Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Unity of the People of God

Reading the Epistle of Romans all the way through in a single-sitting, brings some things to light in a way that only considering individual verses of the Epistle mightn't achieve quite as well.

Like, the fact that Paul introduces the topic of 'Israel' in chapter nine of Romans, shows he had design - flow - he was going somewhere - leading somewhere - in his Epistle.

Otherwise, mentioning Israel at this point would seem unnatural - it wouldn't quite flow - like coming to a wall at the end of a corridor.

But no Paul's letter has flow. And the fact he swings the topic right back to Israel again, after the high-point of chapter eight, indicates what that purpose was.

Since the church at Rome was a mixed Gentile/Jewish bunch, they had many of the same issues which many other churches among the Gentiles had outside of Judea. A main desire of Paul's therefore was to preserve the unity of faith among the new people of God. Everything he mentioned in his Epistle leads towards that desired objective.

He deals with some themes of major theological importance, sometimes in a single verse - then he spends an entire chapter putting unity ahead of diets.

So when Paul mentions "the election", he means it in the same way he'd previously discussed God's plan to justify all men through faith rather than through the works of the Law or through Jewishness.

When he quotes "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy", it's to illustrate God's godliness in now showing mercy on all by grace through faith rather than exclusively to Jews through the Law.

When he mentions "that the purpose of God according to election might stand", it's to illustrate that the Gospel (the salvation of all men, without the deeds of the Law) was always God's plan, quite aside from the nation of Israel and the Law.

All of that is quite far from introducing the issues which Calvinists debated with Arminians some 15 centuries or so later!

Also noteworthy is Paul's use of tenses, throughout Romans. He sometimes speaks in the present-tense even when he is speaking of things past. For example, in chapter seven he speaks of his struggle with sin under the law, even though in his own experience he'd already discovered freedom from the law and from sin, by grace through faith in Christ.

He plays with tenses when discussing Israel too. He mentions "all Israel shall be saved", as if it was to be an exclusively future event - but then he links it with the prophecy, "There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer," Who had in fact already come; and links it with "my covenant unto them", which also had already been made.

Notice Paul had begun it with "and so all Israel shall be saved", not "and then..." Manner, not sequence.

He'd also spoken about Israel's grafting-in again as a present-possibility - not as an exclusively eschatological forecast.

He mentions Israel - but sometimes he's talking about individual Israelis.

He labels it a 'mystery' - but that doesn't mean it's still future, because later he mentions "the revelation of the mystery" as being a present scheme and reality, not something reserved exclusively for the future.

So when he says, "til the fulness of the Gentiles be come in", it's not to say that what happens next is anything other than what is to happen next according to the Gospel-scheme itself - not some other scheme.

That's quite short of asserting the Dispensationalist view which distinguishes between the present Gospel-plan and Israel's future kingdom-plan as if they're two separate schemes!

Reading a book of the Bible through in a single sitting makes the overall flow of the book in which individual verses are found, clearer - it makes us aware of the use of terms and definitions and themes and tenses - it eliminates some issues - helps clarify certain things.  

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