Ecclesial Election

Ephesians 1:4,

Just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world

“in Him” = the Person of Christ, including his “body.”  His body cannot be separated from the church.   Therefore, election is in the context of the church.

Further biblical thoughts,

In the OT, election is almost always corporate (in fact, I think it is always corporate, but I am not 100% sure).  If one acknowledges the corporate force of election in the OT, which is not debatable, one has to ask why the bible suddenly shifts to personal unconditional election in the New Testament.  Are the Baptists right after all?  But if one assumes a corporate reading throughout, this problem does not exist.


Don Garlington has written a thirty page response to Piper’s (admittedly old) book on imputation (I realize I am five years behind the debate on the New Perspective.  Actually, I’m not.  I read all this stuff five years ago, but I have been reexamining the issues for other reasons).  Garlington makes a number of interesting observations that should give many New Perspective readers pause (of which I am one).   Outside the conceptual framework of medieval Catholicism, Calvinism derives its merit imputation theology from Romans 4, primarily.  One has to admit that Calvinists don’t simply make up the argument from nowhere.   Paul does use the word logizomai which has connotations of “impute” for later English speakers.  Garlington gives his reasons why that is not the best translation for Romans 4.

Garlington’s paper is interesting, but it is not the main point here.   I was listening to the exchange between Richard Gaffin and N. T. Wright.  They got to the problem of imputation in Paul, specifically appealing to the word “reckon.”   Gaffin made a surprisingly strong case for “reckon” = “impute.”  Wright’s rebuttal was interesting.    Wright acknowledged the force of “reckon,” though he like Garlington said that given the context of the Abrahamic story, other connotations of logizomai are more faithful to the passage.  Wright then admitted that imputation was a biblical concept.  He said we should read imputation language, not in Romans 4 but in Romans 6–baptism.  Through our baptism we reckon ourselves dead to sin.  We are baptized into the death of Christ, and have that reckoned to us.   If one wants to insist in “imputation” language in the Pauline corpus, I don’t mind transferring it to the baptismal passages in Romans 6.

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 the Law-Gospel dialectic proto-liberalism?

I didn’t know whether to categorize it as “law-gospel” or “Republication of Covenant of Works,” or simply “Klinean theology.”  You get the idea.     The “law-gospel” divorce is much broader than the other two, but it includes them.  Truth be told, though, “Klineanism” is the more accurate term for the discussion below.

Many decades ago CH Dodd praised the apostle Paul for anticipating higher criticism (JEDP:  the vile heresy that there are multiple–and often conflicting–authors of Torah).   Paul, per Dodd’s gloss, saw different strands of Deuteronomic teaching.   Now, we all know Dodd is wrong and few Reformed authors would want to associate themselves with liberalism, but I have to ask:   are they also Doddians, too?

How far removed from Dodd and the Documentary Hypothesis is the Reformed view that Torah contains both a faith principle and a works principle?  It was not without reason that post-liberal William Willimon said today’s evangelicals are tomorrow’s liberals.  Indeed.

The Klinean–and the unwitting Calvinist who follows Kline–posits a dialectic within Scripture which will ultimately deconstruct his worldview.

But it was only what St Paul had already written down!

Continuing with the posts on sola scriptura and canon.   The more well-read Evangelicals realize that St Paul does indeed commend the “traditions” to the Thessalonians and the Corinthians.   He says follow them.  They grant that Paul employed the concept of tradition.  However, they counter, these appeals t0 “tradition” are simply the oral form of what St Paul would later write down. Therefore, they conclude, appeals to a body of Sacred Tradition still binding on the church are meaningless.


1.  Where is the Scriptural evidence that this “tradition” is merely the oral form of what would later be Scripture?
2.  Assuming their objection is correct, the only way this interpretation makes sense from a sola-scriptura perspective is if what St Paul said is exactly the same thing as what was written down.   A little historical imagination shows how difficult that position.
3.  Even so, that is not how epistolary literature works.  In the 20th century there was a big move in conservative evangelicalism to view the letters of Paul (well, Romans really–the rest were simply extraneous footnotes to Romans) as “the ultimate in systematic theology.”  However, much 20th century biblical studies, in a move surprisingly similar to what the Orthodox church always believed, realized that St Paul’s letters, even Romans, were not exercises in Systematic Theology but were rather “occasional letters:”  He wrote them because people in this or that church were having specific problems.  Therefore, St Paul’s letters are not the horizon of what we can and can’t believe about Tradition and Liturgy.  Rather, they are a particular expression of Tradition to a particular geographical location.   St Paul drew from Tradition and Apostolic Deposit (for the latter, see Jude 3) to write these specific letters.


In other words, St Paul’s letters reveal how apostolic tradition deals with various (and often messy) problems.  They cannot be reduced to simply synonymous with his oral teaching.  I need to anticipate a few wrong interpretations of what I’ve just said: I am not saying that St Paul’s letters are thus relative in authority to the first century.  Quite the contrary, most American churches have the same problems as the Corinthian church.  The proto-Gnosticism that Paul fought in Colossians is here today in full form.  Paul’s letters reflect and show how apostolic deposit is practiced in the life of the church.  Therefore, they are of utmost urgency and authority for us today.