Do You See It?

I finished Justification and Variegated Nomism, Volume 2: The Paradoxes of Paul.  This will be a rambling post.

D.A. Carson wrestles with a tension in Paul, who presents Jesus as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures (as if the Scriptures predicted him), yet also says that the Gospel was hidden in the past but came to be revealed with the coming of Christ.  Carson asks on pages 397-398: “How can the very things that are said, on the one hand, to be predicted in the past and now fulfilled, be said, on the other, to be hidden in the past and only now, in the fullness of time, revealed?”  I’ve heard this issue addressed by dispensationalist Christians.  There are dispensationalists who do not believe that the Hebrew Bible predicted pieces of God’s plan, since Paul calls these pieces mysteries that were unknown before the coming of Christ.  These mysteries include the presence of both Jews and Gentiles in one body (the church), and some have even suggested that the idea that Christ would die for humanity is not in the Old Testament.  If my memory is correct, I read one dispensationalist interpreter a while back who said that Isaiah 53 only says that Christ will die for the Jews, and so it does not predict Christ dying for the Gentiles as well.  Christ dying for the Gentiles was a mystery that became revealed after Christ’s death and resurrection.

Carson’s conclusion is that, for Paul, the Scriptures themselves contain the mysteries (and this is probably the view of many non-dispensationalist Christians).  On page 433, Carson states:

“[Paul] is never saying to his Jewish peers, ‘You silly twits!  Can’t you see that my exegesis is correct?  I used to read the Bible as you still do, but I understand things better now.  Can’t you see I’m right?’  Rather, while insisting that his exegesis of the old covenant scriptures is true and plain and textually grounded, he marvels at God’s wisdom in hiding so much in it, to bring about the unthinkable: a crucified Messiah, whose coming and mission shatters all human arrogance, including his own.”

That quote brings a lot of things to my mind: the arrogance of some conservative Christians who are so baffled that Jews do not see Christ in the Hebrew Bible; the view that I got growing up that God needed to “open our minds” to see certain truths in the Bible (namely, Armstrongite doctrine), since so many people in the world did not see those truths.  I used to attend a Seventh-Day Adventist church, and a person there who married into Adventism was coming to believe that Christians had to observe the seventh-day Sabbath.  He asked why so many people were so stupid that they did not see that!  When I told someone else about this, he replied that this guy should be humbler, for he himself was stupid at some point and did not believe in the Sabbath.

Personally, I don’t think that people who do not see Armstrongite or Adventist doctrines in the Bible are “stupid”.  They simply have another interpretation of the Bible.  They highlight things that Sabbatarians explain away (i.e., Gentile-Christians in Acts 15 not having to observe the law), whereas Sabbatarians highlight issues that Sunday-keepers may have a hard time dealing with (i.e., the law and the Ten Commandments are praised in the New Testament, yet they claim that we don’t have to observe parts of it). 

Henri Blocher in this volume says that Paul’s doctrine was counter-Scriptural, in a sense.  On page 490, he states: “[There] is the staggering audacity of Paul’s combination of words: God who justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5)!…God is doing what he expressly forbids (Deut 25:1; Isa 5:23; Prov 17:15), God is doing what he said he would not do (Exod 23:7)!”  But perhaps one could come back and say that God doesn’t justify the ungodly when they are unrepentant, but God does when they are repentant.

I thought that Blocher’s summary of the New Perspective’s stance on solution-to-plight was the clearest that I have read so far.  According to Blocher, New Perspective interpreters say that Paul before he became a Christian thought that sin was not a terrible problem, for the law had means of atonement.  But Paul learned that Christ came to redeem people from their sins, and so he concluded from that “solution” that the plight of humanity was much worse than he had previously believed: that the law was not sufficient to atone for sin.  But Blocher critiques the New Perspective on this point because it makes the Gospel rather than the Law the way the Paul came to the realization that we’re all sinners, whereas Paul in Romans says that the knowledge of sin comes through the law.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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