Sharing: Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?

Warning: The content below contains graphic images. “Were you There” is a notorious hymn sung throughout Christian churches during Holy Week. The lyrics repeat a series of questions, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they laid him in the […]

via Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? — Daily Theology

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Romans 8:22-30 (My Exegesis Attempt)

Text: Romans 8:22-8:30 [NIV]

  1. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (8:22 [NIV])
  2. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (8:23)
  3. “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (8:24)
  4. “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (8:25)
  5. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (8:26)
  6. “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (8:27)
  7. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (8:28)
  8. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (8:29)
  9. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (8:30)

Theme/Paragraph Analysis

The theme of these verses is the story of God’s faithfulness and mercy to an unfaithful people and the response of patience and love from those who receive mercy from Him through their faith.

  1. All creation, with mankind, is experiencing a period of strife as we enter a new age.
  2. Although believers groan inwardly, God gave us the Spirit which represents the firstfruits of things to come.
  3. Christians are saved by faith in Jesus’ resurrection; they hope in a future promised in the Spirit’s firstfruits.
  4. We wait patiently through our suffering, trusting in God’s timing because of our hope.
  5. The Spirit helps our weakness and intercedes for us in prayer.
  6. God searches our hearts and understands the mind of the Spirit, who he sent to advocate for God’s people.
  7. Those who love God are called to the things God loves; God is good and so His work is for good.
  8. God knows His people from their creation. God planned their salvation through his Son’s relationship with them: that Jesus’ sacrifice would create a community of people who love God.
  9. The path to glorification with Christ is righteousness through the blood of Christ and repentance.

Historical Analysis

“Romans is arguably the most influential letter ever written. It is certainly the most significant letter in the history of Christianity. Romans has spawned conversions, doctrines, disputations, and even a few reformations, and it has done so quite ecumenically and with a kind of domino effect.”[1] One of the things that makes Romans so significant is that it has remained impactful throughout the centuries, from modern theologians like Karl Barth back to those such as Augustine and Martin Luther. This is in part because it addresses the struggle of faith in most seasons. “It narrates the grace of God toward sinful humanity, both Jews and Gentiles, that creates a multicultural cruciform community of obedient faith issuing in generous love and expectant hope.”[2]

Although Paul clearly knew quite a few of the Romans based on the names of those he listed, it is also clear that he is not the Church Father. This leads to substantial debate as to the purpose of Paul writing them. There is one thing of which we can be sure: all was not well in Rome. “In 49 an edict of Claudius expelled the Jews (or at least many of them) from Rome because of their fighting about one “Chrestus” -in all likelihood an allusion to intra-Jewish debate over the identity and role of the Jewish Messiah and, perhaps, whether Jesus was the expected one.”[3] In addition, Gentiles made up the majority if not the whole of the Roman Church which would likely have led to a marginalization of the Jews. Indications lead us to believe that this plus the differences in their practices led to issues of judgment over practices.[4] These historical tensions elicited the powerful response we see from Paul: “…the theme of Romans is God’s grace – God’s impartial faithfulness and mercy – for Jews and Gentiles that creates the eschatological, or new covenant, community through the “obedience of faith” (1:5;16:26).”[5]

 

Verse Analysis

1. Romans 8:22 [NIV] tells us “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”[6] We see evidence of this in frontiers possibly never even considered by Paul: deforestation, global warming, factory farming, unethical global supply chains that destroy developing regions, trafficking of over 20 million persons[7] etc. Fitzmyer writes that this comparison of struggle to childbirth was very common in Paul’s time for Greek philosophers. “Paul adopts this image to express the tortuous convulsions of frustrated material creation, as he sees it. It groans in hope and expectation, but also in pain. The compound verb (synodinei) expresses the concerted agony of the universe in all its parts.”[8]

One matter debated is whether mankind is included in the “whole creation.” Whereas Fitzmyer sees it unlikely because mankind is not brought up until the next verse, I believe it more likely that Paul meant to include us with the rest of creation; it further humbles us and reminds us that God is the Creator and we are the created. We groan in the pains with the rest of creation and are not set apart in this way; we on our own cannot distinguish ourselves from the rest of creation; only the grace of God can do that. For this reason, I prefer the perspective offered through the Hebrew Bible lens: “Although confident that God will be victorious, believers live in the present age, which is characterized by suffering and decay… Paul draws on a convention of the Hebrew Bible in which birth pains serve as a metaphor for the period of strife and travail that ushers in a new age…”[9]

2. Paul goes on to clarify that although we groan inwardly, we are in possession of the firstfruits. To make such a statement was no small gesture, as seen in Leviticus 23:14 (NAB) “Until this day, when you bring your God this offering, you shall not eat any bread or roasted grain or fresh kernels. This shall be a perpetual statute for you and your descendants wherever you dwell.”[10] In remembrance of their time in Egypt, the Jewish people would offer their firstfruits to God before preparing or eating any of their crop. The firstfruit was set aside for God. Yet now there is a reversal and God’s people are receiving God’s firstfruit in them. Paul writes, “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:23 [NIV][11] So although we groan with the rest of creation, we have also received a great gift from God.

The resurrection being such an important part of Paul’s theology, it is to be expected that he would mention not only sonship but redemption of our bodies, alluding to the resurrection of Christ and the belief that the same experience was in store for his followers in the future. Paul’s striving for love in the shape of a cross is not intellectual; it is literal. We have been saved but we are not yet remade in the image of Jesus. “Summing up the whole train of thought, Paul can declare, here and in vv. 26-27, that the present “groaning,” though at one level a sign of the present not fully redeemed state, is at the same time a sign of the Christian’s sure and certain hope… The body is intended to be a glorious, splendid, fashioned after the model of Jesus’ own resurrection body, no longer subject to weakness, humiliation, sickness, sin, and death (cf. 1 Cor 15:54; 2 Cor 5:1-5; Phil 3:21). The Christian in the present time is but a pale shadow of his or her future self.”[12]

3. Romans 8:24 [NIV] translates as “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?”[13] There are some issues with this translation, primarily with the writing of the last verse which makes it sound as if Christians may be putting their hope in something other than the resurrection of Jesus Christ, on which salvation hinges. It may be better translated as, “’For we were saved in hope.’ …Paul’s concern is to stress that, while salvation is already a reality for the Christian (“we were saved”: the tense is aorist, denoting a one-off event), it carries an inevitable future component.”[14] Remember, Paul first has emphasized our need to be humble through our equal struggle with the rest of creation, then reminded us of the undeserved grace God shows in offering salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This question of hope focuses the Romans on the hope offered in the generous gift of the Spirit given by God.

“Hope is built in to Christian experience from the start, and remains one of its central characteristics (see 5:2-5; 15:13).  But if this is so, Paul is stressing, one cannot expect present Christian living to be anything other than a matter of straining forward for what is yet to come, for what is yet unseen… One does not anxiously scan the horizon for a boat already in port.”[15] It is a state of being for the Christian rather than a means to an end. Hope is not our means of justification. “Justified through faith, man still looks to the future eschatological term of salvation and this is the sphere of hope.”[16] It is clear within the context of these verses why it is so important to differentiate between faith and hope so Christian’s build upon the proper foundation. “The replacement of faith by hope is understandable in this context, but they are not synonymous. In view of Paul’s understanding of faith, we cannot translate, “saved by hope” (KJV and even Luther). The full meaning is that we were saved-i.e. by Christ’s achievement, regard as complete, hence the past tense-so as to live now in…hope.”[17]

4. After clarifying we exist in a state where our spirit has been saved but our body not redeemed and that redemption is what we hope for but what remains unseen, Paul addresses how that hope should manifest itself within the community: “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:25 [NIV])[18] This is not hoping with anxious anticipation, like a child waiting eagerly for the moment they get to open their presents, it is trusting in the timing of God. Never, in the case of Paul, does this mean inaction. “It is hope that enables the Christian to bear with “the sufferings of the present,” (8:18) but that also makes him a witness to the world of a lively faith in the resurrection (cf. I Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 5:7; Heb 11:1).”[19] In summary, Paul is saying that the Christ follower who has hope is patient and obedient in this life because the Spirit helps us to trust in the promise of the future, having received the firstfruits (the Spirit itself).

5. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26 [NIV])[20] “The Spirit, he says, helps us in our weakness-or literally, “The Spirit helps our weakness.”[21] While Wright interprets that to mean the state prior to “full redemption,” I would rather take into consideration Paul’s first several lines referencing all of creation groaning in pain, and our groaning with it. While this is technically the state prior to redemption, Paul appears to be addressing issues of daily life with this verse. Mankind, by his very nature selfish, weak and prone to turn away from God now has within him an intercessor by means of the Spirit who speaks for us in our prayers when we have no words. “…the Spirit adds to them his intercession that transcends that weakness (hyperentygchanei,” intercedes over and above”) the result is that the Christian utters what would otherwise be ineffable. Even to pray “Abba, Father,” the Spirit must dynamically assist the Christian (8:15, Gal 4:6). But the Christian who so prays is aware that the Spirit is manifesting his presence to him.”[22]

When thinking of times of great struggle, turmoil or mourning there is often great comfort and relationship that can be found when we weep, cry and call out the name of our God and beg for His presence. Paul’s familiarity with this experience becomes clear to us through these last couple verses. “Rather, he is speaking of an agonizing in prayer, a mixture of lament and longing in which, like a great swell of tide at sea, “too full for sound or foam,” the weight of what is taking place has nothing to do with the waves and ripples on the surface…”[23] To be told that God in the form of the Spirit laments with us as we lament, mourns with us as we mourn, and gives voice to our prayers when we have no words provides great comfort to those who might feel like their experience is isolating, unbearable or unknowable.

6. Furthermore, whatever the Spirit gives voice to the Father comprehends. While Paul was certainly a monotheist, this is where we see some of the Trinitarian beliefs manifested. “That the Spirit intercedes for us distinguishes the Spirit from God. In vs. 34 intercession is the work of Christ…”[24] but when Christ leaves he said that he would send another for us, an “advocate” in some translations, and this is what we see now in Paul’s writing: “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:27 [NIV])[25] It is this distinction between that of the Spirit who inhabits us and that of the Father who can search our heart but also knows the mind of the Spirit. We see this distinction because we know that the phrase, “he who searches the hearts,” originates within the Old Testament. Examples include Proverbs 20:27 which the World English Bible translates as “The spirit of man is Yahweh’s lamp, searching all his innermost parts.”[26] Or the CEV version of Psalm 139:1 that says, “You have looked deep into my heart, Lord, and you know all about me.”[27] A searcher of hearts and man’s innermost parts is a clear part of God’s ongoing relationship with mankind. Additionally, “It was part of God’s loving plan of salvation that the Spirit should play such a dynamic role in the aspirations and prayers of Christians.”[28]

7. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 [NIV])[29] The use (or lack) of ho theos (God) in relationship to the verb synergei and the emphasis it puts on panta has ended up with three different ways of understanding this verse. First, if ho theos is included and synergei, “…is understood intransitively with an indirect object (“works together with”) …It stresses God’s co-operation “in all things” (panta, adv. Acc.) with those who love, and this is seen as the realization of his living plan of salvation…”[30] The second interpretation still includes ho theos but makes synergei transitive, making the subject panta so that the phrasing becomes, “all things work together for good for those who love God.”[31] While this might seem to fundamentally say the same thing as the third interpretation, taken in isolation, this translation or the first (similar to the NIV used) could be misinterpreted in isolation to say that God does good for those who love Him, not what is made more clear in the third and my preferred translation: “If ho theos is omitted…and panta is taken as the subject of the verb, then “all things work together for good for those who love God.”[32] Likewise, we see similar thinking echoed earlier in the Aramaic in Plain English translation of Romans 2:7 “To those who in the patience of good works are seeking glory, honor and indestructibility, he gives eternal life.”[33]

Thus, in understanding the intention to be that uses all things for good in the lives of those who love him, we can now rightly examine the second part of Paul’s sentence, “who have been called according to his purpose.” Another variation of this which we find in translations like the NAB is “who are called according to his purpose.”[34] Some interpretations draw on this to mean predestination but others believe it is a compliment. As we consider Paul’s overall theology, I believe the intention was more to accent the response God elicits in those who love Him; in other words, when one deeply loves God, you cannot help but feel called towards those things that God pursues. It is a natural response of love to support the ones you love in their purpose. Since it is a foundational belief that God is good, it would only make sense that those who love God would work towards good through all things in their life.

8. Paul goes on to clarify this path of the Christ follower even further: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28 [NIV])[35] I believe that Paul is speaking in a very general sense here, about an entire people and not an implication that God has sorted all people before the beginning of time. Paul tells the story of God and man in one broad stroke. We start with the phrase “God foreknew” which draws us back to the imagery of the Old Testament in Psalm 139:1-13 (NAB), “Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar… You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”[36] Then we move into the phrase “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” To be reminded that it was God’s plan to provide for us a Savior that looked exactly like Jesus Christ all along, back from Isaiah:1-12 (NAB), “…To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? …There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, no appearance that would attract us to him… He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering… But he was pierced for our offenses; crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, and by his stripes we are healed… But the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all…Though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood…Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear…Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.”[37] And it wasn’t only that God planned to send us his Son to us but that those who are God’s people would conform to the image of his Son.  As it is written in 1 John 2:5-6 (NAB), “But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way that we may know that we are in union with him; whoever claims to abide in him ought to live [just] as he lived.”[38] In other words, those who love God as mentioned in Romans 8:28 should be conformed to the image of his Son, and by doing so a growing community, or brothers and sisters, who love God and have Jesus Christ as their Savior are created.

9. Paul carries on the line of reasoning by explaining: And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30 [NIV])[39] This articulates the fact that if you have received Jesus as your Savior, you are in fact predestined by God to be in relationship with Jesus and the community of followers. It follows that anyone who is saved is also called; God isn’t passive and neither are followers, according to Paul. If you are called, you will also be justified, which is another term for being made righteous (again, although this is not named explicitly as an action, it would likely involve repentance from old ways and turning towards God), and lastly glorified. “All God’s plan (involving call, election, predestination, justification) is aimed only at the final destiny of glory for all men who will put faith in Christ. It is important to realize that in this passage Paul is not speaking of the predestination of individuals; he is describing God’s design apropos of Christians as a group.”[40]

In summary, although we struggle with the rest of creation God, because of His faithfulness and mercy, provides for us the firstfruits in the form of the Spirit. Only because of God’s grace are saved by faith, and it is tin that which we find hope and patience through the Spirit, who gives sound to our wordless cries. An intercessor that God has placed within us, God can understand our hearts and the mind of the Spirit who helps our weakness and intercedes in prayer. This relationship and the love of God calls followers to the things God loves; the result of this is that all things are directed for the goodness of God for those whose hearts are like God’s. God has known his people from the start and planned their salvation through the relationship with his Son; the Son’s sacrifice and example create a community who love God and put them on a path to glory with Christ through His blood, repentance and relationship.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Blackman, Edwin C. “The Letter of Paul to the Romans.” Ed. Charles M. Laymon. The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971. 768-94. Print.

 

Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J. “The Letter to the Romans.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Vol. 2. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. 291-331. Print.

 

Gaventa, Beverly R. The Women’s Bible Commentary. Ed. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe. London: SPCK, 1992. 313-20. Print.

 

Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. United States of America: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Print.

 

ILO. New ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour: 20.9 million victims. (2012, June 1). Retrieved August 19, 2016, from http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_182109/lang–en/index.htm

 

Isaiah 53:1-12 Who has believed what he has heard from us? (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+53%3A1-12&version=ESV

 

Proverbs 20:27 World English Translation. (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://biblehub.com/proverbs/20-27.htm

 

Psalm 139:13 CEV (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://biblehub.com/psalms/139-13.htm

 

Romans 2:7 Aramaic in Plain English (n.d.) [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/romans/2-7.htm

 

Romans 8 (NIV) (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 19, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

 

St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Wright, N. T. (1994).

 

Wright, N. T. “The Letter to Romans.” The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994. 395-770. Print.

[1] Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. Pg. 338

[2] Gorman, 339

[3] Gorman, 340

[4] Gorman, 342

[5] Gorman, 343

[6] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[7] ILO. (2012, June 1). Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_182109/lang–en/index.htm.

[8] Fitzmyer, J. A. S. J. (1968). The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Vol. 2). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. Pg. 317

[9] Gaventa, B. R. (1992). The Women’s Bible Commentary. London: SPCK. Pg. 318

[10] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Pg. 163

[11] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[12] Wright, N. T. (1994). The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Vols. X). Nashville: Abingdon. Pg. 597

[13] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[14] Wright, 597.

[15] Wright, 597.

[16] Fitzmyer, 317.

[17] Blackman, E. C. (1971). The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon. Pg. 784

[18] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[19] Fitzmyer, 317

[20] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[21] Wright, 598

[22] Fitzmyer, 317

[23] Wright, 599

[24] Blackman, 784

[25] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[26] Proverbs 20:27 World English Translation. (n.d.). Bible Hub [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/proverbs/20-27.htm

[27] Psalm 139:13 CEV. (n.d.). [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/psalms/139-13.htm

[28] Fitzmyer, 317

[29] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[30] Fitzmyer, 317

[31] Fitzmyer, 317

[32] Fitzmyer, 317

[33] Romans 2:7 Aramaic in Plain English. (n.d.). [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/romans/2-7.htm

[34] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1700

[35] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

[36] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 356-7

[37] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1090-1

[38] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1923

[39] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

[40] Fitzmyer, 317

Theological Reflection on Galatians

GALATIANS

I learned a tremendous amount from the letter to the Galatians but before I get into that, I first need to unpack two details I learned from Gorman’s Apostle of the Crucified Lord which is not necessarily made explicitly clear within the letter to Galatians itself. First, Paul would be what you might consider a “cruciform covenantal charismatic Jew,” meaning he was a Jew who believed in the crucified messiah Jesus Christ. This sacrifice, to Paul, fulfilled the old covenant (the Law) and created a new covenant in the shape of the life of Jesus and gave us each the ability to receive the Holy Spirit. Second, those Paul speaks against in Galatians are what you might call “messianic covenantal nomist Jews.”  This means that they believe Jesus was the messiah but his sacrifice was not sufficient and the gospel is supplemented by the keeping of the old covenant, so they required Gentiles to “convert.” To Paul, this is unacceptable because Christ is either all or nothing; Christ is either the son of God sacrificed as a fulfilling of the covenant and requires no supplement from us or he did not fulfill the covenant and was not the Messiah. This is why Paul finds those who want to circumcise Gentile followers of Christ so appalling.

Paul quickly jumps into a rebuke. Galatians 1:6-7, “I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by [the] grace [of Christ] for a different gospel (not that there is another). But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ.” He’s so upset he skips the Thanksgiving and asks how they could forsake God who had the grace to call them. He then issues a double curse on those who he believes are perverting the gospel of Christ. He follows by defending “his” gospel. Galatians 1:12-13 “For I didn’t receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through revelation of Jesus Christ. For you heard my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church…” and goes on to outline the extraordinary source of his gospel and authority. After securely affirming his authority, which would be difficult for any of those who oppose him to surpass in reputation, he moves on to address the actions that they are taking, which is following the old laws.

He explains that circumcision is not necessary, and even references the Council of Jerusalem. Galatians 2:3, “Moreover, not even Titus, who was with me, although he was Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” Those of repute in Jerusalem (the disciples) approved of Paul’s gospel and added nothing to it. He furthers his case by bringing up his challenge of Cephas, or Peter, at Antioch, whom Paul opposed to his face. Galatians 2:12-14, “For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him…But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like the Jews?” This is where we see the real contrast of what Paul was and what Jerusalem endorsed, and what Paul condemned in the “messianic covenantal nomists.” It appears to me that Paul uses this to show that even Peter could be confused by these “false brothers.” He then he lays forth a strong argument for faith and justification in Christ.

First, justification as translated from Greek has the same root as righteousness and is often tied to God as Judge but this was a very covenantal and relational term. It was meant for reconciliation. Second, faith is not just meant as a belief in God or trusting in God, but faithfulness to God. It is also a covenantal term that was more often related to things like loyalty, obedience, and devotion. In understanding this, I gain a much deeper understanding of what Paul teaches next. Galatians 2:15-16 “We, who are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles, [yet] who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even when we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” What Paul is saying is that Jews know the Laws, and those who believe know that they find reconciliation and justification in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ through their faithfulness. They know, having tried to keep the Law, that nobody can be justified or reconciled to God through the Law. To further clarify this point, Paul writes in Galatians 2:20-21 “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”

Paul further chastises the Galatians and then asks them the probing question: from whence did you receive the Spirit? Works of the law or from faith? He even ties it back to Abraham, pointing out that Abraham’s justification and righteousness came not through the law but his faithfulness to God. Again he points to the fact that you are cursed if you cannot follow all laws, but it is told the one who lives by righteous faith will live. To refocus on the cruciform shape of Jesus’ life Paul finds central to faith, he summarizes it again in Galatians 3:13-14 “Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,” that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

Why the Law? As Paul wrote, the law was created for our transgressions, and we were being disciplined by a disciplinarian. With Jesus a new time has come where we are no longer under a disciplinarian but instead, all one in Christ. We had come of age. Galatians 4:3-7 “…we also, when we were not of age, were enslaved to the elemental powers of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to ransom those under the law so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” This is all a beautiful reminder to me of the extraordinary freedom I am experiencing in my faith. Paul immediately heads back into questioning why they would abandon this for the law, to experience isolation and exclusion from God by rejecting his mercy and grace.

He uses allegory with the story of Abraham having children with a slave woman and a freewoman before launching into another reminder: Galatians 5:4-6 “You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” This is an important message for us even in the modern day.  The work you do for God doesn’t matter if you aren’t doing it for the right reason. If you are doing it out of obedience to the law, and not out of love for Christ and the law of Christ, then it is worthless to God or even worse because you’re doing it to try to earn something that cannot be earned. We must do all things out of love.

Another reminder as valuable today as it was then, Galatians 5:13-15 “For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbors as yourself. But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.” Reminding me of the Thessalonian readings, it is all about understanding the context of freedom in Christ, and in loving others. The emphasis is hat not being under the Law does not mean serving the desires of your flesh but the needs of your fellow man. So as to avoid some of the confusion that might be experienced, Paul helpful lists that which should be avoided: Galatians 5:19 “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies and the like.” Lastly, we are provided with clues for what is of the spirit which I like to use as a kind of checklist to make sure I’m working with the Spirit: Galatians 5:22 “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

I Thessalonians Reflections

Paul begins his Greeting in I Thessalonians 1:1 “…to the church… in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” and this speaks deeply to me. It reminds me that a church is in God and Christ. My church being in God, enclosed and surrounded by the Trinity is a great comfort to me and is not the imagery I usually have of a church. The other imagery I like which shortly follows in I Thessalonians 1:3 is in the Thanksgiving and is where Paul ties actions to things that people often associate with thoughts or feelings today: “…calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father…” Paul appears to remind us in every sentence that we show faith, love and hope through our actions.

In I Thessalonians 2:9-10 Paul remarks, “You recall, brothers, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” This selfless integrity that Paul points out, that they worked while continuing to spread the gospel, that they labored “night and day” so that they would not burden believers, is not a bragging point. I believe it is meant as a reminder of who Paul was but also that if you are a believer, you should be setting an example.  Your behavior and actions should be speaking for you and Paul firmly believed that if you could work you should as he demonstrated repeated in his letters. He even loops back to this again later, warning against laziness or idleness because of the imminence of the Parousia in I Thessalonians 4:11-12, “…and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your [own] hands, as we instructed you, that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders and not depend on anyone.”  Although this might sound as if it advises against charity it does not. It is only laziness in believers it speaks against. Paul wants those who are capable of working to work but to understand that they are all responsible for each other. In I Thessalonians 4:9-10 it says, “On the subject of mutual charity you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. Indeed, you do this for all the brothers throughout Macedonia.”

Freedom comes up a lot in Paul’s letters, and it appears to be something that is both liberating and misunderstood in Paul’s time and ours. While the start of his General Exhortations focuses on holiness, I wonder if what Paul addresses stems from a misunderstanding of the freedom they have received in the crucifixion of Jesus. One example that sounds like they interpreted the freedom in Christ as the freedom to do as they want can be found in I Thessalonians 4:7-8 “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who [also] gives his holy spirit to you.”  In this, it sounds like Paul is trying to remind them that God did not call them to freedom from the Law so they could do impure things but instead so that they could receive the Holy Spirit and be in relationship with God.

I particularly like that he circles back to what he began with in his Thanksgiving at the end, changing the actions into armor in I Thessalonians 5:8-10, “But since we are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him.” Lastly, the final directions that Paul gives are beautiful if not challenging. It perhaps emphasizes again that the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was a reorientation and restructuring of all existence, our own and the worlds. God was countercultural then and is countercultural now.  It is not about doing our own will but the will of God.

I Thessalonians 5:14-22 “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Jesus Christ. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterance. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.”

A God Who Suffers and Why the Crucifixtion Might Be the Least Important Part of Jesus’ Story

The Holocaust was a major obstacle for modern Christian theology. The body count was too high, the treatment too brutal, the target too specific, the apathy too apparent. What answer could possibly be given for a God that allows atrocities on the scale that occurred in concentration camps, often at the hands of Christians? This was not war. It was the murder of six million Jews and three million others who were from minority groups or were sympathizers. They were defenseless. The answers to the questions for why certain things happen to certain people were no longer adequate. Nobody could reason away that such abuse was God’s Will or was for the best; those regular platitudes Christians mistakenly offer so often as solace, not realizing the weight it places on the victim, become apparent in their inadequacies in this situation. It would have been impossible for the symbol of the cross to not raise questions and dilemmas about God for Christianity.

Traditional theology teaches that, “…God does not will suffering directly. Rather, having created a world with its own natural laws, a world, moreover, where human beings have free will, God allows or permits disaster to happen… Even when suffering is unjustly inflicted on the innocent, God allows it out of respect for human freedom. No matter what happens, God will bring good out of evil in the end.” (Johnson, 51) But this kind of modern theism almost takes God out of most of the story; placing the Trinity only at the beginning and the end. It reinforces this distant, uninvolved Creator that shook off the dust once the work of creation was complete. Furthermore, it creates the perception that if things aren’t fair now, it is okay because God will make it alright in the end. This can be dangerously manipulated to justify the act of doing nothing, of promising reward in the next life instead of seeking justice for God’s creations now.

That answer was, not surprisingly, inadequate to many. The inhumanity that occurred within the concentration camps (and the US unwillingness to be involved until forced, the Japanese internment, the brutality on all war fronts, the Rape of Nanking, nuclear bombs, etc.) made people all over the world question their understanding of Christians and their Trinity. Christian theology and the cross had to take into account the suffering of the people in a way that did not have God as a distant, top of the pyramid Lord indifferent to the suffering of man. Additionally, presenting God as someone who sacrifices His own undeserving Son would translate extremely poorly to those who lost loved ones in the War and in camps. It makes no sense without the context of the resurrection (which was often a theistic after thought). Atheism provides an unfortunately reasonable response to an indifferent God that creates Christians who are okay with torturing and murdering millions of men, women and children. Not surprisingly, faith in God is not at its all-time high in countries that went through the World Wars. And yet there is an even better answer to the issue of the crucifixion in ideas like Dorothee Solle.

Dorothee, a German Lutheran theologian who visited Auschwitz, is described in Quest for the Living God as coming “…to the realization that rather than being a dominating force or an ineffective form of love, divine power is a creative, noncompelling, life-giving good. This is power that flows through relationships bringing others to life, power as love.” (Johnson, 64) To her, God isn’t this omnipotent God, whose main attribute is power and whose primary concern is over who wields power and who submits. God also isn’t impotent love, dying helplessly on the cross, weaponless and without any power. God instead elects to sacrifice and suffer with humanity, and the full story of the cross is in the resurrection because it brings hope to those in the world who themselves are a member of the crucified. ”None of this Christian theologizing is meant to remove the terror of the Holocaust from the Jews… But the God who shared in the suffering and death of the cross and brought the power of life to bear in the resurrection of Jesus Christ was there, suffering in the death camps.” (Johnson, 64)

There were, as mentioned, other theological paths that could be taken following WWII; this is just one solution. However, if the idea isn’t the distance, absence, or indifference of God then another option is that God was present in the concentration camps, beside those who suffered or even suffering with them and hope rests not in endless suffering but in a God that resurrects those that suffer injustice. This is, right now, an aspect of God that resonates with me. A God that takes sides, whose power within his human story lies in his teachings, his life and in his power to be resurrected out of an unjust death and yet to be present with us always. In other words, the Trinity, who I’ve come to see most simplistically as The Giver, The Gift, and the Giving. But more on that later…