“Christian salvation theology has, for better and for worse, tended to be Pauline salvation theology.” (AK location 5275)
“I will argue that Paul understands salvation in ways fully compatible with the Old Testament and the story of Jesus.”
Pauls’ most extended argument related to salvation comes in the first three chapters of Romans
Paul’s Main Concern In Romans
- Footnote 2: “The word translated “faith” (pistis) is a key term for Paul. It may be translated “faith” or “faithfulness.” The meaning of this term continues to be a point of intense debate. In my view, with this term Paul has in mind a way of life that encompasses trust in God, belief in the content of Torah and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and faithful living.” Grimsrud prefers the term faithfulness in the sense of an entire way of life.
- Footnote 3: Grimsrud prefers “justice” rather than “righteousness” in translation of dikaiosune and its various derivatives because he believes it more closely captures Paul’s meaning.
Idolatry: The Problem Paul Analyzes
- What is the problem that Paul believes that humanity needs to be saved from?
- “From a careful reading of Romans 1:18-3:20, we may find at the heart of the sin problem for Paul the dynamic of idolatry, people giving ultimate loyalty to entities other than God.” (AK location 5321)
- Idolatry of the nations (Greeks)
- “People move from the rejection of truth, to lack of gratitude, to trust in created things, to out of control lust, to injustice and violence.”
- This manifests “wrath” Not direct intervention by God, but God “giving them up” to a self-selected spiral of death.
- Since Paul makes clear that God’s intentions towards humanity is salvific (Romans 5:1-11; 11:32) it is a mistake to interpret “wrath” as God’s punitive anger.
- In context of the gospel, “wrath” refers to how God works in indirect ways to hold human beings accountable. (consequences)
- “When human beings exchange trust in ‘the glory of God’ for trust in images that resemble created things, they lose their ability to discern God’s revelation.” (AK location 5354) Paul echoes Psalm 115
- “The paradigmatic expression of this dynamic for Paul is how inter-human love — which indeed reveals God in profound ways — comes to be reduced to lust, and relationships become unjust, broken, contexts for alienation.”
- Paul writes that “for this reason” God gave those consumed by lust (the “lusters”) “up to degrading passions.”
- Neil Elliott: Paul may have in mind the recent history of the Roman emperor’s (Caligula) court and its profligate sexual behavior that had scandalized many.
- Paul sees lust as the problem (not homosexuality per se) because of how it diminishes humanness, reflects worship of “degrading passions” rather than God. (AK location 5368)
- “In this discussion of idolatry in Romans 1:18-32, Paul wants his readers to see their would-be Benefactors (the rulers of the empire) as God’s rivals.” (AK location 5381)
- Idolatry of the covenant people (Jews) : Works of the Law
- James Dunn: Uses the term “works of the law” in Galations 2:16 as helping us distinguish between Paul’s critique of how his opponents understood the law and his own affirmation of the continuing validity of the law.” (AK location 5407)
- “Behind Paul’s critique here is his own earlier commitment to works of the law as boundary markers.”
- “If one points fingers at other idolaters while denying one’s own tendency to worship idols, one will never find such freedom.” (AK location 5421)
- “The antidote to idolatry is recognition of God’s unconditional and abundant mercy. God’s kindness comes first, then comes repentance.” (AK location 5438)
- Condemnation comes to everyone who does evil — Jew first and also Greek (2:9)
- Paul immediately follows this terrifying word with a word of hope. Salvation comes to all kinds of people, Jew first and also Greek. (2:11)
- Paul associates “sin” (a term he introduces in 2:12) with the idolatry he describes
- “sin and idolatry arise when people live without trust and gratitude, become futile in their thinking and darkened in their minds, and practice injustice and move toward lifelessness.” (AK location 5457)
- Paul relates whats going on in Rome to his own life before encountering Jesus.
The Universality of the Dominance of Sin
- “no one will be made whole and gain salvation by using the letter of the law as the basis for condemning others in order to strengthen their own standing before God. Paul here in a nutshell captures the following of the path he himself had taken.” Rom 3:20 (AK location 5554)
- “This is the problem: the universality of the domination of the ‘power of sin’ (3:9) over all groups of people.”
- “Paul’s logic here follows this path: humanity is trapped in bondage to systems of injustice that claim to be our Benefactors and agents of God’s will. This claim is false; such systems (be the Roman or Jewish) enslave rather than liberate.” (AK location 5569)
- “wrath refers to the process of God ‘turning us over’ that allows us to worship as we please with self-inflicted consequences.” (AK location 5580)
The Resolution: Justice Apart from Works of the Law
- “Paul answers the question about deliverance in Romans 3:21-31. These verses provide a remarkable (and dense) summary of how he understands salvation — that parallels what we have seen in the Old Testament and in the Gospels.” (AK location 5580)
- “Paul also emphasizes that salvation has simply to do with turning to God and trusting in God’s mercy.”
- “The resolution has to do with the justice of God, going back to the beginning of Paul’s argument where he proclaims that the justice of God is revealed in the gospel of salvation. (Rom 1:16-17)
- “This justice has been disclosed. The Greek word, pephanerotai, echoes the term used in 1:17, apokalypsis. God has disclosed or revealed the truth — the very thing idolaters suppress (1:18)” (AK location 5597)
- “This disclosure that Paul will describe ‘is attested by the law and prophets.’ … Whatever he goes on to say, he insists that his gospel directly links with the Bible’s message.” (AK location 5612)
- “The justice of God is seen in Jesus’s faithfulness (3:22) Jesus discloses the true nature of God, the path to life, and the agenda of the Powers that seek to separate humanity from God’s love. Romans 8:38-39 (AK location 5624)
- “God’s justice disclosed through Jesus brings salvation ‘for all who believe.’ .. Those ‘who believe’ are those who see Jesus and God for who they are, who see the Powers for what they are, and who commit their lives to the path of justice set out in Jesus’s life and enabled now by the presence of Jesus’s Spirit.” Romans 8:9-11
- “Paul earlier asserted the universality of bondage to sin in order to now assert the universality of liberation from this bondage.” (AK location 5639)
- “Paul emphasizes that God initiates the needed liberation — strictly out of God’s mercy. Just as God ‘put forward’ Moses and freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, Paul asserts that God ‘put forward’ Jesus to free Jew and Greek alike from enslavement to the power of sin. God is not the recipient of this act but the doer of it. In no sense, according to Paul’s argument, does the liberation come from God’s own retributive justice.” (AK location 5655)
- “God puts Jesus forward as a ‘sacrifice of atonement.’ (3:25) What does Paul mean by ‘sacrifice of atonement’ (Greek: hilasterion)?”
- The meaning of this term continues to be highly contested.
- Let’s note here some points about the broader context of Paul’s thought.
- God is responsible for this saving action, the one who offers the sacrifice (not the one who receives it).
- “How is Jesus a ‘sacrifice’? Not as a blood offering to appease God’s anger or honor or holiness but as one who freely devoted his own life to persevering in love all the way to the end.” (see AK location 5666)
- “Thus the ‘sacrifice’ should be understood as Jesus’s self-sacrifice expressed in faithful living, his way of being in the world.
- “The ‘atonement’ (at-one-ment, reconciliation) is not a sacrifice to God that satisfies God’s neediness (that God is not needy for sacrifices has been established back with Psalm 50). The ‘atonement’ illumines the truth that humanity has suppressed (Rom 1:18), truth that helps (or allows) sinners to see God’s welcoming mercy clearly. This illumination makes ‘one-ment’ with God possible — not from God’s side (God has always welcomed sinners) but from the human side.”
- “The ‘sacrifice of atonement’ is given ‘by Jesus’s blood’ (3:25). What does ‘blood’ signify here?” (AK location 5679)
- “The need for offerings rests on the human side. Offerings are necessary to concretize for the human imagination the reality of God’s mercy and the expectations God has for life lived in the light of that mercy.”
- “It seems to symbolize Jesus’s life of self-giving, giving to the point of being killed by the Powers. This ‘self-sacrifice’ by ‘blood’ is ‘effective through faithfulness’ Paul states (3:25)” (AK location 5695)
- “Our sense of what Paul means here, of how ‘putting forward Jesus’ expresses God’s justice, will be determined by how we define ‘justice’ in this broader Romans passage.” (AK location 5695)
- Romans 1:16-17 Paul links God’s justice to bringing salvation
- Romans 3:21-24 Paul links the disclosure of God’s justice directly with sinners being justified (made whole, saved) by God’s grace.
- “Clearly, the revelation of God’s justice in Jesus has to do with God’s healing and restorative work.”
- “Because God’s mercy serves as the basis for salvation, we have no reason to ‘boast.’ By ‘boasting,’ Paul here has in mind the kinds of attitudes and behaviors that characterize his own life as a judger.” (AK location 5725)
- “The contrast Paul makes here has to do not with a distinction between ethics and belief (‘works’ versus ‘faith’) but between exclusivism versus inclusive, healing, restorative justice.” (AK location 5725)
- Romans 3:28 “By ‘justified by faith’ Paul means we are made whole through faithfulness. This faithfulness involves trusting in Jesus in such a way that one commits oneself to following Jesus’s way of life.” (AK location 5737)
- “Justification has to do with faithfulness (Jesus’s and his followers’), not with ethnic identity, relation to the empire, a punitive sacrifice, or doctrinal belief. Justification and salvation are about a living relationship with God that is manifested in love of neighbor.” (AK location 5750)
- Paul makes this affirmation clear in Romans 13:8-10
God’s Saving Justice
- “According to Paul in Romans 1-3, the fundamental need humanity has is liberation or salvation from the power of sin. He defines ‘sin’ as most basically expressed in the dynamics of idolatry.” (AK location 5765)
- “These various expressions of idolatry leave human beings in bondage to whatever Power they give ultimate loyalty to — with the consequence of living lives characterized by ‘wrath’ rather than genuine justice.”
- “So, what is needed is something to break this spiral toward death. That ‘something’ is the core element of Paul’s theology of salvation.”
- “The resolution to this crisis of humanity may be found in God’s revelation of the true nature of humanity’s problem and God’s solution. The resolution is a process of illumination. God provides sight and breaks the hold of blindness that idolatry has on humanity with its misplaced loyalties.” (AK location 5781)
- “Paul makes clear, in full continuity with the Bible’s salvation story, that the salvation he describes comes to humanity due to God’s initiative.” (AK location 5793)
- “So, the ‘justice of God’ that stands at the center of Paul’s theology of salvation from start to finish is restorative justice, not retributive justice.”
- “Paul adds no new spin to the Bible’s salvation story. He reiterates what the call of Abraham, the exodus, the gift of Torah, the sustenance of the community in exile, and the message of Jesus have all (in harmony with one another) expressed: God is merciful and offers empowerment for just living for all who embrace that mercy and let it transform their lives.” (AK location 5803)
- “Paul’s distinctive contribution in Romans 1-3 to the biblical salvation story lies in his powerful portrayal of the problem of idolatry both in the empire and in the faith community.”