February 13: Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians 4:21-31 represents the final section of the probatio of the letter (chaps. 3-4), and also the final argument used by Paul in support of his central proposition (expressed in 2:15-21). By these arguments, Paul endeavors to ‘prove’ (thus, probatio) his proposition, regarding the relation of believers in Christ (Jewish and non-Jewish) to the Torah.

I have discussed this section previously, most notably as an article in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”. Here I will be focusing on the particular theme of the sonship of believers, contrasting this sonship with a condition of slavery. This is a theme which runs through chapters 3-4—and, indeed, through the entire letter. Are believers still in bondage to the regulations of the Torah (under the term no/mo$), thus continuing in a kind of slavery? or, as sons, who have now come of age, able to inherit everything that belongs to the Father, are we free of this guiding authority? Paul argues strenuously against the former, while affirming (just as vigorously) the latter. The allegorical illustration he uses in 4:21-31 represents his final argument (of the probatio) toward this goal. He frames the illustration with a pointed rhetorical question for his audience:

“Relate to me, (you) the (one)s wishing to be under the Law, would you not hear the Law?” (v. 21)

This rhetorical device is known as the interrogatio method, by which Paul questions his audience, prompting them and allowing them to bring forth a determination themselves. The question actually serves as a challenge to the Galatians, and cuts right to the heart of Paul’s message in the letter. It also alludes to the seemingly paradoxical character of Paul’s view of the Torah. In support of his argument that believers are no longer bound by the Torah’s authority, he appeals to the Torah’s authority.

There is actually a double-use of no/mo$ here, referring both to the Torah regulations (recorded in the Pentateuch) and, secondly, to the narratives of the Pentateuch. This is significant since Paul’s argument is based upon the interpretation of a specific Scriptural narrative (from the Torah/Pentateuch). The expression “hear the Law” also has a two-fold meaning: (1) to obey the Law, and (2) literally, to hear the words of the Law (i.e. of Scripture). The latter is what Paul means primarily here, but he may also be saying, “if you want to be under the Law, are you willing to obey the Law (i.e. the true Law of Christ)?”

In verses 22-23, Paul summarizes the Scriptural narrative found in Genesis 16:1-6; 21:8-14, citing Gen 16:15; 21:2-3, 9. That Hagar was a slave or “servant-girl” (paidi/skh) is indicated in the narrative (Gen 16:1ff; 21:10ff, also 25:12); the contrast of Sarah as a free woman can be inferred/implied naturally from the context. This establishes the contrast between slavery and freedom—a key theme which Paul introduced (2:4) and developed (3:23-29; 4:1-10) earlier in the letter (cf. the previous notes on 3:26 and 4:4-7). It also sets the stage for the specific emphasis on freedom in Christ to follow in 4:31/5:1ff.

The contrast, expressed through the figures of Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative, is also expressed grammatically by the me/nde/ (“on the one hand…on the other…”) construction in verse 23 (cf. also vv. 8-9) [Note: some manuscripts (Papyrus46 B f vg) omit me/n]. The contrast/conflict between freedom and slavery is also defined as being between the “promise” (e)paggeli/a) and the “flesh” (sa/rc):

“the (one born) of the servant-girl has come to be (born) according to (the) flesh,
but the (one born) of the free (woman) through (the) e)paggeli/a [i.e. promise]” (v. 23)

The promise is closely connected with the Spirit (Gal 3:14). Meanwhile, the expression “according to (the) flesh” (kata\ sa/rka) is used frequently elsewhere in Paul’s letters (Rom 1:3; 4:1; 8:4-5, 12-13; 9:3, 5; 1 Cor 1:26; 10:18; 2 Cor 1:17; 5:16; 10:2-3; 11:18), and a Spirit-Flesh dualism is an important aspect of Paul’s thought in both Galatians (Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8) and Romans (Rom 8:1-17) [cf. also Phil 3:3].

The two kinds of sons thus symbolize this dualistic orientation of Paul’s theology. The symbolism is based on his interpretation of the Genesis story as an “allegory” (a)llhgori/a), that is, a description of one thing under the image of another. Familiar from Greco-Roman and Hellenistic-Jewish literature and philosophy, it is also similar to the creative midrash interpretive tradition in Judaism; for other examples in Paul’s letters, cf. 1 Cor 10:1-13; 2 Cor 3:7-18. The contrast/conflict between Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative is coordinated and aligned together (sustoixe/w, v. 25) as follows:

Slave-girl vs. Free (woman) [v. 22b]

Flesh vs. Promise [v. 23]

(Old) Covenant vs. (New) Covenant [v. 24]

Jerusalem (on earth) vs. Jerusalem above [v. 25-26]

Hagar/Ishmael vs. Sarah/Isaac [v. 28-29]

As indicated in verse 24, Paul gives prominence and priority to the idea of two covenants—the Greek word rendered “covenant” (diaqh/kh) is literally something “set through” or “put in order”, often in the legal sense of a will or testament (as in Gal 3:15-17), but here corresponding to the Hebrew tyr!B= (“binding agreement”)—that is, the agreement (covenant) established between God and his people (Israel). The two covenants—old and new—are contrasted syntactically by way of another me\nde/ formulation (see above):

    • me/none (the old) from mount Sinai into/unto slavery [ei)$ doulei/an]… (vv. 24-25)
    • de/(the other), the Jerusalem above, (which) is free [e)leuqe/ra e)stin]… (vv. 26-27)

Paul establishes this line of association first by equating Sinai with the (current) earthly Jerusalem in verse 25; he does this by way of (allegorical) correspondence, even though he recognizes that Mt. Sinai is actually in “Arabia” (presumably the Sinai peninsula). This equation has the following interpretive relationship:

    • The Sinai covenant (the Law/Torah) leads to slavery [doulei/a] =>
    • Jerusalem is currently serving as a slave [douleu/ei]

The last point could be taken either in a socio-political (i.e. under Roman occupation) or religious-spiritual (bondage under the Law and sin) sense, or both. This contrasts sharply with the traditional Jewish self-understanding of freedom related to the Torah and the covenant with God (see Mishnah Abot 6:2, also e.g. John 8:33), which Paul reverses completely. Here is the associative logic as a whole:

    • The Old Covenant (the Law/Torah) given at Mt. Sinai
      • Sinai = earthly Jerusalem
        • The Jerusalem below | Slavery
        • The Jerusalem above | Freedom
      • Jerusalem (above) = believers in Christ
    • The New Covenant (the Spirit/promise) realized in Christ

This idea of a heavenly Jerusalem came to be well-established in early Christian thought (see Hebrews 12:22; 13:14; Revelation 3:12; 21:2-22:5), and generally builds on the (eschatological) Old Testament and Jewish tradition of a “new Jerusalem”—e.g. Isa 54:10ff; 60-66; Ezek 40-48; Tobit 13:9-18; Jubilees 4:26; 2/4 Esdras 7:26; 10:40ff; 2 Baruch 4:2-7; 32:2-23; 1 Enoch 90:28f; 2 Enoch 55:2. Another familiar, and related, Jewish tradition was Jerusalem/Zion as a mother (v. 26). As such, this image is parallel to that of the Jewish concept of freedom associated with the Law and Covenant; and, again, Paul reverses this traditional association, by way of citing Isaiah 54:1 (LXX), a passage which came to be used in Judaism in the context of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (see the Targum; Pesiqta Rabbati 32:2). The context of Paul’s citation (v. 27) rather suggests a correlative juxtaposition between physical barrenness and spiritual life.

In verses 28-31, Paul applies this interpretation to the identity of believers in Christ. These verses begin and end with statements of Christian identity, related to the parallel concepts of promise and freedom, and emphasizing again the theme of the sonship of believers

V. 28: “But you*, brothers, according to Isaac, are offspring of (the) promise
{* some manuscripts read “we”}

V. 31: “Therefore, brothers, we are not offspring of the (slave)-girl, but of the free (woman)”

Verses 29-30 stand in between, and are descriptive of conflict for believers:

    • V. 29: External—drawing upon Jewish tradition of conflict between Ishmael and Isaac (not indicated specifically in the Scripture narrative itself), see t. Sota 6:6; Genesis Rabbah 53 (34a), etc. This is interpreted by Paul according to two aspects:
      (1) Jewish hostility and persecution toward early Christians, attested to amply by Paul in his letters and in the book of Acts.
      (2) The dualism of kata\ sa/rka (“according to the flesh”) vs. kata\ pneu=ma (“according to the Spirit”). Here the conflict is still external—i.e. the issue being that regarding circumcision and actual observance of the Torah commands; for an internal expression of this dualism in the hearts/minds and lives of believers (before and after conversion), cf. Romans 7-8.
    • V. 30: Internal—quoting Gen 21:10 and applying it primarily in a religious-spiritual sense: believers are the heirs in Christ (Gal 3:29; 4:1, 7; see also Rom 4:13-14; 8:17), and should no longer wish to come under a yoke of slavery. That Paul may here be expressing the rejection of Jews is certainly possible (see 1 Thess 2:14-16; Rom 9-11), but I do not believe that this is his emphasis—it rather relates more properly to his exhortation to the Gentile Galatians that they “cast away” the yoke of bondage (i.e. observance of the Torah) which they are considering placing upon themselves.

The thematic structure of these verses may be outlined as follows:

    • V. 28—Believers are children of the promise
      • V. 29—Conflict for believers: Flesh vs. Spirit
      • V. 30—Action for believers: “Cast out” the son of the slave-girl (i.e. slavery)
    • V. 31—Believers are children of the free woman

Significantly, these verses, which conclude the probatio, also prepare for the ethical instruction that follows in the exhortatio (“exhortation”) section, 5:1-6:10. Indeed, here Paul begins to turn his readers’ attention to the implications and consequences of what it means to be “sons/children of God”.

One primary implication has been the main focus of the letter, up to this point: believers are no longer under the binding authority of the Torah regulations (such as circumcision, the dietary and purity laws, etc), and are not obligated to observe them. This is emphasized by the ‘outer’ verses (vv. 28, 31) of the outline above.

The second implication (cf. the ‘inner’ verses 29-30), which is just as important, comes to be the focus in 5:1-6:10. Now that believers are freed from the Torah regulations, how is our life and behavior to be regulated? This is defined principally by the conflict between flesh and the Spirit. The impulses of the flesh (toward sin) still need to be curbed. However, this is no longer achieved through the external authority of the Torah regulations, but through the internal guidance of the Spirit. Even what remains of the Torah regulations—namely, the command/duty to love one another (5:13-15; 6:2ff)—is interpreted in light of the new reality that believers now live and act according to the Spirit. Paul expounds this quite clearly in 5:13-24, a passage which lies at the very heart of his instruction in 5:1-6:10.

This message may be summarized by the principle that: the sonship of believers is defined by the presence and work of the Spirit. In the next daily note, will begin examining this principle further, as Paul develops and explains it, in Romans.

February 12: Galatians 4:4-7

Galatians 4:4-7

Paul’s argument in Gal 4:1-7 builds on the illustration made in 3:23-25ff, comparing believers in Christ with the son who is an heir. This illustration, which draws upon Roman legal custom and practice, here involves the “guardianship of a minor” (tutela impuberis). The father (or head of the family, paterfamilias) appoints a guardian (one or more) over the child who is to inherit the property. During the time while he is a minor, even though the son may have legal status as the heir, he does not yet have access to the property; rather, the inheritance is entrusted to adult ‘guardians’, who will oversee and administer it until the child comes of age. For more on this background, cf. Betz, pp. 202-5.

Here is how Paul describes the situation, utilizing this illustration:

“upon as (much) time as the (one) receiving the lot is a speechless (child), (in) nothing does he carry through (differently) than a slave, (even while) being (the) lord of all; but he is under (those to whom it has been) turned over, and house-managers, until the (time) set before(hand) by the father.” (vv. 1-2)

A nh/pio$ denotes a “speechless” child, or infans (“infant”), but here the word is used figuratively for a minor (underage) child; in English idiom, we might approximate the sense with the expression “he does not yet have a say in the matter”. He is virtually like a household slave (dou=lo$) in this regard, even though he may be heir to all his father’s property (“being lord of all”). Indeed, the child himself is under the tutelage of household slaves and servants, like the paidagwgo/$ (“leader/guide of a child”) of the illustration in 3:23-25. The inheritance is “turned over” (e)pitre/pw, noun e)pi/tropo$) to the control of servants who act as administrators, and to “house-managers” (oi)kono/moi) who conduct business and make distributions as needed. The noun oi)kono/mo$ can actually designate a supervisor of the household slaves (Betz, p. 204), which gives added resonance to the comparison of the minor child with a slave.

As in 3:23-25, the upshot of this illustration is that the believer, before coming to faith in Christ, is like the minor child who is under the guiding control of household servants. In the earlier illustration, the servant (or slave) fulfilling this role was the Torah (or “law”, no/mo$, cp. oi)kono/mo$, which could be rendered “household law”). Paul still has the Torah regulations in mind here in 4:1-7, however the scope of its significance has broadened:

“So also we, when we were speechless (children) [nh/pioi], we were (one)s enslaved under the arrangements [stoixei=a] of the world;” (v. 3)

The noun stoi=xo$ essentially means a row or line of items, while the related stoixei=on, used here, refers to the specific items that are so arranged. In more abstract terms, we might render the plural of stoixei=on as “elements” or “(guiding) points”. Similarly, the noun no/mo$ essentially means something that is laid out (as an allotment). Believers were subject to the various ‘guiding principles’ of the world, including the regulations of the Torah; the latter specifically applies to Israelites and Jews (before they became believers), while the broader terminology of stoixei=a applies to all people. The noun stoixei=on is used in much the same way (by Paul) in Col 2:8, 20; by contrast, in 2 Peter (3:10, 12), stoixei=a refers to the material “elements” of the cosmos.

The chief point of the illustration is that, with the coming of Jesus Christ, the period of guardianship is over. Believers in Christ are no longer under the “guiding points/principles” of the world, which means that we are also no longer under the authority of the Torah regulations. For more on this point, see the articles in the series “Paul’s View of the Law” (esp. the various articles on Galatians).

Here in verse 4, there is special focus on the continuing theme of the sonship of believers (from chap. 3, cf. the previous note), which continues to be understood in relation to the unique Sonship of Jesus:

“but, when the fullness of the time had come, God sent out from (Him) His Son, (hav)ing come to be (born) out of a woman, (hav)ing come to be under (the) Law”

The ability of human beings to become the “sons” of God is dependent upon God’s own Son becoming a human being. Much the same point is made, though more indirectly, in the Johannine Prologue (see vv. 12-13 [previously discussed] in connection with verse 14 [discussed at length in a recent series]). The humanity and earthly life of Jesus is here described according to two aspects, given by way of parallel expressions:

    • “(hav)ing come to be out of a woman”
    • “(hav)ing come to be under (the) law”

In the first expression (and aspect), the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) means “come to be born”, referring to the birth of Jesus. This may refer to the “stoixei=a of the world” in the same physical/material sense of the term stoixei=a used in 2 Pet 3:10, 12 (cf. above). In the second expression (and aspect), the ethical-religious sense of stoixei=a is in view—viz., specifically, the guiding/ruling principles of the Torah. Jesus came to be “under” the control and influence of these stoixei=a, just like all other human beings, but for the purpose of freeing us from the stoixei=a:

“…(so) that he might purchase out (from bondage) the (one)s under the Law, that we might receive from (God) the placement as a son [ui(oqesi/a].” (v. 5)

The verb a)gora/zw denotes buying something (from the marketplace, a)gora/), while the compound e)kagora/zw is used specifically for the idea purchasing someone “out of” (e)k) a particular condition (of slavery/servitude). Having been “enslaved” under the Law, we are now freed from that bondage; there is no longer any need for the Torah (no/mo$) as a “household supervisor” (oi)kono/mo$) or “guide for the child” (paidagwgo/$). The believer has come of age, and can now inherit, as the Father’s son, what belongs to the Father. Paul states this unequivocally in verse 6:

“And, (in) that you are sons, God has sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!'”

It must be pointed out that, fundamentally, there is only one son—Jesus, the Son. This was true in chapter 3, where the reference was to Jesus as the son and heir of the promises to Abraham, and is equally so here in chapter 4, where the emphasis is on Divine sonship. Believers become the “sons” (or children) of God in a special way, which Paul describes, however briefly, here in verses 5-6. There are two stages to this dynamic of becoming the sons of God:

    • Verse 5—Having been freed from the period of enslavement, we are given the legal status as sons. Paul uses the term ui(oqesi/a (“placement as a son”), taken from the practice of adoption in the Greco-Roman world. This usage of the term may be unique to Paul, as ui(oqesi/a occurs in the New Testament only in the Pauline letters (Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Eph 1:5).
    • Verse 6—Having been given the legal status of sonship, we are then truly made the sons of God by receiving the Spirit of God’s own Son within us.

Verse 6 makes clear that we are dealing with something more than ‘adoption’ in a strictly legal sense. Rather, there is a fundamental transformation of identity that takes place, from within. Paul’s wording here is sometimes overlooked in this regard. It is worth considering each phrase in sequence:

    • “in that you are sons” —that is, already possessing the legal status of sons through ‘adoption’ (ui(oqesi/a)
    • “God has sent out from (Himself)” —the same wording used in v. 4 (cf. below), indicating a Divine source and power
    • “the Spirit of His Son” —that is, the presence and power of His own Son, realized through the Spirit
    • “into our hearts” —i.e., within us, into our very being, so that there is both an essential identification and a transformative effect
      Note that some textual witnesses read “your hearts” instead of “our hearts”, but this is almost certainly a correction made to agree with the use of the second person earlier in the verse; Paul includes himself and other ministers (“our”) along with the Galatians (“you”) as believers
    • “crying ‘Abba, Father!'” —the essential (new) identity (of believers as God’s sons) is confirmed by the Spirit’s own declaration within us

There is a precise formal parallel of expression, between verses 4 and 6, which is important to note, as it relates to the idea that believers are truly God’s sons, just as Jesus Christ is His Son:

    • “God sent out from (Him) His Son”
      e)cape/steilen o( qeo/$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou=
    • “God sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son”
      e)cape/steilen o( qeo/$ to\ pneu=ma tou= ui(ou= au)tou=

The point should be emphasized: believers are not merely God’s sons in the legal sense of being ‘adopted’, and thus obtaining the status of sonship; rather, they/we are also transformed, by receiving the Spirit of His Son, to become truly His sons. This is an essential identity, though one which is dependent upon our union with Christ. And, with Jesus Christ himself, we also are heirs who inherit (and receive) that which belongs to the Father:

“So then, no longer are you a slave, but a son; and if a son, (then) also (one) who receives the lot [i.e. an heir] through God.” (v. 7)

This sonship occurs “through God” (dia\ qeou=) being entirely the work of God and a gift from Him.

Most likely Paul understands the second phase of the believer’s sonship—becoming truly God’s son through receiving the Spirit—as occurring in association with the baptism ritual. This would be in accordance with early Christian tradition (as evidenced in the New Testament), and seems to be confirmed by the earlier reference to baptism in 3:26-29. Note how the baptism reference (v. 27f) is bracketed by two declarations regarding the sonship of believers:

    • “sons of God” / through trust in Christ Jesus (v. 26, the theme of chap. 4)
    • “the seed of Abraham (and heirs to the promise)” / belonging to Christ Jesus (v. 29, the theme of chap. 3)

In the next note, we will look ahead to examine how Paul develops this sonship-of-believers theme in the final argument of the Galatians probatio, the allegorical illustration from Scripture in 4:21-31.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

February 1: Galatians 3:26

Galatians 3:26

“For you are all sons of God through the trust (you have) in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

This would seem to be the earliest recorded instance where Paul uses the expression “sons of God” (ui(oi\ qeou=), as a designation for believers in Christ; it should probably be regarded as the earliest such occurrence in the New Testament. It is unlikely, however, that this use of the expression was original or unique to Paul. It derives from Israelite and Old Testament tradition, whereby the people of Israel—and particularly the righteous ones among them—were called the “sons” of YHWH, in a symbolic religious sense. The notable references, in which the people are referred to as God’s “sons” (or “sons and daughters”), are Deut 32:19; Hos 1:10 [2:1]; and Isa 43:6; Israel collectively can be called God’s “son” (singular /B@), as in Exod 4:22-23; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1, while the idea of YHWH as Israel’s “Father” is similarly expressed (e.g., Deut 32:6; Isa 64:8; Jer 31:9). Jewish tradition, through the influence of Wisdom literature, narrowed this designation, so that the righteous person, specifically, was considered to be God’s “son” (cf. Wisd 2:18 [v. 16]; Sirach 4:10). This may be seen as another example of the categorical use of the construct noun /B@ (plur yn@B=), “son of…”, to indicate that a person belongs to a particular group. Faithful Israelites belong to God, as His people, and thus may also be called His “sons”.

Paul quotes from this line of Scriptural tradition in the catena (Scripture-chain) of 2 Cor 6:16-18. Verse 18, echoing references such as Exod 4:22; 2 Sam 7:14; Isa 43:6, and Jer 31:9, provides an implicit identification of believers as “sons [and daughters] of God”. The thrust of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is primarily ethical exhortation, as in 1 Thess 5:1-11 (cf. the discussion in the previous note); in fact, the same light-darkness juxtaposition, in an ethical-religious context, is present here (v. 14). The authorship of this section remains much debated by commentators (cf. my earlier study on the subject); but, even if Paul is adapting existing material in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, it accords well with his own thought, and he clearly agrees with its paraenetic emphasis and purpose. Second Corinthians was probably written about the same time as Galatians; Romans was written at least several years later, but in 9:26, Paul quotes from Hos 1:10, alluding again (through this citation) to believers as the “sons of God”.

The line of argument in Romans 9 is significant for the context of Gal 3:26, since it deals with the important principle that both Jews and non-Jews, as believers in Christ, are to be considered the “sons (and daughters) of God”. Indeed, one’s ethnic-religious identity no longer has any bearing on whether one is a “son of God”. Paul argues this point vociferously throughout Galatians and Romans, and states it quite clearly here in Gal 3:26: a person is a son/child of God entirely through trust in Jesus Christ. Faithfulness and righteousness is no longer defined by fulfilling the regulations of the Torah, but is defined only by trust in Jesus.

In chapters 3-4, Paul presents a series of different arguments, by which he defends (and expounds) the central proposition of the letter, 2:15-21. In rhetorical terminology, 2:15ff represents the proposition (propositio), while chapters 3-4 comprise the proving (probatio) of the proposition. While the arguments are of different sorts, they tend to follow a logical sequence, building upon one another. The arguments in chapter 3 are centered around the figure of Abraham (just as in Romans 4), and deal with the idea of sonship. Through the example of Abraham, Paul establishes an important line of argument, relating the new religious identity of believers in Christ to the older identity based on God’s covenant with Abraham. The descendants (i.e., sons/children) of Abraham belong to God, through the covenant; and, as Abraham’s children, they are heirs to the promises God made to him. Paul’s line of argument circumvents the period of the Torah, defining the promise(s) as ultimately referring, not to the Torah, but to the coming of Jesus. Believers in Christ are thus the true descendants (sons) of Abraham, and are heirs to the Divine promises—cf. the statements in vv. 7, 9, and 14.

In verses 15-18, this line of argument is given a more precise logical (and theological) basis. Paul interprets the Scriptural tradition so as to identity Jesus as the “seed” (singular) of Abraham, and thus he is the heir to the promises. The promises were made prior to the institution of the Torah regulations; the Torah remained in place as a kind of guardian, but only until the time of Jesus’ coming (vv. 19-22ff). The illustration in vv. 23-25 compares the time of Jesus’ coming with the moment when the son (and heir) comes of age, and no longer requires a guardian. The precise term is paidagwgo/$, denoting someone who leads (i.e. guides) a child, being responsible for him and giving him certain training (while he is still a minor). According to the illustration, during this period, the Torah functioned (for the heirs of Abraham) as this paidagwgo/$; however, the period reaches its end with the coming of Jesus.

Yet, since it is Jesus who is the sole heir, others can inherit only in relation to him, only through him—that is, through trust in him. This is the rhetorical and theological context of Paul’s statement here in verse 26. Believers in Christ become co-heirs with him, as the true descendants (children) of Abraham, and thus heirs to the promises of God. Verse 29 states this quite clearly:

“And, if you (are) of (the) Anointed, then you are (the) seed of Abraham, and (one)s receiving the lot [i.e. heirs] according to (the) promise [e)paggeli/a].”

The idiom “of Christ” (genitive Xristou=) denotes the idea of belonging to Christ. This implies more than trust in Jesus—it indicates a bond of union with him. This is the new covenant-bond for the people of God, realized in union with the person of Christ, in place of the old covenant. Here, in vv. 27-28, Paul expresses this union in terms of the baptism ritual:

“For, as (many of you) as have been dunked [e)bapti/sqhte] into (the) Anointed, you have sunk in(to the) Anointed [i.e. put him on as a garment]” (v. 27)

This imagery involves two basic, and related, ideas: (1) participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus, and (2) a new identity, by which believers become (and are made) like Jesus. The “dunking” of the baptism ritual symbolizes the former idea—participation in Jesus’ death; going down into the water represents the death, and coming up again out of the water represents the new life (resurrection). The second idea is expressed by the symbolic ‘putting on’ of Christ—almost certainly involving the ritual donning of a new robe or garment. The garment represents a new identity: the believer now belongs to Christ, having been united with him. None of the distinctions that were important to the old identity—i.e., ethnic, social or gender distinctions—have any significance any longer for the new identity. This is the ideal expressed in verse 28, though, admittedly, it is an ideal that Christians, throughout the centuries, have had considerable difficulty in realizing.

As mentioned above, the focus in chapter 3 is on the figure of Abraham, and on believers, through Christ, as being the “sons of Abraham”. In chapter 4, this sonship-motif changes, with the emphasis now on believers as the “sons of God”. While this particular designation was introduced in 3:26, it will be developed further in chapter 4. We will turn our attention to this development in the next daily note, focusing, in particular, on verses 4-7.

January 30: 1 Thessalonians 5:5

1 Thessalonians 5:5

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night nor of darkness.”

In this series of notes on the theme of believers in Christ as “children of God” (cf. the initial note on John 1:12-13), we turn to the earliest reference in the Pauline letters—Paul’s declaration in 1 Thess 5:5 that believers are “sons of light” (ui(oi\ fwto/$) and “sons of (the) day” (ui(oi\ h(me/ra$). Neither of the expressions “sons of God” or “children of God” occur in this verse (nor anywhere else in the Thessalonian letters); however, the designation “sons of light” is related conceptually, even it is drawn from an entirely different line of tradition.

The significance of the expression (as a designation for believers) is rooted in the contrastive distinction between light and darkness. The contrast is a natural and obvious one, and can be found in many cultures and religious traditions. Paul’s usage, however, is derived primarily from a light-darkness contrast found in the Old Testament Scriptures, where the opposing motifs of “light” and “darkness” are utilized in an ethical-religious sense. Apart from the idea of the separation of light and darkness that is part of the natural order (as described in the Creation account, Gen 1:4-5, 18), the juxtaposition of light and darkness, in an ethical-religious sense, occurs most frequently in the Wisdom literature (esp. the book of Job, e.g., 3:4; 10:22; 12:22; 17:12; 18:18; 29:3; 30:26; 38:19; cf. also Eccl 2:13), the Psalms (18:28; 112:4; 139:11-12, etc), and the book of Isaiah (cf. 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; 45:7; 50:10; 58:10; 59:9). Light is associated with the Divine, as an attribute of God Himself, but more particularly characteristic of His Word, Wisdom, and Instruction (Torah). It comes from God, serving as a blessing for humankind (Num 6:25; Psalm 89:15, etc), and even as a symbol of life itself (Psalm 49:9; 56:13, etc). Those who follow God’s Instruction receive illumination from the Divine light (Psalm 36:9; 43:3; 119:105, 130; Prov 6:23, etc).

Based on this ethical-religious usage, particularly as expressed within the Wisdom literature, the righteous—that is, those who are faithful to God and who follow His Instruction—are characterized as belonging to the light, possessing the light (a reflection or portion of the Divine light) as an attribute (cf. Psalm 37:6; 97:11; Prov 4:18; 13:9; Isa 2:5, etc). In the first centuries B.C./A.D., the Community of the Qumran texts developed this line of tradition. A number of texts feature this light-darkness contrast, but expressed from a more pronounced dualistic worldview. Indeed, the Qumran texts even make use of the specific expression “sons of light” (roa yn@B=) as a designation for the righteous ones of Israel—that is, members of the Community—while all others (i.e., the wicked) belong to the “sons of darkness” (Ev#oj yn@B=); see the key references in the Community Rule document (1QS) 1:9-10; 3:13, 24-25 and the War Scroll (1QM) 1:1, 3. Thus, the faithful members of the Qumran Community are designated as “sons of light”, much as believers in Christ (i.e., faithful members of the Christian Community) are by Paul (here), and elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke 16:8; John 12:36).

The idiom “sons of” also reflects Hebrew usage (going back to the Scriptures). The noun /B@ (“son”) is often used in a general (and more abstract) sense, indicating a person who belongs to a particular group, and, as such, possesses (or exhibits) a certain set of attributes or characteristics. Thus, the expression “son of light”, refers to someone who belongs to the light—that is, light as a Divine characteristic. Such a person exhibits an affinity for the Divine light, particularly by showing devotion to God’s Instruction (Torah)—he/she is faithful to God and to his Word and Wisdom (cf. the Scriptural references above). Belonging to the light essentially means that the person belongs to God; thus, a “son of light” is also a “son of God”.

A comparable light-darkness contrast occurs in a number of New Testament texts; it features most prominently in the Johannine writings, but is found as an important idiom in the Pauline letters as well. Paul’s use of the contrast is similar to the Johannine, though without the pronounced and pervasive dualistic orientation that characterizes much of the Johannine writings. Paul uses the light-darkness motif two primary ways: (1) in terms of the Divine illumination that comes through the Gospel (e.g., 2 Cor 4:4-6; cf. 2 Tim 1:10; Eph 3:9), and (2) as an ethical paradigm. The latter emphasis is found here in 1 Thess 5:5, and similarly in 2 Cor 6:14; Rom 13:12 (cf. also Eph 5:8-9ff).

In Rom 13:12, as perhaps also in Eph 5:8ff, we find a similar eschatological orientation to Paul’s ethical instruction and exhortation. Eschatology certainly dominates the two Thessalonian letters, and provides the immediate context for the declaration here in 5:5. The reason for this emphasis is that Paul, like virtually every first-century Christian, held an imminent eschatology, expecting the end to come very soon (presumably within the lifetime of he and his readers). There is thus a special urgency to his exhortation: the “day of the Lord” surely will come very soon, and could arrive at any moment (vv. 2-3). Paul makes use of a play on the word “day” (h(me/ra)—referring at once to both the coming “day of the Lord” and the ethical-religious “light”-motif.

In the next daily note, we will continue this examination of verse 5, with a brief exegetical analysis of the surrounding passage (vv. 1-11).

May 4: Ephesians 2:13-18

Ephesians 2:13-18

The final passage from the Pauline letters to be examined in these notes is Ephesians 2:11-22, focusing specifically on the portion from verse 13 to v. 18. In the view of many commentators, Ephesians is pseudonymous. This is not the place to consider the various arguments for and against Pauline authorship; the main point to note is that even scholars who would maintain that the letter is pseudonymous recognize its Pauline character. That is to say, the author (if not Paul) was certainly influenced by Paul’s writings, and himself writes in a way that very much reflects the Pauline theology and manner of expression.

An important theme in Ephesians, especially in the first half of the letter, is the unity of believers in Christ—Jews and Gentiles alike. This was also a central theme for Paul in Romans, and relates to his distinctive (and controversial) view regarding the place of the Torah in the new covenant. His line of exhortational argument in 2:11-22 reflects the same religious and theological viewpoint, and could serve as a summary of Paul’s thoughts on the matter.

The key statement is in verse 13, where Paul (or the author) indicates that this unity—between Jewish and non-Jewish believers—was brought about through the death of Jesus:

“But now, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, you, the (one)s being in times (past) far off, (have) come to be near, in [i.e. by] the blood of the Anointed.”

The expressions “in (the) Anointed Yeshua” and “in the blood of the Anointed” are clearly parallel, and largely synonymous. They reflect the key Pauline themes of believers being “in Christ” and of ‘dying and rising with Christ’ —that is, of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the previous notes, we have seen how, in Paul’s view, this participation is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit.

The main focus in this passage, however, is on how our shared participation in Jesus’ death means that there is no longer any separation or division between Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers. The old religious identity, with its distinctions and exclusivity, no longer applies for believers in Christ. This new reality is expressed here in terms of those who were “far away” (makra/n), i.e. Gentiles, coming to be identified (along with believing Jews) as God’s people—they now come to be “near” (e)ggu/$). As part of God’s people, Gentiles are able to come near to God, in a covenant bond of relation to Him (cf. below on v. 18). This is, of course, a new covenant, which supersedes the old covenant and its Torah (on the definite contrast, see esp. 2 Cor 3:6, 14, in context).

The emphasis on unity between Jew and Gentile is expressed powerfully in verse 14, stressing again how this unity was achieved through Jesus’ death—and of our participation, as believers, in his death (“in his flesh” [e)n th=| sarki\ au)tou=]). Such unity could only be achieved by abolishing the old religious differences (which were ethnically and culturally defined). The Torah regulations represent the terms of the old covenant, which were binding for God’s people. Now, with the coming of Christ—and, specifically, through his sacrificial death (on the cross, cf. Gal 2:19ff; Col 2:14)—these regulations of the old covenant are no longer binding for believers in Christ.

This is the essence of Paul’s view of the Law, expressed (as I see it) in unmistakable terms, throughout Galatians, Romans, and in 2 Corinthians 3. It is also expressed quite clearly here in verse 15. Following the thought in v. 14, where it is stated that Jesus’ death ‘dissolved’ (vb lu/w) the “middle wall of the fence” that previously separated Jew from non-Jew. This “wall” is further identified, in verse 15, as “the law [no/mo$] of e)ntolai/ e)n do/gmasin.” This particular qualifying expression is difficult to translate. The noun e)ntolh/ fundamentally refers to a charge or duty that is placed on a person, which he/she is obligated to complete. In context, it clearly refers to the regulations and requirements in the Torah, and is typically translated flatly as “command(ment)s”. The word do/gma essentially means an (authoritative) opinion, often in the sense of a view that is presented as a guiding principle; in a governmental or legal context, it can refer to an official ordinance or decree. Here, the expression e)n do/gmasin refers to the specific Torah regulations/requirements in their written (legally binding) form.

Jesus’ death literally made these binding regulations “cease working”; that is the fundamental meaning of the verb katarge/w, which Paul uses repeatedly to express the idea that the Torah regulations are no longer binding for believers in Christ. It occurs 4 times in 2 Corinthians 3 (vv. 7, 11, 13-14) and twice in Rom 7:1-6 (vv. 2, 6); Paul also uses it, in the same context, but in the reverse sense—viz., that continuing to live under the old covenant effectively invalidates the Gospel and faith in Christ! (cf. Rom 4:14; Gal 5:4, 11). Paul was fully aware how controversial this view of the Torah was, especially for Jewish Christians. In Rom 3:31—a verse that can easily be misunderstood—he declares that his view of the Torah does not nullify/invalidate (same verb, katarge/w) the Law. God’s Law continues to be upheld, but through the Spirit and by following the example of Jesus (esp. the ‘love command’), rather than by continuing to treat the Torah regulations as legally binding.

The thought in vv. 14-15 is developed and restated in vv. 16-17, emphasizing again how the unity of believers was achieved through Jesus’ sacrificial death. In the climactic verse 18, Paul (or the author) ties this unity directly to the presence of the Spirit:

“(for it is) that, through him, we hold the way leading toward (God)—the both (of us) in one Spirit—toward the Father!”

The death of Jesus gives believers direct access to God the Father. The noun used is prosagwgh/, which essentially refers to the way “leading toward” something (or someone); it can also have the more active (verbal) meaning of bringing someone forward. In any case, believers are brought (or allowed to come) “toward” (pro/$) God (the Father). This coming toward God is made possible through our participation in Jesus’ death (“through him”), but it is realized “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati). The exact expression, e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati (“in one Spirit”), could conceivably refer more generically to a ‘spirit of unity’ between human beings. While this would be valid, any ‘spirit’ of unity among believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. The concluding use of the word pneu=ma in verse 22, makes absolutely clear that the focus is on the Spirit of God (and Christ). From the Pauline theological standpoint, as we have seen, it is through the presence of the Spirit that the life-giving power of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) is communicated to us. I have no doubt that the author of Ephesians—if that person is not Paul himself—shares this same Pauline perspective.

In the next daily note, our final note in this series, we will look at the statement in Hebrews 9:14, which is one of the very few passages in the New Testament indicating a role for the Spirit in Jesus’ actual death.

April 28: Romans 7:6

Romans 7:6

The emphasis in Romans 6 was on the believer’s freedom from the power of sin. This freedom is obtained by being “in Christ” —as expressed by the idea, drawn from the symbolism of the baptism-rite, of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here in chapter 7 (vv. 1-6), Paul introduces a second, related, aspect of our freedom in Christ—namely, that we are also freed from the binding authority of the Torah regulations (i.e., the Law). This is Paul’s focus throughout his letter to the Galatians, and is also the aspect of freedom that he emphasizes in 2 Corinthians 3 (cf. my recent study on this passage). The focus on the Torah is introduced here in vv. 1-6, and then the relationship between the Law and sin is expounded in the remainder of the chapter (vv. 7-25).

Paul begins his discussion in chap. 7 with an illustration involving the binding force of the marriage bond (vv. 1-3). When a woman’s husband dies, she is no longer bound to him by law, and she is free to give herself to another. This illustration is comparable to several that Paul utilizes in Galatians (e.g., 3:23-26ff; 4:1-7), as a way of explaining how the binding authority of the Torah only applied for a certain period of time—when that time is over, a person is no longer under its authority. According to Paul, the period of time when the Torah regulations were in force, has come to an end with Jesus (Rom 10:4, etc). Here is how he states the matter in 7:4:

“So then, my brothers, you also (have) become dead to the Law, through the body of the Anointed, unto your coming to be(long) [i.e so that you might belong] to another—to the (one hav)ing been raised out of (the) dead—(so) that we might bear fruit to God.”

Notice the way that Paul weaves in the ‘dying/rising with Christ’ theme (from chap. 6) into his application of the illustration. Jesus is identified with the ‘husband’ who died, thus voiding the force of the law for the woman (i.e., the believer); then Jesus is identified further with the new husband (“another” man), under an entirely new and different kind of marriage bond—one which has the purpose of “bearing fruit” to God.

The old husband (Jesus under the law) died and the woman (the believer) marries a new husband (the resurrected/exalted Jesus). This transfer is achieved through the believer’s participation in both Jesus’ death (“through the body of the Anointed”) and resurrection (“to the one having been raised out of the dead”).

Following this explanation, Paul again mentions (in v. 5) how this participation has set us free from the binding power of sin:

“For, when we were in the flesh, (the thing)s (being) suffered of sins, which (were realized) through the Law, worked in our members [i.e. body parts], unto the bearing of fruit to sin;”

The rather complex language here, describing the relationship between sin and the Law, is expounded by Paul in vv. 7ff. The syntax reflects a certain chain of logic:

    • “in the flesh” (i.e. prior to our coming to faith)
      • “the things suffered [paqh/mata] of [i.e. involving] sins”
        “that [were realized] through the Law”
    • “worked in our members”
      • “for bearing fruit to sin”

Stated more conventionally: there were passions and impulses “in our flesh” tending toward sin; these were active and at work in our “body parts”, spurring us on to sinful action (“bearing fruit to sin”). The same verb (karpofore/w, “bear fruit”) was used in v. 4 (cf. above), emphasizing the contrast between serving sin and serving God. Regarding this motif of bearing “fruit” (karpo/$), one is immediately reminded of Paul’s contrast between the “fruit of the Spirit” and the “works [‘fruit’ in a negative sense] of the flesh” in Gal 5:19-22.

As in Gal 5:24 (cf. also 2:19-21), the main point is that believers in Christ, who have died with him, have died to these sinful impulses: we are no longer in bondage to them. By participating in Jesus’ sacrificial death, we have been set free from their enslaving power. This also applies to the binding power of the Torah regulations, as is made clear in the continuation of Paul’s thought in v. 6:

“but now, we (have) been made to cease working from (under) the Law, (hav)ing died away in that by which we were held down, so that we (are now) to be a slave in (the) newness of (the) Spirit, and not in (the) oldness of (the) letter.”

Much of this language is repeated from 2 Corinthians 3—especially the use of the key verb katarge/w (vv. 7, 11, 13-14), the contrast between the Spirit and the “letter” (gra/mma, vv. 6-7), and the implicit contrast between the “old” and “new” covenants. On the last point, the expression “newness [kaino/th$] of the Spirit” certainly corresponds with the new (kaino/$) covenant in 2 Cor 3:6, just as “oldness [palaio/th$] of the letter” corresponds with the old (palaio/$) covenant in v. 14. For more on this, cf. the recent article in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”, along with the associated set of exegetical notes.

The same noun, kaino/th$, was used in 6:4 (cf. the earlier note); it is used in precisely parallel expressions, which also have comparable meaning:

    • “in newness of life” (e)n kaino/thti zwh=$)
    • “in newness of (the) Spirit” (e)n kaino/thti pneu/mato$)

This makes explicit what was only implied in the earlier passage—namely, that our participation in the death and life (resurrection) of Jesus is realized through the presence of the Spirit. While the Spirit tends to be associated with the life, it must be understood as equally associated with the death of Jesus. This also was indicated earlier, in 5:5, where Paul describes God’s love, present in us through the Spirit, specifically in terms of sacrificial death of Jesus (His Son), vv. 6-11. Thus, the reality and power of both Jesus’ death and his resurrection are communicated to us through the Spirit.

In the next daily note, we will turn to Paul’s discussion in chapter 8, where this role of the Spirit is given special emphasis.

April 25: Romans 6:3

In these daily notes, examining the relationship between the Spirit and the death of Jesus, we turn now to the Pauline letters. Paul expresses this relationship in a very distinctive way—in terms of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This has been summarized by the principle of “dying and rising with Christ”. I will be focusing on how Paul refers to this concept, and develops it, in his letter to the Romans, mentioning relevant passages in the other letters along the way.

The association between the Spirit and the death of Jesus is introduced at 5:5, where Paul expresses the idea that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts, through (the) holy Spirit (hav)ing been given to us”. The love of God is thus manifest, within the believer, through the presence of the Spirit. This love is connected with the believer’s hope (e)lpi/$, vv. 4-5)—by which is primarily meant our future hope (of resurrection and salvation from the Judgment). The presence of the Spirit is a promise of our future salvation (and resurrection), cf. 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Gal 5:5.

In verses 6-11, Paul explains how God’s love, present within us through the Spirit, was manifest in the sacrificial death of His Son (Jesus) on our behalf. The thematic emphasis on our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus is introduced in verse 10, where Paul uses the verb katalla/ssw to express the idea of things “being made different” for us, in relation to God, through this participation. Our participation is “through” (dia/) the death of Jesus (“His Son”), and then “in” (e)n) his life (i.e. resurrection). The presence of the Spirit is associated with both aspects. Even though the role of the Spirit in Jesus’ resurrection is emphasized (cf. already in 1:4), it must be understood in connection with his death as well. This is especially so, as Paul specifically cites Jesus’ death as a manifestation of God’s love (present in us through the Spirit).

Romans 6:3-11

This participation-theme is developed and expounded in chapter 6, in which Paul specifically emphasizes the believer’s freedom from bondage to the power of sin. Our freedom, as believers, in this regard, is expressed in terms of dying to sin:

“We the (one)s who died away to sin, how yet shall we live in it?” (v. 2)

Believers are characterized as “the ones who” (oi%tine$) have died (a)peqa/nomen) to sin. An aorist form of the verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away [from], die off”) is used, indicating that this death is something that has already occurred, in the past. The principal past event being referenced is the baptism of the believer:

“Or, are you without knowledge (of the fact) that, as many of us as have been dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death?” (v. 3)

Paul is almost certainly drawing upon established, traditional symbolism (and language) associated with the baptism-rite. In particular, the expression “into Jesus Christ” was likely part of the formulae used in the ritual. The preposition ei)$ literally means “into”, but can also carry the nuance of “unto”. A fuller expression is “into/unto the name of Jesus” (cf. Matt 28:19; Acts 8:16; 19:5, etc), the principal signification may of been that of believers coming to belong to Jesus. The same preposition was frequently used in relation of person’s faith in Jesus (e.g., Rom 10:14; Phil 1:29, etc), and this association certainly would have been intended in the baptismal formula, since baptism signifies, in a primary way, one’s trust in Jesus Christ.

However, Paul seems to be utilizing here the more concrete sense of the preposition ei)$—viz., of being baptized, quite literally, into Jesus. This also may have been part of the ritual imagery. For example, when the believer goes down into the water (at least a partial immersion should be assumed), one is cleansed of the old self, shedding one’s prior identity (bound by sin), and ‘putting on’ a new life and identity, in union with Christ. Indeed, elsewhere Paul speaks of “putting on” Christ (Rom 13:14; cf. Col 3:10ff; Eph 4:24), and, here, too, he is likely drawing upon traditional baptismal language, as seems clear from Gal 3:26-28:

“For as many of you as (have) been dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed, you (have) put on (the) Anointed.” (v. 27)

The actual verb used is e)ndu/w, which literally means “sink in(to)” a garment. The language could apply to one’s descent into the water, but more likely it would have been tied to the symbolic act of putting on a clean new garment (perhaps a white robe) after coming up from the water; the new garment would symbolize one’s new identity in Christ. This imagery came to be especially prominent in the baptismal tradition of the Syrian Church, with the splendidly creative idea that believers would put on the “robe of glory” left behind in the water by Jesus (after his own baptism).

It would have been natural for the descent down into the water to represent a symbolic “death”, followed by a rebirth. Such ritual imagery is found in many religious contexts, including the Greco-Roman ‘mystery cults’, and it would actually be surprising if, at a very early point, Christians did not utilize it as well. However, Paul appears to be the first Christian author (we know of) to bring out this particular aspect of the the baptism rite; in any case, he was the first to develop the symbolism, giving to it a profound theological (and Christological) interpretation.

This will be discussed in the next daily note, as we examine Paul’s exposition that follows in vv. 4-5ff.

March 25: Romans 8:17 (continued)

Romans 8:17, continued

The final clause of v. 17 (cf. the previous note) gives us an idea of how it is that we, as believers, are “co-heirs of Christ” —lit. ones holding the lot (klhrono/moi) together with (su/n) him. The prefixed preposition sun– alludes to our fundamental union with Christ. Paul expounds the significance of that union in the final clause:

“… (and) if indeed we suffer with (him), (it is) that also we shall be honored with (him).”

He utilizes a pair of compound verbs with a similar prefix (sun-):

    • sumpa/sxw—meaning “suffer [pa/sxw] together with [sun]” another person
    • sundoca/zw—in the passive, “be esteemed/honored [doca/zw] together with [sun]” another

The latter verb occurs only here in the New Testament, the former only here and in 1 Cor 12:26; neither is used in the Greek Old Testament (LXX). Thus, we are dealing with distinctively Pauline language, as an expression of a uniquely Pauline theological emphasis—namely, that of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In this, Paul is developing a basic early Christian concept, symbolized principally by the baptism ritual. However, Paul develops the concept in a way that is most distinctive, and which must surely be regarded as an original contribution to Christian thought. The key passage is Romans 6:1-11, beginning especially with verse 3:

“…as (many) of us as were dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death

He builds upon this statement in verse 4:

“(So) then, we were buried together [sunta/fhmen] with him, through the dunking into (his) death, (so) that, even as (the) Anointed was raised out of (the) dead through the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the Father, so also we should walk about in newness of life.”

Note two key parallels with our passage:

    • The use of a similar compound verb with a sun– prefix (sunqa/ptw), emphasizing our participation in the death of Jesus
    • The idea of (God) the Father bestowing esteem/honor/glory (do/ca) upon His Son

The exposition continues in verse 5:

“For if we have come to be planted together [su/mfutoi] in the likeness of his death, (the) rather (all the more) shall we also be (in the likeness) of his standing up again [i.e. resurrection]”

This time an adjective with a sun– prefix (su/mfuto$) is used, expressing the idea of death (and burial) through the image of a seed planted in the ground, yielding new life and growth (cf. John 12:24); for other use of the seed-motif, cf. 1 Cor 15:37-38; 1 Pet 1:23; 1 Jn 3:9. The message is clear: by participating in Jesus’ death, believers also participate in his resurrection. This Pauline teaching of ‘dying and rising with Christ’ is mentioned or alluded to elsewhere in his letters (e.g., 1 Cor 15:20-49; 2 Cor 5:14-21; Gal 2:19-20; 5:24-25), but the more direct parallels in Col 2:12 and Gal 3:26-27 illustrate both centrality of the concept, as it is expressed here, and its association with the baptism ritual.

While our participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection may be symbolized by baptism, it is realized through the presence of the Spirit. This is clear enough from the context here in chapter 8. The spiritual aspect of the participation-concept is particularly emphasized in verses 9-11. Our union with Christ is understood as realized by being “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati), and also by the Spirit being in us (“the Spirit…houses [i.e. dwells] in you”).

This state of being characterizes the true believer in Christ; indeed, having the Spirit in us means we have Christ in us, since the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Christ (v. 9). And, through union with his Spirit, we participate—in a spiritual way—with his death and resurrection:

“And, if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through His Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] in you.” (v. 11)

Paul alludes to this entire matrix of theological (and Christological) thought in the final phrases of v. 17.

An important, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of this spiritualism, is the way that Paul understands our participation (in Jesus’ death and resurrection) as being realized, in space and time, throughout the course of our earthly lives. Even though the participation is fundamentally spiritual, there are practical and tangible effects to the whole person—body and spirit. Here in chapter 8, Paul emphasizes two specific ways that we participate, on a daily basis, in Jesus’ death:

First, we actively and willingly “put to death” the “deeds of the body” (= works of the flesh), vv. 12-13. For Paul, this is a practical consequence of the true believer being “crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:19)—i.e., participating in his death. This requires a willing commitment by us to ‘walk’ in the Spirit (Gal 5:16ff), allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit, which, in turn, results in personal ethical/moral transformation (i.e, the “fruit of the Spirit”) that has a most tangible and practical effect.

Second, as believers, we can be expected to endure suffering in this life. The suffering to which Paul refers (in verse 18ff) is not only the result of the internal struggle between the Spirit and the flesh; it also is realized through hostility and persecution by the world. All of this is part of the world’s continuing bondage under the power of sin (and death)—bondage from which we, as believers, have been set free. Paul refers to this, summarily, by the expression “the sufferings of the time now [i.e. the present moment]” in v. 18. In vv. 19-23 Paul gives profound expression to the (eschatological) idea that all of creation will ultimately be set free and will come to share in the same promise of glory that believers now possess, in Christ. This will be realized at the final resurrection.

March 22: Romans 8:15 (continued)

Romans 8:15, continued

In the first part of verse 15 (cf. the previous note), Paul makes the seemingly obvious point that believers in Christ, in receiving the Spirit, did not receive a “spirit of slavery”. This continues the slavery-freedom contrast that has run through the probatio of Romans (especially in chaps. 58), and is found elsewhere in Paul’s letters—most notably, in Galatians. His use of the adverb pa/lin (“again”) refers to Christians allowing themselves to go back under a kind of bondage—to the “flesh”, as an echo of their earlier bondage (before faith in Christ) to the power of sin. In Galatians (5:1), he uses the same sort of language with regard to bondage under the Law (i.e., the Torah regulations). These two kinds of bondage are combined together in the expression “the law of sin and death” in Rom 8:2.

In the second part of verse 15, Paul builds upon the declaration in v. 14, modifying the slavery-freedom contrast so as to juxtapose slavery with sonship—i.e., believers as “sons of God”. The implicit idea is that the son of a free person is also free, and not a slave; moreover, the son who is an heir, inherits all that belongs to the father.

“…but (rather), you received (the) Spirit of placement as sons, in which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!'”

This statement is quite similar to that expressed in Gal 4:5-6; and, indeed, throughout chapters 3 and 4 of Galatians, Paul makes extensive use of the sonship motif. In both passages, the noun ui(oqesi/a is used. Literally, this word means “placement as a son [ui(o/$]”; in the Greco-Roman world, it was specifically used as a technical term for what we would call adoption—that is, of establishing the legal status of sonship for a person who was not a natural/biological son. In most translations, ui(oqesi/a is rendered flatly as “adoption”; however, in my view, a literal translation is more appropriate, as it preserves the keyword (ui(o/$, “son”) of this section. Paul uses it again later on in v. 23 and 9:4, and it also occurs in Ephesians 1:5, which is worth citing here:

“…having marked us out beforehand unto [i.e. for] placement as sons, through Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto Himself, according to the good consideration of His will.”

These five occurrences in the Pauline letters are the only instances of ui(oqesi/a in the New Testament; nor does the word occur in the LXX. It is thus a distinctively Pauline term, particularly as he makes use of it in a theological (and spiritual) sense.

Eph 1:5 makes explicit what is certainly implied here in vv. 14-17—namely, that the sonship we, as believers, receive is realized “through Jesus Christ”. The parallel in Gal 4:5-6, further emphasizes that the presence of Christ is realized through the Spirit:

“…that we should receive from (Him) the placement as sons; and, in that you are sons, God sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying (out) ‘Abba, Father!'”

Paul identifies the (Holy) Spirit both as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, to the point that he is able to use both expressions interchangeably, here in the very context of our passage (v. 9). Christ dwells in us through the presence of the Spirit, and this is the basis of our union with him; it is this union with his Spirit that confers upon us the same status as God’s son. The Sonship of Jesus remains unique, but we, as believers, share in it.

Both in v. 15 and Gal 4:6, Paul uses the same idiom of believers crying out (vb kra/zw) “Abba, Father” (a)bba o( path/r). The word a)bba (abba) is a transliteration in Greek of the emphatic Aramaic noun aB*a^, which literally means “the father”, but which is also used as a vocative: “O, father!” Elsewhere in the New Testament, this word (and expression) occurs only in Mark 14:36, and there can be little doubt that Paul has inherited it from the early Gospel tradition, being rooted in Jesus’ own (Aramaic) use of aB*a^ in addressing God (as Father). It is the Spirit (of Christ) in us that allows us, legitimately, to use the same manner of addressing God the Father as Jesus himself used. This further confirms the sonship we share with Jesus.

Paul’s development and application of this sonship-motif are distinctive, but the motif itself is hardly unique to him. The identification of believers as “sons/children of God” seems to have been commonplace among early Christians, ultimately being inherited from Old Testament usage—first, of God’s people Israel as His ‘son(s)’ (cf. the discussion in the prior note); and, secondly, of faithful/righteous Israelites and Jews as His children. The New Testament usage (outside of Paul) is not as frequent as one might expect, but it attested, for example, in Hebrews 2:10; 12:5-8; and Rev 21:7; the Gospels also preserve usage by Jesus (Matt 5:9, 45 par; 13:38; Luke 16:8, etc). It is most prominent in the Johannine writings, though the term “son” (ui(o/$) is reserved for Jesus, and te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used exclusively for believers—cf. Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2; on the use of the verb genna/w to express the same relationship, cf. Jn 3:3-8; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18.

We will find similar parallels between Pauline and Johannine thought, in this regard, when we turn to v. 16 of our passage, which we will do in the next daily note.

 

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: Romans 8:1-17ff

Romans 8:1-17ff

Romans 8 represents Paul’s most extensive and concentrated teaching on the Spirit. It is thus central to a proper understanding of his spiritualism. In this chapter, Paul touches upon many of the themes and ideas expressed in the earlier passages we have studied, bringing them together in a more systematic way. This article will focus on verses 1-11, while vv. 12-17, though included in the discussion below, will be dealt with in more detail in a set of supplemental daily notes.

Chapter 8 is the fourth, and final, major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first three sections were:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin

This last section (chapter 8) I would divide as follows:

    • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
      8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

Having just worked intensively through the relation between Law and Sin (see the article on Rom 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), with the emphasis on the believer’s freedom (in Christ) from both, Paul now proceeds to discuss the life of the believer in the Spirit (of God and Christ). This thematic emphasis is, in some ways, parallel to the exhortation in Galatians 5:16-25 (discussed in the previous article in the current series)—believers who are freed from the binding force of the Law (and Sin), now live according to the power and guidance of the Spirit.

Two main themes are present in the discussion on the Spirit here in Rom 8:1-11:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks the New Covenant for God’s people (believers), taking the place of the Old Covenant Law (Torah) as the guiding and governing principle
    • The Spirit is tied to believers’ union with Jesus Christ, as symbolized in the baptism ritual
Verses 1-11

The theme of this section is the conflict for believers between the Spirit and the Flesh, introduced by Paul in Rom 7:14, but which is more familiar from the famous discussion in Gal 5:16ff. In Rom 7:7-25, human beings were dramatized as struggling with the flesh, but under the enslaving power of sin and the Law; now, having been delivered from the Law and sin, the struggle with the “flesh” (sa/rc) remains. This deliverance is defined according to two principal declarations in vv. 1-2:

“(So) then, now (there is) not any judgment against the (one)s in (the) Anointed Yeshua. For the law of the Spirit of life in (the) Anointed Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (vv. 1-2)

    1. “Now there is not any [ou)de/n] judgment against [kata/krima] the (one)s (who are) in (the) Anointed Yeshua” (v. 1)—addressed collectively to all believers, this describes the elimination of judgment (by God) against human beings (announced in Rom 1:18ff); this judgment was the result of violation of the Law by human beings, under the power of sin. This removal of judgment is the product of “justification”, of God “making (things) right” again for humankind, and, in particular, of making believers right and just in His eyes.
    2. “For the Law of the Spirit of life, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, has set you free from the Law of Sin and of Death” (v. 2)—the majority text reads “set me free”, by which Paul would be personalizing the matter, much as he does in 7:7-25—either way, the personal pronoun is representative of all believers.

The entirety of the old order of things—bondage of humankind under the power of sin, and the corresponding bondage under the power of the Torah (with its regulations regarding sin)—has been swept away for believers in Christ. We are truly set free from both—sin and the Torah. Paul plays on the word no/mo$, which typically in his letters refers to the Old Testment Law (Torah), though occasionally he uses the expression “the law [no/mo$] of God”, which has a wider meaning—i.e., the will of God for His people, as expressed (specifically) in the Torah. Paul uses the word in both of these ways here in vv. 1-11, but also in two specialized expressions:

    • the law [o( no/mo$] of the Spirit [tou= pneu/mato$] of life [th=$ zwh=$]
    • the law [o( no/mo$] of sin [th=$ a(marti/a$] and of death [kai\ tou= qana/tou]

Here we find also a new use of the word no/mo$ (“law”) in the expression o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$ (“the Law of the Spirit of Life”)—pneu=ma here certainly referring to the (Holy) Spirit. In Galatians, the Spirit is seen as taking the place of the Law for believers (cf. Gal 5:16ff), and should be understood in this way here, but with the added emphasis on its sanctifying and life-bestowing power—Life contrasted with Death. The expression “the Law of Sin and Death” is an expansion of “the Law of Sin” in Rom 7:23-25; it reflects the dynamic of Sin and the Law at work, both against each other, and also working together according to God’s purpose (see esp. Rom 11:32). The expression should not be reduced simply to the “principle of sin”.

The formal parallelism shows that here “the Spirit” is parallel with “sin”, and is meant as an absolute contrast; in light of the overall discussion in Romans, this would be defined as “bondage under sin” vs. “freedom in the Spirit”. Thus, in addition to the Torah itself, there is a “law of the Spirit” and a “law of sin” —two great guiding principles for all of humankind. Believers in Christ follow the law of the Spirit, while all other people are bound to continue following the law of sin. The Torah, which previously played a kind of intermediary role between these two principles, no longer applies for believers. Since it is sin that leads to a sentence of judgment (kri=ma) from God, and believers are freed from the power of sin (and all its effects), there is no longer occasion for any such sentence to be brought down (kata/) against us. Life is the opposite of death, which would be the ultimate punishment (judgment) for sin.

In verses 3 and 4, this deliverance is described in terms of Christ’s sacrificial death:

“For the powerless (thing) of the Law [i.e. what the Law lacked power to do], in which [i.e. in that] it was weak through the flesh, God (has done), sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us—the (one)s not walking about according to (the) flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.” (vv. 3-4)

These powerful verses are dense with key elements of Pauline theology, expressed in language that can be difficult to translate (as the glosses in brackets above indicate). There are two especially important ideas that define Paul’s line of thought:

    • it is in the “flesh” (sa/rc) that the power of sin is localized and manifest in human beings, evident by a universal impulse toward sinful thoughts and actions; even for believers, this impulse to sin remains in the flesh (to varying degrees), though we are no longer enslaved by its power—i.e. we have the ability not to respond to the impulse
    • it was the sacrificial death of Jesus that enables believers to be free from the power of sin (and the judgment of God against sin)

Paul uses the verb katakri/nw (“judge against, bring down judgment [against]”), which is cognate to the noun kata/krima in verse 1 (cf. above), to make the point that the judgment against sin was realized in the death of Jesus—not against the human beings who sinned, but against sin itself, stripping it of its death-yielding power over humankind. The matter of the relationship of Jesus’ death to sin is highly complex, and cannot be discussed in detail here (cf. my earlier note on these verses [along with 2 Cor 5:19-21]). The main point of emphasis here, in term of Paul’s view of the role of the Spirit, is twofold:

    • Christ’s death freed humankind (believers) from the power of sin, located in the “flesh”
    • Believers are likewise freed from the Law—and we effectively fulfill the Law completely (and automatically) insofar as we “walk according to the Spirit” (cf. the previous article on Gal 5:16-25)

The remainder of this section, vv. 5-11, follows very much in line with Galatians 5:16-25, contrasting the Spirit with the flesh.

“For the (one)s being [i.e. who are] according to the flesh give mind (to) the (thing)s of the flesh, but the (one)s (who are) according to (the) Spirit (give mind to) the (thing)s of the Spirit. For the mindset of the flesh (leads to) death, but the mindset of the Spirit (leads to) life and peace, through (the fact) that the mindset of the flesh (means) hostility to God, for it is not put in order under the law of God, and (indeed) it is not able to be; and the (one)s being [i.e. who are] in (the) flesh are not able to please God.” (vv. 5-8)

These verses essentially expound the contrast between “walking according to the flesh” and “walking according to the Spirit”, the ethical and religious aspect being broadened to cover the anthropological (and ontological) dimension of humankind. We are dealing with two kinds of people: (1) faithful believers in Christ, and (2) all other human beings. The first group is guided by the Spirit, the second by the flesh (and the impulse to sin that resides in the flesh). This shows how deep the flesh vs. Spirit dichotomy (and dualism) was for Paul.

Paul’s use of the word translated “flesh” (sa/rc) is complex and highly nuanced; it primarily refers to the human body, and its parts, but especially in the sense that it is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin. Paul clearly believed that this impulse to sin still remained in the “flesh”, even for Christians (Gal 5:17), but the enslaving power of sin had been removed—believers now have the freedom and ability to choose to follow God’s will. This choosing is expressed by use of the word fro/nhma (vv. 6-7, also in v. 27), rather difficult to translate, but which indicates the exercise of the mind, both in terms of understanding and the will. In typically dualistic fashion, Paul contrasts the fro/nhma th=$ sarko/$ (“mind[edness] of the flesh”) with the fro/nhma tou= pneu/mato$ (“mind[edness] of the Spirit”).

“And (yet) you are not in (the) flesh, but in (the) Spirit, if indeed (it is that the) Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you. And if any (one) does not hold (the) Spirit of (the) Anointed, that (person) is not his [i.e. does not belong to Christ].” (v. 9)

The condition of being and “walking” (i.e. living/acting) in the Spirit depends on the Spirit being in the believer. The reciprocity of this relationship is stressed by Paul no less than in the Johannine writings. What is striking is the way that this is expressed by the dual identification of the Spirit as both “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ“. The latter expression is rare in Paul’s letters, but, as this verse indicates, “Spirit of Christ” is used interchangeably with “Spirit of God”, as though both refer equally to the same Spirit. For more on this point, see the supplemental notes on vv. 12-17 (and cf. also the earlier note on 1 Cor 6:17ff; 15:44-46).

In verses 9-11, Paul gives a threefold qualification of the Spirit:

    • the “Spirit of God” (pneu=ma Qeou=) which dwells (“houses”) in [e)n] believers (v. 9a)
    • the “Spirit of [the] Anointed {Christ}” (pneu=ma Xristou=), which likewise is in [e)n] believers (v. 10), but believers are also said to “hold” it (v. 9b)
    • the “Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua from the dead” (i.e. of God), which also dwells in [e)n] believers, and gives life to our mortal (lit. “dying”) bodies just as Christ was raised from the dead (v. 11)

Verse 10 is discussed further in a separate daily note; but here we may consider briefly vv. 10-11 as a unit:

“And if (the) Anointed (One is) in you, (then on one hand) the body (is) dead through sin, but (on the other hand) the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness. And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of (the) dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through His Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] (with)in you.” (vv. 10-11)

Again, the Spirit dwelling in the believer means Christ dwells in the believer, since the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Christ. This means that, when we are united with the exalted Jesus through faith (and symbolized by baptism), and his Spirit unites with our spirit, we are also united with the Spirit of God.

The baptismal symbolism involves our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul only alludes to this here, having addressed the point earlier in 6:1-11; indeed, it is one of the most distinctive aspects of his theology. The power of Christ’s death and resurrection is communicated to us through our union with his divine Spirit. The power of his death puts to death the sin in our “flesh”, while the power of his resurrection transforms our entire being with divine life, so that even our decaying bodies will be raised to new life—just as his own body was raised by the power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit is literally to be understood as the very life of God.

Verses 12-17

Verses 12-13 are transitional to vv. 14-17ff, but they also serve to bring the discussion on the Spirit in vv. 1-11 to a close. Paul’s statement in v. 13 could not be more direct or to the point:

“for if you live according to the flesh, you are about to die away, but if, in (the) Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live.”

The contrast between the Spirit and the flesh continues in these verses, which likewise have strong parallels with Galatians:

    • V. 12: An exhortation not to live “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka)—cf. Gal 5:16-17
    • V. 13: A reminder that living/acting according to the flesh leads to death, while the opposite leads to life—cf. Gal 6:7-8; for the idea of “putting to death the deeds of the body”, see Gal 5:24 (also 6:14)
    • V. 14-16: Declaration that through the Spirit believers are made sons/offspring of God—cf. Gal 3:26; 4:1-6 —in particular, verse 15 is extremely close to Gal 4:5-6
    • V. 17: The declaration follows that, if we are sons of God, then we are also his heirs—cf. Gal 3:29; 4:1ff (esp. verse 7); Paul adds here the detail that we are co-heirs (“ones receiving the lot together”) with Christ (see Rom 8:29)

These verses will be given a more detailed exegetical treatment in a set of supplemental notes.

Verses 18-25ff

The theme of believers as sons (and heirs) of God continues in this section with the hope (and promise) of future glory (new creation) that we have through the Spirit. In a truly beautiful, if somewhat enigmatic, passage, Paul describes all of creation as currently in the process of giving birth to something new— “the glory of the offspring of God” (v. 21). Believers are the “firstfruits” of this new creation, a process of our being realized as sons/children of God which will only be completed with our final resurrection and glorification— “the loosing of our bodies from (the bondage of death)” (v. 23). This also is ultimately the realization of salvation (“by [this] hope we are saved”, v. 24).

Verses 26-30

This section emphasizes that believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit, which Paul describes in two ways:

    • Vv. 26-27—The Spirit works on our behalf before God, described according to two richly detailed, compound verbs:
      sunantilamba/netai, “he takes (hold) together opposite (us)”, i.e. he helps and assists us “in our lack of strength”
      u(perentugxa/nei, “he reaches in (and) over (us)”, i.e. he meets us and intercedes on our behalf, specifically in the context of prayer, of “speaking out toward” God
    • Vv. 29-30—God works on our behalf; here Paul presents a schematic or chain of what could be called an “order of salvation”:
      proe/gnw, “he knew before(hand)”
      prow/risen, “he marked out before(hand)”
      e)ka/lesen, “he called”
      e)dikai/wsen, “he made right”, or “he made/declared just”
      e)do/casen, “he esteemed/honored [i.e. granted honor/glory]”

For more on description of the Spirit’s role in vv. 26-27, cf. my recent discussion in the “Notes on Prayer” feature (along with an earlier study); on the parallels with 1 Cor 2:10-16, cf. the article on that passage in the current series.