|Paul the Apostle |
Life. Paul's exact date of birth is unknown. It is reasonable to surmise that he was born within a decade of Jesus' birth. He died, probably as a martyr in Rome, in the mid- to late a.d. 60s.
Paul's birthplace was not the land Christ walked but the Hellenistic city of Tarsus, chief city of the Roman province of Cilicia. Tarsus, modern-day Tersous in southeastern Turkey, has never been systematically excavated to first-century levels, so extensive archaeological data are lacking. Literary sources confirm that Paul's native city was a hotbed of Roman imperial activity and Hellenistic culture. Yet his writings show no conscious imitation, and scarcely any significant influence, of the pagan leading lights of the era. Instead, as Paul himself suggests, he was a Jew in terms of his circumcision, Benjaminite lineage, Hebrew ancestry, and Pharisaic training (Php 3:5).
Paul, in the New Testament known by his Hebrew name Saul until Acts 13:9, was apparently educated from boyhood in Jerusalem, not Tarsus (Acts 22:3). It is not clear whether his family moved to Jerusalem (where both Greek and Jewish schooling was offered) while he was young, or whether Paul was simply sent there for his education. He studied under the ranking rabbi of the era, Gamaliel. His exegesis of the Old Testament bears testimony to his rabbinic training. Paul was at least trilingual. His letters attest to an excellent command of Greek, while life and studies in Palestine presuppose knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic. Facility in Latin cannot be ruled out. His writings show intimate knowledge of the Greek Old Testament, though there is no reason to suppose that he was ignorant of or unskilled in Hebrew.
Some (e.g., William Ramsey, Adolf Schlatter) insist that Paul had personal knowledge of Jesus during his earthly ministry. Hengel goes so far as to assert that it is almost probable that the young Saul even witnessed Jesus' death. In any case, only a couple of years after Jesus' crucifixion (ca. a.d. 30), Paul's hostile attitude toward the latest and most virulent messianic movement of the time underwent radical change. As he traveled the 150 miles from Jerusalem to Damascus armed with legal authority to hunt down Jewish Christians (Acts 9:1-2), bright light and a heavenly voice stopped him dead in his tracks. It was Jesusto Paul's chagrin not a dead troublemaker but the risen Lord. Paul's conversion was never the focal point of his preaching—he preached Christ, not his personal experience (2 Cor 4:5)—but it does not fail to influence him in later years (Acts 22:2-12; 26:2-18).
We can only sketch the rough outlines of Paul's life from his conversion to his first missionary journey in the late a.d. 40s. He spent various lengths of time in Arabia, Damascus, and Jerusalem, eventually spending a lengthier stint far to the north in Syria and his native Cilicia (Gal 1:15-21). From there Barnabas enlisted his services for teaching duties in the church at Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:25). Ironically, this multiracial church had been founded by Christians driven out of Palestine by persecutions instigated by Saul of Tarsus (Acts 11:19-21). It is from this period that our sources permit us to speak in some detail about the biblical theology of the apostle Paul.
Missionary Journeys. Paul's writings all arise from the crucible of missionary activity and the theological effort required to educate and sustain those who found Christ through his preaching. Galatians was probably written following Paul and Barnabas's tour of the Roman province of Asia around a.d. 47-49. This is the so-called first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). A second foray, this time with Silas and Timothy, lasted almost three years (ca. a.d. 50-53) and resulted in churches founded in Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, and Corinth. The Thessalonian letters were written during this period.
Paul's third missionary journey (Acts 18-21) lasted from about a.d. 53 to 57 and centered on a long stay in Ephesus, from where he wrote 1 Corinthians. During a sweep through Macedonia he wrote 2 Corinthians. At the end of this time, awaiting departure for Jerusalem, he wrote Romans from Corinth (ca. a.d. 57).
Paul's arrival in Jerusalem was followed quickly by arrest and a two-year imprisonment in Caesarea Maritima. Thereafter he was shipped to Rome on appeal to the imperial court of Nero. There (see Acts 28) he apparently wrote his so-called prison letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. From this point reconstructions of Paul's movements are tentative. Assuming release from imprisonment Paul may have managed a fourth journey, perhaps as far west as Spain and then back into the Aegean area. One or more of the Pastoral Epistles may date from this period. Second Timothy concludes with Paul once more in chains. Reports of uncertain reliability place Paul's death at about a.d. 67 under the deranged oversight of Nero.
Sources. The exact shape of Paul's theology depends to a considerable degree on which writings are used to reconstruct his thought. Since the Enlightenment most critics have agreed that Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon are definitely from Paul's hand. Some deny Paul's authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, but others demur, and there is ample scholarly justification for drawing on them in outlining Paul's theology. Most modern critics deny that Paul wrote the so-called Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus). Yet scholars like D. Guthrie and E. Ellis urge that Pauline authorship is entirely feasible—the documents do state that Paul wrote them. Even M. Prior's recent study critical of Pauline authorship argues that the basis on which the Pastorals are excluded from the Pauline corpus is not secure. S. Fowl finds a significant line of continuity among Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Timothy. It is not irresponsible to draw from the entire thirteen-letter New Testament collection in summarizing Paul's theology.
An equally pressing question is whether data from Acts can be merged with material in Paul's letters. This complex issue hinges on Acts' historicity. Those who see Acts as probably well-meaning, perhaps literarily skillful, but ultimately fanciful storytelling will naturally reject it as a source for reliable information about Paul and his message. A sizeable and growing body of research, however, spearheaded by the late W. Ramsey, F. F. Bruce, and C. Hemer and continued by I. H. Marshall, M. Hengel, B. Winter, and others is more optimistic that Luke was as careful about his reports as he claimed to be (see Luke 1:1-4). Paul's own writings remain the primary source for his theology, but mounting evidence suggests that Acts is a reliable guide for the historical framework of Paul's life and travels. It is also a dependable third-person (and sometimes first-person) account of the kinds of things Paul was wont to urge on his listeners in the various situations he faced.
Paul and Jesus. Since the Enlightenment the claim recurs that Jesus taught a simple ethical spirituality, or called for political or social revolution; then Paul came along and transmuted the gentle or revolutionary Jesus into an idealized divine man. Classic creedal Christianity, in this view, was never Jesus' intention but purely the brainchild of Paul.
Clearly there are differences between Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God and Paul's proclamation of the risen Jesus. But the differences are incidental to the overarching truth that God was manifesting himself definitively, in the threat of judgment and the offer of free pardon, in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus announced, explained in advance, and finally carried out the atoning ministry God laid on him; Paul acknowledged Jesus' saving death and resurrection, became his follower, and spread the word of his glory across the Roman world. Paul and Jesus are not identical in either their words or their work; but they are wonderfully complementary. Paul's theology is Christ's own authorized extension of the gospel of salvation for Jew and Gentile alike (Acts 9:15).
Paul's Theology. God. The New Testament uses the word "God" over 1, 300 times. Over 500 of these occurrences are in Paul's writings. At the center of Paul's theology is God. Several doxological statements capture Paul's majestic vision. God's wisdom and knowledge transcend human ken; he is infinitely wise and all-knowing; all things are "from him and through him and to him" (Rom 11:36). "To him be the glory forever" (Rom 16:27; Gal 1:5; Eph 3:21; Php 4:20; 1 Tim 1:17; 2 Tim 4:18) might well be the best summary of Paul's theology yet suggested.
"By the command of the eternal God" the gospel of Jesus Christ is made known "so that all nations might believe and obey him" (Rom 16:26). God comforts the afflicted and raises the dead (2 Cor 1:3,9). He is faithful (2 Cor 1:18); his "solid foundation stands firm" (2 Tim 2:19). He grants believers his own Spirit as a downpayment of greater glory in the coming age (2 Cor 1:21-22). The "living God who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them" (Acts 14:15) is, quite simply, "the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God" (1 Tim 1:17). Or again, he is "the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of Lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see" (1 Tim 6:15-16). No wonder Paul, like his master Jesus before him, lays such great stresses on hearing, obeying, and proclaiming the Lord God.
Against polytheism Paul insisted that God is one. Against stoicism Paul preached a God that was personal and accessible rather than impersonal and inscrutable. Against most pagan religions Paul presented a God concerned with social morality and personal ethics; God is not a cipher for a spirit experienced through rites of worship, ascetic denial, or mystical sensuality. Both Paul's example and his teaching affirm that God is to be feared, love, and served.
Evil and the Human Dilemma. Paul was not a pure dualist, positing one all-embracing eternal reality that was part good and part evil. God, all of whose ways are perfect, is solely sovereign over all. All reality will one day reflect his perfect justice and glory, even if the human eye cannot yet see or the human mind imagine this. Paul was rather a modified, or hierarchical, dualist. There is God, perfectly just (Rom 3:5-6). And under his ultimate sway there is evil, somehow orchestrated by Satan (10 times in Paul) or the devil (5 times). Paul does not speculate on evil's origin. But his belief in a personal, powerful, malevolent being (and subservient underlings, human and angelic: 2 Cor 11:12-15; Eph 6:11-12) is an important feature of his outlook. It is also one that links him readily to Jesus, whose dramatic encounters with Satan form a major motif in the Gospels.
Evil is real and influential (Eph 2:2) but fleeting. In the end it will not triumph. "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Rom 16:20). But until that day, sinners (every single person: see Rom 3:23) languish in "the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will" (2 Tim 2:26). They need someone to save them. The reality of evil, as intrinsic to Paul's theology as the reality of God, sets up the need for the deliverance Paul preaches. This need is delineated most emphatically in his teaching about the law.
Paul and the Law. Paul believes that the Old Testament, as expressive of the God of all, is binding on all. A central tenet of the Old Testament is the radical lostness of humankind. "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God" (Rom 3:10-11, ; quoting Psalm 14:1-3). The litany continues for many verses. Paul, like Jesus, takes the Old Testament as authoritative and avows that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). The law stops every self-justifying mouth and underscores humankind's universal bondage to a pattern of rebellion against God, estrangement from God, and, worst of all, legalism (the view that salvation is attained by the merit of one's good works) in the name of God. It points to the radical need of all for pardon and liberation lest they face eternal perdition for their willful error (2 Thess 1:8-10). It thereby points to Christ (Rom 3:21; Gal 3:24).
Both Romans and Galatians warn against the snare of self-salvation by law keeping. "We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law" (Rom 3:28). The Galatian letter was occasioned by a move within a number of churches to establish circumcision and other traditional Jewish observances as necessary—and sufficient—for salvation. In response Paul speaks disparagingly of the "law, " by which he often means his opponents' legalistic misrepresentation of the Old Testament in the light of then-current oral tradition. "A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ" (Gal 2:16). Such criticism of legalism is not a Pauline innovation; it was already a prominent feature of the Old Testament itself (1 Sam 15:22; Psalm 40:6-8; 51:16-17; Isa 1:11-15; Micah 6:6-8) and figures prominently in Jesus' teaching (Matt 23; Mark 7:1-13; Luke 11:37-54).
Yet on other occasions, even in Romans and Galatians where faith's virtues are extolled, Paul speaks positively of the law (Rom 3:31; 7:12, 14; Gal 5:14; 6:2). His dozens of Old Testament quotations, many from the books of Moses, challenge the theory that Paul rejected out of hand the Mosaic Law for Christians. The mixed nature of Paul's assessments of the law result from the contrasting situations he addresses. If legalists threaten to replace the gospel of free grace with a message of salvation by works, Paul responds that the law, understood in that way, leads only to death and destruction. But if Spirit-filled followers of Christ seek the historical background of their faith or moral and theological instruction, then the Old Testament corpus, including the legal portions, may have a beneficial function.
In recent decades Paul's view of the law has been the most disputed aspect of his theology. Building on groundwork laid by W. Wrede and A. Schweitzer, E. P. Sanders rejects justification by faith as the center of Paul's theology. In order to call in question this basic Reformation (and many would say Pauline) emphasis, Sanders and others (H. Räisänen, L. Gaston, J. Gager) have mounted a radical reinterpretation of Paul's various statements about the law, the human dilemma, and the nature of salvation in Christ as understood in Augustinian or Reformation terms. Studies such as T. Schreiner's The Law and Its Fulfillment respond to the challenge of what J. Dunn has called the "new perspective" on Paul.
Children of Abraham, Children of God. Paul's preaching in Acts 13:17 and his numerous references to Abraham in Romans and Galatians (9 references in each epistle see also 2 Cor 11:22) confirm that Paul did not see himself as founder of a new religion. (Stephen in Acts 7:1-8; [cf. Peter in Acts 3:25]; likewise traces the gospel message back to God's promise to Abraham is Paul Luke's source for what Stephen said on that occasion? Did Stephen have a hand in instructing Paul? ) The foundation of the gospel Paul preached was the covenant God made with Abraham (see Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-21). As Paul writes, "The Scripture … announced the gospel in advance to Abraham… So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith" (Gal 3:8-9).
This is not to deny the importance of other dimensions of the Old Testament, the bounties of Israel that are the taproot of the church (Rom 11). These include "the very words of God" that God entrusted to Old Testament sages and seers (Rom 3:2). They also include "the adoption as sons, … the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises, " as well as "the patriarchs [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] and … Christ" (Rom 9:4-5).
Nor is it to deny that Jesus Christ, as the fulfillment of God's prior promises, transcends all that went before. It is, however, to underscore that Paul's gospel was, in his view, in continuity with God's saving work over past millennia. Paul's references to tekna theou ("children of God" Rom 8:16, 21; 9:8; Php 2:15; cf. Eph 5:1, 8) or "children of promise" or "heirs" of salvation (Rom 8:17; 9:8; Gal 3:28, 31) hark back in every case to God's saving work in Old Testament times. In this sense Paul was not the originator of Christianity but merely its faithful witness and divinely guided interpreter (1 Cor 7:40)—granted, with the advantage of hindsight available after "the time had fully come" when "God sent his Son … to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons" (Gal 4:4-5).
But the mention of hindsight raises the question of Paul's source of insight. How did he come into possession of the startling and controversial body of lore and counsel found in his epistles?
Revelation and Scripture. Paul saw himself claimed by the God of the ages, who had chosen him—of all people, for he had persecuted Christ by persecuting the church (Acts 9:4; 22:4; 26:11; 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13, 23; Php 3:6)—to make plain secrets that were previously hidden (Eph 3:4-9). The heart of this musterion [μυστήριον] (divinely divulged verity) was, first, the very word of salvation in Christ itself (on which, more below). But additionally and significantly, at the center of the gospel of Christ was the good news that believing Gentiles are co-heirs with believing Israel of God's covenant favor. Peter had anticipated Paul in announcing this (Acts 10-11), just as Jesus foresaw that the gospel would open God's saving grace to the Gentiles in unprecedented ways (Matt 8:11-12; 28:19-20; John 12:20-24; Acts 1:8). But Paul bore the brunt of the responsibility of announcing the new wrinkle in the work God was bringing to pass. He was the primary founder of many assemblies of worship and mission that would take the word yet farther. God granted him special cognitive grace, an authoritative didactic vision, commensurate with his task (see Paul's references to "the grace given me" in Rom 12:3; 15:5; 1 Cor 3:10; Gal 2:9; Eph 3:7-8).
Yet it would be misleading to overemphasize the uniqueness of what was revealed to Paul. His views were seconded by other apostles (Gal 2:6-9). His teachings further and apply that which Jesus himself inaugurated and accomplished. Most of all, the revelation of which Paul speaks was corroborated by Scripture: his gospel and "the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past" is now "revealed and made known, " not only by Paul's divinely given wisdom, but "through the prophetic writings" of the Old Testament (Rom 16:25-26; 1:2). Paul testified before Felix: "I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets" (Acts 24:14). Old Testament writings and the revelation Paul received—much of which became New Testament writings—combined to form an authoritative deposition, God's own sworn testimony as it were, grounding God's saving work in centuries past and confirming it in the days of Jesus. Those same writings, combined with others of earliest New Testament times, were destined to serve as a primary source and standard for all Christian theology in the centuries since Paul's earthly course was run.
Messiah. Old Testament writings promised a God-sent savior figure who would establish an everlasting kingdom, bringing eternal honor to the Lord by exalting God's people and punishing his enemies. By the first century messianic expectations were many and varied. Under the pressures of Roman rule in Palestine literally dozens of figures rose to lay claim to the role. It is hazardous to guess just what Saul the Pharisee believed about the messiah. But first-century writings, especially the New Testament, confirm that Jesus was rejected by the Jewish hierarchy as a messianic candidate. Clearly Saul shared this conviction.
It is therefore all the more striking that Paul later produced writings in which messianic honor is so ubiquitously ascribed to Jesus. By rough count of the Greek text, Paul uses the word "Christ" (an early Christian neologism, translating the Hebrew word masiah [מָשִׁיחַ]) close to four hundred times. He often uses the combination "Jesus Christ, " other times writes "Christ Jesus, " and most often uses the name "Christ" alone, as in the phrase "in Christ" (see below).
This frequency of use is probably best explained by analogy with Paul's even more frequent mention of "God." God, not a concept or idea but the living, divine person who creates and redeems, is the sole ordering factor over all of life. He is the basis and goal of all Paul does. But Paul was convinced that this same God had come to earth in human form, died for the forgiveness of human sin, and ascended to heaven to blaze a path for all that love him to follow. "Jesus" (over 200 occurrences in Paul's letters) was the human locus of God's incarnate self-revelation. "Christ, " "Christ Jesus, " and "Christ" are simply synonyms for the divine-human person in whom God brought his gracious saving will to pass.
A trio of texts encapsulates Paul's teaching on Christ's excellencies. First, Philippians 2:6-11 underscores Christ's essential oneness with God, yet his willingness to humble himself by taking on human form and enduring the shameful cross. God shares his very "name" (biblical shorthand for "personal identity" or "self") with him; he is the king-designate before whom every knee will bow, "in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (vv. 9-10). Second, Colossians 1:15-20 (cf. Eph 1:20-23) expands on this soteriological vision to emphasize the cosmic dimensions of Christ Jesus' work. He was integral in creation and even now somehow upholds the created order (vv. 16-17). The fullness of the unseen God dwelt in him as he undertook his redemptive work (vv. 19-20). Third, in compressed confessional form Paul summarizes his teaching about Jesus Christ in 1 Timothy 6:16. His sixfold affirmation mentions incarnation, vindication by the Holy Spirit, angelic attestation, proclamation among the nations, appropriation by believers in the world, and ascension to heavenly glory.
In theory Paul's high view of Jesus Christ (Paul knows no dichotomy between a "Christ of faith" and the "Jesus of history" in the modern sense, nor is "Christ" a spiritual being or symbol somehow discontinuous with Jesus of Nazareth) could be justified simply by virtue of his divine identity. Who would be so rash as to quibble with God (Rom 9:20)? Praise and honor befit whatever God deigns to do. But Paul's praise of Jesus Christ is not born of sheer necessity. It springs from the joyful awareness that God in Christ has regard for sinners in their lowly estate. God has expressed fierce, transforming love for his people through Christ's gracious work of redemption.
Redemption. Arguing from everyday experience Paul points out that only in a rare case would someone lay down his own life for the sake of another (Rom 5:7). But God has shown the depth of his love for the lost in that Christ died on their behalf while they were yet in their woeful state (Rom 5:8). Through Christ there is "redemption" from sin. "Redemption" refers to the paying of a price for the release of prisoners from captivity and occupies a central place in Paul's understanding of Christ's ministry. It has a rich Old Testament background in the liberation of God's people from Egyptian bondage.
Jesus spoke of redemption (apolutrosis [ἀπολύτρωσις]) in connection with events surrounding the return of the Son of Man (Luke 21:28). Paul uses the same word to describe the process by which sinners are justified (reckoned righteous in God's sight) through Jesus' death (Rom 3:24-25; cf. 1 Cor 1:30). But redemption is not only a past event. It is a future hope, as believers eagerly await the redemption of their bodies (Rom 8:23), their resurrection at the end of this age. Paul speaks of redemption most often in Ephesians, where he associates it with forgiveness of sins through Christ's death (1:7), the future heavenly inheritance of believers (1:14), and the coming day of vindication for Christ's followers.
The logic of redemption requires that a price, or "ransom" (antilutron [ἀντίλυτρον]), be paid for prisoners' release. That price was the life of Jesus, "who gave himself as a ransom for all men" (1 Tim 2:6). In Paul's theology the cross is the means and central symbol of Christ's redeeming death.
The Cross. Paul can summarize the message he preaches as "the message of the cross" (1 Cor 1:18; 1:23; 2:2). In itself the cross, reserved by Roman overlords for the most despicable crimes and criminals, had no connotation but agony and shame. Jews in Jesus' day interpreted Deuteronomy 21:23 ("anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse") to apply to crucified persons, and this helps explain why Jewish leaders pressed for a Roman death sentence for Jesus. This would mean crucifixion, and crucifixion would be proof that Jesus was not God's messianic deliverer.
The strategy succeeded—but then backfired. Yes, Jesus was cursed by God. The Gospels imply this in recording Jesus' cry of dereliction, the prolonged midday darkness, and an earthquake at his death. But Paul points out that he became "a curse for us" so that "the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus" and so that "by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit" (Gal 3:13-14). Christianity's elevation of the cross is directly related to the fixation on it in Paul's writings.
Paul uses the noun "cross" ten times and the verb "crucify" eight times. In addition, his numerous references to Jesus' "death" and "blood" likewise cast a spotlight on the cross. Yet it is not only a symbol for the means by which God in Christ atoned for sins; it is also the means by which believers walk in the footsteps of the one who calls them. As the cross is the source of strength in Christ's ministry, it is the source of strength for Paul (2 Cor 13:4; cf. Gal 6:14). For all believers the cross serves as inspiration and effective agent in mortifying "the sinful nature" with "its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24). A key link between Jesus and Paul is their shared emphasis on death to sin and self as requisite for life to righteousness and God. For both, the cross functions as Moses' bronze serpent—a most unlikely symbol mediating eternal life to all who gaze on it with trust.
The cross, however, does not stand alone in Paul's theology. His gospel is not a call to cruciform masochism. The Pauline cross stands firmly planted in the rich soil of the resurrection.
Resurrection. The Christian message stands or falls with the truth or falsity of the claim that following his death for sin Jesus Christ rose from the dead (1 Cor 15:14). Paul's preaching on the first missionary journey keyed on the resurrection (Acts 13:34,37). Several years later at Athens Paul's stress was the same (Acts 17:31): God "has given proof … to all men" of coming judgment through Jesus Christ "by raising him from the dead" (cf. Rom 1:4). While it is generally true to say that Paul's witness in Acts is Christ-centered, it can also be said to be resurrection-centered. Scarcely a major message or testimony passes without mention of Christ's resurrection or the assurance of future resurrected blessedness that Christ's resurrection guarantees those who trust him (Acts 17:18, 32; 23:6; 24:15, 21; 26:23).
Paul refers to the resurrection over five dozen times in his letters. Only 2 Thessalonians, Titus, and Philemon lack such mention. Like "cross" and "crucify, " "resurrection" and "raised" refer to both an event in Christ's life and a reality for believers. Cross and resurrection serve together to make the benefits of Christ's righteousness available: "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Rom 4:25).
The resurrection is a key truth for daily Christian living. Jesus' resurrection from the dead means victory over sin (the ultimate cause of death, Rom 5:12), and believers are urged to appropriate this victory in their own lives: "offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life" (Rom 6:13). The logic of growing in Christ-likeness, or sanctification, is based on Jesus' resurrection: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies" (Rom 8:11).
Paul's final extant letter urges Timothy to "remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead" (2 Tim 2:9). This core Christian claim, still disputed yet defended today, remains the fundamental hope of all true believers, for it defines the promise and power of the salvation that the gospel has granted them.
The Church. In Paul's theology it is not believers as autonomous, self-sufficient units to whom God directs his saving efforts. Yes, God views persons as individuals. But the horizon of his saving Acts extends to the entirety of the "all peoples on earth" cited in God's promise to Abraham (Gen 12:3; cf. Eph 2:11-13). Christ died and rose to rescue a corporate body, the company of the redeemed, the elect, the people of God as a whole stretching from earliest Old Testament times to the present. In Paul's writings the term that denotes this entity is "church, " a word that occurs some sixty times and is found in every Pauline epistle except 2 Timothy and Titus. Perhaps most distinctive to his usage is the claim that Christ's very purpose was to have created "one new man out of the two" of Jew and Gentile, "thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both … to God through the cross" (Eph 2:15-16). For this reason the church is not a side issue or subpoint for Paul but a first-level corollary of his Christology.
The trademark Pauline phrase "in Christ (Jesus)" requires mention in connection with his stress on the church. Paul uses the phrase (or "in the Lord") some 150 times. Contrary to older theories it does not denote a quasi-physical essence like air "in" which believers exist. While its uses are varied, M. Seifrid finds that more than one-third relate to God's saving work through Christ (e.g., Rom 3:24) and one-third to the manner in which Christians should behave (Php 4:4) or the redeemed state they enjoy (Rom 16:3). Perhaps most fundamentally, "in Christ" (virtually absent from non-Pauline New Testament writings) bespeaks believers' unity and interdependence. It refers to their organic relatedness to the heavenly Father, and to each other as his redeemed children because of what Christ has accomplished on their behalf.
The social reality denoted by "church" is often expressed using the metaphor of "body." Believers are responsible for living humbly and exercising their gifts for the sake of others in the body of Christ (Rom 12:3-5; cf. 1 Cor. 12-14 ). Their organic connection to Christ, their being "members of Christ himself" (1 Cor 6:15), is the basis for many a Pauline imperative—for example that the Corinthians defy their social norms and practice marital fidelity (or celibacy) rather than engage in casual or ritual sex (1 Cor 6:12-20). Ephesians is especially notable for its preponderance of references to "church" (nine times) and "body" (six times) in the sense of God's people in Christ. Under God's all-encompassing purpose the church is the direct recipient of Christ's fullness (Eph 1:22-23). Ephesians 4 stresses the unity of the Triune God's work in Christ and the effects of this in the church, of which Christ is head (v. 15; 1:22; Col 1:18; 2:10, 19). Ephesians 5:22-33 spells out the glories of Christ's love for the church, and the church's high calling of attending to its Lord, in a didactic discussion of Christian marriage.
In the individualistic climate of the West it is difficult to overstate the importance of the corporate solidarity of God's people in Christ. Paul's frequent use of "church, " "body" (along with other metaphors), and "in Christ" assure that careful readers will not facilely impose modern or postmodern theories of selfhood and politics on Paul's radically Christocentric affirmations.
Ethics. Paul's letters go beyond theological teaching and religious directives. Principles and precepts regulating practical behavior, both individual and social, permeate his writings. It would be reductionist error to reduce Paul's ethic to a solitary basis; he seems to make use of a multiplex rationale (quite apart from the imponderables of divine guidance). Drawing on Old Testament precedent he charges believers with ethical imperatives based on the theological indicative of God's character, as when he calls on them to be imitators of God (Eph 5:1; cf. Lev 11:44:; "I am the Lord your God consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy" ). Their conduct should be regulated by God's presence in their midst (1 Cor 3:17) and his holy purpose in their election and calling (Eph 1:4; 4:1; cf. 2 Tim 1:9). Old Testament commands have a prominent place in Paul's ethic, but so does Christ's powerful example of humility and self-sacrifice (Php 2:5-11). Put slightly differently, believers' lives should be regulated by what God has accomplished for them through Christ (1 Cor 5:7; Eph 5:8). Love is the crowning virtue (1 Cor 13:13), in Paul's ethic as in Jesus' (Mark 12:29-31). In the end, "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Gal 5:6; cf. 1 Tim 1:5).
Pauline ethics is a subject too vast to be treated as a subpoint of his theology, but it is important to note that Paul's doctrine is not rightly comprehended when it does not translate into transformation of behavior at both personal and corporate levels. Paul's theology is important, but it does not stand alone. The epistle to Titus commends good works to God's people repeatedly (2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14) and excoriates pseudo-Christians who confess God but live ethically indifferent lives (1:16).
Last Things. Paul's eschatology is if anything even more vast and complex a subject than his ethics. The two areas are in fact related. Jesus' preaching of God's at-hand kingdom, vindicated by his resurrection from the dead, means that the end of the age has already dawned (Rom 13:12). As they live out their daily lives on earth, believers' "citizenship is in heaven, " from which they "eagerly await a Savior … the Lord Jesus Christ" (Php 3:20; cf. Col 3:3). Paul's view of things to come has profound implications for the way life is to be lived now.
Pauline eschatology, like all of his teaching, grows out of his convictions about God generally and Jesus Christ in particular. Since Jesus was the Messiah, his victorious ministry signaled the arrival of the final stages of God's redemptive work prior to the consummation. This will include final judgment at the parousia (second coming see Rom 2:1-11; 14:10-12; 1 Cor 3:12-15; Php 2:16; 1 Thess 3:13; 2 Thess 1:5-10). Evildoers who have not obeyed the gospel will face God's wrath (Rom 1:18; Eph 5:6; Col 3:6). It is incumbent on believers, following in Paul's train, to proclaim the gospel to the nations (also to unrepentant Israel; Rom. 9-11) as a faithful witness to the unfolding of God's eschatological aims.
Eschatological boon is already available in the present. Believers enjoy the Holy Spirit, a sure sign of the end of the age. He is "the firstfruits" of their coming redemption (Rom 8:23), the "guarantee" or "down payment" of greater things to come (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14), a seal of the inheritance and adoption that enables them to call Almighty God "Abba" (Rom 8:15-17).
In the contemporary setting, when coming divine judgment is merely tolerated as private delusion if not belittled as rank superstition, Paul's dramatic emphasis on an imminent future order that calls for immediate, radical personal reorientation is readily written off as quaint mythology or overwrought apocalyptic imagery. It even becomes the stuff of Hollywood parody. Such dismissal is perilous if Paul—in this area once again echoing many a dominical declaration—speaks with the authority he claims. Endorsing wholeheartedly the Pauline vision with its cosmic implications means true life, life "in Christ, " in this age and unspeakable enjoyment of God in the coming one (Rom 8:18; 1 Cor 2:9). Equally urgent is Paul's insistence that rejecting his gospel will in due course bring God's eternal displeasure. This is not to mention the tragedy of a life that squanders the opportunity to worship and share the resurrected Lord.
Robert W. Yarbrough
See also Church, the; Death of Christ; Messiah; Second Coming of Christ; Union with Christ
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