Krister Stehndahl writes:
The following chapters will demonstrate how such a doctrine of justification by faith was hammered out by Paul for the very specific and limited purpose of defending the rights of Gentile converts to be full and genuine heirs of the promises of God to Israel. Their rights were based solely on faith in Jesus Christ. This was Paul’s very special stance, and he defended it zealously against any compromise that required circumcision or the keeping of kosher food laws by Gentile Christians.
How or why then do I claim that in our traditional understanding we have lost touch with the image of Paul among Jews and Gentiles? For one simple reason; while Paul addresses himself to the relation of Jews to Gentiles, we tend to read him as if his question was: On what grounds, on what terms, are we to be saved? We think that Paul spoke about justification by faith, using the Jewish-Gentile situation as an instance, as an example. But Paul was chiefly concerned about the relation between Jews and Gentiles—and in the development of this concern he used as one of his arguments the idea of justification by faith.
Such a shift in focus and perception blocks our access both to the original thought and the original intention of Paul. It leads to distortions of our historical description of Paul’s ministry and to misunderstandings of Paul as a person. It leads to a misconstruction of the problem Paul intended to solve by his observations on faith and law and salvation. The fact of the matter is that if we read Paul’s answer to the question of how Gentiles become heirs to God’s promises to Israel as if he were responding to Luther’s pangs of conscience, it becomes obvious that we are taking the Pauline answer out of its original context.
This seems like such a radical premise. If it’s true, it literally alters everything I’ve thought about Christianity since becoming a believer 8 years ago. Being Reformed, I had come to believe that the only thing the Scriptures taught was justification by grace through faith. The writer you quote concedes it is a Pauline doctrine, but his argument is interesting because the doctrine itself was developed in order to defend and protect a bigger, more important one – namely the rights of all believers in Christ.
One thing that strikes me as strange, and this may very well be because I have no historical, philosophical or theological training, is the argument that Paul developed this doctrine of justification in order to accomplish something else. Believing in the infallibility of the Scriptures and their inspiration by God, I have always seen these doctrines as divinely instituted – not created by humans. Even the smallest doctrines, whatever they may be, in my understanding, originated in the mind of Christ, and were not the product of any one, or any collective number, of people responding to a situation. That may be a flaw in my own thinking, but how does a writer like this, Joel, reconcile the Reformed view of the Scriptures as divinely inspired and this approach to Pauline theology? The answer to how those two are reconciled would probably have an effect on my own theologizing in the future.
by: scott cunningham (URL) on 2002-12-20 12:29:40
I don’t know that I can speak for him. To me, there is no difficulty, what the author says, God says, and vice versa. What is in the canon is what God intended to be there and no matter who came up with it, it does ultimately originate in the Divine counsel. It’s not as if Paul could have wrote heresy and it would have made it into the canon. Am I making any sense?
by: joel w (URL) on 2002-12-20 22:40:30
But, there seems to be some tension it seems like between the divine authorship and the human authorship. I mean, on the one hand, you and I both affirm God is writing these epistles and gospels through human agents via inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Yet, at the same time, it’s interesting to think about being Paul and Peter and the evangelists writing the gospels. Did they feel compelled to write certain words? Could they have expressed these ideas differently? I think every jot and tittle of the epistles, for instance, are inspired and originated in the mind of Christ prior to Paul writing them. Yet, I also believe that Paul voluntarily chose to express himself freely and without coercion. It’s the mysterious ballet of man walking with God, yet God leading man, and not only leading him, but actually requiring certain steps be taken. Yet, at the same time, God treats us as free, and the appearance seems to be – and maybe even the reality, too – that man can affect how the dance is played out.
Scripture, then, is interesting, because it seems like you can approach it as a hyper-calvinist and so focus on the divine, that Paul and others appear like puppets guided by puppet strings. Yet, I think that you can see Paul’s unique personality, and the accumulation of his own learning and experiences, in those letters. Paul’s letters read differently than Peter’s and even differently from James’s. Part of the reason scholars doubt Pauline scholarship of Hebrews is because the writing style is so different.
So, the point I’m making is it’s interesting that these original writers ended up powerfully affecting future generations of believers all because of these letters written to specific people that concerned very specific problems. Paul ends up developing this idea of the church as being like a marriage, but also like a human body, all because of problems seen within the church in Ephesus. What if he had chosen, instead of those humane metaphors, another metaphor to communicate the organic, interconnectedness of the church. What if he had been a proto-Adam Smith, and instead of the body, chosen the economy as his metaphor. I mean, they seem similar enough in some respects (except that the body one is far superior to the economic one). How would the church developed differently?
I’m just thinking about how it’s kind of interesting to consider, for a moment, that the writers were writing as regular people – as pastor/theologian/prophets – and how their casual language ends up having dramatic effects all the way down through history. Being as how the tension between God’s sovereigntiy and man’s freedom is an enduring paradox, one can see Paul as literally creating doctrine on the spot, and yet still affirm a believe in divine authorship. Does that make any sense? This kind of stuff just blows my mind.
by: scott cunningham (URL) on 2002-12-23 12:24:04
I think it makes sense!
I don’t know that any one theory of inspiration fits perfectly. I certainly don’t believe it was “automatic writing.” The Bible seems to leave it vauge as to how the will was moved along by the Spirit. I am content to say what the author says, God says.
by: joel w (URL) on 2002-12-26 22:02:30