Friday, October 31, 2008

Romans 2: 6-11

In our recent work on Romans 2 under the direction Dr Mike Bird, we looked at no less than 6 interpretative options for explaining Paul's argument in this chapter, especially in verses 6-11. Briefly stated, they look like this:
  1. Paul is only speaking hypothetically that it is in theory possible to fulfil the Law in order to be saved, but no-on actually does so - unfortunately, Moo's much-lauded commentary (and rightly so) takes this position. Moo states 'verses 7 and 10 set out the condition, apart from Christ, for salvation'. Since when was there any such condition? This kind of talk is essentially Lutheran.

  2. Paul is speaking of Gentile Christians who fulfil the Law through faith in Christ and life in the Spirit - Cranfield takes this view; a view which is definitely on the right track in my opinion (rather than 1 which is totally off track), but probably defined too narrowly. Cranfield thinks Paul's description would also be true for OT believers, but that he is not describing them here.

  3. Paul is simply being inconsistent at this point with what he says elsewhere about justiciation by faith - yes, this is the likes of Sanders and Raisanen! Enough said on that.

  4. Paul only intends to say that God will both judge Jews and Gentiles according to the law they have - the outcome for both groups is entirely negative. Carson, I think, takes this view: the point is that of v11 - God is impartial - it says nothing about the mechanism of salvation.

  5. Paul's phrase 'doers of the Law' is found in other literature where it is tantamount to perseverence - this is Don Garlington's view, who sees in 'obedience' and 'disobedience' Jewish concepts of perseverance and apostasy. Garlington's work here is very important: he recognises that the phrase 'doers of the Law' only becomes problematic when set within the context of Reformation controversies. I'm not sure about the direct identification of 'doing the Law' and perseverence, but this interpretation has a lot of value.

  6. Paul's statement should be taken at face value whereby works indeed play a role in determining one's ultimate status, for pagans and Jews, before God at the final assize - the controversy of this view depends on how you interpret it. At face value, as pure merit-theology, it must be rejected. However, from the perspective of James, faith without works is dead and, as Dr Bird points out, 'we are not saved by our works; neither are we saved without them' (which is attributed to Jean Calvin himself). The Reformation doctrine that justification is by faith alone cannot be breached - the problem here is more likely to be a purely cerebral-spiritual understanding of faith.
I myself would go for something essentially akin to 2, with a touch of 5. However, I think that in the context of Paul's grand eschatological vision in Romans of what God has achieved and will achieve in Jesus the Messiah, he is describing in vv6-11 the essential character of those who live by faith (either under the New or Old Covenant), versus those who do not. His vista is across salvation history: Ioudaiou te prwton kai Ellhnos. Then 'doers of the law' for Paul here are contrasted with merely 'hearers' (13); it is those who respond in faith, resulting in obedience, who are justified. And, given where Paul is heading - to Abraham - he has in view the importance of the faith that Abraham displayed, that was reckoned to him as righteousness. For Paul, mere outward observance is not enough (R3.20); faith that produces obedience is essential.

My question is this: in vv14-16, does doing the law become for Paul, as he sweeps across Covenants, a shorthand for the obedience of faith? I think perhaps it does. What it does not mean is ethical perfection (absence of sin). This is a unsatisfactory interpetation; the Mosaic Law is replete with atoning responses to sin. Doing the Law means living out a covenant lifestyle, including, under the Old Covenant, observing the required sacrifices for sin; and under the New Covenant, living out the 'obedience of faith', confessing our sins and trusting Jesus Christ. The Lutheran interpretation fails to account for this.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Wisdom of Whymper

One of the things about Biblical Wisdom is that some of it has been gleaned (so it seems) from those outside Israel. Hence, the words of Agur, son of Jakeh and King Lemuel in Proverbs 30 and 31. Some wisdom is the wisdom of common grace. Krakauer, in Into the Wild reproduces the famous quote from the alpine pioneer Edward Whymper - a quote which I've known for a long time and which I've tried to keep in mind whenever in the mountains, but especially when in epic (by which I mean worrying) situations. It offers Wisdom for Life - especially Life in the Kingdom of God...

There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say: Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.
Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wright on Romans 2

Another excellent Romans class today with Dr Bird: on Romans chapter 2 - its place in Romans and Biblical Theology. In advance of a little more blogging on Romans 2, I offer this...

Romans 2 is the joker in the pack. Standard treatments of Paul and the Law have often failed to give it the prominence that one might expect it to have, judging by its position within his most-discussed letter. But generations of eager exegetes, anxious to get to the juicy discussions that surround 3.19-20, 3:21-31, and so on, have hurried by Romans 2, much as tourists on their way to Edinburgh hurry through Northern England, unaware of its treasures.

Wright in Dunn, Paul and the Mosaic Law, 131.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Into the Wild

Maybe ten years back, I read John Krakauer's account of the final months of Chris McCandless, from Annandale, Virginia, who gave his $24,000 savings to Oxfam and left home, travelled around the States for two years under the moniker Alex and died in Alaska while living rough in an abandoned bus. McCandless shared my birth date; he was exactly one year older than I. He graduated at the same age I did, 22. But, at about the time I was married, he was arriving in Alaska. A few weeks later, he was dead. When I heard that Krakauer's book had been made into a film, directed by Sean Penn, I was keen to see it. It's a little difficult to get to the cinema here in the Outer Hebrides, but last night I watched the DVD.

Comparing the film with the book when ten years have passed isn't easy. Krakauer was heavily involved in advising on the film, so it's very close to the book, but Penn doesn't really capture the same mood as Krakauer. I suspect this is because Krakauer, quite soon after the event, investigated the whole story and became personally involved. McCandless' home life was marred by arguments, but he had a comfortable upbringing; he was well-read (Thoreau, Pasternak, Tolstoy), he was angry, he was searching. Krakauer describes McCandless' journey as a spiritual quest. He meets many people and makes an impact on them, with his idealistic quest for authenticity and plans for his great Alaskan Odyssey. It strikes a chord within me; I have long been fascinated with wilderness - that without and that within.
Wilderness appealed to those bored or disgusted with man and his works.
Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind

But we little know until tried how much of the uncontrollable there is in us, urging across glaciers and torrents, and up dangerous heights, let the judgement forbid as it may. John Muir, The Mountains of California

I've brought the book down from the shelf and will perhaps post again on this.