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(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

More on the narrative logic of salvation: “we have redemption through his blood”

Someone suggested on Facebook that Ephesians 1:7 contradicts my argument about the narrative logic of salvation:

In him we have redemption (tēn apolutrōsin) through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses… (Eph. 1:7)

This is the ESV translation. It seems to suggest that Paul regarded Jesus’ “blood” as effective for “redemption” not only for Israel but for the mostly Gentile “saints who are in Ephesus”, to whom he is writing.

I would argue, however, that tēn apolutrōsin (“the redemption”) refers not to redemption in a general sense—the possibility of being redeemed—but to the specific historical event of the redemption of Israel by means of Jesus’ death. This would also apply to the parallel passage in Colossians: “his beloved Son, in whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

I think that apolutrōsis (“redemption”) in the New Testament refers to a collective event, the redemption of a group, either in the past or in the future, rather than to the arbitrary redemption of individuals. Jesus’ death brought about the apolutrōsis of Jews who sinned under the first covenant (Heb. 9:15). The day of Christ’s parousia would mean the apolutrōsis of the persecuted disciples (Lk. 21:28), the apolutrōsis of the bodies of the persecuted churches in the pagan world (Rom. 8:23), the apolutrōsis of possession of the inheritance (Eph. 1:14; 4:30).

It also seems likely to me that in verses 3-12 Paul is speaking self-consciously on behalf of redeemed Israel or as a Jewish apostle. Certainly, a distinction appears in verses 12-13: “we who were the first to hope in Christ… you also, when you heard the word of truth…”.

It is, therefore, specifically those Jews who first hoped in Christ to whom God made known (gnōrisas) the “mystery” of his purposes (1:9). This looks like a strong limiting factor. Paul later says that the gospel was “made known” (egnōristhē) to him by revelation for the sake of the Gentiles, a “mystery” which had not been “made known” (egnōristhē) to previous generations of Jews (3:3-5). It is the early Jewish apostolic community, in the context of this argument, that was predestined to inherit “to the praise of his glory” (1:11-12). Paul has in mind the specific role of the Jewish apocalyptic community in the narrative of the salvation of Israel, the inclusion of Gentiles, and the extension of Christ’s rule over the nations.

So I don’t think that this passage necessarily contradicts the argument that Gentiles were saved (from the coming judgment on the pagan world) by their belief in the story about the redemption of Israel by means of the death of Jesus.

The propitiation for the sins of the whole world

It was also pointed out that in 1 John 2:2 Jesus is said to be “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world”.

This would certainly appear to generalise or universalise the direct saving significance of Jesus’ death. But there is very little overlap between the Johannine tradition and the main apocalyptically interpreted historical narrative of the rest of the New Testament.

John, to my mind, marks the beginning of the shift away from the Jewish narrative that emerges out of the Old Testament and shapes the thought both of Jesus himself and of the early apostolic community, including the author of Revelation. Theologically, it is understandable that the narrative shape of the belief was compressed into the much simpler idea that Jesus’ death was an atonement for all people. But that theological simplification should not be allowed to bar the way to a recovery of the narrative complexity of the original material.

Comments

Any idea why the Gospel of John, likely written around 95 CE by a Jew, shifts from the earlier narrative with regard to preexistence of Jesus and Jesus’ atonement for the world?

Not really, the literary-historical setting of the Gospel is somewhat obscure to me. My assumption is that there were reasons having to do with intellectual-religious context that led John to ground his telling of the story about Jesus in the Wisdom tradition rather than in the prophetic-apocalyptic narrative that dominates the rest of the New Testament. It certainly paved the way for subsequent rationalisations of the godhead and the atonement (modern theologies, insofar as they are biblical, are essentially Johannine), though whether John was at all conscious of being on some sort of Hellenising trajectory, I’ve no idea.

Hi Andrew, i liked your separating John gospel from rest of NT, agree that it seems that this is where base of most of evangelical theology is, is it only the Gospel of John that moves from the prophetic apocalyptic narrative, i am aware that the letters of John are very likely not by same author, but wondered if they follow Wisdom tradition, also does John’s gospel follow Wisdom tradition completely or does it also include the PA narrative, i remember your helpful diagram of various views of jesus , do you have any ther posts on John and wisdom and how it is different from rest of NT
Thank you

I haven’t had much to say about the letters of John, but you might be interested in this piece from a few years back: The Word became flesh: John and the historical Jesus. I think John’s Gospel can be accommodated to the dominant apocalyptic narrative reasonably well, but he clearly has very different interests and a very different point of view. It might be worth looking at more closely some time.

Hi Donald,
Regarding the author of 1 & 2 John, Witherington thinks it’s the same author as the Gospel of John and he suspects it could be Lazarus from Bethany. I guess it’s possible, but I think his point that it’s probably someone from the Jerusalem area is probably right.

Thanks Peter, does that mean that Witherington thinks they all come from same perspective,

I would assume so, but I don’t remember if he said so. I know he said the 4th Gospel author wrote in a way that was consistent with the wisdom literature available to him.

Peter,

The evidence pointing to Lazarus as the author, in my eyes anyway, is much stronger than it being John. Researched this years ago when I heard David Curtis either speak on this topic at a conference or it was one of his sermons. Was very eye opening. Kind of leaves you feeling dumb-founded…thinking, how did people/I not see this before?

Can you tell me where Witherington addresses this? Would be a good resource.

Well there is a bit of contradiction and controversy as to the idea that the writings of John were indeed in fact post 70 AD, which if they were really pre 70 ad would in fact substantiate the historical narrative position.

maintenanceman, I know the majority view is that it was written ~95 CE, but since it uses ideas in wisdom literature that existed prior to the first century CE, Why do you think an early date would “substantiate the historical narrative position”?