c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: May 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reconciling Paul

Paul says two seemingly contradictory things about salvation:

[God] will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. –Romans 2:6-7

If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. –Romans 4:2-5

Peter says that Paul is difficult to understand (II Peter 3:15-17). John says that whoever does right is righteous (I John 3:7). And James, quoting exactly the same passage about Abraham that Paul quotes (in italics above and below), says:

Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. –James 2:20-24

How might Paul be reconciled? The answer lies in the literary and historical context of his writings.

Paul came to us Gentiles with the word of God’s love for us in Christ. But he was opposed by Judaizing teachers, who claimed that the new converts must be circumcised according to the Law of Moses. So Paul argued by analogy that Gentile believers are like Abraham. Before he was circumcised, and 400 years before the Law was given, thus “apart from the Law,” Abraham believed God and was thus called “righteous.” So now a “righteousness from God” has come to the Gentiles through the Gospel. Salvation is now a gift to the Gentiles because God took the initiative to offer it to us out of his great love for all mankind.

Paul argued this contrast between boastful Judaism and believing Gentiles in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians. In each letter, however, he used the word “therefore” (Romans 6:12 & 12:1, Galatians 5:1 and Ephesians 5:1 & 17) to indicate that once we hear the word we are required to follow its teachings, to walk worthy of the Gospel. Just as Abraham exercised faith along with works so must our saving faith be completed by works. What works? The Law of Moses (Old Testament) is done away in Christ (Romans 10:4 & Ephesians 2:14-16). But the Lord instituted a new covenant in his blood, a circumcision of the heart, and gave us the Law of Christ, that we should love one another (I Corinthians 9:21 & Galatians 6:2). This is the (New Testament) Faith of Jesus Christ, which merits salvation, making us righteous, if by patiently doing well in it we seek glory, honor and immortality. The original premise then holds -- God judges by works.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Missing Definite Articles

The New Testament speaks of the Faith once for all delivered in Jude 1:3. It speaks of the Faith in the Pastoral Epistles of Paul, as in I Timothy 4:1, Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.

In both these instances the scholars have correctly translated the original Greek into English using the definite article the as it occurs to modify faith, hence, the Faith, meaning Christianity. In the New Testament Judaism was referred to as Works of the Law and was often contrasted with the Faith of Jesus Christ, especially in Paul’s letters.

But this contrast between the two religions, Old Covenant Judaism versus the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, Christianity, is not clear because, strangely, the scholars were not consistent in their translation of the definite article in every case. Plus, there are some instances where the addition of the definite article would make the translation better even though it does not occur in the original Greek.

Here is an example. In Philippians 3:9 Paul says that he wants to be found in Christ not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

Notice that faith occurs twice in the same verse.


Here, and in two other places, Romans 3:22 and Galatians 3:22, Paul seems to be redundant, saying that salvation is by faith in Christ … for those that believe.

If salvation is by faith isn’t it assumed that one would have to believe?

So, why the redundancy?

Well, it isn’t a redundancy. It’s a poor translation. There are missing definite articles.

In the historical, grammatical and literary context, his situation in life and writings, all taken together, Paul's meaning becomes clear: we are saved by the Faith of Jesus Christ, the religious system he instituted, the new covenant in his blood, if we believe it. The implication is clear, that to trust in Christ for salvation means to trust the man that teaches us all things, heals our diseases and leads us through the Cross to love and life in God. Immediately after Peter confessed him as the Christ, Jesus began to tell the disciples that he must suffer, be killed and raised … and that they must follow him in that same kind of faithfulness unto death and hope of eternal life. THAT is the faith of Jesus Christ that saves.

And so here also, in Philippians, Paul continues his thought, saying that he counts all things as refuse in comparison to being found in Christ with the righteousness that comes from God …

That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. –3:10-11

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Who Is Jesus?

Jesus of Nazareth is the one of whom the New Testament speaks, in the Bible.

The Kerygma

Kerygma means that which is proclaimed and comes from the original Greek language in which the New Testament was written. It proclaims as facts about Jesus propositions that apply only to him. It is the uniquely Christian word about who Jesus is and what he did. These facts make Christianity different from any other religion that exists or ever did exist before Jesus. All true Christians everywhere have always believed these things about Jesus, which constitutes the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Faith:

1. Jesus is the Christ, that is, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. He is the only-begotten Son of God and Savior of the world.

2. He died on the Cross for our sins, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

3. On the third day he arose and lives to reign as Lord of the universe.

4. Everyone should repent and believe in him, because Christianity supersedes Judaism as the world’s only true religion. His salvation is offered to anyone that wants to follow him for he is sent in love to redeem us. He is head of his body, the Church, the Elect by faith and true Israel of God.

5. He will return to judge the world according to his word and to complete the salvation of his people, granting resurrection of the body and eternal life.

Doctrine of the Trinity

Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, which is defined as one God in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Trinity does not mean three gods as in polytheism. Christians believe with Muslims and Jews that God is One. The Jewish Shema says, Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is One. The Trinity is congruent with the Shahada, which the Muslims profess, There is no God but Allah …

Christians employ a philosophical distinction between essence and person to say that God is one, whole, perfect and eternal being, who exists in three co-equal persons. The universal quality of God-ness, or divinity, attaches to Christ, thus modifying traditional dualism.

The God-Man

Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in a miraculous birth to Mary, his mother, who was still a virgin. Therefore, the Nicene Creed says Jesus is fully God and fully a man, a unique individual of a wonderful and mysterious nature, God incarnate.

Son of Man

Jesus is the Son of Man of Old Testament prophecy. Jesus called himself the Son of Man 88 times. This refers to Daniel 7:13-14:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Through Christ the New Covenant opens the door of the Faith to all kinds of people. His is a universal Gospel, meaning salvation is offered to everyone not a chosen few. Men, women, young and old, rich, poor and in between, people of all nations, races and languages, all sorts and conditions of people may come to God through faith in Christ. So there is no room for racial or ethnic prejudice in Christian discipleship.