Pauline Theology



1. The Pharisee

2. Saul and Sin

3. Primitive Christianity


1. Christ

2. The Spirit

3. The Unio Mystica

4. Salvation

5. Justification


1. Abolition of the Law

2. Gentiles

3. Redemption

4. Atonement

5. Moral Example

6. Function of the Law


1. The Church

2. The Sacraments

I. The Preparation.

In order to understand the development of Paul's theological system, it is necessary to begin with his beliefs as a Pharisee. The full extent of these beliefs, to be sure, is not now ascertainable, for Pharisaism was a rule of conduct rather than a system of dogmas, and great diversity of opinions existed among Pharisees. Yet there was general concurrence in certain broad principles, while some of Paul's own statements enable us to specify his beliefs still more closely.

1. The Pharisee:

Saul the Pharisee believed that God was One, the Creator of all things. In His relation to His world He was transcendent, and governed it normally through His angels. Certain of these angelic governors had been unfaithful to their trust and had wrought evil, although God still permitted them to bear rule for a time (Col 2:15; compare Enoch 89:65). And evil had come into humanity through the transgression of the first man (Ro 5:12; compare 2 Esdras 7:118). To lead men away from this evil God gave His Law, which was a perfect revelation of duty (Ro 7:12), and this Law was illumined by the traditions of the Fathers, which the Pharisees felt to be an integral part of the Law itself. God was merciful and would pardon the offender against the Law, if he completely amended his ways. But imperfect reformation brought no certain hope of pardon. To a few specially favored individuals God had given the help of His Spirit, but this was not for the ordinary individual. The great majority of mankind (compare 2 Esdras 7:49-57), including all Gentiles, had no hope of salvation. In a very short time the course of the world would be closed. With God, from before the beginning of creation, there was existing a heavenly being, the Son of man of Da 7:13, and He was about to be made manifest. (That Saul held the transcendental Messianic doctrine is not to be doubted.) As the world was irredeemably bad, this Messiah would soon appear, cause the dead to rise, hold the Last Judgment and bring from heaven the "Jerus that is above" (Ga 4:26), in which the righteous would spend a blessed eternity.


2. Saul and Sin:

Ro 7:7-25 throws a further light on Saul's personal beliefs. The Old Testament promised pardon to the sinner who amended his ways, but the acute moral sense of Saul taught him that he could never expect perfectly to amend his ways. The 10th Commandment was the stumbling-block. Sins of deed and of word might perhaps be overcome, but sins of evil desires stayed with him, despite his full knowledge of the Law that branded them as sinful. Indeed, they seemed stimulated rather than suppressed by the divine precepts against them. With the best will in the world, Saul's efforts toward perfect righteousness failed continually and gave no promise of ever succeeding. He found himself thwarted by something that he came to realize was ingrained in his very nature and from which he could never free himself. Human nature as it is, the flesh (not "the material of the body"), contains a taint that makes perfect reformation impossible (Ro 7:18; compare Ro 8:3, etc.). Therefore, as the Law knows no pardon for the imperfectly reformed, Saul felt his future to be absolutely black. What he longed for was a promise of pardon despite continued sin, and that the Law precluded. (Any feeling that the temple sacrifices. would bring forgiveness had long since been obsolete in educated Judaism.)

There is every reason to suppose that Saul's experience was not unique at this period. Much has been written in recent years about the Jews' confidence in God's mercy, and abundant quotations are brought from the Talmud in support of this. But the surviving portions of the literature of the Daniel-Aqiba period (165 BC-135 AD) give a different impression, for it is predominantly a literature of penitential prayers and confessions of sin, of pessimism regarding the world, the nation and one's self. In 2 Esdras, in particular, Saul's experience is closely paralleled, and 2 Esdras 7 (of course not in the King James Version) is one of the best commentaries ever written on Ro 7:1-25.

3. Primitive Christianity:

Saul must have come in contact with Christianity very soon after Pentecost, at the latest. Some personal acquaintance with Christ is in no way impossible, irrespective of the meaning of 2Co 5:16. But no one in Jerusalem, least of all a man like Saul, could have failed tq learn very early that there was a new "party" in Judaism. To his eyes this "party" would have about the following appearance: Here was a band of men proclaiming that the Messiah, whom all expected, would be the Jesus who had recently been crucified. Him the disciples were preaching as risen, ascended and sitting on God's right hand. They claimed that He had sent on all His followers the coveted gift of the Spirit, and they produced miracles in proof of their claim. A closer investigation would show that the death of Jesus was being interpreted in terms of Isa 53:1-12, as a ransom for the nation. The inquirer would learn also that Jesus had given teaching that found constant and relentless fault with the Pharisees. Moreover, He had swept aside the tradition of the Fathers as worthless and had given the Law a drastic reinterpretation on the basis of eternal spiritual facts.

This inwardness must have appealed to Saul and he must have envied the joyous enthusiasm of the disciples. But to him Pharisaism was divine, and he was in a spiritual condition that admitted of no compromxses. Moreover, the Law (Ga 3:13; compare De 21:23) cursed anyone who had been hanged on a tree, and the new party was claiming celestial Messiahship for a man who had met this fate. The system aroused Saul's burning hatred; he appointed himself (perhaps stimulated by his moral desperation) to exterminate the new religion, and in pursuit of his mission he started for Damascus.

Saul must have gained a reasonable knowledge of Christ's teachings in this period of antagonism. He certainly could not have begun to persecute the faith without learning what it was, and in the inevitable discussions with his victims he must have learned still more, even against his will. This fact is often overlooked.

II. The Conversion.

1. Christ:

The immediate content of Paul's conversion was the realization that the celestial Messiah was truly Jesus of Nazareth. This was simply the belief of the primitive church and was the truth for which Christ had died (Mr 14:62). But it involved much. It made Christ the Son of God (Ro 8:32; Ga 4:4, etc.), "firstborn of (i.e. "earlier than") all creation" (Col 1:15), "existing in the form of God" (Php 2:6) and "rich" (2Co 8:9). In the Messiah are "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden" (Col 2:3), to be manifested at the end of time when the Messiah shall appear as the Judge of all (2Co 5:10, etc.), causing the resurrection of the dead (1Co 15:45, etc.). All this was given by Paul's former beliefs and had been claimed by Christ for Himself. That this Messiah had become man was a fact of the immediate past (the reality of the manhood was no problem at this period). As Messiah His sinlessness was unquestioned, while the facts of His life proved this sinlessness also. His teaching was wholly binding (1Co 7:10-11; that the writer of these words could have spared any effort to learn the teaching fully is out of the question). The conversion experience was proof sufficient of the resurrection, although for missionary purposes Paul used other evidence as well (1Co 15:1-11).

Faith in this Messiah brought the unmistakable experience of the Holy Spirit (Ro 8:2; Ga 3:2, etc.; compare Ac 9:17), demonstrating Christ's Lordship (1Co 12:3; compare Ac 2:33). So "the head of every man is Christ" (1Co 11:3; compare Col 1:18; Eph 1:22; 4:15), with complete control of the future (1Co 15:25), and all righteous men are His servants ("slaves," Ro 1:1, etc.). To Him men may address their prayers (2Co 12:8; 1Co 1:2, etc.; compare Ac 14:23).

Further reflection added to the concepts. As the Lordship of Christ was absolute, the power of all hostile beings must have been broken also (Ro 8:38; Php 2:9-11; Col 2:15; Eph 1:21-23, etc.). The Being who had such significance for the present and the future could not have been without significance for the past. "In all things" He must have had "the preeminence" (Col 1:18). It was He who ministered to the Israelites at the Exodus (1Co 10:4,9). In fact He was not only "before all things" (Col 1:17), but "all things have been created through him" (Col 1:16). Wisdom and Logos concepts may have helped Paul in reaching these conclusions, which in explicit statement are an advance on Christ's own words. But the conclusions were inevitable.

Fitting these data of religious fact into the metaphysical doctrine of God was a problem that occupied the church for the four following centuries. After endless experimenting the only conclusion was shown to be that already reached by Paul in Ro 9:5 (compare Tit 2:13, the English Revised Version, the American Revised Version margin), that Christ is God. To be sure, Paul's terminology, carried over from his pre-Christian days, elsewhere reserves "God" for the Father (and compare 1Co 15:28). But the fact of this theology admits only of the conclusion that was duly drawn.

2. The Spirit:

A second fact given directly by the conversion was the presence of the Spirit, where the actual experience transcended anything that had been dreamed of. Primarily the operation of the Spirit was recognized in vividly supernatural effects (Ro 15:19; 1Co 12:5-11, etc.; compare 2Co 12:12; Ac 2:4), but Paul must at first have known the presence of the Spirit through the assurance of salvation given him, a concept that he never wearies of expressing (Ro 8:16,23; Ga 4:6, etc.). The work of the Spirit in producing holiness in the soul needs no comment (see HOLY SPIRIT; SANCTIFICATION), but it is characteristic of Paul that it is on this part of the Spirit's activity, rather than on the miraculous effects, that he lays the emphasis. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace," etc. (Ga 5:22); the greatest miracles without love are more than useless (1Co 13:1-3); in such sayings Paul touched the depths of the purest teaching of Christ. To be sure, in the Synoptic Gospels the word "Spirit" is not often on Christ's lips, but there is the same conception of a life proceeding from a pure center (Mt 6:22; 7:17, etc.) in entire dependence on God.

Further reflection and observation taught Paul something of the greatest importance for Christian theology. In prayer the Spirit appeared distinguished from the Father as well as from the Son (Ro 8:26 f; compare 1Co 2:10 f), giving three terms that together express the plenitude of the Deity (2Co 13:14; Eph 1:3,6,13, etc.), with no fourth term ever similarly associated.


3. The Unio Mystica:

The indwelling of the divine produced by the Spirit is spoken of indifferently as the indwelling of the Spirit, or of the Spirit of Christ, or of Christ Himself (all three terms in Ro 8:9-11; compare 1Co 2:12; Ga 4:6; Eph 3:17, etc.). The variations are in part due to the inadequacy of the Old terminology (so 2Co 3:17), in part to the nature of the subject. Distinctions made between the operations of the persons of the Trinity on the soul can never be much more than verbal, and the terms are freely interchangeable. At all events, through the Spirit Christ is in the believer (Ro 8:10; Ga 2:20; 4:19; Eph 3:17), or, what is the same thing, the believer is in Christ (Ro 6:11; 8:1; 16:7, etc.). "We have become united with him" (Ro 6:5, sumphutoi, "grown together with") in a union once and for all effected (Ga 3:27) and yet always to be made more intimate (Ro 13:14). The union so accomplished makes the man "a new creature" (2Co 5:17).

4. Salvation:

Paul now saw within himself a dual personality. His former nature, the old man, still persisted, with its impulses, liability to temptation, and inertnesses. The "flesh" still existed (Ga 5:17; Ro 8:12; 13:14; Eph 4:22; Php 3:12, etc.). On the other hand there was fighting in him against this former nature nothing less than the whole power of Christ, and its final victory could not be uncertain for a moment (Ro 6:12; 8:2,10; Ga 5:16, etc.). Indeed, it is possible to speak of the believer as entirely spiritual (Ro 6:11,22; 8:9, etc.), as already in the kingdom (Col 1:13), as already sitting in heavenly places (Eph 2:6). Of course Paul had too keen an appreciation of reality to regard believers as utterly sinless (Php 3:12, etc.), and his pages abound in reproofs and exhortations. But the present existence of remnants of sin had no final terrors, for the ultimate victory over sin was certain, even if it was not to be complete until the last day when the power of God would redeem even the present physical frame (Ro 8:11; Php 3:21, etc.).

As the first man to belong to'the higher order, and as the point from which the race could take a fresh start, Christ could justly be termed a new Adam (1Co 15:45-49; compare Ro 5:12-21). If Cor 15:46 has any relation to the PhiIonic doctrine of the two Adams, it is a polemic against it. Such a polemic would not be unlikely.

5. Justification:

A most extraordinary fact, to the former Pharisee, was that this experience had been gained without conscious effort and even against conscious effort (Php 3:7 f). After years of fruitless striving a single act of self-surrender had brought him an assurance that he had despaired of ever attaining. And this act of self-surrender is what Paul means by "faith," "faith without works." This faith is naturally almost anything in the world rather than a mere intellectual acknowledgment of a fact (Jas 2:19), and is an act of the whole man, too complex for simple analysis. It finds, however, its perfect statement in Christ's reference to `receiving the kingdom of God as a little child' (Mr 10:15). By an act of simple yielding Paul found himself no longer in dread of his sins; he was at peace with God, and confident as to his future; in a word, "justified." In one sense, to be sure, "works" were still involved, for without the past struggles the result would never have been attained. A desire, however imperfect, to do right is a necessary preparation for justification, and the word has no meaning to a man satisfied to be sunk in complete selfishness (Ro 6:2; 3:8, etc.). This desire to do right, which Paul always presupposes, and the content given "faith" are sufficient safeguards against antinomianism. But the grace given is in no way commensurate with past efforts, nor does it grow out of them. It is a simple gift of God (Ro 6:23).

III. Further Developments.

1. Abolition of the Law:

The adoption by Paul of the facts given by his conversion (and the immediate conclusions that followed from them) involved, naturally, a readjustment and a reformation of the other parts of his belief. The process must have occupied some time, if it was ever complete during his life, and must have been affected materially by his controversies with his former co-religionists and with very many Christians.

Fundamental was the problem of the Law. The Law was perfectly clear that he--and only he--who performed it would live. But life was found through faith in Christ, while the Law was not fulfilled. There could be no question of compromise between the two positions; they were simply incompatible (Ro 10:5 f; Ga 2:16; 3:11 f; Php 3:7). One conclusion only was possible: "Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believeth" (Ro 10:4). As far as concerned the believer, the Law was gone. Two tremendous results followed. One was the immense simplification of what we call "Christian ethics," which were now to be determined by the broadest general principles of right and wrong and no longer by an elaborate legalistic construing of God's commands (Ro 13:8-10; Ga 5:22 f, etc.; compare Mr 12:29-31). To be sure, the commandments might be quoted as convenient expressions of moral duty (Eph 6:2; 1Co 9:9, etc.; compare Mr 10:19), but they are binding because they are right, not because they are commandments (Col 2:16). So, in Paul's moral directions, he tries to bring out always the principle involved, and Ro 14:1-23 and 1Co 8:1-13 are masterpieces of the treatment of concrete problems by this method.

2. Gentiles:

The second result of the abolition of the Law was overwhelming. Gentiles had as much right to Christ as had the Jews, barring perhaps the priority of honor (Ro 3:2, etc.) possessed by the latter. It is altogether conceivable, as Ac 22:21 implies, that Paul's active acceptance of this result was long delayed and reached only after severe struggles. The fact was utterly revolutionary, and although it was prophesied in the Old Testament (Ro 9:25 f), yet `the Messiah among you Gentiles' remained the hidden mystery that God had revealed only in the last days (Col 1:26 f; Eph 3:3-6, etc.). The struggles of the apostle in defense of this principle are the most familiar part of his career.

3. Redemption:

This consciousness of deliverance from the Law came to Paul in another way. The Law was meant for men in this world, but the union with Christ had raised him out of this world and so taken him away from the Law's control. In the Epistles this fact finds expression in an elaborately reasoned form. As Christ's nature is now a vital part of our nature, His death and resurrection are facts of our past as well. "Ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col 3:3). But "the law hath dominion over a man" only "for so long time as he liveth" (Ro 7:1). "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ" (Ro 7:4). Compare Col 2:11-13,20, where the same argument is used to show that ritual observance is no longer necessary. In Ro 6:1-14 this argument is made to issue in a practical exhortation. Through the death of Christ, which is our death (Ro 6:4), we, like Him, are placed in a higher world (Ro 6:5) where sin has lost its power (Ro 6:7), a world in which we are no longer under Law (Ro 6:14). Hence, the intensest moral effort becomes our duty (Ro 6:13; compare 2Co 5:14 f).

4. Atonement:

This release from the Law, however, does not solve the whole problem. Evil, present and past, is a fact, Law or no Law (on Ro 4:1Ro 5:1-21b; Ro 5:13b; see the comms.), and a forbearance of God that simply "passes over" sins is disastrous for man as well as contrary to the righteous nature of God (Ro 3:25 f). However inadequate the Old Testament sacrifices were felt to have been (and hence, perhaps, Paul's avoidance of the Levitical terms except in Eph 5:2), yet they offered the only help possible for the treatment of this most complex of problems. The guilt of our sins is "covered" by the death of Christ (1Co 15:3, where this truth is among those which were delivered to converts "first of all"; Ro 3:25; 4:25; 5:6, etc.). This part of his theology Paul leaves in an incomplete form. He was accustomed, like any other man of his day, whether Jew or Gentile, to think naturally in sacrificial terms, and neither he nor his converts were conscious of any difficulty involved. Nor has theology since his time been able to contribute much toward advancing the solution of the problem. The fatal results of unchecked evil, its involving of the innocent with the guilty, and the value of vicarious suffering, are simple facts of our experience that defy our attempts to reduce them to intellectual formulas. In Paul's case it is to be noted that he views the incentive as coming from God (Ro 3:25; 5:8; 8:32, etc.), because of His love toward man, so that a "gift-propitiation" of an angry deity is a theory the precise opposite of the Pauline. Moreover, Christ's death is not a mere fact of the past, but through the "mystical union" is incorporated into the life of every believer.

Further developments of this doctrine about Christ's death find in it the complete destruction of whatever remained of the Law (Col 2:14), especially as the barrier between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:15 f). The extension of the effects of the death to the unseen world (Col 2:15; compare Ga 4:9; Eph 4:8) was of course natural.

5. Moral Example:

The death of Christ as producing a subjective moral power in the believer is appealed to frequently (compare Ro 8:3; Ga 2:20; Eph 5:2,25; Php 2:5, etc.), while the idea is perhaps present to some degree even in Ro 3:26. From a different point of view, the Cross as teaching the vanity of worldly things is a favorite subject with Paul (1Co 1:22-25; 2Co 13:4; Ga 5:11; 6:14, etc.). These aspects require no explanation.

There are, accordingly, in Paul's view of the death of Christ at least three distinct lines, the "mystical," the "juristic," and the "ethical." But this distinction is largely only genetic and logical, and the lines tend to blend in all sorts of combinations. Consequently, it is frequently an impossible exegetical problem to determine which is most prominent in any given passage (e.g. 2Co 5:14 f).

6. Function of the Law:

Regarding the Law a further question remained, which had great importance in Paul's controversies. If the Law was useless for salvation, why was it given at all? Paul replies that it still had its purpose. To gain righteousness one must desire it and this desire the Law taught (Ro 7:12,16; 2:18), even though it had no power to help toward fulfillment. So the Law gave knowledge of sin (Ro 3:20; 7:7). But Paul did not hesitate to go beyond this. Familiar in his own experience with the psychological truth that a prohibition may actually stimulate the desire to transgress it, he showed that the Law actually had the purpose of bringing out all the dormant evil within us, that grace might deal with it effectually (Ro 5:20 f; Ro 7:8,25; compare 1Co 15:56). Thus the Law became our paidagogos "to bring us unto Christ" (Ga 3:24; see SCHOOLMASTER), and came in "besides" (Ro 5:20), i.e. as something not a primary part of God's plan. Indeed, this could be shown from the Law itself, which proved that faith was the primary method of salvation (Ro 4:1-25; compare Ga 3:17) and which actually prophesied its own repeal (Ga 4:21-31). With this conclusion, which must have required much time to work out, Paul's reversal of his former Pharisaic position was complete.

IV. Special Topics.

1. The Church:

As Christ is the central element in the life of the believer, all believers have this element in common and are so united with each other (Ro 12:5). This is the basis of the Pauline doctrine of the church. The use of the word "church" to denote the whole body of believers is not attained until the later Epistles (Col 1:18; Php 3:6; Eph 1:22, etc.)--before that time the word is in the plural when describing more than a local congregation (2Th 1:4; 1Co 7:17; Ro 16:16, etc.)--but the idea is present from the first. Indeed, the only terms in Judaism that were at all adequate were "the nation" or "Israel." Paul uses the latter term (Ga 6:16) and quite constantly expresses himself in a manner that suggests the Old Testament figures for the nation (e.g. compare Eph 5:25 with Ho 2:19 f), and time was needed in order to give ekklesia (properly "assembly") the new content.

The church is composed of all who have professed faith in Christ and the salvation of its members Paul takes generally for granted (1Th 1:4; Ro 1:7; 1Co 1:8, etc.), even in the case of the incestuous person of 1Co 5:5 (compare 1Co 3:15; 11:32). To be sure, 1Co 5:11-13 makes it clear that the excommunication of grave sinners had been found necessary, and one may doubt if Paul had much hope for the "false brethren" of 2Co 11:26; Ga 2:4 (compare 1Co 3:17, etc.). But on the whole Paul's optimism has little doubt that every member of the church is in right relations with God. These members, through their union with Christ, form a corporate, social organism of the greatest possible solidarity (1Co 12:26, etc.) and have the maximum of responsibility toward one another (Ro 14:15; 1Co 8:11; 2Co 8:13-15; Ga 6:2; Eph 4:25; Col 1:24, etc.). They are utterly distinct from the world around them (2Co 6:14-18; 1Co 5:12, etc.), although in constant intercourse with it (1Co 5:10; 10:27, etc.). It was even desirable, in the conditions of the times, that the church should have her own courts like Jews in Gentilecities (1Co 6:5 f). The right of the church to discipline her members is taken for granted (1Co 5:1-13; 2Co 2:5-11). According to Ac 14:23 Paul made his own appointments of church officers, but the Epistles as a whole would suggest that this practice did not extend beyond Asia Minor. For further details see CHURCH GOVERNMENT; MINISTRY. A general obedience to Paul's own authority is presupposed throughout.

The church is, of course, the object of Christ's sanctifying power (Eph 5:25-30) and is so intimately united with Him as to be spoken of as His "body" (1Co 12:27; Col 1:18; Eph 1:23, etc.), or as the "complement" of Christ, the extension of His personality into the world (Eph 1:22 f). As such, its members have not only their duty toward one another, but also the responsibility of carrying Christ's message into the world (Php 2:15 f, and presupposed everywhere). And to God shall "be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever and ever" (Eph 3:21).

2. The Sacraments:

As the union with Christ's death is something more than a subjective impression made on the mind by the fact of that death, the references to the union with the death accomplished in baptism in Ro 6:1-7 and Col 2:11 f are not explained by supposing them to describe a mere dramatic ceremony. That Paul was really influenced by the mystery-religion concepts has not been made out. But his readers certainly were so influenced and tended to conceive very materialistic views of the Christian sacraments (1Co 10:5; 15:29). And historic exegesis is bound to construe Paul's language in the way in which he knew his readers would be certain to understand it, and no ordinary Gentile reader of Paul's day would have seen a purely "symbolic" meaning in either of the baptismal passages. Philo would have done so, but not the class of men with whom Paul had to deal. Similarly, with regard to the Lord's Supper, in 1Co 10:20 Paul teaches that through participation in a sacral meal it is possible to be brought into objective relations with demons of whom one is wholly ignorant. In this light it is hard to avoid the conclusion that through participation in the Lord's Supper the believer is objectively brought into communion with the Lord (1Co 10:16), a communion that will react for evil on the believer if he approach it in an unworthy manner (1Co 11:29-32): i.e. the union with Christ that is the center of Paul's theology he teaches to be established normally through baptism. And in the Lord's Supper this union is further strengthened. That faith on the part of the believer is an indispensable prerequisite for the efficacy of the sacraments need not be said.



See under PAUL.

Burton Scott Easton

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