Ktismatics

21 December 2008

2 Corinthians 5 and the New Creation

Filed under: Christianity, Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 10:09 am

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-20)

The other day I posted on Paul’s idea of the  “new creation”  in Galatians 6. Here in 2 Cor. 5 Paul explicitly links the passing away of the old creation and the arrival of the new to the death and resurrection of Christ. The phrase καινη κτισις, here translated by the NASB as “new creature,” is rendered as “new creation” in Galatians 6. There is no indefinite article in Greek, and there’s no verb in the phrase, so a more literal translation might be: “if anyone is in Christ, new creation.” I like the alternative reading presented in a footnote to the NASB: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” One might say that each new creature in Christ participates in the more comprehensive new creation. Paul is saying that Christ’s death and resurrection didn’t just affect Christ Himself: these events changed the world. Therefore, those who are in Christ participate in this radically transformed world, which is the “new creation.” The death and resurrection of Christ don’t just transform individuals into new creatures; it’s an all-inclusive event.

When Paul associates the old creation with the flesh, he’s referring not to the sinful passions but rather to the materialistic worldview. Formerly he and his readers knew Christ “according to the flesh” — surely he doesn’t mean that they lusted after Jesus. Rather, they knew Christ as a flesh-and-blood human being who lived and died; now, though, they know him as a resurrected human, the firstborn of the new creation. Paul says that the reason they now know Him this way is that when Jesus died, somehow all died with him and are now resurrected in him. Jesus’s death brought to an end the old creation and ushered in the new creation for all. Just as he and his readers no longer know Christ according to the flesh as a merely mortal human, so they no longer know anyone according to the flesh. This is the case, says Paul, because in Christ God reconciled the whole world to himself.

Through Christ’s death and resurrection the old creation died and the new creation is born, a transformation that affects the whole world: what does Paul mean here? Is he saying that the whole world, all of humanity, died in Christ and is now resurrected in Christ? That the whole world is now reconciled to God? That what remains is for us to recognize the reality of this transformation, no longer seeing things according to the fleshly old-creational perspective of a material world that’s been rejected by God? That all of us participate in the resurrection life of the new creation whether we realize it or not? That now, having been accepted by God, we in turn ought to accept God?

Or is Paul saying that the new creation affects only those who through faith accept Christ’s resurrection as ushering in a new creation, who accept Christ’s work of reconciliation and reciprocate by reconciling themselves to God? Is he saying that as long as someone continues to see Christ, himself, and the world “according to the flesh,” that person remains bound to the old creation, doomed to mortality, or perhaps to eternal torment? This is the usual interpretation of the passage. I think the text is ambiguous and could be read either way. Did Christ really die for everyone and through resurrection reconcile everyone to God — which is what Paul explicitly asserts here? Or did Christ die for and reconcile only those who can see things from this perspective? In other words, is each of us living in the AD era participating in the new creation whether we realize it or not, or do we have to perceive the new creation subjectively in order for it to apply to us personally?

Either way, Paul’s emphasis is clear in 1 Cor. 5: the old creation died with Christ; the new creation began with Christ’s resurrection. The new creation is meant to embrace the whole world, reconciling everyone to God through Christ.

At the end of the passage Paul exhorts his readers to serve as Christ’s ambassadors. It’s a call for a reciprocal response to God’s proactive move. This is similar to Paul’s call for reciprocity in response to the “new creation” in Galatians 6, where he says that through the cross “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). God has already reconciled the world to Himself through Christ (2 Cor. 5:19) — whether or not this is achieved through substitutionary atonement isn’t really the focus of this particular passage. “Reconcile to Himself” means in effect that God is willing to let bygones be bygones, to disregard whatever it is that people have done against Him. What might it mean for someone to “be reconciled to God”? I think it means reconciling God to myself. In what ways do I feel that God has harmed me, opposed me, offended me? Can I let those go; in effect, can I forgive God? That seems to be what Paul’s ministry of reconciliation is here: God forgives you; it’s time for you to forgive God. I understand that it’s not polite conversation to complain about God publicly, but I think a lot of people (me included) resent the hand that’s been dealt them as well as the new cards they draw. (Of course I’m veering away from the “new creation” topic here, but that’s the case with any passage: it’s hard to stick with one theme when so many others intertwined with it call for attention.

In 2 Cor. 5 Paul places the emphasis on the objective work of Christ: He died for all, therefore all died. It’s not just that I am crucified to the world through Christ; everybody is. The reader doesn’t have to look for a universal salvation theme in this passage; it’s there in the words of the text: Christ died for all, through Christ God reconciled the world to Himself. Reading this passage in 2 Cor. 5 it’s conceivable that the subjective response of the individual to the cross doesn’t activate salvation for that individual, but that instead it’s a matter of the individual subjectively recognizing what already happened objectively to everyone. In other words, maybe everyone already came through the cross during the historical event of the crucifixion. Paul sounds a similar note in Romans 5:

For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Rom. 5:10)

Three times in a row Paul in 2 Cor. 5:14-15 says “all”: “…one died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all…” It seems he’s emphasizing inclusiveness here. One would be hesitant to say that what Paul really meant was “all except” or “only those who.” He also says that through Christ God reconciled the world — cosmos in Greek — to Himself. Again, Paul seems to broaden the scope as far as possible. One could argue that participation in this universal new creation is conditional: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:18). However, it’s not necessary to interpret the “if” here as distinguishing between those who are “in Christ” and those who are not. I think, given the context, the “if” is a link in a chain of logical argument that Paul has been outlining: if A, then B. For example, earlier in 2 Corinthians we read:

For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. (2 Cor. 3:11)

Paul has just gotten done arguing that the “if” clause is true — in this case he’s referring to the temporary glory of God that shone on Moses’ face when he came down from Sinai with the Law. In 2 Cor. 5 Paul has just gotten finished saying that all died in Christ, in order that those who live might live for Christ. Therefore, following the logic, if anyone lives in Christ (which Paul asserts is true), then he/there is a new creation. I’m not prepared based on this one passage to argue that, for Paul, all who die in Christ also live in Christ. Still, it’s clear that in this passage emphasizes the all-inclusiveness of the new creation.

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16 Comments »

  1. In other words, is each of us living in the AD era participating in the new creation whether we realize it or not, or do we have to perceive the new creation subjectively in order for it to apply to us personally?

    For Paul, the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ is an active and ongoing process. It is the actual living out of lives in love and is itself the key to Jesus’ kingdom teaching, so short of this actuality, salvation has not been achieved.

    In the final analysis, a religious experience, correct understanding, or following the Law, will not in themselves save anyone – it’s what one does, how one lives, that have to change in order for the new creation to become a reality.

    To ktismatize, the portal has opened, are we going to step through?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 22 December 2008 @ 12:51 am

  2. “it’s what one does, how one lives, that have to change in order for the new creation to become a reality.”

    In the traditional interpretations it’s either what one believes or what one does that makes the new creation a reality. In portalic terms this is like saying that ocean doesn’t exist until I either believe it’s there or I start swimming in it. In 2 Cor. 5 Paul seems to be saying that the new creation has already become a reality for everyone whether they realize it or not. I think the portalic question is this: is everyone already swimming in the ocean because the ocean has already inundated the whole world, or does each of us have to make a trip to the seashore in order to enter into it? I’m suggesting that Paul might possibly be claiming the former.

    Now I suppose there are are consequences for not recognizing that one is already immersed in a new reality. Maybe I’ve already been equipped with gills but I keep insisting on going back to the surface to breathe. Maybe I keep looking for the shore so I can climb back on land without realizing that the land doesn’t exist any more. And so on.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 22 December 2008 @ 6:07 am

  3. Some people get it and some don’t seems to have been a traditional thought. You either have faith, or you don’t. That in turn, has to come from God, which brings us full circle – we toyed with a process of choice/free will but in the end that doesn’t count.

    Then come the more interesting questions, the ones that I think you are asking, “what exactly is on offer?”, “how do I get it?”, and “is it really for everyone, or not?”.

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    Comment by sam carr — 23 December 2008 @ 8:15 am

  4. I resonate with the inclusiveness you see in the above referenced passages. What Paul says about “all” (in terms of being reconciled and/or being present in what happened on the cross) seems very very similar to how Paul exhorts believers: live according to who you are–realize what is truly true about yourself and live according to that realization: be that realization.

    And yet….only one chapter away, in 2 Cor 6 we find:

    14Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
    17″Therefore come out from them
    and be separate, says the Lord.
    Touch no unclean thing,
    and I will receive you.”
    18″I will be a Father to you,
    and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

    Eeegads!

    Paul moves from a very real sense of inclusiveness to this ridiculous (at least, I consider it ridiculous) exclusivity that suggests there is no commonality between believer and unbeliever.

    Maybe these verses go to the radical nature of this new creation—perhaps we don’t grasp the newness! Let’s use your (Ktismatics) example of a fish who does not use its gills:

    Now I suppose there are are consequences for not recognizing that one is already immersed in a new reality. Maybe I’ve already been equipped with gills but I keep insisting on going back to the surface to breathe. Maybe I keep looking for the shore so I can climb back on land without realizing that the land doesn’t exist any more. And so on.

    So, perhaps Paul is not “othering,” as much as he is using hyperbole to suggest that anyone living in the fullness of “new creation,” this RADICAL new perspective….said person is going to have a hard time in fundamentally connecting with someone who keeps choking because they are trying to suck oxygen on the land, when they were meant to swim freely in the ocean and use their gills. A fish can’t understand its fishness while it tries to act like a land animal. Similarly, a human being in the post-Christ era, can’t understand its humanness until it realizes that the old has gone and the new has come: behold, all things have been made new.

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    Comment by Erdman — 24 December 2008 @ 11:50 am

  5. “You either have faith, or you don’t,” says Sam; and having faith does seem to make a big difference to Paul, as Erdman points out in the 2 Cor. 6 passage. So if we’re going to preserve Paul’s authority as spokesman for God and/or orthodox belief in the early church, we have to assert both/and. Christ’s death and resurrection created a new reality, AND by faith the individual enters into this reality. It’s at this point that I part company with any version of Christianity that regards Paul’s position as authoritative. Paul could have said that those without faith don’t realize that they’ve been redeemed, justified, and ushered into the new creation, but just because they don’t realize it subjectively doesn’t change what’s already happened to the world objectively. I can see why Paul might regard hanging around with unbelievers as a distraction from participating fully in the new creation, but to associate the unbelievers with wickedness, darkness, and the devil? He’s re-established the Jew-versus-Gentile, us-versus-them division that he’s just dismantled. Arguably the reason he does this is that the believers have been magically imbued with the Holy Spirit, enabling them to become “holier than thou” in their inmost selves — an advantage of the new creation which now the unbelievers are presumably denied. So now Paul has established a difference based not on fleshly considerations like law and nationality, but on spiritual criteria. Believers have the supernatural Spirit; unbelievers do not.

    Now I think that elsewhere Paul proves himself suspect in what he asserts: man is the image of God and woman the image of man; nature says that long hair on men is perverse; etc. So I don’t have any big problem regarding Paul as an impure channel of revelation. Besides which, I really don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, so the whole presentation I regard as false except in a metaphorical or psychological sense. What troubles me is this assertion not just of difference in opinion but of some ontic difference between the believers and unbelievers — as if the believers have gills while the unbelievers do not.

    As I said earlier, one of my motivations in looking at these texts is to figure out what to do with rewriting the Genesis 1 book, which deals with the “old” creation. I think if I were to write another nonfiction variant I’d be much less conciliatory to traditional Christianity than I was the first time around. I’d probably focus on exposing the dangers to the unbelievers not just of past misdeeds perpetrated by the Church but also of the Biblical texts themselves. On the other hand, if I were to go toward fiction I’ve got a lot more flexibility in playing out imaginative scenarios based loosely on different interpretations of these texts. So, e.g., the idea of a new creation opening up and absorbing everyone into it without their necessarily even realizing it: this is a good premise. The idea of having to believe it in order for it to work for you is maybe less interesting, if only because it’s been done.

    Generally, though, I’d have little interest in being yoked together with believers who regard me as wicked, dark, and satanic just because I don’t believe something. In fact I’d be more prone to call it a case of the pot calling the kettle black. This is of course the source of so much antagonism people like me feel toward evangelicals who hold a “high” view of Scripture. When we get passages like 2 Cor. 6 it becomes clearer that Paul is beyond redemption. I might be all those bad things he calls me, but he’s wrong about why.

    And on that note I wish a Merry Christmas to one and all!

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    Comment by ktismatics — 24 December 2008 @ 7:02 pm

  6. “Paul is beyond redemption” I sorta agree for two unrelated reasons. Paul is certainly a both a deep thinker and a brilliant theologian. I think we can see the evidence of a mighty struggle on his part to conform his thinking to that of Jesus, even when it went against the grain. But, he has his rather glaring blind spots, perhaps forgivable, except that he is someone who is thought to be a ‘pure’ channel of god’s revelation.

    The other problem with Paul is certainly not Paul’s fault and that is that from the Fathers on Paul has been misunderstood, perhaps quite deliberately, and probably because he is easier to politicise and manipulate than Jesus.

    What I do really like about Paul is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. Once one gets off the inerrancy bandwagon and starts taking the text on its own merits, Paul is full of stimulating stuff and we can feel his context reaching out to us across the millennia, and that’s the hallmark of a really great communicator.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 25 December 2008 @ 4:06 pm

  7. K: So if we’re going to preserve Paul’s authority as spokesman for God and/or orthodox belief in the early church, we have to assert both/and. Christ’s death and resurrection created a new reality, AND by faith the individual enters into this reality….

    ….On the other hand, if I were to go toward fiction I’ve got a lot more flexibility in playing out imaginative scenarios based loosely on different interpretations of these texts. So, e.g., the idea of a new creation opening up and absorbing everyone into it without their necessarily even realizing it: this is a good premise….

    Generally, though, I’d have little interest in being yoked together with believers who regard me as wicked, dark, and satanic just because I don’t believe something. In fact I’d be more prone to call it a case of the pot calling the kettle black. This is of course the source of so much antagonism people like me feel toward evangelicals who hold a “high” view of Scripture.

    So, to me, this brings up the idea of a contemporary hermeneutic.

    Let’s rehash a very general approach that the NT writers (like Paul and the author of Hebrews) took when interpreting the OT: they linked the OT with the Christ-event, but they also moved beyond the OT and started to develop some radical new directions. For example, the law is “good” says Paul, but this is the new era of the Spirit–since Christ fulfilled the law, we can live with a new perspective. Also, as you pointed out, the Jew/Gentile distinction is nullified….let’s not lose sight of how radical, ridiculous, and provocative this was for Paul to do! Even if you fault him for not going far enough in abolishing distinctions, in his context, breaking down the Jew/Gentile dichotomy was a radical move, as you well know.

    So, hermeutically speaking, the NT writers create a link with the text of the OT but also recognize that it is okay in light of the contemporary scene to go beyond the text and envision new possibilities.

    Any reason that a person of faith can’t do the same thing today with the NT?

    I asked this question in my last days at seminary and the answer was a round “No!” Yet, I’m a Gadamerian, so I think that interpretation is an undefinable interaction between text (written in the past) and person (living in the present). No method can ever capture what happens when these two interact. So, for me, I take what Paul says as a God-speak for my faith, but I also believe that God does new things, so I suggest that we build on Paul but still go beyond Paul. In this case, I think that means recognizing that Paul is going a radical new direction (as you are picking up on and so aptly pointing out, John), even if he doesn’t quite finish the job to our liking.

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    Comment by Erdman — 26 December 2008 @ 11:01 am

  8. Right, so what I try to do here is stick with this one aspect of Paul’s discourse, namely the new creation theme, artificially isolated from the rest of the Bible, or even from the rest of Paul for that matter. In a way this is a very abstract procedure, but in another way it’s quite PoMo in that it assumes no unified Paul whose entire output has to be made internally consistent and coherent. So I continue on with the other “new creation” texts, where I start proposing another interpretation of Paul’s 2 Cor. 6 fascism…

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    Comment by ktismatics — 26 December 2008 @ 5:37 pm

  9. I think too that the radically speculative approach to theology has much to offer. So let’s take the Erdmanian exegetical praxis of bending the text in order to discover or create new ideas or truths. Why not take this to the extreme? Let the original text serve as a launchpad for grand explorations without worrying about how we’re going to find our way back home. To boldly go, etc. What would Paul’s new creation look like if he/we weren’t hampered by making everything plug into the rest of the Bible?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 26 December 2008 @ 6:55 pm

  10. I think the above approach (of isolating a new creation theme) and questions (why get hung up on the rest of the Bible?) are legitimate forms of what I envision as good biblical interpretation and exegesis.

    Another possibility that would fit well in my hermeneutical framework is to take the Bible as a whole but to understand that it is only one form of revelation and that ultimately God desires to speak truth in and through each generation. Since truth is a highly contextual creature, the truth will look different in different contexts….or, perhaps, truth takes a variety of forms….even changing itself up entirely….so, revelation is progressive (or re-gressive, depending upon one’s vantage point) and ongoing.

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    Comment by Erdman — 26 December 2008 @ 10:32 pm

  11. I’m all for a PoMo approach to texts, so we seem generally to be in agreement that the ‘old’ hermeneutic viz ‘holy’ texts is a bit of a dead end, I would say even does violence to whatever God/author actually need to communicate to us.

    This doesn’t mean tho that we throw out the baby with the bathwater. Both genealogy and a historical critical approach need to go hand in hand. We begin with where we find the text and then are quite free to go on from there. If the text spoke truth then it will still speak truth now if only because it is one human being communicating to another.

    Jesus certainly applied just such a radical agenda to the Mosaic Law, I see no reason why we shouldn’t do the same with Paul, and I’m sure that if Paul were to reappear today he would be entirely in agreement unless we are trying to go against his core (Jesus centred)teaching on love being at the heart of all…

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    Comment by samlcarr — 28 December 2008 @ 2:14 am

  12. “take the Bible as a whole but to understand that it is only one form of revelation and that ultimately God desires to speak truth in and through each generation.”

    I’m prepared to take the Bible as a whole because it’s been taken as a whole by large numbers of people across many centuries, not because it expresses or represents or points to some underlying truth of a single unchanging God. Certainly the writers and editors of the books of the New Testament thought they were expressing an underlying truth of God. Is the persistent failure to agree on a unified expression of truth in these texts attributable to the readers or to the writers? Inerrantists and infallibilists are always going to blame the readers. Also, at what point do you decide not just that God was speaking a truth relative to a particular writer or audience, but that the human writer was at times just flat wrong? I.e., are all the PoMo nuances merely an attempt to preserve inerrancy by saying that the Bible always expresses truth relative to its historicocultural audience?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 28 December 2008 @ 12:23 pm

  13. “If the text spoke truth then it will still speak truth now if only because it is one human being communicating to another.”

    Agreed. Complementarily, if the text spoke falsehood then it will still speak falsehood now.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 28 December 2008 @ 12:25 pm

  14. It’s all too easy to forget that when reading ‘the bible’ whether in whole or in its parts, if god is going to communicate anything to the reader it generally has to be in spite of the human author. I certainly think this holds true for most of the OT but also for the NT, and yes, even for the great Paul, though who am I to say so?

    The truth, then, has to ‘shine’ or be iscerned through a rather thick curtain of falsehood, which includes, but is not limited to, the cultural-historical-political lens of that day…

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    Comment by samlcarr — 29 December 2008 @ 10:22 am

  15. Ktismatics: Certainly the writers and editors of the books of the New Testament thought they were expressing an underlying truth of God. Is the persistent failure to agree on a unified expression of truth in these texts attributable to the readers or to the writers? Inerrantists and infallibilists are always going to blame the readers. Also, at what point do you decide not just that God was speaking a truth relative to a particular writer or audience, but that the human writer was at times just flat wrong? I.e., are all the PoMo nuances merely an attempt to preserve inerrancy by saying that the Bible always expresses truth relative to its historicocultural audience?

    At this point, my philosophy of the Bible would acknowledge that the Bible was authored (or written) by a human writer. I would also acknowledge some sort of ineffable “God-breathed” process on the text, which evades any satisfactory explanation. The result is a text that (in my opinion and from my experience) still has the “breath” of God upon it.

    So, to answer you question directly: if there are errors or falsehoods here and there (which I would not rule out), then the errors/falsehoods were God-breathed. That is, I don’t know that I would want to be a backdoor inerrantist, as you are suggesting could be the case with po-mo exegesis. I see your point on this issue, I think.

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    Comment by erdman31 — 29 December 2008 @ 10:39 am

  16. “the errors/falsehoods were God-breathed.”

    Here’s a post at Open Source Theology condemning efforts to justify the Canaanite genocide when the Jews took over the land of Israel in OT days. The writer of the post insists that this act wasn’t in keeping with God’s loving nature, therefore the scriptural account must be in error. Andrew, the host of OST, says that we mustn’t be squeamish about God’s punitive violence, which is as much a part of his character as his love. He leaves out the actual exegesis of the OT texts, in which God isn’t punishing the Canaanites but merely cleansing the land of its impurities. If you were to regard these OT accounts as true, would you then regard God as having not just spoken falsely but done evil as well? I.e., maybe it’s not the text that’s corrupt but the God of which the text speaks.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 December 2008 @ 10:11 am


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