Monday, February 03, 2014

Ephesians 2, Galatians 3, Romans 3: Read It Together, Naturally

Ephesians 2:11-22 is maybe my favorite text in the New Testament. I know, that's weird. But this text helped me to see what Paul was really saying, not only here, but in Romans and Galatians, and that helps us break out of the snare that is (Protestant) Reformation theology, to be rather blunt.

Look at verse 11. He tells us he's addressing Gentiles right off the hop, and actually we should read "works" back in verse 10 as a Jewish member of the church would read it: not by the works and ceremonies of the Law I've done my whole life, unlike those poor Gentiles, who never had it. "In the flesh" I think means, "ethnically" here, and as he goes on, it becomes clear. The Judaizers are a concern here also. Verse 12 is a restatement of Isaiah, Jeremiah and the "minor" prophets: Israel's consolation will be the incorporation of the Gentiles into God's People. Actually, this sounds a lot like Acts 2:39 right here, doesn't it, in verse 13? Given the Joel 2 context there, that's pretty exciting. We're on good hermeneutical ground here, then. When Peter and Paul agree, everybody wins. Christ himself is our peace, and you can see how this would be a challenge if you were Jewish at the time: you've been keeping the Law because it was divinely commanded all this time, and these lucky Gentiles get off easy! And they're a little vocal about it, and how happy they are about Messiah coming. I guess we can't fault them for that. "Us both." See that? The abolishing the commandments and ordinances in the flesh of Christ was for the purpose of making one man out of the two, not to poke His people in the eye. So this is why Paul says pastorally all over the place in so many words, "Eat or don't eat, but don't judge each other." (Romans 14, 1 Cor 8-10, etc.) He knows for sure some Jews are going to keep the customs, and that's fine, so long as they allow others freedom and receive them as brothers. This is why St. Paul was so mad at St. Peter, which he recounts at the beginning of Galatians 2: Peter had taken some measure of relief from the food laws and welcomed Gentiles, because he'd seen God work among them, but when certain men came from James, he drew back. It had to be after the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. Otherwise, his anger at Peter wouldn't make sense. Legalism is a concern, but it's only because self-effort and clinging to the past is a natural reaction among those who miss the redemptive-historical boat. If God does something, you gotta go with it.

Look at Galatians 2:15-16. Shoot, man. Verse 15 should convert a Lutheran by itself. "Works of the Law" means the ordinances of the Law given to Moses. Your key verse in Galatians 3 is verse 8, to make the point. Abraham is our father in faith in two ways: To a Jew, he's a father because we all came from him literally. To a Gentile, he's our father because he got the promise to be the father of many nations before he was circumcised. We'd be jazzed about this if we were Gentiles. In fact, St. Paul makes this exact point in Romans 4:9-11. Maybe the Jew-Gentile thing should be in our minds as we read the previous chapter, eh? Ahem.

If you're Catholic, and you attempt to share the glories of holy mother Church with our separated brethren, this will come up. Just trust me on this. But do you see verse 21? I'm sure Uncle Scotty and Curtis Mitsch didn't miss it. There are two uses of the word "law" in this one verse, one "negative" and one "positive," as it were. But now the righteousness of God (not going to play the NIV's "We Hate Catholicism" game by needlessly translating that as "from," though in fairness, it's not ruled out grammatically, as such; I digress) has been manifested apart from the law, ("negative," maybe) although the law and the prophets (2/3 of the Jewish trifecta for what to call the Scriptures: "Law", "Prophets," and "Writings," AKA wisdom literature) bear witness to it (definitely resoundingly positive)." So what is "apart from law"? Apart from the Mosaic Law! Of course, because the Gentiles don't have it. But he's not going to repudiate it, because it served a function; it is definitely good if you're a Jew waiting for its fulfillment. Remember, even the 10 Commandments have their basis, their heart, in the redeeming love of YHWH, shown in the Exodus. They get the Law like 7 chapters after the Exodus, AKA OT redemption. We love because He first loved us. WOOO! The key verse in Romans 3 is 29; it makes the same point as Galatians 2:15-16 we mentioned earlier. "Law" for St. Paul has nothing to do with the relation of faith and works under the New Covenant as such; it's about recognizing what time it is in the story. You're a bitter clinger legalist first and foremost if you reject Jesus. St. Paul seems to spend half his breath giving hope to the Jews in the churches, because it's looked bleak most of the way. But he also tells the Gentiles their time is now. Then he's gotta console the Jews again, because there are now tons of Gentiles; the faithful remnant of Israel is definitely a remnant. I'd be wondering, too, if I were them. This is why Hebrews has to be written by St. Paul; only a guy who wants to cherish the Law's heart, while respecting the Lord Jesus in his fullness could have written it. And isn't this exactly what we've been seeing here? In any era, as I've said, read your Bible like a Jew; you'll be glad you did.

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