Some of you still like to read the Apostle Paul… so if you do, this looks like a good book for you:
Ever since E. P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977, students of Paul have been probing, weighing and debating the similarities and dissimilarities between the understandings of salvation in Judaism and in Paul. Do they really share a common notion of divine and human agency? Or do they differ at a deep level? And if so, how? Broadly speaking, the answers have lined up on either side of the old perspective and new perspective divide. But can we move beyond this impasse?
Preston Sprinkle reviews the state of the question and then tackles the problem. Buried in the Old Testament’s Deuteronomic and prophetic perspectives on divine and human agency, he finds a key that starts to turn the rusted lock on Paul’s critique of Judaism. Here is a proposal that offers a new line of investigation and thinking about a crucial issue in Pauline theology.
But what is the “basic doctrine of the Christian faith?” Is it really the resurrection?
If there is a litmus test for “true believers” it neither Young Earth Creationism nor the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is whether or not you can say “Jesus is Lord.” This is simply stated in 1 Co 12.3.
If we look at 1 Co 15, the resurrection is not the basic doctrine of the Christian faith, but becomes an ancillary doctrine as we continue our journey into salvation. See Paul’s note about “you are also being saved” in 1 Co. 15.2. Paul rarely uses a past tense word for salvation, but focuses rather on the future salvation, being saved and will be saved. It is a process.
No doubt my good friend McGrath understands well the Wesleyan notion of going on to perfection, or a progressive, if you will, Christianity.1 The “basic doctrine of the Christian” faith, then, is not the resurrection, but to first acknowledge Jesus as Lord. From there, it is all growth. And since it is all growth we are not to judge or ridicule brothers and sisters in Christ (plenty of bible verses for that one).
I would call the Resurrection a Mystery, like the Trinity, as exemplified as the first mystery of the Holy Rosary. I do believe in the Resurrection, for what it is worth. I do not, however, believe in the inquisition Breeden and his ilk regularly put on Christians as if they are the magisterium. I’ll stick with the Apostle Paul on this one.
I am praying he sees the light soon and becomes a United Methodist. ↩
In 64 CE, Paul stood before Felix as both a Jew and a Roman (Acts 23.23-35), mired in a conspiracy that accused the Jews of attempting to murder the apostle. Or, at least, according to Acts. Is this a historical or a historiographical event?
Oddly enough, Josephus records that he went to Rome during the same time period (1.13-6). And… there was a shipwreck. I can’t tell from reading it if he accompanied the priests or not.
I’m not going to put this into my book because of the hypothetical nature of this – and I don’t discuss Paul.
Of course, I understand that some may assume Luke is borrowing from Josephus, but what if they aren’t? What if they are telling the same story – because, you know, other people made the journey. Except for Paul, the situation is the same. The Jewish priest were holy and pious men who caused a ruckus. That ruckus, Luke tells us, is Paul.
Chapter 5 will deal with Paul’s use of the term in Galatians. More specifically, Galatians 6.11-18. Jackson notices the flesh-spirit mix and uses this to point to establish an eschatological paradigm in this epistle. There is also Paul’s boasting in the cross which hints at this. Now, for me, this is an interesting line, and a different way of setting the Epistle of Galatians. Further, he follows Winter and Hardin in putting the dispute in Galatians into a political realm in which Paul’s adversaries are those who are seeking to align the Messiah-believers with other Jewish groups in order to have it declared an official state religion. He goes on to counter recent and not so recent (Bultmann, for one) scholarship which creates an unnatural separation between history and the interpreter, and thus, destroys Paul’s cosmos, which, according to subsection B, includes spiritual beings, or the ‘elements’ of the universe.
Throughout the discussion of what cosmos means to Paul, Jackson is able to maintain the point which he raised earlier, that the New Creation regards both the individual and the world, especially given the Greco-Roman cosmology mixed with Jewish soteriology of the times. Paul was a student of his culture, so it should not surprise us that he used those concepts to preach his Gospel, and more, that he, unlike us today, used them appropriately, such as eschatology v. apocalyptic.
Jackson spends a considerable amount of time, almost to the point of ad nausem, detailing eschatology in Paul’s epistle. But, when it comes down to putting the Resurrection in a proper place, perhaps using a previously established understanding of merism, he fails, allowing Paul’s failure to note the Resurrection in Galatians 6 to go unanswered. This may serve problems later, but we’ll see. In my opinion, with so much effort being placed in making the Resurrection a high point in Paul’s eschatology, Jackson really lets this one slide by simply stating, “the fact that there is no direct reference to the resurrection in Gal 6 can probably be explained by the idea that this was not one of the planks of Paul’s message contested by his agitators (105).” But the crucifixion was? Here, he seems to not keep his thoughts clear.
Over all, however, the Conclusion serves to aid the discussion more so than the chapter. In this case, began with the conclusion which maintains the thought which Jackson wants the reader to keep in her mind. His conclusions are, in my opinion, the necessary ones due to his examination of the material. The New Creation is, for Paul, an eschatological shift in paradigm, in which the Cross of Christ is the defeat of the powers, including the Law, of the universe, resulting in a cosmic rejuvenation.
Narrowing it down to Romans only, the idea that the Law is human weakness can be compared to the Seneca’s notion that after the golden age, laws were needed to curtail abuses by tyrants. Further, Seneca notes his disagree with Posidonius in what constitutes works of wisdom. The latter believed that house was a work of wisdom while Seneca countered that these houses led to the human swarms found in the cities. Seneca notes other items Posidonius calls wise are nothing more than the works of the flesh as they have not, in fact brought about human advancement, but destruction. Paul separates the knowledge of the law which brings sin (Rom 3.20) which is comparable to Seneca. Human advancement, the Law or works of the flesh, brings apparent success but it will lead to destruction
One thing which I didn’t cover in my previous paper was Seneca’s vision of Wisdom which appealed to all humanity, summoning everyone to concord. Her voice was peace. Further, she reveals her nature. Also, she delivers immortality. But, beyond all of this, Wisdom doesn’t unlock a “village shrine” which is particular to some tribe, but she unlocks “the vast temple of the all the gods – the universe itself, whose true apparitions and true aspects she offers to the gaze of our minds.” In this, we can compare Seneca’s vision of a higher gift not just the Romans which redeems the cosmos to the gods to Paul’s vision of the cosmic Christ. Christ brings peace between God and humanity (Romans 5.1) and allows humanity access directly to God (Romans 5.2). Further, there is the universalism in Paul in which it is not just the Jews who have access to God through Christ but all of us who were enemies to God (Romans 5.10-21). This is a notion which Seneca dealt with from the beginning – a notion of universalism in which the good life is not closed to everyone except a select view, but it was open to all who would pursue it. Paul and Christianity were discovering this type of universalism, and it a universalism we see in Romans.
In comparing Seneca and Paul’s work in Romans, I come to the conclusion that both men saw in their respective philosophy – and make no mistake, the Apostle Paul was a philosopher – a new hope for all of humanity. In Wisdom’s gift of Philosophy, Seneca sees a return to a better time in which humanity advanced not in materialistic gain or ‘ease of life’, but to a time in which less is more and the pursuit of happiness was of the utmost goal. For Paul, we see in Romans the argument that Christ is the penultimate point in God’s plan, and that the new relationship inaugurated by Christ was a return to a golden age in which faith was the method in God accepted to bestow righteousness. While I enjoy the New Perspective on Paul, much more than the Reformation view on Paul’s use of the works of the Law, by reading Seneca, there seems to me more than either an ethnocentric view of the Law or a view that the works were essentially human merit, but that Paul may be using the works of the Law in such a way as stand in opposite to the life in Christ to show that the Law is something that slows the advancement of humanity down. It is a materialistic enterprise which, while meant to remove sin, grew to the point where it simply actually created sin. Paul shows, then, next to Seneca, that his wise preaching is what will draw humanity to God because it is a return to the golden age (of Abraham).