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.

Notes on Prayer: Romans 8:26-27; 10:1; 12:12

In our survey of the references to prayer in the Pauline letters, there are three remaining references in Romans to be considered briefly:

    • Romans 8:26-27
    • Romans 10:1
    • Romans 12:12

Romans 8:26-27

“And even so, the Spirit also takes hold opposite together with (us), in our lack of strength; for th(at for) wh(ich) we should speak out toward (God), according to (what) is necessary, we have not seen [i.e. we do not know], but the Spirit it(self) hits on it over (us), with speechless groanings; and the (One) searching the hearts has seen [i.e. knows] what the mind(-set) of the Spirit (is), (in) that [i.e. because] he hits upon it over (the) holy (one)s according to God.”

Paul’s syntax is a bit tricky to translate literally, but I have attempted to do so above, as cumbersome as it might seem in modern English. I have provided exegetical notes, along with an examination of the passage within the overall context of Romans, in an earlier study, which you should consult. This is one of the key Pauline passages on prayer, and the aforementioned study discusses it in detail.

Romans 10:1

“Brothers, the good consideration of my heart, and (my) need [de/hsi$] (expressed) toward God over them, (is) for (their) salvation”

This verse marks the beginning of chapter 10, which is at the midpoint of chapters 9-11. These famous chapters, which I discuss in the earlier series “Paul’s View of the Law” and “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, need to be understood within the overall framework of the letter. In some ways there is a parallel between chapters 9-11 and 2-4; certainly there is an interesting symmetry and balance of presentation:

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

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

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

Chapter 10 is the second of the three main sections; it may be outlined as follows:

    • Rom 10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)
    • Rom 10:5-13—Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.
    • Rom 10:14-21—Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:

As noted above, each of the chapters begins with a personal address by Paul. In chapter 10, the theme of the personal address (vv. 1-4) is: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4). The reference to prayer in verse 1 thus must be understood within this context. Paul expresses his heartfelt desire that his fellow Israelites and Jews would trust in Christ and be saved:

“(my) need (expressed) [de/hsi$] toward God over them (is) for (their) salvation” (v. 1b).

The noun de/hsi$ is something of a Pauline term; of the 18 New Testament occurrences, 12 are in the Pauline letters, including including 7 in the undisputed letters—in addition to its use here, it also occurs in 2 Cor 1:11; 9:14; Phil 1:4 [twice], 19; 4:6. The related verb de/omai is also used in Rom 1:10; 2 Cor 5:20; 8:4; 10:2; Gal 4:12; 1 Thess 3:10. The fundamental meaning of the verb is to be in need; in the context of prayer to God, it denotes making one’s need known (to God). The noun has a similar meaning, as it is used here, for example. It is a need for Paul because it is a burden on his heart, and so he expresses it to God.

In verses 2-3 he offers his diagnosis regarding Israel’s current situation:

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

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

“For (the) Anointed (One) is (the) completion [te/lo$] of the Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at) is trusting.”

For more on this verse, cf. my earlier note. Salvation is to be found, not through observing the Torah regulations, but through trust in Christ. His desire is for Israel to be saved, and he believes that this will yet take place, however unlikely it may seem from his current vantage point. Chapters 9-11 represent a complex and powerful treatise on Israel’s ultimate conversion within the framework of early Christian eschatology (cf. the article in the earlier series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament). Paul’s thoughts on this subject also relate to his current missionary efforts, which include his journey to Jerusalem with the “collection for the saints”, which, in his mind, symbolized the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers. Chapters 9-11, including his prayer-wish in 10:1, also reflect this same hope for unity.

Romans 12:12

“…rejoicing in hope, remaining under in distress, being strong toward speaking out toward (God)”

Chapters 12-15 comprise a new section in Romans, in which Paul offers a range of ethical and practical instruction. If the theme of justification (i.e., being made right before God) by faith is a central theme of the letter in the earlier chapters, then chaps. 12-15 could be described as “a paraenetic development of the consequences of justification” (Fitzmyer, p. 637), illustrating how the justified believer should live. The basis of this instruction is found in the opening verses—the declaration in verse 1 that believers are to present their bodies as “living sacrifices” to God, followed by the directive in verse 2:

“and do not be conformed to the (pattern of) this Age, but be changed in form [i.e. transformed] by the renewing of the mind, unto the considering (acceptable) by you what the wish of God (is)—the good and well-pleasing and complete (thing).”

Justification leads to the transformation of the believer—a change in his/her entire way of thinking and acting; only this requires a certain willingness of the believer to be guided by the Spirit, as well as by the teaching and example of Jesus (embodied in the love principle). In verses 3-8, Paul goes on to emphasize the extent to which this new way of life takes place with the community of believers. In Romans, no less than in the Corinthian letters, Paul strongly emphasizes the ideal of the unity of believers.

This brings us to the instruction in verses 9-21, which, indeed, begins with the love principle (v. 9, cf. 13:8-10). This entire paraenesis follows a distinctive syntactical pattern, with an object noun (or phrase) in the dative followed by a participle that possesses the force of an imperative. This chain of habitual actions and attributes begins with the injunction in verse 9:

“…hating (thoroughly) the evil, (and) being joined [lit. glued] to the good”

The dualistic command has its roots in Old Testament tradition (Amos 5:15; Psalm 97:10), and was developed as an ethical principle within Judaism (e.g., 1QS 1:4-5); Paul’s wording resembles that in Testament of Benjamin 8:1 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 653). The chain of injunctions that follows, utilizing the same grammatical pattern, illustrates what it means to “hate the evil and be joined to the good”. Prayer is just one of these attributes for believers, albeit an important one:

“…being strong/firm toward speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/]” (v. 12)

The verb proskartere/w, which I translate literally above as “be strong/firm toward (something),” occurs primarily in the book of Acts where it functions as a key term expressing the unity of the early believers in Jerusalem (1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4; 8:13). Paul uses it again in Rom 13:6, and in Col 4:2 it is used in virtually the same context as here (emphasizing the importance of being devoted to prayer). This verb signifies the active nature of believers’ prayers—the strength/firmness reflecting both their faith and devotion to God, but also their commitment to Christian unity (cf. above), since prayer is made over the needs of others as much as (or more than) it is made for one’s own needs. Certainly also implied is the idea of continual prayer, that believers are constantly engaged in prayer to God, which elsewhere Paul expresses by the adverb a)dialei/ptw$ (“without [any] gap [i.e. interruption],” cf. 1:9; 1 Thess 1:2; 5:17).

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 33 (Doubleday / Yale: 1993).

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.

 

 

 

November 28: Romans 1:4 (continued)

Romans 1:4, continued

Following up on the discussion in the previous note, in our study on the Christological formula in Rom 1:3-4, it remains to examine the central expressions of second part of the formula (in verse 4):

    1. e)n duna/mei (“in power”), and
    2. kata\ pneu=ma a(giosu/nh$ (“according to [the] pneu=ma of holiness”)
1. e)n duna/mei

The prepositional expression e)n duna/mei (“in power”) qualifies the primary statement in verse 4—i.e., “the (one hav)ing been marked out (as) Son of God”. It introduces the predicate of the clause, but there is some uncertainty regarding the syntax: does it modify the participle o(risqe/nto$ or the title “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=)? If the former, then the sense would be adverbial—that is, “having been marked out (by God)…in power”. If the latter, then it is adjectival, clarifying the sense in which Jesus is the Son of God, i.e., “the Son of God in power.”

Much depends, I think, on whether the expression truly is a Pauline addition to an earlier formula, or whether it represents an intrinsic part of the (original) formula as composed. The syntactical question, in this regard, is whether “in power” is an intentional parallel to “out of the seed…”, or whether the principal parallel in the two couplets is “out of the seed of David” / “out the resurrection of the dead”. In my view, the first option is to be preferred, in which case e)n duna/mei would have been part of the original formula. This means the full expression “the Son of God in power” is parallel with “out of the seed of David”, and may be intended to express a contrast along the lines of the Philippians hymn—i.e., incarnate human being vs. exalted divine being. His death/resurrection is greater than his birth, and moves in the opposite direction (ascent vs. descent).

What is certain is that the “power” (du/nami$) is the power of God, the very power that raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the “right hand” of God in heaven. In early Christian tradition, the power of God is closely aligned with His Spirit—Acts 1:8; 8:19; 10:38; Luke 1:35; 4:14; cf. also Matt 12:28 par, etc., an association that goes back to Old Testament tradition (e.g., Mic 3:8; Zec 4:6). Paul’s thought follows in line with this (1 Thess 1:5; 1 Cor 2:4; Rom 15:13, 19), and he certainly emphasizes the power of God’s Spirit in raising Jesus (Rom 8:11ff), and how the exalted Jesus shares that same Spirit (1 Cor 15:45; 6:17). Thus, “Son of God in power” is an apt expression for the idea that the exalted Jesus possesses the very Spirit of God and is united with it.

2. kata\ pneu=ma a(giosu/nh$

This phrase is parallel with kata\ sa/rka in v. 3, and thus juxtaposes sa/rc (“flesh”) and pneu=ma (“spirit”). However, this is not the antithetical flesh-vs-Spirit dualism familiar from Paul’s letters (including a number of key passages in Romans); rather, it is meant to illustrate a more fundamental metaphysical contrast—of the material earthly realm (of human beings) with the divine and heavenly realm (of God). This has been seen by commentators as another piece of evidence for a pre-Pauline origin of the formula in vv. 3-4 (cp. a similar contrast in the hymn of 1 Tim 3:16, discussed in prior notes).

Here the term contrasted with “flesh” is not simply “spirit”, but “spirit of holiness [a(giosu/nh]”. This expression does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, but is a literal rendering of vd#q) j^Wr in the Old Testament (“spirit of [God’s] holiness” = His “holy Spirit”), Psalm 51:13; Isa 63:10-11; cp. Dan 4:8-9, 18; 5:11. As such, it certainly refers to the Spirit of God, but specifically in reference to the presence (and effect) of His Spirit upon human beings (the people of God). The Qumran Community demonstrates a development in this line of tradition that is, in certain respects, comparable to that which took place within early Christianity. The references in the Dead Sea texts to the “holy Spirit” or “spirit of [God’s] holiness” are worth studying carefully; I have done this in a recent two-part article which I strongly recommend you consult as part of the current study.

If the formula in Rom 1:3-4 took shape earlier, among Jewish Christians, or if Paul himself composed it, then the Qumran usage would be important for an understanding of the background of the Christian development of this concept of God’s holy Spirit. In an early (Jewish) Christian context, the modifying expression (“according to [the] Spirit of holiness”) here would have several particular points of significance:

    • The ancient line of tradition whereby God empowers His chosen ones (prophet, king, etc) with His Spirit
    • As the spirit of holiness, God’s Spirit purifies and perfects His people (the chosen ones); this could easily be applied to the idea of resurrection from the dead
    • It is especially characteristic of the heavenly realm, the throne/sanctuary where the presence of God Himself resides; there is a strong correspondence in the Qumran texts between the faithful ones of God’s people (on earth) and the divine/heavenly beings (Angels, etc), both are designated as “sons of God”, “sons of Light”, etc.

These lines of tradition certainly would have informed the idea of Jesus’ exaltation, according to the contours of the earliest Christology. It was the special understanding of Jesus’ unique identity as the “Son of God” that gave to the Old Testament and Jewish tradition a powerful new Christian significance. At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (c. 57-58 A.D.), this Christology had begun to develop substantially, due in no small part, I am sure, to Paul’s own inspired contribution. The very fact that “Spirit of holiness” (pneu=ma a(giosu/nh) is used here, rather than the more common “holy Spirit” (pneu=ma a%gion), is another indication that Paul is adapting an older formula in Rom 1:3-4.

Following his use/inclusion of this formula, Paul returns in v. 5 to the main thrust of his greeting (v. 1), continuing the identification of himself as a missionary (apostle) and minister specially appointed by Christ (“through him”). The relative pronoun refers back to the concluding words of v. 4, to “Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord” (which themselves echo the opening words of v. 3, “Son [of God]”). Paul is a minister of Jesus Christ, commissioned by him and “set forth” (a)po/stolo$) by him to preach the Gospel and establish congregations (of believers). Even though Paul played no direct role in founding the congregations at Rome, he includes them as fellow believers, with whom he shares a common bond as people “called of [i.e. by] Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 6-7).

The implication is that true believers will affirm the Christological statement in vv. 3-4; there would be no real question on that point. So we may safely regard the statement as a fundamental confession of faith, to be cherished as one of the earliest that has come down to us. The Christology, rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus, defines the essential identity that we all share as believers in Christ. It encompasses his birth as a human being and reaches to his final exaltation as the Son of God in heaven—all in just a few short lines.

November 27: Romans 1:4

Romans 1:4

“…about His Son,
the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of (the) seed of David
according to (the) flesh,
the (one hav)ing been marked out (as) Son of God in power
according to (the) Spirit of holiness,
out of a standing up of (the) dead
—Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord

The second part of the Christological formula of Rom 1:3-4 (v. 4) is indicated in bold. The parallelism is clear enough, with “Yeshua the Anointed…” matching “His Son”, as an inclusio for the entire statement, uniting the two primary titles of Jesus— “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “Son of God”. The two couplets also have a parallel form; only the phrase “out of a standing up of (the) dead” (in italics above) disrupts the poetic structure. That phrase, along with the qualifying expression “in power”, are sometimes considered by commentators to be Pauline additions to an older confessional formula.

As I mentioned in a prior note, the two couplets reflect the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly life, respectively—that is, his birth as a human being, and his death and resurrection. The second couplet refers to his resurrection, and, as such, follows the earliest Christology, associating Jesus’ identity as the Son of God primarily with his exaltation by God (following his death/resurrection).

The aorist passive participle o(risqe/nto$ matches the middle participle (geno/meno$) in v. 3 (cp. Gal 4:4). Just as Jesus came to be born (vb gi/nomai) as the “son of David”, so he came to be “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the “Son of God”. I have translated the verb o(ri/zw in its fundamental sense of marking (out) a boundary or limit, etc; however, it can also be used in a more general, figurative sense of fixing or establishing something, including the technical meaning of appointing a person (to an office, etc). The verb is rare in the New Testament, occurring just 8 times, primarily in the early Christian preaching recorded in the book of Acts. There it is used as an eschatological term (i.e., the time determined by God for the great Judgment), and, in a related sense, applied to the exalted Jesus as the one appointed by God (to oversee the Judgment)—cf. Acts 10:42; 17:31 (cp. Heb 4:7). It was the resurrection that established (and confirmed) Jesus in this role, in accordance with the will and purpose of God (Acts 2:23).

This is essentially the same meaning and context of the verb here in Rom 1:3-4, indicating that, by the resurrection, God has “marked out” Jesus as His Son. This is fully in line with the early exaltation Christology, as I have noted above (and on a number of other occasions). Given the use of the verb o(ri/zw in the early preaching, and the fact that Paul never uses it elsewhere in his letters, this serves as evidence in support of Rom 1:3-4 as stemming from an earlier (non-Pauline) source.

In his own letters, Paul’s references to Jesus as God’s Son tend to follow the older Christology, focusing on the resurrection. The clearest example of this is 1 Thess 1:10, but cf. also the context of 1 Cor 15:28; Rom 8:29. The kerygmatic association of Jesus’ Sonship, as fundamental to the Gospel message, almost certainly refers to the resurrection/exaltation as well (1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 1:19; Gal 1:16; Rom 1:9). And, if we are to accept the authenticity of the Acts sermon-speeches as representing Paul’s missionary preaching, then we should note his citation of Psalm 2:7 as referring to the moment of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 13:30, 33ff).

Moreover, if the words “out of a standing up [i.e. resurrection] of (the) dead” in Rom 1:4 are a Pauline addition to an earlier confessional formula, then it would demonstrate that he specifically understands the title “Son of God” primarily in terms of Jesus’ resurrection. In any case, that is certainly the significance of the phrase here, qualifying the prior lines to explain how, and in what manner, God “marked out” Jesus as His Son. There is also an oblique parallel between the phrase “out of a standing up of the dead” and the expression “out of the seed of David” in v. 3, and this may confirm that Jesus’ identity as the (Davidic) Messiah is also defined (primarily) by the resurrection. On this latter point, cf. the Acts references cited in the previous note (cf. Part 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Of special importance in this regard is the statement in Acts 2:36 that God “made” Jesus to be “(the) Lord and Anointed (One)” through the resurrection/exaltation.

It remains to examine the central expressions of v. 4, as, in some ways, they cause the greatest difficulties for interpretation:

    1. e)n duna/mei (“in power”), and
    2. kata\ pneu=ma a(giosu/nh$ (“according to [the] pneu=ma of holiness”)

These will be discussed in the next daily note.

November 23: 1 Timothy 3:16b

1 Timothy 3:16

The Hymn

The hymn, as such, is extremely brief, yet the designation (as a hymn) seems appropriate, both in terms of its form and content. The way it is used in the context of 1 Timothy does suggest that an existing work is being quoted. Some commentators believe that this portion represents only a fragment of a larger work.

The hymn itself is made out of 3 short couplets, exhibiting the parallelism common to ancient Near Eastern poetry, though only loosely so. The parallelism of the key terms in each couplet is dualistic, but not necessarily antithetical, with juxtaposed pairs Flesh/Spirit, Angels/Nations, and World/(Heavenly) Splendor.

After designating the introduction to the hymn as v. 16a (cf. the previous note), I will refer to the three couplets as 16b-d, respectively.

First Couplet (verse 16b)

o^$
e)fanerw/qh e)n sarki/
e)dikaiw/qh e)n pneu/mati
“who
was made to shine forth in (the) flesh,
(and) was made right in (the) Spirit”

The hymn begins with a relative pronoun (o%$), just like the hymns in Phil 2:6-11 and Col 1:15-20; on this point, cf. the introductory note on the Philippians hymn. The abruptness of this pronoun, without any obvious subject given in context, no doubt explains the textual variant that reads qeo/$ (“God”) instead of the relative pronoun. While qeo/$ is the majority reading, it almost certainly is secondary (and not original), as most commentators (and virtually all critical commentators) recognize. It is easy to see how qeo/$ might derive—whether accidentally or intentionally (as a ‘correction’)—from o%$, but most difficult to explain how the reverse could have occurred. In the Greek (uncial) lettering of the manuscripts, the relative pronoun (os) could be mistaken for the common shorthand for “God” (qs); but a protection against the reverse error was built into the copying tradition by marking the abbreviated “divine names” (nomina sacra) with a horizontal bar (+q+s).

The lack of any obvious syntactical point of reference (in the preceding verses) for the relative pronoun also facilitated the change from o%$ to qeo/$. The only real possibility of a subject for the (masculine) pronoun is the (masculine) noun qeo/$ (“God”), occurring twice in v. 15. To avoid confusion, copyists may have been inclined to make this identification explicit; such a specific identification had the added advantage of emphasizing the deity of Christ. The clearly documented tendency among copyists was to expand and enhance the Christological aspect or import of a passage, rather than to do anything that would reduce it.

For all these reasons, in additional to the regular use of the relative pronoun to begin such a hymnic passage (cf. above), we must regard the relative pronoun (o%$) as the original reading of the text at this point. Though not clearly stated, it is quite apparent that Jesus Christ is the implied subject. Thus, like the other Christ-hymns, the point of these lines is to declare (and define) who Jesus is.

The parallelism of the first couplet is simple and precise, though conceptually it presents certain difficulties—difficulties that are due largely to the abbreviated phrasing required by these short poetic lines. Let us consider each component together.

e)fanerw/qh / e)dikaiw/qh

The two verbs are both aorist passive indicative forms, of fanero/w (“shine [forth]”) and dikaio/w (“make right”), respectively. While the verb fanero/w specifically denotes something shining (with light), it is often used in the more general sense of an appearance or manifestation. It occurs quite often in the New Testament (49 times, plus in other compound forms). When used of Jesus, it often has the general meaning of his appearance on earth—that is, his earthly life, but also his second appearance (his end-time return). The verb also was handy as a way of referencing the manifestation of Jesus’ person (on earth) as a unique revelation by God—i.e., a “shining forth” of a divine and heavenly reality, a secret uncovered and made known to God’s people in the end-time (on the term musth/rion [“secret”], cf. the previous note, as well as my earlier word-study series). This deeper sense of the verb is especially prominent in the Johannine writings (Jn 1:31; 2:11; 17:6; 1 Jn 1:2, etc), but Paul attests to it as well (e.g., Rom 3:21; 2 Cor 4:10-11); the Christological aspect is emphasized in Col 1:26; 3:4. The use of the verb in 2 Tim 1:10 (along with the related noun e)pifanei/a) is noteworthy, and cf. also the occurrence in Titus 1:3. Depending on one’s view of the authorship of the Pastoral letters, these last two references may inform the use of the verb here in 1 Timothy (to a greater or lesser extent).

The verb dikaio/w, along with the entire dikaio– word group, has a central place in the Pauline letters (and theology), though admittedly it is used in a rather different sense here than it typically is by Paul. The verb essentially means “make right”, in the general sense of making things right, but also in the specific judicial context of “declaring just”, “establishing justice”, etc. Paul tends to use the verb in a distinctive soteriological sense—viz., of humankind (believers) being “made right” in God’s eyes, freed from bondage to the power of sin, and saved from God’s coming judgment upon the world. There is a strong judicial component to this use of the dikaio– word group by Paul, informed by the judgment-setting—i.e., believers will be considered “just” by God and will pass through the Judgment into eternal life.

The Pauline usage of dikaio/w has caused difficulties for readers of the hymn, since it is being applied to Jesus, rather than to sinful human beings. This difficulty can be alleviated if we consider the possibility that the hymn represents an earlier (traditional) Christian composition, and was not necessarily written by Paul (even if Paul is considered the author of 1 Timothy). We must consider the meaning of the verb in its broader, fundamental sense—that is, of “making things right”. This can refer to correcting an injustice, to vindicating the innocent, and so forth. An aspect of Jesus’ death that is sometimes ignored by Christians, but which formed a significant part of the early Gospel message, was an emphasis on his death as an injustice. Jesus was innocent of any crime, and was certainly not deserving of the cruel and shameful punishment inflicted on him (cf. Mk 15:14f par; Matt 27:4, 19, 24; Lk 23:4, 14, 22, 47; Acts 3:14; 7:52; 13:28). The fact that Jesus’ death occurred by crucifixion had an enormous impact on first-century believers, the context of which can no longer be reproduced (or entirely appreciated) today. It was a major barrier to acceptance of Jesus by many at the time (Jews, especially), and required exceptional effort and attention by early missionaries to explain just how and why the Messiah (and Son of God) could have been put to death in that manner.

e)n sarki/ / e)n pneu/mati

In each of the lines, the predicate is a prepositional expression involving the preposition e)n (“in”). This preposition can have a rather wide semantic range, so the force of it in each expression must be considered carefully. The sense of the first line is relatively straightforward: it explains the nature of Jesus’ “shining forth” (vb fanero/w)—namely, that he was manifest as a human being “in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki/). This is the normal, physical-anthropological meaning of the word sa/rc, another term which tends to carry a special theological sense as used by Paul in his letters. There is no reference here whatever to the sinful aspect of human flesh (cp. Rom 8:3), though the implication of human (mortal) weakness and limitation may be inferred. If Paul was indeed the author of 1 Timothy, he may well have had something akin to the first half of the Philippians hymn (2:6-8) in mind here—i.e., the incarnation as a ‘lowering’ and an ’emptying’.

Along these same lines, it would be wrong to understand the juxtaposition of “flesh” vs. “Spirit” in the antagonistic sense that this dualism often carries in Paul’s letters. More appropriate to the context here is the juxtaposition we see in Rom 1:3-4—another passage that is often considered to be a quotation from a ‘Christ hymn’ (and which will be discussed in an upcoming note). If “flesh” represents the physical earthly life of human beings, the “spirit” (pneu=ma) properly indicates the opposite—the divine/heavenly life of God. The only question is whether the word pneu=ma should be understood in a more general sense, or with the specific meaning of the Spirit of God Himself.

As the context here in this line is the resurrection of Jesus (a point to be discussed further in the next note), and as it was the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead, it is fair to assume that “in the Spirit” means essentially “by the power of God’s Spirit”. The idea that Jesus was “in the Spirit” during the time of his ministry on earth goes back to early Gospel tradition—specifically to the tradition of Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:10, and cf. especially Luke 4:1ff). Paul certainly emphasized the fact that Jesus’ resurrection took place through the power and presence of God’s Spirit (Rom 8:11ff), and, in the famous discussion on the resurrection in 1 Cor 15, the implication is that, upon his resurrection, the exalted Jesus was united with the Spirit of God, sharing the same “life-making Spirit” (15:45; cf. 6:17). Conceivably, the wording in Rom 1:4 reflects earlier Jewish tradition that blends the idea of God’s “holy Spirit” with the power that makes the human spirit holy (on this, cf. my article on the Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls).

We may fairly summarize the juxtaposition of the lines in this couplet as follows:

    • “made to shine forth in the flesh” —Jesus’ earthly life which ended in the injustice of a cruel and shameful death (which he did not deserve)
    • “made right in the Spirit” —this injustice was corrected, and things were “made right” again through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, which took place through the power of God’s Spirit (“in the Spirit”)

In the next daily note, we will proceed to examine the next two couplets (16cd).

 

 

November 19: Colossians 1:20c

Colossians 1:20c

[di’ au)tou=] ei&te ta\ e)pi\ th=$ gh=$ ei&te ta\ e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$
“(all this is) [through him], whether the (thing)s upon the earth or the (thing)s in the heavens”

This line concludes the second stanza, and also forms the conclusion to the hymn as a whole.

The first point to address is text-critical. The initial words di’ au)tou= (“through him”) are absent from a relatively wide range of textual witnesses (B D* G 81 1739 and among the Latin, Coptic [Sahidic], Armenian, and Ethiopic versions). However, they are present in an equally wide range of witnesses (Ë46 a A C Dc 614, and portions of the Syriac and Coptic versions, etc). The external (manuscript) evidence is rather evenly divided. Internal considerations are also far from decisive. Since the same expression occurred earlier in the verse (cf. the prior note on v. 20a), it could easily have been deleted here as superfluous, or by accident (haplography); or, on the other hand, it may have been repeated as a mistake in copying (dittography). The inclusion of the words would seem to represent the more difficult or unusual reading, and so perhaps should be retained on the principle of lectio difficilior probabilior (“the more difficult reading is probable”, i.e., is more likely to be original). The Nestle-Aland critical text retains the words, but in square brackets to indicate their uncertain or disputed status; this is probably the wisest approach, and I have adopted it above.

If the words di’ au)tou= are original, their repetition from 20a must be considered emphatic (but note their place in the outline below). They give special emphasis to the fact that the transformation, even of all things in creation, is brought about by God through Jesus the Son. This cosmic aspect of the hymn is expressed in a number of ways, most notably by the repeated use of the comprehensive adjective pa=$ (“all”)—8 times in the hymn, including five instances of the objective plural ta\ pa/nta (“all [thing]s”). The pre-existent Son of God played a central role in the original creation of “all things” (the subject of the first stanza), and now the exalted Jesus plays a similar role in the new creation (second stanza).

As the second stanza makes clear, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that brings about the transformation of the cosmos. But how should this be so? The removal of the effects of sin and impurity on humankind can reasonably be derived from the significance of the sacrificial ritual in the ancient covenant setting. But how would this apply to the cosmos as a whole, without the context of a personal relationship (covenant-bond)? Here the unique theology developed by Paul provides an explanation. Three passages can be mentioned: chapters 5 and 8 of Romans, and the discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

In Romans 5 the parallel is clearly drawn between human sin and the corruption of the created order. The effect of sin is undone (or reversed) by Jesus in his role as a ‘second’ Adam. This focus is soteriological, but it expands to include an eschatological dimension in chapter 8. All of creation, personified as a human being, groans under the bondage (of sin, evil, and death) in the current Age, awaiting its liberation. And, just as believers in Christ have been freed from bondage to the power of sin, so all of the cosmos will one day be liberated. The sequence is clear: first, Jesus is raised from the dead; second, those who trust in him participate in the same life-giving power (of God’s Spirit); third, at the end of the current Age, this resurrection will be realized when believers are raised from the dead, after the pattern of Jesus; and, finally, all of creation will be ‘reborn’, in the pattern of the resurrection of Jesus the Son (and believers as the sons/children of God). The New Age will involve a “new heaven and a new earth”, just as human beings (believers) are changed in to a “new creation”. The transformation of the cosmos in terms of resurrection is an important theme of 1 Cor 15 as well (vv. 20-28, 42-56).

There is a similar corollary between humankind and the cosmos here in the Christ hymn, and could be used as a reasonably strong argument in favor of Pauline authorship of the hymn. In my view, the line of thought and imagery resembles that expressed by Paul in the passages noted above—especially Romans 5. There, in the first half of that passage (in vv. 8-11), Paul describes the effect of sin in creating hostility between humankind and God; but the death of Jesus has restored the relationship. Similarly, in the more famous second half, it is narrated how sin has corrupted the world, so that, in the current Age, sin now rules as king (v. 14). The power of sin and death is itself undone by Jesus’ death (and resurrection), transformed into a reign of righteousness and life (vv. 18-21). However, this transformation will not be realized until the end of the current Age; for the moment, it is experienced only by believers, through the presence of the Spirit.

The New Age for believers, in union with Christ, was expressed in the hymn through the head-body (‘body of Christ’) idiom of v. 18a. Then, in the second stanza proper, this central theme is expounded within the same matrix of cosmology-soteriology-eschatology we find in the Pauline passages cited above. Let us see how this may be expressed in terms of the syntax and thematic structure of the stanza:

  • “who is” —Jesus (the Son) is the one who is
    • “the beginning” —that is, of the new creation, defined as
    • “the first (one) brought forth out of the dead” —resurrection
      • “so that” —the purpose of the resurrection/creation is
        • “he should be (the one who is) first in all (thing)s” —the exaltation of Jesus
      • “(for it was) that” —what brings about his resurrection/exaltation is that
        • “in him” —in the person of Jesus the Son
          • “(God) considered it good (for) all the fullness to put down house” —the incarnation, Jesus filled with the Presence/Spirit of God
        • “through him” —through the work of Jesus
          • “(for God) to make all things different (again)” —the power to restore/transform creation
            • “unto him” —according to the pattern and goal of Jesus the Son
          • “making peace” —undoing the effect of sin, restoring the bond with God
        • “through the blood of his cross” —through his death
      • “[through him]” —all of this takes place through the person of and work of Jesus, so that
    • “the things upon and earth and the things in the heavens” —the complete transformation of the new creation

The strands of thought running through the stanza are complex and powerful. In some ways the cosmological aspect is primary—that is, both stanzas deal primarily with creation. The first stanza focuses on the first (original) creation, the second on the new creation. The resurrection of Jesus ‘restores’ him to his exalted place alongside God the Father in heaven (cp. the descent/ascent paradigm in the Philippians hymn), but it also transforms him into the life-giving Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 15:45). Through the exalted Jesus, God gives life to the new creation, even as He did in the original creation. From his exalted position, Jesus is first, ruling over all things in creation.

While these themes are not unique to Paul in early Christianity, it is his writings which gave to them their finest and definitive expression, and the splendid, ever-provocative hymn of Colossians 1:15-20—whether composed by Paul himself, or simply adapted by him—may fairly be said to represent the high point of this expression.

November 17: Colossians 1:20a

Colossians 1:20a

kai\ di’ au)tou= a)pokatalla/cai ta\ pa/nta ei)$ au)to/n
“and through him to make all (thing)s different (again), unto him”

This line builds upon v. 19 (discussed in the previous notes), poetically exhibiting synthetic parallelism—meaning that the statement in the second line is the result (or consequence) of that in the first. In particular the infinitive a)pokatalla/cai is parallel with katoikh=sai in v. 19. The fullness of God dwelling in Jesus leads to “making all things different”. There are, however, two key points which are crucial for interpreting v. 20a:

    1. The precise meaning of the double-compound verb a)pokatalla/ssw, and
    2. The relation between the prepositional expressions di’ au)tou= (“through him”) and ei)$ au)to/n (“unto him”)

Let consider each of these in turn.

1. The root of the compound verb a)pokatalla/ssw is a)lla/ssw, which means “make different”, or to “transform” —i.e., to “change (one thing) into another [a&llo$]”. It is a relatively common verb, but which, by its denotation, tends to be used only in certain contexts. It occurs 42 times in the LXX, and 6 times in the New Testament; of these, 4 are by Paul in his letters, including in two notable passages: Rom 1:23 and 1 Cor 15:51-52.

In Romans 1:23, the verb connotes an exchange, in the context of Paul’s interesting outline regarding the development of pagan (polytheistic) religion. Humankind, it is said, changed things (h&llacan) by giving the honor (do/ca) that belongs to the one true God to other false ‘deities’ (represented by idols/images) instead. Thus, an important aspect of the created order was corrupted, producing a situation by which humankind became estranged and hostile to God. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, the verb is used (twice) in reference to the resurrection of humankind (believers). These two passages are significant for the context of v. 20 in our hymn. The first implies the corruption of the first creation, while the second references the beginning of the new creation (i.e., the resurrection of believers).

The compound verb katalla/ssw is rather more rare, occurring just 4 times in the LXX (Jer 48 [31]:39; 2 Macc 1:5; 7:33; 8:29). The prepositional prefix kata/ may simply be an emphatic element, but it is significant that the compound verb often connotes a change in a situation that restores a relationship, e.g., between two people (or parties) that have become estranged or hostile to each other (i.e., being ‘against’ [kata] one another). In the New Testament, it is a distinctly Pauline term, with all 6 occurrences found in just three passages in Paul’s letters—Rom 5:10; 1 Cor 7:11; 2 Cor 5:18-20. In 1 Cor 7:11 it is used in the practical context of maintaining the marriage bond, i.e., reconciling when there may be conflict, and thus avoiding a separation or divorce. The occurrences in Rom 5:10 and 2 Cor 5:18-20 are more significant, theologically (and Christologically), and are directly relevant to the use of the double-compound verb in the hymn:

“…being (one)s (who were) hostile, we are made different (now) to God through the death of His Son, (and) much more—(hav)ing been made different, we will be saved in [i.e. through] his life” (Rom 5:10)

Salvation is defined here in an eschatological sense, related to the end-time resurrection of believers into eternal life. The cosmic aspect of this transformation is emphasized in 2 Cor 5:18ff:

“if any(one is) in the Anointed (One), (he is) a new foundation [kti/si$ i.e., creation]—the old (thing)s have come [i.e. passed] along, (and) see! they have come to be new—and all th(ese thing)s (are) out of [i.e. come from] God, the (One hav)ing made (things) different for us with Himself through (the) Anointed, and (hav)ing given to us the service [i.e. ministry] of making (things) different [katallgh/], even as (it was) that God was in (the) Anointed, making (things) different for (the) world with Himself…”

There are clearly certain key similarities of thought and terminology between this passage and the Colossians hymn, including the parallel of a transformation of humankind (believers) with the transformation of the world (ko/smo$, the created order) itself. In each instance the compound verb kata/llassw is used, capturing the nuance of reconciliation and restoration within the broader idea of “making (things) different”. The relationship involved is between creation (esp. humankind) and God.

The hymn uses the double-compound a)pokatalla/ssw, which occurs only here in Colossians (1:20 and 22), and once in Ephesians (2:16). As far as I am aware, it remains unattested in Greek outside of the New Testament and early Christian writings. The use of the double-prefix a)po + kata/ may be emphatic or stylistic, but likely is meant to emphasize the idea of restoration—back to a situation that existed before. That is certainly the sense of the verb a)pokaqi/sthmi (and related noun a)pokata/stasi$), which involves the same double-prefix (cf. Acts 1:6; 3:21, etc). The parallelism of the stanzas of the hymn, dealing with the theme of creation, would suggest that the new creation represents, in at least some sense, a restoration of the first creation. From the standpoint of Pauline theology, this may refer to entrance of sin and evil into the original created order—cf. especially Romans 5:12ff, in the context of v. 10. Admittedly, there is no specific reference to sin in the Colossians hymn, but it would seem to be rather clearly implied in the idea of humankind being estranged and hostile to God (cp. Col 1:21f with Rom 5:1-11). Gentile believers, in particular, prior to coming to trust in Jesus, were separated from God, in the sense that they were outside of the covenant (between God and Israel). All of this changed (and was made different) through the new covenant, which brings about the new creation.

2. In all other occurrences of a)lla/ssw (or katalla/ssw) cited above, the transformation (and restoration/reconciliation) involves the relation between humankind (believers) and God. Thus, we are said to be reconciled, our situation made different, “with God” or in relation “to God”, typically expressed through the use of the dative case (without a preposition)—[tw=|] qew=|, or with the reflexive pronoun (e(autw=|, “with/to Himself”). This terminology suggests that, in the prepositional expression ei)$ au)to/n (“unto him”) in v. 20a, the pronoun refers to God the Father. However, all other occurrences of the personal pronoun (or relative pronoun) in the hymn refer to Jesus the Son, including a range of similar prepositional phrases (“in him”, “through him”, etc). Moreover, the combination of di’ au)tou= and ei)$ au)to/n here is precisely parallel with the same combination that occurs in v. 16, referring the Son’s role and place in the first creation. Thus, we must view the two expressions in v. 20 similarly—i.e., as referring to the exalted Jesus’ role and place in the new creation.

In this regard, we have to consider the significance of the usage in v. 16:

    • di’ au)tou= (“through him”)—like the divine Wisdom/Logos of Jewish tradition, the Son is the means by which God created the cosmos, and the pattern (or lens) through which it was created.
    • ei)$ au)to/n (“unto/into him”)—the creation corresponds to the image/pattern of God manifest in the Son, who also represents the goal and purpose for which the world was created

I would argue that essentially the same meaning applies to the new creation in the second stanza: the new creation (beginning with believers in Christ) is established by God through Jesus, and finds its purpose and completion unto/into him. What is special about this new creation is its transformational aspect, indicated by the use of the verb –a)lla/ssw. This will be discussed further, in the context of v. 20b, in the next daily note.

November 10: Colossians 1:18a

Colossians 1:18a

kai\ au)to/$ e)stin h( kefalh\ tou= sw/mato$ th=$ e)kklhsi/a$
“and he is the head of the body,
(the head) of th(ose) called out”

The second couplet of vv. 17-18a is clearly parallel to the first (discussed in the previous note), each beginning with kai\ au)to/$ e)stin (“and he is…”), further developing the relative clauses in the stanzas, o%$ e)stin… (“who is…”). It thus represents a further Christological declaration, regarding who Jesus (the Son) is. As mentioned previously, the couplets of vv. 17-18a are transitional, set between the two stanzas of the hymn; the first couplet (v. 17) continues the theme of the first stanza, while the second couplet (here in v. 18a) begins the thematic focus of the second. The first stanza deals with the first creation (i.e. the current created order), while the second stanza deals specifically with the new creation.

While I treat v. 18a above as a poetic couplet, it could just as easily be understood as a single line: “and he is the head of the body of th(ose) called out”. Metrically, this would be correct; however, the force of the genitival chain could then be misinterpreted, since, in my view, the second genitive (th=$ e)kklhsi/a$) is explicative and in apposition. In other words, “of th(ose) called out” explains what “the body” is in context—i.e., “he is the head of the body, (that is, he is the head) of the e)kklhsi/a.”

The noun e)kklhsi/a derives from the verb e)kkale/w (“call out”); it thus refers to a group of people called out (i.e., out of their individual homes) to gather or assemble together. It came to be used in a specialized sense among early Christians, both for the local gatherings of believers, and for believers generally. It is often translated as “church” in the New Testament, but this is quite inaccurate as a literal rendering; “congregation” is closer to the mark, and, while still not entirely accurate, adequately conveys the sense of the term. While Paul certainly would apply its meaning here to the local congregation, it more properly refers to believers as a whole (i.e., all believers), parallel with “all [pa=$] (the) things” in the cosmos.

The head [kefalh/] / body [sw=ma] imagery represents a distinctly Pauline concept, and may have been introduced by him into early Christian parlance. To be sure, the idea of a prominent or leading person being referred to as “head” is basic enough, and kefalh/ is often used this way (cf. LXX Deut 28:13; Judg 10:18, etc); Paul draws upon this basic usage in 1 Cor 11:2-16, applying it in an anthropological (and socio-religious) sense, in accordance with Jewish tradition (and the Genesis creation account, 1:26f; 2:21-23). Paul appears especially drawn to the metaphor of believers as the “body of Christ”, since it features prominently in both 1 Corinthians (12:12-27) and Romans (12:4-5). In Paul’s thinking, this prominence is likely derived from the more primitive (and fundamental) concept of believers participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus (that is, of his physical/human body). While intrinsic to the symbolism of the baptism ritual, Paul gave to this idea a greater theological depth and significance, which he expounds powerfully at key points in his letters (see esp. Gal 2:19-20; 3:27-28 and Rom 6:1-11; 8:9-11ff). This participation is specifically described in relation to “the body of Christ” in Rom 7:4 and 1 Cor 10:16ff (context of the Lord’s Supper) and 12:13ff (context of baptism). The resurrection aspect of our participation is, of course, emphasized strongly in 1 Cor 15:35-53. Other key “body” references are 2 Cor 4:10 and Phil 3:21.

Interestingly, in all of these “body” passages, there is no specific mention of Jesus as the “head” (kefalh/), not even in the famous exposition of the illustration in 1 Cor 12:12-27. One may say, however, that the idea is implicit in the metaphor itself, even if the term kefalh/ is not used. Whether or not Paul actually wrote Ephesians, the prominence of the headship motif in that letter, using the noun kefalh/ (1:22; 4:15; 5:23), likely represents a genuine development of the Pauline concept. Much the same can be said of the references in Colossians (2:10, 19), including here in the hymn. In my view, as I have previously stated, the evidence is stronger for Pauline authorship of Colossians than for Ephesians, and, if so, then the use of kefalh/ here may be identified as Paul’s own. It would also tend to confirm the view that vv. 17-18a, if not the entire hymn, represents his own composition (and unique contribution).

We must, however, keep in mind the parallelism of v. 18a with v. 17 (and with the first stanza of the hymn). In this respect, the chief point being made in v. 18a is that Jesus’ position as “head” over all believers is comparable to his exalted/ruling position over all creation—with believers in Christ representing the beginning of the new creation. The head/body imagery indicates both position (i.e., head at the top) and connectivity (i.e., the head is united with the body).

Moreover, the parallelism of the two couplets means that the emphasis on position here should inform how we understand the preposition pro/ (“before”) in v. 17 (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The head motif here serves as a strong, if not decisive, argument that the positional-relational aspect of pro/ is in view; that is to say, Jesus’ is “before” all things in the sense, primarily, that he has a ruling position over all things, rather than that he existed prior to the creation of the world. While the idea of Jesus’ pre-existence is very much present in the hymn, it is not the primary point of reference or emphasis.