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"Badges of Membership": Part V & VI

The place in which Paul’s discussion of badges reaches its climax is in the context of internal and external relations. Over against the internal divisions and external violence of the pagans under the control of the powers, and the Jews controlled by their commitment to nationalism, Paul’s communities are united in Christ and committed to cruciform love.
That Paul sees the pagan world as under the governance of overwhelming powers is well documented in his letters.[74] Furthermore, Paul believes that all these rulers, gods, demons, elementals, and principalities, are ultimately under the lordship of two great powers: sin and death.[75] Walter Wink captures something of the all-encompassing power of these lords when he describes pagan life as “dominated existence” under the “Domination System” during the “Domination Epoch.”[76] Within this dominated existence, each person lives to satisfy his or her desires, regardless of the wellbeing of others. This is, for Paul, an ongoing embodiment of the primal sin of Adam: covetousness. Thus, Adamic, fleshy, humanity, lived under the powers, bears covetousness as a badge.[77]
This covetousness is expressed in divisiveness.[78] Paul continually identifies strife, discord, enmity, envy, gossip, and dissensions as essential attributes of the pagan communities and all of these attributes fracture community.[79] This divisive coveting leads inevitably to violence and so, with Adam (the first coveter) lingering behind Ro 7.7-12, it is quite possible that Cain (the first murderer) lingers behind Paul’s argument in Ro 7.13-20.[80] Thus, if Adamic humanity, under the powers of sin and death, is marked by divisiveness, Cainic humanity is marked by violence.
Furthermore, the powers, in Paul’s age, were never imagined to be strictly disembodied spirits; rather, they were always incarnate “in cellulose, or cement, or skin and bones, or an empire, or its mercenary armies.”[81] Thus, by emphasizing the divisiveness and violence of pagan existence, Paul is engaging in a subversive critique of the Roman Empire and its violent conquests. Although Rome claimed that she possessed the “good news” of peace, freedom, justice, and salvation, although the Emperor was viewed as “Lord,” “Savior,” and “Prince of Peace,” Paul reveals the intrinsic violence of Rome by subverting her rhetoric.[82] Over against imperial claims, Paul makes the claim that Caesar’s conquests have only heightened the divisiveness and violence of pagan existence.[83] Thus, just as Adamic humanity is marked by an animalistic existence, the pagan powers are revealed to be horrible, death-dealing beasts.
In making this judgment of life lived under the pagan powers, Paul is well within the critiques established by Judaism. However, Paul then turns the tables on Judaism and argues that Jewish commitments to the ethnic nation of Israel have, in essence, given birth to another divisive death-dealing beast. This point becomes clear in the passages where Paul describes his former way of life under Judaism.[84] Especially worth noting is Paul’s use of the words “Judaism,” “Pharisee,” and “zeal.” “Judaism” is a term coined to express opposition to “Hellenism” and it highlights Jewish separation from the other nations.[85] The word “Pharisees” is rooted in the Aramaic word “perisayya” which means “the separated ones.”[86] Further, as a Pharisee, Paul emulated the “heroes of zeal” who exhibited an unconditional commitment to maintain Israel’s distinctiveness, a readiness to use violence, and a willingness to even use violence against other Jews.[87]
Consequently, Paul’s zeal was “something you did with a knife” against both pagans and “compromised” Jews –- like the early Christian communities.[88] Therefore, the house of Israel was not only divided from the pagan nations, it was a house divided against itself, and violence and death –- although performed for the sake of self-defense and not for the sake of covetous conquest –- reigned just as much in Israel as in the pagan nations. The nation of Israel (precisely in her violent opposition to Rome!) had become a miniature version of Rome, a beastly power in the service of division and death.
Over against the divisive covetous violence of the pagans, and the divisive defensive violence of the Jews, those who are in Christ bear love as their primary relational badge. It is this badge that climactically identifies the Christian community; for, in the praxis of love both the freedom of those who are motivated by the Spirit, and the glory of God’s true children, come to their fullest expression. Love is that which ensures that the other badges of membership in Paul’s communities do not simply deteriorate into “little lapel buttons.”[89]
For this reason, love could have been explored in prior sections.[90] However, because being “in Christ” or “with Christ” is the most frequent title Paul uses to describe the status of his community members, and because love is the most common badge that Paul applies to his community members, it is best to tie love and being in Christ closely together.[91] Furthermore, this connection is strengthened because, for Paul, love is always a Christlike form of love. Therefore, it is the type of love exhibited by those in Christ that most radically distinguishes Paul’s communities from both pagans and Jews.[92]
This is why Michael Gorman is essentially correct in reading Phil 2.5-11 as “Paul’s master story.”[93] In Phil 2, Paul contrasts the covetous self-exaltation of Adam with the self-giving love of Jesus, and emphasizes that it is this form of love that reveals Jesus’ equality with God.[94] Therefore, those who live as God’s restored image-bearers must also bear this badge for, as Wright says, “as God endorses Jesus’ interpretation of what equality with God meant in practice, so he will recognize self-giving love as the true mark of the life of the Spirit.”[95]
Because this love is an embodiment of Christ’s love, it is further demarcated by two essential attributes: its suffering and its redemptive impact. That the love Christ exhibited was a suffering love is most fully revealed on the cross. Therefore, Christian existence, which is lived by those who (continually) die with Christ, is expressed in cruciform love – in suffering.[96] Indeed, this suffering, which might appear to be weakness, becomes, for Paul, the fullest expression of the glory possessed by God’s renewed humanity. Thus, Paul boasts (i.e. finds glory) in his weakness and his sufferings because they mark him as a member of those in Christ.[97] Of course, for Paul this is not simply the glorification of suffering qua suffering; suffering becomes a manifestation of glory because it becomes the means by which the victory won by Christ becomes effective within the world. As Rudolph Bultmann argues, to simply limit suffering to “an affliction that will one day be followed by happiness… deprives suffering of its existentiall [sic] meaning.”[98] Suffering is the means by which the benefits of Christ’s death are extended to others.[99] Therefore, Paul’s communities are marked by the willingness to “bear the pain and the shame of the world in its own body, that the world may be healed.”[100]
Consequently, this redemptive suffering love is expressed in the peaceable nature of Paul’s communities. God is, for Paul, the “God of peace,” Paul opens all of his letters wishing peace upon the recipients, and he consistently exhorts his communities to be defined by peace.[101] Inwardly, this peaceable love is expressed through unity. Over against the internal divisions of both pagans and Jews, Paul is adamant that his communities must be marked by an all-embracing unity and the absence of divisions.[102] Although Paul most commonly speaks of this as the unity of Jews and Gentiles, he is also clear that this is a unity that spans social boundaries between slaves and free, economic boundaries between the poor and the rich, and gender boundaries between men and women. Indeed, it is this unity that proclaims to the powers that Jesus is the true Saviour and Lord.[103] Furthermore, it is this emphasis upon unity that reveals that Christian freedom is also cruciform –- it is the freedom to serve and love all of those who are in Christ.[104]
However, the outward expression of Paul’s call to peaceable love is even more radical. Over against pagans who are marked by violent conquests, and Jews who are marked by violent self-defense, Christians are to be identified by their nonviolent love of enemies. These, “enemies” are those -– both pagans and Jews –- who violently persecute Paul and his communities.[105] In response to these enemies, Paul regularly asserts that his communities must love their enemies, and thereby suffer violence without returning violence. The response to violence, which identifies Paul’s community, is, negatively, a refusal to repay evil for evil or to enact vengeance, and, positively, a willingness to bless instead curse, to return good for evil, to conciliate, to persevere, and to forgive.[106] Here a radical shift has occurred as Saul the Pharisee has been transformed into Paul the Apostle. Paul’s prior zeal, which manifested itself in violent self-defense, has now been transformed into the zeal of “agape-love,” and his zeal to kill has become a zeal to die.[107] In this way, Paul thoroughly dethrones all attempts to justify sacred violence, as he elevates love, which comes to its most glorious expression in the love of enemies.[108] Further, as Wink suggests, it must be noted that the very unity of Paul’s communities, as Jews and Gentiles together, points to a radical outworking of this love of enemies.[109] Having begun with this unity, Paul’s communities must persevere and continue to show love to those who still persecute them.
Therefore, over against the pagans, whose service of the powers is identified by their covetous divisiveness and violence, and over against the Jews, who have turned the nation of Israel into another beastly power through their internal divisions and violent self-defense, the communities of those who are in Christ are identified by the praxis of cruciform love, which is expressed in peaceful unity and the nonviolent love of enemies.
Rudolph Bultmann once asserted that Paul describes no unmistakably distinguishable Christian action; rather, he argued, Paul simply adopted the ethics of “popular philosophy” and “bourgeois morality.”[110] This paper, having demonstrated that Paul provides clear distinguishing identity-markers between Christians, pagans, and Jews, at the levels of worship, inspiration, ontology, and relationship, can only conclude that Paul would be shocked by such an assertion. Perhaps, when divided and taken individually, evidence of these badges can be found in other communities. However, Paul is clear that it is only the Christian community that exhibits these badges in toto. Furthermore, Paul is adamant that the Christian community must exhibit these badges in toto. The contemporary Church would do well to reflect upon these things as she continues to engage in Paul’s mission amongst both Gentiles and Jews.
[74] 1 Cor 10.20; 15.26; 2 Cor 4.4; Gal 4.8-9; Eph 6.12; Col 1.13; 2.15, 20. On the language of the powers in the New Testament cf. Walter Wink Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament (The Powers Series Vol 1; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 13-96, 151-65; Unmasking the Powers (The Powers Series Vol 2; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), passim.
[75] Cf. Ro 5.4, 17, 21-6.23; 7.7-8.11, 38; 1 Cor 15.54-56; Dunn, Christian Liberty, 56; Ridderbos, 95-99.
[76] Wink substitutes these phrases for Paul’s usage of “sarx,” “kosmos,” and “aion” in order to engage in some rather provocative exegesis; cf. Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (The Powers Series Vol 3; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 52-62.
[77] Ro 7.7-8; 13.9; 1 Cor 5.10-11; 6.10; 2 Cor 9.5; Eph 5.5.
[78] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 635-36; Marshall, 288-90; Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 29.
[79] Ro 1.29-30; 1 Cor 5.9-11; 6.9-10; 2 Cor 12.20; Gal 5.20-21; Col 3.5-8.
[80] Cf. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 226-30.
[81] Wink, Unmasking the Powers, 5.
[82] Cf. Neil Elliott, Liberating Paul: The Justice of God and the Politics of the Apostle (The Bible and Liberation Series; Maryknoll: Orbis, 1994), 189-90; Wright, Paul, 63, 74; What Saint Paul Really Said, 88; “Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans” in A Royal Priesthood? The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically: A Dialogue with Oliver O’Donovan (Scripture and Hermeneutics Series Vol 3; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 173-93.
[83] For two commentaries that develop this theme in some detail cf. Peter Oakes, Philippians: From People to Letter (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Brian J. Walsh & Sylvia C. Keesmat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004).
[84] Cf. Ro 10.2-3; 1 Cor 15.9; Gal 1.13-14; Phil 3.4-6.
[85] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 147-48.
[86] Bruce, 46.
[87] Bornkamm, 12-15; Bruce, 45-48; Donaldson, 285-86; Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 350-53; Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, 53-54; Hurtado, 94; Willi Marxsen, New Testament Foundations for Christian Ethics (trans. O. C. Dean, Jr.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 147-49; Matera, 181-82; Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 26-27. The divisions within Second Temple Judaism (divisions between, for examples, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Diaspora Jews, and the “people of the land”) have been well documented and have led some to speak of Second Temple “Judaisms” and others to speak of “variegated” nomism.
[88] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 27.
[89] Cf. Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 55-56.
[90] Indeed, a neatly systematized theology would not reflect Paul’s theology which is occasional and not systematic. Thus, the categories employed in this article are, inevitably, somewhat arbitrary.
[91] Taken together “in Christ” and “with Christ” are used over 90 times in Paul’s epistles, and “love” is referenced just as many times.
[92] Cf. Dewar, 127, 133; Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 495, 653-57; Gorman, Cruciformity, 156-57; Matera, 142-43; Ridderbos, 293-301; Schrage, 212; Schweitzer, 307. Some have argued that being in Christ is an essential badge of membership in Paul’s letters (cf. Donaldson, 236-48, 171-73, 284; Matera, 166, 175-83; Schweitzer, 123; Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 196-97); however, it is the contention of this article that it is the love exhibited by those in Christ that functions as a badge in Paul’s communities.
[93] Gorman, Cruciformity, 164-68. Gorman argues that Phil 2.5-11 is the story that underpins all of Paul’s theology: “[t]he narrative of the crucified and exalted Christ is the normative life-narrative within which the community’s own life-narrative takes place and by which it is shaped” (44, emph removed); cf. Hays, 27; William S. Kurz, S. J., “Kenotic Imitation of Paul and Christ in Philippians 2 and 3” in Discipleship in the New Testament (Ed. Fernando F. Segovia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 103-26.
[94] Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 58-88.
[95] Ibid., 87.
[96] Cf. Ro 5.3; 6.3-8; 8.17-38; 1 Cor 4.9-16; 12.26; 13.5; 2 Cor 1.3-7; 4.7-18; 6.3-13; 7.4; 8.2; 11.18-33; Gal 2.19-20; 3.4; 5.11, 24; 6.12-14. 17; Phil 1.7; 3.8, 10; 4.12, 14; Col 1.24; 2.20; 3.3; 1 Thes 2.2, 14; 3.3-4, 7; 2 Thes 1.4-6. Therefore, Bornkamm concludes that suffering, for Paul, “was not exceptional but exemplified what life in Christ meant” (172); cf. Schweitzer, 141-54.
[97] Cf. Ro 8; 1 Cor 1.26-28; 2 Cor 4.7-18; 6.3-10; 11.18-33; Becker, 278-83; Bornkamm, 169-70, 181; Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 438; Gorman, Cruciformity, 301; Hays, 25-26; Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 190; What Saint Paul Really Said, 143-45. Thus, Kasemann concludes that, “[w]e cannot share in Christ’s glory except by bearing his cross after him on earth” (Jesus Means Freedom [trans. Frank Clarke; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968], 71) and Gorman concludes that “the very thing (suffering) that suggest that glory is distant is, in fact, the proof of its proximity” (Cruciformity, 347; emph removed).
[98] Rudolph Bultmann, “Man Between the Times According to the New Testament” in Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolph Bultmann (Ed & trans. Schubert M. Odgen; The Fontana Library of Theology and Philosophy 10/6; London: Collins Clear-Type Press, 1964), 315.
[99] Gorman, Cruciformity, 203.
[100] Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 256.
[101] On the God “of peace” cf. Ro 15.33; 16.20; 1 Cor 14.33; 2 Cor 13.11; Eph 2.14; Phil 4.9; Col 1.20; 1 Thes 5.23; 2 Thes 3.16. For Paul’s openings cf. Ro 1.7; 1 Cor 1.3; 2 Cor 1.2; Gal 1.3; Eph 1.2; Phil 1.2; Col 1.2; 1 Thes 1.1; 2 Thes 1.2; and on Paul’s more general references to peace as an essential element of his communities cf. Ro 2.10; 3.17; 5.1; 8.6; 12.18; 14.17, 19; 15.12; 1 Cor 7.13; 2 Cor 13.11; Gal 5.22; Eph 2.15, 17; 4.3; 6.15, 23 Phil 4.7; Col 3.15; 1 Thes 5.13.
[102] Cf. Ro 3.29-30; 12.4-5, 10, 16; 14.1-15.7; 1 Cor 1.10; 3; 6.1-11, 17; 8-10; 11.23-34; 12-14; Gal 3.26-29; 5.13-15; 6.2, 10; Eph 2.11-22; 4.1-6, 14-16, 31-32; 5.21; Phil 1.27; 2.1-5; Col 3.8-15; 1 Thes 3.12; 4.9; 5.11-15; 2 Thes 2.3; Philem. To fracture unity is to move outside of those who are in Christ, which is why, in 1 Cor 11, Paul argues that those who have done so are falling ill and dying. To be divided is to come, once again, under the power of death.
[103] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 146; cf. Donaldson, 82-86.
[104] Cf. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 159-60; Kasemann, Jesus Means Freedom, 66, 73, 80; Stendahl, 61.
[105] Cf. Ro 8.35-36; 12.10; 2 Cor 6.4-5; 11.23-27; 12.10; Phil 1.29-30; 1 Thes 1.6; 2.14; 2 Thes 1.4; Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 449.
[106] Cf. Ro 12.14-21; 1 Cor 4.12-13; 13.4-7; 2 Cor 6.4, 6; 11.19-20; Gal 5.20-22; Phil 4.5; Col 3.22-25; 1 Thes 5.15. Gordon Zerbe traces these themes in Paul’s letters and concludes that Paul upholds an “ethic of nonretaliation and peace” (“Paul’s Ethic of Nonretaliation and Peace” in The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament [Ed. Willard M. Swartley; Louisville: WJKP, 1992], 179-80).
[107] Cf. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 135; Gorman, Cruciformity, 27-28. This then makes good sense of the passages where Paul speaks positively of zeal; cf. Ro 10.2; 12.11; 1 Cor 14.12; 2 Cor 7.7, 11; 8.22; 9.2; Gal 4.18.
[108] Cf. Elliot, 169-74; Schrage, 213.
[109] Wink, Engaging the Powers, 117. Wink is commenting on Eph 2.15.
[110] Rudolph Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament: Volume 2 (trans. Kendrick Grobel; London: SCM Press, 1955), 225-26. Others, like Willi Marxsen, have continued the trajectory of Bultmann’s thought and insist that “we can speak of authentic Christian action only when it is performed by authentic Christians (Marxsen, 225).

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