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"Badges of Membership": Part IV

The Spirit does not only provide a new inspiration for Paul’s communities, the Spirit also creates a fundamental transformation within the nature of the people who inhabit Paul’s communities. Indeed, Paul believes that his communities are marked by an ontological status that is notably different than the status of both pagans and Jews. Christians are, according to Paul, God’s true renewed humanity, whereas pagans are those who have lost their humanity, and Jews are those who have failed to mature as humans. Each of these groups is granted its own unique status because Paul traces a very different lineage for each group: Christians are children of God, pagans are children of Adam, and Jews are children of Abraham (according to the flesh).
The pagans are those whose humanity is rooted in the fallen nature of their forefather Adam.[46] Just like their forefather, the pagans have lost their humanity because, instead of reigning over creation, they have allowed creation to reign over them. Thus, they become like the animals and lose their true human identity. Nowhere is this more evident in Paul’s writings than in Ro 1.22-23, 25. Of course, Paul is well rooted in Jewish critiques of paganism when he writes this passage. The prophets continually warned Israel that those who worship animals become like animals, and those who worship worthless idols become worthless like the idols.[47]
Therefore, Adamic humanity is identified by its loss of “glory.”[48] Humanity’s “glory,” according to Paul, is that it bears the image of God. However, humanity loses this glory when it reworks itself in the image of animals. After Adam, humans have become “broken but not shattered mirrors,” no longer fully reflecting God’s image.[49] This loss of glory is most explicitly expressed in the sexual immorality practiced by pagans.[50] Thus, immediately after describing the status of Adamic humanity, Paul goes on to describe the sexual practices of pagans in Ro 1.24, 26-27.[51] Ironically, it is in these things that the pagans glory, for they boast of their immorality.[52] This is why, in 1 Cor 5.1-8, Paul is horrified to discover that his community is boasting and glorying in an act of immorality that does not even exist among the pagans. It is Paul’s desire that the perpetrator be removed from his community, because he is exhibiting the wrong badge – his sexual practices denote a loss of glory and mark him as a member of the pagan communities.[53] Therefore, Adamic status, the loss of glory, and sexual immorality, all function together as a badge of membership within pagan communities.[54]
The Jews, however, are not primarily defined as descendants of Adam; they are identified as children of Abraham, according to the flesh. That Paul sees the Jews as related to Abraham strictly through the flesh is rather telling. Once again, Paul is arguing that Jewish status has become united with pagan status. Thus, after critiquing the pagans in Ro 1, Paul offers a similarly damning critique of the Jews in Ro 2, and then concludes in Ro 3.23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Just like the pagans, those who are descendants of Abraham according to the flesh are also demarcated by the loss of glory. However, this Jewish loss of glory is primarily exhibited in a different way than the way in which the pagan loss of glory is exhibited.[55] The Jewish loss of glory is exhibited in their boasting (i.e. glorying) in the flesh – in their ethnicity. Once again, the irony is that their glory is, in fact, their shame.[56] Thus, in Ro 5.12-21 and 7.7-13, the Jews are put on the side of Adamic humanity.[57] Consequently, in Ro 9.6-8, Paul concludes that “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel… it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God.”
Paul is able to see that glorying in Jewish ethnicity and “works of the law” no longer relates to the glory of God’s image bearers, because he believes that something new has been inaugurated by Jesus and the Spirit. In Gal 3-4, Paul makes it clear that the Jewish badges were useful for a humanity not yet come of age but, now that the time has come to mature, to remain under such things is to remain as immature, not fully developed humans.[58] Thus, in 2 Cor 3, Paul argues that the (veiled) glory that was present to the Jews, has now faded altogether and been superseded by a far greater (unveiled) glory. Consequently, the Jewish status as immature humans (that end up being like Adam) is exhibited in Jewish glorying in their ethnicity.
In contrast to both the pagans and the Jews, Paul argues that his communities are defined as God’s true, renewed humanity, and it is they who are called the “children of God.” This is so because Christ is the second Adam.[59] As the second Adam, Christ becomes the truly human one, the one who is the lasting image and glory of God.[60] Thus, all who are in the community of Christ are adopted as God’s children and heirs.[61] Consequently, God becomes the Father of all believers, and not just the Father of Jesus.[62] Furthermore, being adopted as God’s children causes a radical ontological transformation to occur –- believers become “new creations” and are restored to a truly human identity.[63] Thus, genuine humanness results from worship of the one true God, and thus the prayers of Paul’s communities are addressed to “Abba, Father.”[64]
This true humanity bears glory as its outward expression.[65] This is the glory of God’s restored image bearers, who are remade in the image of Christ, the Lord of glory.[66] Furthermore, the Shekinah –- the Spirit of God’s glory –- now resides in believers and transforms them into God’s glorious temple.[67] Thus, when Paul calls his community members “children of light” or “lights in the world,” he is speaking of the manifest glory of God’s children, over against the pagans who are “of darkness” and practice the “deeds of darkness” –- and over against the Jews, whose glory has faded away into darkness.[68] Nowhere is Paul more adamant that his communities are marked by glory than in 2 Cor 3.7-18.[69] The members of Paul’s communities are mirrors reflecting the image of the Lord, as they are transformed from glory to glory.
That the children of God bear the glory of God’s image as an outward visible badge is clear from Paul’s letters. What, then, are the characteristics that serve to identify this glory? The first characteristic, which has already been mentioned, is holiness. Temple language is holiness language, and, just as membership within pagan communities is marked by sexual immorality, membership in Paul’s communities is marked by sexual purity, self-control, and abstinence from immorality.[70] Secondly, over against the immaturity that marks the Jewish communities, Paul’s communities are marked by their maturity, which is manifested in their renewed minds, their knowledge of God’s will and their awareness of revealed mysteries.[71] Thirdly, because Paul’s communities exist within an age of eschatological tension, the glory of believers finds expression in hope. Although the Spirit provides a down-payment of glory, the members of Paul’s communities “exult in hope of the glory of God” and “hope for what [they] do not see.”[72] This hope distinguishes Paul’s communities from the pagans who have “no hope” and from the Jews who maintain a false hope.[73]
Therefore, over against the pagans who are children of Adam marked by the loss of glory which finds expression in sexual immorality, and over against the Jews who are fleshy children of Abraham marked by a faded glory which finds expression in immaturity, Paul’s communities are children of God marked by glory which finds expression in holiness, wisdom, and hope.
[46] Ro 5.12-21; 1 Cor 15.20-22; cf. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 80-101.
[47] Cf. 1 Sa 12.21; 2 Ki 17.15; Jer 2.5; 10.8; Hab 2.18-19; Zech 10.2. Consequently, Wright is quite correct to conclude that “idolatry is… seriously bad for the health of your humanity” (What Said Paul Really Said, 138).
[48] This also continues the Jewish prophetic critique of the nations; cf. Ps 106.20; Jer 2.11.
[49] Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph (Louisville: WJKP, 1994), 10-15.
[50] Matera, 131, 144-45.
[51] In other passages, Paul regularly highlights immorality as a badge of pagan membership, and often sexual immorality is given the place of priority, cf. 1 Cor 5.9-11; 6.9; Gal 5.19-20; Eph 5.5; Col 3.5.
[52] Cf. Ro 1.30.
[53] Thus, Paul goes on to say, in 1 Cor 6.15-20, that one cannot be joined both to a prostitute and to Christ. If one is joined to a prostitute one becomes a member of the pagan communities.
[54] The connection of these three elements is also a part of the Jewish prophetic critique of the pagans. Cf. esp. Ez 16.17 et passim.
[55] However, in Ro 2, Paul certainly seems to think that something of the pagan sexual immorality is also present among the Jews. This also follows the pattern set by Ezekiel, who accuses the Jews of following precisely the same pattern as the pagans; cf. Ez 23.17 et passim.
[56] Phil 3.19; cf. Ro 2.23; Gal 6.13; Eph 2.9.
[57] Cf. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 97-99, 115-18; Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 37, 237.
[58] Cf. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 143-50, 388.
[59] Cf. Ro 5.12-21; 1 Cor 15.20-22; W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Elements in Pauline Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), 41, 49; Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 200-202, 241-42; Ridderbos, 65-61; Witherington, 141-46.
[60] Cf. Phil 2.5-11; Col 1.15.
[61] Cf. Ro 8.14-17, 19, 21; 9.26; 2 Cor 6.18; Gal 3.26, 4.1-7; Eph 5.1; Phil 2.15.
[62] Cf. Ro 1.7; 15.6; 1 Cor 1.3; 8.6; 15.24; 2 Cor 1.2-3; 11.31; Gal 1.1-4; 4.6; Eph 1.2-3, 17; 4.6; Eph 1.2-3, 17; 4.6; 5.20; 6.23; Phil 2.1; 2.11; 4.20; Col 1.2; 1 Thes 1.1-3; 3.11, 13; 2 Thes 1.1-2; 2.16. In this regard Hays is correct to note that Paul never refers to all humanity as “children of God”; rather, all are God’s creatures, but only those who belong to the Christian community are marked as God’s children (58 n48).
[63] Cf. 1 Cor 2.16-17; 2 Cor 5.17; Gal 6.15; Eph 2.10, 15; 4.24; Col 3.10.
[64] Cf. Ro 8.15; Gal 4.6; Becker, 270; Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 437; Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, 89-90; Michael Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters (Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 2004), 119; Meeks, 169; Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 139-40.
[65] Gorman, Cruciformity, 335; Kasemann, Perspectives on Paul, 125; Ridderbos; Witherington, 247, 272-78.
[66] Cf. 1 Cor 2.6-7; 2 Cor 1.20; 4.4, 6; 8.23; Eph 1.5-6, 18; 5.27; Phil 3.3, 21; 1 Thes 2.12, 20; 2 Thes 2.14.
[67] Cf. 1 Cor 3.16-17; 6.19-20; 2 Cor 6.16-18; Eph 2.19-22.
[68] Cf. Ro 13.12; 2 Cor 3.7-18; 4.6; 6.14; Eph 5.8-9; Phil 2.15; Col 1.12; 1 Thes 5.5.
[69] Cf. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 175-85; What Saint Paul Really Said, 123.
[70] Cf. Ro 13.13; 1 Cor 5.1-8; 6.13, 15-20; 7.5, 9; 9.25; 2 Cor 6.6; 11.2-3; 12.21; Gal 5.23; Eph 5.3; Phil 4.8; Col 3.5; 1 Thes 4.3.
[71] Cf. Ro 8.6, 27; 11.25, 33-34; 12.1-2; 16.19, 25; 1 Cor 1.17-31; 2.5-16; 4.10; 15.51; Gal 1.4; Eph 1.5-11, 17-18; 3.3-10; 5.15, 17, 32; 6.6; Co 1.9, 26-28; 2.2-3; 3.16; 4.3; 1 Thes 4.3; 5.18; contrast Ro 1.22, 28; 2.18; 7.23, 25; 1 Cor 3.18-21; 2 Cor 1.12; Phil 3.19; Col 2.18, 23.
[72] Ro 5.1-5; 8.24-25; cf. Ro 12.12; 15.13; 1 Cor 13.7, 13; 15.19; 2 Cor 1.7, 10; 3.12; Gal 5.5; Eph 1.18; 4.4; Phil 1.19-20; Col 1.5, 23, 27; 1 Thes 5.8; 2 Thes 2.16.
[73] Cf. Eph 2.12; 1 Thes 4.13; Ro 2.1-3.

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