Tag Archives: Romans

Karl Barth Study Group 2017

The Karl Barth Study Group met at ANZATS for the third time, this year in Adelaide. We chose a theme for the papers this year: “Reading Romans with Barth,” in view of the upcoming centenary of the first edition of Barth’s commentary on Paul’s epistle. Although four papers were scheduled, one presenter had to withdraw due to family medical concerns. However, the remaining papers were each interesting and well received, and good interaction and discussion followed the presentations.

The first paper given by Chris Swann, a doctoral candidate at St Mark’s Theological Centre, addressed the topic “Discipleship beyond Taste & Taboo: Barth on Food & Freedom in Romans 14:1 – 15:7.” When I was doing my own work on these chapters in the second edition of Barth’s commentary I was disappointed, feeling that Barth had missed an opportunity to develop a strong theological description of relations in the Christian community. But Chris did a better job than I had with respect to Barth’s position. He recognises that Barth follows Paul by calling for the strong to sacrifice their liberty, and as such, insists that the divine krisis falls on weak and strong alike. Barth rejects all liberty as well as rigorism: all human positions are impure before God. But Chris showed that Barth’s position does indeed open into a thick description of a truly generous community ethic as we recognise and honour the One in the other.

Sean Winter, New Testament scholar at Pilgrim College in Melbourne, examined Romans 11:33-36, which is the climax of the first long section of Paul’s letter. Sean noted the utter forcefulness of Barth’s rhetoric in this section—a forcefulness attenuated in Hoskyns’ translation.

Direct knowledge of God? Nein! Cooperation with his dec isions? Nein! The possibility of holding him, or binding him, or obligating him, or ente3ring into a reciprocal relationship with him? Nein! No Federal theology. He is God, he himself, he alone. That is the ‘Ja’ of Romans.

God is known only in his inscrutability, clearly seen in his invisibility. God does not give himself over to us in his revelation but remains the utterly sovereign and hidden God.

My own paper examined Barth’s commentary in the first edition on Romans 5:12-14 where Barth addresses the question of Adam. In particular, I examined the curious translation of typos as Gegenbild, or ‘antitype.’ Is Barth playing fast and loose with the biblical text? Can we see in this translation an early indication of the theology which would come to expression later as a result of his doctrine of election in which Christ precedes Adam? I argued that the answer on both counts was No, and that in fact, Barth’s exegetical approach treated the biblical text very seriously and carefully, although also in accordance with his own hermeneutical stance which I picture as Barth standing alongside Paul looking at that to which Paul is pointing, seeking to see—in his own twentieth century context—what Paul could see, and to hear—in his own twentieth century context—what Paul could hear.

This year’s meeting of the Study Group fulfilled the purpose for which I started it three years ago. It was an encouraging and stimulating experience to meet with other scholars and explore something of Barth’s legacy. Perhaps we may even be able to do it again, next year!

The Blood of His Cross (10) – NT Wright

agnusdei

In previous posts I have examined Romans 3:21-26, discussing views of the passage by Cranfield, Moo, and Carson. In general, they see Paul describing a new situation in which God grants to those human beings who believe in Jesus Christ, the gift of righteousness—right relationship with God—on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death. In this death, God himself is vindicated as righteous, and revealed as the one who justifies sinful humanity through the death of Christ.

N. T. Wright’s comment on these verses retains a number of these features but does so with a different framework of understanding. For Wright, God’s answer to the problem of Adamic humanity so graphically portrayed by Paul in 1:18 – 3:20 is the covenant with Abraham, the promise of a new, worldwide, forgiven family (Wright, “Romans” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 10, 465). Through Abraham and his descendants God intended a human faithfulness that responded to his own faithfulness, and which issued in a renewed and genuine humanity, freed from the cruel distortions of idolatry and sin (466). This new family would be heir to the world, according to Romans 4:13. Israel, however, failed in their role to offer this faithfulness to God.

Jesus’ achievement is thus to have done what Israel should have done but failed to do. He has been the light of the world, the one through whom God’s saving purpose has been revealed. Through him God has at last dealt with the sin of the world, the purpose for which the covenant was made. … The Messiah’s “obedience unto death” is the critical act—an act of Jesus, and also in Paul’s eyes an act of God—through which sins are dealt with, justification is assured, and the worldwide covenant family is brought into being (467).

In this passage, Wright argues, Paul shows that God has fulfilled his covenant promises to Abraham through the faithful obedience of Jesus Christ, thus accomplishing his covenant purpose of putting “the world to rights” (465). Wright reads the pistis Iēsou Christou (“faith in Jesus Christ”) of verse 22, and other references to faith in this passage, as a subjective rather than objective genitive—the “faith (faithfulness) of Jesus Christ” rather than “faith in Jesus Christ.” Thus, God’s righteousness is revealed in the obedient faithfulness of Jesus in which Jesus offers to God that which Israel denied (470).

Wright approaches this passage by means of this over-arching framework. As such, God’s righteousness in verse 21 is not the righteousness of God given to believers who have faith in Jesus Christ, nor the divine attribute by which God is just and justly judges sin, but the demonstration that God is righteous—that is, faithful to the promises made to Abraham. God has acted righteously by keeping his promise to Abraham.

Nevertheless, God is also the righteous Judge who must punish sins as they deserve, which he accomplishes through the death of Jesus (467, 473). Jesus’ death is presented by Paul in sacrificial terms, recalling Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement. He is the hilastērion—the mercy seat, or place “where the holy God and sinful Israel meet in such a way that Israel, rather than being judged, receives atonement” (474). When Wright unpacks this further, however, he appeals not to Leviticus 16, but to the Maccabean martyrs in Second Maccabees, and ultimately to the fourth Servant Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 52:13-53:12):

The sacrificial language of 3:25, used in connection with the violent death of a righteous Jew at the hands of pagans, makes sense within the context of the current martyr stories; but those martyr stories themselves send us back, by various routes, to Isaiah 40-55; and when we get there we find just those themes that we find in Romans 3 (475).

Still, he insists that “the lexical history of the word hilastērion is sufficiently flexible to admit of particular nuances in different contexts” (476), so that it refers not only to Jesus’ death as the place of atonement, but includes ideas of propitiation and expiation as well. That is, Jesus’ death deals effectively with sin both by averting God’s wrath and by cleansing human sin.

Just as the mercy-seat fulfilled its function when sprinkled with sacrificial blood, so Paul sees the blood of Jesus as actually instrumental in bringing about that meeting of grace and helplessness, of forgiveness and sin, that occurred on the cross. Once again, the sacrificial imagery points beyond the cult to the reality of God’s self-giving act in Jesus (476-477).

I continue to have questions about the way in which Wright sets up his covenantal framework, and consequently, with his approach to justification. Nevertheless, Wright’s account of how the death of Jesus works to secure the salvation of sinners agrees in its central claims with those treatments of the topic by Cranfield, Moo, and Carson, despite his evident attempt to distance himself from too juridical a treatment of the cross.

The Blood of His Cross (9) – D. A. Carson

agnusdeiRomans 3:24-25 (NASB)      
Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed…

In an essay on the atonement in Romans 3:21-26 (in Hill & James (eds.), The Glory of the Atonement, 119-139), D. A. Carson argues on exegetical grounds for a penal substitutionary view of the atonement grounded in the justice of God. His arguments are carefully articulated and appropriately nuanced, as for example, in his acknowledgement that while ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) is rightly understood to include the notion of propitiation, it is “simultaneously true that sin is expiated, indeed must be expiated” (130).

To my mind, Carson’s treatment of the text in its larger context is convincing. Carson rightly insists that interpretation of this key passage must be seen in the larger narrative of what has preceded it from 1:18 – 3:20, that is, the story of divine wrath on account of human sin and guilt. Nor is divine wrath antithetical to divine love, but both divine perfections are unified, for God “always acts according to the perfection of his own character” (133). God’s love is holy love, and his holiness is loving holiness. In this sense, the divine wrath is God’s personal response—the response of the holy and loving God—to human sinfulness.

The part of the essay I enjoyed most concerned his comment on verses 24-25, in which he notes that Paul uses three specific images to explain the work of Christ, and that these three images correspond to the three images of sin detailed in 1:18 – 3:20. Further, Carson insists that in Paul’s mind, these three images are interlocked rather than parallel. That is, these are not three options amongst which we can choose when discussing Christ’s saving work. We cannot simply pick the particular metaphor that appeals to us: the three belong together (129).

The first metaphor is that of justification, deriving from the imagery of the law court and addresses human guilt as a consequence of sin. The second metaphor is redemption, deriving from the slave market and addressing the reality that sin not only renders humanity judicially guilty before God, but also enslaves it. The third metaphor, drawn from the religious or cultic world, is propitiation. This metaphor addresses the divine wrath which has been aroused on account of human sinfulness.

These three metaphors also indicate something of the internal dynamic at work in the atonement. That we are justified “as a gift by his grace” shows the origin of our salvation in the saving, gracious will of God. The historical basis of this salvation is the redemption accomplished in the life of Jesus Christ. The means by which this redemption is effective is the propitiation:

The redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) that is effected is accomplished by the payment of a price or a ransom (λύτρον). … In the passage at hand, the price in view is Jesus’ death, which frees us from death that is nothing other than sin’s penalty (128-129).

God is both the subject and the object of this propitiation: in his love toward humanity, God sets forth Christ as the propitiation, and likewise receives the self-offering of Christ which turns aside his wrath. That God is the subject of the propitiation distinguishes this event from all human-originated propitiations. That is, the offering of Christ is not an offering made by humanity to appease a capricious or angry deity. Rather, God propitiates himself in Christ. Although Carson does not acknowledge explicitly the trinitarian dimensions of this sacrifice, his thought nonetheless runs in this direction (131).

This redemptive propitiation is “in his blood,” which for Carson is simply Paul’s way of speaking of Christ’s sacrificial death as the “means by which God’s wrath is propitiated” (136). The mention of Christ’s blood is to indicate the nature of his death as a sacrifice.

Carson’s final comment on these verses explores the purpose of the propitiation as expressed in verses 25-26. Here Carson finds the deepest mystery and ground of the atonement: God set forth and publicly displayed Christ as a propitiation not simply for the justification of humanity in the face of their sin and guilt, but also as the justification of God himself (138). Carson acknowledges that this interpretation requires a different nuance of the term “God’s righteousness” in this verse than that found in verse 21. In the earlier verse it refers to God’s activity of justifying his sinful people; “here it refers to something intrinsic to God’s character” (138). Paul’s words in verse 26 emphasise this contention: “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

“That he would be just.” The cross is the ultimate expression not only of God’s grace and love, but also of his righteousness and justice (the same Greek word is used for both these terms). In and through the blood of Christ—his sacrificial death—God has both satisfied his own righteousness and saved, forgiven and cleansed his sinful people.

Barth’s Romans Commentary

roemerbrief2-787x1024In his widely-acclaimed commentary on Romans, C. E. B. Cranfield says of Barth’s commentary,

Of its importance as a turning-point in the history of theology there can be no doubt, and Barrett was certainly right to say that ‘to read it must be reckoned an essential part of a theological education’; but, while it rendered the Church, and can still render it, a much-needed service, it has very serious deficiencies as an exposition of Romans, and to take it for one’s main aid in studying the epistle would be to demonstrate one’s failure to learn from Barth’s maturer thinking and one’s lack of an essential element in theological seriousness, a sense of humour (Cranfield, Romans, 1:41-42).

Cranfield does not suggest that Barth was less than serious when he wrote his commentary, but he does seem to suggest that Barth was doing something less or at least, something other, than writing an exposition of Romans. It is true that later in his career Barth did pull back from the one-sidedness of his commentary, especially the second edition. But it is also the case that he did not repudiate his commentary, although he was happy for the first edition to “disappear from the scene” (Barth, The Epistle to the Romans tr. E. Hoskyns, 2).

Reception to Barth’s commentary was from the beginning subject to such criticism. In 1920 Adolf Jülicher gave a polite but damning review of the first edition, accusing Barth of being a ‘pneumatic,’ somewhat like Marcion in his exegesis of Paul. Karl Ludwig Schmidt echoed this judgement, as did Adolf Harnack who likened Barth to Thomas Müntzer—not quite Marcion, but unfavourable still. The young Bultmann dismissed Barth’s interpretation as ‘enthusiastic revivalism.’ (For references and broader discussion of these and other early reviews, see my Church as Moral Community, 184-190).

Nevertheless, we do well to recall John Webster’s suggestion that

Romans is not primarily a hermeneutical manifesto, or a piece of irregular dogmatics (that is, a set of theological reflections only loosely attached to the Pauline text); still less is it an encoded set of socio-political experiences or directives. It is a commentary, intended by Barth as such; and whatever abiding interest and worth it may have stands or falls by its success in fulfilling that intention. Barth meant what he said in his preface to Hoskyn’s idiosyncratic translation of the second edition: “My sole aim was to interpret Scripture” (Webster, in Greenman & Larson (eds), Reading Romans Through the Centuries, 205-206; note Barth’s citation is on page ix of the English edition, rather than page 11 as Webster reports).

I must say, however, that I applaud Barrett’s contention  that ‘to read it must be reckoned an essential part of a theological education’!

A Sermon on Sunday

Bubble-bursts-at-the-right-moment-resizecrop--Today I am preaching for the first time at my own church, where we have been attending for about the last two years. The theme this month is Seek, and intends to explore what it means to live a Spirit-directed life. Here is an outline of my message which intends to (a) lay a biblical foundation for being led by the Spirit, and (b) to illustrate this biblical truth with stories from my own life and that of others. My hope is that the congregation will be encouraged to reflect on their own experiences in order to identify how they have experienced the Spirit’s leading in times past, and so with greater confidence, be open and responsive to the Spirit’s continued work in their lives. In the end I ran out of time before I ran out of examples. But hopefully, the message will bear fruit in the people’s lives. Inglewood Church have put the sermon up online if you want to listen to it.

*****

Three Key Texts

John 10:1-5, 27         
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” …

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

One of the most precious promises the believer has, is that the Good Shepherd not only finds and saves us, but calls us by name, knows us and leads us. The blessing of divine guidance is not about experiences, but about knowing the Guide. My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me. This is one of the ways in which God draws close to us, and draws us close to himself. It is one of the ways in which he draws the Christian to participate in his own life and work.

Proverbs 20:27
The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord, searching every innermost part.

Spiritual guidance is spiritually received. We err if we seek to ‘hear God’ by means of the physical senses—seeing something, hearing something, etc. Through the senses we contact the physical world. The world of the Holy Spirit is discerned spiritually. One way in which God  enlightens us is via the spiritual dimension of our life, and so it is necessary that we become spiritually attuned to ‘the still, small voice; the gentle whisper.’

Romans 8:12-16; 9:1 
 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. …

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit…

In this text we gain some specific insight into how the ‘still, small voice’ comes to us, and so how we might recognise and name it in our experience. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit. … My conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit.

My contention: if Christians can learn to recognise the promptings and intuitions—the ‘voice’—of their own conscience, they can learn to be led by the Holy Spirit.

  • This is not for a moment to identify the divine and human spirit, but to insist that somehow, the Holy Spirit touches the human spirit and a communication takes place whereby we know what we previously had no way of knowing. Image: a fragment is transferred from the hard-drive to the floppy drive.

This ‘inner witness’ might be likened to a hunch, an intuition, an inner prompting or urging, an awareness, a perception or premonition. Further, verse 13 shows that one of the primary ways in which we can begin to learn this way of the Spirit is via the common experience of conviction: “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body…”

Learning the Way of the Spirit

In the second part of the sermon I simply tell a range of stories from my own life and that of others which illustrate a variety of ways in which the ‘inner witness’ might be experienced, so that listeners can begin to identify in their own experience how and when the Spirit may have spoken to them. Some of these ways include:

  1. A text of Scripture coming to mind at just the right time
  2. An inner conviction, prompting or urging
  3. A ‘burden’ and strong sense of urging, especially to do with prayer
  4. A movement of compassion towards others
  5. An inner unease or restlessness concerning something specific
  6. A picture, image or impression
  7. An inner ‘voice’ in which specific words are heard