Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Paul’s Pregnant Text

posted by xscot mcknight

Romans 3:21-26 is the most significant text in the history of Christian theology, for it shaped Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Barth, and nearly every major theologian in history. It is true that today there is a significant questioning going on about what role this text ought to play in our theological schemes, but that questioning only shows the significance of this text. The text is pregnant with every theological baby in Paul’s book. I can’t do anything but offer a few theses about this text:
First, humans — Jews and Gentiles — are sinners because “all have sinned,” and in light of 5:12-21, we can assume that this “sin” is done both in Adam and in actual practice by each person. This is the point of 1:18—3:20 after all. Cracked Eikons need to be made “right” or “justified.”
Second, God’s “right-making” (or “righteousness” or “justifying work” or “making the world right” or “declaring one right with God”) – notice the preeminence of “right-making” as God’s act – comes to pass as previously made known in the Torah and the Prophets but humans are made right apart from observing that Torah. This right-making is God’s saving action to make humans right and to put the world to rights. The right-making is the same for Jews and Gentiles, because the possession and doing of the Torah has nothing to do with it.
Third, God’s “right-making” occurs in and through “faith in/of Jesus Christ.” Here we meet up with a contemporary problem: Does “faith of Jesus Christ” mean faith in Jesus Christ (Christians trust Christ) or the faith of Jesus Christ himself (Christ faithfully lives before God as the true Israelite)? One might be tempted to agree with Origen: the language is sufficiently ambiguous to permit both ideas at once. To the degree that Jesus is the Second Adam/Israel, it is his faithfulness to the covenant; to the degree that Jesus is our Substitute, it is our faith in Jesus Christ. However, that Paul continues on with “for all who believe” leads me to agree with Jimmy Dunn that what Paul has in mind is the disposition of believers: they trust in Christ for their right-making. Either way, in Christ this right-making occurs.
Fourth, this right-making by God is for everyone, both Jew and Gentile (and not just for Jews). And it involves being made right — and I take that in its biggest sense: with God, with self, with others, with the world. I’m not sure it would make sense in Paul’s cosmic scope to think this is only about being made right with God.
Fifth, back to a previous point: God’s right-making is a gracious act on the part of God. Here the very notion of divine or cosmic child abuse, brought into the discussion in a radical fashion, is repulsed once and for all times. The atoning work of God flows freely from the divine perichoresis of mutual, interpenetrating love and grace that inevitably flow into the cracks of cracked Eikons.
Sixth, the grace of God that does this right-making for cracked Eikons finds verbal expression in three metaphors, each of which plays its own language game and each of which overlaps with the other: God “declares/makes right” (justification), “redeems” (redemption), and God does this on the “mercy seat” (sometimes translated as “expiation” or “propitiation” but now best translated as “mercy seat”). Some translations have “sacrifice of atonement,” others “propitiation,” and yet others “expiation.” The term refers to the “mercy seat” in the Temple on which blood was sprinkled through an incense haze, and at which place God’s merciful forgiveness was granted on the Day of Atonement. Now the connotations of “mercy seat” can work in the direction of appeasing wrath, should one correlate the mercy seat with the theme of wrath in 1:18—3:20 and with the theodicy concerns of 3:25-26, or it can work in the direction of expiating sin, should one focus on 3:23. I see no reason, from context, to deny either element from the evocation of “mercy seat.”
Seventh, central to this gracious work of God is that it is accomplished through the life-giving death of Jesus Christ (“blood”).
And, as if to anticipate Anselm himself, eighth, God’s right-making is done in such a way that preserves two things: God’s own attribute of being faithful to his own justice and God’s own intent of “right-making.” That is, the atoning work of God is done in such a way that God neither broaches his own justice nor fails to show mercy – on the mercy seat known as Jesus Christ’s death, Paul is saying, love and justice lock themselves in gracious embrace and God rids his people of the sin problem created by Adam and Eve.
Impossible as it is to summarize Paul, even Paul in a few verses of soteriological flurry as we find in Romans 3:21-26, what we have is this: cracked Eikons – Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free – are made right, are forgiven of their sins and sinfulness, and the wrath of God from 1:18—3:20 is diverted, because God is gracious and merciful in sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to the world to die (give his life) so that they can be ushered into a community where things are put to rights. The focus here is that “being made right,” “being redeemed,” and “finding mercy” are accomplished not by observing Torah but by orienting one’s trust in and toward Jesus Christ, the one who died for others, who incarnates God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises. Now this summary needs also to be enveloped in a sociological vision: making right is not just saving individuals, but making right in the sense of putting humans to rights by reconciling them to God, to self, to others, and to the world. Such is the scope of “justification” if we are fair with what Paul is saying in Romans 1:18–3:26.



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Duane Young

posted June 9, 2006 at 6:37 am


This delightful ambiguity, “faith in/of Jesus Christ,” is one of the most curious things I have been confronted with in scripture. It stops me short, yanks my intellectual chain–in short demands focused wonder and awe. It transcends the western “either/or” and the eastern “both/and” and sits there like something that could suddenly explode. It feels like a connection (doorway? entrance? access point?) between the visible and the invisible, between the past and the future, between where I am and that to which I am being beckoned. I could go on–but just shutting up and contemplating this curiosity seems most important and most helpful and healthy!



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Anonymous

posted June 9, 2006 at 8:28 am


SmartChristian.com » Blog Archive »

[…] […]



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Anonymous

posted June 9, 2006 at 11:11 am


Mr. Aston.org » Paul’s Pregnant Text – Jesus Creed

[…] Paul’s Pregnant Text: […]



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Mike Bird

posted June 9, 2006 at 2:02 pm


Scot,
Great post! Where is the Origen reference from? I’ve noticed Mark Seifrid and Francis Watson argue something similarly.



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Dana Ames

posted June 9, 2006 at 5:54 pm


Yeah, Duane… great thoughts for contemplation!
Scot, a few days ago someone commented on the passages about God recociling us to himself in Jesus on the cross. To me, that is the depth of the love/justice embrace. Do you think that e’icals have the tendency to see God more as Three than One, that the tension between the two is somehow “out of balance” for the most part? It seems to me that more of a view of God being One would leave little, if any, room for the cosmic child abuse accusation.
Dana



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Simon Fowler

posted June 9, 2006 at 8:42 pm


This is a great post. I think Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones spent an entire sermon on the word “but” in v21 (in his 13 year exposition of Romans) so clearly there’s a lot to be got out of this section!
The question of faith in/of Jesus is perhaps resolved (in a both/and way) because the sentence could effectively be “the faith of Jesus for all who have faith in Jesus”.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 9, 2006 at 9:47 pm


Dana,
There is a tendency in some post-Reformation thinking, with some evangelicals, to polarize Father and Son, but the best theologians are thoroughly Trinitarian and never make this mistake. I think it might be seen more at the popular level of preaching than anything articulated in theological circles.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 9, 2006 at 9:48 pm


Simon,
While in college I was a big fan of Lloyd-Jones and read many of his books.



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Kerry Doyal

posted June 9, 2006 at 10:08 pm


“…on the mercy seat known as Jesus Christ’s death, Paul is saying, love and justice lock themselves in gracious embrace and God rids his people of the sin problem created by Adam and Eve.”
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Thanks, Scot. BTW, I guess this further dispells that CT article. . .



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Kerry Doyal

posted June 9, 2006 at 10:11 pm


Scot, do you know this quote’s author:
The righteousness God requires
is the righteousness His righteousness
requires Him to requires



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Scot McKnight

posted June 9, 2006 at 10:23 pm


Kerry,
Never did deny penal subst; I don’t think it is the whole.
That quotation is Anselmian. But, there is a lurking danger there in that it turns God into his attributes a bit. God required righteousness because he desired reconciliation out of love and grace.



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John

posted June 9, 2006 at 11:04 pm


Scot,
I would love to hear more about our sin being done “in Adam” and in actual pracice by each person. Do you think it is a propensity or leaning toward sin or something that corrupts entirely upon conception? Maybe it’s both.
jab



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Ken

posted June 10, 2006 at 12:14 am


Scot,
As you surely know, there’s a diversity of opinions about what being justified/made right refers to. What do you think it means?
Ken



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Scot McKnight

posted June 10, 2006 at 7:50 am


Ken, I may have touched on this early in this series, but I think it is both God’s declaration (a forensic image) and the eschatological in-breaking of making things right: with God, with self, with other, and with the world.



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Anonymous

posted June 15, 2006 at 8:07 am


Two42 » Blog Archive » Faith: In or Of

[…] Last Saturday’s examination of Romans 3:21-26 [+/-]Romans 3:21-26 [21]But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– [22]the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: [23]for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24]and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [25]whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. [26]It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (ESV) was inspired by this post from Scot McKnight. He makes several interesting observations, but the one I found most interesting referred to verse 22. Translators have wrestled with the translation, and a decision had to be made to write “faith in Christ” or “faithfulness of Christ.” At question is the idea that God’s righteousness has been disclosed to us. But how was it done? Was it through faith in Christ (an action on our part) or by Christ’s faithfulness (an action on God’s part)? Dr. McKnight has this to say: God’s “right-making” occurs in and through “faith in/of Jesus Christ.” Here we meet up with a contemporary problem: Does “faith of Jesus Christ” mean faith in Jesus Christ (Christians trust Christ) or the faith of Jesus Christ himself (Christ faithfully lives before God as the true Israelite)? One might be tempted to agree with Origen: the language is sufficiently ambiguous to permit both ideas at once. To the degree that Jesus is the Second Adam/Israel, it is his faithfulness to the covenant; to the degree that Jesus is our Substitute, it is our faith in Jesus Christ. However, that Paul continues on with “for all who believe” leads me to agree with Jimmy Dunn that what Paul has in mind is the disposition of believers: they trust in Christ for their right-making. Either way, in Christ this right-making occurs. […]



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