Excerpted from "Paul: A Very Short Introduction" with permission of Oxford University Press.

[For Paul,] there are no other gods, but there are demons. The `so-called gods and lords' of 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 are not really Gods and Lords, but they are something. Paul speaks of them in other ways: `beings that by nature are no gods' (Gal. 4:8); Satan, who disguises himself as the 'angel of light' (2 Cor. 11:14); 'another god', who governs `this age' (2 Cor. 4:4); `rulers of this age' (1 Cor. 2:6); `principalities' and `powers' (Rom. 8:38), or 'principalities, authorities and powers' (1 Cor. 15:24). There were knees to be bent not only on the earth, but also above and below it (Phil. 2:10). In the end, Christ will triumph (Rom. 8:38f.; 1 Cor. 15:24-6; Phil. 2:9-11), but meanwhile these beings can create a good deal of trouble. We should pay special attention to the degree to which Sin is treated by Paul as an enemy power. This is most clearly the case when the noun hamartio, sin, is the subject of a verb other than `to be', as it is in Romans 5-7. According to Romans 5:12, Sin `entered the world'; thereafter one reads that 'Sin reigned in death' (5:21); that Sin may `reign' in one's body (6:12) or `have dominion' over one (6:14); that Sin ,; found opportunity in the commandment and `wrought in me all kinds ; of covetousness' (7:8); that it `revived' (7:9); that it found `opportunity, in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me' (7:11); and that,: it `worked death in me through what is good' (7:13). Sin as power may be served (6:16-18), and thus it enslaves (6:20). Put another way, Sin is a 'law' which lurks in one's members and prevents the fulfilling of the law of God (7:17-23). The only escape is to leave `the Flesh' (8:8), the domain of Sin, by sharing Christ's death. Christians have died with Christ and thus to Sin (6:2-11), and they have thereby escaped not only Sin but also the law (which condemns) and the 'Flesh', the state of enmity towards God (7:4-6).
Here a few words are required in explanation of the term `the Flesh'. Paul sometimes uses it to mean 'the physical body', but in this section of Romans it often refers to the state of humanity when it opposes God. Thus, strikingly, Romans 7:5f.: `while we were living in the Flesh . . . But now we are discharged from the law . . . so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.' The `we' refers to Paul and other Christians. They are no longer `in the Flesh', though they are still in their skins with their body tissue intact. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:9, 'You are not in the Flesh, you are in the Spirit', and the contrast of Flesh and Spirit continues (8:9-13). My guess is that we see here the explanation of why Paul uses 'Flesh' to mean `humanity in the state of opposition to God': it is simply the word which is opposite `Spirit', which in turn denotes the divine power. This is, at any rate, the best way to decide when to capitalize Flesh, so that it points not to humanity as physical, but to humanity under an enemy power. It is the latter when there is a clear contrast between it and the Spirit of God. Then flesh becomes Flesh. In this section of Romans, Paul treats Sin as a power which is not only alien to God but almost as powerful; in fact, it often wins the struggle. It is important to note that Paul does not offer an anthropological, theological, or cosmological explanation of this conception of Sin. In the Jewish view, God had created the world and declared it good, a teaching which is not easily reconcilable with the view that Sin is a power strong enough to wrest the law from God's control or to render humans Powerless to do what is good (Rom. 7:11, 19).
There are two principal passages which lead up to, but do not account for, the view that all humanity, apart from Christ, is under the power of Sin. In Romans both Gentiles and Jews are accused of gross transgression (homosexuality and 'all manner of wickedness' on the part of Gentiles, robbing temples and committing adultery on the part of Jews), and Paul draws the conclusion that all people, 'both Jews and Greeks, are under sin' (Rom. 3:9). The RSV here translates `under sin' as `under the power of sin' and this interpretation seems to correspond to Paul's meaning. The accusation is not just that people transgress, but that all are governed by Sin. The charges of heinous immorality, however, do not actually account for Paul's conclusion that everyone is under the power of Sin. This is so partly because his accusations are exaggerated. Both the Gentile and the Jewish worlds contained `saints', people whose lives were largely beyond reproach. It is unlikely that Paul's view of universal heinous transgression rested on empirical observation.

The same is true of Romans 5, where Paul also argues for the universality of sin. Adam, he states, sinned, and this introduced sin and its consequence, death, into the world; `and so death spread to all people because all sinned' (Rom. 5:12). This is followed by the statements that `sin is not counted where there is no law' and that 'death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam' (5:13-14). In order to make the grip of sin universal, Paul wished to make Adam instrumental. Yet he had two problems: transgressions of the law which preceded the giving of it ':should not count; not everyone sinned, as did Adam, by rebelling against God's commandment. Despite these problems he asserted the consequence: `by one man's disobedience many were made sinners' (5:19). His anthropology (unlike Augustine's) did not include the conception of inherited sin, and thus he had no logical way of `proving' universal condemnation by appeal to Adam. He simply asserted it while himself citing points which count against it. What we see in both cases is a conclusion that is independent of the arguments which precede it. Adam's sin does not, in Paul's own statement of it, prove that all humanity is sinful and stands condemned. The heinous sins of some Greeks and Jews do not, even in Paul's own presentation of them, lead to the view that all humans are enslaved by Sin. This means that he held the conclusion as a fixed view and tried to bring forward arguments in favour of it, though without logical success. The conclusion, in other words, is not only independent of but is also more important than the arguments.

If the considerations put forward in Romans 1-2 and 5 do not explain the origin of Paul's conception of Sin, can we say where it came from? There are two principal possibilities. One is that Paul did not come to Christianity with a preformed conception of humanity's sinful plight, but rather deduced the plight from the solution. Once he accepted it as revelation that God intended to save the entire world by sending his Son, he naturally had to think that the entire world needed saving, and thus that it was wholly bound over to Sin. His soteriology is more consistent and straightforward than are his conceptions of the human plight. It seems that his fixed view of salvation forced him to go in search of arguments in favour of universal sin. This explains why Romans 1-2 and 5 are so weak as reasoned arguments but lead to such a definite conclusion. The conclusion that all need to be saved through Christ, since Paul received it as revelation, could not be questioned; the arguments in favour of universal bondage to Sin, then, are efforts at rationalization. That is one explanation. The second is that Paul had imbibed aspects of a dualistic world-view, according to which the created order is at least" partly under the control of the god of darkness. Iranian (Zoroastrian) dualism had penetrated the Mediterranean, and it can be seen in the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, when they distinguish between the ang4,, of darkness and the angel of light, the children of darkness and the children of light (for example, Community Rule 3:17-4:1). There are echoes of this terminology in Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11:14, where Satan is said to disguise himself as the `angel of light', Satan is, in effect, the 'angel of darkness'.

It is probable that Paul had been influenced by dualism, especially since he considered the entire created order to be in need of redemption (Rom. 8:19-23), though it could not have been guilty of transgression.' But here we see that despite some influence of dualism, Paul was not a dualist. He proposed that it was God himself who had subjected the creation to `futility', and that he had done so 'in hope', planning its redemption. Formally, there is no admission in Romans 8 of a second power, much less a second god. Yet Paul did believe in evil spiritual forces which he called by various names, as we noted above. These non-gods could blind (2 Cor. 4:4) and enslave (Gal. 4:8), as could Sin (Rom. 6:6)

If there is some truth in the suggestion that Paul was influenced by dualistic thought, there is more in the view that his discussions of sin are the reflex of his soteriology. We see the force of the latter most fully when we consider his view of God's work in history, which we may call `providence', and then ask about the relationship between providence and sin.

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