Law of Christ

The phrase “law of Christ” is a notoriously troublesome genitive qualifier and is difficult to interpret considering it only appears twice in Paul’s writings (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21). In this post,  I will only focus on the phrase used in Galatians 6:2.

“Law of Christ” used in Galatians 6:2 occurs within a larger section where Paul is discussing life in the Spirit and love (Gal 5:13-6:10). He writes that Christians are to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:18), “be led by the Spirit” (Gal 5:18), exhibit “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-23), “live by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25), “keep in step with the Spirit” and “sow to the Spirit’ (Gal 6:8).  Throughout the section, Paul delineates between what is not loving (Gal 5:15, 19-21, 26) and what is loving (Gal 5:22-23, 6:1-2, 6-10).

The key link for this discussion on the “law of Christ” is between Galatians 5:13-14 and 6:2. These verses have shared terminology which includes ‘fulfillment,” “law” and “one another.”[1] In Galatians 5:13-14, Paul explains that believers through love should serve one another, and then he cites Leviticus 19:18 which explains that the whole law is fulfilled in the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law. This is what Paul has in mind when he writes in Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” For Paul, the “law of Christ” is another way of describing the law of love which is enunciated in Galatians 5:13-14. The law of Christ is the law of love. With this view, the “law of Christ” includes the moral norms of the Old Testament Law, focusing particularly on the command to love one’s neighbor. Love is at the center of the law of Christ, and Paul argues, throughout the section, that it can only be fulfilled by the power of the Holy Spirit.    

[1]Gal 5:14  πεπλήρωται, peplērōtai, “fulfilled”  5:14 νόμος, nomos, “law” 5:13 ἀλλήλοις, allēlois “one another” Gal 6:2 ἀναπληρώσετε, anaplērōsete, “will fulfill;” ἀλλήλων, allēlōn, “one another’s;” νόμον, nomon, “law” 

The Old Testament Law for Christians

God said to the Israelites, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God (Exod 6:7). Then God gave the Law which set apart Israel from the nations as God’s special people. Obedience to the Law was to be the distinguishing mark of the people of God and it was to be what sustained them in their relationship with God. However, this was a temporary covenant with a new covenant on the horizon which was prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The new covenant to come was to be written on the heart and could be kept by those who walk in the power of the Spirit.

The Law pointed to the coming of Christ and with his coming, the Law is fulfilled. After Christ’s coming, the Law is no longer the distinguishing mark of the people of God. Rather, the people of God are distinguished by their faith in Jesus and by their participation in the Spirit within the new humanity where there is no distinguishing between Jew and Gentile. Thus, the specifics of the Law that separated Israel from the nations are no longer binding for the believer in Christ. There is a discontinuity of the Law, but there is continuity of the principles, values and morality that governed them. In this sense, the Law is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The NT believer is not obliged to carry out all the demands of the Law, but there are many lessons that can be drawn for Christian living from the Law.

The People of God: Part 7 of 7 Formation, Mission and Future Hope of the Church

Throughout the New Testament there is an emphasis on belonging together within the community of faith. Thus, part of God’s formation of the Church is unity and fellowship. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians,

I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received: with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, and with diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-6).

In the Christian community, the formation involving unity and fellowship meant that they regularly met together in order to praise God together, to pray together, to learn together and to break bread together (Acts 2:42). They shared resources with anyone who had need (Acts 2:44-45), and they shared spiritual blessings with each other (1 Cor 9:23). This was not a random coming together of people with common interests, but rather it was a people coming together because Christ’s sacrificial death reconciled them to one another.[1] They were “a caring and sharing community, a “life-sustaining fellowship,”[2] in which the members of the body of Christ receive their life from God, and comfort, encourage and support one another.”[3]

Furthermore, like the formation of the Israelites, the Church is called to be Holy as God is Holy (1 Pet 1:15-16; Heb 12:14) and to be a people who are set apart (1 Cor 7:1). God in his holiness desires a holy people amongst whom he can dwell. Ephesians 2:19-22 states,

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

In other words, Christians are God’s temple and his dwelling place must be holy and sacred (1 Cor 3:16-17).

Another aspect of the Church’s formation is that Christians are to be defined by love. Jesus taught that the world would know that they were his disciples by their love for one another (John 13:35). The Church must be compelled by love and always growing in love for others. “Love defines every aspect of Christian community, internally and externally; for love defines every aspect of God’s life. God is love.”[4]

Along with the formation of the church is the mission of the Church. The Holy Spirit continues Jesus’ ministry through the Church, and so the Church’s mission is empowered by the Holy Spirit and involves bringing honor to God (Eph 3:10-11), bearing witness to Christ (Acts 5:30-32), making disciples of all peoples and baptizing them (Matt 28:19-20), preaching the gospel (Acts 20:24), and healing (Luke 9:2). While explaining the mission of the Church, Lucien Deiss writes, “We are toiling at a task that is beyond our strength. And what the Lord asks of us is “Be my witnesses.” That is the mission we must carry out. It is for him to accomplish his mission at the time he decides upon, in accordance with his own blessed will, which is one of tender love for each and every human being.”[5]

The Church is called to hope. Hebrews 10:23 states, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Because of the resurrection of Jesus, the Church has “hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). At the consummation of all things, the people of God will participate in the eschatological resurrection where all who are in Christ will receive glorified bodies and eternally reign with Christ in his everlasting kingdom. Revelation tells of a new heaven and a new earth where God dwells with his people. He will be their God and they will be his people. God finally puts everything back to right. His restorative mission for his people and creation is finally accomplished. The people of God will encounter God forever, and they will experience belonging forever. Belonging to God and to one another.

[1] Charles H. H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003), 501. [2] Paul D. Hanson, The People Called: The Growth of Community in the Bible (San Francisco: CA, 1986), 501, quoted by Scobie, The Ways, 502. [3] Scobie, The Ways, 502. [4] David Zac Niringiye, The Church: God’s Pilgrim People (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 184. [5] Lucien Deiss, God’s Word and God’s People, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976) 323.

The People of God: Part 6 of 7 Jesus and the Calling and Gathering of Israel and the Nations

Mark 1:14-15 states, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time is fulfilled,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Why is the time fulfilled and what is the good news? Throughout the history of Israel, there was the hopeful expectation of a future coming of a kingly figure chosen and anointed by God to redeem and restore his people. This messianic figure was believed to usher in a new era in the history of the people of God. He was to establish God’s sovereign reign and fulfill God’s mission of restoring all things and creating a new people who will love, worship and serve him.

Luke 4:16-21 depicts Jesus entering the synagogue and reading a passage from Isaiah which states, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v. 18-19) Then, Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). Jesus declares that he is the promised messiah and his life and ministry supported his claim. However, God’s people were perplexed because he did not fit the image of a typical royal king, and he was not crushing the Romans. Rather, he was beaten and crucified, put to shame by the oppressors of Israel.

What was going on? The promised serpent head crusher (Gen 3:15) was fulfilling God’s redemptive and restorative mission as the suffering servant (Isa 53). Jesus fulfilled what the people of God throughout history could not. He was a perfect, devoted and faithful servant to God and a blessing to the nations. As a result, God did not let Jesus rot in the grave, but rather God raised him from the dead with a resurrected body. Jesus is the firstborn of the resurrection. He is inaugurator of the resurrection people of God.

The Gospel of John narrates a scene where Caiaphas prophesied about Jesus, and then the author of the Gospel of John commentates by saying that “He [Caiaphas] did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52). The prophecy by Caiaphas was a glimpse of what God was up to through the life and ministry of Jesus. Through Jesus, God was calling all nations, races, people and tongues to come to him. This is the gospel message, that God calls the world to come to him through Jesus’ redemptive life, death and resurrection, and he gathers from Israel and the nations those who by faith in Jesus respond to the call. He creates one people where “[t]here is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Those who are in Christ are connected to God’s people of the past, they are “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).

Moreover, God, through Jesus, enters into a new covenant with his people. At his last supper, Jesus links the new covenant with his broken body and shed blood (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24) and the Letter to the Hebrews explains that Jesus is “the guarantee of a better covenant” and that “…Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” In chapter 8, the author of Hebrews quotes in full Jeremiah 31:31-34 which is the passage that was mentioned above concerning the promise of a new covenant. With this quote, the author of Hebrews connects the death of Jesus with the promise of a new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah. Therefore, according to Charles H.H. Scobie, “[t]he Christ event, focused in Jesus’ death on the cross, inaugurates the promised new covenant, a new relationship between God and people.”[1]

Similar to the description of the people of God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, this new people of God, the Church, is described as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9). Much like the Israelites, God chooses and calls a people to be the Church and “they become his people by responding to his gracious acts.”[2] The Church has encountered God through Jesus—the God-man, and they belong to him and to one another as the people of God. Thus, the Church should embrace their belonging as God’s people, and since they “have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), they should devote themselves to worship, service and mission.

Continue reading “The People of God: Part 6 of 7 Jesus and the Calling and Gathering of Israel and the Nations”

Commentary on Revelation 12

Since this post will focus on Revelation 12, a few brief words are needed in order to view chapter twelve within the flow and context of the book. Before chapter twelve, the prior context is focused on the opening of the seven seals by the Lamb. These seven seals describe events that signify God’s wrath, God’s avenging and God’s salvation.  Following the seven seals, John observes the disasters that are brought about by each blowing of the trumpets by the angels. The seventh trumpet invokes hymns and praises to God for his victory and righteous judgments. It is here that chapter twelve begins with John’s visions concerning a series of significant signs, which focus on the conflict with evil before returning to the seven bowls of wrathful plagues in the chapters that follow.

Commentary on Revelation 12

1-6   John’s vision focuses on a wondrous sign in the sky in which a woman is depicted as royalty (crown of twelve stars) with dominion (moon under her feet) clothed with radiance and splendor (Sun).  While the woman gives birth to the messiah, she should not be viewed as Mary the mother of Jesus; but rather, this pregnant woman should be interpreted as the ideal and faithful Israel (and then the church postpartum v.17) with pre-messianic labor pain. The prophets portrayed righteous israel as the mother of the future restored remnant of Israel (i.e. Isa 54:1; 66:7-10; Mic 5:3) (Keener 793). Furthermore, this woman is contrasted with the scarlet prostitute (Babylon) in chapter 17 (Mounce 231-232).

The next sign that appears in the sky is an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. Dragon imagery was common in ancient world and several mesopotamian, canaanite, egyptian, and greek mythology stories included serpents and sea monsters (Keener 793).  Thus, this would have been a common imagine that ancient readers would have recognized, but this vision clearly depicts and names the dragon as the devil or satan (v.9).  The color red symbolizes his murderous character while the seven heads and seven horns depicts the universality of his enormous power. The seven crowns are bogus authoritative crowns in which Satan is attempting to claim royal power over the universe (Mounce 233). The dragon displays his power by hurling down stars, and he stands before the woman awaiting the birth of her child so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. Robert Mounce comments on the dragon before the woman by writing,

This explains the violent antagonism with which the child of the messianic community was met during the years of his life on earth. It began with the determination of King Herod to murder the Christ-child (Matt 2), continued throughout the dangers and temptations of his earthly, and culminated in the crucifixion. As Nebuchadnezzar devoured Israel (“he has swallowed us and filled his stomach with our delicacies,” Jer 51:34), so Satan has determined to devour the child.  He has taken his position and awaits his victim” (234)

The woman gives birth to a male child who will rule the nations with an iron scepter. The greek phrase ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ (rhabō sidēra) which may be translated as rod of iron appears also in 2:27 and 19:15, and in all these occurrences the phrase is syntactically connected to a form of the greek ποιμαίνω (poimainō) which has the meaning of “tend a flock” or “activity that protects, rules, governs, fosters” (Bauer 690).  In the Revelation passages the meaning is the activity as shepherd which has destructive results . Thus, the activity of the male child will be that of shepherding and the rod of iron may be referring to a shepherd’s rod that usually had an iron tip (Bauer 690). As a shepherd protected and defended the sheep from the wild prey, so the male child will strike those who attack and persecute his people (Mounce 234).  This image is certainly of Christ and the phrase, was snatched up to God and to his throne alludes to Christ’s ascension (cf. Acts 1:9-11; Phil 2:5-11). The woman flees to the wilderness for spiritual refuge with God for 1260 days. The days 1260 and “a time and times, and a half a time” in v. 14 are referring to a symbolic time period where evil would reign free, but the people of God would be protected (Mounce 215).  

7-12   According to Jude 9, Michael is classified as an archangel and so is the leader of angels. Daniel 12:1 states, “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.” This is archangel Michael who leads the the war against the dragon and his angels. The phrase that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray is a reference to Gen 3:1ff where the serpent appears in the garden of Eden. After losing the battle to Michael and his angels, this ancient serpent and his angels lost their access to heaven and were cast down to earth.  

The battle is followed by a loud voice in heaven declaring victory over the accuser. The voice declares the salvation, power, the kingdom of God and the authority of Christ. Not only was Satan defeated in the heavenly battle, but Christians have also overcome him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony. By Christ’s redeeming act of being crucified and by their witness in the face of pressure, Christians have certain salvation and security. However, the voice gives a caution about Satan further attacking with even greater fury on earth because he has been cast down, and he knows that the time is short.

13-17  After failing to devour the male child and being thrown down from heaven, the dragon attempts to attack the woman.  However, the woman was given two wings of a great eagle.  This is similar to the description of Israel’s escape from Egypt, Exodus 19:4 states, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Thus, the reference here may also suggest swift and powerful protection (Easley 269). But the dragon does not give up on his attack, but rather spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. There are a few passages in the Hebrew scriptures that use the flood image as metaphoric language for overwhelming evil and tribulation. “The floods of ungodliness” (Ps 18:4 NKJV) and “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isa 43:2). Nevertheless, the woman has another ally in the earth because it opens its mouth and swallows the river. This image further describes the extensive means that God is willing to use in order to protect his people.  The protect of the woman further infuriates the dragon, and so he tries waging war against other christian believers (Easley 270).


In this passage John is teaching that there has been an age-long conflict between the people of God and Satan, and although Satan always attempts to make war against God’s people, God protects them by providing salvation. Satan is ultimately defeated, and Jesus Christ will forever shepherd with a rod of Iron. Therefore, those who are being persecuted or facing martyrdom should be encouraged and place their hope in Christ.

Works Cited

Bauer, Walter et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.  Chicago, IL : University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Easley, Kendell. Revelation. Holman New Testament Commentary ed. Max Anders. Nashville,TN : Holman Reference, 1998.

Keener, Craig S. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.  

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI : Eerdmans, 1977.


The Book of Revelation

The book of Revelation is the last writing in the New Testament and was most likely written during the last years of Emperor Domitian’s reign ca. 95-96 (Carson et al. 474). This date has the support of the traditional view which is based on the internal evidence (i.e. historical conditions in Revelation) and the external witness (i.e. the early Christian writers Ireneus, Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen) (Carson et al. 474).

The book promises blessings for those who read it, hear it and take it to heart. Revelation 1:3 states, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” In view of this verse, Revelation is written in the genre of prophecy meaning that it uses the methods of forthtelling (announcements for the present readers concerning the present) and foretelling (messages presented as future predictions) (Klein et al. 371). Thus, the book has a specific historical context as well as an eschatological (end times) context.

Moreover, the first sentence of the book of Revelation uses the greek word ἀποκάλυψις (apokalypsis) which may be defined as “revelations of a particular kind, through visions, etc.” (Bauer et al. 91). Thus, the book of Revelation is apocalyptic in nature and uses symbolic and figurative language throughout. The book reveals Jesus Christ reigning as king in the future, heavenly, eternal kingdom of God (Kittel et al. 412). Pate et al. write, “The book of Revelation presents in colorful language and powerful imagery the final chapter in God’s story, where he reverses the curse of sin, restores his creation and lives among his people forever” (255).

The book of Revelation is written as an epistle to seven churches in Asia Minor (1:4) (i.e. the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea). Similar to other epistles in the New Testament, the book of Revelation identifies a particular people and addresses specific circumstances. Carson et al. summarize the genre of the book of Revelation by writing, “We may best view Revelation, then, as a prophecy cast in an apocalyptic mold and written down in a letter form” (479). The place of writing was at Patmos, a rocky and rugged island about six miles wide and ten miles long, some forty miles southwest of Ephesus in the Aegean Sea [and] the island was used by Roman authorities as a place of exile” (Carson et al. 473). 

The traditional view of authorship is that the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. This is due to the internal evidence where the writer is named “John” (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8) without any further details about himself which may affirm that he was a well known “John” in the community. The apostle John was the most well known and combined with the apostolic and prophetic focus of the writing, he seems to be the most likely author. Moreover, there is strong external evidence from writers during the middle to late second century attributing the book of Revelation to the apostle John. These writers include: Justin Martyr, Melito, Bishop of Sardis, Ireneus, the Muratorian Canon and possibly Papias. Also, third century writers Tertullian, Hippolytus and Origen confirm the apostle John as the author, and they do this without any hint of controversy during that time (Carson et al. 468-469).

John is writing to Christians who are being persecuted and facing martyrdom because Emperor Domitian was demanding divinity status and allegiance from Christians, but the Christians would not assent because they believed that the risen Jesus is God and King. Thus, the author writes in order to encourage the Christians in their faith and to prepare them for spiritual battle with the anti-christian forces. The author emboldens them to continue to bear witness to the true God and king in the world─Jesus Christ (Beasley-Murray 1422). Pate et al. write, “Revelation constitutes a transforming vision, empowering those who embrace its heavenly perspective to live faithfully in this fallen world until the Lord returns” (255).

The outline and contents of the book of Revelation begins with a prologue (1:1-20) followed by series of messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor (2:1-3:22). John has a vision of heaven (4:1-5:14) and then he describes what he sees which involves the number seven throughout, the seven seals (6:1-8:5), the seven trumpets (8:6-11:19), the seven significant signs (12:1-14:20) and the seven bowls (15:1-16:21). Then John describes his visions of the triumph of God over evil (17:1-20:15) and concludes with a vision of the new heaven and the new earth (21:1-22:5) (Carson et al. 466-467).

In summary, the book of Revelation is about Jesus and his ultimate victory over evil. There has been an age-old battle going on between God and evil spiritual beings and this battle has entered into the earthly realm where God’s creation has been affected. Humanity has experienced the devastating and destructive consequences of evil and sin in the world, but the message of the book of Revelation is that through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, God wins the final battle. He will establish his eternal kingdom and restore humanity.

Works Cited

Bauer, Walter et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Beasley-Murray, George R. Revelation in New Bible Commentary. eds. Carson et al. InterVarsity Press, 1994.

Carson, D. A, et al.  An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan, 1992.

Kittel, Gerhard and Gerald Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Abridged In One Volume by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Eerdmans, 1985.

Klein, William, Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Revised and Updated ed. Baker Academic, 2004.

Pate, C. Marvin et al. The Story of Israel: a Biblical Theology. Inter-Varsity Press, 2004.


Apostle Peter on Suffering

Peter describes the recipients of his letters as “exiles scattered throughout the provinces” (1 Pet 1:1) and as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Pet 2:11). Thus, their situation was akin to a sense of homelessness, displacement and unbelonging, and so they were considered and treated as outcasts and riffraff. Since they lacked social status and security, they were ridiculed and persecuted by others. Their suffering was more due to social disenfranchisement than political persecution. It was the ongoing and daily pressure from the people in their everyday lives that was causing their suffering and wearing them down. They were vulnerable to this type of social oppression due to their radical lifestyle changes (i.e. withdrawing from pagan immorality (1 Pet 4:3-4) and “sinful lust” (1 Pet 2:11) while doing that which is “right” and “good” (1 Pet 2:12; 2:14-15) (Webb 1135).

In the midst of the people’s suffering, Peter proclaims that there is hope because the people have a new home (1 Pet 2:5) in the new community of God (1 Pet 2:9-10). They are part of new house and are compared to individual stones that make up the new house. The cornerstone (the primary foundation aligning stone) of this house is Jesus who like the people was rejected by others but chosen by God (1 Pet 2:4-10). Peter further explains that Christians will continue to be rejected just as Jesus was rejected, but although both are rejected, Jesus and his people extend shelter and stability to others who are dispossessed and need a home (1 Pet 2:4-10). In other words, even in the midst of their suffering, there are missionary and ministry opportunities for them to provide blessing and support to others. They must remember that Jesus is the ultimate example of a suffering servant and so must follow his servant-like response to suffering (1 Pet 2:18-25) (Webb 1135-1136).

Peter instructs them to entrust themselves to God and to not retaliate because a Christ-like “loving non retaliatory response to those inflicting the abuse (as well as the pursuit of what is good and commendable) should quiet, perplex, shame and possibly even bring about salvation of unbelievers” (Webb 1136). This is the type of response that Jesus taught in his sermon on the mount where he stated,

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven (Matt 5:38-35).

Works Cited

Webb, W.J. “Suffering.” Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, edited by Ralph Martin and Peter Davids. Inter-Varsity Press, 1997

James and Paul on Faith and Works

saint_james_the_justThe book of James is a compilation of wisdom sayings that relies heavily on Hebrew wisdom literature and Jesus’ teachings, especially Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Thus, there are several themes that are addressed in James, and one of these themes is the relationship of faith and works. James is writing to a Jewish-Christian audience concerning those who claim to be in a reconciled relationship with God but are neglecting works of charity and love. James is addressing some who are compartmentalizing their faith into a solely creedal expression. James states, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that, and shudder” (2:19 NIV). This is the “faith along” mentality that James is confronting─a faith apart from actions. James is attacking the bogus faith that has reared up─the faith that a person claims to have (2:14); the faith that is dead (2:17, 26); the faith that is useless (2:20). For James, true saving faith reveals itself in its good works (Davids 458).

James may have been responding to an early misunderstanding of Paul’s oral teaching. Paul’s phrase “justification by faith alone” may have been used and perverted by some as an excuse for a lack of christian charity and service to others (Moo 26). Thus, James seeks to defend Paul’s true teaching by confronting the “perverted Paulinism” (Moo 26). James states, “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” (2:24). James’ focus is on the ultimate declaration of righteousness pronounced over people at the final judgement where their true faith relationship with God will be validated by their good works that true faith produces (Moo 141).

paul-iconPaul’s thoughts on faith and works are presented to different audiences than James. Paul writes to Jews and Gentiles, and so he is addressing different concerns relating to salvation. Thus, Paul needs to speak to the human condition of both Jews and Gentiles, and their relationship to the “works of the Law” and to good works in general. Paul quotes from the Psalmist in Romans 3:10-12, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” This is Paul’s perspective when teaching on justification by faith and not by works of the Law or by good works in general. Paul writes, “a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal 2:16). Paul’s main argument is that Gentiles do not need to become Jews to enter the kingdom of God. Gentiles do not need to follow the Jewish rituals to be declared righteous, but rather it is through faith in Jesus that God declares them righteous (Davids 460).

Once people enter into a relationship with God by faith in Jesus Christ, they become “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”(Eph 2:10). Paul explains that good works are the evidence of faith and the result of the grace of God in the life of believer. In fact, Paul encourages believers to express their faith with good works. He writes, “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”(Gal 5:6). Thus, in view of Paul’s teaching on faith and works, James and Paul would agree on the relationship of faith and works in the Christian life (Davids 460).

Works Cited

Davids, P.H. “James and Paul.” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald Hawthorne et al. Inter-Varsity Press, 1993.

Douglas Moo, The Letter of James (PNTC) Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.

The Central Message in the Pastoral Epistles

Paul’s central message in the Pastoral Epistles focuses on the presence and the errors of false teachers, and how the church and its leaders should respond. In 1 Timothy, Paul explains that false teachers in Ephesus were distorting and misrepresenting the Torah by devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies (1:3-4). Paul commissions Timothy to confront the corrupt teachers (Chpts 1 & 6) and tells him to instruct the church to pray, to learn sound doctrine and to appoint qualified Christian leaders who will carry on the true gospel message (Chpts 2-3). Paul connects belief with behavior by explaining that there are members in the church community that have adopted some of the false teaching and their lives and behavior have been affected as a result (Chpts 4-5). Thus, Paul wants Timothy to manage these issues and then teach the church to persevere in the truth while dealing with the false teachers.

Paul’s second letter to Timothy further addresses false teaching at length (see 2 Timothy 2:14-4:5), and like his first letter, Paul instructs Timothy to appoint leaders who will teach others correct doctrine. Paul wants them to focus on the Scriptures, “which are able to make [them] wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (3:15). He also explains the practical purposes of the Scriptures in that they are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (3:16-17).

The book of Titus addresses false teaching that was affecting the church in Crete. Paul describes the false teachers as “rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group” (1:10), and then he goes even further in his description by writing, “Even one of Crete’s own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true” (1:12-13a). “Their minds and consciences are corrupted” (1:15b). “They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good” (1:16b). Later in 3:11, Paul writes, “You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.”  Similar to the situation in Ephesus, these false teachers were fixated on myths, foolish controversies, genealogies and Torah distortions. Therefore, Paul gives the same commission to Titus as he did to Timothy; he was to confront and silence the false teachers (1:11), and he was to appoint solid Christian leaders in order to continue the furtherance of the true gospel message (1:5-9).

1 Corinthians 1-2 and Neutrality

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church explaining that when he visited them, he did not use secular rhetorical techniques or think in secular ways or impart secular wisdom (1 Cor 1-2), but rather he imparted words “taught by the spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor 2:13 ESV). He explains that Christians have the mind of Christ, and so they can understand spiritual and theological themes; whereas, the secular person is left to their own natural cognitive devices, and so cannot understand the things of God. Paul refutes the “godless intellectualism”[1] that was being promoted in Corinth. The people of Corinth were overly fixated on human wisdom and the wisdom of the world, and they became culturally arrogant and addicted to power, wealth, style and sophistication. Thus, when Paul preached to them the message of Christ crucified, some considered it folly because the truth of the cross cannot be grasped by the best of human thinking or rhetorical strength, but it is received as a gift by faith and trust.[2] Paul did not compromise the gospel message by changing it to the whims and tastes of the secular Corinthians because that would be to follow the expectations of fallen and sinful humanity.[3]

According to Greg Bahnsen, any philosophy that submits to worldly wisdom or human tradition, instead of Christ, is vain deception and futile in its deductions. All wisdom and knowledge is from God and is located in Christ, and so humanity’s knowledge of the truth is contingent on God’s eternal knowledge.[4] Thus, Christians should root their thinking in Christ and submit “to his epistemic lordship rather than the thought patterns of apostate pseudo-wisdom.”[5] Bahnsen explains that the scriptures present God’s words, and so they have absolute authority and are the ultimate criterion of wisdom and truth. Christians must commit to this presupposition rather than following the secular mindset of neutrality— “a nobody knows as yet attitude.”[6]

Secular thinkers will claim that a neutral mindset, while engaging in study, is the superior intellectual method. They argue that such a neutrality comes from their lack of presuppositions or precommitments. However, this type of “coming from nowhere and going nowhere but making things up as we go”[7] is a myth and a useless intellectual exercise. In reality, no one is neutral, all have thoughts and assumptions. Christians are not the only ones with epistemological presuppositions. “Even those who claim to be ‘detached’ are in reality, servants of hidden precommitments and presuppositions.”[8]

The neutrality mindset in rampant in the present culture, and so “to believe in the triune God of Scripture who speaks and acts in history requires an act of apostasy from the assumed creed of our age.”[9] Christians should ground themselves in scripture, and as they are confronted with new ideas, they will be in a position to critically evaluate those ideas. While engaging with ideas, Christians should not be afraid to pull back on the leash when ideas veer off in the wrong direction—that is, when they advocate neutrality or relativistic truth claims.[10]

[1] Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians. NIVAC, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 56. [2] John Polhill, “The Wisdom of God and Factionalism: 1 Corinthians 1-4,” RevExp 80 (1983): 330 cited in Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 57. [3] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, 1 Corinthians, (Wilmington, NC: Glazier, 1979), 14 cited in Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 56. [4] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith. (Texarkana, AR: Covenant Media Foundation, 1996), 23. [5] Bahnsen, Always Ready, 24. [6] Bahnsen, Always Ready, 4.[7] Michael S. Horton. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011) EPUB edition, Introduction, Part I. A. “Drama: The Greatest Story Ever Told.” [8] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction 5th ed. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), EPUB edition, Part II, ch. 5, “Commitment and Neutrality in Theology.” [9] Horton, Christian, Introduction, Part I. A. “Drama: The Greatest Story Ever Told.” [10]David K. Clark, To Know and Love God : Method for Theology (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2003), XXV.