Paul’s Jewish Theology #2

Mountain scene with Romans 5:1.I often tell people two things to get them started on this experiment of reading Paul with new eyes. One, read Romans 5-8 daily for a while. Two, read chapter 5, verse 1, the way it was meant to be translated:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faithfulness [Messiah’s, not ours], we have peace with God through our Lord Messiah Yeshua.

It is tragic that one Paul’s main points has been misconstrued so badly. He says over and over again that Yeshua’s faithfulness has saved us. This got turned into, “Your ability to have faith saves you.” The messages could not be more unalike.

Ask a hundred Christian Protestants what the “gospel” is and they will say something like “you have to believe to be saved.” Yes, I know. There are so many verses that say something similar, “believe and be saved.” Those verses also are misunderstood.

Getting Paul and Justification and Salvation Right

People confuse two things. One is the pre-condition of our happiness and enlightenment. We cannot enter the journey and be transformed without faith. That is true. The other is a false notion, the idea that God will not rescue us until after we have believed. This is the idea that our ability to believe is a prerequisite for receiving God’s mercy.

It is not that our accomplishment, coming to faith, moves God to save us. He already destined us for rescue and transformation, even while we were enemies. He loved us before we loved him. Messiah already came with the intention of giving us rest and healing our broken hearts. God planned to rescue us from this present evil age before we were ready to ask him for any kind of help. He intended beforehand to redeem us from all evil and purify us.

No, faith is not our accomplishment. Messiah is the author of our faith (Heb 12:2). The Son reveals the Father to us (Matt 11:27). God draws us toward him (John 6:44). We are appointed to eternal life (Acts 13:48). Faith is a gift, something God causes to happen in us (Eph 2:8). God assigns to each person a measure of faith (Rom 12:3). We received faith and so there is no boasting as if we accomplished it (1 Cor 4:7). He will complete our faith (Phil 1:6). Our ability to believe has been granted to us (Phil 1:29). God works in us to will and to do (Phil 2:13). God qualified us to share in the inheritance of the holy ones (Col 1:12). God circumcises our hearts, gives us a new one, writes Torah on it, and brings us back to him (Deut 30:6; Ezek 36:26-27; Jer 31:31-34).

I know the verses above raise questions about free will versus determinism. I believe in free will. I am not saying God simply turns on the switch. But that topic is for another time.

So I say it again, there is a difference between two ideas. One says that our ability to believe is a prerequisite for receiving God’s mercy. That idea is not true. But wait, you say, faith seems all important in hundreds of verses from Torah to the Gospels to the letters. Yes, the other idea is the true one: faith is the pre-condition of our happiness and enlightenment. We need faith and the sooner faith comes to us, the sooner our enjoyment and the more complete.

Let me show the difference another way. You can love someone without them loving you back. If they want to benefit from the full experience of your love for them, it is a pre-condition that they love you in return. But their loving you is not a prerequisite for you loving them. You may love those indifferent to or even unkind toward you. When they are ready to enjoy you as a person, it is a pre-condition that they love you as well.

Paul’s actual message in verses like Romans 5:1 is that Yeshua made us right with God by his faithfulness. He was faithful to take on our human condition. He was faithful to experience the same death all of us know as part of what it means to be mortal and human. He was faithful to remain loyal through all his trials. He was faithful to say, “Father, forgive them,” about his tormentors as he was dying. And because of his faithfulness he was raised and then brought up to the right hand of God.

Now that you have that idea straight, please do make Romans 5-8 your daily portion for a little while. Let it change you. Let it give you a positive view of God’s healing love. Be liberated from the view of God who demands honor and welcome you into the view of God who loves you more than you love him. In fact, he loves you better than you love anyone, even your children or spouse or dearest friend.

Paul saw all that and it fits perfectly with Torah. The pre-condition of our blessing is believing in God, loving him with all our heart, cleaving to him, obeying him, and doing so with all of our being. Deuteronomy is true. But ultimately this is what Deuteronomy has to say about it: “Adonai your God will circumcise your heart” (30:6).

Paul’s theology sees promise in the Torah. And that promise has begun to be fulfilled in Yeshua. Romans 5-8 will bring Torah, promise, and Messiah together. If you read it repeatedly you will, I hope, begin to see a new way of thinking, one that leaves behind justification theory and the conditional gospel.

What is the theology of Romans 5-8? What does it say about “salvation”?

In Part 3, I will begin restating the relevant section of Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God (chapter 3, section 2.1, “The Soteriology Apparent in Romans 5-8”). It is a liberating theology, far from the angry God many people imagine Paul believed in. It is a Jewish theology, grounded in Torah and creation and the world to come.

19 Comments

  1. To say that it is “by faithfulness” – the Messiah’s faithfulness – that we are saved/made whole is to affirm that our salvation is entirely a gift from God independent of our abilities, thoughts, wills and/or actions. We believe/believed nothing, do/did nothing, think/thought nothing to be given this gift.

    1. Exactly. Being able to love pure goodness is not an unusual virtue. The journey we make through the experience of good and evil, through the silence of God, is for our own transformation. We have to experience greyworld to appreciate paradise.

  2. Am I saved by Messiah’s faithfulness or by my faith in Messiah? Perhaps it is both. God reaches out to me first, then I respond by reaching for Him thus making a connection. If I’m drowning and a man comes along in a boat and reaches out to me, I respond by reaching for him and if we make the connection I’ll be saved. In the Bible, ‘to know’ means to connect whether it is referring to sex or understanding. When Jesus says “depart from me, I never knew you” he is saying “we never made a connection even though I reached out to you.” Messiah’s faithfulness allows Him to reach out to me and I reach back in faith.

  3. Yes, Derek, I agree with your main point, it is Messiah´s faithfulness that saves us, not our faith as an accomplishment, this seems really more in line with the whole scripture. It is always God´s initiative, God reaching out for us and then our faith is a response. I like your post, though it raises lots of questions I can´t write down right now. I understand how you come to your conclusions. I will read Rom. 5-8 for a while and pray about it.
    Blessings
    Angelika

  4. Your interpretation is not strictly impossible, but you don’t give us any reason to accept it as the correct translation.

    The context, contrarily, gives us excellent reasons to accept the traditional interpretation. Paul has just spent an entire chapter explaining how a man, Abraham, believed what God told him, and how that willingness to take God at His word was accepted by God as righteousness. Preceding that chapter (recall that chapter breaks are not part of the text) was this statement: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

    So Paul’s topic was NOT “look at how faithful God has been in Christ,” but rather “look at how God responds when men trust Him.” And that’s why all the translations posit that we’re justified by faith: OUR faith, not Jesus’. They’re reading the context. You’re not.

    Sorry, Derek, but you’re simply and completely wrong.

    1. I will address you context argument as the series unfolds, Phil. Problem is, you’re looking back for context instead of forward. I will get to the purpose of Romans 1-4 after I finish 5-8. But Romans 4 is really about Abraham’s faithfulness and not his ability to believe.

  5. I am enjoying your posts Derek and look forward to the rest. It is definitely more comforting to believe in a loving Creator rather than an angry one. It seems to allow more easily for us to see ourselves as co-workers with Yeshua. We still have to respond but we are still loved even when we get it wrong.

  6. This is a view I am beginning to ASSIMILATE (there you go!). My Calvin-influenced background is being rethought. Thanks, Derek.

    1. Thanks, DC. And It’s fun to see someone use one of my “game” words from the Daily Portion email list. Several authors have said Calvinists believe God has the power to bring us to faith. Arminians believe he has the desire to bring all to faith. Calvinists disagree that God has the desire. Arminians disagree that God uses his power. Universalists believe both are true: God wills it and has the power to bring it about.

  7. I couldn’t agree more Derek. I used to think it was my faith that “saved” me. A couple of years ago I came to your same conclusion. God’s faithfulness saved me. And I just responded positively to His Love and mercy.

    Blessings!

  8. Thanks so much, Derek, for sharing your gleanings from Campbell’s writings on Paul. Our relationship with God is a two-way street. He woos and we are free to respond or ignore His overtures. But our redemption ultimately depends on His faithfulness to provide for us, which He has!

    “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim 2:13)

  9. Do I agree? YES! I was drawn irresistibly to this whole topic when you introduced Douglas Campbell and his book (The Deliverance of God) some months ago. I even looked up some YouTube interviews of Campbell and tried to glean more on this topic (he seems like a guy I would like to hang around with); I’m so glad that you have picked this topic up again. Because of my interest, I agreed to help co-teach a new Sunday School class with another man on the book of Romans. I got to teach on Romans 5 and my main point was the point here. We are justified because of, or by Jesus’ faithfulness. There is so much supporting text evidence for your translation of Romans 5:1, some of which you pointed out in this post, that you don’t have to be a Greek Scholar to see it. I used Rom 3:22 in the Expanded Bible (EXB), Rom 4:25 (because of “Therefore” in 5:1) and Eph 2:8-9. It was very easy for the class to see and accept it! Thanks for introducing this translation and teaching to me and your continued instruction on it!

    1. Thank you, Bryan. It sounds like you have given me an outline for a blog post, examining Romans 3:22, the logical flow from Romans 4:25 into 5:1, and the meaning of Ephesians 2:8 to make a case: God gives us faith and what saves us is the faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua.

  10. Having the option to go into a relationship with our Creator shows his love. Courting us and calling to us through the writings of those whom were close to him.

  11. Thank you Derek, for returning to this topic…I was intrigued about the intro you started on last year and really felt sad about not being able to hear Douglas Campbell’s take on Paul. I have always felt something was missing…I have always tried to imagine Paul trying to take in what G-d was asking him to do – taking the mission field into the borders outside Israel. This was a huge undertaking. He must have been successful too, what with the sweet aroma of Messiah redolent in his very words and writings…bringing Gentiles into the knowledge of Israel’s G-d not just at that time, but all across the centuries impacting people – even though we had trouble understanding precisely what he meant!
    Let us pray we catch the fire of his vision again to finish what he started by understanding his writings better. It means trying to reduce our misunderstanding of this beautiful man whose life burned itself out for G-d and for the Gentile. G-d was sure about the vessel in His hands for His work.

  12. I’m so glad you’re hammering this idea home, and with a proper translation of scripture. In all of the misinformation I found I had received over the years, I think this is one of the things I was most blessed to be taught correctly. Perhaps not this verse specifically, but the idea that there is nothing I am going to do-because it’s been done. It was done w/o my existence, w/o my permission or interference, w/o my faith being the pre-requisite. I do like the metaphor of loving someone who may not love you back, but if they do they experience the full benefit. My acceptance of G-d’s love and the realization of Yeshua’s sacrifice was all based on the idea my faults never got in the way of my being able to accept it. In fact, it was because of my faults Yeshua died for me and is offering me life.

  13. I think this whole topic can be irksome haha but I agree that faith comes from the Lord and not from us based on it being one of the fruits of the Spirit. And since God is timeless we have been crucified and resurrected with him already before we were even born which still trips me up

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