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Archive for the ‘Pauline Epistles’ Category

Back in March 2008, I wrote a series of three posts here on how Paul employs Scripture in Romans 3. One of the key bits under focus was the phrase “the righteousness of God,” since Rom 3 is essentially the New Testament epicenter for the term.

In those posts (read them for more detail), I showed that throughout the chapter, Paul is alluding to and citing Old Testament passages where God’s righteousness is mentioned. And the meaning of “Your righteousness” or equivalent could be described as God’s faithfulness to His commitments, His verity (truthfulness), commitment to the salvation of His people. (Thus the general reading of “covenant faithfulness” is a pretty good way to sum up.)

The question arises, though: what about 2 Corinthians 5.21? “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” This verse has long been employed as proof of “the great exchange” – Christ takes our sin, and gives us His righteousness.

Now, those familiar with my writings will know that I have absolutely no problem with the first part of that equation – certainly Christ bears our sin on the cross. And there is also a sense in which Christ’s righteousness becomes ours, but the shape of that is a bit different from what is usually meant by “the great exchange” reading. (I.e. it’s usually taken to mean that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to us.)

But 2 Corinthians 5.21 is not a general statement about the “how” of salvation.This is demonstrated by the immediately preceding and succeeding context. Paul is speaking of his role as an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor 5.20). It is through these ambassadors that God makes His appeal; and it is in this role as a minister of reconciliation that Paul is speaking to the Corinthians, which is why in the verses that immediately follow he goes to such lengths to vindicate his ministry (6.1-13). (more…)

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In our previous post, we examined the sundry texts from which Paul quotes in his great catena of quotations in Rom 3.10-18. But the thought unit is not yet complete; Paul makes his assessment of the implications in 3.19-20. This followup makes Paul’s intent clearer, although it is frequently misread (verse 19, in particular; I think this is likely also the case with verse 20, but my understanding of the verse is still being formed).

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In our earlier look at Paul’s use of Scripture in Romans 3, we focused upon how Psalm 51, from which the apostle quotes in verse 4, determines and shapes our reading of 3.1-8. We also noted that the psalm contains a reference to divine righteousness (Ps 51.14), where it refers to God’s salvific activity. In this post, we move on to the next subsection, and begin our consideration of Romans 3.9-20. What are these passages from which Paul quotes? What do they contribute to our understanding of Paul’s train of thought?

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It has always been important to pay attention to the Old Testament quotations we find in the New Testament, but in recent years, it has become even more clear that one must take into account the extended context of the passage cited, not simply the words directly quoted. This is understandable: unlike our situation, the ancient world largely communicated texts as an oral culture, and nobody footnoted.

But it is understandable on an even more important level: the New Testament writers are not manufacturing a de novo religion; they are drawing upon an inspired and authoritative text that has come to new light with the advent of Christ and the Spirit. (Indeed, this is what Paul says almost directly in 2 Corinthians 3.) And if this is the case, we can be sure that – no matter what our untrained eyes may lead us to believe at first glance – the writers of the New Testament were contextual and faithful to the Scriptures from which they drew. Our failure to recognize this stems, not from our superior training in hermeneutics, but from the poverty and weakness of our biblical understanding.

In the case of Romans 3, we have one of the heaviest concentrations of biblical citations to be found within the Pauline corpus. This means that proceeding to define terms and phrases must not be done in a vacuum; we must investigate the passages Paul cites.

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