The Theology of Paul
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 1 September 2015; Revised 9 September 2018
Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version, © 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Sources: Bibliographic data for scholarly publications cited may be found at the end of the article. References to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737); online. References to tractates of the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); online. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
The word "theology" is formed from the Greek word theos, "God," and ology, a suffix commonly defined as a science or branch of knowledge. The secular definition of theology is the study religious truth. In the Bible the focus of theological material is the God of Israel, His promises, plans and priorities. The suffix ology itself is derived from the Greek term logia, plural of logion and related to logos, which is used variously in ancient writings in reference to communications attributed to a divine origin. In ancient Greece the principal meaning of logion was "oracle," a brief utterance (LSJ). The term is often used in classical Greek writings to refer to guidance given a leader.
The Jewish translators of the Septuagint (LXX) adapted the term logion for special use in interpreting two important words. Logion is used first to render Heb. chosen (SH-2823, breastplate, sacred pouch), the breastplate of the high priest by which he consulted God for guidance (Ex 28:15 +17 times). Then logion renders Heb. emer (SH-561, speech, word) 29 times, 25 of which are in the Psalms and denotes the revealed words of God. The term is important to the doctrine of inspiration of Scripture because ancient Jews believed in verbal inspiration, expressed in the liturgical formula concerning the Torah, "from the mouth of ADONAI, by the hand of Moshe." The section called "Prophets" were produced by the same form of inspiration (2Pet 1:20-21).
Logion appears four times in the Besekh. In Acts 7:38 Stephen reminds his hearers that Moses had received "living oracles," i.e., the Torah or more specifically the Ten Words (cf. Ex 20:1; Deut 32:46f). In Romans 3:2 Paul lists among the advantages of the Jews the fact that they were entrusted with the "oracles of God." Then in Hebrews 5:12 Paul exhorts Messianic Jews to move beyond the elementary principles of the "oracles of God." Peter also uses the term to exhort that when one speaks in the congregation it should be from the "oracles of God" (1Pet 4:11).
This word study is important because by definition theology concerns itself with what is revealed in Scripture. For the disciple of Yeshua no other source qualifies as the ultimate authority, so we may affirm "that the Bible, consisting of the Tanakh and Besekh, is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, totally truthful and accurate in its historical narratives and is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct (Isa 40:8; Luke 24:2-7, 44; 1Th 2:13; 2Tim 3:16; 2Pet 1:21)."
A Jewish Theologian
Many theological themes may be found in the Bible. All of the knowledge concerning these subjects was revealed to the prophets of Israel and the Jewish apostles of Yeshua (Eph 2:20). Christianity added nothing to this knowledge, but often departed from it. When Paul spoke and wrote concerning these subjects he was speaking as a Pharisee and Messianic Jew thoroughly educated in the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:2; Rom 15:4; 2Tim 3:16).
There is no question that Paul wrote about very deep subjects (2Pet 3:15). Paul does not focus on a single theological theme, nor does he create a "systematic theology" in which the constituent parts build in a series of interrelated and logical steps. None of his letters cover all theological subjects. In his letters Paul addressed a variety of topics, often to provide additional instruction to supplement what he had taught in person and sometimes in response to a congregational problem. All the matters he discussed were very important to him.
What's important to note is that in all these subjects Paul is thoroughly grounded in Judaism. His concepts are consistent with the teaching of the Tanakh and in many respects bear striking similarity to rabbinic writings. Since Paul's audience is primarily Jewish, as established in Part 3 of this article, he addresses subjects with which they are familiar and offers little explanation to Gentile members of the congregations. If the pagans to whom Paul spoke in Athens had read his letter to the Romans they would probably have understood little of his theological message.
In examining the content of Paul's theology, let me set forth some basic assumptions:
(1) Paul's teaching is an accurate explanation of divine revelation as recorded in Scripture.
(2) Paul's theology is grounded in the covenantal relationship of God with Israel. He does not expound on doctrines as philosophical concepts arrived at by deductive or inductive reasoning, but truth revealed in history. Paul's theology is essentially narrative in character.
(3) The meaning of Bible words cannot be determined from what Christian tradition says they mean or dictionaries of the English language, but from their usage in Israelite culture. Paul's manner of expression is thoroughly Hebraic. (See my web article The Jewish New Testament.)
(4) Our understanding and conclusions about Paul's theology must be based on what Paul actually said and not what Christianity later reinterpreted him to say.
(5) Paul's instructions for morality and ethics, as well as congregational life, are still authoritative as the Word of God and not subject to cultural reinterpretation.
Roots of Paul's Theology
"Paul began crying out in the Sanhedrin, 'Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees! I am on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!'" (Acts 23:6)
Paul's basic theology was shaped by his Pharisee background, which is covered in Part 1 of this article. Like his fellow Jews and Pharisees Paul might have summarized the essence of his faith in the verse "Hear, O Israel, ADONAI our God, ADONAI is one" (Deut 6:4; 1Cor 8:6; Eph 4:5). Christians routinely view Judaism of the first century as a religion of merit, that salvation was earned by complete obedience to the Torah (Young 114). While there were offenses that could exclude a Jew from the Kingdom in the age to come, being a member of the covenant community assured salvation (Sanhedrin 11:1). Also, atonement for sins was handled by blood sacrifices. Where in that religious system is salvation by works?
Being a Pharisee Paul affirmed certain core doctrines, namely the coming of the Messiah and the future Messianic Kingdom, the Shema, the final judgment to come, life after death, resurrection of the dead, immortality of the soul, angels, and the divine inspiration, historical veracity and authority of Scripture. His moral and ethical code was determined by the Ten Commandments and the other Torah statutes that gave guidance on fulfilling the two great love commandments.
Embracing the Messiah did not require Paul to surrender any of these core beliefs, nor does any theological concept he writes about contradict those beliefs. He emphatically makes this point in his defense speech before the Sanhedrin (see the verse quoted above).
Transformation and Commission
"I thank Messiah Yeshua our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to service—even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man. Yet I was shown mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed with the faith and love that are in Messiah Yeshua." (1Tim 1:12-14)
After his transformation on the Damascus Road Paul wrote much of the mercies of God (Rom 9:16; 12:1; 15:9; 2Cor 1:3; 1Tim 1:2), and often included himself among those who received God's mercy (1Cor 7:25; 2Cor 4:1; Eph 2:4; Titus 3:5). Paul was very conscious of being a recipient of God's grace (Rom 1:5; 12:3; 1Cor 3:10; 15:10; 2Cor 5:18; Gal 1:15; 2:9; Eph 1:6-7; 2:5; 3:7-8; Php 1:7; 2Thess 2:16; 2Tim 1:9). Another aspect of Paul's transformation was the revelation that God intended the Good News for the Gentiles beyond those already affiliated with Judaism by conversion. He speaks of it as a mystery that had been kept hidden (Eph 3:4-6). He counted it a privilege to be given the commission to take the message of God's grace to the Gentiles as well as to Israel (Acts 13:47; 26:16-19; Rom 1:5, 13; 15:18; Col 1:24-27; 1Tim 2:7; 2Tim 4:17).
Paul began immediately to proclaim among Jewish people that Yeshua is the Son of God (Acts 9:20) and the Messiah (Acts 9:22). By "Son of God" Paul meant that Yeshua was the heir to David's throne, the King of Israel. Luke describes that during this first journey Paul proclaimed the "word of God" in the synagogues (Acts 13:5). It is not until Paul spoke in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia that we learn the content of the "word of God" (Acts 13:16-41). Paul's sermon on this occasion sets forth his basic theology, which is explained in more detail below. In one sense Paul's letters are simply extended commentary on the theology presented in this sermon.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua." (Rom 8:1)
"Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." (2Cor 5:17-18)
Paul's teaching focuses a great deal of attention on the person and work of the Messiah and so he frequently employs an expression that has stimulated considerable scholarly discussion: "in Messiah" (Grk. en Christō). The expression is formed from the preposition en (in, into, within, with, among) and the dative case of Christos, the word for the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messiah (Ps 2:2; Dan 9:25-26). The dative case describes some aspect of personal relations and may be one of four types (DM 84f), two of which have a bearing on Paul's expression "in Messiah."
The dative of indirect object indicates the one for whom or in whose interest an act is performed. The dative of possession emphasizes that the personal interest is particularized to the point of ownership. So when Paul speaks of being "in Messiah" he means that he is the property of the Messiah, thus Yeshua is Lord, and Paul acts always in the interest of the Messiah. By the same token the Messiah acts in the interest of his disciples. The practical meaning would be "united with Messiah."
The expression occurs in every one of Paul's letters, except 2Thessalonians, Titus and Hebrews:
"in Messiah:" Rom 9:1; 12:5; 16:7, 9, 10; 1Cor 3:1; 4:10, 15, 17; 15:18, 19, 22; 2Cor 2:14, 17; 3:14; 5:17, 19; 12:2, 19; Gal 1:22; 2:17; Eph 1:3, 10, 12, 20; 4:32; Php 1:13; 2:1; Col 1:2, 28; 2:5; 1Th 4:16; and Phm 1:8, 20.
"in Messiah Yeshua:" Rom 3:24; 6:11, 23; 8:1, 2, 39; 15:17; 16:3; 1Cor 1:2, 4, 30; 15:31; 16:24; Gal 2:4; 3:14, 26, 28; 5:6; Eph 1:1; 2:6, 7, 10, 13; 3:6, 11, 21; Php 1:1, 26; 2:5; 3:3, 9, 14; 4:7, 19, 21; Col 1:4; 1Th 2:14; 5:18; 1Tim 1:14; 3:13; 2Tim 1:1, 9, 13; 2:1, 10; 3:12, 15; and Phm 1:23.
In examining these passages it is apparent that, besides the basic meaning suggested by the dative case, "in Messiah" is a multi-dimensional expression for Paul. As he will later testify the transformation on the Damascus Road was truly all encompassing, the old things had passed away. No longer was Gamaliel his mentor. No longer were the Messianic followers of Yeshua his enemies. No longer was he dead in trespasses and sins. No longer was he simply living to obey Torah and satisfy the Pharisaic code. In Messiah he found real life, real freedom. He had entered into both the death of the Messiah and the resurrection life of the Messiah. He discovered that all the promises of God were "yes" in Messiah and in Yeshua all the blessings of God were given.
The principal concepts of Paul's theology are set forth in his first recorded sermon that occurred in his first missionary journey (Acts 13:17-40). Key theological concepts in Paul's sermon are as follows: election of Israel (17), deliverance from Egypt (17), inheritance of the Land (19), the promise (23, 32), the Savior for Israel (23), immersion for repentance (24), salvation (26), Messianic prophecy (27), crucifixion and burial of Yeshua (28-29), resurrection of Yeshua (30-37), forgiveness of sins (38), faith and justification (39). See my commentary on his sermon in Acts 13.
Israelology: A People of God's Choice (Acts 13:13-22)
Election: In verses 17-20 Paul set the stage for his narrative of salvation. His wording is strongly reminiscent of the very wording of the Tanakh narration (Bruce 272). His review of history is crucial to understanding how salvation is accomplished. In this verse Paul summarizes the history of Genesis 12—Exodus 15. The God of Israel, the only God in existence, "chose" a particular people (Deut 7:6-8). The mention "of Israel" likely has the dual meaning of the man Jacob whose name was changed to "Israel" and then the nation that descended from his twelve sons. God's sovereign election of and covenantal relationship with Israel is a constant theme in Paul's letters (cf. Rom 8:33; 9:4; 11:7, 27; 1Cor 1:27-28; 2Cor 3:6; Gal 3:17; 4:24; Eph 1:4; 2:12; Col 3:12; 2Thess 2:13; 1Tim 5:21; 2Tim 2:10; Titus 1:1; Heb 7:22; 8:6, 8-10; 9:15; 10:16, 29; 13:20). God did NOT end His covenant with Israel.
The Fathers: Paul asserts that God chose "our fathers," no doubt referring to the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deut 30:20; Acts 22:14; 24:14; 26:6; Rom 9:5; 11:28; 15:8; 1Cor 10:1; Heb 1:1). Paul emphasizes that God "chose" the patriarchs. They were recipients of special favor and privilege. They did not choose God. This is Paul's first mention of the covenantal choosing. However, Paul hints at a new insight when he speaks of "our fathers." Paul understood that God's election was first individual before it was national. For example, God chose Isaac in preference to Ishmael (Gen 17:19-21; Rom 9:7, 10; Gal 4:28) and Jacob in preference to Esau (Gen 25:23; Rom 9:12-13). Thus, salvation is individual. Paul then passes over the 400+ years of Israel's sojourn in Egypt, prophesied to Abraham (Gen 15:13; Gal 3:17).
Exodus: God exalted the people that descended from Jacob, meaning He elevated their position in Egypt by prosperity and birthrate during the tenure of Joseph. It was only after his death and the death of Pharaoh that a new leader arose who afflicted the Israelites. The "uplifted arm," an allusion to Exodus 6:1, 6 and Psalm 136:11-12, refers to the use of a staff in imposing the plagues to prepare for deliverance. Of the ten plagues God used the physical hand of Aaron to accomplish the first three (blood, frogs, and lice) and the hand of Moses to accomplish four (boils, hail, locusts, and darkness). Then Moses lifted up the staff to part the Red Sea (Ex 14:16).
Wilderness Care: Paul then gives a very short summary of Exodus 15—Deuteronomy 33, which offers a contrast to the exaltation of the previous verse. He emphasizes that God actively worked for their welfare and sustained their lives.
Inheritance: God provided an inheritance of Land as a permanent possession to fulfill His promise to Abraham (Deut 1:8). The seven nations destroyed in the land of Canaan are listed in Deuteronomy 7:1. Paul then offers a quick summary of history in the book of Joshua and the victory accomplished by divine power. The dispossession of these nations was spread over a very long period. It was not until the seventh year of David's reign that the Jebusites, the last nation mentioned, were reduced. Paul affirms that God gave the land of Canaan to Israel as their inheritance, a promise later rejected by Christianity and even currently denied by many groups. All of the land from the Negev to the Golan Heights, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan belongs to Israel.
Righteous Leaders: Paul's review of history summarizes the book of Judges, Ruth and First Samuel. God called a total of fourteen judges to deliver Israel from her enemies and to govern. The role of the Hebrew judges point to the Messiah as the Righteous Judge. Paul then tells of the transition from confederation to monarchy, because not only is the Messiah a judge but more importantly a king. The book of First Samuel features the selection and reign of King Saul. Paul's Hebrew name "Saul" was not necessarily inspired by the first king, but Paul could no doubt find points of commonality between him and the first monarch.
Paul then switches verbs to describe David's accession to the throne. The verb egeirō, 'raised up,' is a purposeful play on words since he uses the same verb in verse 30 to assert Yeshua being raised from the dead. Paul quotes the announcement God made to King Saul in regards to David, a man after His own heart (1Sam 13:14), and then adds an interpretation of what God meant that David would do God's will, perhaps alluding to the commentary of Jeremiah on David's life (1Kgs 15:5):
Soteriology: From Seed to Savior
Seed: The phrase "seed of this man" (verse 23) alludes to David and can have three possible meanings, perhaps all three at the same time. First, the Greek word can mean semen or sperm, so the term speaks of the genetic origin and descent. Second, the term can have an individual meaning. Solomon was the "seed" of David and from him Yeshua came (Matt 1:6-7). Third, "seed of this man" has a corporate meaning of all the men in the Messianic line, 28 generations, that finally produced Yeshua (Matt 1:17). With this phrase Paul continues his historical perspective and comments on the life and times of Yeshua. The information he provides in verses 23-29 implies both second-hand and personal knowledge of these events. The genealogy of Yeshua is recorded in two of the four apostolic narratives. It's reasonable to consider that Paul knew of the Yeshua histories. In addition, Paul had personal knowledge of Yeshua (2Cor 5:16), so combined with other available information he provides an accurate summary of the events leading up the Yeshua's death.
Promise: The unifying theme of Paul's theology, indeed all of Scripture, is what Kaiser calls the "Promise-Plan of God" (18). The doctrine of the Messiah began with a single promise spoken to the serpent on behalf of the Woman in the Garden, "I will put animosity between you and the Woman— between your seed and her Seed. He will crush your head, and you will crush his heel. (Gen 3:15). Paul wrote, "but when the fullness of time came, God sent out his Son, born of a woman and born under law" (Gal 4:4). In this sermon Paul mentions first the promise made to David. The "promise" made to David no doubt alludes to the message of Nathan the prophet (2Sam 7:12-13). According to the Good News of Paul, Yeshua is the promised Seed of David (cf. Rom 1:1-3; 2Tim 2:8).
In his defense speech before King Agrippa (Acts 26:6-7) and in his letters Paul speaks of the promise given to Abraham and its significance (Rom 4:13, 16; Gal 3:14, 16, 18, 29), as well as Isaac (Rom 9:7-8, 10; Gal 4:28) and Jacob (Rom 9:4, 9-13; Eph 2:12). The Christian idea of the Good News ("Jesus died for my sins so I could have a home in heaven") lacks the foundation Paul asserts. The fulfillment of the promise of the Messianic Seed, made in the beginning to the Woman, then declared to the patriarchs and finally to David, is key to understanding the nature of the Good News. "His-Story" set forth in the Tanakh and the apostolic narratives is the story of God's great plan to fulfill His promise through His covenant people Israel.
Savior: Paul declares the simple truth that Israel, consisting of the twelve tribes descended from Jacob (as Paul told Agrippa), was the recipient of God's promise, not any Gentile nation. Paul introduces the mission of Yeshua by calling him "Savior." The Greek word sōtēr refers to one who liberates from real or threatening harm or loss, and thus is a deliverer. In the LXX sōtēr renders the Heb. yeshu'ah ("one who brings deliverance") and the participle moshia a derivative of the verb yasha ("to save") (DNTT 3:217). The Tanakh speaks concretely of God as Savior (cf. 2Sam 22:3; Ps 17:7; 106:21; Isa 19:20; 43:3, 11; 45:15, 21; Hos 13:4; Luke 1:47), so by saying that God had brought a Savior, Paul means that Yeshua is acting for God to accomplish salvation of His people. Note that the Savior was brought to Israel, and he was not the first to say it (Luke 2:11; Acts 5:31). Yeshua must be the Savior of Israel (2Tim 1:10) before he can be Savior of the world (John 4:42). This is the essence of Paul's later assertion that the Good News is for the Jew first (Rom 1:16).
Yeshua: The Greek name of Israel's Savior was Iēsous, but since this was a synagogue of Judean Jews (13:4) Paul spoke to the Jewish audience in Hebrew and he would have said "Yeshua." (English had not been invented yet.) Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y’hoshua ("Joshua"), which means “ADONAI is salvation" (BDB 221). Yeshua has the same Hebrew root as yoshia (“He will save”) and is also the masculine form of the Hebrew word yeshu‘ah, ("salvation”) (Stern 4). Yeshua's name is directly related to the title Paul just used (Matt 1:21). The hearers would recognize the play on words of "God brought to Israel yeshu'ah, Yeshua."
Immersion: Paul then summarizes the ministry of Yochanan the Immerser, which is recorded in the four apostolic narratives (Matt 3:1-12; Mark 1:4-8; Luke 3:1-20; John 1:6-8, 19-36). See my nativity commentary on Luke 1. In his humility Yochanan recognized that only Yeshua is the Messiah. Yochanan's ministry gained considerable notice among Israelites, even in the Diaspora (cf. Acts 19:3), and Paul emphasizes that Yochanan was the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah. The message of Yochanan called for immersion and repentance (cf. Mark 1:4).
The Greek word for "immersion" (translated in Christian Bibles as 'baptism') is baptisma, from the verb baptizō, which referred to any ceremonial washing. The noun means plunging, dipping or immersing so that what is immersed is completely contained within the water. It does not mean sprinkling or pouring (DNTT 1:144). Not generally considered in Christian discussion of baptism is that Jewish immersion was (and is) self-immersion. Yochanan essentially superintended the immersion of all those who came to him. As an attending witness he would insure that each person completely immersed himself. In all likelihood several people would be immersing at the same time. (See Ron Moseley, The Jewish Background of Christian Baptism.)
Paul does not mention the immersion of Yeshua, which occurred in the ministry of Yochanan, but he would have completed the ritual in the usual Jewish manner. In one fascinating piece of evidence, there is an ancient drawing from a Roman catacomb which depicts Yochanan and Yeshua at Yeshua's immersion. Yochanan is standing on the bank of the Jordan River extending a hand to Yeshua assisting him from the water (R. Steven Notley, John's Baptism of Repentance, Jerusalem Perspective Online, 2004; also Moseley mentioned above).
Paul immersed himself as a result of his transformation, perhaps in a synagogue mikveh (Acts 9:18). Immersions were a part of his ministry (Acts 16:16, 33; 18:8; 19:5; 1Cor 1:13-16), although he later said that Yeshua did not intend for him to have a ministry of immersion as Yochanan (1Cor 1:17). Paul did not write much in the way of instruction about immersion, but what he did write is important (Rom 6:3-4; 1Cor 10:3; 12:13; Gal 3:27). According to Ananias immersion symbolized washing away sins (Acts 22:16), an acted out parable of grace received. Paul expands on this thought by viewing immersion as sharing in the death and resurrection of Yeshua, and so is a word picture of justification (Rom 6:4-7).
Repentance: The call for repentance (Grk. metanoia) is a serious change of mind and heart about a previous point of view or course of behavior. The immersion represented the person's repentant heart. People did not immerse in order to repent. Since Paul spoke in Hebrew and the message was translated into Greek, then we should consider that he used the Heb. word shuv. As a word for repentance shuv means to turn away from evil in the sense of renouncing and disowning sin, and to turn toward the good or becoming obedient to God’s will as expressed in the commandments (TWOT 2:909).
The choice of metanoeō in the apostolic text probably reflects a desire to emphasize the beginning point of change with a decision of the will. Repentance was actually a virtue to Pharisees. The daily prayer, Amidah, included repentance in the fifth benediction, which reads in its original Jerusalem form, "Return us, O Lord, unto Thee, and we shall return. Renew our days as before. Blessed are Thou, Who hast pleasure in repentance" (quoted in Lane 596). Rabbinic revision, reflected in the Babylonian form, would emphasize returning to Torah. There is a considerable difference in perspective between Paul's teaching and rabbinic tradition on this issue.
Yochanan and Yeshua demanded a once-for-all "turning" of one's whole self to the fulfillment of God's will. In presenting the good news for the first time Paul called his hearers to repentance (Acts 17:30; 19:4-5; 20:21; 26:20). He also expounded on the importance of repentance in his letters (Rom 2:4; 2Cor 7:9; 12:21; 2Tim 2:25; Heb 6:1, 6). The urgency in the call to repentance stems from the anticipation of God's wrath with the expectation of stopping sinful practice (cf. John 5:14; 8:11; 1Cor 15:34; Eph 4:26; 1Tim 5:20). The fact that a disciple may be instructed to cease sinning or to avoid sinning contradicts the assumption by some Christians that they must sin in thought, word and deed every day. Only consider the words of Paul the Pharisee in Romans 6:1. True repentance with its unequivocal turning away from sinful conduct is at the heart of the Good News.
Since the Savior was for Israel, then the ministry of the forerunner was also to Israel. This is the fourth mention of "Israel" in this sermon. For Paul's theology Israel is the focus of God's great plan of redemption. Indeed, his emphasis on Israelology is the missing element in Christian theology.
Salvation: Having introduced the idea of Yeshua as the Savior Paul returns to the subject of salvation or deliverance. The Greek word sōtēria means rescue, deliverance or salvation from physical harm, but often from God's wrath (Rom 5:9; 1Cor 5:5). The verb sōzō means to deliver, or rescue from a hazardous condition (DNTT 3:206). Paul uses the noun and verb exclusively for the saving activity of God. The Good News offers salvation and deliverance from destruction (Rom 1:16; Eph 1:13).
Salvation is first being saved from the penalty for sin and then being saved from a life of continued sinning. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Salvation is sometimes spoken of as a present experience (1Cor 1:18; Eph 2:5; Titus 3:5), but it is also a future hope, something that will happen when Yeshua returns (Rom 5:10; 10:9; 13:11; 1Cor 3:15; 1Th 2:16; 5:9; 1Tim 4:16; Heb 1:14; 9:28). Yeshua came into the world to save sinners (1Tim 1:15) and so God desires the salvation of all people (1Tim 2:4).
In Christian theology people are saved through their personal faith (e.g., Rom 1:16; 10:9-10; Gal 3:22; Eph 2:8; 2Thess 2:13; 2Tim 3:15). Certainly a person's trust in God is a key factor in receiving the benefits of Yeshua's atoning sacrifice. But, for Paul, the greater factor in salvation is what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have done to provide salvation (Rom 1:16; 5:9-10; 1Cor 1:18; Eph 1:13; 2:8; 1Th 5:9; 2Thess 2:13; 2Tim 1:9; Titus 3:5; Heb 7:25; 9:28). Salvation is accomplished by God's unilateral choice to save sinners, not because sinners decided they wanted to be saved and so approached God for the favor.
Paul's mention of "to us" at the end of this verse reiterates the fact that the Savior was sent to Israel and demonstrates his later assertion that the Good News is intended for the Jews first (Rom 1:16). Peter also declared this point in his sermon before the Sanhedrin (Acts 3:26).
Kerygma: Messianic Fulfillment
In 13:27-37 Paul recounts the narrative of Yeshua's sufferings and victory.
Prophecy: In other passages Paul repeats his point that prophecies of the Messiah are contained in the works of the Prophets (Rom 1:2; 3:21; 16:26; Eph 2:20). He only understood after his transformation that the Scripture he heard read in synagogue every Shabbat pointed to the Messiah.
Sufferings: The sufferings of Yeshua are recorded in the four apostolic narratives. Paul recounts the trial of Yeshua, of which he may have been a witness. By saying that "they found no charge worthy of a death sentence," he does not mean they did not charge Yeshua with anything. Rather, he means that the Sanhedrin could not substantiate a charge with evidence that would require the death penalty. Paul speaks more directly of the Sanhedrin's responsibility one other time saying they "killed the Lord Yeshua" (1Th 2:15), using the same verb as Peter in his sermon before the Sanhedrin (Acts 3:15). We should note that the Thessalonian letter was written sometime during the first missionary journey, near in time to this sermon.
Crucifixion: Paul alludes to Yeshua's death first by mention of the "tree" on which Yeshua was crucified. The word he uses for tree (Grk. xulon) is taken from the LXX translation of Heb. ets in Deuteronomy 21:23, which speaks of the one hanged on a tree as cursed. The condemned man was not to be left on the tree overnight. Paul quotes this Torah passage in Galatians 3:13. In his letters Paul mentions the crucifixion of Yeshua, using both the verb stauroō (1Cor 1:13, 23; 2:2, 8; 2Cor 13:4; Gal 2:20; 3:1), and the noun stauros as the instrument of his death (1Cor 1:17-18; Gal 5:11; 6:12, 14; Eph 2:16; Php 2:8; 3:18; Col 1:20; 2:14; Heb 12:2). However, he generally prefers to speak of Yeshua having "died for us" (Rom 5:6, 8, 15; 6:8; 8:34; 14:9, 15; 1Cor 8:11; 15:3; 2Cor 5:14, 15; Gal 2:21; Col 2:20; 1Th 4:14; 5:10; 2Tim 2:11). Paul realized that it was better to speak of what Yeshua did for us than what the Sanhedrin and the Romans did to him.
Burial: Paul's second mention of death is the recounting of the apostolic narratives that Yeshua's body was placed in a tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea. Paul alludes to Yeshua's burial in a few other passages (Rom 6:4; 1Cor 15:4; Col 2:12). The mention of burial in the tomb is relevant to establishing that Yeshua truly died on the cross.
Resurrection: Paul finally made his most stupendous announcement: God raised Yeshua from the dead. As a Pharisee he already believed in resurrection to occur on the last day (cf. John 6:39-40; 11:24; Acts 23:6). Meeting Yeshua on the Damascus Road convinced him that Yeshua had indeed conquered death and as a result he spends more time on the resurrection than any other theological concept. In verse 30 and 37 he uses the verb egeirō, "to rise from a recumbent or lower position." He also uses this verb in several passages to proclaim Yeshua's resurrection (Rom 4:24-25; 6:4, 9; 7:4; 8:11, 34; 10:9; 1Cor 6:14; 15:4; 2Cor 4:14; 5:15; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:20; Col 2:12; 1Th 1:10; 2Tim 2:8).
In verses 33 and 34 Paul uses the verb anistēmi (to rise, stand up or get up), which he uses only three times elsewhere to assert that God raised Yeshua from the dead (Acts 17:3, 31; 1Th 4:14). He also uses the noun anastasis (a raising, a rising up, resurrection) several times for Yeshua's resurrection (Acts 26:23; Rom 1:4; 6:5; Php 3:10). The Greek words chosen to represent being raised from the dead don't really describe the process. Based on Yeshua's experience Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15 that resurrection is not merely being brought back to life, as occurred with several people in Bible history, nor will the present body be overhauled with new (“immortal”) parts. Resurrection represents a complete replacement of the current body with an new immortal body.
Prophecy: Paul then quotes from three Scripture passages as prophetic of Yeshua's resurrection. First, he uses Psalm 2:7 to prove that Yeshua's resurrection on Nisan 17 fulfilled the announcement "You are my Son, today I have begotten you." In order to understand how this verse could have the meaning Paul attached to it we need to consider the preceding verse (Ps 2:6) that says, "I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain." The verb "begotten" (Heb. yalad, to bear, bring forth or beget) is used figuratively to formally install the king into theocratic rights. The verb functions as a synonymous parallelism to "I have installed." Paul repeats this claim regarding Yeshua in Romans 1:4, "who was declared Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" (NASB).
The next quotation is borrowed from the LXX of Isaiah 55:3, which says "I will give you the holy things of David, the faithful things." What Paul means by this quotation is found within the next verse which speaks of making "him" the ruler, the one of David. The only way that God's promise to David of an everlasting kingdom (2Sam 17:12-13) could be fulfilled is if his heir was resurrected.
Then Paul quotes from the LXX of Psalm 16:10, a declaration of David, "You will not permit Your Holy One to see corruption." The unquoted first clause of that verse says, "For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol (LXX Hadēs)." In the Hebrew text the word for corruption is shachath, lit. 'Pit' and is a synonym for Sheol, the place of the dead. The LXX translates shachath with Grk. diaphthora, which refers to bodily decay or dissolution. Paul asserts the truth of both the Hebrew and Greek texts. Yeshua did not go to Hades (cf. Acts 2:27, 31), the place of punishment and torment (cf. Luke 10:15; 16:23; 2Pet 2:4), as claimed in the Apostles' Creed. We should also consider the fact that Yeshua's spirit went to heaven before sundown because he had promised the thief "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43; cf. Acts 2:27, 31; Col 2:15). In the meantime Yeshua's body that lay in the tomb did not decay.
After his resurrection Yeshua appeared to many witnesses over a period of 40 days, which Paul details further in his letter to Corinth (1Cor 15:5-8).
Promise: Paul asserts that the resurrection of Yeshua fulfilled the promise to the fathers. The promise of a Seed was given to Abraham (Gen 15:5) and then repeated to Isaac and then to Jacob. The Seed of the Woman, of Abraham and of David could hardly provide redemption while dead. Paul's message is consistent with prior announcements from Gabriel (Luke 1:32), Zechariah (Luke 1:69), Bartimaeus (Luke 18:38-39), and Peter (Acts 2:29-30) that Yeshua was the heir to David's throne. Paul reiterates this promise in his defense speech before the Jewish King Agrippa (Acts 26:6-7).
Forgiveness (3:38): The grace of forgiveness follows upon the provision of Yeshua as Savior. After all, the promise of his name is that he would "save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). Atonement precedes forgiveness, as Paul says "without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb 9:22 NASB). Thus, Yeshua died as a sin offering to provide atonement (Rom 8:3-4; 2Cor 5:21; Eph 5:2; Heb 2:17; 7:27; 9:28).
The Greek word for forgiveness is aphesis (from the verb aphiēmi), a term frequently used of canceled penal liabilities or indebtedness. Thus by extension aphesis means forgiveness (of) or release (from). In the LXX aphesis occurs primarily in Leviticus 25 and 27 for Heb. yobel, year of jubilee (BDB 398) and also in Deuteronomy 15:1-9 for Heb. shemittah, release from debts in the year of jubilee (BDB 1030). Only once does aphesis appear in the sense of forgiveness (Lev 16:26) and there it is without a Heb. equivalent (DNTT 1:698).
In the LXX the verb aphiēmi usually renders the Heb. nasa, to release from guilt or punishment (Gen 18:26, BDB 669), or salach, to forgive or pardon (Lev 4:20, BDB 699), but sometimes kipper, to cover or make atonement (Ex 32:30; Isa 22:14 BDB 497). Aphiemi and aphesis are not the chief words to convey the concept of forgiveness in the LXX. God's grace of forgiveness was experienced in priestly rituals of atonement sacrifices, so that all kinds of terms related to that system are used to express the idea (e.g., washing, cleansing, covering, etc.).
Forgiveness, then, means that all the offenses in God's book have been expunged. "My sins are gone." Further use of forgiveness terminology by Paul occurs several times (Acts 26:18; Rom 4:7; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 9:22; 10:18).
Faith (13:39): Paul continues his thought by saying that forgiveness is offered to the one "trusting." The Greek verb is pisteuō, which in general Greek usage means to have confidence or faith in the reliability or trustworthiness of some thing or someone. Like the noun pistis, pisteuō is derived from the verb peithō, to bring about a convinced state; persuade, convince, as well as submit to, comply or conform to. The noun pistis incorporates two primary facets of meaning: (1) 'constancy in awareness of obligation to others;' faithfulness, fidelity; and (2) 'confidence evoked by another's reputation for trustworthiness;' faith, trust, confidence, belief.
In common Christian thinking salvation is accomplished only by faith. Various passages in Paul's writings are employed to prove the point (Rom 1:17; 3:26, 28, 30; 5:1; Gal 3:8, 24; Eph 2:8). Sanctification is also by faith (2Thess 2:13). The Christian concept of "saving faith" excludes any consideration of religious or pietistic works. The Hebrew concept of faith incorporates believing, trusting and being faithful, all at the same time. Believing begins with the conviction of God's existence, generosity and faithfulness to His promises (Heb 11:6). If one truly believes, then one trusts; if one believes and trusts, then one is faithful (cf. Matt 7:21). In Paul's theology these three strands of meaning are interwoven.
Most versions translate the verb here as "believes" but some readers might mistake "believe" as an intellectual assent as in affirming a creed. Paul is talking about trusting a person with whom a relationship is being established. Real trust in the Messiah implies commitment to follow the Messiah and his direction for a righteous life. Many Christian interpreters recognize a usage in the Besekh of "faith" as a systematized body of belief or doctrine, citing various passages (Acts 6:7; Rom 1:5; 12:6; Gal 1:23; 1Tim 1:19; 4:1, 6; 6:10; 2Tim 4:3, 7; Jude 1:3, 20) (BAG 669). However, the theological objectivizing of faith was the result of later usage of the term by church fathers who ignored the Jewish roots of apostolic terminology. In the many passages where "faith" is found the term could just as easily be translated as "faithfulness" or "trust."
There is no need to interpret "faith" in any of those verses as "believing in a doctrine." The word typically rendered as "doctrine" is Grk. didaskalia, lit. "teaching" or "instruction" (e.g., Matt 15:9; Eph 4:13; 1Tim 6:3; 2Tim 4:3; Titus 1:9). Yet, the apostle's didaskalia was not a systematic theology as normally conceived in Christianity, but a historical orientation to the purposes of God in electing Israel to bring a Redeemer and the fulfillment of promises made to the patriarchs. The "faith" of which the apostles wrote included not only their teaching to be believed (e.g., 1Tim 3:16), but the entire Messianic way of life to be observed and obeyed (Stern 781).
Trusting in Yeshua results in true freedom. The Greek verb, occurring twice in the verse, is dikaioō, for which BAG has these definitions: (1) show justice, do justice for someone; (2) justify, vindicate, treat as just; (3) used in connection with God's judgment, be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous and thereby become righteous; (4) to make free or pure, in the passive voice (as in this verse) to be set free, made pure from. The verb occurs 39 times in the Besekh, 29 of which are in the works of Paul. In the LXX dikaioō renders Heb. tsadaq (SH-6663), to be just or righteous, to declare right, to vindicate, prove right, to acquit or be acquitted, or to be cleared of wrongdoing (e.g., Gen 38:26; 44:16; 2Sam 15:4; Ps 143:2; Isa 43:26) (DNTT 3:355).
As a forensic word dikaioō is a word picture of a trial with a heavenly Judge and a righteous standard against which people are measured and evaluated. One case before the court is an innocent person wrongly accused. The outcome of that trial vindicates the person's character and he is acquitted. Throughout the Tanakh the verb occurs only in this acquittal scenario. In other words the person is actually righteous and the verb describes the defense of that person's character. The same usage may be found in the apostolic narratives (Matt 11:19; 12:37; Luke 7:29; 10:29; 18:14), and Paul also applies this sense in some passages (Rom 2:13; 3:4; 4:2; 1Cor 4:4; 1Tim 3:16).
However, in most instances Paul uses dikaioō to depict a different trial in which the accused is guilty. The defendant before the bar of God is not only guilty of sinning, but dead in those trespasses (Eph 2:1). There is no acquittal but yet in response to humble confession and repentance God offers mercy and forgiveness, and then grants pardon and release from punishment, thereby creating a relationship of favor with God (Rom 3:20, 26, 28, 30; 4:5; 5:1, 9; 6:7; 8:30, 33; 1Cor 6:11; Gal 2:16-17; 3:8, 11, 24; 5:4; Titus 3:7). This usage of dikaioō is not found in the Tanakh at all. However, David's confession of sin (Psalm 51) and his subsequent restoration to God's favor after committing adultery (2Sam 12:13) does illustrate this verb.
The first usage in the Besekh of dikaioō as a decree of pardon occurs in Yeshua's parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee informed God of a commendable resume, attempting to "justify" himself in the Tanakh sense of the word. The tax collector, on the other hand, humbled himself and prayed "God, be merciful to me, the sinner." In response Yeshua declared that the tax collector went home dedikaiōmenos (perf. pass. part. of dikaioō), which could be translated as "pardoned." (Most versions say either "justified" or "made right with God.") After all, the man had prayed for mercy and that is what he received.
We might also translate the perfect participle as "righteousified," as one of my seminary professors suggested. A participle is considered a "verbal adjective." It can be used as an adjective, either to modify a noun or substitute as a noun, or it can be used as an adverb and further explain or define the action of a verb. Although the tax collector had yet to start work on developing a righteous life, he manifested a "righteousness" that exceeded that of the Pharisee (cf. Matt 5:20). Humble confession is a righteous act (cf. Ps 4:5; 15:2; 51:17) as is trust in God's mercy.
NOTE: The verb dikaioō occurs as an participle in Romans 3:24, 26; 4:5; 5:1, 9; 8:33; and Titus 3:7.
In Christian theology justification is an act of God whereby He declares a person righteous on the basis of the person's belief in Yeshua. The English verb "justify" is the preferred translation of standard Christian versions in the letters of Paul due to its historical association with the Reformation doctrine of "justification by faith." However, in modern English the "justify" word group has an unfamiliar ring to it, so modern versions may opt for an explanatory translation, such as "declared just," "declared righteous," "made righteous," "made upright," or "made right with God."
It would be more correct to say that justification declares God's righteousness. After all, how can God call a guilty sinner righteous who has yet to produce a single work of righteousness? People in Scripture who were called righteous (Grk. dikaios) were people who walked with God and lived by God's commandments: e.g., Abel (Heb 11:4), Noah (Gen 6:9), Job (Job 1:1; 9:20), Lot (2Pet 2:7), Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6), Joseph (Matt 1:19), Yochanan the Immerser (Mark 6:20), Simeon (Luke 2:25), and Cornelius (Acts 10:22).
We should note that Paul never actually says that justification declares a person righteous. "Declared righteous" is simply the definition that Christian scholars give the verb dikaioō. However, justification represents God's desire to make people righteous (as BAG defines the verb), not merely declare them righteous. What good would it do for God to declare someone righteous and then allow that person to go on sinning as some Evangelicals believe of born-again persons? Being righteous and continued sinning are mutually exclusive. Paul rebuts this false teaching in the strongest terms (Rom 6:2). In justification a person is "righteousified" by receiving the benefit of Messiah's righteousness provided as a perfect sin offering (Rom 3:24).
Also, why would God declare someone righteous and them exempt them from obeying his Law (commandments), as many Christians believe? Justification admits a person to the company of the righteous and is a call to righteousness (cf. Matt 5:20; Rom 4:25; 6:11-18; 2Cor 5:21; Gal 5:5), just as God desires a holy people (Eph 5:27; Col 1:22). Righteousness takes its definition from the Torah. Moreover, a new heart provides the motivation for becoming righteous, but the divine work to make someone fully righteous does not occur in a moment of time. Righteousness is something to be pursued (1Tim 6:11; 2Tim 2:22; cf. Matt 5:6). A number of verses speak of righteousness resulting from "faith," but in those instances "pistis" should be translated as "faithfulness" (Rom 3:26; 4:5, 9, 11, 13; 9:30; 10:6; Gal 5:5; Php 3:9). The justified person must become a student of Scripture to achieve righteousness (2Tim 3:16).
Le Cornu suggests that "justification" represents a person's possession of the keys to God's kingdom (lxxxvii). Young offers this insight into Paul's thought:
"Righteousness involves the redemptive work of God in the salvation process and in the renewed lives of the faithful. It is so much more dynamic and forceful than the motionless idea that one is declared righteous at a fixed time. Righteousness is rooted in Torah. It is active and powerful to bring about a transformation of conduct. For Paul, faith, righteousness, and Torah go together." (76)
An interesting point of translation is that while standard versions translate dikaioō as "justify," "justifies" or "justified" in Romans and Galatians, the verbs here in Paul's sermon are translated by a number of versions as "set free," "free" or "freed" (CEV, ERV, ESV, MOUNCE-NT, NASB, NCV, NIV, NLV, NRSV, RSV, and TEV). The CJB has "clears/cleared." If "set free" and "freed" work in this context, why would it not work elsewhere?
While Paul speaks here of "trust" on the individual's side, he has already alluded to the faithfulness of God in this sermon in that Yeshua came to fulfill promises made to the fathers. In other passages Paul speaks more explicitly of the faithfulness of Yeshua to accomplish this justifying freedom. For example, in Romans 1:17 Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 to support an argument: "But the righteous man shall live by faith" (NASB). The Greek word for faith is pistis. However, the LXX that Paul quotes actually says, "but, the righteous man out of my faithfulness shall live." Paul quotes the LXX exactly, but omits the personal pronoun. The LXX shows that God’s faithfulness is the focus in Habakkuk 2:4, which is Paul's point in Romans 1:17 and many other passages in his letters.
The problem with man's faith is that it wanes, it rises and falls, it may sometimes be strong and then sometimes weak because of the weakness of flesh. God on the other hand does not vacillate (1Sam 15:29; Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17), but is constant in faithfulness. Because of His faithfulness we are not destroyed (2Cor 4:9). Therefore, the righteous man will live because of the faithfulness of God. Paul makes this argument in several verses by utilizing pisteōs, the genitive case of pistis. In Greek the genitive case is the case of definition or description and is adjectival in function (DM 72). The genitive qualifies the meaning of an associated noun and would ordinarily be translated literally with “of.” For example, in English we might say "a beautiful flower" but the Greek genitive case would be "a flower of beauty."
Let's consider these verses that all occur within the context of discussing "justification:"
Rom 3:22: pisteōs Iēsou Christou = faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua
Rom 3:26: pisteōs Iēsou = faithfulness of Yeshua
Gal 2:16: pisteōs Christou = faithfulness of Messiah
Gal 2:20: pistei tou huiou tou theou = faithfulness of the son of God
Gal 3:22: pisteōs Iēsou Christou = faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua
Gal 3:26: tēs pisteōs en Iēsou Christou = the faithfulness in Messiah Yeshua
Eph 3:12: dia pisteōs autou = through his faithfulness
Php 3:9: dia pisteōs Christou = through the faithfulness of the Messiah.
All the nouns and pronouns in the above verses are in the genitive case. However, Christian versions, failing to recognize pistis as meaning "faithfulness" (as plainly defined in Greek lexicons), translate these phrases as objective genitive — "faith in Messiah," meaning that Messiah receives the action. Obviously it doesn't make sense in Christian thought to say "faith of Yeshua." Yet, the subjective genitive is just as possible — "faithfulness of." Rendered as a subjective genitive, it would mean that Messiah performs the action. In each of the above verses the Complete Jewish Bible translates pisteōs as either "faithfulness" or "trusting faithfulness."
Some Christian versions acknowledge this possible translation with the marginal note "the faith of Jesus." It makes more sense that Paul asserts God's righteousness as being manifested through the faithfulness of Yeshua to fulfill all that the Father had planned (cf. John 8:28, 49; 10:18). In Romans 5:1, which says, "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God" (NASB), there is no "our" or "my" before "faith." What Paul is really saying is that we are "righteousified" (including all it entails) by the faithfulness of God. If God had not decided to save us we would not be saved nor would we have peace with Him. Similarly, in Ephesians 2:8 "for by grace you have been saved through faith" = faithfulness. The conclusion of the verse "it is the gift of God" identifies the faithfulness as belonging to God.
Paul was not alone in how he viewed the faithfulness of God and justification. The Qumran community seems to have been deeply aware that freedom from the penalty of sin comes from the righteousness of God (DNTT 3:359). Consider this quotation from the Qumran Charter of a Sectarian Association (generally referred to as the "Community Rule"):
"2 As for me, my justification lies with God. In His hand are the perfection of my walk and the virtue of my heart. 3 By His righteousness is my transgression blotted out. … 5 From His righteous fount comes my justification, the light of my heart from His wondrous mysteries. … 12 if I stumble God's loving-kindness forever shall save me. If through sin of the flesh I fall, my justification will be by the righteousness of God which endures for all time." (1QS 11:2,3,5,12; TDSS 134).
So, in the final analysis we are not "freed" by our faith, but by God's faithfulness.
What actually happens when a person is "justified" or "righteousified" and what is its result? In reality justification has many facets.
· The redeemed person has received a full pardon for all past offenses on the basis of Yeshua's atoning sacrifice and through the mercy of God's forgiveness with the stain of those sins being permanently washed away (Rom 4:7; 1Cor 6:11).
· The redeemed person has peace with God (Rom 5:1).
· The redeemed person will be delivered from the future wrath of God (Rom 5:9).
· The redeemed person is set apart for service to God (1Cor 6:11).
· The redeemed person is transferred us from death to life, so justification is linked with the idea of new birth or regeneration (2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:14-15; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13-14; Titus 3:5).
· The redeemed person is made a member of the Body of Messiah, a citizen of the Kingdom and heirs of the Kingdom in the age to come (Titus 3:7).
Scope of Justification
Paul goes on to make an incredible statement. He does not simply say that God forgives sins, but that God through Yeshua now forgives all sins. He alludes to the fact that under the Torah not all sins could be forgiven. The Day of Atonement cleansed "all sins" (Lev 16:30), but only those committed unintentionally (Lev 4:1-3). According to the Mishnah (K'ritot 1:1) there are thirty-six transgressions for which there was no atonement. In addition, the annual atonement did not cover deliberate violations of other Torah commands (Num 15:30; Deut 17:12-13).
The thirty-six unforgivable sins included murder (Ex 21:12; Lev 17:4; 24:17), kidnapping (Ex 21:16), adultery (Lev 20:16), incest (Lev 18:6; 20:), homosexual acts (Lev 20:13), bestiality (Ex 22:19; Lev 20:15), blasphemy (Lev 24:16; Num 15:30), idolatry and occultism (Lev 20:6), refusing circumcision (Gen 17:14), profaning Shabbat (Ex 31:14-15), infanticide (Lev 20:2), certain violations of ritual purity laws (Lev 7:20-21, 25; Num 19:13), eating chametz (leavened product) during Pesach (Ex 12:15), not "humbling" oneself on Yom Kippur (Lev 23:29), anointing a layman with priestly oil (Ex 30:30), duplicating priestly perfume (Ex 30:38), and eating blood (Lev 17:14).
In contrast to the law of karet, the Tanakh does provide a few case examples of persons who sinned intentionally, but were not cut off from Israel. Aaron facilitated the gold calf idolatry, but apparently repented upon Moses' rebuke (Ex 32:26-29). When Moses struck the rock against God's express directions, he was punished by not being allowed to enter the Promised Land. Perhaps the most striking example is King David who committed two capital crimes. No one could ever claim to commit adultery by mistake and yet he was shown mercy upon his repentance. The grace shown to King David is the grace upon which the New Covenant operates. Paul declared Good News never before heard in Israel. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven, if there is confession and repentance (cf. 1Cor 6:9-11).
Judgment to Come
Paul closes his sermon with a warning about God's judgment. The phrase "what is said the Prophets" alludes to all that the Hebrew Prophets had warned concerning the Day of the Lord (Isa 13:6; Ezek 30:3; Joel 2:31-32; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Zeph 1:15-16; Zech 12:10-14; Mal 4:5). Paul writes at length on the anticipated day of God's judgment (Rom 14:10; 1Cor 5:5; 2Cor 5:10; Php 1:6, 10; 2:16; 1Th 5:2; 2Th 2:2). Paul then quotes from Habakkuk 1:5, giving a new emphasis to the work they would not believe. In the original context God warned of an impending Babylonian invasion that would execute God's wrath on the disobedient Kingdom of Judah. The unthinkable was that God would use a more wicked nation to punish a less wicked nation.
Paul's quotation functions as a midrash on the concept of an unbelievable work. The Messiah had been prophesied for centuries. Now he had come in their time. Messianic expectancy had been at best a hope, but the reality had finally arrived. Paul recognizes that in spite of his own personal testimony and his persuasive speech that some of his Jewish audience would refuse to accept the message. The fundamental reason for rejection of the Messiah then, as now, was that Yeshua was not the Messiah they wanted. They were not willing to become his property and live for him by his standards. They expected the Messiah to be their property and do their bidding. As expected some of the Judean Jews in the city reacted quite negatively to Paul and his message (Acts 13:45).
ABP: The Apostolic Bible Polyglot. ed. Charles Van der Pool. Apostolic Press, 2006. An interlinear of the Septuagint with English translation. Online.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Bruce: F.F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1954. (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols., ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Pub. House, 1975.
Elpenor: Elpenor's Bilingual (Greek-English) Old Testament. Trans. Sir Lancelot C.R. Brenton (1851). Church of Greece. Online.
Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Zondervan, 2008.
Lane: William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974. (NICNT)
Le Cornu: Hilary Le Cornu, A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Galatians. Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, 2005.
LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (1889). rev. by Sir Henry Stuart Jones. Clarendon Press, 1940. Online
Moseley: Ron Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Yeshua and the Original Church. Lederer Books, 1996.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
TDSS: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. Rev. ed. Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook. HarperOne, 2005.
TWOT: R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 vols. Moody Press, 1980.
Young: Brad H. Young, Paul the Jewish Theologian. Hendrickson Pub., 1997.
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