Ktismatics

19 December 2008

The New Creation in Paul: Galatians 6

Filed under: Christianity, Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 6:02 am

In thinking about rewriting my book about Genesis 1 I find myself looking at references to creation in the New Testament. Awhile back I wrote a series of posts on Alain Badiou’s book about Saint Paul, in which Badiou touches on the “new creation” as a pivotal concept in Paul’s movement away from flesh and law to spirit. It turns out that Paul uses the phrase “new creation” only twice in his epistles, with the cognate “new creature” appearing three times. No other NT writer refers to the new creation, nor does Jesus as his words are recorded in the Gospels.

Briefly, what I see Paul working out in this idea of “new creation” is a path toward the universal reconciliation of all humanity. This reconciliation is achieved neither through universalizing a social and moral code (as represented by Israel), nor by participating in a universal empire (as represented by Rome), but through some sort of universal participation in Jesus. It seems that this participation has already been accomplished through Jesus’s historical death and resurrection, even if the consequences of this cataclysmic event aren’t yet widely recognized.

In the spirit of this Epiphany season — no wait, I guess it’s Advent isn’t it? — I’m going to look at each of the 5 Pauline references to “new creation” one at a time. The first one is in Galatians, a Pauline epistle on which I’ve previously written several posts.

Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:12-16)

Throughout his letter to the Galatians Paul mounts an argument against those who would require Gentile believers in Christ to follow the Mosaic Law. Here at the end of the letter he reiterates his position. Paul frequently uses “circumcision” as a synecdoche, a figure of speech where a part stands for the whole. Thus circumcision stands for the whole Mosaic body of law, of which the specific act of circumcision constitutes only one specific law. Paul explicitly identifies the part-whole relationship in the preceding chapter:

And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. (Gal. 5:3)

So in Galatians 6:15 Paul is telling the Galatians that it doesn’t matter whether they follow the Law of Moses or not. But the specific act of circumcision isn’t lost sight of. In 5:12 and 5:13 Paul twice links the word “circumcision” to the word “flesh.” This is important too, because Paul wants to distinguish flesh from spirit. Synecdochally speaking, circumcision doesn’t just represent the whole Law; it also represents the whole flesh. Those who think the Law is important are those who judge matters according to the flesh rather than the spirit.

Now we get to the key phrase in Gal. 6:15:

For neither circumcision is anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

The distinction between those who follow the Law and those who don’t is unimportant, because this is a fleshly distinction. Instead what’s important is a new creation. By implication, then, the world that distinguishes between circumcision and uncircumcision, between Law and not-Law, together comprise the old creation characterized not by spirit but by flesh.

Those who insist on preserving this old fleshly distinction are, of course, the Jews. Is Paul saying that Jewishness itself is an old-creation construct, that from the perspective of the new creation Israel doesn’t matter any more? Gal. 6:16 suggests we think again:

And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

As far as I can tell, the phrase “Israel of God” is used nowhere else in the Bible. In contrast, “God of Israel” is a very frequent construction throughout the Old Testament. Is Paul calling attention to something by inverting the customary word order? He doesn’t elaborate here at the end of Galatians, moving directly from this verse to the closing of his letter. We might speculate from the larger theme of the letter to infer something like this: The Jews act as if God were their possession, as if they controlled the Gentiles’ access to God through the traditional means of circumcision and the Law. But Paul says it’s the other way around: Israel is God’s possession.

So does Paul mean that God gives access to Israel rather than vice versa? I don’t think so. Earlier in Galatians Paul talks about two sons of Abraham: Ishmael, born of the servant Hagar; and Isaac, born of Abraham’s wife Sarah. The nation of Israel traces its lineage through Isaac; the Gentile nations, through Ishmael. But Paul turns the story around:

This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. (Gal. 4:24-25)

Paul distinguishes between earthly Jerusalem, capital of the nation of Israel, and “the Jerusalem above.” How is earthly Jerusalem enslaved? Israel has become a province of the Roman Empire, so in a political sense Jerusalem is enslaved to Rome. But the subject of Paul’s Galatian letter is freedom from the Law. In Chapter 5 he describes the Jews’ subjection to the Law as enslavement. But, says Paul,

It is for freedom that Christ set us free… for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Gal. 5:1,6)

Earthly Jerusalem is enslaved to the Law, but “the Jerusalem above is free.” So in Gal. 4 does “the Jerusalem above” trace its lineage through the Gentile Ishmael? Paul doesn’t complete the analogy in quite this way; rather, he’s making the distinction between the physical and the spiritual descendants of Sarah. Physically, the nation of Israel sets itself apart from the other nations, and this “fleshly” Israel controls access to its God via fleshly circumcision and adherence to the Law. Spiritually, the “Israel of God” isn’t distinguished by ethnicity, national boundaries, or Law. Rather, the Israel of God, the “new creation” to which Paul extends peace and mercy at the end of his letter, is identified by the freedom from these fleshly distinctions between “in” and “out” that characterize the old creation, a freedom made possible by faith and love.

By believing God, Abraham received the promise of a new creation, a promise which was to be fulfilled in the future. This promise, says Paul, has now been fulfilled in Christ’s death, ushering in the new creation. All who believe God can receive now that which had been promised long ago to Abraham. This is the thrust of Paul’s argument in Galatians:

Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (Gal. 3:6-9)

Throughout the centuries the Jews anticipated the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, which remained in the future. They failed to recognize that participation in the Mosaic Law — i.e., membership in the nation of Israel — wasn’t the portal offering entry into the new creation yet to come. The real portal is faith, by which many nations may participate in the fulfillment of the promise.

Many nations are to be blessed by the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. In Gal. 3:16 Paul emphasizes that “the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed: singular, not plural. Paul goes on to say that the seed of Abraham is Christ. I think Paul’s intention here is to assert that the promise wasn’t extended directly to the many nations that would eventually benefit from the promise, nor was it channeled through Israel the grandson of Abraham, nor through Moses by whom the Law was given to the nation of Israel. Instead, the promise passed through Jesus.

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later [i.e., after Abraham], does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. (Gal. 3:17-19)

Paul is saying that the promise to Abraham, the “new creation” through which many nations would be blessed, remained a promise rather than a fulfillment throughout all the intervening centuries between Abraham and Christ. It wasn’t until now, through Christ’s death, that the promise is fulfilled and the new creation begins.

But before faith came, we [i.e., the Jews] were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you [i.e., the Gentile believers] are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:23-29)

There remains an element of the promise yet to be fulfilled, an aspect of the new creation not yet made manifest.

For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. (Gal. 5:5)

Paul directs this remark to the believers who, realizing that they haven’t yet become sinless, are tempted to revert to the Law as the means of achieving sanctification. Paul is reassuring the believers that, even though the promise is now fulfilled in Christ and the new creation is begun, it’s not yet complete. And so Paul begins his discussion of walking freely in the Spirit rather than obeying the Law as the right way to live in new creation.

NEXT UP: 2 CORINTHIANS 5

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17 Comments »

  1. K: The real portal is faith, by which many nations may participate in the fulfillment of the promise….Paul begins his discussion of walking freely in the Spirit rather than obeying the Law as the right way to live in new creation.

    Paul’s use of Abraham is very intriguing….Paul goes back to pre-law days that he may develop a theology of faith: originally, the promise was not through law, so now that the promise is fulfilled, why go back to the old? It is a rational line of thought that makes a lot of sense. The interesting thing is that the vast majority of Protestant theology has always held that law (the so-called “moral” law) is still indispensable for sanctification. Of interest to me is that there have been dissenting voices. Some of the old cooky, original Dispensationalists believed in such a radical difference between the old and new testaments that they easily picked up on the fact that it was okay to let go of the law and live in the new era of the Spirit.

    K: It turns out that Paul uses the phrase “new creation” only twice in his epistles, with the cognate “new creature” appearing three times. No other NT writer refers to the new creation, nor does Jesus as his words are recorded in the Gospels.

    While this is true, there is Jesus’ reference to the “new birth” in John 3…similarities include the fact that Jesus speaks of being born “of the Spirit.”

    K: Briefly, what I see Paul working out in this idea of “new creation” is a path toward the universal reconciliation of all humanity.

    This is a very fantastic idea, and much of it has to do with leaving behind a law-based spiritual economy.

    I will be interested to see how you continue to develop this thought as you explore “new creation.”

    Good post. Thanks.

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    Comment by Erdman — 19 December 2008 @ 1:26 pm

  2. “Paul goes back to pre-law days that he may develop a theology of faith”

    I agree that this is important. Not only is the era of Law finished: Paul says it was always just an interim measure that was meant to fall away when something better came along. Abraham is also pre-Israel (Israel was Abraham’s grandson, as you know), and I think the implication is clear that a religion restricted to a particular group of people is also an interim measure. Universal law and universal dominion both seem the wrong way of thinking about how Paul envisions the new creation. So too does the even more parochial version whereby the Church takes the place of Israel as God’s chosen people in the “new dispensation.” There must be some other way of seeing what Paul is pointing at.

    “Jesus’ reference to the “new birth” in John 3…similarities include the fact that Jesus speaks of being born “of the Spirit.””

    It’s notable I think that in the “old creation” of Genesis 1 there’s no talk of God having given birth to the universe. So I’m not sure how the born-again metaphor fits into the new creation idea. I’ve not investigated it, but does Paul ever use the new birth metaphor? It seems like birth is an “of the flesh” sort of thing, something the Jews relied on for being regarded as chosen and for excluding the Gentiles. Have you any insights into this, Erdman?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 December 2008 @ 3:00 pm

  3. To my knowledge, Paul does not use “new birth” language….Jesus’ use of the term in John 3 is very abstract–he talks about the wind blowing wherever it pleases, which is how it is with those born of the Spirit. The analogy seems to be that those born again are of a strange, ethereal quality….not at all the sort that would want to congregate amongst stuffy religious leaders, like Nicodemus (to whom Jesus is speaking in John 3).

    Also in John 3, Jesus speaks of being born of water and spirit. Everyone is born of water–nothing special about that. But then there is being born of the spirit…which is where it starts to sound so similar to Paul, for whom the new creation is related both to this corporate oneness but also to an individual transformation as a participation in a higher energy (Spirit)….in any event, Jesus seems to undercut those who would put too much emphasis on being born of water, i.e., being born into a particular chosen race–“ye must be born again.”

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    Comment by Erdman — 19 December 2008 @ 3:59 pm

  4. On a related hermeneutical note….the NT writers, Paul included, always try to link their theology to the old testament scriptures. Hence, there seems to be a sense in which they might “upgrade” the idea of a chosen people such that now Gentiles can kind of come along side with Jews and participate in a new club.

    The question is whether this is the case, or whether there is something more radical going on–the inclusiveness of all peoples together.

    The hermeneutical questions become important: are the NT writers (Paul in particular) using the old testament in order to maintain a link to the past promise? Or is this link merely the starting point that propels us into a new era, an era in which we might leave behind the exclusivity of the old covenant? I favor the latter interpretation, the approach you seem to be taking.

    In some cases, perhaps it isn’t all that clear what the NT writers (or Paul) are really going for, but it seems like a precedence is set for at least considering the possibility that exclusivity is giving way in favor of inclusivity in Christ….the question, of course, is whether one can be included if one is not “in Christ”? In the current “Christian” era in history, it seems as though being “in Christ” is actually a barrier to being in Christ.

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    Comment by Erdman — 19 December 2008 @ 4:11 pm

  5. John and Erdman,

    I have read a bit recently how re-translations can really screw up the original message. Bart Erman’s two books first brought this to my attention and I have read of various examples by all kinds of learned authors. Is it possible that anything could be grossly mistaken if examined as closely as this web site very often does? Do you also wonder about the text being altered over the ages? I keep thinking of the point made that none of Paul’s original letters exist so whose exact words could we be studying here? Like Chinese whispers it takes so little to change the entire dialogue over that amount of time. Is it possible that various parts of the text are deliberately constructed to be misunderstood?

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    Comment by Ivan — 20 December 2008 @ 4:25 am

  6. Jesus’s born-again preaching is always directed toward the Jews; rarely does he preach to the Gentiles. I don’t thing Jesus ever offers a path to Gentiles that doesn’t require them to become a convert to Judaism. Jesus imposes a higher standard on those born into Israel: born of water AND of the spirit. Similarly with the Sermon on the Mount: he prescribes following the written Law AND an even more rigorous moral code above and beyond that. Unless your righteousness EXCEEDS that of the pharisees you won’t get into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus sounds more like an Old Testament prophet calling the Jews to repentance and a heartfelt following of the Law. It seems to me that Paul’s is the more radical transformation of the old religion.

    But now I’m looking at John 3:5-6:

    unless one is born of water and the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.

    The parallelism seems to be as you describe it, Erdman: water = flesh. But there’s also an allusion to God’s little talk with Ezekiel (36:24-28):

    “Then I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you, and you will be clean; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances. And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be my people, and I will be your God.”

    For Ezekiel water and spirit go together as part of the renewal. Flesh too: a heart of flesh replaces the heart of stone. And all this is intended as a promise not to all people but to the Jews who have been scattered after the Babylonian conquest of Israel, Ezekiel himself preaching from exile in Babylon. So here Jesus’ born-again language places him in this lineage of Jewish prophets. Jesus is warning of a new Jewish diaspora: unless Israel repents Rome will kick its ass just like Babylon did. And so it came to be within 40 years of Jesus’s death. (Not coincidentally, God always calls Ezekiel “son of man,” which is how Jesus often refers to himself.)

    But John also brings a mystical reading to the preaching of Jesus. Right after this born-again speech John has Jesus talking about how he has descended from heaven and how he will be lifted up, and how those who believe in him will have eternal life, and how God loved not just Israel but the world. This sort of mystified and universalized elaboration makes Jesus seem more like the figure Paul has in mind, someone who speaks from beyond his own death and resurrection as it were.

    It’s interesting that, while Paul and the other epistle writers cite Old Testament texts often, they almost never cite Jesus’s earthly deeds and teachings. Paul is explicit in his rationale: it’s the dead and resurrected Jesus who’s important now, not the dead Jewish preacher. But it’s also curious that, even though presumably there were people still living during Paul’s time who hung around with Jesus after his resurrection, there are no descriptions of Jesus’s teachings during this interval between his resurrection and his ascension. Kind of disappointing, especially since there’s so much redundancy between the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 20 December 2008 @ 9:26 am

  7. K,

    I agree with your above assessment….you’ve expressed it well.

    As a side note, it is interesting to me that Nietzsche looked at Paul as the perverter and polluter of Christianity, while Jesus was (with some differences) a “free spirit,” almost of the Nietzschean variety…..I recently read Antichrist, where Nietzsche explicitly engages with Christianity….it’s a good, short read. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it.

    But back to your thoughts….yes, there is a lot of Jewishness to the Gospels. I still tend to think that John’s Gospel goes a bit beyond, but I can see your above point. And, from my readings of the commentaries, while John has a more mystical approach than the other three Gospels, there is still a very distinct Jewish context….although….Jesus rails against the Jewish leaders, so he clearly has something more radical in mind.

    Question: Does John interact much with Law in his Gospel?

    I do not recall that he does. This might be a significant point. By the time John writes his Gospel, there seems to be little to no concern with the role of Law in the salvific/prophetic message of Jesus. It is a more general and abstract appeal to go from darkness to light….or to drink of the “living water”….or to be “born again”….or to be “of the truth.”

    K: Paul is explicit in his rationale: it’s the dead and resurrected Jesus who’s important now, not the dead Jewish preacher.

    This is another fascinating point….I’m intrigued….the old Dispensationalists place Jesus’ teaching and ministry within the old dispensation, i.e., pre-church age. The death/resurrection of Christ is what ushers in the age of the church. Jesus’ ministry was to and for the Jews–a last-ditch attempt to bring salvation to the Jewish nation via setting up an earthly kingdom w/ Jesus as the King. The rejection of Jesus as Messiah and his subsequent crucifiction mean that a new dispensation is underway. I tend to agree with this…to a point. The point being that Jesus’ ministry and teaching (in their original context) should be considered primarily aimed at the nation of Israel.

    So, I agree with you, then. Paul is concerned with this thing (“Gospel”) that emerges from the wreckage of the life of Christ—not really even Jesus himself! Very postmodern, eh? Of course, Paul makes a strong connection w/ the historical life of Jesus, but you make such an important point: Paul is not concerned with picking up and expounding on Jesus’ teachings or message. The message only emerges post-crucifiction. Intriguing. I really want to dig in more to Dispensational teachings…maybe I can develop a neo-Dispensational theology! A non-Fundamentalist/Evangelical, non-end times obsessed, upgrades version that suggests an ultra-inclusive approach to the Gospel.

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    Comment by Erdman — 20 December 2008 @ 12:40 pm

  8. Ivan: Is it possible that anything could be grossly mistaken if examined as closely as this web site very often does? Do you also wonder about the text being altered over the ages? I keep thinking of the point made that none of Paul’s original letters exist so whose exact words could we be studying here?

    Ivan, I think it is possible that we could be mistaken….but probably not “grossly” mistaken.

    I’ve done a bit of TC work (that is, “textual criticism”) in my time in seminary and while I worked in editing at Eisenbrauns (an academic publisher of ancient Near Eastern works)…..still, TC is not my strong point or my major area of interest….in any event, I do think that we do not have the precise words penned by the author; however, what we do have seems pretty darned close…..the sheer number of manuscripts for the New Testament dwarfs other ancient documents. (See here for a handy chart that is more or less clear.)

    I guess in the end, I just more or less take the received text and roll with it, recognizing the probability that my analysis might not be based on the actual text as penned by the author, that my analysis might not correlate precisely with that of the author….but most scholars seem to come to the general conclusion that the text we do have is very reliable (with some exceptions) based on the quantity of manuscripts available and the diversity of these sources.

    To me, to say that the text may not be precisely that of the original author is not so much of a bothersome thing, really. I don’t believe in the 20th century doctrine of inerrancy, so I don’t feel like I have to reconcile the text to a pre-existing idea I have of its perfection….but that’s probably beside your point.

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    Comment by Erdman — 20 December 2008 @ 1:36 pm

  9. I think the going opinion is that Paul really did write some of the letters attributed to him, and that Paul’s letters were the first of the NT books to be written, predating even the gospels. The passages dealing with the “new creation” come from 4 Epistles attributed to Paul: Galatians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians. There’s pretty strong consensus that the first two really were written by Paul, Ephesians probably not, and Colossians maybe. All of them are very old, and all have been regarded as canonical since the earliest efforts to figure out which texts should be included in the New Testament. To me it’s more important that since at least the mid-2nd century the church has regarded all four of these documents as holy writ. This means there was fairly strong consensus that these books expressed orthodox understanding of the religion. So I try to figure out what that understanding might have been by looking closely at the texts. I’m not expecting to discover the truth about God or Jesus, but to get a little closer to understanding what these early writers regarded as the truth.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 20 December 2008 @ 10:16 pm

  10. K: So I try to figure out what that understanding might have been by looking closely at the texts. I’m not expecting to discover the truth about God or Jesus, but to get a little closer to understanding what these early writers regarded as the truth.

    For any particular end? Or for any particular goal beyond brute understanding of what these early writers regarded as truth?

    I only ask because I’ve been contemplating the role of the “non-believer” in the life of the faithful….and vica-versa……what might it mean to construe the relationship a bit differently than to regard the two groups as at opposite ends of the spectrum. This seems to be one of the questions you are in the process of looking at a bit more in the current series of posts….but I’m thinking that in your case, you periodically engage in conversations with me via email and our respective blogs regarding the Gospel narrative.

    A potential definition of my faith might go something like this: a seeker of truth in all aspects of life who seeks truth in all places, but who returns continually to the Gospel message and the person of Jesus as a directing or primary narrative. Or, shortened a bit: living out my narrative in reference to the narrative of Jesus.

    So, it is clear that you would not consider the Gospel and/or life of Jesus as a “directing” or “primary” narrative for your life; however, you do have interest in entering that narrative from various angles and various perspectives. And my question is what are the various motivations for you doing so? Is it perhaps primarily based on the fact that the Jesus/Gospel narrative is such a historical force for shaping human perceptions of the self? Do you, in any way, expect to learn or grow from engaging the narrative (even though certainly not claiming it as “directive” or “primary”)?

    I engage the narratives of other religions for sake of learning how they construe the self. I don’t do so in order to take their narrative as directive/primary; however, there is certainly a sense in which I hope to learn something(s) while I am engaged in the narrative….even to the point that I would be very receptive to correctives to my own Gospel narrative.

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    Comment by Erdman — 21 December 2008 @ 9:29 am

  11. Hmm, my motivations…

    (1) For this particular series of posts I’m interested in whether Paul regards the “new creation” as something that supercedes the old creation, that is superimposed on the old creation, or that operates as an alternate reality embedded inside the old creation. On one level the third option is the most attractive to those of us who do not regard ourselves as Christians: you live in your reality, I’ll live in mine. The problem is that alt-reality Christians regard their reality as better and themselves as better (saved, regenerated, fueled by the Holy Spirit, transformed into the image of Christ). They further regard the mainstream reality, as well as all who live in it, as doomed to eventual destruction, with the alt-reality eventually extending itself to cover the whole world. This I regard as fascistic thinking. I can regard it as a harmless delusion until the alt-reality Christians start asserting that God has in the past commanded the wholesale slaughter of old-creation nations; i.e., when the Jews occupied the land of Canaan and purged the land of its former occupants. It becomes even more threatening when alt-reality Christians say that there’s nothing preventing God from once again commanding his minions to start slaughtering the non-Christians, in which case it becomes an act of faith and obedience for Christians to declare war on non-Christians. In my view that’s a dangerous religion. So when I look at these Pauline texts I’m trying to see whether this dangerous fascism is intrinsic to the passages in question. I don’t think it is. By implication, those who insist on reading fascistic meaning into the texts might already be indwelt by a fascistic worldview.

    (2) I’m thinking about rewriting the Genesis 1 book, either as fiction or nonfiction. Part of the idea would be to propose some “speculative theology” about what would happen to Judeo-Christianity if it were acknowledged once and for all that the gods had nothing whatever to do with creating or even designing the material universe. I’ve proposed an alternative reading of Genesis 1 in which the gods create a conceptual reality in which the already-existing material stuff of the universe can be embedded. So now I’m looking at Paul’s proposition of a “new creation,” trying to see if it can be understood as a reorganization of the way he thinks about the world. And I think there’s something to be said for that interpretation. Paul says that the material distinctions of Jew/Gentile, lawful/unlawful, etc. are based on a mystified conflation of materiality with spirituality, such that some peoples, places, actions are intrinsically holy. I see Paul arguing against that idea, where the material stuff and its meaning become inextricably bound up in one another. That, I’d argue, is what happened in the Genesis 1 narrative: the raw stuff and the words/ideas describing the stuff got linked together. In structuralist lingo, the signifieds became indistinguishable from the signifiers. It’s time, says Paul perhaps, to break those links.

    (3) And yes, Judeo-Christianity has shaped the way many of us interpret our experiences of ourselves, other people, and the world. For me it’s part of the challenge of exegesis to see if it’s possible to look at these ancient texts more empirically, setting aside or at least trying to acknowledge the traditional interpretive lenses by which I’ve come to impose sociohistorically predetermined meanings on the texts that aren’t intrinsic to the texts themselves.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 21 December 2008 @ 11:58 am

  12. While Jesus may not have used precisely the same terminology as Paul I do think that they are pretty much on the same page. Paul, of all the NT writers, seems to understand Jesus ‘kingdom teaching’ pretty much as it was intended, though he is not as keen on being a social iconoclast as was Jesus. Paul seems to concentrate more on drawing the contrast between the way of Jesus and the way of the Law, which may have been the dominant problem of his ministry.

    I see Paul pretty much standing on hes translation of the same gospel teaching, with the centrality of love well ensconced, and trying to convince his disciples that that is really what the Lord wants for them.

    One problem is that the message does seem to get reduced to a relevance only to ‘the faithful’ but there is also a consciousness that people who ‘should not’ be responding to the message indeed are, and hence that the work of the Holy Spirit (and of God) may well be a secular work.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 22 December 2008 @ 12:30 am

  13. I’m looking at the “new creation” references here, Sam, not the “kingdom” teachings. There of course are connections between the two concepts, but I’m trying to keep them separate in this project, looking at one passage at a time. Of course you aren’t obliged to conform to the rigors of my self-imposed empirical asceticism. You’ve already seen earlier versions of these posts at OST, so maybe you’re ready to move on.

    With respect to the new creation, Paul associates it not with Jesus’ earthly life but with his death and resurrection. If Jesus sees the new birth the same way Paul sees the new creation, then don’t we have to assert that even in his earthly life Jesus was perceiving the world as if he’d already died and come back from the dead? If one is inclined to regard Jesus as the eternal Son of God incarnate then this is plausible: Jesus could always maintain the resurrection outlook even before he died. I think it’s entirely possible that Jesus was living his life as if he’d already died and come back to life, even if he was just an ordinary human like everyone else. Hegel picks up on this theme in his master-bondsman discourse: the individual who already acknowledges death as the Ultimate Master can perhaps come to live without the fear of death that keeps most people enslaved.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 22 December 2008 @ 6:48 am

  14. To me, and I am eccentric, Paul seems to already suppose that the kingdom teaching has been absorbed by the new believers. Paul sets out in his letters to then build the practical outworking of the gospel for the individual fellowships in their given contexts.

    Given also that ‘kingdom’ talk could well have been taken as seditious in the Roman empire, I see Paul using a number of different concepts but those that can be seen to be linked to the original ‘gospel’ message i.e. the story of Jesus itself such as ‘new creation’ and somewhat related ideas like ‘conformed/transformed’, ‘newness’, ‘renewing’, ‘new covenant’, and ‘new man’.

    Another factor, as you point out, is that the death and resurrection have happened and need now to be linked in with the teaching and ministry of Jesus. However, I think I agree pretty much with Pannenberg that Paul’s focus on the risen Lord does not mean that the life Jesus lived nor his original message had become unrecognisable. The cross-resurrection is taken as the dominant symbol because it is the ultimate vindication of the ministry and message of Jesus. Thus Paul’s apparent concentration on the cross-resurrection-risen Lord do not mean that he is plowing new ground, viz the message of the gospels. Of course this is highly speculative on my part, but it makes sense to me especially when reading Romans, where Paul had not himself established the fellowship and seemed to have doubts about what gospel they had been taught and so takes pains to sunmmarise the gospel teaching for them (Rom 12-14, 15:15).

    But none of that is of great consequence regarding your particular exegesis. What I wonder is where and how faith enters into the picture, especially as far as Paul is concerned. If it’s all a done deed then the knowledge of Jesus must also be a present reality for all, and perhaps it is…

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    Comment by samlcarr — 22 December 2008 @ 10:07 am

  15. “The cross-resurrection is taken as the dominant symbol because it is the ultimate vindication of the ministry and message of Jesus. Thus Paul’s apparent concentration on the cross-resurrection-risen Lord do not mean that he is plowing new ground, viz the message of the gospels.”

    I had no preconceived overarching theological schema into which I needed to fit Paul’s new creation discourse — merely a matter of curiosity. It just so happens that, in those specific passages where Paul refers to the new creation, he grounds it specifically in the death and resurrection. But we’ll carry on with the exegetical series to see if that continues to be the case.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 22 December 2008 @ 1:04 pm

  16. An “overarching theological schema” is not exactly what I had in mind so much as trying to figure out why for all the NT epistles (except perhaps John’s?) references to Jesus are almost always with the resurrection and cross in plain view. The point is, does this include the ministry and life or is it a leap into something almost wholly disconnected with that earlier historical ground? My current theory is that it does, though I confess that on exegetical grounds alone I may be in an evidential desert.

    So, I certainly do agree with you that in these passages the references are grounded in resurrection terms, for which one might ask “and why not?” for it would be hard to find much of anything in the epistles that is not grounded ‘specifically’ in the death and resurrection.

    Whatever be the actual theological underpinning that Paul was working with, the text as it stands now certainly does rise above the ordinariness of any religion/politics in strong refutation against “those who insist on reading fascistic meaning into the texts might already be indwelt by a fascistic worldview” and I would argue too that it is not only fascism that is the risk but the manipulation of love to make it limited in any way is a denial, for me, of God. And Paul himself is often guilty of this othering tendency, though he tries harder than most not to be.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 22 December 2008 @ 2:08 pm

  17. Sorry, I was busy shutting own the office and didn’t properly proof that one – it really is a garbled bunch of thoughts!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 22 December 2008 @ 11:48 pm


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