Monday, August 30, 2010

Cranfield on Romans 1:16

It is impossible for me to write a competent summary of Charles Cranfield’s thoughts on Paul’s letter to the Romans for a couple of reasons. First, Cranfield is such a reputable scholar of New Testament Greek (now retired from the University of Durham, England) that I should simply quote him. Second, I am too busy at work to formulate my own thoughts; and even if I had the time I would do him no justice. I discovered Cranfield while listening to an interview with Simon Gathercole and Peter J. Williams – both scholars at Cambridge – on Paul and other biblical issues. Gathercole cited Cranfield’s Shorter Commentary on Romans as essential reading for undergrads lacking knowledge of the original language. So, I read it. And beginning here I will share selected excerpts from this acclaimed work:

On Romans 1:16

In Paul’s letters ‘save’ and ‘salvation’ refer primarily to God’s future, to what begins with Christ’s coming in glory, His Second Coming, as it is often called… What may be called the negative content of salvation is indicated in 5.9: it is salvation from the final manifestation of the wrath of God… But there is also a positive content. It is the restoration of the glory which sinful men lack (compare 3.23).

What Paul is saying here, then, is that the gospel is God’s effective power active in the world of men to bring about deliverance from His wrath in the final judgment and reinstatement of that glory of God which has been lost through sin – that is a future salvation which reflects its splendour back into the present of those who are to share in it. The gospel, the message of good news, is this by virtue of its content, its subject, namely Jesus Christ. It is He Himself who is its effectiveness.

For all who respond with faith the gospel is effective to salvation. It is important here to note that the faith which is spoken of is not something existing independently of the gospel. It is not a qualification which some men already possess in themselves before the gospel meets them. It only comes into being as response to the gospel… And it is not – as man’s response to the gospel – a contribution from his side which, by fulfilling a condition laid down by God, enables the gospel to be saving. In that case, faith would be, in the last resort, a meritorious work; but it is of the very essence of faith, as Paul understands it, that it is opposed to all human deserving, all human establishing of claims on God. Faith is the openness to the gospel which God Himself creates. He not only directs the message to the hearer, but also Himself lays open the hearer’s heart to the message.

5 comments:

The Underground Pewster said...

I pity the "open minded" person who remains closed hearted when it comes to accepting the Good News.

clumsy ox said...

In Romans, "saved" and "salvation" are certainly in the future, and "justified" and "justification" are in the past.
"Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." (Romans 5:9). Romans is the only book I can think of that juxtaposes salvation and justification in this way.

I'm not very comfortable with the concept that faith becomes a meritorious work. Romans 3 & 4 consistently discuss faith in contrast to works. "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Romans 4:5). So believing is explicitly not working in Romans 4.

I realize I am putting myself in opposition to 500 years of Reformed thought with that, but I just can't see another way to understand chapters 3 & 4.

Still... I greatly enjoyed reading this today.

Chuck Hicks said...

Faith is the openness to the gospel which God Himself creates. He not only directs the message to the hearer, but also Himself lays open the hearer’s heart to the message.

Cranfield will revisit this line of reasoning in Romans 10. The act of believing he sees as happening in response to God's revelation in the gospel. A person must believe the gospel -- and ostensibly can refuse to do so -- but the belief comes in response to God's activity in the gospel.

That man has no inherent virtue of faith is illustrated on the Sea of Galilee. "Where is your faith?" The answer is the disciples had none in the face of danger. Abraham believed what God told Him; "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Without God speaking we have nothing to respond to that results in justification.

I suspect Cranfield would agree that faith cannot be taken a meritorious work. I think he is stressing its source, that it does not originate in fallen man.

Chuck Hicks said...

Word correction: I meant to say above that one can ostensively refuse to believe the gospel...although, it stands that we can't judge much outwardly.

clumsy ox said...

Y'know, I realized a few hours after posting my comment that I had misunderstood Cranfield's point. Ah well.