I received this question recently and decided to post on it again. It seems like it should be a softball. It turns out, it’s not. It’s a hard curve. Here’s the question and my response.
Why did Paul establish the idea of salvation via faith? Why did he think that salvation by Jesus’ crucifixion was conditional on faith? Especially when Jesus’ ministry often promoted good works and when Jesus himself surely would have believed in salvation via good works (being Jewish)?
I feel like this is a core tenet I struggle to get my head around since it seems almost contradictory to circumvent good works and then have so many good people–or at least as good as those who have faith–go to hell, or, more accurately, annihilation.
The easiest way to see how Paul came to think/believe/understand his evangelistic message that “salvation” with God can come only by “faith” in Christ’s death is by realizing how he started reasoning backwards from his belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. Paul insisted that Christ appeared to him long after he had been crucified, and so he “knew” that Jesus was alive again. This “fact” led him to try to work out the “implications.”
The backward reasoning appears to have worked like this: if Paul knew that Jesus had been crucified, the only way to explain how he might be alive again (Paul knew he was alive because he saw him [he said]) was that God did a miracle. God had raised Jesus from the dead. But if God raised Jesus from the dead, that would mean that Jesus really was the one who stood under God’s special favor. He was the one chosen by God. He was the anointed one. But then why would he die? If he was in God’s special favor, why would God let him be executed? Would God require him to be executed? Tortured to death? Is this what God does to the one he favors? What does he do to his enemies?
The matter was actually a bit more complicated than that for Paul, because Jesus didn’t die just any death, not even just any excruciating death. He was killed on a cross. That was a particular problem for Paul because
Most people who think that in Christianity, salvation comes “by faith” have no clue where the idea came from. I explain it in this post. Want to see? Join the blog! You get tons of content for very little money. And all the money goes to help those in need. What could be better??<a href=”/register/”>Click here for membership options </a>