The Central Core of the Religion of Paul
Peter J. Blackburn, New Testament B,1962
2. The Dominant Concern of Paul's Religion
Paul as a Jew - Pharisee, seeking salvation by fulfilling the Law; the significance of the experience on the Damascus road - personal encounter, divine grace, Paul a Christian.
3. The Place of "Justification by Faith"
dikaiow and dikaiwsiV chiefly in Galatians and Romans - related to background of these epistles, continuing in essence as the basis of acceptance with God and hence the basis of his "religion".
4. The Significance of en Cristw
An analysis of the use of this term chronologically through Paul's epistles, seeking to assess at each point the extent to which it is a "mystical" term and thereby assessing evidence for development of Paul's thought and experience.
5. The Extent of Rabbinic and Hellenistic Influences on Paul
Jewish-O.T. background of thought; perhaps en Cristw a distinctive Christian experience; superficial influence of Hellenism because preaching to Gentiles.
"The primary task is to define the position of Paul. Is he the first stage of the Hellenising process, or is his system of thought. like that of primitive Christianity, to be considered as purely Jewish-eschatological? Usually the former is taken for granted, because he detached Christianity from Judaism, and because otherwise his thoughts do not seem to be easily explicable. Besides, it was feared that if the teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles, as well as primitive Christianity, were regarded as purely Jewish-eschatological, the problem of Hellenisation of the Gospel would become so acute as to make the possibility of solving it more remote than ever." So wrote Albert Schweitzer in 1911 in the Preface to his book, Paul and his Interpreters.
Scholarship has gone a long way since then, and the issue is still a matter of contention. If anything, the view which sees a great deal of Hellenism in Paul is falling into disfavour. For reasons of time and space, this essay cannot set out to review the voluminous literature published on the subject. In fact, the scope of this essay has been taken to consist in an evaluation of some important passages of the primary material. If these evaluations are inconclusive, it may be because the issues have been too often overstated. This undecidedness will be seen especially in the section on en Cristw. The study has, however, brought a strong conviction of the continuity of Paul's thought, even if there are developments.
2. The Dominant Concern of Paul's Religion
Key to the understanding of the elements lying at the heart of Paul's Christianity is the realisation of the dominant concern of all his religion - using this term to include the time before he became a Christian. It may be that the "motive" of his religion was the same though its content in both theology and in experience changed.
In seeking the motive of Paul's Judaism, his epistles are the chief source of the scanty information available. There is, however, a certain amount of evidence in Acts - provided, of course, this can be accepted as Pauline. It seems that, even if Paul's speeches in Acts are not regarded as verbatim reports, their features are surely authentically Pauline, having been written by an intimate travelling-companion.
It is in his defences in chapters 22 and following that he makes reference to his former life as a Jew. He had been a Pharisee (23.6), having been "educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers" (22.3) and living "according to the strictest party of our religion" (26.5). According to the teaching of the Pharisees, he had believed in the resurrection of the dead (23.6) - apparently a resurrection of both just and unjust (24.15) - on account of which he had always taken pains "to have a clear conscience towards God and toward men" (24.16). He hoped for an ultimate salvation which was only possible through perfect fulfilment of the Law.
This hypothetical reconstruction of Paul's inner life as a Jew is supported by his portrait of the Jews in the epistles. It is not unnatural that this portrait was largely moulded by his own experience of the faith and practice of the Jewish religion. Indeed his epistles are not lacking in evidence that he considered himself at quite an advanced stage of Judaism, in sincerity, earnestness and zeal.
In Galatians, possibly the earliest of his epistles, he wrote, "You have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers" (1.13,14). There is a hint of this autobiographical touch in Romans 10.2, as he writes, "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened." In his statement in Philippians 3.5,6 of the extent to which he was steeped in the Jewish religion, he is able to claim, "As to righteousness under the law, blameless." He goes on to express his desire to "be found in him [i.e. Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law..." (v. 9). This agrees with his characterisation of the Jews. Essentially they sought acceptance with God by a righteousness of their own, a righteousness based on the Law (see Romans 2.17-20; 9.31; 10.3; cf. Galatians 2.15ff; 3.10).
The Damascus road experience did not alter the importance of salvation in Paul's religion. However, this was not then solely an eschatological hope but also a present reality. To that extent salvation became not the goal but the motivating source of his religion. This is the point of resolution of the discussion later concerning the relative positions of "justification by faith" and "in Christ" in Paul's religion. That the former is found almost entirely in the earlier epistles, Galatians and Romans, while the latter is present (it seems) fairly uniformly, may simply indicate that the apostle was intent on answering a different problem.
There is strong evidence throughout his epistles that the radical change in his religion was with regard to the means of salvation - grace and not works. It is precisely because salvation for Paul was centred on the divine act rather than on human achievement that there is an apparent shift in emphasis from "justification" to en Cristw. Once the fact of grace was acknowledged as the basis of salvation, the content of the present experience needed exposition.
There has been some debate concerning the significance the Damascus road experience had for Paul. For Paul, was this confrontation by the living Christ chiefly the beginning of his en Cristw experience or did it have further theological implications? Certainly, practical rather than theological implications seem to be foremost as he recounted the experience to Agrippa (Acts 26.16ff). It is futile, however, to try to assess what were the implications for him at the time. Neither present-day reconstructions nor Paul's own reflections can be a sure guide here. At best, the significance he gave to it later deserves consideration.
The only explicit reference in his epistles appears to be in 1 Corinthians 15.8ff where the experience is used in support of the resurrection of Christ. This is significant in view of emphasis on a supposed dichotomy between the earthly Jesus and Paul's heavenly Christ. If the experience demonstrated to him beyond doubt that Jesus had risen from the dead, this was surely the basis of en Cristw. But further, this experience radically affected the orientation of his life and thought, for he became a Christian, and not merely a Jew who believed that Jesus had risen.. The fact of the resurrection established that Jesus was the Christ. This had been quite untenable to him before, an assertion that demanded the persecution of Christians. It is noteworthy that the point recorded by Luke of his early preaching in Damascus is that he was proving that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9.22). While it is difficult to distinguish between the realisation of a moment and reflection over a period of time, the experience established the primary position of grace in Paul's religion as the basis of salvation. No longer could he describe himself in terms of his own self-achievement (as Philippians 3.5,6 reflects), but in terms of God's grace (1 Corinthians 15.10). It is not a matter of having worked out the implication of the Incarnation - he knew that salvation begins on the divine side, that is comes by pure grace which man has not deserved and cannot earn.
Basicly, then, the dominant concern of Paul's religion was salvation. As a Jew, he had sought salvation by works of the Law. In his experience on the road to Damascus, he underwent, by means of a confrontation with the living Christ, a radical change by which God's unmerited grace became the basis both for ultimate salvation and for present living.
3. The Place of "Justification by Faith"
Although dikaiow and dikaiwsiV are chiefly found in Romans and Galatians among the Pauline epistles, the concept of "justification by faith" is an important counterpart of his idea of salvation by grace alone. Some indication has already been given why it holds a small place "arithmetically" in his writings. The statement in Ephesians, "By grace you have been saved through faith" (2.8) is equally a statement of the same reality though the metaphor of justification is not used. Nowhere does Paul depart from the position that people are saved by the act of God, nor does he cease from affirming that the means of acceptance with God is faith. It can therefore be asserted that "justification by faith" had continuing significance as indicating that means. The more explicit statement was required by the circumstances behind the writing of the two epistles in question.
Galatians was clearly written to some of Paul's converts who were in grave danger of adulterating the gospel he had proclaimed with elements of Jewish legalism - these included especially circumcision, but also observance of the Jewish calendar and possibly Jewish food-laws. This tells in favour of a date for Galatians prior to the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 (though it is possible Paul did not quote the apostolic decree since he wished to concentrate attention on the principles involved. It is admittedly odd, however, that there is not even an allusion to the decree if a later date is taken). But quite apart from the question of date, the situation called for a strong defence of the principles of the gospel. Consequently, he argues strongly for grace as the principle of acceptance with God.
After describing his experience as a Christian (2.20), he continues, "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness were by means of the law, then Christ died unnecessarily1" (v. 21). He does not despise a life of goodness - indeed, it is the "fruit of the Spirit" (5.22ff). But the fulfilling of the Law cannot lead to acceptance with God, for the principle of the Law demands perfect obedience and pronounces a curse on all who fall short (3.10ff). But this curse has been removed by the act of God in Christ, and the only necessary condition from the human side is faith - an acceptance of and reliance on this act of grace.
So in this epistle he emphasised "justification by faith", by which he meant that, since salvation has been made freely available by God's grace in sending Jesus Christ, the basis of our acceptance with God is faith in this divine act. It was on the grounds of a compromise at this point that he charged Cephas at Antioch (2.11ff). He perceived that Peter and the others did not "walk uprightly with regard to (proV) the truth of the gospel." Peter knew as well as he that "a man is not justified by works of the law, but by faith in Christ," and the purpose of believing in Christ was to be justified by faith in him and not by works of the law.2 This is a continuing principle of the Christian life. A person is not justified by faith and then sanctified by the Law. This is why he states that those who, after becoming Christians, seek to be justified by the Law are "severed from Christ" (5.4).
Paul does not, however, deny that the Law has a place in God's plan. Its function is that of the paidagwgoV - the trusted male attendant, in Greek and Roman households, who had the general supervision of the boy, and saw him safely to and from school. The Law could thus bring us to Christ3 - that is, it could bring us to the point of acknowledging our own inability to justify ourselves - so that we might be justified by faith in Christ (3.24).
Now while in every aspect of religion here grace is the source and faith the means, "justification" - acquittal by, and acceptability to God - is not all. Certainly, in his defence in this epistle it takes the foremost place. Yet in his practical exhortations reference is made to the life in the Spirit. Although uses of en Cristw do not clearly refer to the experience, is not 2.20 a statement of en Cristw experience?
The background and purpose of Romans cannot be quite so undeniably expressed. At best, the situation has to be reconstructed. If the concluding chapters are accepted as part of the original, the epistle can be fairly certainly dated at about AD58 when the apostle was on his way with a relief collection to Jerusalem, after which he planned a visit to Rome on a proposed mission to Spain (Romans 15.23ff. Cf. Acts 19.21). For this purpose he would have needed the active support of the Christians in Rome. However, while they were widely known as a vigorous church (1.8), they had not yet benefitted from apostolic ministry. He would not be "breaking the ground" in Rome, but there was yet some spiritual gift which he desired to impart (1.11).
Perhaps a more serious matter was the possibility of Jewish opposition when the "apostle to the Gentiles" came to a church largely (though not solely) Gentile in composition. Already Christianity had caused a stir in Jewish circles in Rome - if, that is, we may identify the incident of Acts 18.2 with Suetonius' statement, "Since the Jews were continually making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome."4 He would have needed certain support, unhindered by divisions within the church or by grave misunderstanding from without. Against some sort of background like this, he undertook to expound the basis of the Christian faith. This he did along the same lines as in Galatians but in a more systematic way.
Once again, "justification" or acquittal by God comes from the divine side - by grace, through the divine act in Christ (3.24,26; 5.9; 8.30,33). It is impossible that a person could be justified by his own deeds, "the works of the law," and since justification is from the divine side the necessary human response is faith (3.20,26,28,30; 4.5; 5.1). This is not to say that for Paul in this epistle "justification by faith" is the totality of the Christian religion. In fact, he has quite a deal to say about the new life in Christ and life in the Spirit; but "justification by faith" does indicate the basis of acceptance with God and therefore is the basis of (because it carries the possibility of) the other aspects of his religion.
Apart from a reference in 1 Corinthians 6.11 (and on the dating taken here, this would come in time between the other two epistles), the only other explicit reference to the doctrine is Titus 3.7, "...so that we might be justified by his grace...", but this raises the whole question of the authenticity of the Pastorals. The case against the authenticity of these epistles has been over-stated and the whole question may well need reconsidering.
(a) The historical problem of how they fit into the history of Acts is inconclusive. The argument from silence does not make it unlikely that Paul was released from his Roman imprisonment, and if Philippians is accepted as originating at Rome, there is positive evidence that he was expecting release soon (2.24). As the charge against Paul was so slight and the Empire had not officially taken a stand against Christians, it is unlikely that even Nero would have condemned him at this stage. The thought is quite contrary to the conclusion of Acts (28.30,31).
(b) The ecclesiastical problem has been over-stated, for the church organisation is clearly more primitive than in the time of Ignatius. The terms "bishops" and "elders" refer to the same people (e.g. Titus 1.5-7), presbuteroV being their title, episkopoV describing their function.
(c) The doctrinal problem appears to have more substance. However, it is not being recognised that the heresy combatted is not the developed second-century Gnosticism as was formerly assumed. The presence of stereotyped expressions such as "the faith" and "sound doctrine" may be paralleled with such uses of pistiV as in 2 Corinthians 13.5; Ephesians 4.5; Colossians 1.23; 2.7; 1 Thessalonians 3.2. These, while not in exactly the sense under consideration, at least show that Paul did not always use the word in a "stict Pauline" sense. This may be offset by noting that in 1 Timothy 1.5; 2.18,22; 3.8,10,15 and Titus 1.1, pistiV appears to be used in the so-called "Pauline" sense. The issue here is not as clear as is often made out, and the use of "the faith" and "sound doctrine" is not psychologically incompatible with the situation of an older man giving instructions to his younger colleagues. The very fact that they were leaders in the church makes more likely his designation of Christianity as "the faith" since they were already thoroughly versed in it, and it is to misunderstand Paul to think that he did not thoroughly instruct his converts in "sound doctrine" - what of the first of his letters, Galatians?
(d) The linguistic difficulties have been thoroughly analysed by P.N. Harrison. There are serious questions, however, as to the extent to which this kind of study is valid. Dr Harrison's list of 112 particles, prepositions and pronouns, etc., which appear in the Paulines but are excluded from the Pastorals, is impressive. Yet if this list is augmented with a further 93 participles, pronouns, prepositional forms, etc., it is seen that the Pastorals compare favourably with the other Paulines in the variety of this "connective tissue".5 There is no space here to discuss this matter fully, but it seems that the evidence against the Pauline authorship may not be as strong as is supposed. Since there are several sections which are undeniably Pauline, why submit to the greater difficulties of a fragment theory?
If this proposition is accepted, then there is a fragment of evidence (!) indicating that "justification by faith" continued to signify for Paul the means of a person's acceptance with God, and the argument from the silence of the intervening epistles can only show that his attention was engaged in other subjects. In reality, however, the absence of the "justification" metaphor by no means shows that the concept was not present. Surely the classic example which may be quoted is Ephesians 2.8-9 - "For by grace (th cariti) you have been saved through faith (dia pistewV); and this is not of yourselves (ex umwn), but the gift of God - not of works (ex ergwn), lest any man should boast."6
It appears, then, that "justification by faith", first stated in Galatians, and more systematically worked out in Romans, was of continuing significance for Paul, indicating the means by which sinful persons are acquitted before the righteous God - not by their own works, but by God's act of grace, received by faith. While this was but the beginning of Paul's religion, the principles it set out continued as its basis.
4. The Significance of en Cristw
Paul's characteristic expression for the Christian life is en Cristw. There has recently been a strong emphasis on Paul's "Christ-mysticism", but there is disagreement as to what the term en Cristw signifies. Is this so-called "union with Christ" an individual or a corporate reality? Is it primarily an assertion of "objective" status, or essentially a fact of Christian experience? Is it to be interpreted in terms of a Judaistic or Hellenistic background? There are questions raised by contemporary Pauline studies. However, rather than answer these general questions by further generalisations, it may prove more profitable to consider the use Paul makes of the expression throughout his epistles.
In the earlier epistles, the corporateness of the term appears to be foremost. This is seen in Galatians in his manner of referring to the churches in Judaea which are en Cristw (1.22). In this connection the term appears to be synonymous with "Christian", which term Paul never uses. This may be true, especially when describing or addressing a particular body of believers (e.g. 1 Thess. 1.1; 2.14; 2 Thess. 1.1; 1 Cor. 1.2; Eph. 1.1; Col. 1.2; Phil. 1.1). They are among those who have the common faith in Christ; they are the churches, the sanctified, the saints, the brethren... en Cristw. The reference is to a corporate participation in Christ as Christians, rather than to a mystical union with him - though it could mean this.7
This is possibly the same significance which should be seen at Gal. 5.6, while at 2.4,17; 3.14, en Cristw is almost equivalent to an instrumental dative ("almost" is used advisedly since particularly in 2.4 this is by no means the only significance). Some modern translations (notably RSV and NEB) have taken en Cristw Ihsou at 3.26 as a phrase signifying union with Christ, NEB going as far as to translate it by "in union with Christ Jesus." To translate thus in this instance would imply a "faith-union" rather than a "mystical union," though this depends on the interpretation given to eiV Crhston ebaptisqhte. The translation in fact has probably been influenced by an emphasis on an incorporation into Christ in baptism. Even at face value this translation is difficult to maintain. The translation fails signally because it makes an unnatural separation between the terms pistewV and en Cristw Ihsou. The addition of thV, it is true, would have placed the matter beyond doubt, yet the construction is paralleled in Col. 1.4. There is no doubt as to the way in which Jerome understand this - Omnes enim filii Dei estis per fidem quae est in Christo Jesu (Vg). There can be little doubt that the faith relation is primary here. V. 27 is not the ground for en Cristw Ihsou, but rather for uioi Qeou. Having been baptised into Christ they have put on Christ - they are therefore the sons of God through faith in him. But v. 28 - "you are all one in Christ Jesus" - brings back the notion of corporate participation. In this participation are no monopolies, no distinctions, all are one - equally needy, equally recipients of the heavenly grace. A parallel point is made in 5.6.
The Thessalonian letters reflect the same position. 1 Thess. 4.16 indicates a new feature - "the dead in Christ." Yet again this may simply signify "Christian". Again, 5.18, "the will of God in Christ Jesus for you," and in 2 Thess. 3.12. "we command and exhort you in the Lord Jesus Christ," seem to have no overtones of a Christ-mysticism. In the former, "the will of God in Christ Jesus" seem to refer primarily to "the saving will of God" (cf. v. 9). In the latter (which is paralleled in 1 Thess. 4.11), the sense is equivalent to the en onomati tou Kuriou Ihsou Cristou of v. 6.
In 1 Corinthians, there is nothing new in the usage at 1.2,4; 3.1; 4.10,15,17; 15.18,31; 16.24. In 1.30, however, more explicit reference is made to union with Christ. There is here a question of the interpretation of ex autou and este. This is reflected in such modern translations as RSV and NEB. The RSV have taken ex to signify the source of their being (i.e. living) in Christ - thus, "He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus..." The NEB has taken ex to indicate the originator of the relationship which is described as "being in Christ Jesus" - thus, "You are in Christ Jesus by God's act..." On this former interpretation, "in Christ Jesus" may simply signify "as a Christian", linking this passage with the earlier usage. On the latter, it indicates quite plainly that union with Christ which is the later usage. From the immediate context either interpretation is possible. He is stating the central place of God with regard to their religion whether by origin or by continuance (the RSV could mean either). Thus there can be no cause for boasting. A strong case can be made out for the NEB rendering on the grounds of Paul's emphasis here on God's call. Further, the clause following seems to point more definitely to the later en Cristw - "who has been made wisdom for us by God, both righteousness and sanctification, and redemption..." Surely the umin refers to "us" as we are "in Christ Jesus."
In translating 15.19, RSV and NEB are again divided (though with foot-notes giving alternatives). The question is whether en Cristw is to be taken with th zwh tauth preceding or with hlpikoteV following.8 Grammatically, it seems indefensible to take monon with th zwh tauth (as NEB) - this must relate either to the whole clause (if en Cristw is taken with hlpikoteV) or to hlpikoteV (if en Cristw is to be taken with th zwh tauth). This would render the clause either, "If all we have done is merely having hoped in Christ in this life..." (so Alford), or, "If in this life in Christ we have only hoped..." The difficulty with the latter (and indeed with any idea of the developed en Cristw at this point) is that it frankly regards the en Cristw experience as a reality whereas this would be unexpected here immediately following the apostle's reductio ad absurdum. The only solution is to take "having hoped in Christ" to refer to a faith-relationship - or to regard "this life in Christ" as a simple "this Christian life". V. 22 is clearer here - "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive." The meaning appears to be not so much representative as "participating in the nature of..." But even here it may not be possible to give en Cristw the full strength of its later meaning, as those described seem to be equally described as oi tou Cristou.
The reference of 2 Corinthians 5.17, however, is unmistakable - "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (RSV).9 The death due from all people had been accomplished in the death of Christ (v. 14). As he died on their behalf and in their stead, so they are to live to him whose death and resurrection alike were uper autwn (v. 15).10 But from this point (apo tou nun - since the event of the death of Christ) no person is to be regarded kata sarka, "according to the flesh", from the point of view of human individuality. This is no longer the way in which we regard Christ (v. 16; cf. Rom. 1.3ff). This, by inference, is no longer the way in which we regard those who are already in Christ, together with all those others for whom Christ died. But Paul is speaking here not of the potential but of the actual. The fact of a person's being en Cristw involves kainh ktisiV - the life in Christ is a new mode of existence. Those things pertaining to the old mode of existence have given place to those pertaining to the new. It is plain that Paul has in mind, not so much an external incorporation into the visible body of Christ, as a dynamic inner relation to Christ himself resulting in a total reorientation of the life. Emphasis needs to be laid on the essentially dynamic nature of this fellowship. It is true that his description of reconciliation seems to be in these terms: that Christ's death counts instead of ours and his righteousness for ours, if we are in him. This is essentially justification by faith. Here it is carried further - to borrow the old theological "jargon", "the righteousness of God" here spoken of is not only "imputed" but also "imparted" (note genwmeqa).
It is not surprising to see this developed further in Romans 6. The serious question is with regard to Paul's use of "baptism" here. Does this refer simply and solely to the means of incorporation into the visible body? If it does, we may summarily conclude that the totality of the en Cristw experience is bound up in this outward act. This position would be quite unprecedented in all Paul's work and directly counter to the tenor of the rest of this epistle. There can be no doubt that the outward act is alluded to, as the means of incorporation into the visible body, but the main reference is to the incorporation of the believer into a vital union with Christ. There are three constructions in the New Testament which follow baptizw, indicating the element in which baptism is carried out - viz. en, eiV, or the dative. The incorporation into Christ not only involves an incorporation into his death and hence the fulfilment of the death due from us in him, but also a present participation in newness of life with a certain hope of participation in his resurrection also. Here Paul's "realised eschatology" is clearly seen. In a real sense, the present life in Christ is the resurrection life (cf. v. 11), but there is still a future element (note the continued use of the future in this passage). This sort of emphasis can be seen earlier in Gal. 2.20, though it receives fuller expression here.
Rom. 8.1 gives the link in this epistle with "justification." Here en Cristw appears as a faith relationship bringing the believer into vital union with Christ. Hitherto he has treated "justification by faith", but if this were all, it could easily lead to theoretical salvation and practical frustration (as described in chapter 7). The deliverance is effected through Christ and henceforth there is no condemnation to those in him - i.e. to those who are united to him by faith. Yet his is not only faith, for the life in Christ is effected by the Spirit of God - and we are in the Spirit if the Spirit dwells in us (v. 9; cf. Jn 15).11
The Captivity Epistles afford few specific examples of this concept of en Cristw. Reference is probably to be seen in Eph. 2.10; Col. 1.28; Phil. 4.7. The resurgence of en Cristw in the Pastorals, especially in 1 Timothy, is noteworthy. Whatever is thought of the more "technical" use of some key words (see earlier), every aspect of the Christian life is certainly considered as en Cristw .
It appears, then, that en Cristw , while occurring quite frequently in Paul's epistles, does not clearly refer to some kind of Christ-mysticism as often as one might expect. The idea it expresses appears quite early (e.g. Gal. 2.20), but in the use of the term itself some development is discernable in Paul's thought and hence probably more generally in his religion. There is a danger of this being over-emphasised, as any development is more by way of gradual growth than by radical change. In essence the foundations of the en Cristw experience are traceable to the Damascus road experience - not that it ended there. Rather it began there, a dynamic transforming fellowship, an intimate personal union with Christ.
5. The Extent of Rabbinic and Hellenistic Influences on Paul
This subject is so extensive that no adequate treatment of the different view-points and conclusions can be made in this essay.12 In any case, this can only be seen here with regard to the central core of Paul's religion.
There is no doubt that the most basic contribution to Paul's thought came from Judaism. All of his early training had been in the religion of the Jews,13 and the way in which this provided the dominant concern of his religion has already been considered. From that point the Jewish-O.T. background of "justification by faith" is evident. His conversion brought the awareness that acceptance with God comes by grace and not by works. His very emphasis on this difference indicates the Jewish background of this aspect of his thinking. In fact, his use of the Old Testament indicates that in the light of God's grace in Christ he was turning from current Judaism to truer Old Testament foundations.
It is with regard to his en Cristw that the Judaistic background is questioned. A. Richardson,14 however, denies that the expression has anything to do with "the mysticism of St. Paul." Rather it is related to the Hebrew concept of "corporate personality" and "the biblical doctrine of representative man." In many signal instances this seems to be true, but it fails to do justice to the Christian aspect of his thought. The very fact that justification is by "faith" makes some form of realised eschatology possible. If salvation is not simply a future event but a present reality, then participation in the life of the risen Christ and union with him becomes possible as actual experience. Richardson denies the presence of a "Christ-mysticism" and lays much stress on incorporation into the Church. This parallels the Old Testament concept of the people of God, but Paul seems to be referring to a distinctive Christian experience.
With regard to Hellenism, points of contact are often over-emphasised. They were mainly superficial - not related to the basic content of his thought, but introduced principally to illustrate his thought to Gentile readers. Linguistic influences came mainly by way of the LXX, and the notion that en Cristw is at base related to the Mystery religions is now largely discredited.15 This is not to deny any influence. Perhaps Hunter's statement gives a guide to a balanced view - "St. Paul was a Jew, living mostly in a Gentile environment, who had become a Christian."16 On this description, one would expect to find his ideas fundamentally Christian, against a background of Jewish thought, expressed and illustrated in terms which would make them meaningful to Gentile readers. More detailed and conclusive study of this here is not possible.
The central core of the religion of Paul is seen in his quest for salvation, begun as a Jew seeking to make himself right before God by works of the Law, reaching a crisis in his acknowledgement that justification comes from God's side. No longer was salvation simply a future event to be hopefully waited for, but a present reality of living in resurrection power. He uses en Cristw to signify dynamic personal union with the living Christ. Grace is not "cheap" for Paul. This is not because anything other than sheer grace is the basis of acceptance with God, but because faith brings the Christian into this transforming union.
1 dwrean, usually "as a gift, freely, for nothing," here takes the significance "without just cause, unnecessarily." Cf. use in John 15.25.
2 Alford argues with some cogency that the speech should continue to the end of the chapter. It has seemed to me that at least vv. 15,16 may well be addressed to Peter. Whatever view is taken, Paul's manner of writing seems to include such as Peter and those with him in the hmeiV of v. 15.
3 eiV Criston has been taken by most modern translations as "until Christ came", but this does not suit as well the meaning of paidagwgoV.
4 Vita Claudii, xxv, 4. Chrestus is almost certainly a mis-spelling for Christus. The mistake is easily understood if inexact investigations were carried out.
5 See Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles and the Mind of Paul, Tyndale, London, 1956.
6 One hesitates after one long interpolation on authenticity to add another. Briefly, the authenticity of Ephesians is clear if the following points are considered: (a) the difference in manner and style is due to the absence of controversy; (b) the differences in vocabulary are accounted for by the subject-matter; (c) the more specific doctrine of the church is not to be taken as a mechanisation of en cristw; (d) the overwhelming external evidence favours the Pauline authorship.
7 It is often difficult and perhaps wrong to tie down Paul's use of en Cristw at any stage to entirely one aspect to the exclusion of all others. Though one may seem to predominate, it is not easy to say that the others are not present.
8 It appears to me that to link en Cristw with esmen to give "we who are in Christ" (as RSV) is to engage in unjustifiable grammatical gymnastics.
9 The terseness of the Greek defies close translation - wste ei tiV en Cristw, kainh ktisiV. It is off that the possible rendering suggested by the Vg (Si qua ergo in Christo nova creatura, vetera transierunt; ecce facta sunt omnia nova) us rarely considered by translators from the Greek.
10 There is a noteworthy change from pantwn to oi zwnteV and autwn. This may indicate the difference between potential and actual, and marks en Cristw as a definite relationship which must be entered.
11 For the close identification of the Spirit with the life in Christ, note the terms used in vv. 9-11.
12 An excellent short summary is given by E.E. Ellis in an article "Paul" in The New Bible Dictionary (IVF, London, 1962).
13 This, although his home was in Tarsus in Cilicia.
14 An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (SCM, London, 1958), p. 17ff.
15 A.M. Hunter, Interpreting Paul's Gospel (SCM, London, 1954), p. 17ff. See also A. Wikenhauser, Pauline Mysticism (Nelson, London, 1950).
16 op. cit. p. 17.
H Alford, The Greek Testament (revisions by E.F. Harrison), (Moody, Chicago, 1958)
W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (CUP, Cambridge, 1957)
W.F. Moulton & A.S. Geden, A Concordance to the Greek Testament (T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1950)
J.H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1961)
L Cerfaux (translated G. Webb & A. Walker) The Church in the Theology of St. Paul (Herder, New York, 1959)
L Cerfaux (translated G. Webb & A. Walker) Christ in the Theology of St. Paul (Herder, New York, 1959)
W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (SPCK, London, 2ed 1955)
C.H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1935)
J.D. Douglas (ed.), The New Bible Dictionary (IVF, London, 1962)
D. Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles and the Mind of Paul (Tyndale, London, 1956)
D. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction: the Pauline Epistles (Tyndale, London, 1961)
A.M. Hunter, Introducing New Testament Theology (SCM, London, 1957)
A.M. Hunter, Interpreting Paul's Gospel (SCM, London, 1954)
A. Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (SCM, London, 1958)
A. Schweitzer, Paul and his Interpreters (A&C Black, London, 1912)
E. Stauffer (tr. J. Marsh), New Testament Theology (SCM, London, 1955)
A. Wikenhauser, Pauline Mysticism (Nelson, London, 1950)
© Peter J Blackburn 1962, 1999
Note: In making this essay available on the Internet, Greek text has been changed from Graeca font to Symbol True Type font. This has meant presenting it without breathing marks, accents and subscripts.