Thursday, 15 June 2017

Paul's Opinion About...

When we read Paul, it makes a difference if we understand the issue/questions he was really dealing with.
Like, one day a group of relatives were walking along the beach, talking about aliens. One of them heard only the last part of the conversation, and she thought they were talking about illegal immigrants.
"It shouldn't be allowed!" she said.
Everybody laughed - it was funny, because that lady was notorious for often speaking-out about her political views!
Or it's like over-hearing someone talking on the phone. You can hear him answering a question - but you don't know what the question was.
You could think they were talking about how to avoid getting a flat cake in the oven - but what if they were really talking about how to change a flat tyre! Make a difference? Sure!
Same with Paul. Very often we impose onto Paul's writings our own modern issues and questions, and then try to read Paul as if he was answering our questions. Well, what if he was really answering a different question.
Trending issues and questions today include:
Grace teachers versus the importance of morals...
Or, Dispensationalism versus so-called Replacement Theology...
Or, so-called 'Hebrew Roots' versus mainstream Christianity...
And the Calvinists versus Arminians issues still linger too, in some schools...
And many of us quote Paul as if he was dealing directly with the same issue and questions that we are dealing with.
But the issues that surrounded Paul in the first century AD was something a little different. And he doesn't leave us wondering - he tells us himself what the issues/questions were.
Paul was dealing with issues and questions like:
Must Gentile believers in Jesus become Observant of Moses' Law - that is, must they become 'Jews' as well - in order to become fully accepted as the people of God?
And Paul's answer of course was, No - since believers were already justified, sanctified and perfected forever, by grace through faith, through one offering, it wasn't necessary for them to also become Jews. They were complete in Jesus.
That answer of Paul's (that God had procured salvation for Gentiles on the basis of grace through faith without needing to become Jewish) gave rise to a further question:
If that's indeed the way God's promised-salvation is being fulfilled, wouldn't that imply that God was somehow unrighteous or unfaithful towards Israel, seeing it meant many of them were missing out (because they were still seeking salvation through Moses' Law)?
And Paul's answer was, No - it confirms God's faithfulness! because God had always planned and promised, even before the Law was given, before Israel was even born, to offer salvation to all nations through faith; it was His sovereign prerogative to have chosen the nation of Israel as the custodians of that promise, until the time came when salvation would be made available to all, by grace.
Far from being unrighteous of God, that fulfilled His promises, and demonstrates His faithfulness. In fact God was even now still reaching out to more Jews through Gentile believers!
So, Paul was really defending the Gospel against infiltration by the Judaizers - he wasn't dealing with the same issue which Calvinists debated against Arminians centuries later, for example...
Neither was he discussing grace over against the importance of believers living morally upright and ethical lives, like some of us discuss today...
Paul mightn't even have been giving any eschatological forecast about Israel, like end-times preachers do today...
Rather he was explaining the Gospel, against the criticisms of the Judaizers -
and defending the Gospel against the cultural insistence of the Judaizers that Gentile believers in Jesus ought to become 'Jews'.
Of course Gentile believers were to live holy, upright lives, in comparison to their Gentile environments - they just didn't need to become Jews, that's all! They were free to express their sanctification in a new and living way.
Of course God's promise to bring salvation for all Israel hadn't failed - salvation was indeed procured for Israel and announced to them, but only believers experienced it, and then Gentiles were grafted-in to the same experience - which was precisely the scenario that had been foreseen in the Torah and the Prophets, Paul asserted.
Understanding what Paul was really on about, positions us to better answer the issues and questions of our own day. It even eliminates some issues altogether - especially if the issue only arose in the first place because readers missed the issue Paul was really addressing. 

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