Am I too harsh? What would Paul say about our day? Romans 5:1 Δικαιωθεντες ουν εκ πιστεως - The Impact of Such a Small Verse of Scripture One thing I have come to appreciate with James D. G. Dunn, aside from his enormous command of relevant sources (primary and secondary) is his readable yet decisively detailed critical analysis of even supposedly insignificant verse’s of Paul’s letters. Romans 5:1 is a truly perfect example! We read it in one second and move onto the meat in the chapter, and we blow a profound opportunity in missing the archetypal gist of what is meant. In what of Dunn’s resources I have in my library, there is more than enough to flesh this out, with stunning adroit insights. Enough ululation! Read on. Romans 5:1 - “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through Our Lord Jesus Christ.” For Paul, the Gospel was power, actual power, just as electricity is actual power with our capability to really see, experience, and use. Power and grace are nearly synonymous in Paul’s thought, his own experience of conversion was a transforming power in his view, a power of God (a flipping on of a lightswitch which really does have power to change our ability to function in a one-time dark place). “The Gospel as the power of God which effects salvation (Rom 1:16), God’s power transcending his all too human weakness (2 Cor 4:7; 13:4) and subsequently in Ephesians, “...the gift of the grace of God given me in accordance with the working of his power” (Eph 3:7) Everytime Paul uses “grace” think “electricity,” it is power. “The effect is the three great fruits of the spirit, love, joy, and peace - whose emotional dimension should not be ignored - he naturally attributes to God. ‘We have peace with God’ (Rom 5:1) The grace and peace from God the Father with which he greeted all his readers were no mere convention.” God’s grace, in Paul’s experience is power, not just a gift from Secret Santa, though it is a gift! He didn’t deserve it or ask for it but “like the whole salvation process [it] always lay with God’s initiative.” The focal point of the cosmic magnifying glass for Paul was εν χριστω - “in Christ”, and in accord “with Christ” Paul uses the metaphor of δια χριστος “through Christ” with the genitive at Rom 5:1 and many other places. The contrast of his bare use of δια with the accusative - “on account of Christ” is minimally used by Paul. “Paul’s motivation both in his conversion and in his missionary work, was not the inspiration of a heroic tale of what Jesus taught or did two decades earlier. He was not involved in a Society to Celebrate the Memory of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, his conception of Christ was of an open channel between God and his people, a living intermediary through whom God acted and through whom his people could approach him. Without getting into all the nuances, details, misunderstandings, and clarifications of the “New Perspective on Paul,” (which is now in its 2nd decade of debate!] this is actually the background to this mere little verse in Rom 5:1. I shall summarize the thousands of fascinating pages here very briefly, and from just a couple angles (there are many), showing the relevance of our verse. This verse is about timing, interestingly enough, a subject that is crucial to grasping Paul’s theology.. Romans 5:1 speaks as if the occasion of salvation has been accomplished already, once and for all. Δικαιωθεντες ουν εκ πιστεως - “Having been justified by faith” is the aorist passive used here as a completion. “The whole process of renewal and final redemption (Rom 8:23), the salvation as future is seen at Romans 5:9-10 the verb here is future indicative; 1 Cor 3:15, the whole process of ‘those who are being saved (1 Cor 1:18; 2 Cor 2:15) the present, and now Romans 5:1 showing a completion, leads us to a stunning theological and historical exegesis by Paul, his controversial mission to the Gentiles.” Romans shows how Paul knew salvation to be a process in time, and it's important that we see his interpretation of his historical understanding as either the beginning of the process, during the process, or when it is finished. To find out we look to his use of Abraham as his prime example of his most famous statement, “By faith we are justified not of works of the Law.” “Romans can be read as three different ways of understanding the Gospel. 1:18-5:4 good news for Jew and Gentile; 5:12-8:39 good news about the law; 9:1-11:36 good news about Israel.” It is at Romans 4:1-25 Paul begins using Abraham. Here is where careful heads-up reading pays dividends. Abraham is the “test case” for Paul’s view. In the Jewish view Abraham, of course, is the father of the nation, the archetype of the proselyte (turned from idolatry to God) and the archetype of the devout Jew. Now the key text for Paul is Genesis 15:6. וְהֶֽאֱמִ֖ן בַּֽיהֹוָ֑ה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ לּ֖וֹ צְדָקָֽה - “And he believed the Lord, Yahweh, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Paul notes the scripture in chronological time, first, before anything Abraham was commanded to do or become. Paul says - “Abraham believed (επιστευσεν episteusen - the aorist indicative active) God, and it was reckoned (ελογισθη from the verb λογιζομαι - aorist indicative passive) to him for righteousness,” (Rom 4:3). Paul knew how the astonishing faithfulness of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac shows his faith through his faithfulness in this tradition. That is not the foundation of his argument concerning Abraham here. “Paul’s response is much more carefully and plausibly argued than his earlier treatment of Gen 15:6 of ‘Abraham’s seed’ in Gal 3-4...instead he starts from the basic contrast between a human contract (involving payment for works done) and the divine-human covenant whereby God accepts humans who trust him despite their characteristically ungodliness (Rom 4:4-5), alluding back to Rom 1:18. This is how the ‘reckoned’ (of Gen 15:6) should be understood: the reckoning of a favor, not of a debt (Rom 4:4). The appeal, in effect, is to Israel’s recognition that God’s election of Israel [as his own people] was an act of pure grace, it is an act of God out of free love and mercy toward his guilt-laden chosen people Israel.” Now, of course, justification by faith is all about individual finding peace with God. It is individual, yes. And Paul uses Abraham in this capacity in his argument, he is the great archetype of justification by faith (Gal 3 and Rom 4) hence his comment at Romans 5:1 - “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s statement of faith doing the justifying, and not personal works rose from the conflict over how Gentiles as Gentiles could be expected to share the covenant blessings of Israel. So the focus, naturally, how Gentiles can get in. But Paul’s focus is “the full initial acceptance of Gentiles within the communities of faith in Christ.” New Testament scholar Mark Nanos says “What separates Paul and the influencers [in Galatians] is not their high evaluation of Torah but their relative evaluation of the meaning of Christ for these Gentiles...thus the issue becomes one of which party is doing the Law lawfully in the inclusion of these Gentiles - in view of the dawning of the age to come in Jesus Christ.” This is the key to his argument in Gal 3 and Rom 4. “Paul focused exclusively on what Genesis 15:6 says about Abraham being reckoned righteous there and then, hence the emphatic aorist of Romans 5:1. It was his Jewish opponents who pressed for justification depending on faithful obedience after Genesis 15:6; and Paul insisted on what we may call ‘conversion justification,’ and so to principally defend his claim that Gentile believers were already reckoned righteous, just as Abraham was when he believed.” In other words, “Paul’s justification through faith, was at the beginning of the salvation process. Romans 4 is all about Abraham being justified (reckoned righteous) near the beginning of his encounters, not at the end.” Abraham was righteous before he ever had any commandment to obey God for anything, whether circumcision (Gen 17 - after Gen 15 chronologically) or Genesis 22, offering Isaac. It was not doing “works” that made Abraham righteous, not being “faithful”, it was his belief up front, and apart from the Law, so to Paul, Abraham was the father of all who believe, whether circumcised or not, whether Jew or Gentile.” Notice, there are no barriers or exclusiveness. This further informs Romans 4:13-15. To enter Abraham’s heritage did not depend on doing the Law, that would render faith invalid and nullify the promise, in Paul’s interpretation. The Law’s different purpose was to measure God’s judgement. “That is why the promise is enacted εκ πιστεος, (from faith): in order that it may come to all Abraham’s descendants, not just to the Jews alone, but to all who share Abraham’s faith (Rom 4:16) rather than just those who are heirs from law. That - in Paul’s view - is how the promise to Abraham that he would be a father of many nations (Gen 17:5) comes to its fulfillment. (Rom 4:17 - “before whom he believed” - aorist declarative indicative). The declarative indicative “is routinely used to present an assertion as a non-contingent (or unqualified) statement.” In view of the necessity of Jewish circumcision, rituals form group associations and solidarity for protection, exchange of goods and services, and the psychology of belonging, achieving, being accepted and loved and useful. “Ritual serves to remind the congregation just where each member stands in relation to every other and in relation to a larger system...they work at the boundaries of communal identity.” Now the important point, one misunderstood by the majority of commentators and interpreters of Paul, “Paul did not really reject Judaism when he criticized the Law.” Paul did not oppose Judaism as he was a Torah observant Jew. While it is fundamentally true that “the Jews had opposed the Christian message, especially as it made room for Gentiles apart from the covenantal law observance. But God would remain faithful to the patriarchal promises, the promises made to Abraham and his descendants. The Jews, even non-Christian Jews, remained the children of Abraham for Paul, although he saw them as disobedient children for rejecting Jesus as the Christ.” The scholarship challenging the prevailing interpretations against Judaism and the Jews using Paul as their starting point notes “interpreters often do not listen to or judge either Judaism or Paul on its or his own terms. The traditional approach misjudge and condemns Jewish identity and the purpose of Torah thereby.” It is indeed one of the great tragedies of Christianity that while the Apostle Paul “used Abraham to stress Gentile inclusion within God’s promises at the same time safeguarding Jewish inclusion, a [short] hundred years later Justin Martyr used Abraham to argue for Jewish exclusion from God’s promises,” and this was the path Christianity traveled down for centuries. “Attention has too often focused on Paul’s use of Abraham in service to the theme of ‘justification by faith,’ at the expense of fully appreciating Paul’s use of Abraham in negotiating the relationship between Jew and Gentile.” From Paul’s inspired perspective the righteousness of God and Gospel is for all, Jew and Gentile (Rom 1:16-17). The Law had kept Israel pure from other nations up until the new age of Christ in Paul’s view. It is not opposed or the enemy now, but superseded, but necessary before the coming of faith (Gal 3:23). Now that the Gospel is for all through faith, like Abraham, any extra works in addition to faith was seen as useless for attaining righteousness and being children of Abraham. It is to deny faith and God’s grace and promises right now, today here and now. “For Paul, the gospel is the power of God in breaking down barriers (not least of the law) between Jew and Gentile… the gospel enables and expects such diverse peoples to sit and eat at the same table; the truth of the Gospel was at stake (Gal 2:11-21)...what was it at Antioch that he he saw as a threat to the fundamental truth of justification by faith? - precisely the refusal of one group of Christians fully to accept another group of Christians! At the very least, at the bare minimum, justification means fully accepting the other believer who is different from you, who disagrees with you...it is not possible to be right with God while refusing to respect and accept ‘the dignity of difference.’ ...Paul counted this the great mystery hidden through the ages but which had now been revealed through the Gospel: that God’s purpose from of old had been to include the Gentiles with his people. (Rom 11:25; 16:25-27; Eph 1:9-10; 3:3-6; Col 1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3… the very point of Romans and Galatians is the argument that the Gospel to the Gentiles is the fulfillment and climax of God’s saving purpose...Christ died to break down the wall, the law with its commandments and ordinances, the wall that divided Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:14-16). In him the two have become one. And the church is presented precisely as existing to be the place where the separated peoples come together as one (2:17-22). Such attitudes and misunderstandings which maintain barriers between peoples and races, which demean others and treat them as lesser importance before God, which refuse respect for others who see things differently, would not only have undermined the teaching of justification by faith, but would have crippled and destroyed Christianity had it not been challenged. To see others as a threat to my way of thinking and life and threaten my own people’s status (or rights/privileges) will always cripple and destroy mutual acceptance and community; to insist that others can be respected and accepted only if they share the same tribal loyalty and only if they formulate their faith in the words that we recognize, only if they act in ways we approve, narrows the grace of God and the truth of the Gospel in ways that would cause Paul the same anguish and anger he experienced in Antioch...Justification by faith speaks against all fundamentalisms which use biblical texts [or any other sacred scriptures] to justify unjust treatment of others, narrowing the grace of God to some sectarian formulation, which insists on the God-giveness of any policy or practice which demeans the other - the Gentile - which demands as condition of Christian [or Muslim, or Mormon or Jewish] acceptance,” denies God’s grace and Gospel of all are allowed to come to Him. Christians who sneer in self-righteousness that Mormons are not Christian like them because they believe in a different Christ (different understanding of Him) or have rituals they don’t approve of is an obvious example. Mormons, you have no right to sit smiling puffed up in your so-called persecuted arrogance either, as you don’t take down the barriers of your own baptisms, confirmations, temple endowments for all others either. When was the last time you invited Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics or Jews into your temple endowment sessions, church meetings and scripture studies? You are just as heinous, if not worse, in your own self-righteous erected barriers against others who don’t think like you or act like you or eat like you or smell like you in order to be “a peculiar people.” You shame others who don’t agree with your own interpretations of scripture, prophets, the Word of Wisdom, revelation, and Jesus as badly as other Christian denominations do. You present fake faith promoting miracle stories everywhere in print in order to impress others to join your “Only One True Religion” the only one with God’s “proper” authority, while all others are apostate. And all in the West act the same shaming ways to the Muslims, and vice versa. All that is built in the organized churches these days are barriers against all others so as not to contaminate your own precious righteousness and celestial second anointed justifications, while constantly non-stop arguing against, refuting, and helping pass laws against other religions all in the name of Christ and love, while remaining tax exempt wallowing in billions of dollars you hoard. What for, so you can alone make it to heaven to jeer, spit, and shit on others who weren’t as righteous as you? Is that what you think God and heaven is all about? You hypocrites with beams in your eyes who ignore the core, the dynamic heart of Jesus and His love for all, His Gospel meant for all, not just your own special chosen precious arrogant selves. You all ignore Paul, Jesus, and God the Father’s Gospel of total inclusion of all his creation and children, imagining the judgement is going to be all against those others, not us, the special chosen! We are the exception! God is on our side! Ignorant arrogant pusses. The only other glorious thing the Gospel offers you all is repentance. And you have plenty of sins to get rid of and begin acting and living like you believe Jesus. That includes all you prophets, apostles, 70’s, teachers, preachers, elders, ministers, and congregations, street gangs, televangelists, politicians, cops and robbers, gangs and thugs, sexists, discriminators and racists. Only when you quit worrying about your own puffed up self-chosen precious labels of which religion you belong to (in the Gospel, there is only one religion, love of God and Other) in order to get to heaven - the highest level in the Celestial Kingdom, will God accept you. No more Greeks, Gentiles, Bahai’s and Muslims, and Jews, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Quakers, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all others too damn numerous to actually name. Just only what Jesus died for, the unification and coming together in love of all, without discrimination, denomination or judgement. That, after all is the very definition of At-One-Ment. That would, in very deed, be Good News if that happened! Then indeed could Romans 5:1 have meaning for us today in our world, and finally be completed - “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Endnotes 1. James D. G. Dunn, “The Theology of Paul the Apostle,” Eerdmans, paperback, 2006: 48. Cf. 319-323. (Hereafter cited as “Theology.” 2. Theology, p. 48. 3. Theology, p. 319. 4. Theology, p. 406. 5. Theology, p. 406. 6. James D. G. Dunn, “The New Perspective on Paul,” Eerdmans, 2005: 56. (Hereafter cited as “Perspective.” 7. James D. G. Dunn, “Beginning From Jerusalem, Christianity in the Making,” vol. 2, Eerdmans, 2009: 892, note 132. (Hereafter cited as “Beginning.” 8. “Beginning,” 891-892; Cf. “Perspective,” p. 370 - “It was nothing that Israel was or had done which caused God to choose them as his people, to enter into covenant with them, only his love for them and loyalty to the oath he had promised to the fathers.” 9. “Perspective,” p. 196. 10. Mark Nanos, “The Irony in Galatians,” Fortress Press, 2002: 229. 11. “Perspective,” p. 71-72. 12. “Perspective, p. 72. Cf. p. 78. 13. “Beginning,” p. 892. 14. “Beginning,” p. 893. See Daniel B. Wallace, “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Zondervan, 1996: 449. 15. Nanos, p. 196. 16. Paula Fredriksen, “From Jesus to Christ, The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus,” Yale University Press, 1988: 161. 17. Jeffrey S. Siker, “Disinheriting the Jews, Abraham in Early Christian Controversy,” John Knox Press, 1991: 13. 18. Nanos, p. 226. 19. Siker, p. 27. See p. 29, “While we view Judaism and Christianity as two separate religions, Paul did not. 20. Siker, p. 29. Cf. Dunn, “Perspective,” p. 471-473. 21. Dunn, “Perspective,” pp. 32-34.