Saturday, April 28, 2012

Turning Away Iniquity from Jacob (iii)

[T]he most likely explanation of ‘all Israel’ is that it means the nation as a whole, though not necessarily including every individual member.  [W]e understand ‘shall be saved’ to refer to a restoration of the nation of Israel to God at the end of history, an eschatological event in the strict sense…  Some light on the meaning of this ‘shall be saved’ in Paul’s mind may be expected from the Old Testament quotation which follows.
Rom. 26b-27.  as it is written: ‘Out of Zion shall come the Deliverer, he shall turn away iniquities from Jacob.  And this is the covenant I will make with them, when I take away their sins.’  …The original reference of Isaiah 59:20 may refer to God Himself, but there is some Rabbinic evidence that it came to be interpreted of the Messiah, and it is likely that Paul so understood it.  The coming he probably understood of the Parousia, and ‘Zion’ he probably interpreted as denoting heaven or the heavenly sanctuary.  The words ‘he shall turn away iniquities from Jacob’ (here the Septuagint differs considerably from the Hebrew) indicate the nature of the deliverance which this Deliverer will accomplish; it will consist of turning back ungodliness from the nation of Israel.  Such a characterization of the work of the Messiah affords a striking contrast to the Jewish expectation of a political messiah… The effect of the substitution of a clause from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 27:9 for the latter part of the verse brings out forcefully the fact that the essence of the new covenant which God will establish with Israel is His gracious forgiveness of their sins.  The composite quotation thus makes clear the nature of the deliverance indicated by ‘shall be saved’ in v. 26a by its relentless concentration on God’s forgiveness and on Israel’s need of it.  It dashes Israel’s self-centred hopes of establishing a claim upon God, of putting Him under an obligation by its merits, making clear that the nation’s final salvation will be a matter of the forgiveness of its sins by the sheer mercy of God.  It is also to be noted that there is here no trace of encouragement for…anything which could feasibly be interpreted as a scriptural endorsement of the modern nation-state of Israel.
~ C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary

Thursday, April 26, 2012

One Silver Needle

Our friend Arthur Alligood has a new album out, entitled One Silver Needle. Here is a sample...

Turning Away Iniquity from Jacob (ii)

That human beings can only be declared righteous by faith and because of Jesus Christ is emphatically reaffirmed in these chapters [Romans 9 to 11].  The righteousness of faith is for Jews and Gentiles alike, and only through it can they be saved (10:6-13).  The pathos and point of this section in Romans have their roots in that conviction – and in the observation that most Jews, to date, have rejected the gospel…  Paul can only pray for their salvation (10:1) and do whatever he can, however indirect (11:13-14), to promote it.  But the eventual salvation of “all Israel” – in which Paul fervently believes – will only take place when Israel as a whole abandons its unbelief (11:26-27 cannot be detached from vv. 23-24).
Paul affirms that Israel is the object of God’s election and will one day (necessarily through faith) find salvation (Romans 11:26-29).  That many Jews do not now believe does not mean that God’s purposes for his people have failed – and that for three reasons.  (a) Not every descendant of Abraham need belong to Israel whom God has elected: God’s call, not physical descent, is decisive (9:6-13).  (b) Moreover, the unbelief of the majority of Israel is a temporary thing: a divine hardening that serves divine purposes, but lasting only until the full complement of the Gentiles has believed.  (c) In the meantime there are Jews even now who believe, thus making up the present “remnant” that testifies to God’s continuing relations with his people (9:27-29; 11:1-6)…
Paul’s insistence that God calls his people by an act of grace without regard for their works (9:11-16; 11:5-6) coheres nicely with his insistence that righteousness is attained through faith, not works (9:30-32; 10:5-13; earlier 4:1-8).  His claim that the objects of salvation are the disobedient who find mercy (11:30-32) parallels what he says about the justification of sinners in the opening chapters of the epistle.  And his observation that Jews, failing to submit to the righteousness God offers, continue trying to establish their “own” (10:3), means that they are still attempting, by doing what they should, to gain recognition for “ordinary” righteousness rather than recognizing the need of all for God’s extraordinary gift.  They have not misconstrued the law in thinking that it demands works (cf. 10:5); they have, however, failed to see that the righteousness demanded by the law can only be attained by faith in Christ (9:30-32), whose coming marks the “end of the law” as a path to righteousness (10:4).
What, in the Pauline corpus, is new in Romans 9—11 is the insistence that Israel’s election and the commitments God made to the patriarchs will eventuate in the future salvation of (now unbelieving) Israel (11:25-32).  Elsewhere Paul typically appropriates Israel’s prerogatives for the church (e.g. Phil. 3:3); he confines the “seed” of Abraham to whom promises have been made to Christ and those who belong to him (Gal. 3:14, 29), or to those who show Christian faith (Rom. 4:11-16); or he insists that, though God has been good to Israel, the privileges they received carry with them no presumption of approval on the day when God judges all people without partiality (2:1-3:20).  The blessing invoked on the “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16 might conceivably be a harbinger of Romans 11:26; in the context of Galatians, however, it seems more likely to be another instance where the language of God’s people is applied to the church.  The notion that unbelieving Israel – as a whole, though not necessarily every individual Jew, and not without coming to faith in Christ – is, because of its election, destined for salvation is unique to these chapters…
That a covenant with Israel as such remains in force and will lead to that people’s salvation, its present unbelief notwithstanding, is a mystery that Paul discloses here to the Roman Christians (11:25-29).  Paul’s Gentile mission was not predicated all along on the conviction that Christ brought blessings to Gentiles already enjoyed – apart from Christ – by Jews under their “covenant.”  Rather, Paul was bringing to the Gentiles the same gospel that other apostles took to the Jews – because both needed to be saved (Gal. 2:7-9; cf. 1 Cor. 15:11).
~ Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Turning Away Iniquity from Jacob (i)

A superficial reading of Romans might easily leave the impression that chapters 9 to 11 are only an excurses which Paul has included under the pressure of his own deep personal involvement in the matter of the Jews’ destiny.  But a closer and more attentive study reveals the fact that they are an integral part of the working out of the theme stated in 1:16b-17.  The gospel which is the subject of 1:16b is the gospel which has already been defined in 1:1-4.  The use in that definition of the title ‘Christ’ and the statement of Jesus Christ’s relationship to David mean that the gospel cannot be properly understood except in relation to Israel, God’s special people… Had Paul not, in as full and systematic a presentation of the gospel as is attempted in Romans, come to grips with the question of the Jews, the seriousness and integrity of his appeals to the Old Testament would have been open to doubt... 
In 8:28-39 Paul has spoken of the certainty of the believer’s hope.  In 8:28-30 he has referred to God’s purpose as the ground of our certainty.  But, according to the Old Testament, Israel had a special place within God’s purpose.  The end of chapter 8 was therefore a natural point at which to introduce a discussion of the relation of Israel to the divine purpose.  We may, in fact, go farther and say that at this point the need for such a discussion has become urgent, since the very reliability of God’s purpose as the ground of Christian hope is called into question by the exclusion of the majority of the Jews.   If the truth is that God’s purpose with Israel has been frustrated, then what sort of basis for Christian hope is God’s purpose?  And, if God’s love for Israel has ceased, what reliance can be placed on Paul’s conviction that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ (v. 38)?...
We shall misunderstand these chapters [9 to 11], if we fail to recognize their key word is ‘mercy.’ Paul is here concerned to show that the problem of Israel’s unbelief, which seems to call in question the very reliability of God Himself, is connected with the nature of God’s mercy as really mercy and as mercy not just for one people but for all peoples; to show that Israel’s disobedience, together with the divine judgment which it merits and procures, is surrounded on all sides by the divine mercy – and at the same time to bring home to the Christian community in Rome the fact that it is by God’s mercy alone that it lives.

It is only where the Church persists in refusing to learn this message, where it secretly – perhaps quite unconsciously! – believes that its own existence is based on human achievement, and so fails to understand God’s mercy itself, that it is unable to believe in God’s mercy for still unbelieving Israel, and so entertains the ugly and unscriptural notion that God has cast off His people Israel and simply replaced it by the Christian Church.
~ C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Dark Night of the American Soul

In addition to being my son Ethan's 13th birthday, April 21 marks the anniversary of the on-line publication of Joseph Stromberg's jeremiad essay, The Dark Night of the American Soul. This piece I go back to time and again, like a favorite old movie or sardonic sitcom. When I first read it nearly a decade ago it affirmed my nascent misgivings about this nation-turned-empire, and helped me realize that the old republic is rather long gone.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hooker on Things Indifferent

The legalist seeks to compensate for God’s silence by inventing his own rules and attempting to give them the force of divine sanction. The libertine takes God’s silence as guaranteeing divine sanction for whatever he or she chooses to do. But the godly Christian takes this silence as a summons, a summons to exercise judgment—fallible, human judgment, but judgment that does not take place in a void, for God has not been silent. Prior to the promulgation of either divine law or human law, God has imbued us with a natural law, according to which we can judge some actions to be harmful and improper even without the express revelation of Scripture.
Read it all here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Gentiles, thinking themselves to be worshiping the gods, in fact serve beings that are no gods; yet, since they are unable to come to the knowledge of the true God, their service of lesser beings amounts to ensalvement (Gal. 4:8).  For their part Jews, thinking themselves to be worshiping God, are actually living a life "under sin" administered by the law.  Under the law they, too, are unable to live for God (cf. 2:19); thus their service, too, amounts to slavery.  Both Gentiles and Jews, thinking themselves to be serving the divine, in fact are confined to the service of lesser entities, the "weak and beggarly elements" (4:9; cf. v. 3) that include the false gods of the Gentiles and the Jewish law.  From such slavery the Galatian believers have been delivered.  For them now to take up the law would be to revert to the bondage they experienced before they came to a knowledge of the true God (4:1-11).  Conversely, the redemption that Christ brought to those "under the law" may be said to have brought Gentiles the same freedom, the same adoption as God's sons, and the same presence of the Spirit of God's Son in their hearts (4:4-6)...

By way of summary, then, we note that Galatians implies that God requires (ordinary) righteousness of Gentiles as well as Jews (note that both are responsible for their sins [1:4], and both need to be declared righteous by faith in Christ Jesus [2:16]).  Yet Jews no more than Gentiles are deemed to have produced it, and life under the Jewish law differs in no essential respect from Gentile life without it.  Moreover, the human dilemma goes beyond the concrete sins that humans commit; such sins reflect their belonging to an age gone wrong, dominated by sin and, indeed, powers that are not God.  The law was given to regulate, not transform, this life of sin; it informs its subjects -- Jews in the first place, though at times all humanity, itself required to do what is right and condemned for failing to do so, seems loosely included (3:10, 22-23; 4:1-7) -- of what they ought to do and curses their transgressions; but it cannot introduce them to a new and different way of life. Such life is only to be found in Christ. Those who believe in him are declared righteous and given the Spirit, the mark of the new age. They have died with Christ to the old way of life and now live, with Christ in them, in God's service.
~ Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul

Salvation makes a subtle sound
for those with ears to hear
It's the sound that you hear, the sound that I hear

Since being
It's just as if I'd
never sinned at all

Monday, April 9, 2012

Walking Worthy of the Gospel

At any moment, Paul has warned his listeners, an outpouring of divine wrath would engulf unsuspecting humanity and bring it sudden destruction (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:3; cf. 2 Thess. 1:5-10)...
Yet Paul had been entrusted by God to deliver to the Thessalonians a message of “good news” about “salvation” (2:4, 16; 5:9) – a salvation that, in light of humanity’s impending doom, was of a very specific sort.  In Jesus, God’s Son, there is rescue from the coming wrath (1:10; 5:9).  Paul does not [in 1 Thessalonians] spell out precisely how Jesus, or the gospel, effects salvation.  It is clear, however, that the faith of believers included the conviction that Jesus had died and risen again (4:14).  The Lord’s death, moreover, was “for us”... the death of Christ made it possible for those who believe to be “with him” (rather than objects of wrath) forever (5:10).
...Both acceptance and rejection of the truth are all-encompassing: life is either lived in the acknowledgment and service of the true and living God or in defiance of the truth.  Those who reject the truth of the gospel act entirely in character when they do so: they are, in effect, refusing to abandon the life they have already adopted, in which neither acknowledging nor pleasing God plays a role (4:5; 5:7).  Their unbelief is itself disobedience, and the disobedience shown in their actions is merely an expression of unbelief (cf. 2 Thess. 1:8; 2:10, 12).  Conversely, those who respond in faith to the gospel are thereby turning away from a life of disobedience to one oriented around service to God (1 Thess. 1:8-9).  Living in a way that pleases God is a natural and, in the end, inevitable expression of such faith: Paul rejoices when he sees the Thessalonians’ faith in action (1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11).  That their faith remains deficient (1 Thess. 3:10) and has room to grow (3:2; cf. 2 Thess. 1:3) does not imply that they harbor doubts of the truth of their convictions; rather, there is still – and throughout their earthly lives there will be (cf. 1 Thess. 3:12-13; 4:1, 10: 5:23) – a need to express more consistently and completely the practical implications of their faith.
~ Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul