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Justin (koavf)

John,

While I am not of the same Reformed tradition as yourself, I definitely agree that Christians by and large write off the Law and reduce Judaism to a soul-less game of obeying arbitrary rules. They do this to the harm of their own souls in delighting in God's law, a proper understanding of the mission of the Messiah (who came to fulfill, not abolish the Law), and a flirtation with anti-Semitism.

Christians should properly understand the Law as saving because the Messiah kept the Law. If humanity is saved by the Messiah, they are consequently saved by observance to the Law.

My own spiritual investigations have lead me to appreciate the "Cold Testament" much more and to reject the chauvinistic, illogical, and contemptuous opinions of some segments of Christianity that repudiate the Law in theory and practice.

-JAK

JohnFH

Always good to have your comments, Justin.

A key controversy among Christians concerns the purposes of the law. Lutherans emphasize the law's role in convicting human beings of sin. Calvinists and Wesleyans emphasize the role of the law as a compass and guide to the believer. More so than many other traditions (but it's easy to overstate the difference), the Reformed tradition has a history of appropriating the Torah as found in the Bible in culturally significant ways.

The Catholic church used to be famous for expecting the faithful to adhere to all manner of communal rules of behavior. Not any longer. Insofar as the rules were not helpful in helping people imitate Christ in their lives, so much the better. Insofar as non-practice of the old rules signifies a choice not to practice the faith at all, it is a bad thing.

Among Jews, there are also differences. Abraham Joshua Heschel's understanding of Torah led him to march beside Martin Luther King. For others, it seems best to meddle in the affairs of the Gentiles as little as possible.

James Pate

Thanks for this post.

One impression that I have of rabbinic Judaism is that it desperately tries to find some good work on the part of humans to justify God's beneficence. That's not to say that there is no grace in Judaism, but I'm just amazed at how often the rabbis try to do that. God chose Abraham because he smashed his father's idols and stood against Nimrod. God delivered the children of Israel from Egypt because they obeyed him through circumcision. Christians would just say that God showed grace, but the rabbis must have thought that people need to deserve God's favor, on some level.

David Guttmann

James,

You hit it on the head! Although not all Rabbis agree, some put emphasis on what you would call grace, we would call it munificence, generally we are expected to search for and find God rather than the other way round.The first step is always man and God responds.

They pick it up in many nuances of the text. One of them is the cryptic comment in Genesis 11:31 that Terah and his family were on the way to Canaan. It only has meaning in the context of the stories that follow.Avraham and his family must have taken the first step towards God.

JohnFH

Thanks, James and David, for continuing the conversation. Your comments are more interesting than the initial post.

Here is an analogy. The divine-human relationship is like a game of tennis. But how is it played? Is God as it were the one who serves, and man the one who returns the serve? Those who stress God's munificence tend to conceptualize the relationship in this way.

But perhaps it is more munificent to serve only occasionally, perhaps only once, and return the other's serve thereafter.

Emphasis on Torah (=the need for a human response) and grace (=God's munificence) can go hand in glove.

My point is that "God is good all the time" in Judaism no less than in Christianity. Judaism puts great emphasis on the truth the God is good to us by virtue of the fact that he requires us to observe commandments. I am convinced that this is a healthy emphasis.

Peter Kirk

"Most versions of ... Christianity understand Torah as a means of salvation."

Not any evangelical kind of Christianity. Not, for that matter, Catholic Christianity, which rejected this teaching as the Pelagian heresy. Not, I think, Eastern Orthodox Christianity either. Not the Christian faith as expounded by the Apostle Paul. Not the teaching of Jesus Christ.

John, is this the teaching of your Waldensian or Methodist church? It is certainly not that of the "Pauline-Augustinian-Reformed" tradition you appeal to.

As you suggest in your point (3), "God ... paradigmatically saves, apart from Torah observance." And since he saves apart from Torah observance, Torah observance is emphatically NOT a means of salvation.

"The Torah, furthermore, is meant to be observed, and by means of observance of it, life and salvation are also granted."

EMPHATICALLY NO!, especially to the last part, within any kind of orthodox Christian teaching. Read Galatians 3:1-5, also 1:6-9, then consider whether you are under God's curse for preaching "a different gospel", and repent before it is too late.

I'm sorry to hinder your well-intentioned attempt to build bridges between Judaism and Christianity. But I will not tolerate any such attempts which discard what to me is the CENTRAL point of the Christian life, that our acceptance by God does not depend on observance of Torah or any kind of law.

JohnFH

Peter,

it seems to me that you are making a hash of a complex subject. Let me indicate a few of my disagreements with your stated position.

(1) What about Deut 30:19 and Ezek 18? Is there room in your theology for the points these passages make? A truly biblical theology stands or falls on its capacity to affirm Deuteronomy, Ezekiel, and Galatians. According to the vast bulk of Christian tradition, despite what you say, it is understood, in accordance, with Deuteronomy and Ezekiel, that keeping God's commandments is a matter of life and death, that the one who keeps them is given life, health, and salvation. As Reformed theologians are wont to say, God's law is a means of grace. It is possible to uphold the priority of grace, and the "third use of the law."

(2) I thought you claimed to be a Wesleyan. Clearly you have yet to read Wesley. Try his magnificent "A Blow at the Root, or Christ Stabb'd in the House of his Friends," and get back to me.

(3) Do you have plans to excise Ps 19 and 119 from your Bible? Intense devotion to God's commandments has always been the mark of a true believer. There are differences of opinion and emphasis about which commandments apply, and in what sense, but a wide consensus obtains with respect to understanding devotion to the commandments (plural) as the way marked out in scripture to fulfill the first and greatest commandment (singular, as in "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" etc.).

(4) Parts of the New Testament have a set of emphases at odds with that of Paul in Galatians. The gospel of Matthew and the epistle of James come immediately to mind. Your way of framing the debate runs the risk of effectively muting these parts of the New Testament.

(5) Salvation language is used in all kinds of ways in the Bible. You choose to accuse someone who attempts the preserve the diversity of usage with the charge of preaching another gospel. Your charge, I believe, is misdirected.

Peter Kirk

If "the vast bulk of Christian tradition" maintains that "keeping God's commandments is a matter of life and death", then "the vast bulk of Christian tradition" has forgotten the fundamental Christian teaching about God's grace and fallen into heresy.

(The situation may have been different in Old Testament times when God's grace had not yet been fully revealed through Jesus Christ.)

I don't claim to be a Wesleyan. I have read Wesley on Christian perfection, and note that it is not attained by obeying any law.

I accept, and did not deny in my earlier comment, that God does expect certain standards of behaviour from his people. Hence devotion to these standards is a good thing. But I deny, in the strongest possible terms, that keeping to these standards is a condition for life, either in this world or eternally.

If you think that parts of the New Testament offer a different teaching, please cite chapter and verse, rather than generalised references to particular books.

Peter Kirk

By the way, are you citing against my position the letter of the same James who spoke Acts 15:19-21 and approved 15:23-29? No support there for the position that Christian believers are required to keep the whole Torah.

JohnFH

I did give you references, Peter. They included Deuteronomy 30:19 and Ezekiel 18. While you are at it, you might look at Jer 31:31-34.

Now, if by your parenthetical remark, you wish to suggest that the New Testament contradicts the Old with respect to law and gospel, that's your prerogative, but I would not want to follow you. You will note that Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, and Augustine and Thomas before them, argue in a very different manner. Luther developed his theology of grace in the course of exegeting the Psalms.

With respect to the New Testament, I noted Matthew and James. For starters, I suggest you take a look at Matthew 5:17-20 and James 2:24.

As for your suggestion that Wesley's teaching on perfection does not imply the keeping of "any law," it does not stand up to critical scrutiny. For Wesley, Christian perfection consists in fulfilling the law of love, which law was understood as a radicalization of the command to love one's neighbor as oneself.

In Johannine terms, the ethics of Jesus continue to be understood as a commandment, not a non-binding suggestion. It is termed a new commandment: "love one another, as I have loved you." "As I have loved you" is the new part.

According to Johannine literature, God is not in the one who fails to keep this commandment. Forgiveness is possible for the one who neglects it, but forgiveness without repentance is not affirmed.

JohnFH

Peter,

by shifting your argument, such that you now wish to concur with passages you cite in Acts which require Christians of Gentile origin to adhere to particular commandments in Moses and not others, you come closer to the classical Christian position.

Jesus radicalized some of the commandments and relativized others. So, arguably, did the Pharisees. They differed about which should be radicalized and expanded on, and which should be relativized and minimized. But they did not differ about the importance of observing them.

Peter Kirk

John, I meant NT references, specifically in Matthew and James, which you did not give before. Well, now you have, thank you.

Since you effectively reject the applicability of Matthew 5:38-48 to the Christian life, I could simply say the same about 5:17-20. But I won't. I will simply say that there is nothing in this verse to say that keeping the law is a requirement for life, in this world or the next. Those who set aside the law may be "called least in the kingdom of heaven", but they are in it, unlike the Pharisees and scribes who keep the law but remain outside.

As for James 2:24, yes, Abraham's "faith was made complete by what he did"; here works show the genuineness of saving faith, but are only hyperbolically in themselves a condition for salvation.

Then, concerning John's gospel and Wesley, it is you who have shifted ground from the Torah to Jesus' "new commandment" of love. Yes, this law is a summary of the Torah, but in order to live a life of love one does not have to obey the detailed commands of the Torah. And in John, and Wesley as far as I know, love is necessary to live a good Christian life but is certainly not a condition of salvation.

Perhaps I need to withdraw the "any" in my statement that Christian perfection "is not attained by obeying any law". Rather I should say that it is not attained by obeying the detailed requirements of any law code. But it does involve fulfilling the "law" of love, something which in my opinion is called a "law" and "commandment" only in a rather ironic sense.

Now I can see how you argue that Jesus "radicalized" the law in the Torah into his new commandment of love. His radicalisation of it, as further developed by the apostles in Acts 15, is in fact so radical that effectively nothing is left of the law as binding on Christians, save for the "law" of love, general morality, and avoidance of certain customs repugnant to Jews. But the most important radicalisation by Jesus is not this but his repudiation of any suggestion that obedience even to this radicalised law can be understood as a condition for salvation. It is this that brings us back to my original objection to what you wrote.

JohnFH

First of all, Peter, I note your rejection of the Old Testament as a basis on which to think through the issues at hand. In this you differ from all of the writers who contributed to the New Testament, and Christian tradition based on it.

Second of all, I think you distort the thrust of James 2:24 in the interests of harmonizing it with Pauline emphases. It is better, instead, to admit that Paul and James are not on the same page, and go from there. A biblical theology worthy of the name will find room for the different emphases of Paul and James, not pretend that they say the same thing in different ways.

Thirdly, your thesis that words like "law" and "commandment" are used ironically when the observance of them is said to be the mark of a Christian, is extremely far fetched. Can you cite any NT exegete who agrees with you?

Fourthly, you now speak of the love commandment, "general morality" (what's this supposed to mean, the ten commandments + the prohibition of things like incest and rape? Explain yourself - and guess what: you will then have Torah in the non-specific sense I have been using it in the post and comments), and the keeping of other customs in the law of Moses as binding on Christians. Finally we agree, but do we? You go on to contradict yourself by suggesting that adherence or non-adherence to these behavioral standards is irrelevant to the question of salvation.

Jesus thought otherwise. Please read Mark 10:17-27. As is clear from Matthew 5:17-20 as well, which you misinterpret, Jesus raises the bar higher for his disciples, not lower.

You are stuck on one thing. You know, as I do, that obedience to God's will is not a precondition to salvation. You are right: I made that clear in the post by giving biblical examples in which God acts with munificence and to our benefit before and apart from obedience to his will on our part.

But that does not change the fact that we choose death, which is the opposite of salvation, the minute we choose to disobey God's will. That does not change the fact that, according to the New Testament, someone who claims to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior but fails to follow his teachings cannot expect to inherit eternal life. See Matthew 7:21-22; 25:31-46.

Now, perhaps you really believe that when NT writers speak of God's will in the language of "law" and "commandment," they were being ironic. Perhaps you really believe that one can divorce God's will for your life from obedience to his commandments.

But somehow I doubt it. I am convinced that there are many things you do and do not do, thanks to the witness of the Holy Spirit within you, or, to use the language of Jeremiah - and if the witness of Jeremiah means nothing to you, you are commenting on the wrong blog - thanks to God's own law which is written in your heart. That law, I submit, is the means by which God preserves you as a believer. Surely you can pray along with Psalm 119:

You are good and beneficent,
teach me your laws. (119:68)

Your decrees are always righteous,
give me understanding, that I might live. (119:144)

I call upon you; save me,
that I may keep your decrees. (119:146)

Peter Kirk

John, you ask me to explain "general morality". Well, I was referring of course to Acts 15:20,29 which in fact lists only porneia, a general word for sexual immorality, plus some specific practices abhorrent to Jews. Perhaps it was simply assumed that Gentiles would also abstain from murder, theft and bearing false witness.

Of course if you mean "Torah" in an unspecific and so far undefined sense, rather than as all your readers must have assumed as a reference to the five books of Moses and the teaching in them, then you have simply been deliberately misleading me and stringing me along all this comment thread.

My point about irony referred to the phrase "the law of love" which you used in describing Wesley's teaching - which is not in fact a law at all but a general principle of living contrasting with law. Compare Romans 13:8-10, where love is not called a law, indeed I don't think it ever is in the Bible.

I don't believe I contradicted myself, but if I said anything which contradicts my firm position that adherence or non-adherence to ANY behavioural standards is irrelevant to the question of salvation, then I utterly renounce it. This is the point, salvation by grace and not by works, on which Luther took his stand and so do I.

Yes, Jesus raises the bar for earning salvation by works much higher, so high that, in the very verses you referred me to, when the disciples asked "Who then can be saved?" he had to reply "With human beings this is impossible" (Mark 10:26-27). For it is only by God's grace that anyone can be saved, and all the good things that anyone does, whether obeying the law or giving up everything for the sake of the kingdom, are completely unable to help anyone to earn salvation.

But I also utterly repudiate your suggestion that I "believe that one can divorce God's will for your life from obedience to his commandments". No, of course it is God's will for me that I obey his commandments. But don't you get the point here, the fundamental distinction? I don't obey God in order to earn salvation or ensure that I don't lose it. I obey God because I want to, because I believe it is the right thing to do, because I love him. This is nothing to do with hope of reward or fear of punishment. Don't you believe that anyone can do anything good except for reward or out of fear? Are we all as stupid as donkeys? Are even Christians that totally depraved? Have you studied and pastored so much but not grasped this central point of the gospel?

So I can pray Psalm 119 along with you, secure in the knowledge that I am certainly saved, not because of my obedience to the law, and in loving response to the one who has saved me by grace.

JohnFH

Peter, I thought you meant by "general morality" something more general, inclusive of not bearing false witness, not taking the name of God in vain, not stealing, etc. Thanks for the clarification. But surely commandments such as these are meant to be obeyed, not merely understood as a means by which God convicts us of sin, as you suggest in your tendentious exegesis of Mark 10. Of course doing God's will is impossible without God's help. But it can be put positively as well: "I can do all things [including keeping the commandments] through Christ Jesus who strengthens me."

I was not stringing you along by speaking of the Torah in non-specific terms. It was the first point in my post. Go take a look. Furthermore, a non-specific use is required when discussing passages across the whole length of the Hebrew Bible and beyond. It cannot be assumed, for example, that Jeremiah meant precisely those laws contained in the Pentateuch when he speaks of God's law in chapter 31. The term "law" is used in a variety of senses in the New Testament as well. Surely you know this.

I will reply in greater detail later.

Peter Kirk

John, to keep you amused while you consider your longer reply, read this.

James Pate

I don't know, John. I think that Jeremiah 31 was speaking about laws that at least appear in the Pentateuch. He does criticize murder, idolatry, etc. But I acknowledge that he may not have meant the whole Pentateuch, since he seems to have a preference for the Deuteronomic legislation, whereas Ezekiel has more of an affinity with Leviticus.

JohnFH

I don't think we have a fundamental disagreement, James.

There are plenty of reasons for thinking that when Jeremiah referred to the law, he understood by that no more than a subset of the range of laws now found in Pentateuch. Ezekiel, au contraire, is knowledgeable about law modern scholars associate with "P" and "H," but he also predicts that a different set of laws in several domains covered by priestly legislation will apply in the future (Ezek 40-48).

It is clear to Ezekiel that the exact content of the law needs to change with changed circumstances. Jesus and the Pharisees, to cite later examples, freely radicalize some laws, and relativize others. Law, if it to be relevant at all, can and must be adapted according to felt needs.

My basic point is that one must avoid anachronism and unwarranted assumptions. For example, in Psalm 15, "sojourning in God's tent" - that is, the enjoyment of any kind of permanence in God's temple, is conditional upon adherence to a number of behavioral standards. Are we to assume that the standards listed in Ps 15 are in addition to, or in lieu of, rules regarding the same thing in the Pentateuch? Once the Tanakh came to be treated a seamless whole, the standards in Ps 15 came to be understood as additive to those in the Pentateuch. But at the time Psalm 15 was written, many of the laws found in the Pentateuch may not yet have been in force.

Similarly, if one reads Pss 111-112 with care, it becomes clear what commandments, grosso modo, the psalmist had in mind when he uses the term. If he thought it was important that one not have sex with a menstruating woman, or that one keep Shabbat, he would have said so, as did Ezekiel (ch. 22).

Clearly there are significant differences in emphasis, and no agreed upon corpus of God-given law (see Jeremiah 7:22!) until a relatively late stage.

JohnFH

Okay, Peter, I'm back from meetings and reading the Bible to my 4 year old before she goes to bed (in the NIrV).

You still seem to think you can squeeze the entire New Testament into a tidy little theological system. Thankfully, you do not likewise insist that the Old Testament agrees with your abstract theology; that saves us from having to put up with you distorting passages from that part of the Bible, too.

Each time you comment, you add insult to injury. Now you take to task anyone who seeks to motivate the believer by pointing out a reward they will receive if they do something within God's will. Poor Jesus. He falls directly under your criticism. See Matthew 5:12, 46; 6:1-18; 10:41-42.

Let's return to what you believe to be the central point of the gospel, that one is saved by faith, not by works. Carefully qualified, the statement is true. If left unqualified, as is your wont with scripture (in the case of the teaching of non-resistance to evil, for example), it becomes a lie. It becomes something Jesus himself never taught.

Jesus stipulated no preconditions to following him. He accepted the vilest of sinners apart from anything other than some token of repentance. But he placed a number of conditions upon following him. They are nicely compiled in Luke 14:25-33. Now, unless you wish to argue that one can be saved apart from being a disciple of Jesus, you are stuck big time.

The reason why you involve yourself in contradiction is that you reduce faith to a verbal confession of the type "Jesus is Lord." But faith, i.e., an authentic relationship with God, entails many things. James did not hesitate to call some of those things works. Paul refused to do so, not because he did not believe that faith entails many things, but because he used the word "works" to refer to things like circumcision and keeping a kosher table which he knew to be irrelevant within the context of faith in Jesus.

Surely, however, Paul would have agreed that being a Christian entails doing the kind of things listed in Luke 14:25-33. He would also have agreed with Jesus when he said, "If you do not forgive others, neither will the Father forgive you" (Matthew 6:14).

The last example is telling. There is a sense in which God's forgiveness is unconditional (as outlined already in the post at the top of this thread). God even forgives those who crucify Jesus because they did not understand what they were doing.

But there is another sense in which God's forgiveness, and therefore perdurance in the gift of salvation, is conditional: see Matthew 6:14.

Until you learn to hold apparently contradictory truths like these in tension, and explain why both are true, you are going to be stuck with a tidy little theological system which effectively mutes the bulk of Scripture in order to give exaggerated emphasis to a small sliver thereof.

Your thought is too cut and dried. It lacks texture and is short on complexity. What do I mean by this? Well, take a famous saying of Augustine which you channel, perhaps unknowingly, in your last comment. He said, "Love God, and do as you please." It's a beautiful quote, and one can find the same thought in almost the same words among the rabbis. But for Augustine and the rabbis, saying that was not in contradiction with requiring believers to adhere to a long list of do's and don'ts, and threatening them with hell if they didn't.

Is it really so difficult to understand why Augustine and the rabbis do not involve themselves in self-contradiction by so doing?

JohnFH

One more detail in your presentation, Peter, which I feel I must contest. You say:

"the law of love" . . . is not in fact a law at all but a general principle of living contrasting with law.

Of all the nonsense. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" and "love one another" are referred to as "commandments" in the Bible, mitzvot in Hebrew. The Torah is made up of a series of mitzvot. Some mitzvot effectively sum up others. Jesus, Paul, and the rabbis all agree on this, without ever suggesting, as you seem to, that the observance of commandments summed up by another commandment is no longer a mark of the true believer. Please read Romans 13:8-10 with more care.

By noting this agreement between Jesus and Paul on the one hand and the sages on the other, I do not mean to suggest that they agreed among themselves on which mitzvot were to be interpreted in such a way that they were inapplicable (for example, with respect to mitzvot which require capital punishment; actually, Jesus and the Pharisees largely agreed on this point) and which were to be interpreted in such a way that their scope was widened, or loopholes closed (for example, with respect to divorce, in Jesus' teaching).

They did not agree on these matters, and the disagreement was sharp enough that a parting of the ways was inevitable quite apart from the identification of Jesus with the Messiah.

Matt Dabbs

What about covenantal nomism?

James Pate

Thanks for your response, John.

I have another question. For years, my Christian walk has been like this: I would like to believe the sorts of things that Peter is saying, which is basically that nothing I can do will make God love me more, and nothing I can do will make God love me less. But I open up the Bible, and I continually run into your position, which is that one will not ultimately be saved without good works. I mean, seriously, on a few occasions, Paul said that those who do the works of the flesh will not enter the kingdom of God.

I guess my question is this: Believing as you do, how can you have any assurance of salvation at all, if works enter the picture? Can you have assurance once your good deeds outweigh your bad? What's hard is that many of the works of the flesh characterize me, and I can't turn them off like they're a light switch.

JohnFH

[Pretending not to remember having read E. P. Sanders back in the days}

Matt,

covenantal nomism, what's that? It would be nice for someone to point to those of us who dabble in NT scholarship only what the state of the question is on that subject.

Peter Kirk

Now you take to task anyone who seeks to motivate the believer by pointing out a reward they will receive if they do something within God's will.

No, John. You completely misunderstand me again. Those I take to task are those who claim that salvation is a reward for doing something within God's will, or conversely loss of salvation is a punishment for not doing such a thing. This is entirely consistent with Jesus' teaching. However, I don't think we should be doing the things Jesus asks us to do just for the rewards, and this seems to be the teaching of Luke 17:7-10.

Yes, I do believe that people can be saved without fulfilling the conditions for discipleship in Luke 14:25-33. That is why I believe that you can be saved despite the fact that you have not given up your children but read them bedtime stories. These are not intended to be conditions for salvation; rather, they are demands for those who want to give their lives completely to Jesus. This is a calling for all, I believe, but the conditions are not to be taken literally and certainly not as conditions for salvation.

But I agree with you that faith is more than just a verbal formula. It must include things like forgiveness of others, as a condition for us ourselves to be forgiven.

In fact my thinking is not as lacking in texture as you claim. Of course I can't explain full details in a comment thread. But I would suggest that Augustine and the rabbis were close to contradicting themselves.

Concerning law and love, I was intending to contrast life according to a detailed code of law on the Jewish model - or at least the Christian caricature of this model - and according to principles like "Love God, and do as you please." Of course the latter principle can be called a law or a commandment. But there is a real difference of essence between this latter and a detailed set of regulations on what is permitted and not permitted. Surely you see the distinction here, even if I didn't describe it very clearly before.

JohnFH

James,

you are right to point that not even Paul was, as it were, consistently Pauline. One more demonstration that Paulinism is a tidy little system with a slender basis in scripture.

I find, however, the following words of Paul helpful in the existential dilemma of which you speak, and which I share:

A person’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which a person has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If a person’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though the person himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:13-15

It would be wrong, I think, to take Paul's language to its logical conclusion - that it doesn't matter what your 'work' is, you will still be saved. To do so would contradict other things that Paul says, and Jesus says. But the thrust of Paul's affirmation is clear, and allows the believer to aim to do good works with the hope of a reward, and still put his or her ultimate trust where it belongs, in God's munificence.

JohnFH

I am glad, Peter, that you do not take all of the language Jesus uses to describe conditions for discipleship literally. I'm convinced, based on other texts, that it is deliberate and effective hyperbole. Would that you recognized hyperbole in some of Paul's statements which you hold dear.

Still, they are conditions for discipleship. I don't think you can get around that. If you prefer Pauline language, he puts the point this way, as James remarks: those who do the works of the flesh will not enter the kingdom of God.

My point continues to be that your gift for logical thinking works against you sometimes, such that you must find Jesus, Paul, the rabbis, and Augustine to engage in self-contradiction. Lay logic aside at first, and simply try to give each individual text its due.

Then, in a subsequent moment, engage in what is sometimes called dialectical thinking, and allow thesis and antithesis to be expressed in terms of a synthesis.

Peter Kirk

But the thrust of Paul's affirmation is clear, and allows the believer to aim to do good works with the hope of a reward, and still put his or her ultimate trust where it belongs, in God's munificence.

Indeed the thrust of Paul's affirmation is clear, and it is precisely NOT what you are claiming. There is not perfect consistency of literal language, I agree, but his main thrust is very clear, that works are not a condition for salvation.

Now I accept that in passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 Paul makes it clear that "wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God". But here he is not talking about believers who fall into sin, but about unregenerate unbelievers as the Corinthians used to be, 6:11. Now a few verses earlier, 5:11, Paul deals with those who "claim to be fellow believers but are sexually immoral ...", and it is clear from 5:13 that such people should be expelled from the church as false believers. So yes, someone who claims to believe but in fact lives a wicked life will not be saved, not because they have lost their salvation by faith, but because they never had in the first place the true faith which leads to repentance and the works which God expects. But this is a very different matter from the suggestion that people can be saved by works rather than faith, or that believers who carelessly break the law may thereby lose their salvation.

You ask me to "allow thesis and antithesis to be expressed in terms of a synthesis". Why? "What do righteousness and wickedness have in common" that I should seek a synthesis between them?

JohnFH

Well, Peter, your latest formulation concedes my point:

true faith leads to repentance and works that are pleasing to God.

In the absence of repentance and works, therefore, it is fair to assume that what passes itself off as faith is nothing of the sort. This is just another way of saying that faith must be completed by works or it is not faith at all. Welcome to the world of the epistle of James.

I agree with this, but I also want to emphasize, with Paul, that God saves us, in the beginning and always, in the face of our disobedience, and thus, apart from works. As Luther stated, we are simil iustus simul peccator.

By thesis and antithesis, I meant James and Paul. A synthesis of the two will emphasize both.

In the course of this thread, you've come around to affirming both thesis and antithesis. As far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing.

But now I am struck that you appear to deny the possibility of apostasy. I find your notion very odd.

The idea that the Corinthian believers Paul wants excommunicated were never believers in the first place is pure eisegesis. The idea that apostasy is impossible goes against all the texts that warn against it.

You, my friend, are straying into hyper-Calvinism. Tell me it isn't so.

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