The Center of Pauline Theology

Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (January-March 1994): 50-70

The Center of Pauline Theology
Don N. Howell, Jr.

The quest for the ’center’ or integrating truth for the whole of Pauline thought has produced a picture far from uniform. The common feature of most attempts at integrating Pauline thought is their reference point in either soteriology or Christology. In the soteriological domain the arguments have tended to polarize around juridical versus participationist concepts of redemption encountered in Paul. Advocacy for the traditional center of justification by faith (the juridical view) runs from Luther to modern Lutheran and Reformed theologians. Focus on the believer’s incorporation into Christ (the participationist view) gained its greatest impulse from Schweitzer and continues in its modern form with Sanders. The justification-participation debate, then, provides an arena in which to evaluate the feasibility of a soteriological center for Pauline theology.

The Traditional Center: Juridical Righteousness

The Historical Context

History found a man of destiny when Martin Luther rediscovered the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith apart from the works of the Law and thereby sparked the Protestant Reformation. For Luther the doctrine of justification became ’the principal doctrine of Christianity,’ the ’touchstone by which we can


judge most surely and freely about all doctrines, works, forms of worship, and ceremonies of all men.’ Luther’s elevation of justification to the status of a center was incorporated in the various Lutheran confessional statements, especially Article Four of the Augsburg Confession, as documented by Reumann. Lutheran and Reformed interpreters have continued to defend the centrality of justification by faith, though Luther’s original sole focus on the forensic side of justification has been considerably broadened to include its ethical dimensions as well.

Judged by its attestation, the dikaiovw (’to declare righteous’) word group was an integral force in the apostle’s articulation of the Christian gospel. The adjective divkaio’ (’righteous’) occurs 79 times in the New Testament, of which 17 (22 percent) occur in Paul’s epistles. The noun dikaiosuvnh (’righteousness’) occurs 92 times in the New Testament, of which 58 (63 percent) occur in the Pauline epistles. The verb dikaiovw occurs 39 times in the New Testament, of which 27 (69 percent) occur in Paul’s writings. In addition, four cognate terms are attested with 11 of their 18 occurrences (61 percent) in Paul’s letters. The seven terms of the dikaiovw word group, then, occur a total of 228 times, of which 113 (49.6 percent) are in Paul’s epistles. The righteousness terminology, however, is not distributed evenly throughout the Pauline corpus but is concentrated heavily in the Epistle to the Romans (64 times, or 57 percent, of the Pauline occurrences) and the second and third chapters of Galatians (13 times). While Paul employed the righteousness concept more than any other New Testament writer, he found it particularly appropriate for the needs of the Galatian and Roman congregations.

Scholars have suggested many ways in which to interpret these terms, so that a consensus seems unattainable. The juridi-


cal element in the dikaiovw word group, however, seems to be its characteristic sense in Paul. The forensic meaning ’to declare or pronounce righteous’ is especially dominant in the Pauline usage of the verb dikaiovw. With dikaiosuvnh and divkaio’ the ethical sense is widely attested. They denote the quality of character and behavior required of individuals by God, particularly uprightness of conduct and obedience to the divine commands. However, the forensic sense of both terms again becomes the distinctive Pauline usage. Scholars who recognize Paul’s dependence on the Old Testament (via the Septuagint’s rendering of qdx by the dikaiovw cognates) have defended the inherent juridical meaning in his employment of the language of righteousness.

Arguments Favoring and Opposing the Juridical View

In recent decades much attention has focused on the historical context of justification’s centrality, particularly in Lutheran and Reformed thought. Luther himself correctly grasped the essentially forensic nature of justification. In his famous expression simul iustus et peccator (’at the same time justified and a sinner’) the Reformer expounded justification as God’s divine act of imputing Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account, that is, not an inward, personally possessed righteousness but an alien, extrinsic righteousness reckoned as a free gift through the instrumentality of faith.

How correct was Luther in elevating this characteristic


Pauline motif to the status of a center, the touchstone by which all other doctrines could be measured? Stendahl responded to that question with a resounding ’not at all.’ He said Paul’s doctrine of justification became Luther’s solution to a conscience tormented by the question, ’How can I find a gracious God?’ Yet in Philippians 3:6 Paul affirmed a robust conscience before his encounter with Christ. Stendahl follows Kümmel’s salvation historical (contra autobioigraphical) interpretation of Romans 7:7-25 and concludes, ’Thus we look in vain for a statement in which Paul would speak about himself as an actual sinner.’ In this view justification, rather than Paul’s solution to the individual’s struggle with personal guilt, is part of a larger salvation-history context concerned with such issues as the place of the Law after Messiah’s coming and the relationship of Jews to Gentiles in the plan of God. With Augustine and Luther the original Jewish-Gentile polemical context has undergone a referential shift, now applied to the general and timeless problem of an introspective conscience plagued by guilt. Stendahl’s logic led him to endorse the verdict of Schweitzer that justification by faith is ’a subsidiary crater formed within the rim of the main crater, the mystical doctrine of being in Christ.’

Stendahl’s position was not new. It had been advocated since the time of Wrede. But the eloquence and persuasiveness of Stendahl’s argumentation led many to reevaluate whether Luther rightly interpreted the apostle to the Gentiles. Nevertheless Stendahl’s presentation suffers from overemphasis. First, it largely overlooks the context in which Paul set justification, namely, universal sin and guilt before a righteous God, especially in the orderly argument of Romans 1:17-3:31. Second, Stendahl absolutizes Paul’s brief statement in Philippians 3:6 regarding his blamelessness as to the Law, and writes off any personal or autobiographical element in Romans 7:14-25 by a simple appeal to the salvation-history context. However, the repetition of the first person pronoun (ejgwv, ejmoiv, mou, me, or implicitly with the first person singular verb) 38 times in 13 verses must interject some degree of representative involvement, even if the major thrust of Küm-


mel’s interpretation is accurate. Perhaps Paul’s pre-Christian (and clearly postconversion) conscience was not as robust as Stendahl would like to believe, though full conviction of sin came only with the Damascus encounter with the risen Christ.

Despite its faults, however, Stendahl’s ’robust conscience’ argument correctly focused attention on the different historical conditions faced by Paul and Luther. Rather than placing justification in the greater context of the place of Jews and Gentiles in the plan of God as Paul did, Luther applied justification to 16th-century battles with Roman Catholicism. Justification, then, became the solution not only to Luther’s inward struggles but also a clarion call and point of focus in his doctrinal battles with the papal system. In this way justification, though an integral part of Pauline soteriology, became isolated from its historical context and elevated to the status of the center of Pauline thought. Dahl, agreeing with Stendahl that salvation history is the context of justification, particularly in Romans, perceptively comments that Luther and Paul ’differ because they asked different questions, not because they gave different answers to the same questions. . . . to use a musical image, we might say that the melody is the same but that the harmony and key are different.’

Since Stendahl’s original article, a lively debate has ensued between Käsemann and Stendahl over the centrality of justification. Käsemann rightly criticizes Stendahl for practically making salvation history and justification antithetical concepts, the former being fundamental and the latter polemical and thus contingent. Yet Käsemann then argues on the basis of its polemical nature that justification must be central, since Paul was engaged in a fierce struggle against the self-righteousness of Jewish nomism. Stendahl correctly responds that salvation history forms the horizon of the argument of Romans, climaxed in chapters 9-11. He also seems to have corrected his earlier


sole focus on the polemical nature of justification, substituting the term ’apologetic,’ which, to this writer, is a major improvement. Still his tendency is to downplay justification as a truth of major import to Paul.

Wright has surveyed the debate and offers a mediating perspective to the unnecessary polarization that has developed-justification as either an integrating center or a time-conditioned relic. ’To Käsemann we must say that justification is indeed to be set in the context of salvation history. . . . to Stendahl, on the other hand, it must be said that salvation history is not an end in itself.’ Justification (Rom. 1-4), participation in Christ (Rom. 5-8), and salvation history (climaxed in Rom. 9-11) should not be set opposite each other but should be viewed as contributing partners to the theocentric argument of Romans. Paul’s doctrine of God brings the soteriology and Christology of Romans into an integrated whole.

Paul’s life and thought flow consistently from his vision on the Damascus road, and salvation-history and justification by faith take their proper place as inescapable partners within his christology, which is itself based on the doctrine of God, the one true God of Jew and Gentile alike, the God who reveals his righteousness in the gospel of his Son.

To summarize, Luther, if he differed from Paul, did so in degree not in kind. ’Luther, however much of his own understanding was shaped by historical circumstances and by his own personal experience, had a profound grasp of the paradoxical and liberating power of the message.’ Justification by faith serves not so much polemical interests as it does salvation history. By overlooking its first-century context, justification became elevated to the status of a center, subjugating other equally important soteriological metaphors. It is the theocentric foundation and eschatological-salvation historical framework that incorporate all the Christological and soteriological foci into a balanced unity.

Yet modern Lutheran interpreters have continued to defend justification as the integrating truth of Paul’s thought. A second


major question is, Does the Pauline data itself support the centrality of justification? Proponents of the centrality of justification emphasize the significant use of the dikaiovw word group in the Pauline corpus. As noted, Paul employed the righteousness terminology far more than any other New Testament writer (50 percent of its New Testament occurrences).

However, while the common ethical usage of dikaiosuvnh and divkaio’ is fairly well distributed throughout the Pauline writings, the distinctive forensic sense, particularly of dikaiovw and dikaiosuvnh, is heavily concentrated in Romans 1-4 and Galatians 2-3. Also in Philippians (3:6-9), several verses in the Corinthian letters (1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11; 2 Cor. 3:9; 5:21), and a few other scattered references (e.g., 2 Tim. 4:8; Titus 3:7) the forensic nature of righteousness comes to prominence. Bornkamm, recognizing the problem of the uneven explicit use of the justification terms, counters that even when nothing is expressly stated about justification it always forms the underlying substructure of Paul’s thought. True, one can argue that outside of Romans and Galatians the key concepts of cavri’ and pivsti’ are widely attested and gather their semantic content from their association with justification in those two foundational epistles. Nevertheless apart from Romans and Galatians Paul largely employed other soteriological metaphors such as reconciliation, salvation, covenant, body of Christ, redemption, and many others to express the meaning of Christ’s work. Justification seems to be that aspect of God’s work in Christ that the apostle felt would best serve the needs of the Galatian and Roman congregations, but that elsewhere other equally important symbols had a better contextual fit.

Consequently the arguments for the centrality of justification tend to converge around the Book of Romans and to a lesser extent the Book of Galatians, because of the latter’s polemical character. Reumann finds in Romans 1:16-17 the definitive answer in the search for the Pauline center. Yet, as he admits, the stated theme of Romans is toV eujaggevlion (’the gospel,’ 1:16). Dikaiosuvnh qeou’ (’righteousness of God,’ 1:17) then follows as the expression of the gospel par excellence. Further, as Fitzmyer correctly observes, the gospel is equated with God’s power, not with God’s righteousness, the latter being the prime expression or perhaps means


(depending on whether ejn aujtw’/, ’in/by it,’ is taken as sphere or instrument) by which that power is manifested. The dominance of the righteousness motif throughout Romans certainly makes it an integral part of Paul’s understanding of the gospel of God (1:1), but the language in verses 16-17 indicates that justification does not exhaust the content of that gospel. Reumann’s catalog of the many soteriological Pauline centers that have been proposed should have served as a restraining force against his own tendency to move into increasingly narrow parameters for defining that center. In fact Reumann admits that the need for a narrowly defined center actually arose out of a contingent, historical situation, namely, Luther’s struggles with 16th-century Roman Catholicism. Even in Romans Paul employed a variety of soteriological metaphors to define the gospel: redemption (3:24), propitiation (3:25), reconciliation (5:9-11), incorporation in Christ (6:3-11), adoption and inheritance (8:14-17), predestination (8:30), glorification (8:30), salvation (11:26), and sanctification (15:16).

One can see that the arguments favoring and opposing the juridical view tend to cancel each other out. Both with regard to the historical context of the debate (Luther) as well as the analysis of the Pauline data (especially Romans) a false polarization has developed: justification is either central to all Paul said or it is a contingent, polemical doctrine formulated in controversy. The center must be understood as the integrative factor or cohesive force that binds all other areas of Pauline theology into its framework. Justification, rather, is a dominant motif or theme, the expression par excellence of a greater reality, the gospel. The gospel is itself a part of the greater plan and purpose of God the Father in His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1-4). Significantly, scholars like Reumann and Fung, who defend justification as a center, are forced by the data to qualify their proposal. Others, such as Manson and Martin, who propose reconciliation as the integrating truth for Pauline thought, seem to sense the reductionism of their proposal by admitting that justification and rec-


onciliation are parallel, interchangeable concepts in Paul. Martin’s desire for an ’omnibus term,’ though, is grounded in his recognition that Paul’s thought engages a behind-the-scenes drama of cosmic proportions focused on the lordship of Jesus Christ and the universal triumph of God in reclaiming the universe for Himself. There is a deeper element, a higher point of coincidence, resident in the Person and purposes of God the Father, that a soteriological center can never provide. Out of this larger theocentric panorama Paul developed his soteriology, Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology.

The Major Alternative: Participation in Christ

The Historical Context

Justification by faith as the center of Pauline thought continued to dominate the history of interpretation in the two centuries following Martin Luther. But with the rise of literary and historical criticism in the 18th century, long-accepted formulations began to be questioned, including the fundamental structures of Pauline theology. The subsequent history of Pauline interpretation is brilliantly documented by Schweitzer, in Geschichte der paulinischen Forschung (1911). Schweitzer credits Lipsius (1853) with being the first to identify the two trains of thought in Paulinism, the juridical (justification) and the ethical (new creation by the Spirit). Lipsius’s view was advanced by Lüdemann (1872), who identified two Pauline concepts of redemption based on two different concepts of man’s nature. Lüdemann posited a development in Paul from an earlier Jewish-juridical doctrine of imputed righteousness (Gal.; Rom. 1-4) to the later ethical-physical doctrine of the new creation by the Spirit (1 and 2 Cor.; Rom. 5-8). Lüdeman said this ethico-physical redemption is the real view of Paul, gradually pushing aside the juridical line. Schweitzer summarizes this period as one of identifying the coexistence of juridical and ethical lines in Paul, but he expresses


dissatisfaction that the two lines are treated as disparate sets of ideas void of any point of union or integrating principle.

Building on the work of Kabisch (1893), as well as Lüdemann, Schweitzer created a synthesis that found its unifying parameter in eschatology. Kabisch identified four major motifs in Paul: (1) salvation is eschatological deliverance from judgment and destruction; (2) redemption is physical or corporeal; (3) redemption comes through sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection, rendered possible by mystical union with Him; (4) future glory is anticipated in the present by possession of the Spirit. Schweitzer’s book was largely a work of demolition. However, in critiquing Kabisch, Schweitzer pointed out the still unresolved issues he would later address: ’In what sense is a ’repetition’ in the believer of the dying and rising again with Christ possible? How can it produce a reconstitution of their creaturely being while their fleshly existence continues outwardly as before?’

The full positive thesis of Schweitzer’s attempt to address these issues came in Die Mystik des Apostels Paulus (1930). In the first part of this work Schweitzer sets forth his understanding of Christ-mysticism within the framework of Jewish apocalyptic. According to Schweitzer, Paul shared Jesus’ thoroughgoing eschatology. But since the kingdom of God failed to arrive at Christ’s death and resurrection, Paul faced a new situation. How was he to explain this tension between Christ’s resurrection and the yet-to-come full revelation of the kingdom, the judgment of the world, and the end of history? The answer is that Paul drew from apocalyptic Judaism (especially Psalms of Solomon, Enoch, 2 Baruch, and 4 Ezra) to posit a kingdom inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection and a yet-to-be consummated kingdom of God. The presently realized aspect of the eschaton is found in Paul’s being-in-Christ mysticism, for which the ejn Cristw’/ formula is merely a shortened form for the wider participatory network. This mystical union with Christ is not a Greek symbolic type of experience but an actual physical union between Christ and the elect, a ’pneumatic corporeality’ realized through the sacraments. The


central texts of the Pauline corpus that expound this eschatological mysticism (Rom. 6:10-11; 7:4; 8:1-2, 9-11; 12:4-5; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:19-20; 3:26-28; 4:6; 5:25; 6:14; Phil. 3:7-11) are thus interpreted along sacramental lines with believers actually being included in Christ’s ’corporeity.’

In the second half of Die Mystik des Apostles Paulus Schweitzer proceeds to demonstrate how this eschatologically oriented Christ-mysticism shapes and integrates a wide array of other Pauline motifs including suffering, the Spirit, the Law, sacraments, ethics, and especially juridical righteousness. Consequently justification by faith becomes a ’subsidiary crater, which has formed within the rim of the main crater-the mystical doctrine of redemption through being in Christ.’ Whether Schweitzer’s further claim that participation in Christ is ’the prime enigma of Pauline teaching’ that ’gives the clue to the whole’ is defensible, is discussed in the following section.

Arguments Favoring and Opposing the Participatory View

Schweitzer’s argumentation has been refined and carried further by Davies and especially Sanders in their advocacy of a participatory center. Before surveying these proposals, the determinative factor for Schweitzer that pushed the mystical concept to the forefront should be recalled. While he grasped the already-not yet eschatological dualism in Paul, Schweitzer interpreted the apostle’s Christ-mysticism as a makeshift expedient devised to solve the problem of the delay of the Parousia. In fact Paul’s entire theological construct is viewed as an ingenious attempt to answer this central problem, which in turn propels the solution, participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, to the center. Schweitzer wrongly suggested that Paul’s view of the believer’s incorporation into Christ grew out of the dilemma of the temporal separation between Christ’s resurrection and His second advent, rather than out of his vision on the Damascus Road of the exalted


Christ. Because of this, Schweitzer ended up replacing the ontological Christology of Paul with a pneumatic Christology defined solely by function or messianic mission. When Schweitzer’s arguments are carried over into the modern discussion, it is characteristic to leave untreated this decisive element in his thesis. But to lean on the superstructure of a scholarly reconstruction when the stability of its supporting pillars and foundation is suspect is unwise if not dangerous.

Four major arguments seek to prove that participation in Christ, rather than juridical righteousness, is the definitive concept in Paul’s thought. First, the widespread and numerous attestation of participatory language demands its centrality. Without question, the frequent appearance of the ejn Cristw’/ (’in Christ’) formula demands attention. In the 13-letter Pauline corpus this writer counted 158 occurrences of ejn Cristw’/ or its equivalent. The phrase occurs in 10 forms and in all of Paul’s letters except Titus. Further, Sanders, following Schweitzer’s lead, correctly observes that the ejn Cristw’/ formula is only one part of a wider participatory network in Paul. Other important participatory


language must include (1) the body of Christ metaphor (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 12:12-27; Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:17, 19; 3:15), with Christ the head (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18) and believers as the members (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 6:15; 12:12-27; Eph. 4:25; 5:30); (2) entrance into Christ by baptism (Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27); (3) the ’with Christ’ terminology, indicating the believer’s full solidarity and identification with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-8; 8:17; 2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:12-13, 20; 3:1, 3); (4) the concept of belonging to Christ, normally expressed by the simple possessive genitive Cristou’ or its equivalent (Rom. 8:9; 14:8; 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:23; 15:23; 2 Cor. 10:7; Gal. 3:29; 5:24); (5) the idea of sharing in the sufferings of Christ (Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 1:5; 4:10; Gal. 6:17; Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:24); and (6) various texts in which fellowship, belonging, or union with Christ emerge (Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 1:9; 6:17; 10:16; 2 Cor. 11:2; Phil. 3:12). When combined with the 158 occurrences of the ejn Cristw’/ formula this representative list clearly supports Sanders’s claim that participatory language permeates Paul’s writings.

Reumann attempts to weaken the overall impact of this first argument by parceling out the various participatory motifs into separate categories or by emphasizing their distinctive nuances. That the distinctive flavor of each of these concepts should not be homogenized into an artificial whole may be readily admitted, but their basic integration into Paul’s eschatological framework is something that New Testament scholarship has increasingly embraced since the time of Schweitzer. Inconsistently, Reumann dismisses other soteriological metaphors from consideration as the center of Paul’s thought, such as reconciliation, redemption, salvation, covenant, and sanctification, because of limited attestation. The participatory motif is more frequent and more widespread than that of juridical righteousness, concentrated especially in Romans and Galatians. Though pervasiveness does not equal centrality, any proposed integrating principle must be sufficiently attested to bring all aspects of Pauline thought within its parameters. The first argument, then, should not be dismissed too readily.

The second argument raised in support of a participatory center involves the uniquely Pauline nature of the concept of being in Christ. Strecker believes that Paul’s central discovery in


his Damascus encounter was recognition of the lordship of Christ, union with whom brought deliverance from the enslaving power of the flesh, sin, and death. This, Strecker argues, is how Paul interpreted his own conversion in Galatians 1:11-17 and Philippians 3:4-11. Juridical language, on the other hand, emerges later only as Paul reflected on the problem of the Law in combat with Judaizing infiltrators. Participation in Christ’s lordship over the dominion of the old nature, then, is likely Paul’s own coinage and characteristic of his thought, while juridical righteousness is materially and temporally separated from this primary discovery. No doubt Strecker is correct in recognizing the ontological nature of Paul’s dramatic apprehension of Christ: Jesus, though crucified, has now been vindicated in resurrection and is exalted as Lord (Rom. 10:9; 14:9; 1 Cor. 15:20-22; Phil. 2:9-11). There is also precedent in the very language of the Damascus encounter as recorded by Luke for Paul’s later participatory language: Jesus’ full identification of Himself with the persecuted church (Acts 9:4-5) may be the embryonic form of the ejn Cristw’/ formula. However, it is a non sequitur to trace only the participatory, and not the juridical, line to the Damascus Christophany. Did not Paul also immediately recognize, from his Jewish background, that crucifixion signified the divine curse and that Jesus’ vindication by God must hold juridical significance for sinners who have violated God’s Law (Gal. 3:13, quoting Deut. 21:23)? Fung holds that Paul did in fact interpret his own conversion along juridical lines in Galatians 1:12-16 and Philippians 3:7-9. Kim argues that each of the main lines of Pauline soteriology, including justification by faith, is connected at least in seminal form to the primary discovery in the Damascus encounter of Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Son of God.

Related to this second argument is the role tradition should play in the formation of the Pauline center. Strecker implies that only uniquely Pauline elements should be brought into the equation. Conzelmann earlier defended the centrality of justification by appealing to the apostle’s handling of pre-Pauline tradition


along juridical rather than mystical lines. Ironically, Reumann, another juridical proponent, rules out, in a reversal of Conzelmann, various candidates for the center because they agree with tradition and/or are not uniquely Pauline. One soon becomes conscious of the circularity of the debate at this point. Paul’s mind was not a tabula rasa before his conversion. Rather, the Damascus event was the catalyst that transformed Paul’s earlier held theological convictions derived from rabbinic, Palestinian, and Hellenistic currents of thought regarding the Law and Messiah, as well as the primitive kerygma he had heard proclaimed by the early Christians. Both direct revelation and shared tradition became essential contributors to Paul’s theology. To dogmatize on the direction of Paul’s inner logic and then opt for a particular soteriological strand as the key to his thought is highly speculative. A preferable model is to recognize the fundamental Christological nature of Paul’s conversion, which transformed old elements and introduced new elements into the rich synthesis called Pauline theology-a theology that includes both juridical and participatory lines of redemption not as competing adversaries but as contributing partners.

The third major argument advanced by participationist advocates is that Pauline ethics are derived solely from the ejn Cristw’/ position of the believer, but never from juridical righteousness, which can only lead to an ethical cul-de-sac. It is revealing that Sanders, while claiming that this original thesis of Schweitzer’s is unassailable, quickly offers two qualifiers to the argument. First, he grants there are some instances where righteousness by faith is related to ethics (e.g., Rom. 14:23; Gal. 3:1-5; 5:6). Then, more significantly, he admits that Schweitzer failed to see the clear internal connection in Paul’s letters between the righteousness by faith terminology and participationist categories. In fact this internal connection is much stronger than Sanders himself recognizes, if one takes seriously the orderly argument of Romans. There the juridical line (Rom. 1-4) is the logical precedent of the participatory line (Rom. 5-8), both of


which become the basis of the extended paraenesis of 12:1-15:13. Sanders dismisses this connection by his involved ’solution to plight’ reading of Paul’s inner logic. Romans actually reverses the order in which the apostle arrived at his convictions, since the subjection of all men to sin’s lordship was only a reflex argument, Sanders argues, to substantiate the more fundamental discovery of Christ’s lordship over His people.

Again it is hazardous to speculate on the direction of Paul’s inner logic and then construct a theory around the results. The Apostle Paul took up too much papyrus with the forensic categories of guilt and the gift of righteousness to label them as secondary and derivative. The fundamental problem with this third argument, however, is its limited point of reference. In a penetrating critique Dahl observes that Sanders, though claiming to compare the whole ’pattern of religion’ of Paul and Palestinian Judaism, is actually comparing only two soteriological models. Sanders believes a ’pattern of religion’ involves four questions-(1) What are the basic presuppositions that explain this theology? (2) How does one get in? (3) How does one stay in? (4) What is the goal of the religion? However, Sanders’s comparison is limited to the second and third categories. Such a comparison fails to take into account the larger parameters from which Pauline soteriology developed, especially the centrality of Jesus’ lordship and messianic identity. This is the same criticism Ridderbos leveled at Schweitzer and is as true of Sanders as it is of his mentor. Sanders is absolutely right to insist that a center must be able to explain all other facets of Pauline thought. Yet this very criterion not only disqualifies juridical righteousness but also his participationist alternative, for neither line possesses its own independent meaning but depends for its significance on the larger parameter of God’s redemptive work through His Son. As Plevnik comments, ’Sanders has at best established only a relative priority of sharing in Christ with respect to justification by faith.’ In other words soteriology is a derivative not an orig-


inative domain. The sphere of the search must be expanded if the center or integrating principle is to be discovered.

A fourth major argument for a participatory center in Paul states that while the juridical and participatory lines appear side by side in Paul’s writings, the former consistently serves the latter but never vice versa. That is, participationist categories are the master and juridical ones the servant. But can such a prioritization of these two redemptive strands be proved from the data? It is important here to observe Sanders’s own ambivalence in arguing his case for a participatory center. Though clearly opting for participation in Christ as ’the real bite’ of Paul’s thought, Sanders consistently equivocates regarding his proposal: (a) the juridical and participationist lines are not dichotomous but are internally connected; (b) Paul used both concepts of redemption side by side in his ’integrated way of thinking’; (c) Paul did not have ’a bifurcated mind’ that carefully separated these two lines but readily held both together as conceptual partners; (d) Paul was not conscious of two separate categories of redemption, for they ’are conceived not as two different things but as one’; and (e) the apostle, though not systematic, was a coherent thinker who held these two series not as distinct ones but as complements that ’always serve to correct each other.’ Do such qualifications not imply that these two strands, juridical and participatory, should be maintained in proper tension rather than prioritized into a primary-secondary hierarchy?

Does the Pauline data yield a proclivity for participatory over forensic categories? Perhaps the best way of appraising their interrelationship is to analyze texts in which participatory and juridical language appear together. Passages that arise in the debate include Romans 3:24; 8:1; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 6:9-11; Galatians 2:17, 20; 3:13-14, 25-29; 6:14; Philippians 3:9-14; Colossians 1:14; and 1 Thessalonians 5:10. In a number of places ejn Cristw’/ emerges as the sphere in which the other soteriological metaphors are realized: redemption (Rom. 3:24; 1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 1:14), release from condemnation (Rom. 8:1), righteousness and holiness


(1 Cor. 1:30), justification (Gal. 2:17), forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14). Participation in Christ is here the larger category that subsumes the juridical within its field. In Galatians 2:17 justification is clearly the result of union with Christ through faith. The order in Galatians 3:26-29 is likewise participation, then justification, for the ejn Cristw’/ position of God’s sons (vv. 26, 28) comes from being baptized into Him (v. 27), or putting on Christ (v. 27), another metaphor for this incorporation; inheriting the promise of justification is then conditioned on belonging to Christ (v. 29, eij deV). Similarly in Philippians 3:9-14 union with Christ (v. 9a) sets the stage for the juridical metaphor (v. 9b) that then leads to experiential participation in Christ’s suffering (v. 10).

Due to the wide attestation of participatory language in Paul (argument one) and texts such as these which make ejn Cristw’/ the field in which justification takes place, several eminent Pauline scholars have concluded that union with Christ is the central theme of Pauline soteriology. ’Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out most prominently) is the central motif of Paul’s applied soteriology.’ ’It [ejn Cristw’/] is the major soteriological expression of Paul, being the basis for and incorporating within itself the patristic themes of ’victory’ and ’redemption,’ the Reformation stress on ’justification,’ the Catholic insistence on ’the body,’ the more modern emphases on ’reconciliation’ and ’salvation,’ and all the Pauline imperatives and appeals.’ Two factors, however, distinguish these scholars from Sanders at this point. (1) They carefully delineate union with Christ as only a soteriological center, not as a comprehensive principle for Pauline thought. (2) They do not downgrade the essential contribution of the juridical line to the Pauline construct. The most that can be deduced here is the relative priority of participation and justification in Paul’s soteriological framework. Both Gaffin and Longenecker, unlike Sanders, seem to recognize this.

However, it is simply not true that the participatory line in Paul is always the precedent of the juridical, as is evident in the order of the argument of Galatians and Romans. While juristic language is sometimes pressed into the service of the participatory (e.g., Rom. 6:7; Gal. 3:21), it can also go the other way. In Romans 6:14b Paul grounded his exhortation about freedom from sin’s dominion in a juristic reality-’for you are not under law


but under grace.’ In Galatians 5:22-23 the fruit of the Spirit is given a juristic frame of reference-’against such things there is no law’ (v. 23b). In Romans 8:1 and 1 Corinthians 6:11 juristic language provides the basis for ethical response (Rom. 8:2-4; 1 Cor. 6:9-11); and in Romans 8:10 the life-conveying ministry of the Spirit finds its basis in the imputed righteousness that leads to life (cf. Rom. 5:21). Such patterns significantly weaken the force of this fourth argument.

In 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, a much debated passage, both lines appear side by side without any clear prioritization: the juridical (uJpeVr pavntwn ajpevqanen, ’died for all’) and the participatory (oiJ pavnte’ ajpevqanon, ’all died’) appear together in verse 14; the juridical (v. 15, uJpeVr pavntwn ajpevqanen, ’He died for all’) and then the participatory (v. 17, ejn Cristw’/, ’in Christ’) both emerge individually; and finally both lines coalesce (v. 21, dikaiosuvnh qeou’ ejn aujtw’/). Even if the final phrase locates justification in the wider sphere of participation (ejn aujtw’/, ’the righteousness of God in Him’), the entire paragraph grounds both lines in the vicarious and substitutionary nature of Christ’s death, climaxed in the divine transaction of verse 21-an exchange of one’s sin for the righteousness of the Sinless One. And with characteristic theocentricism Paul related the entire soteriological interchange to the wider program of God the Father (v. 18, taV deV pavnta ejk tou’ qeou’, ’all things are from God’). Cranfield captures the connection: ’The nos in Christo is all the time implicit in the Christus pro nobis, and the basis of the nos in Christo and the Christus pro nobis alike is God’s gracious decision.’

Only if the juridical character of Christ’s death can be played down can the participatory motif continue to reign supreme here, and this Sanders attempts to do, setting up a false polarization between atonement for sin as transgression and freedom from sin as enslaving power. Yet in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 21, as elsewhere, Paul’s characteristic way of delineating the significance of Christ’s death is uJpevr (’for, on behalf of’) with the genitive case (cf. Rom. 5:6, 8; 8:32; 14:15; 1 Cor. 1:13; 11:24; 15:3; Gal.


1:4; 2:20; 3:13; Eph. 5:2, 25; 1 Thess. 5:10; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14). Harris offers that Paul employed uJpevr rather than ajntiv (’instead of’) because uJpevr, unlike ajntiv, could simultaneously express both representation and substitution. The concepts of representation, imputation, and reconciliation all contribute to the multifaceted portrait of Christ’s death in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.

While freedom from sin as an enslaving power is one important Pauline motif (Rom. 6:3-11; 7:4; 14:9; Gal. 2:19-20; 5:24; 6:14; Phil 3:10), the juridical metaphor of release from guilt is equally well attested, if not more so (Rom. 3:25; 4:25; 5:10; 8:34; 1 Cor. 11:26; Gal. 2:21; 3:13; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 1:22). Eight times Paul employed the sacrificial terminology of blood (ai|ma) to present the significance of Christ’s death (Rom. 3:25; 5:9; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25, 27; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20). Further, Paul never shied away from the graphic portrayal of Christ’s death as a crucifixion (1 Cor. 1:13, 17-18, 23; 2:2, 8; 2 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 3:1; 5:11, 24; 6:12, 14; Eph. 2:16; Phil. 2:8; 3:18; Col. 1:20; 2:14), also a symbol for the vicarious, substitutionary death of Christ, informed by its Old Testament background (Deut. 21:23) and applied to Christ in Galatians 3:13. As for why the language of repentance and forgiveness are not prominent in Paul, Gundry offers that it is not because these categories ’do not respond to the real plight of man’ but because the apostle thought of atonement as secured by faith in Christ, rather than through a repentance defined as change of behavior as in Palestinian Judaism. It is the rabbinic synergism of faith and works, or grace and merit, that Paul decisively repudiated. So he avoided using language that would imply anything other than absolute dependence on God’s grace in Jesus Christ.



None of the four major arguments, considered individually or cumulatively, succeeds in establishing a hierarchical scheme for the juridical and participatory concepts of redemption attested in Paul’s writings. Thus many scholars view justification and participation in Christ as distinct yet complementary partners to the overall Pauline soteriological matrix. To posit a center that can adequately integrate all dimensions of Pauline thought within its framework, one must move beyond soteriology and even Christology. For all aspects of redemption, expressed in the various soteriological metaphors, depend on a greater reality, the death and resurrection of Christ, for their meaning. Further, Christ’s Person and work has as its reference point the Person and redemptive purposes of God the Father. The Son of God came to fulfill the redemptive mission of the Father (Rom. 8:3; Gal. 4:4). Even His acclamation as King and Lord is ultimately intended for the Father’s glory (1 Cor. 15:28; Phil. 2:11). God alone is the Source of all things (Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6a). It is God from whom mankind is alienated and by whom he must finally be judged. God the Father plans (foreknowledge and election), superintends (salvation history), and both inaugurates and consummates the redemption of His created universe (Rom. 8:18-25). Only such a wide-angle perspective-one that sees God the Father planning, superintending, and consummating redemption-can gather all aspects of Pauline theology into an integrated unity.

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