Pauline Theology

It cannot be assumed, therefore, that the apostle’s correspondence as contained in the NT reveals the whole of his thinking and preaching regarding Christian faith and practice. Nor is one entitled to treat the collection of his letters as a volume on systematic theology, for though he thought theologically, everything the apostle wrote is set in the context of history and polemic. Nonetheless, sufficient material has been preserved under the direction of the Holy Spirit to allow a fairly clear picture of the main outlines of the apostle’s thought. The Christian who looks at Paul’s message in its historical setting discovers that the doctrines Paul enunciated and the principles governing his specific exhortations are authoritative for faith and practice today; the same Spirit preserved who first inspired—and it is His also to illuminate and apply.

Originality and dependence.

It is a mistake, however, to press such statements beyond their proper limits or to set them in rather wooden opposition one to the other. Paul’s gospel given him by revelation was not a gospel differing in kerygmatic content from that of the Early Church. Rather, it was a message which included a new understanding of the pattern of redemptive history in these final days, involving the legitimacy of a direct approach to Gentiles and the recognition of the equality of Jew and Gentile before God (Rom 16:25, 26; Eph 3:2-10; Col 1:26, 27). Paul could not claim the usual apostolic qualifications as expressed in John 15:27 and Acts 1:21, 22. He was dependent upon those who were believers before him for much in the Christian tradition, as his letters frankly indicate. But he had been confronted by the exalted Lord, directly commissioned an apostle by Jesus Himself, and given the key to the pattern of redemptive history in the present age. The Jerusalem apostles had the key to many of the prophetic mysteries and were the living canons of the data in the Gospel proclamation, but he had been entrusted with a further aspect of that message which by revelation was uniquely his. Together, they combined to enhance the fullness of the Gospel.

Dominant perspectives.

The key to Pauline theology is to be found in Paul’s thought regarding Jesus Christ, and is prob. most aptly expressed in the apostle’s frequently repeated phrase “in Christ.” Paul’s theology is Christocentric and his religion a life lived in communion with and response to his exalted Lord. This fact must be maintained in the face of all ethical interpretations of religion—whether Jewish, Stoic or so-called Christian—which lay emphasis upon laws and principles as final criteria. It must also be asserted in opposition to contemporary religious existentialism which seeks to explain Paul’s theology along the lines of anthropology. Paul’s doctrine of man is only a part of his total thought and subservient to his doctrine of Christ, for in Paul’s view, man can be truly understood and life truly authentic only in relation to Jesus Christ. Paul’s theology is not even a theology in the narrow sense of that term. While accepting all that the OT teaches about God the Father, Paul’s proclamation that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19) in context indicates that the focus has shifted for Paul from the first to the second Person of the Trinity. Nor can Paul’s thought be described principally in terms of soteriology, ecclesiology or eschatology (many people’s favorite central concepts to explain early Christian thought). All of these were subjected by the apostle to his overruling and central theme: salvation is salvation “in Christ,” the Church exists as the “Body of Christ” because believers are first of all “in Christ,” and the future holds promise because history has been anchored and reconstituted at a point of time “in Christ.”

Likewise, Paul’s thought is predominantly historical, functional and dynamic in nature. It was “when the time had fully come” that “God sent forth his Son” (Gal 4:4), suggesting that, while metaphysical elements inevitably appear in his preaching, the apostle understood the coming of Christ and the redemption of God in Him first of all in historical terms. And in that God’s Son has come “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:5) and “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19), the conclusion is inescapable that the focus of Paul’s preaching was on the redemptive significance of Christ’s work.

Functional and ontological categories can never be detached or held in isolation from one another, for what Christ did has its basis in who he was and is. Indeed, both are constantly interwoven in the apostle’s correspondence. Yet Paul seems to have laid primary emphasis upon the functional aspect and assumed for the most part (at least in his pastoral letters) the ontological. Only where his message was challenged by some alien metaphysical system that would depreciate the person of Jesus Christ, as happened at Colossae, did he enter into something of an extended description of Christ’s being or essence (Col 1:15-19; 2:9, 10); though even here his purpose in such a description was to clear the way for the proclamation of Christ’s redemptive work (Col 1:20-23; 2:11-15). As his Christian faith came to birth not through metaphysical speculation nor philosophic induction, but resulted from confrontation by the risen and exalted Christ, so he proclaimed the activity of God in Christ as set in a dynamic and redemptive context; though since his preaching had an inevitable metaphysical and ontological basis—and as he was providentially led to a fuller explication of his Christian convictions—these factors inevitably appear in the warp and woof of his theology.

Man’s state and need.

In his synthetic rather than analytic approach to man, and in his explicit anthropological formulations, Paul indicates that his basic thought is rooted in the soil of the OT and orthodox Judaism. He differed from his Jewish heritage more in emphasis than in doctrine, stressing as he does the spiritual (pneumatic) nature of man more than the created (psychic); but that must be credited to his Christian experience and resultant convictions. None of this, however, highlights his teaching on man’s most important need; for while man as creature is responsible, Paul laid stress on the fact that man as sinner is in rebellion and thus desperately needy.

The OT doctrine of the sinfulness of man was explicated in the Judaism of Paul’s day in two ways. The first way stressed the inherited depravity of all men and their resultant personal guilt, and was expressed at least as early as the 2nd cent. b.c. in Sirach 25:24: “From a woman did sin originate, and because of her we all must die.” And it continued through at least the latter part of the 1st cent. a.d. in such words as those of 4 Ezra 7:116-126, wherein the consciousness of personal responsibility is coupled with the cry: “O Adam, what hast thou done? For though it was thou that sinned, the fall was not thine alone, but ours also who are thy descendants!” (cf. 1QH 4. 29, 30; Apoc. Moses 14, 32; 2 Enoch 30:17; Wisdom 2:23, 24; 4 Ezra 3:7, 8, 20-22; 2 Baruch 48:42, 43).

The other strand of Jewish thought laid emphasis upon a doctrine of good and evil “impulses” (yetzer) implanted by God in equal measure within every man, thus de-emphasizing inheritance and attributing guilt to men individually. This teaching can also be found in the centuries immediately prior to Christianity (Sirach 15:14, 15; 1QS column 4), but came to full expression later in 2 Baruch 54:19: “Adam is therefore not the cause, save only of his own soul; but each of us has been the Adam of his own soul.” This also is expressed in the teaching of Rabbi Akiba in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries a.d. (BT Sanhedrin 81a). Through Akiba, this teaching became standard doctrine for rabbinic and modern Judaism.

The law.

Paul’s teaching regarding the law is complex, and has been variously evaluated. In the main, two approaches have been followed in interpreting Paul’s view of the law. The first, stemming from Origen and Tertullian, views the apostle as making a distinction between the moral and ceremonial aspects of Mosaic legislation: the moral expressing the eternal will of God for man, which is fixed throughout the course of history and which the apostle considers “holy, just and good”; the ceremonial aspect being a secondary addition to prefigure the person and work of Christ, which symbolism, once finding reality in Jesus of Nazareth, is to be either spiritualized or set aside by the Christian. Often it is claimed, as Origen and Tertullian also asserted, that the absence or presence of the definite article with the word “law” in Paul’s writings can aid in determining which usage the apostle had in mind, though not invariably. The second line of interpretation is founded in the exegesis of Chrysostom, Theodore, and Theodoret of the “Antioch School” (though not always consistently), and views Paul’s understanding of the law in more wholistic and historical terms. On this view, (a) the Mosaic law was given not only to express in fuller form the primal will of God for man but also as a developed system of righteousness which would be adequate if man could achieve it; (b) but since man is unable to fulfill the requirements of the law, its underlying purpose of revealing and condemning sin came to the fore; (c) Christ, however, both bore the condemnation and fulfilled the obligations of the law (moral and religious), thus providing both redemption and righteousness for all who are His; (d) therefore, the Christian lives not in relation to the law but in response to his Lord who has reiterated and heightened the expression of God’s eternal principles, borne the curse of the law, fulfilled the law’s obligations in their contractual form, and enables His own to live lives pleasing to the Father.

The first interpretation became almost universal in the Western church and experienced a revival in late 19th-century theology. It appears, however, to rest more on polemic purpose than exegetical principle and to reflect more a static understanding of Pauline thought than an historical. The second underlies to a great extent the Protestant Reformation (cf. Luther’s On the Freedom of the Christian), and must be judged to correspond more closely to the thinking of the apostle.

The person and work of Christ.

The central motif in the Pauline message is that the divine plan of redemption has its focal point in human history in the person and work of Jesus Christ. “When the time had fully come,” the apostle proclaims, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4, 5).

The work of Christ in Paul’s teaching is presented primarily in relation to the law. In coming “under the law” Christ has taken both the curse and the obligations of the law upon Himself, bearing both on behalf of those unable to bear either and thereby reconciling us to the Father. Christ in His death “redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal 3:13); was made sin for us “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21); “canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:14); and reconciled us “in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present [us] holy and blameless and irreproachable before him” (Col 1:22). But the act of Calvary is not the whole story for Paul, important as it is. The apostle does not proclaim a redemption which merely obliterates the curse of the law, presenting the individual to God as neutral. He also insists that Christ has fulfilled the legal demands of the contractual obligation established in the Mosaic covenant, thus presenting before the Father a positive righteousness for all those who are “in Him.”

The thought of the obedience of Christ, although included in that of the sacrifice of Christ (cf. Phil 2:8), is not exhausted in the consideration of that act. The declared purpose of Jesus included a fulfilling of the law (Matt 5:17), and Paul picks up that theme in Romans 5:18, 19, contrasting the disobedience of Adam with the obedience of Christ; for not only was “one man’s trespass” countered by “one man’s act,” but “one man’s disobedience” was rectified by “one man’s obedience.”

This thought seems to be likewise involved in Paul’s repeated emphasis on righteousness as based not upon “the works of the law” but upon “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” and given to all who respond to Him by faith (Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16; 3:22; Eph 3:12; Phil 3:9). That which the contractual obligation of the law demanded, Christ has provided. He stood for mankind in offering the perfect righteousness, so that all who stand “in Him” stand before the Father not in their own righteousness but robed in His. As James Denney once said: “It is the voice of God, no less than that of the sinner, which says, ‘Thou, O Christ, art all I want; more than all in Thee I find.’” And it is because in His sacrifice He redeemed from the curse of the law and by His perfect obedience He fulfilled the obligations of the law that Paul can assert: “Christ is the end of the law in its connection with righteousness to all who believe” (Rom 10:4). The sacrifice and the obedience of Christ are corollaries which in Paul’s mind could never truly be separated, both validated by His resurrection and living presence.

In Christ.

In speaking of the personal appropriation of the work of Christ, the apostle repeatedly employs the expression “in Christ.” The phrase, together with its cognates, occurs a total of 172 times in Paul’s writings: 164 in the ten letters from Romans through the Prison Epistles (minus the Pastorals), and another eight times in those addressed to Timothy and Titus. It is the major soteriological expression of Paul, being the basis for and incorporating within itself the patristic themes of “victory” and “redemption,” the Reformation stress on “justification,” the Catholic insistence on “the body,” the more modern emphases on “reconciliation” and “salvation,” and all the Pauline ethical imperatives and appeals.

The body of Christ.

A great deal of debate has surrounded Paul’s use of the body imagery. Catholic theology insists that it signifies an ontological reality, thus developing the doctrine of “The Mystical Body” which exists prior to its members and mediates grace. Protestants claim it to be only a metaphor, many heedlessly equating it with some type of “Social Compact Theory” of the Church. The close relation between symbol and reality which is a feature of Heb. thought in general (wherein symbol and reality are closely joined yet never confused) forbids us to make the identity required in any “realistic” or ontological understanding of the phrase. Yet something, on the other hand, is basically wrong in speaking of Paul’s expression as “only a metaphor.” Since hearing the words on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” the apostle could never look into the face of a Christian without realizing anew the unity that exists between Christ and His Church.

The Church, then, in Paul’s teaching, is composed of individuals vitally related to Jesus Christ and thereby inextricably joined to all others acknowledging a like allegiance. As members of the same body, Christians are (a) to take care not to sin against a brother (1 Cor 8:12); (b) to manifest an attitude of concern for one another, realizing that “if one member suffers all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:25, 26); and (c) to recognize that each has been given abilities and responsibilities by God for the harmonious and fruitful extension of the Gospel of Christ, and to get on with the task in a spirit of mutual dependence and unity (Rom 12:5ff.; 1 Cor 12:27ff.).

The Christian ethic.

The Christian life in Paul’s teaching is (a) based upon the fact of a new creation “in Christ”; directed through the correlation of the “law of Christ” and the “mind of Christ”; (c) motivated and conditioned by the “love of Christ”; (d) enabled by the “Spirit of Christ”; and (e) expressed in a situation of temporal tension between what is already a fact and what has yet to be realized. Although they can be spoken of separately, all these elements must be combined and merged in our consciousness if the apostle’s thought is to be rightly understood and the Christian ethic truly exhibited.

As Paul never proclaimed salvation simply by renewal of character, so he never taught the possibility of living the Christian life apart from being “in Christ.” It is because the believer is “in Christ,” and therefore a “new creation,” that life has become transformed (2 Cor 5:17); and it is because Christ is in the believer that Christians can be exhorted to live in obedience to the Spirit of God (Rom 8:10-14). Apart from this foundation, the superstructure of the Pauline ethic has no rationale or support.

The “love of Christ” and the “law of Christ” are not so much equated by Paul (as commonly supposed by some, who appeal to Rom 13:10 and James 2:8) as they are balanced, the latter being one aspect in the directing of the Christian’s life and the former spoken of as the motivating and conditioning factor in a life receiving guidance from Christ. That love which motivated and conditioned God’s action on behalf of mankind “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5), with the result that now love has come to characterize the Christian ethic in the same manner. And as love provides the matrix and context for the ethical life of the believer, so the Spirit provides the dynamic and strength; for the same God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead gives life to our “mortal bodies also through his Spirit” (Rom 8:11).

All of this is lived out between the polarities of what has been accomplished by the historical achievement of Jesus and what is yet to be fully realized in the consummation of God’s redemptive program. In such a temporal tension the believer lives, conscious both of (a) what he is “in Adam,” sobering him to the potentialities of his depraved nature; and (b) what he is “in Christ,” awakening him to the prospects of present victories and ultimate conquest.

The consummation of God’s plan.

Paul’s eschatology, while rooted in the OT and employing the imagery of his day, is basically an extension of his Christology in its distinctive features and focus. God’s Son entered the arena of human history “when the time had fully come” (Gal 4:4), thus inaugurating the Messianic Age and setting in motion a series of events which will reach its climax in the final days. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the presence of His Spirit in the lives of believers are the “firstfruits” which sanctify the whole redemptive process and give assurance of final consummation (Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 15:20, 23). The declaration regarding Christ’s coming again and the believers’ being caught up to meet their Lord is based upon “the word of the Lord” (1 Thess 4:15), the essence of which Paul seems to quote in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17. And the apostle’s thought regarding the future centers upon the coming again of Christ, the parousia, all else being related to that.

Though the historical achievement of Jesus is a finished work, its application is progressive and its climax will be reached only in the Second Coming of Christ. And though the Christian experiences resurrection life and intimacy “in Christ” now, and may know even closer fellowship at death, the full realization of his sonship and the consummation of God’s redemptive plan awaits the parousia. For this Paul expectantly waits, joining in the Christian prayer: “Our Lord, come!” (1 Cor 16:22).


O. Pfleiderer, Paulinism, 2 vols. (1877); A. Deissmann, Die neutestamentliche Formel ‘in Christo Jesu’ (1892); G. B. Stevens, The Pauline Theology (1892); H. St. J. Thackeray, The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought (1900); W. Sanday, “Paul,” HDCG, II, 886-892; M. Dibelius, Die Geisterwelt im Glauben des Paulus (1909); A. Schweitzer, Paul and his Interpreters (1912); C. G. Montefiore, Judaism and St. Paul (1914); W. Morgan, The Religion and Theology of Paul (1917); W. H. P. Hatch, The Pauline Idea of Faith in its Relation to Jewish and Hellenistic Religion (1917); H. A. A. Kennedy, St. Paul and the Mystery-Religions (1919); J. G. Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion (1921).

W. L. Knox, St. Paul and the Church of Jerusalem (1925); F. Pratt, The Theology of Saint Paul (1926); C. A. A. Scott, Christianity According to St. Paul (1927); E. Lohmeyer, Grundlagen der paulinischen Theologie (1928); W. G. Kümmel, Römer 7 und die Bekehrung des Paulus (1928); O. Michel, Paulus and seine Bibel (1929); A. Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1931); F. V. Filson, St. Paul’s Conception of Recompense (1931); J. S. Stewart, A Man in Christ (1935); W. L. Knox, St. Paul and the Church of the Gentiles (1939); J. Bonsirven, Exégèse rabbinique et exégèse paulinienne (1939); P. P. Bläser, Das Gesetz bei Paulus (1941); A. M. Hunter, Paul and his Predecessors (1946, 1961).

J. Klausner, From Jesus to Paul (1943); J. Bonsirven, L’Evangile de Paul (1948); C. H. Dodd, Gospel and Law (1951); G. Bornkamm, Das Ende des Gesetzes (1952); C. H. Dodd, “ENNOMOS CHRISTOU,” Studia Paulina: In Honorem J. de Zwaan (1953); H. Ljungman, Das Gesetz Erfullen (1954); E. Best, One Body in Christ (1955); W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (1955); R. Shedd, Man in Community (1956); K. Barth, Christ and Adam (1956); W. D. Stacey, The Pauline View of Man (1956); G. B. Caird, Principalities and Powers (1956); D. Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (1956); W. D. Davies, “Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Flesh and Spirit,” The Scrolls and the New Testament (1956); J. A. T. Robinson, The Body (1957); E. E. Ellis, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament (1957).

N. Q. Hamilton, The Holy Spirit and Eschatology in Paul (1957); W. Barclay, The Mind of St. Paul (1958); H. N. Ridderbos, Paul and Jesus (1958); J. Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind (1959); J. Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin (1959); L. Cerfaux, The Church in the Theology of St. Paul (1959); A. Wikenhauser, Pauline Mysticism (1960); H. Schlier, Principalities and Powers in the New Testament (1961); E. E. Ellis, Paul and His Recent Interpreters (1961); J. N. Sevenster, Paul and Seneca (1961); J. Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (1961); H. J. Schoeps, Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History (1961); L. Cerfaux, Le Chrétien dans la théologie de Saint Paul (1962); C. K. Barrett, From First Adam to Last (1962); G. A. F. Knight, Law and Grace (1962); G. B. Caird, “Pauline Theology,” HDBrev. (1963), 736-742; J. J. von Allmen, Pauline Teaching on Marriage (1963); T. W. Manson, On Paul and John (1963); F. F. Bruce, “Promise and Fulfilment in Paul’s Presentation of Jesus,” Promise and Fulfilment: Essays Presented to S. H. Hooke (1963); 36-50; A. J. Bandstra, The Law and the Elements of the World (1964); L. Goppelt, Jesus, Paul and Judaism (1964); J. Ljungman, PISTIS: A Study of its Presuppositions and its Meaning in Pauline Use (1964); R. N. Longenecker, Paul, Apostle of Liberty (1964); J. A. Schep, The Nature of the Resurrection Body (1964); R. Schnackenburg, Baptism in the Thought of St. Paul (1964); D. E. H. Whiteley, The Theology of St. Paul (1964); W. Schmithals, Paul and James (1965); J. A. Fitzmyer, Pauline Theology (1967); M. F. Wiles, The Divine Apostle (1967); G. W. H. Lampe, “Church Discipline and the Interpreta tion of the Epistles to the Corinthians,” Christian History and Interpretation: Studies Presented to John Knox (1967), 337-361; C. F. D. Moule, “Obligation in the Ethic of Paul,” ibid., 389-406; V. P. Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul (1968); G. E. Ladd, “Paul and the Law,” Soli Deo Gloria: In Honor of William Childs Robinson (1968), 50-67.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. The Pharisee

2. Saul and Sin

3. Primitive Christianity


1. Christ

2. The Spirit

3. The Unio Mystica

4. Salvation

5. Justification


1. Abolition of the Law

2. Gentiles

3. Redemption

4. Atonement

5. Moral Example

6. Function of the Law


1. The Church

2. The Sacraments

I. The Preparation.

In order to understand the development of Paul’s theological system, it is necessary to begin with his beliefs as a Pharisee. The full extent of these beliefs, to be sure, is not now ascertainable, for Pharisaism was a rule of conduct rather than a system of dogmas, and great diversity of opinions existed among Pharisees. Yet there was general concurrence in certain broad principles, while some of Paul’s own statements enable us to specify his beliefs still more closely.

1. The Pharisee:

Saul the Pharisee believed that God was One, the Creator of all things. In His relation to His world He was transcendent, and governed it normally through His angels. Certain of these angelic governors had been unfaithful to their trust and had wrought evil, although God still permitted them to bear rule for a time (Col 2:15; compare Enoch 89:65). And evil had come into humanity through the transgression of the first man (Ro 5:12; compare 2 Esdras 7:118). To lead men away from this evil God gave His Law, which was a perfect revelation of duty (Ro 7:12), and this Law was illumined by the traditions of the Fathers, which the Pharisees felt to be an integral part of the Law itself. God was merciful and would pardon the offender against the Law, if he completely amended his ways. But imperfect reformation brought no certain hope of pardon. To a few specially favored individuals God had given the help of His Spirit, but this was not for the ordinary individual. The great majority of mankind (compare 2 Esdras 7:49-57), including all Gentiles, had no hope of salvation. In a very short time the course of the world would be closed. With God, from before the beginning of creation, there was existing a heavenly being, the Son of man of Da 7:13, and He was about to be made manifest. (That Saul held the transcendental Messianic doctrine is not to be doubted.) As the world was irredeemably bad, this Messiah would soon appear, cause the dead to rise, hold the Last Judgment and bring from heaven the "Jerus that is above" (Ga 4:26), in which the righteous would spend a blessed eternity.

See Pharisees; Messiah; PAROUSIA.

2. Saul and Sin:

Ro 7:7-25 throws a further light on Saul’s personal beliefs. The Old Testament promised pardon to the sinner who amended his ways, but the acute moral sense of Saul taught him that he could never expect perfectly to amend his ways. The 10th Commandment was the stumbling-block. Sins of deed and of word might perhaps be overcome, but sins of evil desires stayed with him, despite his full knowledge of the Law that branded them as sinful. Indeed, they seemed stimulated rather than suppressed by the divine precepts against them. With the best will in the world, Saul’s efforts toward perfect righteousness failed continually and gave no promise of ever succeeding. He found himself thwarted by something that he came to realize was ingrained in his very nature and from which he could never free himself. Human nature as it is, the flesh (not "the material of the body"), contains a taint that makes perfect reformation impossible (Ro 7:18; compare Ro 8:3, etc.). Therefore, as the Law knows no pardon for the imperfectly reformed, Saul felt his future to be absolutely black. What he longed for was a promise of pardon despite continued sin, and that the Law precluded. (Any feeling that the temple sacrifices. would bring forgiveness had long since been obsolete in educated Judaism.)

There is every reason to suppose that Saul’s experience was not unique at this period. Much has been written in recent years about the Jews’ confidence in God’s mercy, and abundant quotations are brought from the Talmud in support of this. But the surviving portions of the literature of the Daniel-Aqiba period (165 BC-135 AD) give a different impression, for it is predominantly a literature of penitential prayers and confessions of sin, of pessimism regarding the world, the nation and one’s self. In 2 Esdras, in particular, Saul’s experience is closely paralleled, and 2 Esdras 7 (of course not in the King James Version) is one of the best commentaries ever written on Ro 7.

3. Primitive Christianity:

Saul must have come in contact with Christianity very soon after Pentecost, at the latest. Some personal acquaintance with Christ is in no way impossible, irrespective of the meaning of 2Co 5:16. But no one in Jerusalem, least of all a man like Saul, could have failed tq learn very early that there was a new "party" in Judaism. To his eyes this "party" would have about the following appearance: Here was a band of men proclaiming that the Messiah, whom all expected, would be the Jesus who had recently been crucified. Him the disciples were preaching as risen, ascended and sitting on God’s right hand. They claimed that He had sent on all His followers the coveted gift of the Spirit, and they produced miracles in proof of their claim. A closer investigation would show that the death of Jesus was being interpreted in terms of Isa 53, as a ransom for the nation. The inquirer would learn also that Jesus had given teaching that found constant and relentless fault with the Pharisees. Moreover, He had swept aside the tradition of the Fathers as worthless and had given the Law a drastic reinterpretation on the basis of eternal spiritual facts.

This inwardness must have appealed to Saul and he must have envied the joyous enthusiasm of the disciples. But to him Pharisaism was divine, and he was in a spiritual condition that admitted of no compromxses. Moreover, the Law (Ga 3:13; compare De 21:23) cursed anyone who had been hanged on a tree, and the new party was claiming celestial Messiahship for a man who had met this fate. The system aroused Saul’s burning hatred; he appointed himself (perhaps stimulated by his moral desperation) to exterminate the new religion, and in pursuit of his mission he started for Damascus.

Saul must have gained a reasonable knowledge of Christ’s teachings in this period of antagonism. He certainly could not have begun to persecute the faith without learning what it was, and in the inevitable discussions with his victims he must have learned still more, even against his will. This fact is often overlooked.

II. The Conversion.

1. Christ:

Fitting these data of religious fact into the metaphysical doctrine of God was a problem that occupied the church for the four following centuries. After endless experimenting the only conclusion was shown to be that already reached by Paul in Ro 9:5 (compare Tit 2:13, the English Revised Version, the American Revised Version margin), that Christ is God. To be sure, Paul’s terminology, carried over from his pre-Christian days, elsewhere reserves "God" for the Father (and compare 1Co 15:28). But the fact of this theology admits only of the conclusion that was duly drawn.

2. The Spirit:

Further reflection and observation taught Paul something of the greatest importance for Christian theology. In prayer the Spirit appeared distinguished from the Father as well as from the Son (Ro 8:26 f; compare 1Co 2:10 f), giving three terms that together express the plenitude of the Deity (2Co 13:14; Eph 1:3,6,13, etc.), with no fourth term ever similarly associated.

See Trinity.

3. The Unio Mystica:

4. Salvation:

As the first man to belong to’the higher order, and as the point from which the race could take a fresh start, Christ could justly be termed a new Adam (1Co 15:45-49; compare Ro 5:12-21). If Cor 15:46 has any relation to the PhiIonic doctrine of the two Adams, it is a polemic against it. Such a polemic would not be unlikely.

5. Justification:

A most extraordinary fact, to the former Pharisee, was that this experience had been gained without conscious effort and even against conscious effort (Php 3:7 f). After years of fruitless striving a single act of self-surrender had brought him an assurance that he had despaired of ever attaining. And this act of self-surrender is what Paul means by "faith," "faith without works." This faith is naturally almost anything in the world rather than a mere intellectual acknowledgment of a fact (Jas 2:19), and is an act of the whole man, too complex for simple analysis. It finds, however, its perfect statement in Christ’s reference to `receiving the kingdom of God as a little child’ (Mr 10:15). By an act of simple yielding Paul found himself no longer in dread of his sins; he was at peace with God, and confident as to his future; in a word, "justified." In one sense, to be sure, "works" were still involved, for without the past struggles the result would never have been attained. A desire, however imperfect, to do right is a necessary preparation for justification, and the word has no meaning to a man satisfied to be sunk in complete selfishness (Ro 6:2; 3:8, etc.). This desire to do right, which Paul always presupposes, and the content given "faith" are sufficient safeguards against antinomianism. But the grace given is in no way commensurate with past efforts, nor does it grow out of them. It is a simple gift of God (Ro 6:23).

III. Further Developments.

1. Abolition of the Law:

The adoption by Paul of the facts given by his conversion (and the immediate conclusions that followed from them) involved, naturally, a readjustment and a reformation of the other parts of his belief. The process must have occupied some time, if it was ever complete during his life, and must have been affected materially by his controversies with his former co-religionists and with very many Christians.

2. Gentiles:

The second result of the abolition of the Law was overwhelming. Gentiles had as much right to Christ as had the Jews, barring perhaps the priority of honor (Ro 3:2, etc.) possessed by the latter. It is altogether conceivable, as Ac 22:21 implies, that Paul’s active acceptance of this result was long delayed and reached only after severe struggles. The fact was utterly revolutionary, and although it was prophesied in the Old Testament (Ro 9:25 f), yet `the Messiah among you Gentiles’ remained the hidden mystery that God had revealed only in the last days (Col 1:26 f; Eph 3:3-6, etc.). The struggles of the apostle in defense of this principle are the most familiar part of his career.

3. Redemption:

This consciousness of deliverance from the Law came to Paul in another way. The Law was meant for men in this world, but the union with Christ had raised him out of this world and so taken him away from the Law’s control. In the Epistles this fact finds expression in an elaborately reasoned form. As Christ’s nature is now a vital part of our nature, His death and resurrection are facts of our past as well. "Ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col 3:3). But "the law hath dominion over a man" only "for so long time as he liveth" (Ro 7:1). "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ" (Ro 7:4). Compare Col 2:11-13,20, where the same argument is used to show that ritual observance is no longer necessary. In Ro 6:1-14 this argument is made to issue in a practical exhortation. Through the death of Christ, which is our death (6:4), we, like Him, are placed in a higher world (6:5) where sin has lost its power (6:7), a world in which we are no longer under Law (6:14). Hence, the intensest moral effort becomes our duty (6:13; compare 2Co 5:14 f).

4. Atonement:

Further developments of this doctrine about Christ’s death find in it the complete destruction of whatever remained of the Law (Col 2:14), especially as the barrier between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:15 f). The extension of the effects of the death to the unseen world (Col 2:15; compare Ga 4:9; Eph 4:8) was of course natural.

5. Moral Example:

There are, accordingly, in Paul’s view of the death of Christ at least three distinct lines, the "mystical," the "juristic," and the "ethical." But this distinction is largely only genetic and logical, and the lines tend to blend in all sorts of combinations. Consequently, it is frequently an impossible exegetical problem to determine which is most prominent in any given passage (e.g. 2Co 5:14 f).

6. Function of the Law:

IV. Special Topics.

1. The Church:

The church is, of course, the object of Christ’s sanctifying power (Eph 5:25-30) and is so intimately united with Him as to be spoken of as His "body" (1Co 12:27; Col 1:18; Eph 1:23, etc.), or as the "complement" of Christ, the extension of His personality into the world (Eph 1:22 f). As such, its members have not only their duty toward one another, but also the responsibility of carrying Christ’s message into the world (Php 2:15 f, and presupposed everywhere). And to God shall "be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever and ever" (Eph 3:21).

2. The Sacraments:

As the union with Christ’s death is something more than a subjective impression made on the mind by the fact of that death, the references to the union with the death accomplished in baptism in Ro 6:1-7 and Col 2:11 f are not explained by supposing them to describe a mere dramatic ceremony. That Paul was really influenced by the mystery-religion concepts has not been made out. But his readers certainly were so influenced and tended to conceive very materialistic views of the Christian sacraments (1Co 10:5; 15:29). And historic exegesis is bound to construe Paul’s language in the way in which he knew his readers would be certain to understand it, and no ordinary Gentile reader of Paul’s day would have seen a purely "symbolic" meaning in either of the baptismal passages. Philo would have done so, but not the class of men with whom Paul had to deal. Similarly, with regard to the Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper, in 1Co 10:20 Paul teaches that through participation in a sacral meal it is possible to be brought into objective relations with demons of whom one is wholly ignorant. In this light it is hard to avoid the conclusion that through participation in the Lord’s Supper the believer is objectively brought into communion with the Lord (1Co 10:16), a communion that will react for evil on the believer if he approach it in an unworthy manner (1Co 11:29-32): i.e. the union with Christ that is the center of Paul’s theology he teaches to be established normally through baptism. And in the Lord’s Supper this union is further strengthened. That faith on the part of the believer is an indispensable prerequisite for the efficacy of the sacraments need not be said.



See under PAUL.