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Paul’s “Judicial” Model of Salvation

I am currently in the middle of a thread discussing the significance of Paul to the history of early Christianity. So far I have been trying to argue that Paul is of utmost importance to the New Testament itself, but that it is very difficult to know how much of what we think of as Pauline theology (the doctrine of the atonement, for example) was *distinctive* of Paul (I doubt if he came up with the idea himself) and that there are some prominent features of Paul’s thought – e.g., the importance of Jesus’ resurrection – that he must have inherited from Christians before him.

One of my ultimate points is going to be that whatever one thinks about Paul’s originality, it is clear that the gospel that he proclaimed looked very different from what Jesus himself taught. To get to that point, I have to deal a bit more with what it is that Paul proclaimed.

Nowhere does Paul lay out his gospel message more clearly than in the book of Romans. The reason is that this letter – unlike all the others that we have from Paul’ hand – was not written to a church that he himself had founded and was not written to deal with problems that had arisen in the the community (unlike the other six). Paul explicitly indicates that he had not founded this church and in fact had never even been to Rome. He does want to come there, though, because he wants to use it as a base of operation for his mission further to the West, to Spain.

But he knows that (some of? all?) the Roman Christians have heard rumors about him and his mission and his message, and he needs to set the record straight so they will support him. To do so, he lays out his gospel message to them, explaining what it is he stands for.

And so Romans is his attempt to explain his gospel message. In my textbook on the New Testament I try to explain what this message is. It will take two or three posts here to lay it all out. Here’s the first bit, taken from the book:

****************************************************************

 

Pauline Models for Salvation

Rather than launching into a passage-by-passage exposition of Romans, it may be more useful at this point to reflect in broader terms on what Paul has to say in this letter about his central theme, the gospel. (Remember: Paul is not speaking about a Gospel book that contains a record of Jesus’ words and deeds, but about his own gospel message.) In fact, Paul has a variety of things to say about it, and it is easy at places to become confused, wondering if Paul is being consistent with himself. In most instances (I’m not sure I can vouch for all of them), Paul is not inconsistent and is not himself confused. The difficulty is that he discusses God’s act of salvation in a number of different ways and sometimes does not clearly indicate which way he is thinking about. Or to put the matter somewhat differently, Paul has various modes of understanding — various conceptual models — of what it means to say that God brought about salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

 

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Paul’s “Participationist” Model of Salvation
Paul’s Gospel Message

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    nichael  April 28, 2014

    Two quick (I hope) questions:

    1] From above: “Rather than launching into a passage-by-passage exposition of Romans, …”

    You’re surely right that this is not the place to do this, but can you recommend a handy source that _does_ do this (possibly at each of the “article-” and “book-length” levels)?

    2] And although this is not exactly the current topic, while we’re on the general topic of Paul, here’s something I’ve wondered about since Mrs Price’s Sunday School class.

    We have no way of knowing for sure, but are you aware of any interesting thoughts on why Saul would have changed his name? Both in the sense of why he would have changed it in the first place (so far as we know no other person in the NT commemorated his/her conversion by changing their name –even Simon/Peter/Cephas had his name changed for him); and why he would have chosen “Paul”? (The single-letter change –“Bart”/”Bert”– is certainly convenient. But is there a more subtle point here that I’m missing here)?

    • Avatar
      nichael  April 29, 2014

      Dr Ehrman

      Let me ask an “administrative” question about posting:

      Are you OK with folks asking questions in the Comments section when, like the above, the question is not actually on-topic for the current post (or to pick an obvious recent example: Questions about your new book for which folks might have a question but about whose topic there has not be a related posting)?

      Or would you prefer that folks try to keep “on-topic” in their questions on a given page?

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

        Yes, that’s fine with me. As it is, there’s no other way to ask a question — a bit of a draw back to the way we have things set up….

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

      I’d suggest the one-volume HarperCollins Bible Commentary, that covers all of the books, passage by passage, including the portion on Romans written by my own NT professor from graduate school, Paul Meyer. For a full commentary, possibly the Anchor Bible commentary by Joseph Fitzmyer?

  2. Avatar
    Matt7  April 28, 2014

    Paul’s logic doesn’t seem to work. If the penalty for sin is death, and Jesus paid the penalty, then why do Christians still die? If the penalty is “eternal” death, and Jesus paid the penalty, then why isn’t he still dead?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

      Good questions! They have to do with his *other* understanding of how salvation works, discussed in today’s post.

  3. Avatar
    toddfrederick  April 28, 2014

    In the past few years a number of books dealing with Paul have been published, most notably that by Berrie Wilson, by James Tabor, and N.T. Wright (which I would read if I could afford it :D). I think you are next in line. Your posts here are very clear, well organized highly understandable. I think you should consider a Paul book…how about it?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

      Too many other books I want to write!!

      • Avatar
        toddfrederick  April 30, 2014

        Sorry to hear that…I think you could write a worthwhile book dealing with Paul.

  4. Avatar
    prairieian  April 29, 2014

    The fact we live in a world beset with evil seems a fact of simple observation. Any evening’s news will demonstrate the point.

    My question is probably unanswerable. Why would God require the sacrifice of his son as the propitiation of our sins? Why would he condemn all his created beings to death when it is apparently impossible to live a life without sin? To avoid this outcome, God hits upon the solution of an incarnated son who will provide an example of how to live, and who will suffer and die for us, conveniently at the hands of a third party – assuming the link to the God of Israel has global significance. Salvation is thus achieved for that portion of the populace that has the appropriate degree of faith in the narrative. The vast majority of the globe’s population presumably remains outside the Pale.

    Atonement is very difficult conceptually whether you go for a judicial approach or participatory.

    • Avatar
      toddfrederick  April 30, 2014

      A few thoughts on this:

      The atonement is a theological doctrine / dogma and is one a of many possible positions that can be derived from scripture. There are other ways of looking at Jesus’ mission. The atonement was a position proposed by Paul based on what he said was given to him by the risen Christ through a vision or visions. The atonement is not found strongly proposed by Jesus in the synoptic gospels.

      In the first three gospels, especially Mark, Jesus is an apocalyptic preacher proclaiming the immanent coming of the kingdom of God on Earth and calls for his listeners to prepare for that Kingdom through repentance of sin and baptism and following “kingdom ethic” even before the kingdom arrives.

      There is no mention of a sacrificial event such as the crucifixion and the resurrection except for what has been fed back into the gospels at a later time after the death of Paul. Read the gospels carefully and look for the essence of Jesus’ message being apocalyptic. One good example being from Mark 1:14…”Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of god is a hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’ ” ESV. This would be an earthly event…not a “going to heaven” spiritual event as is proposed by contemporary evangelical Christianity.

      This event did not happen and Jesus was wrong. The early church, especially through Paul, spiritualized it and developed the idea of the atonement making the kingdom of God a place both in heaven and on earth at the end times.

      As the church developed and became a state religion these doctrines (trinity, atonement, and so on) were written in Creeds and became the doctrine of the developing church.

      Jesus, in my opinion, did not preach an atonement theology.

      Understanding the development of the Christian message is complicated and not always consistent.

      Just my opinion.

      • Avatar
        VirtualAlex  May 1, 2014

        A great opinion, I agree with what you have said.

    • Avatar
      willow  April 30, 2014

      Bart, I wasn’t being serious. It was a long week and I was just feeling a bit punchy. I will, however, read ch. 16 – for as thick headed as I am, one reading is not ever enough of anything. ‘-)

  5. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  April 29, 2014

    Great post! Thanks for making it easier to understand. There’s just so much for me to learn…

  6. Avatar
    toejam  April 29, 2014

    And I must say that I’ve always found this a hiddeous doctrine.

    • Avatar
      VirtualAlex  May 1, 2014

      It is hideous. I think Paul was suffering a terrible guilt complex when he invented all this.

  7. Avatar
    willow  April 29, 2014

    He’d never been to Rome but he KNEW the Roman Christians were – talking bad about him? So, he just HAD to set them (some, all?) straight?

    See. I told ya he was a mental case.

    • Avatar
      willow  April 29, 2014

      I threw he knew the Roman Christians were talking bad about him, because that’s just how many a narcissist thinks.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

      Well, he did know a lot of people there (see ch. 16). So he may have gotten word….

    • Avatar
      VirtualAlex  May 1, 2014

      Just imagine if he’d had the internet!

  8. TracyCramer
    TracyCramer  April 29, 2014

    You are such a great explainer. I now have a half dozen questions, but I won’t ask them at this time because I have a better idea for your time: a book on Paul. I would Love that. If that is not your plan, would you give us a hint about what your next book will be about?

    tracy

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

      Yes, it won’t be Paul. I’m debating between two just now. Maybe I’ll explain in a couple of posts….

  9. Avatar
    jhague  April 29, 2014

    When you say “Christians before Paul”, was there someone before Paul who referred to Jesus as a Christ figure? Or was there a Jewish sect that followed Jesus before Paul and Christians after Paul?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

      Yes, the disciples of Jesus, as soon as they came to believe in the resurrection, declared that Jesus was the resurrected messiah. And they remained within Judaism, as did their early converts.

      • Avatar
        Peter  April 29, 2014

        Bart.

        Sorry to look for a one word answer when I’m sure you could probably write a full book in response, but here goes…

        Is it safe to assume that by the time John was written, or shortly after, Christianity was no longer a movement within Judaism?

        If not by the time John was written, how long after (say to the nearest 20 years or so) did the two diverge, in your opinion?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2014

          No, there continued to be faithful Jewish Christians, for a long time.

        • gmatthews
          gmatthews  May 19, 2014

          Although I’m loathe to mention his name, Simcha Jacobovici did a multi-episode arc on The Naked Archaeologist called Whatever Happened to the JC Bunch and part of it was on what happened to the Jewish Christians in later years. You might can find the episodes on youtube. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I believe he’s got some discussion of them that goes well into the 400s CE if not further in time. I’m sure you can Google the topic and find something better than Simcha’s coverage of the topic though.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 19, 2014

            Yes, I don’t go to Simcha for my historical data. 🙂 And yes, it is indeed true that there were Jewish Christians still for centuries. There is very good scholarship on this. (It is usually called “The Ways that Never Parted” literature — from a book by Annette Yoshiko Reed and Adam Becker; see also Daniel Boyarin’s Borderlines, etc.)

      • Avatar
        willow  April 30, 2014

        Yes, the disciples of Jesus, as soon as they came to believe in the resurrection, declared that Jesus was the resurrected messiah. And they remained within Judaism, as did their early converts.

        In particular, James, Peter and John, Paul’s “so called elders”, is my understanding, though no church I’ve ever attended made this point clear and aligned Peter with Paul when in fact (if my understanding is correct) it was Luke who was attached to Paul at the hip, not Peter. Am I correct in this understanding?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2014

          Sorry — I’m afraid you’ve lost me!

          • Avatar
            willow  May 1, 2014

            I’m sorry! The disciples you’re speaking of, who remained within Judaism, would include Peter and John, along with James, who were the “so called elders” of the church in Jerusalem Paul speaks of, correct? It’s a common church teaching that Peter aligned himself with Paul and together the two established the church in Rome, which I understand now to be incorrect. Peter, as far as we know, established no church in Rome. Is that correct?

            I hope this helps to clarify.

            Thanks for putting up with me.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 1, 2014

            Yes, I think you and I agree on all these points.

      • Avatar
        jhague  April 30, 2014

        So that is my point. The disciples of Jesus were a Jewish sect, not Christians. It appears there were not Christians until after Paul, right?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2014

          I think you’re assuming that Christians can’t be Jews. But the earliest followers of Jesus were both.

          • Avatar
            jhague  April 30, 2014

            Do you think the earliest followers of Jesus called themselves Christians? I’m guessing not.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 1, 2014

            No. But Paul didn’t either.

          • Avatar
            willow  May 1, 2014

            Jewish Christians, no?

          • Avatar
            jhague  May 2, 2014

            Not to belabor this but my thinking is that the earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish and wanted nothing to do with Paul’s new religion, which eventually became Christianity. To be a Christian is to be a follower of Christianity. The earliest followers of Jesus were not Christians just like the historical Jesus is not Paul’s Christ figure. Jesus is historical, Paul’s Christ is a cosmic myth. It may become semantics at some point but I think it makes a difference. Many people today talk like the earliest followers of Jesus were Christians making them be in agreement with Paul’s teachings. Most people today say the names Jesus and Christ as if they are referring to the same person. I look at it all as being totally different.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 2, 2014

            I’d say that to be a Christian means to be a follower of Christ as the way of salvation, and the earliest followers certainly were that.

          • Avatar
            jhague  May 3, 2014

            I know that Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah and I know that Christ is generally treated as synonymous with Jesus of Nazareth, but I think the earliest followers looked to Jesus as a Jewish messiah not a Greek cosmic savior. Paul’s Christ was to bring salvation beyond this earth. The Jewish messiah was to bring God’s kingdom on earth. It seems to me that the earliest followers shouldn’t be called Christians. Ok. I’m done with this one. 😉

  10. Avatar
    willow  May 1, 2014

    Bart, to further your understanding of my understanding, however amiss it may be, I might add this from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    We possess no precise information regarding the details of his Roman sojourn (Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by Gerard Haffner. St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

    And this from Origen:

    “Peter himself seems to have observed for a considerable time the Jewish observances enjoined by the law of Moses, not having yet learned from Jesus to ascend from the law… Peter “went up into the upper room to pray about the sixth hour. And he became very hungry, and would have eaten”…Peter is represented as still observing the Jewish customs respecting clean and unclean animals. (Origen. Contra Celsus, Book II, Chapter 1)

    And this from Paul:

    But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days (Galatians1:15-18).

    Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ (Galatians 1:21-22).

    Galatians 2:1-9:

    Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

    As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.

    This all just indicates to me that Peter wasn’t in Rome long enough (made occasional visits) to have established a church.

    The Apostolic Ministry of St. Peter, page 67:

    42-49 First sojourn in Rome…
    54-57 Second sojourn in Rome; Gospel of Mark written under Peter’s direction…
    62-67 Third sojourn in Rome; canonical Epistles of Peter…
    64-67 Martyrdom in Rome and burial near the Necropolis at the Vatican.

    Martyred by Nero, in Rome, but for what reason – the faith he professed or quite simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Nero sought vengeance upon the Christians, blaming them for the fire? (Tacitus/Annals).

    • Avatar
      willow  May 1, 2014

      I know this is rather off topic, and I apologize; but as such are the things that remained unsettled with me.

  11. Avatar
    madmargie  May 2, 2014

    “One of my ultimate points is going to be that whatever one thinks about Paul’s originality, it is clear that the gospel that he proclaimed looked very different from what Jesus himself taught. To get to that point, I have to deal a bit more with what it is that Paul proclaimed.”

    If the message Paul spread was not the message of Jesus, why do you suppose later Christians adopted Paul’s theology instead of Jesus’ message of God’s Kingdom? And did it have anything to do with the selling of indulgences to keep people out of hell? Or was that a much later aberration of the message of Jesus??

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 2, 2014

      Indulgences came much later. Paul’s message resonated more with people outside a Palestinian Jewish context. I’ll say more about that anon.

  12. Robertus
    Robertus  May 3, 2014

    “God shows that he is satisfied with this payment by raising Jesus from the dead (Rom 3:23-24; 4:24-25).”

    … πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον καὶ ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ 24 δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ· …

    … for all have sinned and are lacking the glory of God, being justified as a gift by means of his grace through the liberation of Messiah Jesus …

    4,23 … Now the words, “it was reckoned to him [Abraham],” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our righteousness. …

    There is nothing here about God being satisfied with payment of a debt. Paul was not a follower of Anselm or Luther.

    But, elsewhere, Paul does indeed speak of our being bought (αγοράζω), eg, in 1 Cor 7,23, so that we should not become slaves of men, in a context where he is speaking of slavery and of our being slaves of Christ, and also more generally (6,20), but it is clear elsewhere that we are being bought (ἐξαγοράζω) and freed from the curse of the law (Gal 3,14 4,5).

  13. Avatar
    Steefen  May 4, 2014

    Steefen:
    Would you agree that Jewish matters referred to the emperor required some sort of written description for preview before the actual hearing? An example of this is given “on the internet” by David A. Anderson. (See below)

    David A. Anderson:
    To think that Matthew, Mark, John, Peter, James, and Jude together comprise only 44% of the New Testament, while Paul and Luke occupy 56%, is a fact well worth considering. Why is this so? After 30 or more years in the ministry, teaching and studying God’s Word, and lately being forced to learn some of the rudiments of Law because of an out of control government, the answer becomes crystal clear to me. Paul is the only apostle who appealed to Caesar (Nero) and it appears that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were two parts of an affidavit that Luke submitted to the Roman Court in support of Paul. http://my.en.com/~anders/paul62ad.html

    Steefen:
    Could the Paul’s Authentic Letter to the Romans have been Paul’s notes in preparation for a hearing before Nero or practice hearings with Nero’s wife, or an actor who had access to Nero, or Nero’s secretary, Epaphroditus, or the Jews of Rome?

    Did Paul appear before Nero? Did his accusers from Judea show up to press their case or were the charges dropped?

  14. Avatar
    ellispm35  June 22, 2018

    Hey Bart!

    “the wages of sin is death” (i.e., death is the penalty for all who have sinned, Rom 6:23)

    Isn’t this totally incompatible with and, in fact, contradictory to an ALL-LOVING God?? How could we possibly say that an ALL-Loving God condemns billions of decent human beings who’ve committed some sins (nothing too serious, mind you) to the death penalty? That’s totally disproportionate to the offense. That sounds like a very unjust God, indeed. I’m an attorney, and our human judicial system is not even this cruel. What the heck is going on here?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 24, 2018

      It’s actually a legal concept. Break a law, pay the penalty. It’s not the judge’s or lawgiver’s fault — it’s yours!

      • Avatar
        ellispm35  June 24, 2018

        My question, though, is about the nature of the lawgiver in light of the punishment he hands down for breaking his law. Imagine if the North Carolina legislature passed (and your governor signed) a law that made all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies punishable by the death penalty. Any such law, of course, would be deemed unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment — and condemned as such by 99.9999% of people. How could anyone reasonably conclude that a God who punishes violations of his laws (even minor violations) with the death penalty as an All-Loving God? (And please don’t say it’s amazing what people can reconcile when they put their mind to it. 🙂). Seriously, how do intellectually honest people reconcile this?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 25, 2018

          Yeah, it’s worse than that. If you are a serial jaywalker, you will be tortured for all eternity….

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