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(how to tell the biblical story
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God in Christ reconciling the world to himself is not really the gospel either...

In the previous post I argued that in the New Testament the propositional content of the “gospel” is not that Jesus died for anyone’s sins but that Jesus, having been wrongfully executed, has been raised from the dead in vindication and seated at the right hand of God to exercise the delegated rule of God. In other words, it is a kingdom or “political” gospel rather than a salvation gospel. This is the message which the apostles proclaim first to Israel, then to the nations of the Geek-Roman oikoumenē. That Jesus’ suffering and death made salvation possible—first for the Jew, then, in a rather different way, for the Greek—is part of the process, part of the story that is being told. But it is not the thing that is proclaimed as “good news”. In a comment, however, Mickey asked about this passage from 2 Corinthians:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:14-20)

Surely this means that the gospel includes the claim that Jesus died so that people might be reconciled to God? I don’t think so.

The first point to stress is that the argument about reconciliation in this passage is directed not at non-believers but at the church in Corinth, which has become in some measure alienated from Paul. He appeals to believers to be reconciled with God (5:20). It is in this sense that he and Timothy are “ambassadors for Christ”. Their task is to “negotiate” (presbeuomen) with the Corinthians in the hope of bringing them back into a right relationship with God for the sake of Christ.

The basis for the appeal is that God was in Christ “reconciling a world to himself”. Oddly, there is no definite article with kosmon, and I am inclined to think that Paul means that a “new creation” people has been reconciled to the Creator through Christ—the old things have gone, the sins of God’s people are no longer counted against them, new things have come into being, they are a new “world” reconciled to God.

The other statement about Christ is that because one has died, all have died (5:14-15). This has nothing to do with salvation. It has to do with the nature of the apostles’ ministry. It explains why Paul and Timothy appear much less impressive in “outward appearance” than the boastful “super-apostles” (5:12; 11:5): they are convinced that the only way to serve Christ is to die with him to the world, to carry in the body in quite literal ways the “dying of Jesus” (4:7-12). The outcome is that they no longer need to live for themselves “but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (5:15).

So I would argue that the theme of Christ dying so that a people might be reconciled to God is not the “gospel”. The gospel isn’t really at issue here—the word is not mentioned. But it is hinted at, I think, in 5:15 in the reference to Jesus’ resurrection. What Paul is saying is: be reconciled to God through the ministry of the suffering apostles for the sake of the gospel—that is, for the sake of your witness to the resurrection of Jesus and its implications for Jew and Greek.

This argument seems to me to be confirmed by the one passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul does give some indication of what he means by “gospel”:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor. 4:3–5)

The content of the gospel is not the death of Jesus but the “glory of Christ”. It is that Christ has been glorified by his resurrection from the dead and exaltation to the right hand of God, where he has received authority to judge and rule. The apostles are “servants”, jars of clay; Christ has died for them so that they can die to the world and live for his sake; and on that basis they proclaim the gospel to Jews and to the Greeks, which is “Jesus Christ as Lord”.

So this passage is not about the content of the gospel. It is about how the gospel is proclaimed, how it is represented and lived out by the communities which have come to believe it, and how the apostles must hold these communities accountable.

My purpose in pushing this line of thought is not to diminish the importance of the death of Jesus for the salvation of God’s new creation people. It is to recover the priority of the New Testament argument about kingdom—and then to ask whether today we have not become so obsessed with personal salvation—in some quarters at least—that we have completely lost sight of the political significance the central claim of the New Testament that God has given his Son the authority to rule at his right hand.

Comments

I am a little surprised that you would use the presence or absence of an article in such a way. It seems to me that Greek is quite different in its use of articles. The anarthrous phrase may be drawing our attention to this word as if to say - you don’t know about this ‘world’ - pay attention. David Aune in his commentary on Revelation makes this point about ‘the’ new creation (anarthrous).

Languages are significantly different with respect to the use of the definite article. Hebrew is different again from both Greek and English. If you review what you have written in English above you will see several differing modes of definiteness in common English usage - many of which we read with little import.

I would say rather that Gospel is expressed in many different ways and within many different metaphorical and political and social contexts. This expression of ‘the’ Gospel will move one person and that expression will move another.

Turner states: “Used with nouns, the art. has the same double import in Hell. Greek as in class. Greek: it is either individualizing or generic” (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament III, 172). Usage is certainly more fluid, or fluid in different ways, than in English. But the distinction between definite and indefinite nouns remains valid. So for example, Luke 4:17: “A scroll (biblion, without the article) was given to him and he unrolled the scroll (to biblion, anaphoric, referring back to the particular scroll)….”

Having said that, kosmos is said to be one of a group of words (also ouranos, , thalassa) which are frequently used without the article—for example, Romans 4:13: “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world (kosmou without the article) did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”

Unless, that is, Paul means “heir of a world”….

In addition to 2 Corinthians 5:19 (and excepting prepositional phrases) there are only two other passages in Paul according to the grammars (I haven’t checked) where kosmos lacks the article, both of which have strong thematic links with 2 Corinthians 5:19:

For if their rejection means the reconciliation of (the) world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (Rom. 11:15; note also verse 12)

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which (the) world has been crucified to me, and I to (the) world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Gal. 6:14–15)

So it is perhaps the case that when Paul wants to speak of a world reconciled to God as new creation, as in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, he has in mind one world that is repudiated and another world that is affirmed. It seems to me a possibility—but it does not affect the main argument about gospel and reconciliation in the post.

It is interesting to me that you cite several nouns used without the article. World being one, I was noting in Wright this phrase “the whole world is now God’s holy land, subject to the rule of the Messiah” (Messiahship in Galatians, p 13 in Galatians and Christian Theology). World like New Creation is one of those phrases which without the article cannot be rendered ‘a’ world. English has no way of stating this with an article - perhaps capitalizing it would put it into a different mode of perception. I still like Aune’s way of thinking - the anarthrous highlights the word as if to say - pay attention. Then when the same word is used with the article later (or even sometimes proleptically) it is clear that the definite refers to the original highlighted concept. This fits with narrative approaches also but is tricky in translation (as are many things).

As to Gospel, your use of ‘not really’ tips me off as a ‘well maybe you are not thinking about this word in the right way - but look at it this way’ - almost special pleading like the adjective ‘true’. The true meaning etc… There is no reconciliation without glorification, so the phrase ‘reconciling’ is not limited to suffering or penalty etc etc, but the suffering is real as the glorification is real - i.e. not just an imaginary construct dreamed up in desperation by doomed mortals. O dear - I am out of my depth (as usual).

Blessings

Can you give me the reference for Aune’s argument?

The “not really” is more apologetic in the sense “look, I know reconciling the world to God sounds like it ought to be the gospel, but I think that misses what the New Testament is getting at”. Not sure that really counts as special pleading. My point is that “gospel” in the New Testament is a rather narrow, univocal concept. It refers to the proclamation to Jew and Gentile that YHWH has give authority to his crucified Son to judge and rule.

I like the authority statement of the Gospel - it is very consistent with the readings from Acts in the post Easter common lectionary and very consistent with the message of YHWH as ruler through the anointed in the Psalms. Judging the world with equity.

The Aune long section on anarthrous nouns is in the Word Biblical commentary on Revelation. Big book - well worth getting out of the library if there is one near.

Andrew,

So it is perhaps the case that when Paul wants to speak of a world reconciled to God as new creation, as in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, he has in mind one world that is repudiated and another world that is affirmed.

This is exactly what is going on. I keep trying to tell you there was/is more than one “world”. From Isarel’s perspective they lived within a “covenant world”. This “covenant world” is what was created in Genesis. Genesis is not about the creation of the physical/material universe - even physically attached scholars (John Walton) are finally starting to see it. This the world referenced in Rev. 21:1 as the “first heaven and earth”. That world was transformed into a “new heaven and earth” in AD 70, which is just as covenantal as the first. This is also the “house” that Jesus went to build (John 14:2) while he was sitting at the right hand (AD 30 - 70).

This is also why Jesus could state:

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished - Matt 5:18.

Jesus clearly connects the Law to a “heaven and earth”. The Law has passed and thus all is accomplished (this has to include the Resurrection). and a “heaven and earth” also has to have passed. We’ll, the physcial world didn’t go anywhere. It was covenantal!

See Beyond Creation Science for a pretty thorough presentation.

I can see that the covenant people are “a world”—it was a major part of my argument in Re: Mission that Abraham was the father of a new creation in microcosm. I can also see how Genesis 1-3 might in important ways foreshadow Israel’s story. But I see no reason as yet to deny that Genesis means to describe the creation of the whole world and Revelation the re-creation of the whole world. This is central to how the scriptures affirm YHWH as creator.

Andrew,

But I see no reason as yet to deny that Genesis means to describe the creation of the whole world and Revelation the re-creation of the whole world.

That’s ok. :) You once thought Hell was a real place, but then one day you didn’t.

I’m curious though. What “heaven and earth” did pass with the Law that Jesus mentions in Matthew 5:18? I could be wrong, but I think you hold to the law as having past. If so, this requires a “heaven and earth” to have passed.

A brief introduction that might interest you.

http://tinyurl.com/y8mw9or9

I really would recommend John Walton’s introductory book The Lost World of Genesis One.

Andrew,

Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One is the one that N.T. Wright wrote an editorial review where he said:

“John Walton’s expertise in the Ancient Near Eastern sources enables him to shed a flood of new and unexpected light on the deeper meaning of Genesis 1. The Creator, Genesis is saying, designed heaven and earth as a great temple with the intention of coming to live in it himself–and the sabbath isn’t just a nice break after the work is done, but the moment when he takes up residence in the world he has just made. The implications of this resonate right through the rest of the Bible. This is not just a book to invite ‘creationists’ to think differently; it is a book to help all Bible students read the whole of Scripture with fresh eyes.” (N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham)

I would also highly recommend one of Walton’s other, more scholarly books, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible.

Andrew,

Thank you for your detailed reply. It will take me some time to sift through everything you have said.

Your point that Paul was writing to Christians at Corinth was an immediate “duh” moment for me. It is amazing how tradition and presuppositions cloud our understanding of some of the most obvious truths.

Andrew, you summarised your opinion thus: ‘In the previous post I argued that in the New Testament the propositional content of the “gospel” is not that Jesus died for anyone’s sins…’ I found your argument, as ever, persuasive, but I wonder how you would see Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 15:1-3–

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures...’

There seems little doubt that Paul’s proclamation of the gospel at least included, and probably began with the assertion that Christ died for ‘our’ sins. The ‘our’ may in your view be open to debate, but it is surely ‘someone’.