Sunday, December 08, 2013

The χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ (“free gift of God”) is eternal life

The χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ (“free gift of God”) is eternal life
The χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ (“free gift of God”) is eternal life
Over at the Joe Carter article on the Council of Trent, regarding Romans 6:21-23, Erick Ybarra said:

what delivers the baptized from the "end" (telos) of "death"? It is that internal renovation which sets the soul free from its bondage to the practice of sin and sets its course into the practice of holiness and righteousness (emphasis added). It is very explicit here that St. Paul believed in the necessity of righteousness in the baptized for the attainment of eternal life, and yet it is a gift of God.

As a reformed person, I always used to think that when St. Paul says that "the wages of sin is death" is a statement with reference to the life of a believer "before" his conversion. And that is true of course, but St. Paul is speaking to the contemporary moment. The "wages of sin is death" even for the baptized who decide to go in the direction of sin. This is brought out in more detail in Romans 8, where St. Paul says that we are indebted to God to live in the Spirit, and not according to the flesh, for if we do, the "end" (telos) will be death.

These are not wild conclusions, but rather very intelligent, with great support from the Scriptures.

Erick, this is a typical bait-and-switch move on the part of Roman Catholic apologetics. “Somehow, show that works are necessary for salvation” or “you can lose your salvation”, “therefore Roman Catholicism is correct”. However, even if somehow “the wage of sin is death” applies to “the baptized” (which I don’t grant to you), it is not an argument in favor of turning the accretions of Roman Catholicism into required dogma and practice.

But let’s take a closer look at the text, which disproves even your initial claim …

21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (emphasis added).

21τίνα οὖν καρπὸν εἴχετε τότε; ἐφ’ οἷς νῦν ἐπαισχύνεσθε, τὸ γὰρ τέλος ἐκείνων θάνατος. 22νυνὶ δὲ ἐλευθερωθέντες ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας δουλωθέντες δὲ τῷ θεῷ ἔχετε τὸν καρπὸν ὑμῶν εἰς ἁγιασμόν, τὸ δὲ τέλος ζωὴν αἰώνιον. 23τὰ γὰρ ὀψώνια τῆς ἁμαρτίας θάνατος, τὸ δὲ χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ ζωὴ αἰώνιος ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν.

It is absolutely not “clear” that the end is “eternal death” as you say. Consider this exegetical treatment from Robert Jewett, in his Commentary on Romans (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, ©2007). “But what fruit were you getting …?”

Paul employs the imperfect form of “you (pl.) have” to indicate that they “possess and keep” such fruit as part of their lives, “that they drag it with them as forming part of their own moral life. The adverb τότε (“then, at that time”) makes clear that the question relates to the former life of the Roman converts, when their entire existence was determined by enslavement to sin. This is not a threatening question for this congregation of first-generation converts, who knew full well the dismal shape of their former lives, and if they were similar to contemporary converts, would have been happy to admit the sordid details because of their tremendous sense of liberation therefrom.

Paul’s answer to the question refers to “things of which you are now ashamed”, taking ἐφ’ οἷς, literally “things of which” to function as the object of the verb ἐπαισχύνεσθε (“you are ashamed”) (422-423).

What kinds of things would have caused “shame” in these Roman converts of the mid 50’s? And what is the context in which these things cause “death”? It’s not clear at all that these individuals are in danger of “losing their salvation”. In fact, no such danger is in view:

The placement of νῦν (“now”) before the verb makes clear that the current attitude of converts toward their former behavior is in view. The usual interpretation is that conversion results in a sensitized conscience and an awareness of universal depravity; it is ordinarily thought to be the product of ethical instruction. The underlying dynamic, however, has to do with the deeper issue of shameful status. When society treats persons as nobodies—and this was the status of most of the Roman converts—they naturally treat others with the same cruelty and contempt. As “weapons of wrongdoing” [“instruments for unrighteousness” (ESV)] wielded by evil forces (Romans 6:13), they had injured, dominated, and exploited others without compunction. If their lives were worthless, then the lives of others were also worthless, and no empathy was required. The only semblance of honor left was to follow commands related to being “weapons of wrongdoing” without compunction. This entire heartless system, which Paul in an earlier letter had described as “devouring one another” (Gal 5:15) was overcome by the gospel of Christ’s death in behalf of the lowly, of divine grace thereby expressed that honors each person in equal measure. Receiving the gospel meant accepting the message that Christ died for oneself and one’s group, but also for all the others as well, and thus that each now has immeasurable value. As this is internalized, converts begin to realize that if their lives are valuable in God’s sight, so are the lives of other humans whom they had routinely and heartlessly mistreated …

The word τέλος is used here to refer to “the result emerging necessarily from a certain manner of existence,” which is usually taken to be eschatological wrath [as you have done]. But this hardly explains the phenomenon of shame now felt for former deeds. Since the reign of death has frequently been mentioned in preceding pericopes (Romans 5:14, 17, 21; 6:16), it seems more natural to understand v. 21c as describing the awareness of the converted that their former deeds were part and parcel of Adam’s legacy, compounding its effect by serving as instruments of wrongdoing. They now know that they had willingly participated in the culture of death, which in many ways had reached its apex in Rome’s glorifying of its violent history, in the brutal duels and executions in the public theaters and arenas sponsored by patrons to honor Rome’s superiority, and in the vicious policies of military expansion, occupation, and economic exploitation. The gospel of Christ crucified exposes the culture of death and leads to a shaming awareness of universal complicity in its enactment (pgs 423-424).

And notice the contrast in Romans 5:17: “For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”. The “reign of death” in which “death spread to all men” was not “eternal death”. You don’t want to say that everyone before Christ suffered “eternal death”. However, “eternal life” is now a “free gift”. This is the contrast given in your verse, Romans 6:21.

Continuing with verse 23:

In a memorable formulation that concludes the periscope, Paul sets off the antithesis between the realms of sin and grace. He uses the slang term ὀψώνιον, which originally referred to buying cooked fish and was popularize by military usage to refer to wages or rations given as remuneration for services performed…. The metaphor is of sin, which had earlier appeared as a slavemaster or ruler, providing remuneration to its underlings in the form of death. While the ὀψώνιον in ordinary usage provided sustenance for life, this wage provides its opposite—death. Since wages are paid in increments as well as at the end of a task, the death that Paul has in mind is a present reality that will extend into the future. The most striking feature of this sentence, however, is the contrast between ὀψώνιον and the χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ (“free gift of God”). Whereas the remuneration (“wage”) is paid in return for services rendered, the χάρισμα is a sheer gift to those who have performed no service at all, to those in fact who have made themselves God’s enemies. The gift could be related to the donativum (“donation”) given by the “largess” of a regent, often at the time of his ascension to power. It could also be possible to think of this as the gift provided by a victorious general to his soldiers after a great victory. But in view of the way χάρισμα was used earlier in the letter to depict the gift of unmerited love granted through Christ to “the many” who deserve nothing (Romans 5:15-16), it is better to define this as Paul and early Christians would. They perceived the death and resurrection of Christ as granting shamefully undeserving people the gift of salvation as well as specific gifts of God’s mercy and calling into his gratifying service. In Paul’s view, these gifts were granted without regard to whether or not one has fulfilled the requirements of the law. In Romans 4:4, this was connected to the matter of wages in a manner that provides the premise for [Romans] 6:23: “To the one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due”.

In contrast to earning death as a result of enslavement to sin, therefore, Paul counterposes the “free gift of God,” which is “life eternal.” In his view there is nothing whatsoever that anyone can do to deserve such a gift; life eternal is the very opposite of the death the children of Adam have earned. This antithesis strikes at the heart of much of the religious motivation in Paul’s time. That life eternal could be assured by proper initiation into the mysteries or by faithful observance of the law was a commonplace assumption. [Jewett provides several examples from the literature of the time.] This entire system of religious debits and credits is left behind with Paul’s dramatic formulation.

The final clausula reiterates the theme of sheer grace, because life eternal is defined as being “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” To be ἐν Χριστῷ (“in Christ”) is to reside in the realm where grace rules, where Christ the slave (Phil 2:7) functions as Lord of all, and thus where the ordinary rules of honor and accomplishment, of wages and recompense, are no longer in effect. The church resides in this realm in the present, which accounts for its revolutionary social structure, where the first are last, and the last are first—where the greatest is servant of all. The social embodiment is perceived to be a proleptic expression of “life eternal,” when the old age is at an end, the powers of darkness and death are finally dispelled, and the new relationship between believers and Christ is unimpeded by adverse circumstances. This realm of eternal life, however, has the same structure as the current life in Christ; it is dominated by grace rather than law; it equalizes the honor of all its participants, who stand in equal closeness to their Lord; and it demonstrates the freedom of those who no longer rely on what they have accomplished. With the free gift replacing remuneration, a new age has truly dawned, in which Paul’s promise will extend into eternity (pgs 425-427).

There is not a word about “internal renovation” here (or anywhere near here).

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