is valid (and it may be debated), there can be little doubt that the process of collecting and preserving the New Testament Letters was already underway by the end of the first-century. This very process implies a recognition of the authoritative character of these letters, insofar as they reflect (and preserve) the Apostolic Tradition. It is possible the apostolic missionaries and leaders themselves sought to preserve some written record of their teaching. To be sure, the letters written by the apostles would have been considered just as authoritative as their spoken words when personally present (e.g., 2 Cor 10:11; 2 Thess 3:14, and cf. the discussion above). Indeed, Paul urges the Thessalonians to have his letter read (out loud) to a wide audience (1 Thess 5:27). See also the way the author of the book of Revelation refers to his work (22:6-9, 18-19, etc).

By the end of the first-century, the writings of the apostles—some of them, at any rate—were effectively being treated as authoritative Scripture, on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures, even as the Apostolic Tradition, on the whole, superseded those very Scriptures. Around the same time (c. 90 A.D.), all four of our Gospels had been written, preserving, in a similar way, a different aspect of the Tradition. The process of producing a corpus of New Testament Scriptures was well under way.

Sola Scriptura: 1 Corinthians 7:10-14, 25, etc

Sola Scriptura

A fundamental conclusion from our studies thus far is that the Scriptures (of the Old Testament), while continuing to be authoritative for early Christians, possessed a secondary, or supplemental, authority. The primary source of religious authority was located in what may be labeled broadly as the Apostolic Tradition. In the mind of first-century Christians, the Scriptures support and confirm the Apostolic Tradition. In turn, the Apostolic Tradition formed the basis of the New Testament Scriptures. There are three main components to this Tradition:

    • The proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel, and the seminal Gospel narrative that developed from it.
    • The words of Jesus—sayings, teachings, parables—transmitted from the apostolic witness of what Jesus said and did.
    • The inspired teaching and instruction by the apostles (as representatives of Jesus).

The first of these was discussed in the previous study; here we will be examining the second—the words of Jesus.

2. The Words of Jesus

The apostolic witness (of what Jesus said and did) was at first (c. 35-50 A.D.) transmitted orally; gradually, the sayings and teachings of Jesus were preserved in written form—a process that likely took place during the years c. 45-60. There are three main lines of tradition in this regard:

    • The Synoptic Tradition, as represented principally by the Gospel of Mark
    • The so-called “Q” (for German Quelle [“source”]) material, and
    • The Johannine Tradition (represented by the Gospel of John)

These are altogether separate lines of tradition, with very little overlap, except insofar as each draws on some of the same historical traditions. For the most part, the Synoptic Tradition and the “Q” Tradition, drew upon separate sets of sayings and parables of Jesus; only occasionally do we find Synoptic and “Q” versions of the same historical tradition. Many scholars assume that “Q” existed as a single written document—that is, as an early written Gospel containing sayings and parables (with little in terms of narrative episodes), arranged and joined together based on common themes and shared words/phrases (“catchword-bonding”). I am not so convinced of the existence of a single, distinct Q-document; however, a parallel to such a theorized document can be found in the Coptic/Gnostic “Gospel of Thomas”.

The Gospels themselves clearly demonstrate the primacy of Jesus’ words and teachings as a source of authority for early Christians. This is further confirmed by the witness of the other New Testament Writings, though actual quotations or citations of sayings by Jesus are much rarer than one might expect. This can explained according to a number of factors.

In the book of Acts, for example, the focus is almost entirely on the early Gospel preaching (cf. the previous study), and on the confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah. The seminal proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel was centered, almost exclusively, on the death, resurrection and exaltation (to heaven) of Jesus; and, the concern of demonstrating Jesus’ Messianic identity prompted the early preachers and missionaries to focus on the Old Testament Scriptures to support this message. The communication of Jesus’ sayings and parables, etc, would have been reserved for the early instruction (by the apostolic missionaries) in the newly-founded congregations. The preaching in Acts is generally located prior to such instruction, and the teaching in the Letters is subsequent to it.

1 Corinthians 7:10-14, 25ff

Paul’s teaching on marriage (and sexual relations) in 1 Corinthians 7 is instructive in terms of the early Christian understanding on the sources of religious authority. Three distinct sources of authority are involved: (1) a command based on Jesus’ words (vv. 10-11), (2) an inspired apostolic directive (vv. 12-14), and (3) an authoritative opinion by an apostle (giving his advice/recommendation, vv. 25ff). Let us consider the first of these:

“And to the (one)s having been married, I give along (this) message—not I, but the Lord—(that) a woman is not to make space (away) [i.e. separate] from her husband” (v. 10)

The verb paragge/llw simply means “give along a message,” but it is often used in the context of transmitting a directive or command, and that is certainly the sense here: the directive is that a woman is not to separate from her husband (and vice versa). Paul claims here that this directive comes from Jesus (“the Lord”) himself, indicating that Paul was aware of the Gospel tradition of Jesus’ teaching regarding divorce (Mark 10:11-12 par; Matt 19:9). Jesus’ teaching is thus the basis for the instruction that Paul gives here, but it is limited to the specific issue in vv. 10-11; for, in the very next verse (12), we read:

“And to the rest (of you) I say—not the Lord—if any brother has a wife…”

In other words, the instruction Paul gives in vv. 12-14 is not based on a transmitted teaching of Jesus, but comes, we may infer, from Paul’s authoritative (and inspired) teaching as an apostle. The implication is that, if a teaching by Jesus is known which directly addresses the issue, then that teaching/saying is given priority. Since no relevant saying was known for the issue in vv. 12-14, Paul had to rely on his own authority as an apostle. This is comparable to a judge or lawyer who cites earlier precedents, when they are on point, as a source of legal authority in making decisions.

Paul speaks even more cautiously regarding the issue in vv. 25ff:

“Now (on the issue) about the virgins, I do not have an order by (the) Lord on (it), but I give (you) a gnw/mh, as (one) having received mercy under (the) Lord, to be (taken as) trustworthy.”

Here he has neither a command from the Lord, nor does he give an apostolic directive, but offers what he calls a trustworthy (pisto/$) gnwmh/. The noun gnwmh/ essentially means “something made known,” usually in the sense of an opinion or advice, etc. Paul’s advice, in this instance, is that believers who are not currently married (or engaged to be married) ought to remain single; yet he is careful not to present this as a directive that needs to be obeyed.

Paul’s tendency to give priority, whenever possible, to sayings/teachings by Jesus, we can assume was commonplace among apostolic missionaries and church leaders. The relative lack of quotations or direct allusions in the New Testament Letters may simply reflect the fact that, for the majority of issues and concerns addressed by the writer, there was no saying or teaching of Jesus, known to the writer, that was on-point.

A notable occurrence of a Jesus tradition cited by Paul is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (cf. also 5:1-7), clearly drawing upon eschatological teaching by Jesus, such as we find in the Synoptic Gospels (see esp. the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus). Other clear allusions to teachings by Jesus are in Rom 12:14-21; 13:8-10 (cf. Gal 5:14); 14:14; 1 Cor 9:14. Many other loose allusions and general parallels (to Jesus’ teaching) can be cited, which demonstrates that, by the 50s A.D. (when Paul was writing), many Christians had assimilated the authoritative teaching of Jesus to the point that it pervaded their own thought and mode of instruction. As a vivid demonstration this, cf. on the letter of James, below.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

A distinctive citation of a Jesus tradition by Paul is found at the heart of his instruction regarding the ‘Lord’s Supper’ in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. In this instruction, Paul addresses problems he sees (and which were reported to him) in how certain believers at Corinth were conducting themselves in relation to the Supper. In particular, their behavior was disrupting the unity of the congregation that should be made manifest through participation in the Supper (vv. 18-22, 33-34). Paul warns that treating the Supper in an unworthy manner was dangerous, and could lead to divine punishment (vv. 27-32).

At the center of this instruction, as a way to exhort his audience to work toward the ideal of unity in their handling of the Supper, Paul cites a Jesus tradition that conforms closely to what we find preserved in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 14:22-24 par). Paul introduces it this way:

“For I received along from the Lord, that which I also gave along to you…” (v. 23)

The chain of tradition is indicated by the use of the parallel verbs paralamba/nw (“take/receive along”) and paradi/dwmi (“give along”). Paul says that he received this tradition “from the Lord”; this should be understood as something that ultimately comes from Jesus (his words), as preserved through the apostolic witness, rather than being the result of a direct revelation to Paul from the risen Christ (cp. 2 Cor 12:9).

For a comparison of 1 Cor 11:24-26 with the Synoptic version, cf. my earlier article in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

The Letter of James

The Letter of James provides a good example of how first-century Christians assimilated the sayings and teachings of Jesus, and how these teachings came to take the place of the Old Testament Scriptures as a primary source of authority for religious and ethical instruction. There are many allusions to Jesus’ teaching throughout the letter, in particular to the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5-7; Luke 6:20-49). In the repeated contrast between the rich/mighty and poor/lowly (1:9-11; 2:1-7, 15-17; 3:6-10; 5:1-5), James would seem to have more in common with the Lukan presentation of Jesus’ teaching, but he does not appear to be directly citing any written Gospel.

This indicates a time when Jesus’ sayings and teachings were widely known and transmitted, but had not yet taken a definitive written form (such as in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain and the so-called Q source; cf. above). Like many early Christians of the period, Jesus’ teachings were authoritative, but not as a written Law to replace the written Torah. There is no indication that the author knew any of the Synoptic Gospels; and, indeed, he may have been writing prior to the publication of the Gospels. Whether or not he was drawing upon some kind of written source, or was simply relying upon oral tradition, is difficult to say.

The similarities between James and the Sermon on the Mount/Plain can be demonstrated as follows:

And, for other similarities/parallels with Jesus’ teaching:

Cf. the commentaries by J. B. Mayor (1913) and Peter H. Davids (NIGTC, Eerdmans:1982, pp. 47-48); also W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (1964, pp. 402-403).

This shows, I think, how fundamentally the author has assimilated Jesus’ teaching, and that it has become the basis for Christian ethical instruction. We see this throughout the New Testament and early Christian tradition—to the extent that the ethical commands and precepts of the Law remain in view for believers, they have been filtered and interpreted through the teachings of Jesus.

Sola Scriptura: Romans 16:25; Hebrews 1:1-2

Sola Scriptura

In our studies thus far, we have seen how the Scriptures (that is, the Old Testament) continued to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a secondary (and supplemental) sense. The primary source of authority was what we may broadly call the Apostolic Tradition. This may seem to contradict the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura; however, to make such an unqualified conclusion would be quite misleading. In point of fact, the Apostolic Tradition was the basis for the development of the inspired writings of the New Testament—and the greater revelation that was contained in those writings, ultimately to be regarded as sacred Scripture by every Christian.

With the passing of the first generation (or two) of apostles, by the end of the 1st century (and into the 2nd), the authoritative Apostolic Tradition had come to be preserved in written form (i.e., the New Testament Scriptures), gradually taking the place of the communication of that Tradition in the person of the apostles themselves (and their representatives). It seems clear, for example, that the publication of the Gospel of John was stimulated by the death of the ‘Beloved Disciple’, the leading apostolic figure of the Johannine Community (Jn 21:20-24). The authority of the apostles was based on their personal connection to Jesus himself.

The very word a)po/stolo$ (apostolos) derives its significance from the fundamental meaning of the verb a)poste/llw (“set [out] from, send forth”). An apostle is someone “sent forth from” Jesus, as his representative, an idea rooted in the early Gospel tradition and the ministry-work of Jesus in Galilee (Mark 3:14-15ff par; 6:7-13 par; Luke 10:1ff). Commissioned and sent out by Jesus, they were given (and possessed) his own divine (and inspired) authority, to preach (the Gospel) and work healing miracles. This formed the pattern for the broader apostolic mission of early Christians (Acts 1:8, 21-22, etc). The earliest congregations were founded by missionary work that was an extension of this apostolic mission, and thus the principal source of religious authority for these 1st-century congregations was the authority of the Apostolic Tradition.

The Apostolic Tradition has three fundamental components:

    1. The proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel
    2. The words of Jesus—sayings, teachings, parables—along with his example (of what he said and did), preserved and transmitted by the apostles to the early congregations (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-4)
    3. The authoritative teaching by the apostles

A study will be devoted to each of these components; we begin with the first of these.

1. The Proclamation (Kerygma) of the Gospel

The “good message” (or “good news”), the eu)agge/lion, or Gospel, has its origins in the preaching of Jesus (Mark 1:14-15 par, et al), being carried on, even during his lifetime, by his disciples, acting as his representatives (i.e., as apostles) (Luke 9:6, etc). However, following the resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus, the “good message” gradually came to take on a distinctive form—as a thumbnail narrative of Jesus’ life and work. The sermon-speeches in Acts preserve examples of this early Gospel proclamation (kerygma). In these speeches, the Gospel narrative is extremely simple, focusing on the death and resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, and only slowly incorporating certain details or aspects of his earthly ministry. Noteworthy examples, representative of the earliest preaching, are: Acts 2:22-24, 29ff, 36; 3:13-15; 4:27ff; 5:30-32; 10:37-42; 13:26-32. It is easy to see how these simple narrative statements, over time (c. 35-60 A.D.), would develop into the larger narratives of the Gospels.

It must be emphasized that, from the very beginning, this Gospel proclamation held primary authority for early Christians, taking precedence over the Old Testament Scriptures. This can be seen already in the way that the Scriptures supplement (and support) the kerygma in the sermon-speeches (on this, cf. the earlier study, and throughout the series “The Speeches of Acts”). The revelation of the inspired Old Testament Scriptures (i.e., of the old covenant) are thus subordinate to the Gospel; they continue to hold authority for Christians, primarily, insofar as they point the way to the greater revelation of Christ (in the new covenant).

There are a number of New Testament passages, many of which were written when the composition and development of Gospels was still in its very early stages, which indicate that the proclamation of the Gospel (with its seminal narrative) was being compared with the Scriptures—being on a par with them, and even altogether surpassing them in many important ways. I wish to examine a couple of these passages briefly.

Romans 16:25-26

“And to Him having the power to set you firm(ly), according to my good message [eu)agge/lion] and the proclamation [kh/rugma] of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to the uncovering of (the) secret [musth/rion] having been kept silent in (the) times (of) ages (past), but now (hav)ing been made to shine (forth) even through (the) writings of (the) Foretellers, according to (the) arrangement of (the) God of the Ages, unto hearing under trust, unto all the nations, having been made known…”

The authenticity of the doxology in Rom 16:25-27 continues to be debated, with many commentators convinced that it was neither originally part of Romans, nor written by Paul. Even if this were granted, the wording reflects genuine Pauline thought (and style), as well as the thought-world of Christians in the mid-to-late 1st century. Three key nouns are used which are largely synonymous in context: (1) eu)agge/lion (“good message,” i.e., Gospel), (2) kh/rugma (“proclamation,” transliterated as a technical term, kerygma), and (3) musth/rion (“secret,” i.e., mystery). All three are important early Christian terms, and they all refer to the seminal message (and narrative) of the Gospel. The expressions and phrases that contain these words are also closely related:

    • “my good message” —i.e., the good news of Christ that is preached by apostles like Paul
    • “the proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed” —the genitive can be understood in either a subjective sense (Jesus’ preaching) or objective sense (preaching about Jesus), or both.
    • “the uncovering of the secret kept silent…” —the noun a)poka/luyi$ (“removal of the cover from, uncovering”) emphasizes that the Gospel is a divine (and inspired) revelation, akin to the prophetic revelations (by God) during the time of the old covenant (cf. below).

The use of the term musth/rion (“secret”) in this respect is authentically Pauline (1 Cor 2:1, 7; 4:1; 13:2; 14:2; 15:51; cf. also 2 Thess 2:7), though it is perhaps more prominent in the disputed letters of Colossians (1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3) and Ephesians (1:9; 3:3-4, 9; 5:32; 6:19). For more on the meaning, background, and use of the term, see my earlier word study. Indeed, of the three terms, musth/rion has the greatest theological significance. Here, it relates to a distinction between the two ages or dispensations—the old and new covenants, respectively—that is fundamental to early Christian thought:

    • Old Covenant (periods of time/ages past): the Gospel-secret has been “kept silent/hidden” (verb siga/w)
    • New Covenant (“now”): it has been “made to shine forth” (vb fanero/w), i.e., has been made manifest, revealed, and has at last “been made known” (vb gnwri/zw).

The Gospel proclamation is expounded out of the Old Testament Scriptures (“writings of the Prophets”), which is fully in accord with the earliest Christian preaching and teaching, even going back to the teaching of Jesus himself. The Scriptures (especially the Psalms and the books of the Prophets) contained, in a secret and hidden way, the seeds of the Gospel (e.g., Gal 3:8); but it required the new inspired revelation of the apostles in order to “uncover” and make known this secret. On this basis alone, the Gospel represents a superior kind of revelation, however it is rooted in the Scriptures and supported by them. Indeed, without the New Covenant revelation, people remain blind to the true meaning of the Scriptures (2 Cor 3:14-16, etc).

Hebrews 1:1-2

“(In) many parts and many ways (in times) of old, God (was) speaking to the Fathers by the Foretellers, (but) upon (the) end of these days He spoke to us by a Son, whom He set (as one) to receive the lot of all (thing)s, through whom also He made the Ages…”

The same dispensational contrast—between the old and new covenants—serves as a key theme that runs throughout Hebrews, and it is established at the very beginning of the introduction (exordium, 1:1-4). It marks the current time—i.e., of the first generation(s) of believers—as a turning point, marking the beginning of a New Age (= new covenant), and presenting  a clear dividing line between the time now and all that has gone before:

    • Old Covenant: “(in times) of old [pa/lai]” —God spoke through the Prophets
    • New Covenant: “at the end [e)p’ e)sxa/tou] of these days,” that is, in the eschatological present time—God has spoken through His Son

There is a clear contrastive parallel here between the Prophets and Jesus (the Son of God), as the source of divine-inspired revelation (communicating the word of God) in each dispensation (and covenant), respectively. The superiority of the revelation in the person of Jesus is obvious, and the author develops the point systematically throughout his work. Here, this superiority is expressed by contrasting the singular revelation in Jesus with the multifaceted way that God spoke through the many different Prophets. For Jews and Christians in the first-century, of course, the revelation through the Prophets (in the old covenant) was known only through its preservation in the Scriptures (the Prophetic writings, including the Psalms). The Torah (Pentateuch) doubtless would also be included, but emphasis is given on the Prophetic oracles as the vehicle for God’s revelation.

The comparison between Jesus and the Prophets, as well as the idea of God speaking (vb lale/w), might suggest that it is the words of Jesus that are primarily in view here. The preserved words and teachings of Jesus are certainly a key component of the authoritative Apostolic Tradition (cf. above), and will be discussed in the next study; however, I believe that a much more comprehensive and holistic view of the Tradition is being expressed here. This can be affirmed by what follows in vv. 2-4, beginning with the statement that God “set” (vb ti/qhmi) Jesus (His Son) to be the “heir of all things”. This phrase reflects the fundamental Gospel tenet of the exaltation of Jesus (to the right hand of God in heaven) following his resurrection (Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56 [cf. Mk 14:62 par]; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1, etc). The earliest Christology was unquestionably an exaltation-Christology, focusing almost entirely on Jesus’ deity, and identity as the Son of God, in terms of his resurrection (and exaltation) by God the Father. However, by the time Hebrews was written (c. 70 A.D.?), early Christians had begun to evince a pre-existence-Christology as well, and Hebrews combines both of these Christologies (e.g., the ‘Christ-hymn’ in vv. 2-4, on which cf. my earlier study; cp. also the study on Philippians 2:6-11.

In any case, the point is that the declaration in v. 2b is a key component of the Gospel kerygma; thus, the contrast between the Prophets and Jesus can also be understood as a contrast between the Prophets and the Gospel. And, from the standpoint of our study, it is important to note that the written record of the Gospel (taking shape during the years c. 35-90 A.D.) forms a close parallel to the written record of the Prophets (in the Old Testament Scriptures).

Statements such as those in Rom 16:25-26 and Heb 1:2 thus are seminal (and foundational) for establishing the authority of the New Testament Scriptures. And, the authority of these new Scriptures (of the new covenant), while being on a par with the old Scriptures—in terms of their divine/prophetic inspiration and revelatory content—far surpasses that of the old. This is a vital principle that must be maintained—for believers, the new covenant in Christ (manifest through the presence of the Spirit) has entirely eclipsed the authority of the old covenant (cf. 2 Corinthians 3).

Sola Scriptura: Romans 3:10-20; 9:24-29; 15:7-13

Sola Scriptura

Romans 3:10-20; 9:24-29; 15:7-13

As we have discussed in the previous studies in this series (on the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura), the Old Testament Scriptures continued to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a secondary (not primary) sense. The principal purpose of the Scriptures was to support the Gospel preaching and the identification of Jesus as the Messiah. This was especially important within the context of the earliest mission. In order to convince their fellow Israelites and Jews of the Gospel, it was necessary for the early missionaries to demonstrate, from the Scriptures, that Jesus is the promised Messiah. In particular, the fact of Jesus’ suffering and death was so unusual and problematic for the Messianic identification, that it had to be explained. Moreover, Jesus departed to heaven without ever fulfilling many of things expected of the Messiah. Thus, for the purpose of the mission, it was vital to find every relevant Scripture that would support the Christian view. We can see this as a key point of emphasis throughout the book of Acts (3:18ff; 5:42; 8:26-40; 9:22; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 24:14; 26:22ff; 28:23); and, according to the Gospel of Luke (24:25, 27, 32, 44-45ff), the process of locating the relevant Scriptures began with Jesus himself. It is fair to assume that the early missionaries had access to (written) collections of these Scripture references, for use in their preaching and teaching; it is possible that the ‘parchments’ mentioned in 2 Tim 4:13 functioned as a notebook, containing this kind of information.

We have already seen this use of Scripture by early Christians in the context of the apostolic preaching (the sermon-speeches) in the book of Acts (cf. the earlier study, and throughout the series “The Speeches of Acts”). In the longer speeches (i.e., Peter’s Pentecost speech [2:14-41], and Paul’s speech at Antioch [13:16-52]), we find a sequence of Scripture citations applied in support of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma). In several New Testament Writings, these sequences take a more precise and compact form—in a homiletical and literary genre known as a Scripture “chain” (catena), sometimes also referred to as the testimonia (testimonies) genre. In this format, Scripture verses are strung together, according to a common theme, or (more commonly), by way of “catchword-bonding”—that is, associations of verses, which may otherwise be entirely unrelated, based on the presence of shared words or phrases.

The Scripture-chain (Catena), as used in the New Testament, is a distinctly Jewish genre; and it is no coincidence that the two books in which Scripture-chains features most prominently—Romans and Hebrews (cf. also 1 Peter)—were written to Jewish Christians. The congregations at Rome seem to have included both Gentile and Jewish believers (cf. below), certainly much more so than the other Pauline churches in Greece, Macedonia, and Asia Minor to which he wrote. For Israelites and Jews, the Old Testament Scriptures had primary authority, and thus, in writing to Jewish believers, it was reasonable to make frequent use of the Scriptures, citing them even in a shorthand fashion.

An earlier contemporary example is known from Qumran—specifically, the “Testimonia” text from cave 4 (4Q175, also referred to as 4QTest[imonia]). We only have fragments of what presumably was a larger text; but what survives contains a series of Scripture quotations from passages that were given a Messianic interpretation—most notably, Deut 18:18-19 and Num 24:15-17, along with Deut 5:28-29; 33:8-11, and an interpretive expansion based on Josh 6:26.  The surviving portions of the “Florilegium” text (4Q174) have a similar character. Though more in the nature of a Midrashic commentary, 4Q174 contains a sequence of Scripture citations, interpreted in a Messianic (and eschatological) context. The earliest Christian Scripture-chains would have been used for much the same purpose—to show that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah promised by God, and that the things currently taking place among believers marked the beginning of the New (Messianic) Age.

However, in Romans, Paul’s use of the Scripture-chain device has a somewhat different focus. What the chains demonstrate, we may say, is Paul’s view of the implications of the Gospel for humankind. In particular, they relate to the important theme of Jewish-Gentile unity in Romans. The three Scripture-chains span the lengthy body of the letter and evince something of Paul’s development of his theme. We may summarize this as follows:

    • 3:9-20—Jews and Gentiles are equally in bondage to the power of sin (prior to receiving the Gospel)
    • 9:24-29—Through trust in Jesus, many Gentiles have come to be part of the new People of God, along a faithful remnant from Israel (with promise of a more widespread conversion)
    • 15:7-13—In Christ, Gentile and Jewish believers are united as the People of God

Let us examine briefly each of these Scripture chains.

Romans 3:9-20

This first chain marks the climax of the first major section of the letter (1:18-3:20), containing the opening lines of argument that prove the central proposition in 1:16-17. The upshot of this entire line of argument is summarized in 3:9, with Paul having made the claim for:

“both Yehudeans {Jews} and Greeks [i.e. Gentiles], all (of them), to be under sin”

The expression “under sin” (u(f’ a(marti/an) is a shorthand for “under the power of sin” (i.e., in bondage to sin), and refers to the condition of Jews and Gentiles—that is, all humankind—prior to receiving the Gospel of Christ. Paul’s arguments in chapters 2-4 are specifically directed to Israelites and Jews, making the principal point that a person is not made right (in God’s eyes) through obeying the regulations of the Law (Torah), but only through trust in Jesus. This relates to Paul’s view of the Torah that he expresses vigorously (and with more polemic) in Galatians. He repeats much of this same line of argument in Romans, but giving to it a wider scope and more expansive treatment. In particular, there is a profound theological development of the Pauline view in chapters 5-7. It is notable, however, that this first section in Romans closes with a pointed statement regarding the Law that matches what we find in Galatians:

“…since out of [i.e. by] works of (the) Law all flesh shall not be made right in His sight, for through (the) Law (comes) knowledge about sin.” (3:20)

Paul’s view of the main purpose of the Torah regulations runs contrary to the traditional Jewish view. Rather than leading to people being made right with God, what the Torah regulations ultimately do is to show that people are in bondage to sin. Paradoxically, the more faithfully and devoutly one attempts to fulfill the Torah regulations, the more vividly it is revealed that one is in bondage to sin (cf. Paul’s provocative discussion in chapter 7).

This fact is itself proved by the whole testimony of the Scriptures, and Paul draws upon the authority of the (Old Testament) Scriptures to make his point—which he does through the chain of references in vv. 10-18, beginning with the declaration “Just as it has been written…” (v. 10). With one or two exceptions, all the Scriptures Paul cites in the three chains come from the “Prophets” (i.e., the Psalms and Prophetic books).

The first Scripture citation apparently comes from Ecclesiastes 7:20, which is unusual, and suggests that the authoritative/inspired Scriptures for first-century Christians may have included the Wisdom books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job), in addition to the Pentateuch and Prophets/Psalms. If Paul is citing Ecclesiastes here in v. 10, he does so loosely, as a simple declaration of his theme:

“There is not (anyone) right(eous), not even one”
ou)k e&stin di/kaio$ ou)de\ ei!$

The LXX, which more or less accurately renders the Hebrew, reads:

“there is not a right(eous) man on the earth, who will do good and will not sin”

Assuming it is a citation, Paul omits a&nqrwpo$ (“man”) and adds the phrase ou)de\ ei!$ (“not even one”). The Scriptures that follow essentially expound and flesh out this keynote verse:

    • Verse 11Psalm 14:2 (cf 53:1). Again the LXX accurately translates the Hebrew, and Paul’s wording represents an adaptation:
      “…to see if there is (one) putting things together [i.e. understanding] and seeking out God” (LXX)
      “there is not (any one) putting things together and seeking out God” (Paul)
    • Verse 12Psalm 14:3, a continuation of the same citation, here following the LXX more precisely
    • Verse 13Psalm 5:10, along with 140:4, again corresponding to the LXX
    • Verse 14Psalm 10:7 [LXX 9:28], Paul’s wording represents an abridgment, though essentially using the same words as the LXX
    • Verses 15-17Isaiah 59:7-8. It is possible that v. 15 could also allude to Prov 1:16, which would count as another citation from the Wisdom books (cf. above); more likely, however, the Isaiah passage is in view throughout. Again, Paul’s words represent a simplification or abridgment. Verse 16 quotes Isa 59:7b according to the LXX, as also v. 17 (of Isa 59:8), with only a slight difference.
    • Verse 18Psalm 36:2b, exactly according to the LXX. In many ways, this blunt declaration (“there is not [any] fear of God in front of their eyes”) provides an effective bookend to the initial statement in v. 10, and showing how the bondage to sin (of all humankind) leads to a more extreme and thorough kind of wickedness.
Romans 9:24-29

The second Scripture-chain is part of Paul’s discussion in chapters 9-11, regarding the relationship between Gentiles and Jews, in terms of the overall plan of God, as it is realized (from an eschatological standpoint) in the context of the early Christian mission. These chapters, in particular, are laced throughout with Scripture quotations and allusions; in every section one finds multiple references. The main reason for this lies, I think, in the nature of Paul’s subject matter. He addresses a complex and difficult question which must have burdened every thoughtful Jewish believer: why have so many (the vast majority) of Israelites and Jews (God’s people) rejected or been unwilling to accept the Gospel of Christ? In his three-part treatise here in chaps. 9-11, Paul attempts to provide an answer, one in keeping with his overall theme of Gentile-Jewish unity in Christ.

According to Paul’s line of argument, expounded in chapters 9-10, God has allowed the hearts of Israelites and Jews to be hardened (so as to be unable/unwilling to trust in Jesus) for the express purpose of facilitating the mission to the Gentiles. The Jewish rejection of the Gospel has opened the door for the message to be proclaimed to Gentiles throughout the Roman world—which just happens to be the focus of Paul’s own missionary work (as an ‘apostle to the Gentiles’). Once this mission to the Gentiles is complete, then Paul foresees a time ahead (relatively soon), at the return of Jesus (or just prior), when the hearts of Israelites and Jews (collectively) would finally turn to accept the truth of Christ. Paul discusses this eschatological process (and event) in chapter 11. For more this aspect of chaps. 9-11, cf. my earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Paul’s overall theme of the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers is expressed well in 9:24, a statement that leads into his Scripture chain:

“(so) even (for) us whom He (has) called—not only out of (the) Yehudeans {Jews}, but also out of the nations [i.e. Gentiles]”

God has called Gentiles to join with that ‘faithful remnant’ of Israelites and Jews who have accepted the Gospel and trusted in Jesus. Paul cites a chain of four Scriptures (from the Prophets) in support of this statement: (1) Hosea 2:25 (v. 25), (2) Hosea 2:1 (v. 26), (3) Isaiah 10:22-23 [conflated with a form of Isa 28:22b] (vv. 27-28), and (4) Isaiah 1:9 (v. 29). Paul generally cites these Scriptures according to the text of the LXX, though the conflation of Isa 10:23 and 28:22 in v. 28 produces a notable difference. Also Isa 10:22 has been abridged and modified slightly, under the influence of the previously cited Hos 2:1. Similarly, the quotation of Hos 2:25 also diverges, due to the influence from the wording in Hos 1:9.

Paul applies the Hosea passages, which originally referred to the Israelite people, to the Gentiles and the context of the Gentile mission. Those who are not the people of God (“not my people”, i.e. the Gentiles) have now become His people. This is instructive for a proper understanding of the early Christian view of the authority of Scripture, and how it is subordinated to the higher revelation of the Gospel. There are many instances where the New Testament authors (and speakers) quote the Scripture quite out of context, even altering and modifying the text in various ways, in order to bring out the prophetic connection with the Gospel and the life-situation of early believers.

Interestingly, the setting here in chapters 9-11, would certainly allow for an interpretation of Hos 2:25, etc, in its original context—viz., as a promise of the future restoration of Israel, when they would return to faithfulness (according to the covenant) and become God’s people once again. Though there may currently be only a ‘remnant’ who trust in Jesus (the Isaian prophecies in vv. 27-29), Paul envisions a time in the not-too-distant future, before the end, when there would be a (miraculous) widespread conversion and acceptance of the Gospel (chap. 11).

Romans 15:7-13

The final Scripture chain comes at the close of the body of the letter, and at the end of the practical instruction and exhortation in 12:1-15:13. It is thus a fitting moment for Paul to re-emphasize his important theme of unity in Christ for all believers, Jews and Gentiles alike. He expresses this in a joyous manner, in vv. 7-9, as he leads into the Scripture citations (vv. 9-12). Again he emphasizes how the Gentiles’ acceptance of the Gospel has been prophesied beforehand in the Scriptures. The passages he cites are:

    • Verse 9Psalm 18:50 [= 2 Sam 22:50], corresponding to the LXX, which more or less accurately represents the Hebrew. The idea of the Psalmist acknowledging (and confessing) the greatness of God among the nations is certainly fitting as a prophetic foreshadowing of the missionary work of apostles like Paul himself, proclaiming the Gospel among the Gentiles.
    • Verses 10-11Deut 32:43, combined with Psalm 117:1. The Psalms reference largely matches the LXX, while the quotation from Deuteronomy differs from both the LXX and the Hebrew original. In some ways, Paul’s version is a conflation of the Hebrew and LXX (which reflects a variant Hebrew text, cf. 4QDeutq):
      “Cry out (for joy), O nations, with (regard to) His people…” (MT)
      “Rejoice, O heavens together with Him, and let all the sons of God give homage/worship to Him” (LXX)
      In Paul’s version, the nations praise God together with His people (Israel), thus making the passage a prophecy of Jewish and Gentile unity in Christ.
    • Verse 12Isaiah 11:10, in an abridged form of the LXX. This passage is a key Messianic prophecy recognized by Jews (and early Christians) in the first century. The idea of the Messiah’s rule over the nations, of course, takes on an entirely new significance in a Christian context.

Paul’s theme of Jewish-Gentile unity in Romans is informed, at least in part, by his project of collecting relief money (from the congregations in Greece and Macedonia) to bring to the poor and oppressed believers in Judea. This project (his ‘collection for the saints’) has just recently been completed, and he anticipates journeying to Jerusalem to deliver the money (vv. 25-29). This was a momentous occasion for Paul, and he viewed the collection as an important symbol of the unity (in Christ) between Jews and Gentiles.

Sola Scriptura: Mark 10:17-22 par; Romans 13:8-10

Sola Scriptura

In order to have a proper understanding of the early Christian view of Scripture, it is necessary to pay close attention to the development of this view within the early Tradition, with its roots in the Gospel tradition, going back to the words of Jesus. The place of Scripture in early Christianity cannot be separated from the role of the Law (Torah) for early believers, since the Law represents one major division (i.e., the Pentateuch) of the Old Testament Scriptures. We have already examined certain aspects of the Law in Jesus’ teaching, and the influence of this teaching among early Christians. Let us now consider this influence further, illustrated through comparison of a key Gospel (Synoptic) tradition with a passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Mark 10:17-22 par

The episode of the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ is found in all three Synoptic Gospels (Mark 10:17-22; Matthew 19:16-22; Luke 18:18-23), and, within the Synoptic narrative, it is one of the last episodes before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (and the beginning of the Passion narrative). The authority of the Scriptures is quite clearly expressed by Jesus, and generally corresponds with his teaching in Matt 5:17-20 (discussed in an earlier study in this series). The young man asks Jesus: “What should I do (so) that I might receive the lot of [i.e. inherit] (the) life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life]?” (Mk 10:17; Lk 18:18 par). Jesus’ answer is simple and direct: “You have known the (thing)s (laid) on you to complete” —that is, “You know what is required of you to do”. The noun e)ntolh/, usually translated concisely (but flatly) as “commandment”, properly denotes a duty that someone is obligated to fulfill. Within Judaism, the noun (usually in the plural, e)ntolai/) refers specifically to the regulations in the Torah, recorded (in written form) in the Pentateuch.

Jesus’ unqualified reference to ‘the commandments’ is certainly meant in a general and comprehensive sense—that is, to all of the Torah regulations and requirements. However, the requirements that he specifically mentions are focused entirely on the ethical side of the Law, as represented by the second part of the ‘Ten Words’ (Ten Commandments, Decalogue). The five commandments cited (Lk 18:20 par) comprise most of the social-ethical side of the Decalogue (Exod 20:12-16; Deut 5:16-20), including the command to honor one’s parents. Matthew’s version (at 19:19b) also includes the command to love one’s neighbor (Lev 19:18b), which is telling from the standpoint of the early Christian view of the Law (cf. below). The lack of any mention of the ritual-ceremonial side of the Law is also most significant, and is typical of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. In only one instance (Mark 1:40-44 par Lk 5:12-14; Matt 8:1-4) does Jesus instruct a disciple (or potential disciple) to observe the ritual regulations of the Torah (a second ambiguous instance could also be cited, Matthew 17:24-27). For the most part, the ritual-ceremonial parts of the Torah are devalued or simply ignored in the early Christian Tradition; essentially, only the social-ethical commands are preserved as authoritative for early believers, and, in particular, those of the Ten Commandments. As the episode in Mk 10:17-22 makes clear, this emphasis can be traced back to the teachings of Jesus.

At the same time, Jesus confirms that being his disciple requires something even more than fulfilling the (ethical) demands of the Torah (cp. Matt 5:20):

“One (thing) is lacking for you: Lead yourself under [i.e. go away], sell as many (thing)s as you hold and give (the money) to [the] poor, and you will hold treasure in heaven, and (then) come follow me!” (Mk 10:21 par)

This has important implications for believers, as it may be said to represent the beginning of the early Christian tendency to place being a disciple of Jesus above fulfilling the Torah regulations. The Torah (and the Pentateuch Scriptures containing it) may continue to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a qualified sense, and only in relation to the greater duty of following the teaching and example of Jesus himself. For more on the subject of the Jesus’ view of the Torah, cf. the articles in my earlier series, which includes a convenient survey of the relevant Gospel passages.

Romans 13:8-10

Paul’s brief discussion regarding the Law in Romans 13:8-10 well illustrates the early Christian tendency mentioned above, and also shows something of the way that the Christian view of the Law (Torah and Pentateuch) developed from the Gospel Tradition (sayings/teaching of Jesus). The extent of this development can be seen clearly enough from Paul’s words in verse 8:

“Owe nothing to no one, if not to love each other; for the (one) loving the other (person) has fulfilled the Law.”

On the surface, this could simply mean believers should fulfill the command of Leviticus 19:18b (included in Matthew’s version of the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ episode, cf. above), as if it were simply one of the many Torah regulations we are required to observe. However, Paul clearly has something else in mind—namely that the ‘love command’ serves to represent in itself all of the Torah regulations, and effectively replaces them for believers. Note what Paul says in verse 9:

“For the (requirement) ‘you shall not commit adultery,’ ‘you shall not murder,’ ‘you shall not steal,’ ‘you shall not set your (heart) on (anything belonging to your neighbor),’ and if (there is) any other thing (laid) on (you) to complete [e)ntolh/], it is gathered up (under one) head: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

For believers, there is essentially just one command—the greatest command, the love-command—that we are required to obey. All other commands and regulations (from the Torah) are contained and comprehended within this single duty (e)ntolh/) to love. This view is hardly unique to Paul, but is part of a much wider teaching throughout early Christianity. It goes back to Jesus’ own teaching (esp. Mark 12:28-34; cf. also Matt 5:43-44ff par; 7:12 par), is referenced on more than one occasion by Paul (cf. below), is expounded clearly in the letter of James (2:8-13), and can be found prominently in the Johannine tradition (Jn 13:34-35; 14:15ff; 15:9-10, 12-13ff; 17:26; 1 Jn 2:5, 10, 15; 3:10-11ff, 17-18, 23; 4:7-12ff, 20-21; 5:1-3; 2 Jn 5-6).

To be clear, the essential early Christian teaching in this regard, as it developed, was that the entire Law is fulfilled when one obeys the ‘love command’ :

“Love does not work ill for the neighbor; therefore love is (the) fulfilling [plh/rwma] of the Law.” (v. 10)

By this, Paul means that, since one who loves others will do nothing bad against them, all of the social-ethical requirements of the Torah will automatically be fulfilled, and thus are no longer necessary. This means that the authority of the Torah (and thus also the Scriptures that contain it) is no longer the same for believers in Christ. The Law/Pentateuch continues to be authoritative for early Christians, but its authority is no longer primary. In place of the Law, there are two higher sources of authority—(1) the ‘love command’ as embodied by the teaching and example of Jesus, and (2) the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Paul does not specifically mention the Spirit here, but he certainly understands it as the source of the  Divine love that guides our thoughts and actions (5:5). He brings out the role of the Spirit much more clearly and strongly in Galatians, where his similar discussion of the ‘love command’ (as replacing/fulfilling the Torah, Gal 5:6, 13-14) is connected with the guiding presence of the Spirit (vv. 16-26). These two sources of authority—love and the Spirit—are primary over the Torah (and the Scriptures).

Even so, it must be emphasized that, for early Christians of the first-century, the Old Testament Scriptures continued to be authoritative, if only in a secondary and supplemental way. This can be illustrated from dozens of passages and references in the New Testament, but perhaps the best examples are found in the ‘Scripture-chains’ that early missionaries and Church leaders utilized in their preaching and teaching. We will examine one such chain (catena) of Scripture—perhaps the most famous in the New Testament—in our next study, continuing in Paul’s letter to the Romans. At the same time, mention will be made of the other chains in the New Testament, and of parallels in contemporary Jewish writings.

 

Sola Scriptura: Acts 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35

Sola Scriptura

In our previous studies in this series, we examined the early Christian view of Scripture as represented within the Gospel Tradition. In particular, the core of that view can be traced back to sayings and teachings by Jesus himself. For the early Christians, as for Jesus, the Old Testament Scriptures can be summarized by the two-fold categorization “the Law and the Prophets”. By this is meant the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) and the Prophetic books (Isaiah–Malachi), with the latter category also including the Psalms. The extent to which the other Old Testament books were similarly regarded as authoritative Scripture remains uncertain.

The Torah continued to be authoritative for early Christians; however, increasingly, its authority came to be rooted in the teaching of Jesus—that is, the Law as interpreted by Jesus. With regard to the Prophetic writings, their authority was expressed primarily in terms of the various Messianic prophecies recorded, which were applied to the person of Jesus as the Messiah (including all of the Messianic figure-types). There were some unique difficulties surrounding the application of the Messianic prophecies to Jesus—related principally to his suffering and death, which were not at all part of the Messianic expectation by Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Moreover, though Jesus was raised gloriously from the dead, he departed from earth (to heaven) without fulfilling many of the end-time Messianic expectations. All of this was sensed keenly by the first Christians (cf. Acts 1:6ff, etc), and, if they were ever to convince their fellow Jews of the truth that Jesus was the Messiah, they would need to demonstrate, through the authority of the Scripture prophecies, that the suffering and death (and resurrection) of the Messiah was prophesied in Scripture.

As we saw in the previous study, the seeds of this line of interpretation go back to the words of Jesus himself, and are firmly rooted in the Gospel Tradition. In particular, the Gospel of Luke gives special emphasis to the importance of the Messianic prophecies (24:25, 27, 32, 44-45ff), and this continues as a key theme in the book of Acts. All throughout the narrative, there are key references to the work done by the early missionaries to prove, from the Scriptures, that Jesus is the Messiah—cf. 3:18ff; 5:42; 9:22; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 24:14; 26:22ff; 28:23. A clear example is found in the episode of Philip and the Ethiopian official (8:26-40), where the prophecy in Isa 52:13-53:12 (vv. 7-8) is interpreted and applied to Jesus (vv. 32-35).

Acts 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35

Such Scripture citations also feature prominently in the sermon-speeches of Acts—especially those in the first half of the book (chaps. 1-15) presented as being preached or spoken in a Jewish setting. I have treated these speeches at length and in detail in a separate series (“The Speeches of Acts”). Here, to give a representative example of the early Christian use of the Old Testament Scriptures (the Prophets), and how the authority of the Scriptures was treated (and utilized) in a missionary context, let us turn to the famous Pentecost speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-41, cf. Parts 2 and 3 of “The Speeches of Acts”).

The speech itself may be divided into three main sections, each of which begins with a (vocative) address to the crowd, according to three parallel expressions:

    • a&ndre$  )Ioudai=oi—Men, Yehudeans [i.e. Judeans, men of Judea]!… (v. 14)
    • a&ndre$  )Israhli=tai—Men, Yisraelis [i.e. Israelites, men of Israel]!… (v. 22)
    • a&ndre$ a)delfoi/—Men, Brothers!… (v. 29)

The variation may be merely stylistic, but it is also possible that a progression is intended—from geographic (Judea) to ethnic-national (Israel) to a more intimate familial designation (Brothers). Here is an outline of the three sections, according to the pattern of the sermon-speeches of Acts:

Section 1 (verses 14-21)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Judeans…” (vv. 14-16), leading into the Scripture citation. There is no direct kerygma other than to turn the attention of the crowd to the current phenomenon they are experiencing, that it is a fulfillment of Scripture. But note also the concluding citation of Joel 2:32a in verse 21.
    • Citation from Scripture: Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 in Hebrew] (vv. 17-21); the specific citation will be discussed in more detail below.
    • {There is no specific exposition given or concluding exhortation in this section—application of the Scripture is implicit}

Section 2 (verses 22-28)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Israelites…” (vv. 22-24), leading into the Scripture citation. It contains a clear kerygmatic statement, which I have already discussed in a prior note, but will treat again in the context of the Scripture passage (below).
    • Citation from Scripture: Psalm 16:8-11 [LXX 15:8-11] (vv. 25-28), to be discussed in detail.
    • {Again there is no specific exposition or concluding exhortation in this section—the exposition is picked up in the next section}

Section 3 (verses 29-36)

    • Introductory address: “Men, Brothers…” (vv. 29-33). This introductory portion contains an exposition of Psalm 16:8-11 in vv. 29-31, along with a kerygmatic statement in vv. 32-33, which leads into the Scripture citation.
    • Citation from Scripture: Psalm 110:1 [LXX 109:1] (vv. 34-35), to be discussed.
    • Exposition and Gospel kerygma: This is contained within a single, solemn declaratory statement (v. 36)

As the Scripture citation is central to each section of the speech, it is important to examine each in turn; this will be done according to:

    1. The Text
    2. The Exposition/Application (as understood or expressed by the speaker and/or author)
    3. Kerygmatic statement or formulae

Scripture Citation #1: Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5, Hebrew]

The Text.—The quotation from Joel closely follows the Greek (LXX) version, with the following notable variations:

    • “in the last days” (e)n tai=$ e)sxa/tai$ h(me/rai$) instead of “after these things” (meta\ tau=ta) [verse 17 / 2:28]
    • the positions of “young ones/men” (oi( neani/skoi) and “old ones/men” (oi( presbu/teroi) are reversed
    • the addition of “my” (mou) to “slave men” and “slave women” [i.e. male and female slaves] (dou=lo$/dou/lh) [verse 18 / 2:29]—indicating that these are slaves/servants of the Lord.
    • the addition of “and they will foretell [i.e. prophesy]” (kai\ profhteu/sousin)—this repeats what is stated in verse 17 [2:28], and gives added emphasis on the theme of prophesying (see below).
    • the addition of “up above” (a&nw) and “down below” (ka/tw) [verse 19 / 2:30]
    • the last portion of Joel 2:32 [3:5] as been left out: “so that in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be the (one) being saved, according to that (which) the Lord said, and they are (ones) being given the good message [eu)aggelizo/menoi], (those) whom the Lord has called toward (Himself)” (translating from the LXX; eu)aggelizo/menoi is a misreading of the Hebrew <yd!yr!c=b^ [“among the survivors”])

In some manuscripts the quotation conforms more precisely with the LXX (as in the Alexandrian text represented by codex B), but this is likely a secondary ‘correction’; the version of the quotation which has been adapted to the context of the speech (especially in vv. 17-18) is almost certainly original. Overall the LXX here reflects a fairly accurate translation from the Hebrew. At the historical level, one would expect that Peter might rather have quoted from the Hebrew—if so, it is understandable that the author (trad. Luke) might simply substitute in the LXX (with some modification). On the (critical) theory that the speech is primarily a Lukan composition (set in the mouth of Peter), adapting the Greek version would be a natural approach.

The Exposition/Application.—No exposition is given by Peter, other than the statement that events of the moment are a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (v. 16). It is interesting to consider how Peter (and/or the author of Acts) applies this prophecy to the current situation. The phenomenon of speaking in tongues, though the principal occasion of the crowd’s amazement, appears to be only marginally connected with the prophecy. I would say that there are three main points of contact which are being emphasized:

    • God’s sending his Spirit upon the believers, and their being filled with the Spirit
    • That believers—both men and women—will prophesy
    • This pouring out of the Spirit specifically indicates it is the last days

In many ways, this passage represents (along with Jeremiah 31:31-34) the keystone Old Testament prophecy regarding the “new age” (the New Covenant) inaugurated by the work of Jesus Christ. Consider the elements which are combined in this passage:

    • That God is doing a new thing, pouring out of his Spirit upon all people—young and old, men and women, slave and free alike (cf. Gal 3:28).
    • That God’s people will now be guided directly by the Spirit (on this theme, cf. Jer 31:34; 1 John 2:27).
    • Even the least of His people will be able to prophesy—that is, speak the revelatory word or message of God (in this regard, note the interesting passage Num 11:24-29).
    • This signifies that it is the “last days” (i.e. the end times)
    • Salvation (in Christ) is being proclaimed to all people

This is also an instance where the New Testament speaker/author has been relatively faithful to the original historical context of the prophecy. Consider the place of this prophecy in the book of Joel:

    • Joel 1:2-20: A lamentation for the land which has been desolated by a locust invasion (probably symbolic of a enemy military invasion)
    • Joel 2:1-11: Announcement to Judah/Jerusalem of an impending enemy invasion, with eschatological characteristics—it is God’s own judgment on the land, signifying the “day of YHWH” (verse 11)
      • Joel 2:12-17: A call to repentance for all the people in the land
    • Joel 2:18-27: A declaration that God will restore the fertility and bounty of the land, bringing blessing back to the people (described in material terms, as recovery from the locust attack)
    • Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 Heb]: A promise of spiritual blessing (i.e. the pouring out of God’s own Spirit) upon the all the people in the land—this will follow after the material blessing and restoration mentioned previously, and relates specifically to the survivors (i.e. the remnant) of the judgment (v. 32 [3:5]).
    • Joel 3:1-16 [4:1-16 Heb]: Announcement of God’s judgment on the Nations (following the restoration of Judah/Jerusalem, v. 1)—again this signifies the eschatological “day of YHWH” (v. 14, cf. 2:11).
      • Joel 3:17-21 [4:17-21 Heb]: The future fates of Judah/Jerusalem and the Nations are contrasted.

It could also be outlined more simply as:

    • 1:20-2:11—Judgment on Judah/Jerusalem (“day of YHWH”)
    • 2:18-32—Restoration and blessing (material and spiritual) for the survivors in Judah/Jerusalem
    • 3:1-16—Judgment on the Nations (“day of YHWH”), contrasted with the fate of (the restored) Judah/Jerusalem

Even though the context implies that the restoration indicated in 2:18-32 will be reasonably soon (not left for the indefinite future), it is not specified precisely when it will occur. Even today, there is a considerable divergence of views among commentators as to how such passages should be interpreted. Regardless, in Acts, it is clearly the spiritual side of Israel’s future restoration that is emphasized, being applied to believers in Christ—a theme which is found throughout the early chapters of the book. What is perhaps overlooked by many modern interpreters is the prominence of the eschatological motif. This is indicated here by:

    • The alteration of the LXX meta\ tau=ta (“after these [things]”, Hebrew “after/following this”) to e)n tai=$ e)sxa/tai$ h(me/rai$ (“in the last days”) of Joel 2:28 [3:1] in v. 17, specifying clearly that this is the last-days/end-times.
    • The natural phenomena described in Joel 2:30-31 [3:3-4], included in vv. 19-20 are eschatological/apocalyptic images which came to be associated quite distinctly with God’s end-time Judgment—cf. especially in the Synoptic tradition (Jesus’ Olivet/Eschatological Discourse), Mark 13:14-15ff par.

Even though the natural wonders of Joel 2:30-31 are not technically being fulfilled at the time of Peter’s speech, they clearly signify that, in the mind of Peter (and, to some extent, the author of Acts), the end-times are definitely at hand. This belief in, and expectation of, the imminent judgment of God (and return of Christ), found in nearly all the New Testament writings, may trouble some traditional-conservative commentators (wishing to safeguard a view of Scriptural inerrancy); however, it is an important aspect of early Christian thought which cannot (and ought not to) be ignored or explained away.

Kerygmatic statement or formulae.—As there is no exposition of the passage from Joel, neither is there any clear kerygma, except, I should say, for the concluding citation from Joel 2:28a [3:5a] in v. 21:

“and it will be (that) every (one) that should call upon the name of the Lord will be saved”

In its original context, of course, it refers to calling upon the name of God (YHWH) for salvation, etc; however, in an early Christian context, it takes on a new meaning in reference to the risen/exalted Jesus as Lord [ku/rio$, cf. Acts 2:36, etc]. In this regard, note the key kerygmatic statement in Acts 4:12.

Scripture Citation #2: Psalm 16:8-11 [LXX 15:8-11]

The Text.—The quotation from Psalm 16:8-11 matches the Greek (LXX) version [15:8-11], which is itself a reasonably accurate translation (into Greek idiom) of the Hebrew (MT). It may be useful, however, to compare (literal/glossed) renderings of the Hebrew MT and LXX/Acts side by side (translation of such ancient poetry being truly just an approximation):

MT Psalm 16:8-11

“I have set YHWH to (be) in front of [i.e. before] me continually,
for (indeed) from my/his right-hand I will not be made to slip/swerve.
For thus is my heart joyful, and my liver twirls/leaps for joy;
(yes) even my flesh dwells unto safety/security.
For you will not leave/deliver me unto Sheol,
you will not give your good/faithful (one) to see (the) Pit.
You will make me know the path of life,
(and the) filling/fullness of joys (at/by) Your face,
the pleasant (thing)s by Your right-hand constantly.”

LXX Psalm 15:8-11 / Acts 2:25-28

“I saw the Lord before in my eyes [i.e. in my presence] through all (things/times),
(in) that he is out of [i.e. from/on] my right-hand (so) that I should not be shaken.
Through this my heart was of a good mind [i.e. was merry] and my tongue jumped for joy,
but yet also my flesh will put down (its) tent [i.e. dwell/rest] upon hope,
(in) that you will not leave my soul down in Hades and will not give your Holy (One) to see thorough ruin/decay.
You made known to me (the) ways of life,
(and) you will fill me of a good mind [i.e. with happiness/joy] with your (presence) before my eyes.”

The Exposition/Application.—Here we must consider two portions: (a) the kerygmatic statement in vv. 22-24 which leads into the quotation, and (b) the exposition which opens the next section of the speech (vv. 29-31). I will treat the kerygma of vv. 24 below; here note the exposition from the next section (vv. 29-31)—Peter makes three points which can be grouped together as a triad:

    • The Psalmist (David) died (i.e. completed/finished his life) and was buried—indeed his tomb is still known (v. 29)
    • David was a prophet (literally, a foreteller) and knew that “out of the fruit of his loins” an heir will come to sit on his throne (v. 30)—primarily a reference to 2 Sam 7:11b-14, which came to be a prime Messianic passage.
    • As a prophet, David foresaw the resurrection (lit. standing up [again]) of the Anointed [i.e. Messiah, Jesus] (v. 31)—here specifically Psalm 16:10 is cited again.

Originally Psalm 16 was a (personal) lament by the Psalmist (trad. ascribed to David), expressing trust in the faithfulness of Yahweh (identified with El)—in contrast to Canaanite gods/idols—with a strong affirmation of his own devotion to God. Verses 8-11 represent the conclusion of the Psalm—the Psalmist finds continual joy and security in God’s presence, even to the point of trusting that YHWH will not abandon him to the grave (i.e. the ‘Pit’ or Sheol). This latter reference is somewhat ambiguous, but it does seem to express the idea that the author of the Psalm will not experience death, at least not permanently. Subsequently in Judaism and early Christianity, this would have been understood in terms of resurrection.  And it is the resurrection of Jesus that is primarily in view for Peter (and the author of Acts), as indicated by the repeated citation of verse 10 in Acts 2:31. In this interpretation, the Psalmist (David) speaks not of himself, but prophetically of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Notably, the Greek verb e)gkatalei/pw (literally, “leave down in…”, but also understood generally as “leave behind, abandon, forsake”, etc) was uttered by Jesus on the cross in Mark 15:34 / Matt 27:46; and this no doubt helped establish the connection between Psalm 16 and the death/resurrection of Jesus.

Kerygmatic statement/formulae.—There are two statements to note: (a) in verses 22-24, part of the introductory address which leads into the citation of Psalm 16:8-11, and (b) verses 32-33, which are part of the introductory address of the next section (leading into the citation of Psalm 110:1). Verses 32-33 are addressed below; here let us examine briefly verses 22-24, which begin with the exhortation “hear these words…”:

    • V. 22: “(of this) Yeshua the Nazarean, a man presented from/by God unto you with works of power and wonders and signs which God did in your midst, even as (you your)selves know”
      • V. 23: “this one, by the marked will/purpose and foreknowledge of God, given out through the hand of lawless (ones), fastening (him) to (the stake) you took (his life) away”
      • V. 24: “whom God made stand up (again), loosing the pains of death, according to (the fact) that there was not power to hold him firmly under it”

I regard these verses as an example of early Christian kerygma (Gospel proclamation), using formulaic phrases, terms, and images which would stand out and be easy to remember and transmit. Here they are still rough and fresh, but over time such statements would take on a cleaner form (which could be used in early hymns and liturgy; for possible examples, cf. Romans 1:2-4; 1 Tim 3:16). I discussed some of the Christological aspects of the language and terminology here in an earlier article.

Scripture Citation #3: Psalm 110:1 [LXX 109:1]

The Text.—The quotation from Psalm 110:1 is virtually identical to the Greek (LXX) version [109:1]:

Ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w| mou
Ka/qou e)k deciw=n mou,

e%w$ a*n qw= tou\$ e)xqrou/$ sou
u(popo/dion tw=n podw=n sou.

“The Lord said to my lord,
‘Sit out of [i.e. from/by] my right-hand,
until I should set your enemies
(as something) under-foot [i.e. a ‘foot-stool’] for your feet’.”

The only difference is the first definite article (o() for ku/rio$ (i.e. “[the] Lord”), which is omitted in some manuscripts.

The Exposition/Application.Psalm 110:1 follows on the citation of Psalm 16:8-11, with a definite continuity of thought: just as Ps 16:8-11 refers to God not leaving his Holy One down in Hades to see ruin/corruption—implying the resurrection—so with Ps 110:1 we see the result and after-effect of the resurrection—Jesus exalted (as Lord) to the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. This is stated clearly in the kerygmatic statement in vv. 32-33 (see below), but decisively in verse 36, which serves as both exposition and kerygmatic declaration. In its original context, Psalm 110 was probably connected with the coronation or inauguration (enthronement) of the king. Much like Psalm 2, this Psalm refers to the king in exalted, ‘divine’ language, very much in keeping with ancient (Near Eastern) ideas of kingship. In Hebrew, it reads: “(An) utterance of YHWH [hw`hy+] to my lord [/wda* i.e. the king]…”; translations which render both hwhy and /wda by “Lord”, as in the Greek, obscure the sense of the original. Of course, this very ambiguity lies at the center of the early Christian view of Jesus as “Lord” [ku/rio$] (see below). I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Declaration (utterance/oracle) of YHWH—”Sit at my right-hand…” (verse 1)
      • Promise by YHWH of (divine) power/victory over the king’s enemies (verses 2-3)
    • Declaration (oath) of YHWH—”You are a priest…” (verse 4)
      • Promise of the king’s power/victory over the peoples, in terms of YHWH’s judgment against the nations (verses 5-6)
    • Concluding declaration of YHWH’s establishment of the king’s rule (verse 7)

It should be noted that much of the vocabulary and syntax of this Psalm remains obscure, with verses 4 and 7 being especially difficult to interpret. However, there can be no doubt that early Christians saw in this Psalm (as in Psalm 2) a reference to Jesus’ exalted/divine status. The fact that verse 1 was already cited by Jesus in early Gospel (Synoptic) tradition (Mark 12:36-37 par) may have contributed to the association, even though the exact meaning and force of the question Jesus asks is not entirely clear (and continues to be debated). Hebrews 1:13 apparently cites Ps 110:1 in the context of Jesus’ pre-existent nature and status as God’s Son (Heb 1:2-3ff), according to orthodox belief. But here in Acts, Ps 110:1 is applied specifically to Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand in Heaven following the resurrection, which is somewhat problematic for orthodox Christology, for it could be taken to mean that Jesus had a position at God’s right hand only after (and as a result of) the resurrection/exaltation. This was discussed in an earlier note; and see also my article on Adoptionism. For more on this idea, cf. below on Acts 2:36.

Mention should also be made of the obscure and highly enigmatic reference to “Melchi-zedek” in Ps 110:4—the entire verse, in context, is extremely difficult to interpret, with a wide range of scholarly suggestions available. Be that as it may, Christians applied this specific reference from the Psalm to Jesus as well—most famously in the seventh chapter of Hebrews (Heb 7). For more on this, cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with a related study on the idea in Hebrews.

Kerygmatic statement/formulae.—There are two statements which should be noted: (a) verses 32-33, following the exposition of vv. 29-31 and prior to the citation of Ps 110:1 in vv. 34-35, and (b) the climactic declaration in verse 36. Here is the statement in vv. 32-33:

“This Yeshua God made to stand up (again)—of which we all are witnesses—(and) therefore he was lifted high to the right [lit. giving] hand of God, and receiving the announcement [e)paggeli/a, i.e. promise] of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father he poured this out—(of) which [also] you see and hear.”

In some ways this continues the kerygmatic statement from vv. 22-24, which summarizes Jesus’ earthly life and ministry up to the moment of resurrection; now is described the resurrection (and post-resurrection appearance[s], “of which we all are witnesses”), the exaltation to God’s right hand in Heaven, and the sending of the Spirit (which Jesus receives from the Father). There can be little doubt that such credal summaries were an important part of early Gospel preaching and proclamation (kerygma). The climactic declaration in verse 36 is, however, especially striking:

“Therefore let all the house of Yisrael safely/certainly know that God made him (both) Lord and Anointed—this Yeshua whom you put to the stake!”

Here we have the two titles most widely used and applied to Jesus in the early Church—”Lord” (ku/rio$) and “Anointed” (xristo/$, i.e. Messiah/’Christ’). It would seem the implication here is that both titles apply to Jesus as a result of the resurrection and exaltation, which, again, is somewhat problematic from the standpoint of orthodox Christology. Also difficult is the statement that God made (e)poi/hsen) Jesus Lord. I have discussed these points in some detail in an earlier note.

Sola Scriptura: Mark 12:35-37 par

Sola Scriptura

Jesus’ View of the Authority of Scripture: The Prophets

In our brief study on Jesus’ view of the authority of the (Old Testament) Scriptures, we are following the two-fold categorization of the Scriptures in terms of “the Law and the Prophets”, with the Psalms being included in the second category. The previous study focused on the Law (Torah/Pentateuch), now we turn to consider the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi, and the Psalms).

For early Christians, the authority of the Prophets (as Scripture) lay primarily in their relation to Messianic expectation. That is to say, the emphasis was on those passages (in the Prophets and Psalms) which were understood as prophesying the coming of the Messiah—the term (“Anointed [One]”) encompassing a number of different Messianic figure-types. These figure-types are discussed at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, each type identified as being fulfilled by Jesus; the main figure-type is the Davidic Ruler type (Parts 6-8), but there were also several Messianic Prophet figures (Parts 2-3), a heavenly Deliverer figure (Part 10), and possibly others. The Messianic interpretation of key passages in the Prophetic books builds upon Old Testament and Jewish tradition, being applied to the person of Jesus by early Christians. However, there is also evidence from within the Gospels (and the Gospel Tradition) that this Messianic application was begun by Jesus himself. A number of sayings by Jesus in the Gospels cite or reference the Prophets (incl. the Psalms) in terms of a Messianic self-identification.

The most difficult aspect of the identification of Jesus as the Messiah, for early Christians, was the fact of his suffering and death, which did not in any way square with Messianic expectations in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Christians were forced to confront this difficulty, and to find Scripture passages—spec. Messianic prophecies—which could be understood as predicting the suffering and death of Jesus. Indeed, this tends to be the focus of the references to the Prophets in the Gospels, going back to the sayings of Jesus. It is notable that a number of these references to the Prophets (as Scripture) occur in the context of Jesus’ Passion. The key Synoptic references in this regard are Mark 14:49 and Matt 26:54-56 (cf. also Luke 22:37), in which Jesus clearly indicates that his suffering and death (beginning with his arrest) were prophesied in the Scriptures. There are similar references in the Johannine tradition (Jn 13:18; 17:12; cf. also 19:24, 28, 36-37).

The Gospel of Luke presents most clearly this aspect of prophetic fulfillment, as rooted in the words of Jesus himself. This theme is introduced at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry (4:21), and again toward the end of his public ministry—in the Lukan version of the third Passion-prediction by Jesus (18:31):

“See, we (are about to) step up to Yerushalaim, and all the (thing)s having been written through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] will be completed for the Son of Man…”

This Lukan theme comes even more clearly into view at the close of the Gospel, following the resurrection of Jesus, as Jesus begins to instruct his disciples that all of things that took place (spec. his suffering and death) were prophesied beforehand in the Scriptures (24:25, 27, 32, 44-45). This becomes an important aspect of the Lukan narrative of the early Christian mission in the book of Acts (1:16; 3:18ff; 8:28ff; 13:27; 17:2; 18:28, etc).

We do not know for certain which Prophetic Scripture passages Jesus pointed out for his disciples, but I present a survey of possible candidates in the earlier article “He opened to us the Scriptures”. Several of these references from the Prophets and Psalms are specifically emphasized elsewhere in the New Testament and early Christian tradition (see, for example, the use of Isa 52:13-53:12 in Acts 8:28ff).

Mark 12:35-37 / Matt 22:41-46 / Luke 20:41-44

An interesting example of Jesus citing the Prophets (here, the Psalms) occurs in Mark 12:35-37 par. On purely objective grounds, the authenticity of this tradition is accepted by virtually all commentators, though some may debate to what extent Jesus, at the historical level, is referencing the passage as a Messianic prophecy per se.

In this Synoptic episode (set during Passion week in Jerusalem), Jesus himself raises a question regarding the relationship between the “Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”, based on an exposition of Psalm 110:1. The precise meaning and intent of Jesus’ argument continues to be debated by commentators. Only traces survive of the historical setting—it appears to be part of a scholarly discussion between Jesus and certain authorities on Scripture (Scribes/Pharisees), a context that is best preserved in Matthew’s account (Matt 22:41-43ff) which records at least part of an exchange. In Mark and Luke, this is framed as a pair of (rhetorical) questions by Jesus:

    • Question 1: How do they count/consider the Anointed (One) to be the son of David? (Lk 20:41)
    • Question 2: (But) David calls him “Lord” and how is he (then) his son? (Lk 20:44)

The second question is based on the common-place idea that the son would call his father “Lord” (“Master, Sir”), not the other way around. The first question assumes that the “Anointed (One)” —here the future Anointed King/Ruler—would be a descendant of David, which is attested in Jewish writings of the period, as well as in the New Testament (cf. the Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The identification is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 132:10-12, etc. It is in this context that Jesus cites another Scripture—Psalm 110:1 (Lk 20:42-43 par), and the way he uses it would indicate that it was commonly understood in a Messianic sense; however, there does not appear to be any other surviving evidence for such an interpretation in Judaism at the time of Jesus.

As in the case of the Torah, the authority of the Prophets (here, the Psalms) is realized for believers, in the teaching of Jesus, through his interpretation. The meaning of the text itself can be debated (which the very point of the scholarly discussion in this episode), and so an authoritative interpretation is required. Indeed, in this instance, Jesus plays on a certain difficulty and ambiguity in the text of Psalm 110:1, which may be summarized as follows.

Central to the episode is Jesus’ citation of Psalm 110:1, which in the Greek version (LXX) begins:

ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w|
eípen ho kúrios tœ kuríœ
“The Lord said to my Lord…”

The dual use of ku/rio$ (“lord”) at first glance is confusing, and is due to specific circumstances surrounding the recitation (and translation) of the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH, Yahweh). The original Hebrew reads,

yn]d)al^ hw`hy+ <a%n+
n®°¥m YHWH la°dœnî
“Utterance of YHWH to my Lord:…”

Early on in Jewish tradition, the Tetragrammaton hwhy (YHWH) was replaced with “(my) Lord” (ynda) when the text was recited; this, in turn, generally led to the common practice of translating hwhy with Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) in Greek, and to the double-use of ku/rio$ in LXX Psalm 110:1. A similar wordplay could be attested for Aramaic—ya!r=m*l= ar@m* rm^a& °¦mar m¹r¢° l®m¹r°î .

In the original context of the Psalm, the Lord (YHWH) speaks to “my Lord” (the king). Most scholars would hold that the setting (as in Psalm 2) involves the enthronement or inauguration of the (new) king, a time at which nobles and vassals might choose to rebel or to gain power and independence for themselves (Ps 2:1-3; 110:1). God gives to the king assurance of His protection and support, including victory over all enemies, i.e. the surrounding nations (Ps 2:4-11; 110:2-3, 5-7). Much like Psalm 2, this Psalm refers to the king in exalted, ‘divine’ language, very much in keeping with ancient (Near Eastern) ideas of kingship.

I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Declaration (utterance/oracle) of YHWH— “Sit at my right-hand…” (verse 1)
      • Promise by YHWH of (divine) power/victory over the king’s enemies (verses 2-3)
    • Declaration (oath) of YHWH— “You are a priest…” (verse 4)
      • Promise of the king’s power/victory over the peoples, in terms of YHWH’s judgment against the nations (verses 5-6)
    • Concluding declaration of YHWH’s establishment of the king’s rule (verse 7)

It should be noted that much of the vocabulary and syntax of this Psalm remains obscure, with verses 4 and 7 being especially difficult to interpret.

Psalm 2 was interpreted and applied to the coming/future Anointed King (from the line of David) in a number of Jewish writings of the period (such as the 17th Psalm of Solomon). However, apart from its use in the New Testament, there is little evidence for a similar Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 at the time of Jesus. In one text from Qumran (11QMelch [11Q13]), Melchizedek (Ps 110:4) appears as a Divine/Heavenly figure who functions as Judge against the wicked (Belial), but this scenario (col ii, lines 9-13) is derived from Psalm 82:1-2 rather than 110:1. His appearance (as Judge and Deliverer) is also connected with the Anointed One of Daniel 9:25 and the Messenger of Isa 52:7 who brings the good news of salvation (col ii, lines 15-25). A similar paradigm may underlie the “Elect/Righteous One” and “Son of Man” figure in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), which many scholars hold to be roughly contemporary with Jesus and the early New Testament writings.

In any case, Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 as though a Messianic interpretation were understood, but he shifts the meaning of “Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) away from the royal Davidic figure-type and toward a different reference point—a Divine/Heavenly figure, closer, perhaps, to the “Son of Man” of 1 Enoch and Jesus’ own sayings (cf. Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 pars; Luke 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, and pars in Matthew; also John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:62). Certainly, it was understood this way in early Christian tradition, associated specifically with the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God in Acts 2:34-36 (cf. also Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). In the Synoptic saying of Jesus in Mark 14:62 par, he identifies himself (as “the Son of Man”) who will appear at the right hand of God, in connection with the coming/end-time Judgment (Mk 13:26 par). Thus Jesus may be identifying himself with a pre-existent Heavenly/Divine figure akin to that in 1 Enoch 37-71. In Hebrews 1:13, Psalm 110:1 is cited in the context of belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus, though in Heb 5:6 an association with the resurrection (and exaltation) seems to be more in mind.

In my view, Jesus uses Psalm 110:1 as a clever way to shift the meaning of “the Anointed (One)” from the Davidic King figure-type over to a different reference point—that of a coming Divine/Heavenly figure, generally referred to elsewhere by Jesus as “the Son of Man” (from Daniel 7:13).

Another important instance where Jesus cites from the Prophets (spec. the Psalms), treating and an implicit Messianic prophecy, which he applies to himself, is his quotation of Psalm 118:21-22 in Matt 21:42 par, part of the Synoptic episode (also set in the context of Jesus’ Passion) in Mark 12:1-12 par. For the use of Psalm 118 in the Gospel Tradition, cf. the discussion in my earlier article (spec. on Psalm 118:26).

Sola Scriptura: Matthew 5:17-20

Sola Scriptura

The studies this Fall in the “Reformation Fridays” series examine the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”). Following our introduction and a short study of the key Scripture-declaration in 2 Tim 3:15-17 (cf. the previous study), we now turn to consider Jesus’ view and treatment of the Scriptures.

The term “(sacred) Writing(s)” (grafh/, plur. grafai/) occurs 14 times in the Gospel sayings of Jesus, almost always in a context that points to the fulfillment of Scripture (prophecy) in the person of Jesus. This is also the specific emphasis where the word is used elsewhere by the Gospel writer (Luke 4:27, 32, 45; John 19:24, 28, 36-37; 20:9). Jesus’ use of the term “Writing” (i.e. Scripture), as for nearly all Jews of the period, was more or less synonymous with the expression “the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 5:17; 7:12; 11:13 [par Lk 16:16]; 22:40; Luke 24:44)—meaning the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) and the Prophetic books (Isaiah–Malachi), including the Psalms. It is not entirely certain, based purely on the Gospel evidence, to what extent the other Old Testament books were similarly included under the label of Scripture.

Indeed, our study on Jesus’ view of the (Old Testament) Scriptures can be divided between the Law (Pentateuch) and the Prophets (including the Psalms).

The Law of Moses (Torah/Pentateuch)

A summary of Jesus’ recorded sayings and teachings clearly shows that he considered the Torah regulations (recorded in the Pentateuch) as authoritative for Israelites and Jews—and for his disciples as well. And yet, Jesus’ view of the Law, according to the Gospel evidence, is rather more complicated and nuanced. A proper study of it goes far beyond the scope of this article, but I have earlier provided and extensive treatment of the subject in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (articles on “Jesus and the Law”). In Part 2 of that series, I present a detailed survey of the Gospel passages, divided into three main categories:

    1. Traditions where Jesus advocates Torah observance, but where following him may involve going beyond it
    2. Traditions where Jesus appears to relativize Torah observance:
      1. By spiritualizing the commandment, or, more commonly:
      2. By emphasizing or indicating that his own person (and following him) supersedes the Torah regulations
    3. Traditions which suggest that, in some way, the Torah regulations are limited temporally or in religious scope. In many ways this aspect cannot be separated from #2; certainly, in early Christian thought, the person and work of Jesus inaugurated an (eschatological) “new age”, in which the old religious forms and patterns either passed away or were given new meaning.

Jesus addresses the authority of the Law in a number of key traditions (sayings and episodes) in the Gospels, but perhaps the most important collection of teaching is to be found in the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, par Luke 6:20-49). A careful study of this Sermon-collection demonstrates that it is Jesus’ interpretation (and application) of the Torah regulations that is most important for his disciples (and for us as believers). For an exegesis of key sections of the Sermon, cf. Part 3 of the aforementioned series “Jesus and the Law”.

While the teaching and example of Jesus may take priority over (and surpass) the written text of the Torah, the written Torah (that is, the Scripture) certainly was considered authoritative by Jesus himself. We can see this, for example, by the way that the written text (of Deuteronomy, 6:13, 16; 8:3) is quoted in the famous Temptation episode (Matt 4:4, 7, 10 par).

Matthew 5:17-20    

Nowhere does Jesus offer such a clear example of his view of the Old Testament Law (Torah) as in Matthew 5:17-20, which also serves as the introduction to two key blocks of teaching: (1) the six so-called “Antitheses” [Matt. 5:21-48], and (2) instruction on specific religious behavior (almsgiving, prayer, and fasting) for his followers [Matt. 6:1-18]. They are also among the most difficult of Jesus’ sayings, especially for (Protestant) Christians accustomed to the idea of a “Law-free” Gospel.

To begin with, it is important to consider these four verses in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (for a critical introduction to the Sermon on the Mount and the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’, see the introductory notes of my series on the Beatitudes). Matt. 5:17-20 follows the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) and several additional sayings illustrating the character of Jesus’ faithful followers (Matt 5:13-16). The sayings in vv. 17-20 need not have been uttered by Jesus at the same time—the “Sermon” is better understood as a literary and didactic arrangement or collection of Jesus’ teaching, rather than as a single discourse delivered on a particular occasion. Instead these four sayings are thematically related, representing, as it were, principles governing Jesus’ own interpretation of the Torah for his followers. They will each be examined in turn.

1. Matthew 5:17

Mh\ nomi/shte o%ti h@lqon katalu=sai to\n no/mon h* tou\$ profh/ta$: ou)k h@lqon katalu=sai a)lla\ plhrw=sai
“Do not regard (as proper), (that) ‘I have come to loose down [i.e. dissolve] the Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]’; I did not come to loose down but to fill (up).”

The verb nomi/zw (nomízœ) is related to the noun no/mo$ (nómos), here translated conventionally as “Law”; however, no/mo$ would more accurately be rendered as “that which is proper/binding”, “binding custom”, or something similar, and the verb nomi/zw, “regard as proper, consider proper/customary”, etc. Both of these terms carry a technical meaning here: no/mo$ refers specifically to the hr*oT (tôrâ), while nomi/zw indicates proper religious belief. Similarly the opposing verbs katalu/w (katalúœ, “loose down”, cf. lu/w, “loose[n]”) and plhro/w (pl¢róœ, “fill up, fulfill”) have a very specific meaning in this context: as a legal term, katalu/w can mean “abolish, annul, render invalid,” etc., while plhro/w has the sense of “establish, complete, supply the full (force of)”, etc. Several points can be made:

    1. The juxtaposition of “Law and Prophets” here indicates hrwt/no/mo$ primarily as Scripture, rather than as the law-code or commandments per se. That is, no/mo$ here refers to the Pentateuch (books of Moses, Genesis-Deuteronomy), and the “Foretellers” the Prophetic books (see above). The conjunction h* means that Jesus is effectively saying: “I have not come to dissolve (the authority of) either the Law or the Prophets”. The Pentateuch is the principal expression of the Torah of God, but the Prophetic books also expound and support the instruction—the two forming the corpus of Sacred Writings for Jews (and Christians) of the time.
    2. The ‘incorrect’ statement (or something very like it), governed by mh\ nomi/shte, is actually attested in early Christian writings. For example, in the “Gospel of the Ebionites” (according to Epiphanius’ Panarion 30.16.5), h@lqon katalu=sai ta\$ qusi/a$ (“I have come to dissolve the sacrifices”), and a similar Gnostic formulation in the “Gospel of the Egyptians” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.63). According to the Dialogue of Adamantius (ch. 15), certain Marcionites claimed that Jesus actually said the opposite of Matt 5:17: “I have not come to fulfill the Law, but to dissolve (it)”. Cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 174-176. It may seem strange that Jesus himself would already (in his own lifetime) be safeguarding his teaching against ‘misrepresentations’ of this sort—or does this rather reflect early disputes regarding his teaching? In Romans 3:31 Paul delivers an apologetic statement very similar to that of Jesus’ here: “Do we then bring down the Law (for it to be) inactive through faith? May it not be! But (rather) we make the Law stand!”
    3. The verb katalu/w can be used in the sense of “dissolve/destroy” a building, etc., and so it appears in the charge that Jesus said he would “dissolve” the Temple (Mark 14:58; 15:29 par.; Acts 6:14; also cf. Mark 13:2 par.). This is a significant association in terms of Judaism and the Law within early Christianity—cf. the highly Christological version of the Temple-saying in John 2:19ff. Similarly, the contrasting verb plhro/w, can be given a theological and Christological nuance here: that Jesus himself completes or fills up the Law. Paul’s famous statement in Rom 10:4 comes to mind: “For Christ is the completion [te/lo$] of the Law…”

For a more detailed study on v. 17, see my earlier note.

2. Matthew 5:18

a)mh\n ga\r le/gw u(mi=n: e%w$ a*n pare/lqh| o( ou)rano\$ kai\ h( gh=, i)w=ta e^n h* mi/a kerai/a ou) mh\ pare/lqh| a)po\ tou= no/mou, e%w$ a*n pa/nta ge/nhtai
“For, amen, I say to you: ‘until the heaven and the earth should go along [i.e. pass away], one yod or a single horn will not go along from the Law, until all things should come to be’.”

There is an interesting chiastic form and parallelism to this saying:

    • “Until heaven and earth should pass along”
      • “One yod or a single horn will not pass along from the Law”
    • “Until all (things) should come to be”

The first and last phrases are both temporal expressions: the first in concrete terms, according to the ancient worldview (“heaven and earth” represents the universe as understood at the time); the second more abstractly, as the coming-to-be of all things. In between these two expressions is a statement regarding the (relative) permanence of the Law. The “yod” is traditionally the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet (and of the Greek as well); it is not as clear precisely what kerai/a (lit. “horn”, or possibly “hook”) signifies here, but presumably it indicates a small ornamental mark in the script. The force of the expression is rhetorical rather than literal, i.e. “not even the smallest letter or mark will pass away from the Law”.

Noteworthy is the fact that the reference is specifically to a written text. It is not certain to what extent there was a distinction between written and oral Torah in Jesus’ time; but overall Jesus appears to have had a negative view of traditions added to the primary sense of the written text. Indeed, it can be argued that a fundamental purpose of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (and elsewhere) was to restore the true meaning and significance of the original (written) Torah. In any event, it is clear enough that here Torah means primarily sacred Writing (Scripture, as in v. 17); but it probably also refers to the Torah as (written) Law-code—i.e., the collection of commandments, statutes, etc., contained in the Pentateuch.

The saying as a whole seems to limit the force and validity of the Law to the current world-order, as opposed to subsequent Jewish ideas which often emphasized the eternality of the Torah. There is an eschatological aspect at work here, as in much of the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus’ followers were to be aware of the (imminent) end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God (with its accompanying Judgment). The Law would only serve as a governing (religious) authority for believers during the present Age. Paul expresses a rather different view of the temporal limitation of the Law (see, for example, in Galatians 3:26-4:7).

3. Matthew 5:19

o^$ e)a\n ou@n lu/sh| mi/an tw=n e)ntolw=n tou/twn e)laxi/stwn kai\ dida/ch| ou%tw$ tou\$ a)nqrw/pou$, e)la/xisto$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n: o^$ d’ a*n poih/sh| kai\ dida/ch|, ou!to$ me/ga$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Therefore if (there is one) who [i.e. whoever] should loose (a single) one of these littlest things upon (you to) complete and should teach men thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the kingdom of the heavens; but (one) who should do and teach (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the kingdom of the heavens.”
[in more conventional translation:]
“Therefore, whoever looses (a single) one of these littlest commandments and teaches men (to do) thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the Kingdom of Heaven; but (the one) who does and teaches (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the Kingdom of Heaven”

The noun e)ntolh/ (entol¢¡) is literally “something (placed) upon (one) to complete”—i.e., “charge, injunction”, or, more commonly, “command[ment]”. There are a number of important questions within this verse, which I will discuss briefly in sequence.

    • How does the verb lu/w here relate to katalu/w in verse 17? The first generally means “loose[n]”, while the second is more intensive and forceful, “loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy]”. In verse 17, the sense is “to destroy or abolish the authority of the Law” (and Prophets). Here the sense is rather “to remove or lessen the requirement of a commandment”.
    • What exactly is meant by “these commandments”? Are these the commandments of the written Torah, or are they the commandments of Jesus? Arguments can be made for both views. The context of verses 17 and 18 would indicate that the written Torah is meant—if so, then the saying would imply that the written Law is fully binding for Jesus’ followers. However, many commentators would hold that Jesus’ commands are what is meant here; such commands would include Jesus’ (authoritative) interpretation of the Law, but would not be synonymous with the commandments of the written Torah itself.
    • What is meant by the “least/littlest” of these commandments? There are several possibilities:
      (a) Jesus is distinguishing between his own commandments—if so, this has been largely lost to us.
      (b) He is distinguishing between greater and lesser commands in the Torah (perhaps similar to later Rabbinic teaching)
      (c) He makes a distinction between the external/ceremonial detail and the broader concepts of righteousness/justice, mercy, love, etc. (see Matt 23:23-24).
      (d) The force of the expression is rhetorical and not meant to be taken literally (and also facilitates the wordplay later in v. 19).
      In my view, the last option most likely correct: “the least of these commandments” would be another way of saying “any of these commandments”. However, option (c) should not be entirely disregarded; the expression “least of these commandments” could be taken to mean “even the smallest detail of the commandments”.
    • How should the juxtaposition of “least/littlest” and “great(est)” in the kingdom of Heaven be understood? It is possible that degrees of reward or position in Heaven for believers is meant; at the very least, Jesus seems to be drawing upon this idea. However, it seems quite strange that those who disregard (and teach others to disregard) the commandments (especially if Jesus’ own commandments are involved) would receive any place in the Kingdom. I prefer to consider the use of the terms “littlest” and “great” here as rhetorical—a colorful and dramatic way of contrasting the fates of the obedient and disobedient. The question of whether the disobedient followers are ultimately “saved” is interesting, but probably out of place here.

The most significant question remains whether “these commandments” are those of Jesus, of the written Torah, or both? I don’t know that it is possible to give a decisive answer here. Subsequent Christian tradition tended to identify “the commandments” with “the commandments of Christ”, but is this the same as what Jesus means in the saying of verse 19? It is probably best to understand the phrase here in the qualified sense of “the commandments of the written Torah… as interpreted by Jesus”. Admittedly, we almost certainly do not have all of Jesus’ teachings related to the Law. The Gospels themselves contain, I am sure, only a portion of them; even here in the Sermon on the Mount, the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48 and the instruction in 6:1-18 are only representative of the teaching Jesus gave to his followers. For this reason, in particular, the phrase “commandment[s] of Christ” requires a more thorough and systematic treatment.

4. Matthew 5:20

Le/gw ga\r u(mi=n o%ti e)a\n mh\ perissu/sh| u(mw=n h( dikaiosu/nh plei=on tw=n grammate/wn kai\ Farisai/wn, ou) mh\ ei)se/lqhte ei)$ th\n basilei/an tw=n ou)ranw=n
“For I say/relate to you that if your justice/righteousness should not be over (and above much) more than (that) of the Writers [i.e. Scribes] and Pharisees, no, you will not go into the Kingdom of the heavens.”

This is probably the simplest, and yet, in some ways, the most difficult of the four sayings. It does not deal directly with the Law; rather it offers a challenging point of comparison for Jesus’ followers. The “Scribes and Pharisees” is a stock phrase and schematic expression in the Gospels, often related to those who question or dispute with Jesus, involving some point of legal or religious observance. They are typically mentioned only in the setting of the narrative, or in reaction to something Jesus says or does. The Pharisees have been given a superficially bad reputation by Christians, often as the result of careless reading of the Gospels. Of the major Jewish groups known from the time, the Pharisees probably had the most in common with Jesus himself. He doubtless had many interactions with them, of which only traces have been preserved in the Gospels; on the whole, they appear to have been thoroughly devout and scrupulous in religious matters, though not as strict as the Community of the Qumran texts (usually identified as Essenes). The Scribes [lit. Writers] were legal experts, largely synonymous with the “Teachers of the Law”, and certainly many Scribes were also Pharisees. Jesus’ disputes with the “Scribes and Pharisees” (and other religious leaders) will be discussed in some detail in an upcoming article in this series.

It is important to understand the sense of dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosún¢, “justice/righteousness”) here. As throughout the Sermon of the Mount, and much of early Gospel tradition, the term signifies obedience and conformity to the will of God as expressed in the Torah and the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole. In this respect, it is comparable (and compatible) with the traditional Jewish sense of righteousness, and should not be confused with subsequent Christian (esp. Pauline) theological and soteriological use of the word. Presumably, for the first followers of Jesus, and early Jewish Christians, the point of the comparison with the righteousness of the “Scribes and Pharisees” would have been more readily apparent. Today, we can only speculate as to what precisely was meant. There are several possibilities:

    1. The Scribes and Pharisees did not go far enough in observing the Torah—that is, they did not penetrate to its deeper meaning and significance, as indicated by Jesus in his teaching. This would seem to be implied by the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48.
    2. Their approach to Torah observance and religious behavior was fundamentally flawed, and not the product of a pure heart. This seems to be the thrust of Matt 6:1-18, as well as the Beatitudes. Cf. also the association of Pharisees with “hypocrisy” at numerous points in the Gospels (esp. in Matt 23).
    3. The religious leaders who failed to follow Jesus were (all) missing the teaching and revelation which fulfills and completes the Law (and Righteousness). As such the righteousness of Jesus’ followers would (and should) by its very nature far surpass theirs.
    4. The comparison is primarily rhetorical and exhortative: a call to follow and obey Jesus’ authoritative instruction and interpretation of the Law.

I think there is merit in each of these four views, which can be supported by further detailed study of the Sermon on Mount itself.

Sola Scriptura: 2 Timothy 3:15-17

Sola Scriptura

The first series of Reformation Friday articles dealt with the doctrine of “Justification by Faith” and the principle of Sola Fide (i.e., salvation through faith alone). Our second subject will be the principle of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)—that is, the Christian Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) as the primary, if not exclusive, source of authority for all matters of theology, teaching, and the Christian life.

This Protestant principle was born out of the early years of the Reformation, but did not develop and coalesce into a distinct article of faith until some years had passed. The historical context of this development, often ignored or unknown by Protestant Christians today, is worth summarizing briefly.

By the onset of the Reformation (usually tied to the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517), the late medieval Roman Catholic Church had established a number of lines of authoritative religious tradition, having grown and developed over many centuries. However, it was the concentration of this authority in the Roman hierarchy that was most problematic for the princes and leaders in the German Empire. Indeed, the Pope (bishop of Rome) was accorded virtually an absolute and infallible religious authority, though one which was an extension of the authority possessed by bishops and archbishops throughout the old (Roman) Imperial system, based on the theological principle of apostolic succession—that is, an authority inherited and continued from the first apostles (the idea of Apostolic Tradition among first-century believers is touched on below). The Pope, in particular, was seen as the spiritual successor of Peter as the head (and foundation-rock) of the Church.

At the same time, a vast corpus of authoritative Church Law (Canon Law) had accumulated, including the decisions of the bishops in the various international Church Councils, as well as many other ecclesiastical rulings. Other customs and traditions had become equally authoritative in practice, even if they had not been specifically spelled out in the Canon Law.

As learned Christians began, under the influence of Renaissance scholarship and education, to study the text of Scripture (esp. the Greek New Testament) in more detail, many people noticed that there was little (if any) clear Scriptural support for these authoritative Roman Catholic beliefs, traditions and customs. Gradually, fueled by the socio-political tensions within the German Empire (as well as in the neighboring countries) over the influence of the Roman government, prominent leaders, ministers, and scholars began to express dissatisfaction and to speak out against the authoritative Roman Catholic traditions.

At first, the conflict between Scripture and Roman Catholic Tradition was only expressed in a marginal way, being implied at key points, for example, in Luther’s 95 Theses or Zwingli’s 67 Articles, the Ten Theses of Berne, etc. Even the foundational Augsburg Confession (1530) deals with the question of the authority of Scripture only in passing or indirectly, though the seminal principle of Sola Scriptura is implied throughout. See, for example, the opening sentence of article 22 (at the close of the first part), where it is stated that the “sum of doctrine” among Protestants contains “nothing which is discrepant with the Scriptures, or with the Church Catholic”. The First Helvetic (Basle) Confession in 1536 is one of the first Protestant creeds or confessions of faith with a clear statement (Article I) regarding the nature and status of the Scriptures. While this statement is quite brief, it was developed considerably in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566)—here, quoting from chapter 1:

“We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God Himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures. And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.”

The later Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) gives, in its first chapter, an even more systematic expression of the Sola Scriptura doctrine, from the Reformed standpoint. The Lutheran Tradition has an equally clear statement in the opening of its Formula of Concord (1576). Many Protestant theologians have defended and expounded the Sola Scriptura principle. One of the earlier treatments of the subject, within the framework of a rudimentary Systematic Theology, is by John Calvin in his famous Institutes (Book I, Chapters 6-10).

*   *   *   *    *

In these articles, we will be examining the Scriptural (New Testament) basis for the Protestant Sola Scriptura doctrine, beginning with the famous declaration in 2 Timothy 3:16 (discussed below). It will be helpful to define first what the earliest Christians understood by the “Scriptures”. It is abundantly clear that, with one possible exception, the “Scriptures” (lit. “Writings,” grafai, grammata) refer to the Old Testament Scriptures, though there is some uncertainty regarding the extent of the Old Testament that is meant. Unquestionably, early Christians, following the view of contemporary Jews, considered the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi), and the Psalms to be uniquely inspired and authoritative Scripture. Moreover, all of these books were authoritative because of their prophetic character. The Prophetic books throughout contain oracles of God’s words, while similarly the Pentateuch is rooted in the revelation of the Torah to Moses; the Psalms tended to be grouped together with the Prophets, its authors (such as David) being understood as functioning as inspired prophets (cf. Mark 12:36 par; Acts 1:16; 2:30; 4:25). It is uncertain whether, or to what extent, the remaining books of the Old Testament were considered authoritative Scripture in the same way. By the second half of the 1st century A.D., it is likely that Jews and early Christians accepted something like the entire canonical Old Testament as authoritative, but we cannot be absolutely certain on this point.

In 2 Tim 3:15, the specific expression ta\ i(era\ gra/mmata (“the sacred Writings”) is used, an expression that had become relatively well-established in reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, though it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament (the unprefixed adjective i(ero/$ is itself rare, used only in 1 Cor 9:13). The same expression is found in the writings of Philo of Alexandria (Life of Moses 2.292) and Josephus (Antiquities 10.210), roughly contemporary with the New Testament usage here.

Our studies will take the following course. After an initial examination of 2 Tim 3:16 (below), we will be looking at other representative New Testament passages in relation to the following topics:

    • References reflecting the view of Jesus and first-century Christians on the Old Testament Scriptures
    • The Gospel (and the Gospels) as Scripture, in terms of:
      • The words of Jesus himself
      • The Gospel message
      • The inspired character of the Gospel narratives
    • The authority of the Apostolic Tradition—i.e., the words and writings of the apostles has having authorative/inspired Scriptural status
    • The main challenges to the Sola Scriptura doctrine within the New Testament itself

The last topic will be touched on at a number of points throughout the individual studies (cf. below), but our final article(s) will bring the manner into sharper focus.

2 Timothy 3:15-17

The central New Testament declaration regarding the inspiration of Scripture—and arguably the only reference that is directly on point—is the famous statement in 2 Timothy 3:16:

“Every Writing (is) God-breathed and (is) profitable toward teaching…”

There is, unfortunately, a tendency by Christians—Protestant Christians, in particular—to cite this verse out of context. When so cited out of context, it sounds much more like an absolute declaration regarding the nature of Scripture. When read within the full context of chapters 3-4, however, there is a rather a different emphasis to verses 15-17.

Before proceeding, a word about the authorship of 2 Timothy. All three of the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy, Titus) are presented as genuine letters by Paul to his younger ministerial colleagues (Timothy & Titus). Many scholars, however, including nearly all critical commentators, regard these letters as pseudonymous—and, as such, were likely written considerably later (toward the end of the first century, or even the beginning of the second). There are legitimate arguments for pseudonymity that need to be considered, though, in my view, there is far more evidence (in favor of pseudonymity) in the case of 1 Timothy, compared with 2 Timothy and Titus. Indeed, 2 Timothy appears to have much more in common with the undisputed letters, in terms of content, style, and points of emphasis. For the purpose of this study, I will treat 2 Timothy as a genuine work by Paul, while recognizing the merit of at least some of the arguments that have been posited for pseudonymity.

Chapter 3 begins with an eschatological section (vv. 1-9), warning (Timothy) against wicked and immoral persons who pose a threat to believers within the Church. The danger of ‘false believers’ is part of the end-time period of distress, during which there will be an increase of wickedness and opposition to God. This is central to the eschatological worldview of early Christians, seen clearly in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 13 par); the false prophets and Messianic pretenders predicted by Jesus (Mk 13:6, 21-22 par) came to include the idea of false and deceptive Christians who would corrupt the Church and lead people astray. First John shows perhaps the clearest evidence of this development within early Christian eschatology (see esp. 2:18-27; 4:1-6), but the developing polemic against heresy can also be seen in 2 Peter, Jude, and the Pastoral Letters.

In contrast to the godless ‘false believers’ who oppose the truth and will not accept sound teaching, Paul (or the author) emphasizes the importance of ministers (like Timothy) holding firm to what we may call the “Apostolic Tradition”. By this expression is meant the Gospel message and other authoritative teaching communicated by the apostles—the pioneering missionaries (like Paul) who first proclaimed the Gospel and played a key role in the founding of congregations. Verse 10 clearly expresses the importance of this tradition, as exemplified (for Timothy) in the person of Paul:

“But you (have) followed along (with) me in the teaching, the leading (a way of life), the setting forth (of purpose), the trust (you hold), the long endurance, the love, the remaining under (with patience)…”

The Apostolic Tradition thus entails both teaching and personal example—i.e., character and way of life, etc. This is Paul’s emphasis in verses 10-14, stressing the importance for Christian ministers of holding firm to this inherited tradition:

“But you must remain in the (thing)s which you (have) learned and trusted in, having seen (from) alongside whom you learned it” (v. 14)

It is in this context, that Paul (or the author) makes reference to the Scriptures, in verse 15:

“…and that from infancy you have known [the] sacred Writings, the (writing)s being able [i.e. that are able] to make you wise unto salvation through (the) trust th(at is) in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

They way that verses 15-17 are related to vv. 10-14 makes relatively clear that the “sacred Writings” are understood as supplemental (“and that…”) to the Apostolic Tradition. As a Jewish Christian (cf. Acts 16:1ff), Timothy would have known the Old Testament Scriptures from childhood (spec. since he was an infant). These Scriptures remain important for Christians, for two reasons: (1) they provide the framework for early Christian religious and ethical instruction (“able to make you wise”), and (2) they point to the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah (“the Anointed Yeshua”) and confirm the truth of the Gospel (“…unto salvation through trust in…Yeshua”). We will be discussing these points further in the upcoming studies.

The special character of the (Old Testament) Scriptures is further described in vv. 16-17:

“Every (such) Writing (is) God-breathed and profitable toward teaching, toward rebuke, toward straightening up, toward training a child in justice/righteousness, (so) that the man of God might be fit, having been fitted out toward every good work.”

Two key points (or claims) are made regarding the Scriptures:

    • They are “God-breathed” (qeo/pneusto$)—This adjective, which is found (albeit rarely) in other Hellenistic Jewish and Greco-Roman writings (e.g., Pseudo-Phocylides 129; Plutarch Moralia, p. 904F), more or less accurately captures what most Christians mean by the special inspiration of Scripture. It primarily refers to the idea of prophecy—of a message by God communicated to the prophet (Scripture-writer) through a special (and gifted) revelation. For Jews in the 1st century B.C./A.D., this refers unquestionably to the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) and the Psalms (cf. above); and early Christians inherited this religious view. The inspiration of the Scriptures, in at least a basic and fundamental sense, would have been accepted by virtually all early Christians without reservation.
    • They are “profitable” (w)fe/limo$)—that is, for Christian teaching and all manner of religious-ethical instruction. The underlying denotation for the adjective w)fe/limo$ is of the ‘piling up’ of wealth (i.e., profit, gain); it can be used in a more general sense, for something that is useful or advantageous, but here it is better to hold to the fundamental meaning of “profitable”.

I must emphasize again that, from the standpoint of our passage here, the Scriptures are supplemental to the Apostolic Tradition—the Tradition itself has priority for early Christians (and their pastors/ministers). It is this point, which will be further demonstrated and illustrated through an examination of other key New Testament passages, which runs contrary to the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura. While the Scriptures are immanently valuable for first-century Christians, they are scarcely the sole (or even primary) source of authority for them. Rather, it is the apostolic line of tradition—the Gospel message and other authoritative teaching inherited from the apostles—that holds first place.

Justification by Faith: James 2:18-19, 24; Eph 2:8-9

This study supplements and completes the discussion from the prior study on James 2:14-26, in relation to the doctrine (and Reformation principle) of “Justification by Faith”. The previous discussion will be supplemented by a study covering the following three areas:

    • The short rhetorical dialogue (vv. 18-19) that comes between the two arguments of the treatise
    • The specific declaration on “faith and works” in verse 24, with its seemingly direct contradiction of the Pauline doctrine, and
    • A consideration of Ephesians 2:8-9, as a broad statement of the Pauline doctrine, which is more relevant to James (and to the Protestant teaching) than Paul’s specific line of argument in Galatians and Romans.
James  2:18-19

In between the two (parallel) arguments of the treatise (vv. 14-17, 20-26), the author includes a brief rhetorical exchange, which serves the literary purpose of transitioning between the two arguments. However, it also is pivotal for an understanding of the author’s view on the relation between “faith and works”.

“But some(one) will speak (like this): ‘You hold trust, and I hold works’; show me your trust apart from works, and I will show you the trust (from) out of my works.” (v. 18)

The author of the letter suddenly introduces a second ‘speaker’ who functions as an opponent for debate. The hypothetical (rhetorical) nature of this person is clear from the wording used to introduce him: “but some(one) [ti$] will speak…”. This figure is a type, representing a conventional way of thinking, but reflecting a person who does not really understand the truth of the situation. We might paraphrase the author’s wording as “someone will surely say (this)…”. What the responder says (lit. “speaks/utters”) is: “you hold trust and I hold works”. What is meant by this?

Commentators offer several avenues for interpretation, but, since the author is the one who is advocating for the importance of “works” as a demonstration of a person’s “trust” (faith), the statement is perhaps best understood as a characterization of the author’s position. In other words, the speaker acts as a foil who misrepresents (or misunderstands) the author’s own position. There are people who might think that the author is making a facile contrast: you hold “trust”, but I hold works. The main point of contrast, however, is that such a separation of “trust” and “works” is not possible, either conceptually, or in reality. Yet, that is precisely what someone espousing the position of ‘justification by faith alone’ might imply: i.e., you try to gain salvation through works, but I rely on trust alone.

To conceive of a separation between trust and works reflects a faulty reasoninga point made clear by the author’s response in v. 18b: “show me your trust apart from works, and I will show you the trust (from) out of my works”. The contrast is expressed by the prepositions xwri/$ (“apart from, separate from”) and e)k (“out of”, i.e. coming from). The author challenges his ‘opponent’ to demonstrate his “trust” apart from any works. Such a demonstration is not possible, since, from the author’s viewpoint, there can be no true trust (faith) in Christ that is “apart” from works. This is the main argument in verses 14ff (and again in 20ff). By contrast, since true faith is manifested by a person’s “works”, one can readily demonstrate such trust through (or “from”, e)k) those works.

In verse 19, the author goes on to make a rather pointed (even harsh) criticism of the person who imagines that one can have any real or meaningful trust apart from works:

“You trust that ‘God is One’; you do well, and (yet even) the daimons trust (the same way) and shudder!”

By defining trust in the most general terms (for Jews and Christians), as a monotheistic declaration that “God is One”, the author makes the point most vividly: even the demons have that level of faith. He could have framed he example more in Christian termsviz., you trust that “Jesus is the Son of God”, fine enough, but even the demons will make such a confession (cf. Mark 3:11; 5:7 par, etc). The point is that such a “trust” in Jesus, if it is not manifest in “works” and, especially, by sacrificial acts of love toward fellow believersis empty, and without much meaning.

James 2:24

The declaration in verse 24, following directly upon the Abraham example (as an illustration of a person’s trust demonstrated by “works”), is the portion of the treatise that would appear most directly to contradict the Pauline teaching on “faith and works”. This is all the more striking when one considers the importance of the example of Abraham in Paul’s line of argument (in Romans and Galatians), and the fact that he uses the very same Scripture (Gen 15:6), but uses it to make the opposite point (cf. Rom 3:27-28)!

Here is the author’s conclusion, which he draws from the example of Abraham:

“You see that a man is made/declared right [dikaiou=tai] out of [i.e. by] works, and not out of trust alone.”

Compare this with Paul’s statement in Romans 3:28:

“For we consider a man to be made/declared right [dikaiou=sqai] by trust, apart from [xwri/$] works”

The two statements would appear to be contradictory. Paul even uses the very expression, “apart from works” (xwri\$ e&rga), that the James treatise categorically refutes. The Pauline expression in the translation above, however, is incomplete; for the full phrase is “…apart from works of the law [no/mou]”. Paul’s teaching in Galatians and Romans is that the regulations of the Torah (the Old Testament Law [of Moses]) are no longer binding for believers in Christ (and especially for Gentile believers). In the Pauline idiom “works” is a shorthand for “works of the Law” meaning performance or fulfillment of the Torah regulations.

In the James treatise, “works” does not have this specialized meaning. This is clear from the context of 2:14-26, where “works” primarily refers to acts of love (care and compassion) shown to fellow believers in their time of need. Paul would affirm the importance of this as well, though almost certainly he would not have expressed it the way our author has. It is also quite possible that the author’s view of the Lawthat is, the believer’s relationship to the Torah regulationswas not all that different from Paul’s. Though he does not treat the matter as forcefully (or as distinctively) as Paul does in Galatians and Romans, etc., there is no sense in the letter that the author views the Torah regulations as in any way binding on believers. Indeed, he shares with Paul (and with other early Christians) the view that the Torah is effectively summarized (and/or replaced) for believers by the “love command”, reflected in the teaching and example of Jesus. For more the Law (Torah) in the Letter of James, see my recent article and notes in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (and esp. the note on James 2:8).

The Pauline doctrine of “justification by faith” is well summarized by the statement in Rom 3:28 (cf. above). A person is “made right” (vb dikaio/w) in God’s eyes through trust alone—that is, through trust in the person and work of Jesus, his sacrificial death and resurrection (as God’s Son). The verb dikaio/w can also be understood in terms of being declared right (i.e., righteous, innocent), in a forensic or judicial sense. This aspect better fits the eschatological context of the coming end-time Judgment—of believers being saved from God’s Judgment on humankind. However, it is probably better to retain the more general meaning of the verb. Things are “made right” between human beings and God, and as believers we are “made right” (by God), through our faith in Christ.

In James 2:24, the verb dikaio/w perhaps should be understood in the sense of “being recognized as right(eous)” by God. That would certainly fit the context of the Abraham example, and of the wider principle that a person’s trust, if it is genuine, will be demonstrated by his/her actions. God recognizes the right(eous)ness that is reflected by such behavior. However, the author is also not unaware of the eschatological Judgment-aspect, and he surely would affirm that believers are saved from the coming Judgment by their faith—a faith that is manifested in works.

If the author of the letter was aware of Paul’s teaching, and is responding to it in some way, as seems likely, then it is possible his main concern is that the Pauline doctrine could be (or has been) carelessly reduced to a general “faith without works” slogan. Without the context of Paul’s arguments regarding the Torah, and a proper understanding of his use of the term “works” (e&rga) as a shorthand for “works of the Law” (e&rga no/mou), a person might mistakenly infer that no “works” of any kind were necessary for believers. The author clearly affirms that acts of love and care toward fellow believers, and similar “good works”, are necessary, at least in the sense that they will be present in the life of anyone who has true faith.

Whether or not there is a deeper opposition to Paul’s teaching in the letter of James (the treatise in 2:14-26) is difficult to say. The fact the author uses the same Abraham example (and Scripture, Gen 15:6) as Paul, only to make virtually the opposite point, does seem to suggest a more fundamental difference in outlook. If ‘James’ was aware of Paul’s writings, then the contradictory use of the Abraham example, etc, would have to be regarded as intentional, meant as a contrast to Paul’s teaching. But is there a real contradiction, at the theological and doctrinal level, between James and Paul? To give an answer to this question, we must briefly examine another important Pauline statement on “faith and works”, in Ephesians 2:8-9.

Ephesians 2:8-9

“For by (the) favor (of God) you are (one)s having been saved, through trustand this (does) not (come) out of you, (but is) the gift of God(and) not out of works, (so) that one should not boast (of it).”

The declaration reads like a theological expansion of the Pauline teaching on “justification by faith” (see on Rom 3:28, above). The core Pauline doctrine is certainly contained at the heart of Eph 2:8-9: “…having been saved (= “made right”/justified) through trust…and not out of works”. The exact relationship to the Pauline teaching, however, depends on one’s view regarding the authorship of Ephesians. For many critical commentators, it is pseudonymous, though still a product of the Pauline Tradition, representing a (secondary) development of Paul’s teaching. For commentators who maintain the traditional-conservative view (that the letter is genuinely written by Paul), Ephesians still shows important signs of development in Paul’s thought and manner of expression, suggesting that it was written some time after Galatians and Romans, etc.

The points of development can be seen in the elements that have been added to the core doctrine, forming the expanded statement of Eph 2:8-9:

    • The emphasis on the favor (xa/ri$) shown to us by God. While the term xa/ri$, used in this soteriological sense, is very much part of the Pauline vocabulary (cf. Rom 3:24; 11:5-6 etc), its close pairing here with pi/sti$ (“trust, faith”) is clearly intended to give a deeper (and clearer) theological formulation to the Pauline doctrine. One is saved/justified by faith, but only insofar as we were first shown favor by God; the idea of favor (or ‘grace’) is primary.
    • The same point of emphasis is seen in the parenthetical clause that follows the expression “by trust”. As if to reinforce the idea that our salvation derives primarily from God’s favor shown to us, rather than simply by virtue of our trust, Paul (or the author) declares unequivocally: “this is (does) not (come) out of [i.e. from] you, (but is) the gift [dw=ron] of God.”
    • The final purpose/result clause also reinforces the idea of our entire dependence on God (and his favor) for our salvation. Since it does not come from (“out of”) ourselves, by our own effort and intention, we certainly cannot rightly “boast” of it. The wording suggests that this is part of God’s very purpose in arranging things this way: “…so that one should not boast (of it)”.
    • Another minor sign of development is the use of the perfect participle (of the verb sw/zw, “save”) to characterize believers as “(one)s having been saved” (sesw|sme/noi). In contrast with comparable statements by Paul in Galatians, Romans, (and 1 Corinthians), Ephesians never uses the verb dikaio/w; instead, the verb sw/zw occurs here, and in something of a specialized sense.

Perhaps most significant of all, in the context of Eph 2:8-9, the noun e&rgon (pl. e&rga, “works”) does not necessary refer to “works of the Law,” as the term consistently does in Galatians and Romans. While Ephesians clearly affirms Paul’s view regarding the Torah (2:15), this is not given much emphasis in the letter. Rather, the meaning of “works” here appears to be more generalized, referring to any action taken by a person. The parenthetical statement “and this (does) not (come) out of you” would seem to confirm this point. Our salvation (having been saved by God) does not depend on anything we do (i.e. our “works”), but comes about as a result of the favor God has shown to us.

This more general formulation of the Pauline doctrine is closer to the Reformation principle of “justification by faith” than are Paul’s arguments that deal with the Torah (in Galatians and Romans). In its generalized formulation, the doctrine is adapted to mean: we are saved by trust (faith), and not by any effort of our own (“works”). But this adaptation, it may be argued, also places the doctrine more squarely in contradiction with the letter of James. As we have seen, in the James treatise, “works” does not refer specifically to “works of the Law”, but to other kinds of “good works” especially, acts of love and charity to fellow believers who are in need. Moreover, the wording in verses 14 and 24 suggests that such works will save a person and “make them right” (i.e., justify them) before God.

A proper understanding of the James treatise would recognize that the faith and works of a believer go hand-in-hand and function together (“work together with [each other]”, v. 22)they cannot be separated. Works are required, in the sense that they will be present in the life of a true believer, and will effectively demonstrate the living reality of a person’s faith. It is in this light that one can speak of works “saving” a person; in truth, it is the reality of believers’ faith, manifest in their actions, that saves them. Such, at least, is the view expressed in the James treatise. It is not necessarily incompatible with Paul’s viewpoint, though doubtless Paul would have expressed himself differently on the matter, using different imagery and lines of argument to make a comparable point.