Keys to a recapitulatory Christology

Ephesians 1:10 says Christ sums up all things in himself, both in heaven and on earth.  Christology, then, recapitulates–or sees the recapitulation–of all things (including Scriptural exegesis) in Christ.

I think this is a lot more helpful than making verses say that Christ earned some legal status and transfered that legal status onto us.  One could argue that I am forcing the biblical text onto a recapitulatory grid.  That’s true, I suppose, but everyone does that and indeed, given what van Til taught us, it’s hard to avoid doing that.

The following verses seek to show that Christ “recapitulated” Israel’s story, Israel’s promises, and Israel’s inheritance.   We receive this, not by having some fictional legal status transfered to us, but in sharing in the body of Christ.  Christ gained these promises and in sharing in his body, which is Christ, we participate in these promises.

There are  hundreds of verses to that point, and I suppose dozens of counter-arguments, and I do not have time to examine either in full detail.   However, I will quote and refer to a Protestant author who has effectively reshaped the debate. Richard Hays has decisively and convincingly argued that Galatians 2:16 should be read as “the faith(fulness) of Jesus Christ” rather than “faith in Jesus Christ.”   While the actual Greek grammar is the subjective genitive (Hays’ reading), I won’t go into the technical details here, but will rather focus on the implications of Hays’ argument.

If Hays is correct, then saying the “faithfulness” of Jesus Christ makes Christ the active agent in salvation.   It means Jesus is doing something.  At this point the Calvinist will say, “Yes, Christ is doing something.  He is obeying the law and transfering that to our account.”   Technically possible, I suppose, but let’s place Christ within the narrative of Israel.   If Hays is correct, then this reading corresponds nicely to Romans 5–the Second Adam.   Jesus is not only acting as another Adam, but he is also acting as another Israel.  He is the faithful Israelite.  He is, in other words, recapitulating Israel’s story (when I do a book review of Hays’ work I will bring out other points).   To follow up on the previous line, Hays placing Jesus in the climax of Israel’s story.

Hays notes in his book that a weakness of traditional Protestant readings of justification and Galatians fail to show how justification and Christology have any real connection.  This is another way of paraphrasing Sanders’ complaint that justification is a side-issue to the real Pauline core:  participation in Christ.   Sanders is wrong, but he is onto something.  Justification is not a side-issue, but it doesn’t fit into the schematic the way Protestants typically make it fit.  When I finish Hays’ work I will bring out this argument.

One final point, if Hays is correct, then this argument makes better sense of baptism.  If Jesus is the True Israelite (indeed, the True Israel itself; cf. Matthew 2:15), and in Christ’ baptism he continued the story of Israel in a new way (or better yet, he recapitulated Israel’s story), then we, too, find ourselves in this saving, healing story if we also participate in Christ.   How do we identify with Christ?  We do so in baptism.   This doesn’t confer “magic salvation” points to us ala some crass construals of “baptismal regeneration.”  Baptism does save, not because of the magic powers of __________, but because it brings us into the locus of salvation:  Christ and his body the Church.

It was always hard to see how the sacraments were important given a hard reading of sola gratia.  If grace alone truly saved (indeed, especially if we were elect from all time), then we really didn’t have to get baptized.  I know, I know, God works through secondary causes.     But that’s just ad hoc theology.  If pressed to the edge, one has to admit that nothing, not even baptism, contributes to our salvation.   Yes, there are appeals to obedience and what not, but remember what sola gratia claims.   Baptism ends up being a fifth wheel.

On the other hand, if Hays’ reading is correct, then baptism, while “salvific,” does not become a “work” that gets me into heaven (the meritorious scheme has since been abandoned.  Merit has no place in narratival ontologies).

Introductory explorations on the new perspective on paul

The New Perspective on Paul, falsely so-called, is not a recent phenomenon.   I doubt I have any “new” light to shed on the topic.   On the other hand, I think I can pinpoint the key issues in the New Perspective and why the Reformed tradition reacted so wildly against it.

Obviously, there are many areas of contention between the NPP and Reformed camp, but I will only pick one area.  It concerns the phrase “works of the law.”  Does “works of the law” equal “man’s attempt to gain righteousness before God on his individual works” or does it mean “the ethnic boundary markers of Judaism”?

I maintain, with the NPP, that “works of the law” means “ethnic boundary markers.”   This reading actually makes sense of the whole fuss on circumcision in Galatians.   On the other hand, if Paul truly wanted to combat works-righteousness, then he wasted a lot of (precious) ink talking about Jewish rites.   Rather, if we say “boundary markers,” then the narrative (deliberate use of the word) of Galatians (and Romans) flows more smoothly.

The problem is not “how can I find a gracious God?” but “Given the mess Israel and the world are in, and the strange events of Jesus the Messiah, how can God be in the right?”

Test Cases

In Galatians 2:18 Paul says “if I rebuilt what I tore down I make myself out to be a sinner.”   The language of “rebuilding” and “tearing down” implies some kind of fence or wall.  What do fences and walls do?  They demarcate boundaries.   They say, “this and not that.”  What is Paul fussing about in Galatians?  He is dealing with the problem of circumcision and Jews and Gentiles eating at different tables.  In other words, he is angry because men are acting like they have different identities even though there is one Messiah.  Nobody is trying to “earn” his or her salvation by “merit” ala Pelagius.

Therefore, when Paul is rejecting works of the law, he is doing so in the context of circumcision.  But what was circumcision for in the Old Covenant?  It demarcated the identity of the covenant people of God.   If we keep this reading in mind, Paul’s exegesis of Genesis 12, 17, and 18 in Galatians 3 actually stays relevant to the point (on the other hand, insert “works righteousness” and it’s hard to see how the nations being blessed before Abraham was circumcised makes any sense).

Therefore, “works of the law” = “circumcision” = “Jewish identity rites.”

But why does the Reformed faith get so angry over the above exegesis?  While I reject sola fide the way Calvinists define it, nothing I’ve written above contradicts even their reading of justification.  Nothing above advocates earning “medieval merit” (in fact, I think the above reading refutes that).   Sure, they have to change the mindset of their systematic theologians, and perhaps need to start asking different questions, but since they chant “sola scriptura” even that should not be a problem).

So what is the problem?  The problem is if they accept this reading they can’t immediately start bashing Roman Catholicism.  (Yes, I reject Catholicism, too, but not for those readings.)  This is a big deal because Calvinism, being formed in the Augustinian dialectic, necessarily demands Catholicism as an antithesis.  (Keep in mind that Hegelianism isn’t simply thesis versus antithesis = synthesis.  Rather, the thesis posits it’s antithesis while simultaneously remaining the thesis.  I’m accepting Charles Taylor’s reading of Hegel on this point).   Therefore, if Galatians wasn’t written as the blast against Roman Catholicism, then Calvinists are in trouble.

I think it is more than that, though.  All traditions and communities have metanarratives.   Calvinism’s metanarrative, in its more honest moments, is that Roman Catholicism teaches merit-righteousness and Galatians and Romans refutes precisely that.

I think it is even more personal than that.  We can’t admit our heroes were on the wrong track.  The hagiography surrounding Luther and Calvin would put any Orthodox monk-author to shame.  Some go so far to identify their experiences with Luther even to falsifying their own childhood experiences (God pulled me off of a Harley at age 9, etc).  If Luther’s reading of Galatians is wrong, so the argument goes, then Luther is wrong.

While I do think Luther was wrong, the above argument is logically fallacious, and even when I was a Calvinist I told them as much.   They didn’t listen, though.   Narratives are powerful stuff.

More regarding Sanders on the Law

About halfway through with E.P. Sanders’ Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People.  It’s okay.  It is a good read and important in seeing where Richard Hays and NT Wright would later hone their arguments, but it isn’t as controvesial as people make it out to be.  Sure, Sanders denies inerrancy and has a rather low view of the Bible by evangelical standards, but so do hundreds of scholars in North America.   Quite frankly, given my background and training in New Testament studies, I don’t find Sanders all that remarkable.  Yes, he denies certain Reformed distinctives, but so do probaby 90% of respected New Testament scholars today.  What else is new under the sun?

Admittedly, his formulations on Second Temple Judaism represent a unique challenge to Reformed theology, but even given Reformed apologetics, the only other alternative to conservative Reformation readings of Paul were liberal Protestant readings–and Sanders’ reading is neither.

Is Sanders correct?   I think so, but I don’t rest with his particular conclusions.  I think he points in the right direction.  Sanders often admits his conclusions run into difficulties–difficulties that his mainstream Protestantism unnecessarily creates.  For example, given that it is likely St Paul contradicted himself on the Law, we must admit multiple canonical readings of Paul.   My response:  While this sounds honest, it also means we can take our thinking caps off.  If we admit that Paul could not have contradicted himself canonically, and the received apostolic deposit isn’t up for grabs, then we have to work harder and come to deeper conclusions.   (This is where N. T. Wright’s scholarship is obviously preferable).

In where I differ with E. P. Sanders

I am currently reading E. P. Sanders’ Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People. It is his expansion on his earlier work on the Apostle Paul.  He tries to correct some of the caricatures of his thesis and expand on other points.   It’s an interesting read because it is still an early “New Perspective” text.  One can see moves that Wright and Dunn will later make, but clearly different from the conclusions Wright will later draw.   Even in some parts of the New Perspective, Sanders is seen as the “dark uncle.”  I disagree with a lot of his conclusions, and I am not particularly thrilled by his lower view of Scripture, but I don’t find him all that controversial.

In any case, Sanders insists on translating Romans 3:27 as “principle of works/principle of faith” rather than “law of works/law of faith.”  I think given his reading of “nomos”  he thinks it is not warranted to speak of a “law of faith,” and in this case he is consistent.  However, I think this also weakens part of his thesis.  He wants to (correctly) see the law as “Jewish ethnic markers” and an “entrance requirement,” and from this assumes that “law of faith” is nonsensical.

However, I think we can indeed speak of a law of faith and still keep Sanders’ gains.  Richard Hays notes that Paul’s reading of Torah inevitably subverts the function of Torah for the Christian community.  Since the law promises the Messiah and the future inclusion of gentiles into the worldwide people of God, the law (for the Christian) is now the narrative of promise.  Therefore, we can indeed speak of “a law of faith.”

Conversion of the Imagination: Paul’s Reading of Scripture (review)

Hays, Richard.  The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2005.

In this book Hays develops many of his thoughts from Echoes.  He addresses criticisms and expands upon previously vague thoughts and points.  This book is a collection of some of his more prominent essays.

Hays employs a key concept throughout his work: metalepsis.  Metalepsis is when one text alludes to another text and evokes resonances beyond those explicitly cited (2).[i] Hays then gives his criteria for employing and recognizing metalepsis, or “echoes.”   The text must have availability—it must have been extant to its original hearers and users (this is a fairly obvious point).  Volume is the second criterion—how loud is the echo?  This will vary from a faint allusion to an overt citation.  While this appears subjective, Hays gives several points on how to recognize loud echoes in Scripture.   Thirdly, is the echo recurring elsewhere in a writer’s corpus?

Hays’ first essay deals with eschatology in Corinth.  Hays asks whether the Corinthians should be seen as “performing Isaiah’s script.”  Through identification in Christ, the Corinthian Church (and by extension ourselves today) were to see Gentiles brought in (Isa. 49:23; 60:1-16).  Hays ties this in with Scripture by noting Scripture is a narrative in which the Corinthians sought identification.   They participated in Israel’s story (1 Corinthians 10: 1-13) and in doing so fulfilled Israel’s proper goal—to bring the Gentiles to the worship of God.

In his next essay, “How did Paul read Isaiah?”, Hays advances one of his more controversial claims: Paul’s reading of Isaiah is ecclesiocentric and not primarily Christocentric (26).  Paul did not primarily appeal to Isaiah to prove the deity of Christ (as many appeals to Isa. 53 assume).  Rather, his reading of Isaiah points to a final eschatological people of God in which the Gentiles are included[ii] (this is key to Hays’ next few arguments in other essays).

Hays hits gold in his next few essays dealing with “the righteousness of God.”  He builds upon Ernst Kasemann’s thesis that dikaiosune theou means “salvation-creating power,” though he rejects Kasemann’s apocalyptic overtones.  The heaviest use of the phrase dikaiosune theou occurs primarily in Romans 3.  Hays notes that Romans 3 is an extended discussion on Psalm 143.   God must be seen as faithful to the covenant despite human unfaithfulness.  When read in its entirety Psalm 143 is a psalm that anticipates a salvation effected by God’s own righteousness (e.g., his saving power).   In conclusion, Hays blunts any talk of construing “righteousness” as imputation, but sees it as salvation-creating power.

Hays then has an extended essay on Abraham and justification.  He says any discussion of Romans 4 must take the previous paragraphs into accounot (3:27-4:1).  Paul’s problem is not “how to find acceptance before a wrathful God,” but to work out the relation of Jew and Gentile in Christ (69).  This means God justifies the Gentiles in the same way as Jews.


Reformed theologians are partly correct in that the Law condemns, but that’s not the Law’s primary focus, nor does it condemn in the way they think it does.  Hays points out the Law serves to identify the people of God.   Hays follows Dunn’s reading of ergon tou theou as marking the identity of the people of God.  If this reading is correct, Paul’s argument in Romans 3 comes into focus.   While it is true that Paul would forbid boasting in our meritorious works, why then does he make the point, if the Reformed gloss is correct, using such out of the way arguments against circumcision and other identity markers (e.g., “receiving the oracles”, etc)?

True, the Law does pronounce condemnation, but here Paul “spins” the way we normally see it.  Paul’s quotes several Psalms in Romans 3 to that point, but where the Psalms speak of condemning Israel’s enemies—Paul uses them to condemn Israel!  On the other hand, Paul is not offering a systematic doctrine of the Law.  Rather, he is destabilizing an entrenched Jewish mindset.

Hays’ final point on the law warrants reflection.  Hays ties his discussion of the Law in with his earlier point about dikaiosune theou to make his conclusion:  if the Law speaks of dikaiosune theou, as all say it does, and if dikaiosune theou means “salvation-creating power,” as Hays has capably argued, then Torah announces that God’s saving power is for all the nations (95ff)!  Paul’s reading of the law has undergone a fundamental hermeneutical shift:  1) Torah is now seen as a narrative of promise; and 2) The promise expressed in Torah is primarily for the Church now.

Hays final essays show Christ as the paradigmatic figure in the Old Testament.   Hays examines how Christ prays the Psalms and how believers can find their identification in him.  Of some interest is Hays’ essay on Habbakuk 2:4 and ho dikaios, the Righteous One.   Hays surveys Old Testament texts speaking of ho dikaios and possible NT parallels in the non-Pauline corpus.

Hays then notes Paul’s use of the phrase.  Paul used Hab. 2:4 in Romans 1.  Given its context, we see a revelation of God’s faithfulness before the nations and a coming eschatological judgment.  This language echoes most of Isaiah where it is promised that when God acts to intervene on behalf of “Israel,” he will bring salvation to all the nations (137).  Obviously, this reading is superior and clearer than the usual post-Reformation gloss on Romans 1.  Paul is not saying that an inward human disposition (e.g., faith) is the new way in which God’s faithfulness is revealed (which would have been odd, since the Jews had “faith” in God).  Rather, it is a response to theodicy:  in both cases how can God be faithful to the covenant in the face of human wickedness?


Hays successfully stays with his thesis throughout the book, though not all chapters are equally strong.  I think his last chapter on Paul’s use of Scripture is weak.  He started out by saying that Paul did not view Scripture as a “didactic database from which to draw prooftexts.”  There is a truth to this point, and Hays starts out well, but it seems halfway through his essay he realized that Paul did indeed appeal to the Old Testament didactically (cf. 1 Cor. 9).

Elsewhere, I wished Hays would have expanded some of his thoughts on the Law.  I agree with his and Dunn’s reading of “works of the law” as ethnic identity markers, but it would have strengthened his case considerably had he spent a few extra paragraphs arguing and developing that point, rather than consigning it to a footnote.

[i] While Hays’ model is satisfactory and explains the evidence nicely, it is still only a model and it is doubtful whether it will be acceptable to conservative Evangelical scholars.

[ii] I don’t think Hays is as controversial as either he or his critics maintain.  Let’s go with Hays’ reading at the moment—nothing changes.   Is not the church the “body of Christ?”  And in participating in the church do we not also participate in Christ?  Therefore, to affirm the Church is to affirm Christ.


Is Elder Macarius among the NPP?

Seriously, I know Elder Macarius of Optina was not part of the New Perspective on Paul.  That said, it’s now obvious that the New Perspective on Paul is not new.   Many Reformed polemicists would respond, “Of course, it’s simply repackaged Pelagianism and Roman Catholicism.”  Of course, such a remark is silly because the NPP denies merit theology and much of the heart of Roman soteriology, but many of NPP’s moves are certainly within the patrum consensus.

I am finishing the biography of Elder Macarius and the end of the book has a series of letters written to a young seeker.   Concerning faith and works Macarius writes,

For our salvation one needs not simply faith alone, but works also.  The words of the Apostle Paul:  By the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified (Romans 3:20) refer to the works of the Old Testament Law and not to the commandments of grace. (317).

This seems like it was taken from a page of James Dunn’s theology, but it predated Dunn 100 years.