Chapter 21: The Church in the New Testament
The Church is not mentioned in any of the gospels but that of Matthew, and there it is mentioned only twice. (1) Jesus gives a blessing to Peter, who has acknowledged him as ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’. He blesses him and, with a play on his name (either in Aramaic or in Greek), says that ‘on this rock’ he will build his Church, against which the gates of Hades will not prevail; this is to say that the Church will be a community of life. It will also be a community of binding and loosing, of retaining and forgiving sins (Matt. 16:16-19; cf. John 20:23). (2) The Church is mentioned in a passage dealing with forgiveness and reconciliation in the community. Difficulties between Christian brothers should be handled first between them alone, next with the assistance of one or two others, and finally — if necessary — in relation to the whole local community. If the principal offender will not hear the Church he is to be treated like a ‘gentile’ or a tax-collector. The decisions of the community are equivalent to the decisions of God or of the risen Christ; ‘wherever two or three are gathered in my name there am I in their midst’ (Matt. 18:15-20; cf. I Cor. 5:1 – 6:11). Evidently in both instances the Church is regarded as incipiently present in the ministry of Jesus but as fully present only in relation to his resurrection. Jesus will build his Church; as risen he will be in its midst.
In the Acts of the Apostles the word ‘church’ does not occur before a summary which concludes the story of Ananias and Sapphira (a story reflecting the kind of discipline to which Matthew alludes); in it we read that ‘great fear came upon the whole Church’ (5:11). But while this is the first occurrence of the word, that for which the word stands is obviously present earlier, in nuclear form among the apostolic group and explicitly in the story of the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2).
The existence of the Church is obviously implied by the existence of the oral tradition embodied in the various gospels, as well as by the existence of the gospels themselves. Specifically, when Mark (4:34) writes that Jesus explained everything privately to his disciples, he implies the existence of a community in which the explanations are available; when he writes, as he often does, that the disciples did not understand the meaning of what Jesus said he implies that such understanding is now present. Luke makes this point more explicit when he describes the errors of the earliest disciples, who supposed that the kingdom of God would immediately appear (19:11, etc.); it is in the life of the Church that the kingdom is to be realized (22:28-30). John expresses the idea most clearly. At first the disciples did not understand, but when Jesus was raised from the dead or was glorified they remembered and believed (2:22; 12:16). They remembered under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who was to teach them and remind them of everything that Jesus had said to them (14:26) and was to remain with the community for ever (14:16), bearing witness to Jesus (15:26) and leading them to the whole truth (16:13). The resurrection story in John 20:19-23 attests the existence of the community and describes its nature. It is a community whose centre is the real Jesus, who ‘showed them his hands and his side’. It is a community of mission: ‘as the Father sent me, so I send you.’ And it is a community of the Spirit and the remission and retention of sins.
Thus far we have neglected the testimony which chronologically comes first — that provided by the Pauline epistles. It is an obvious but important fact that almost all the epistles are addressed to churches, even though the word ‘church’ occurs an addressing only the Thessalonians and the Galatians. The churches consist of those who have been ‘called to be saints’. This is not to say that all the members bear obvious marks of sanctification. Most of the Pauline communities resemble wheat mixed with tares (Matt. 13:24-30) or good fish with bad (Matt. 13:47-50). It is to say, however, that in determining the nature of the Church we cannot consider only the passages in which ‘church’ is mentioned. ‘You’ — the members of the various congregations — constitute the Church. In this sense everything in the Pauline epistles, like everything in the gospels, is an expression of the Church’s life.
But what is the Church? It is obviously a social group composed of those who have encountered certain things and have done certain things. Its members have heard the gospel and have had Jesus Christ ‘placarded’ before their eyes (Gal. 3:1); they have turned from idols to serve the real God and to await the return of Jesus (I Thess. 1:9-10). They have received the gift of the Spirit (Gal. 3:2) and have been enabled to call Jesus Lord (I Cor. 12:3); they have been washed, consecrated, and set in a right relationship to God (I Cor. 6:11). They now meet in order to worship God and to eat the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11-14). And they live in a relationship to God and to Christ which differentiates their behaviour from that of others. We shall later return to this point; here it is enough to say that in finding out what the Church meant to early Christians we need to bear in mind the whole of their life, not just the explicit statements they make about the nature of the community.
Some of the metaphors which Paul uses in speaking of the Church may indicate what he thinks about it. (1) He speaks of Christians collectively (i.e. as the Church) as betrothed to Christ. He has betrothed the Corinthian congregation to Christ and hopes that it is remaining a pure virgin, not led astray as Eve was led astray (II Cor. 11:2-3). Here he combines two ideas: (a) the Old Testament and rabbinic picture of Israel as the bride of Yahweh (Yahweh is replaced by Christ, Moses by Paul) and (b) Paul’s own picture of the new humanity with Christ as the new Adam and the Church as the new Eve. The metaphor is more fully developed in Ephesians 5:22-31, where Christ is the ‘head’ and husband of the Church which he loves and for which he gives himself (cf. also I Cor. 6:16-17).
(2) In the Ephesians passage Paul also speaks of the Church as Christ’s body. This idea is most fully worked out in I Corinthians 12:12-27. And whereas the bridal metaphor seems to be primarily Jewish in origin, that of the body seems to be derived from Graeco-Roman political thought. Indeed, everything Paul says in this passage can be paralleled in Greek and Roman writers — except for the specifically Christian expressions which are inserted in the description of the co-ordination of the body. Paul has taken over a Graeco-Roman metaphor and has ‘baptized’ it into Christian service. He uses it again in Romans 12:4-5, in a brief summary of what he had said to the Corinthians (cf. also Col. 1:19).
The metaphor is not, however, strictly political. As is usually the case in Paul’s thought, several motifs are bound together in one form of expression. The idea of the ‘body’ is not only political but also sacramental; it is related to the Church’s sharing in the Lord’s Supper, in the common cup and in the common loaf of bread.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not sharing in the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one loaf, one body; for we all participate in the one loaf (I Cor. 10:16-17).
The idea that the Church is Christ’s body thus emerges from a level deeper than that of politics alone.
We have already indicated Paul’s fondness for combining the terms with which he speaks of the Church. Several more examples occur in I Corinthians. The Church is a farm or garden which the apostles planted and watered, though the growth was given by God; it is also a building erected by the apostles on the foundation which is Jesus Christ (3:6-11). More specifically, it is a temple of God in which God’s Spirit dwells (3:16-17; 6:19; cf. II Cor. 6:16).
Once more, we have metaphors drawn partly from the Old Testament, partly from the Hellenistic world, but all used in order to set forth the meaning of the community in relation to God’s act in Christ.
Similar images recur in the gospels, especially in John, where we read that Christ is the bridegroom (3:28-30; cf. Rev. 22:17), that he is the Vine of which the disciples are branches (15: 1-16), and that his body is the true temple of God (2:19 — 21; cf. 4:20-4).
In thinking about the New Testament Church it is not enough to consider what early Christians thought; it is also necessary to consider what they did, above all in their life of worship. It is obvious that when they met together they expressed their faith in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs’ (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). A hymn of this kind is certainly mentioned by the Roman governor Pliny when he refers to the carmen Christo quasi deo used Christians in Asia Minor. Examples are also to be found in the hymns of heavenly worship set forth in the book of Revelation (4:8, 11, etc.), as well as in such fragments as these:
Awake, O sleeper,
and rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine upon thee (Eph. 5:14).
He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit;
he appeared to angels,
was proclaimed among nations,
was believed in the world,
was lifted up in glory (I Tim. 3:16).
It may also be the case that the prologue to John was originally hymnodic in character. We should not forget the Magnificat, Benedictus and Nunc Dimittis in Luke’s opening chapters (1:46-55, 68-79; 2:29-32), or the hymn which may underlie Philippians 2:6-11. Other passages can be regarded as liturgical, but it should be remembered that not every instance in which solemn or sonorous language is used necessarily reflects the cultic life of the Church.
In what setting were such hymns and songs employed? We shall presently discuss the rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; but not every Christian service of worship was ‘sacramental’. Presumably the earliest Christians followed the example provided by the synagogue worship to which they were accustomed. But synagogue worship did not follow a rigid pattern, and there is no reason to suppose that Christians introduced rigidity. In the synagogue there were the following items: (1) the Shema (‘Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God,’ etc.); (2) prayers, including the Eighteen Benedictions; (3) readings from the Old Testament; and (4) a sermon, delivered by anyone invited by the presiding officer. Such a service, at Nazareth, is described in Luke 4:16-21. And presumably it was to this kind of service that ecstatic speech and prophecy were added. Christians at Corinth offered thanksgivings and blessings to God in ways not comprehensible to all (I Cor. 14:16-17). Paul did not deny the inspired character of their speech, but he insisted that it was inferior to more rational prophecy and required that no more than two or three persons speak in this way; their words were to be interpreted or explained. In his view, the principle of order had to prevail (14:33, 40).
In addition to, and perhaps in conjunction with, this kind of worship there was also the Lord’s Supper, to which Luke probably refers in Acts 2:42 when he describes the Jerusalem Christians as holding firmly to ‘the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers’. In Luke’s view this ‘breaking of bread’ was presumably related to the significant bread-breaking at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19) as well as to the disciples’ encounter with the risen Lord at Emmaus; there ‘their eyes were opened’ and ‘he was known to them in the breaking of the bread’ (24:31, 35).
The Lord’s Supper was in part a repetition of the Last Supper and a symbolical re-enactment of Christ’s parabolic action. It was also an ordinary meal made extraordinary by the conviction that the risen Lord was present. And it involved the continuing proclamation of his death ‘until he come’ (I Cor. 11:26). All these meanings were implied, none of them to the exclusion of the others; and there was also the meaning of sacramental sharing in the body and blood of Christ (I Cor. 10:16 -17), a meaning more fully expressed in the Johannine doctrine of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood (John 6:51-8). It has sometimes been claimed that the Johannine view is based on ‘mystery’ conceptions of eating the god, but it is more easily interpreted as a natural explanation of the action of the disciples after they had taken the bread which Jesus said was his body.
In the Didache (14:2-3) as in the Adversus haereses of Irenacus 4, 17,5) the Lord’s Supper is called a sacrifice, but the sacrifice is probably not a re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice; instead, it is the offering of the first-fruits, of the wine and of the bread.
Another aspect of Christian worship, highly important in a growing Church, is to be found in the rite of baptism. Whatever the origins of baptism may be, it was certainly associated with the risen Lord. Even though John (4:1) says that Jesus baptized, he corrects himself in the next verse: ‘Jesus himself did not baptize; his disciples did so.’ His correction is undoubtedly related to his view that during Jesus’ ministry the Spirit had not yet been given (7:39 cf. 20:22). Similarly in Matthew (28:19) the risen Lord commands the disciples to baptize. Baptism was closely associated with the baptism of John the Baptist — described by all four evangelists as a form of preparation for the judgement and the coming reign of God — and with it was linked the forgiveness of past sins. In Acts it is first mentioned at Pentecost, when Peter urges his hearers, ‘Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (2:38).
In Luke’s view there was nothing automatic about the gift of the Spirit in baptism. The Spirit could accompany baptism (Acts 9:17-18); on the other hand, the gift could be given either before baptism (10:44-8) or through the laying on of hands after it (8:16; 19:1-7).
Paul’s view is a little different. He considered baptism as less significant than preaching the gospel (I Cor. 1:13-17); but the preaching led to being baptized ‘by [or in] the one Spirit into the one body’ (12:13). Baptism was both for the individual, who was baptized into Christ’s death and died with him in order to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4) and for the group as a whole; all Christians ‘put on Christ’ and became Sons of God (Gal. 3:26-7). The idea of baptism into Christ’s death has been regarded, like that of emphasis on Christ’s death in the Lord’s Supper, as Paul’s own interpretation, and this explanation of it may well be correct.
The further claim, however, that Paul’s ideas were based upon ‘pagan sacramentalism’ is almost certainly wrong (although it may be suggested that even if it were correct its proponents would simply have pointed towards the catholicity of Paul’s thought). On this point we may cite the words of A. D. Nock (Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences XI 174.)
There are fundamental differences in pagan and Christian sacraments. Pagan sacraments turn on the liberating or creating of an immortal element in the individual with a view to the hereafter but with no effective change of the moral self for the purposes of living. Christian sacraments, in their earliest phase, turned entirely on corporate participation in the new order, for which all were alike unfitted by nature.
What Paul apparently did was to take isolated rites of the early communities and relate them more fully to the death and resurrection of Christ. He saw both as prefigured in the events of the Old Testament Exodus (I Cor. 10:1-6); he saw the prefigurations fulfilled in Christ. But neither of them was automatically efficacious (I Cor. 10:6-13; cf. John 3:3-8; 6:63).
As for the practice of baptism, practically nothing is said about it in the New Testament. Probably the earlier baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus was expanded into baptism in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19) as the Church turned to the gentile world in which faith in the Father could hardly be taken for granted. The material of baptism is obviously water, ordinarily running water. The mode was immersion. The candidates were normally adults, though infant baptism seems to be implied by the baptism of whole households (e.g. I Cor. 1:16) and perhaps by the holiness of children being brought up in a Christian or semi-Christian family (I Cor. 7:14).
It is obvious that these practices are all based upon the existence of the Church; the Church is not based upon them. Given the existence of the Church, the way was open for extension or modification of the practices, under the guidance of the Spirit. But just as the practices are derived from the Church, so the Church is derived from the action of God in Christ. The freedom which the Church exercised in regard to its rites and other aspects of its life had to be exercised in responsibility towards the purpose of God.
Among the functions which the Church exercised was also that of ‘binding and loosing’, authority for which was given (according to Matthew 16:19) to Peter and, indeed, to all the disciples (18:18). In rabbinic language this expression was used in regard to making the commandments of the law more or less rigorous. We find this kind of expression employed in Matthew 5:19: ‘whoever looses one of the least of these commandments shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.’ But this is not the major emphasis involved in the picture of binding and loosing. To Peter, Christ gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever he binds or looses on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. The saying in Matthew 18:18 refers to the decisions of the Church concerning the discipline of its members. In John 20:23 a similar statement follows the gift of the Holy Spirit: ‘the sins you forgive are forgiven; the sins you retain are retained.’ This means that the Church has a disciplinary power which is based either on a word of Christ or on the power of Christ’s Spirit. To be sure, this power is not intended for continuous use. The parables of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30) and the good and bad fish (13:47-50) show that the final judgement is reserved for the end time. But along the way some judgements were necessary.
The first example of such a judgement we find in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, whose sin is not so much that they have failed to share their possessions with the community as that they have lied against God and the Holy Spirit by keeping back part of their property while claiming to have given all of it (Acts 5:3-4, 9). The result is their sudden death. Another case occurs in I Corinthians 5, where Paul instructs the congregation to meet in Jesus’ name, Paul’s own spirit being present with them, and to ‘deliver to Satan’ a man who has been living with his stepmother — in violation of laws both Jewish (Lev. 18.7) and Roman. He regards the judgement as equivalent to the rabbinic ‘extirpation’, removal from the congregation and therefore from the sphere of God’s protection. The offender is to be ‘delivered to Satan’; his flesh will be destroyed but his spirit will finally be saved. Probably in consequence of cases like this, Paul goes on in I Corinthians 6 to give instructions for the setting up of Christian judges and Christian courts (following Jewish models). He recognizes that suits brought by Christians against Christians represent a moral failure (6:7-8), but the situation calls for a practical solution.
A different kind of situation is reflected in the letter of James. Here we find counsel of a more ‘perfectionist’ kind being given to the community, especially in regard to those who are sick and sinful. ‘Confess your sins one to another and pray one for another, so that you may be healed’ (5:16). In James there is a more literal-minded attempt to maintain the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, and ‘the rich’ are regarded as non-Christian (2:1-9; 5:1-6).
We have already seen that Paul could summon the Corinthians to expel an offender from the community. But such a summons did not exhaust the scope of his authority. He had been called by the Lord ‘for building up and not for tearing down’ (II Cor. 10:8; 13:10). In this expression there is a parallel and a contrast with the call of the prophet Jeremiah, who was set ‘over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’ (Jer. 1:10). Paul’s authority was primarily positive; he was given it so that he could build and plant (I Cor. 3:6-15).
Consideration of the authority of the Church and of the apostle Paul leads us to examine the organization of the early communities as a whole. Presumably this organization was not unlike that of the Jewish synagogues; more specifically, the Jerusalem church seems to resemble the community at Qumran. But before making comparisons we should look at the Christian tradition itself in order to see what the organization actually was. Here we find considerable differences between the rather schematic picture in Acts and the situations reflected in the Pauline epistles.
From Acts the following points are clear. (1) There was a group of twelve apostles which was so clearly defined that after the resurrection Matthias had to be chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. These twelve, under the leadership of Peter, governed the church at Jerusalem. When difficulties arose within the community, the twelve chose seven subordinates to deal with the daily distribution of food. When Philip, one of the seven, undertook evangelistic work in Samaria, two of the twelve followed him there in order to supervise his work. After the conversion of Saul, he was brought to the twelve for approval. Finally, Paul and Barnabas visited ‘the apostles and the elders’ at Jerusalem in order to discuss requirements for gentile converts. (2) The origin of the Jerusalem ‘elders’ (presbyteroi) is not explained, but it can perhaps be inferred from the story of the gentile mission of Barnabas and Saul. The other ‘prophets and teachers’ at Antioch, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, commissioned these two men (13:1-3), now called ‘apostles’ (14:14), and they appointed elders in each church which they established ~ At the end of Paul’s ministry in Asia Minor he assembled the ‘elders’ of the church of Ephesus and addressed them as having been instituted as ‘overseers’ (episkopoi) to ‘shepherd the Church of God’ (20:17, 28). (3) There were also prophets (11:27-8; 15:32, 21:9 -11).
For Luke the Church’s ministry thus consists of two groups: (1) at Jerusalem the twelve apostles, the seven appointed by them, the elders (probably also appointed by the apostles), and the prophets; and (2) the prophets and teachers of Antioch, the apostles appointed by them, and the elders appointed by these apostles.
There are certain difficulties in Luke’s picture. He does not, and perhaps cannot, explain who James of Jerusalem is, though he mentions him rather abruptly (12:17; 15:13; 21:18). From Paul’s letters we learn that James, ‘the Lord’s brother’ (Gal. 1:19) became an apostle (I Cor. 9:15) in the resurrection-experience. Luke does not regard a resurrection-experience as resulting in apostolic commissioning; he therefore treats Paul’s Damascus vision as quite different from the resurrection of Christ (contrast I Cor. 15:8; Gal. 1:16; 2:7-8). Moreover, Luke’s picture of elders as governing the various Pauline churches is quite out of harmony with what we learn from Paul’s authentic letters, in which the word ‘elder’ never appears. We conclude that Luke has interpreted the ministry of the earliest Church in the light of his own circumstances, not those of earlier times.
In the Pauline epistles we find a situation which looks more like the result of improvisation. At Thessalonica there are leaders of the Church, but Paul gives them no titles; similarly at Corinth, Paul commends the household of Stephanas but does not call Stephanas an elder. ‘Overseers’ and ‘deacons’ occur in Philippians 1:1; the ‘deaconess’ Phoebe is mentioned in Romans 16:1; ‘apostles of the churches’ are found in II Corinthians 8:23. The Pauline letters suggest, however, that the Pauline churches were administered directly by Paul himself — partly by personal visits, partly by sending emissaries such as Titus or Apollos, partly by correspondence. For this reason we find few references to local ministers.
Instead, there is a list of functional offices in I Corinthians 12:28. ‘God set in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.’ Then follows a list of functions which do not involve offices: ‘miracle-working, gifts of healing, assistances, governings, various kinds of ecstatic speech’. In Paul’s view these functions are different from one another, and his numbering of apostles, prophets and teachers shows that these are distinct offices.
For Paul the apostles were those who were witnesses to the resurrection (I Cor. 15:5-8) and were sent out on the gospel mission. Thus Peter was a witness to the risen Lord and was entrusted with the apostolate to the circumcision (Gal. 2:8). Similarly Paul treated vision and mission as co-ordinate.
Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are
you not my work in the Lord? (I Cor. 9:1)
God was pleased to reveal his Son to me so that I might proclaim him among the gentiles (Gal. 1:16).
This means that for Paul the apostolate was a mark not of status but of mission. His apostolate came not from men or through a man but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead (Gal. 1:1). It was given him for the proclamation of the gospel (I Cor. 1:17).
To be sure, not everything is clear in Paul’s picture. He seems to regard Barnabas as an apostle (I Cor. 9:1-6), whereas Barnabas is differentiated from the apostles in Acts 4:36-7. But we do not know enough about Barnabas to say that he did not see the risen Lord.
As for the prophets, Paul regards their spiritual gift as potentially available to all (I Cor. 14). The prophet speaks intelligibly and produces exhortation, edification and consolation (14:3), but his speech is based upon revelation (14:30). Even though there is a prophetic office (12:28), all Christians can attain to it, for it is the gift of God. Therefore, while from Acts we learn the names of various prophets, in the Pauline epistles no names are given. Prophecy can come through anyone. The Pauline situation thus differs from that reflected both in Acts and in the Didache, where certain men hold the prophetic office; in the Didache the local prophets arc the principal ministers of the churches.
There are also teachers, but the New Testament says very little about them. The author of Hebrews tells his readers that all of them ought to have become teachers, though they have not reached this level (5:12).
A schematic picture not unlike that in Acts is to be found in the Pastoral Epistles. Here there are (1) an overseer or bishop, apparently an elder who ‘rules well’ (I Tim. 5:17); (2) elders or presbyters who sometimes meet as a group to lay hands on a man — indicated by prophecy? — and ordain him (I Tim. 4:14), and (3) deacons. Timothy himself, presumably as a ‘ruling elder’, can ordain (I Tim. 5:22), and Titus has been left in Crete to appoint elders in every city (Tit. 1:5). The origin of the imposition of hands is viewed as apostolic, for Paul himself laid hands on Timothy (II Tim. 1:6). Presumably the picture in the Pastorals reflects church life in Asia Minor and Crete during the last third of the first century.
A somewhat similar picture is set forth in the letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, written in the last decade of the century. He states that the apostles ‘appointed their first-fruits, testing them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who were to believe’ (42:3-4). Later the apostles ‘added the codicil that if they should fall asleep other approved men should succeed to their ministry’, and these approved men later appointed others (44:2-3). Here there is obviously a succession of office, function and person. It is not, however, a succession in which the Spirit is transmitted from one officer to another; the Spirit remains operative in the Church as a whole.
On the other hand, in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, early in the second century, there is no trace of a doctrine of apostolic succession. For him the bishop, the presbytery and the deacons reflect the existence of God, Christ and the apostles; but he does not say that the bishop’s appointment was apostolic in origin. Indeed, while he says that bishops ‘have been appointed throughout the world’ (Eph. 3:2), he speaks of the Philadelphian bishop as having obtained his ministry ‘not from himself or through men’ (1:1) — an allusion to Paul’s declaration of independence in Galatians 1:1.
The basic elements of the later Catholic view of the ministry were present by the beginning of the second century, but they existed independently; they were not combined until the end of the century, as far as we know.
Were Christian ministers regarded as priests? Luke (Acts 6:7) tells us that many priests at Jerusalem ‘were obedient to the faith’, but their sacrificial functions presumably terminated when they were converted. Clement of Rome uses the analogy of the priesthood to interpret the Christian ministry (40-2), but he does not call ministers priests or speak of their offering a sacrifice. Indeed, all Christians constituted a ‘royal priesthood’ (I Pet. 2:5; cf. Rev. 1:6), offering a constant sacrifice of praise to God (Heb. 13:15). In the new Jerusalem there would be no temple, ‘for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple’ (Rev. 21.22). Christians, as the body of Christ, are temples of the Holy Spirit. Even in the Dialogue (116.3) of the Roman Christian Justin (c. i6o), Christians as a group are called ‘the true high-priestly people’.
The beginning of the description of ministers as priests seems to occur in the Didache, where we read that Christian prophets are the high priests of the community; offerings of first-fruits are to be given them (13:3; cf. Deut. 18:4-5; Eccles. 7:31-2). This is to say that the priestly motif first recurs in a document which represents the life and thought of Jewish Christianity; it also seems to underlie what Ignatius says about the bishop.(See my article in Catholic Biblical Quarterly )Though the testimony of the Apostolic Fathers cannot be neglected, we must admit that Christian priesthood is essentially, for the New Testament, the function both of Christ and of the Church as a whole, not of particular ministers.
The Life of Christians
Life in the Church was different from life in the world, as the apostle Paul stated to the Corinthians. He had written them not to associate with fornicators, but he had to add that he meant fornicators who were inside the community; otherwise Christians would have to ‘go out of the world’ (I Cor. 5:9-10). He was concerned not with judging outsiders but with judging those within (5:12). Those within the Church had received from him commandments about how they ‘ought to live and please God’; God’s will for them required their sanctification (I Thess. 4:1-3).
In principle the Christian had died to the world. ‘I have been crucified with Christ,’ Paul wrote (Gal. 2:19-20); ‘and it is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me. The life which I now live in the flesh, I live in faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’ He applies this statement not to himself alone but to others as well. ‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts’ (Gal. 5:24). In the Christian’s experience there is an ‘old man’ who has been put to death, a new man in principle already created (‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,’ II Cor. 5:17), though actually Christ may not fully have ‘taken shape’ in him (Gal. 4.19). The Christian lives between death and life, on the borderline between the old age and the new. The ‘flesh’ has been overcome; the Spirit brings forth its spontaneous fruits such as love, joy and peace (Gal. 5:22-3), and this peace is not only with men but also with God (Rom. 5:1), who has reconciled men to himself (II Cor. 5:18-19).
The Old Testament law pointed towards Christ, but with Christ’s coming it is no longer binding upon Christians (Gal. 3:23-5); Christ was the end of the law because he fulfilled it and abrogated it (Rom. 10:4). The law was intended for man’s good; it convicted him of sin; but only the power of Christ could deliver him from the frustration of willing one thing and doing another (Rom. 7:1-25; cf. Gal. 5:17). (For Paul’s analysis of Old Testament history see the previous chapter.)
Because the law has been abrogated, the Christian has been given the gift of freedom. Is he absolutely free? On the contrary, the positive value of the old law has been summed up for him by Christ in the sentence, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Lev. 19:18; Gal. 5:14). ‘Bear one another’s burdens and so you will fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6:2). This is to say that the old commandments against adultery, murder, theft and covetousness — and any other commandment there may be — are summed up in
the statement about love of neighbour (Rom. 13:8-10). Love of God brings knowledge of God; love of neighbour corrects the claims of absolute individual freedom (I Cor. 8:2ff.).
The double commandment to which Paul refers is certainly based on the synoptic tradition of the saying of Jesus when he was asked about the primary commandment of the law and he quoted the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5) and the famous words from the holiness code of Leviticus (19.18). Here he was in agreement with the later rabbi Akiba, who regarded the Leviticus verse as the most comprehensive rule in the law.(G. F. Moore, Judaism I [Cambridge, 1927], 85)
According to the teaching of Jesus, love of neighbour was to be all-inclusive, like that of God himself. ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become sons of your Father in the heavens, for he makes his sun rise on the wicked and the good, and makes it rain on the just and the unjust’ (Matt. 5:44; cf. Luke 6:35). Paul too speaks of blessing persecutors and quotes Old Testament passages about doing good to enemies (Rom. 12:14, 20; cf. I Cor. 4:12-13). And John also mentions the new commandment given by Jesus to love one another as he has loved his disciples. ‘By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love towards one another’ (John 13:35). Just as Paul says of Jesus that ‘he loved me and gave himself for me,’ so John points to the example of Christ: ‘greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (15:13). God’s love for the world is shown by his giving his Son for believers (3:16). But Paul goes farther. God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners — his enemies — Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).
The love which men are to manifest in their dealings with one another — love which is the first of the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:22) — is the love with which God loves the world and his Son (John 17:26); this love, Jesus prays, will be in believers. It is the same love with which Christ loved his own to the end (John 13:36). For those who in turn love God he works everything for the good (Rom. 8:28). Nothing can separate Christians from the love of Christ, the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:35, 39). This is the love described in I Corinthians 13.
In expressing this love the Christian must obviously dismiss distinctions based upon nationality or social circumstances. To be sure, the full implications of non-discrimination were only gradually worked out. The mission of Jesus was primarily to Israel; thus Paul calls him ‘the minister to the circumcision’ (Rom. 15:8) and recalls that he was ‘born under the law in order to redeem those under the law’ (Gal. 4:4). But already in the ministry of Jesus we see him on the borders of Tyre healing the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) or in Capernaum stating to a Roman centurion that he has not found faith equal to his within Israel (Matt. 8:10; Luke 7:9). ‘Many will come from the east and the west and will recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom’ (Matt. 8.11; cf. Luke 13.28 — 9). The implications of such insights find full expression in the Pauline epistles. ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3.28; cf. Col. 3:11). ‘There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same one is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him’ (Rom. 10:12). Christ has broken down the middle wall separating Jew and gentile (Eph. 2:14); by implication he has broken down all similar walls.
As Paul worked out the meaning of the integrative process, he explained that it implied a temporary loss and rejection for the older people of God (Rom. 11:11-15) and a partial ‘hardening’ until the totality of the gentiles entered in; then all Israel would be saved (11:25-6). The special laws of the old Israel, such as circumcision and dietary regulations, were to be abandoned. On the other hand, as Paul makes clear in I Corinthians 8–10 (cf. Rom. 14:13-15:6), the ‘emancipated’ Christian still has responsibilities towards brethren who are not so emancipated. Freedom is in tension with love and with building up the community; not all rights have to be exercised at all times.
In view of the essentially social nature of the principles of Christian behaviour, we may ask what concrete expressions these principles took in the early Church. There are three areas in which concreteness might be expected: marriage and the family, private property, and the service of the state.
(1) According to the teaching of Jesus, marriage was based on the will of God as expressed in the creation story. Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to the hard-heartedness of the people; and while separation was possible, remarriage was equivalent to adultery (Mark 10:2-12; in Matthew 19:9, cf. 5:32, the wife’s infidelity provides an exception). Paul sets forth the same view in I Corinthians 7, where he deals with various marital situations in considerable detail. He discourages both divorce and marrying, the latter because of the imminence of the end and because of the obstacles which marriage places in the way of serving the Lord. In Ephesians 5:22-33, however, he treats human marriage as analogous to the union of Christ with the Church.
Paul’s attitude towards married life involves a combination of traditional attitudes with new insights. From Jewish tradition he retained the view that the husband was the ‘head’ of his wife; the woman was created for the man, not the man for the woman (I Cor. 11:3, 8-9; cf. Gen. 2:18). Married women were not to speak in church; if they wanted to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home (I Cor. 14:34-5). They were to be subordinate to their husbands (Col. 3:18; Eph. 5:22-4; cf. I Pet. 3:1-6). Women should wear veils while praying or prophesying (I Cor. 11:5-6, 13-16). At the same time, Paul held that in Christ there was neither male nor female; both were one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28); the wife was not separate from her husband, or the husband from the wife, in the Lord (I Cor. 11:11). Therefore he says of the married couple that the husband is to pay the marital ‘due’ to his wife and, similarly, the wife to her husband; the wife does not have authority over her body, but her husband does; and the husband does not have authority over his body, but his wife does (I Cor. 7:3-4). This view of mutuality in marriage, which Paul bases on the couple’s unity in Christ, is also expressed by Stoic writers of his time. Whatever its source may be, it marks a departure from ordinary Jewish views. Of children, Paul says that they are to obey their parents, but he adds the point that fathers are not to provoke the children (Col. 3:20-1; Eph. 5:1-4).
Like other writers of his time, Paul condemns ‘the passion of lust’ (I Thess. 4:4-5). Continence is preferable to marriage, while ‘it is better to marry than to burn’ (I Cor. 7:9). ‘Dishonourable passions’ are expressed in male and female homosexual acts, which Paul, like contemporary moralists, regards as ‘contrary to nature’ (Rom. 1:26-7). He could have said that they violate the commandment to ‘increase and multiply’ (Gen. 1:28), but, probably because of his eschatological situation, he never refers to this injunction.
(2) Jesus stated that one cannot serve both God and Mammon (riches; Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13), advised against laying up treasures on earth (Matt. 6:19), told a parable about a rich fool (Luke 12:16-21), and urged a rich man to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor so that he might have treasure in heaven (Mark 10:21). It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:25). In both Luke (6:24) and James (5:1) we find ‘woes’ against the rich. This emphasis is completely absent both in Paul and in John. To some extent it is replaced in Paul’s thought by the idea of bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), but Paul also says, in the same context, that each is to bear his own (6:5). He mentions giving and sharing only in contexts related to the collection for the Jerusalem church and to gifts made by churches for the support of the mission. In the Jerusalem church, as at Qumran, Christians were expected to give their property to the community (Acts 2:44-5; 4:32-5:11); but Paul says not a word about this practice. Instead, he insists that his converts must follow his example by working night and day; anyone who does not work is not to eat (II Thess. 3:8-10). His emphasis upon the necessity of work is quite remarkable. It may be that, having abolished works in the sphere of faith, he insists on them all the more in the sphere of daily life — though in Philippians he mentions working in regard to salvation and the resurrection of the dead (2:12-13; 3:11-14). The word ‘poor’ occurs only four times in his epistles, in references to the church of Jerusalem (Gal. 2:10), to the elemental spirits impoverished by Christ’s victory (Gal. 4:9), to Christ who, though rich, became poor for us (II Cor. 8:49), and to the apostles who, though poor, make many rich (6:10).
(3) As for the state, Jesus recommended the payment of tribute money to Caesar (Mark 12:15), though he was falsely accused of forbidding it (Luke 23:2). According to Matthew 17:24-7 he even paid the Jewish temple tax. To be sure, his whole proclamation concerning the kingdom of God implied a measure of insubordination to the state; but as far as the tradition tells us, the implications were not worked out. According to John 19:11 the Roman procurator’s authority was given him ‘from above’; similarly Paul states in Romans 13 that the existing authorities (political, according to unanimous early Christian exegesis) have been ordained by God; obedience, including the payment of taxes, is due to them.
In the Pastoral Epistles as in I Peter honour is due to the emperor, and prayer is to be offered for him (I Tim. 2:1-2). Christianity, as is made clear in Luke-Acts, is no revolutionary movement in opposition to the state. And according to John 18:36 Jesus’ kingdom is ‘not of this world’.
But while Christianity was not a revolutionary movement, it was not counter-revolutionary either. In I Peter 4:16 it is clearly possible to suffer persecution from the state as a Christian; in Revelation the possibility is an actuality. For this reason the disciple John violently attacks Rome under the guise of Babylon and exults over her fall, which he can already see beginning. Christians refuse to worship the image of the beast; they can make no compromise with a self-deifying state. All they can hope for is a new heaven and a new earth and the descent of a new Jerusalem from heaven.
The inclusion of both Romans and Revelation in the canon means that the Church could never commit itself wholly to any particular social system or to any state. Under various circumstances the Church could approve a system or denounce it; but the approval could not be final or complete. Revelation relativizes the Church’s relation to any state.
If we now return to the cardinal principle of all-inclusive love, we find that its application is presumably relativized by considerations such as those we have just mentioned. A great deal depends upon the circumstances. For instance, though Paul says that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28), in dealing with the Corinthians he believed it necessary to state that wives were to be subordinate to husbands (I Cor. 11:3, modified in 1:11-12), and that women were not to speak in church (14:34-5). Again, very little is said about justice in the New Testament. Paul rebukes the Corinthians for seeking justice in pagan courts, states that they have already suffered a loss by bringing suits against one another (it would be better to be treated unjustly or defrauded), and recommends the establishment of Church courts (I Cor. 6:1-11). It is doubtful that this kind of counsel was intended for universal application (yet see Matt. 18:15-17).
The relative nature of early Christian ethics seems clearly evident in relation to the institution of slavery. Jesus accepted it without question. Paul used it as a model for the relation of the Christian to Christ and, practically, urged slaves to obey their masters while reminding masters of their obligations to slaves (Col. 3:22-4:1; Eph 6:5-9). It is hard to tell whether or not Paul wanted individual slaves to become freedmen. A verse which could point towards emancipation (I Cor. 7:21) seems, in view of its context, to recommend remaining in slavery; and Paul’s hope that Philemon will do ‘more’ than Paul asks in accepting the runaway Onesimus (Philemon 21) does not necessarily imply freeing him. Slavery is a part of Paul’s world (see also I Peter 2:18-20). He has no idea of changing it.
If, then, the heart of early Christian behaviour lies in the motivation given by love, within the community and outside it, we must ask to what extent this love is itself conditioned and perhaps relativized by the eschatological context of early Christian thought. Paul’s discussion of love in I Corinthians 13 suggests that he did not regard it as eschatologically conditioned. Prophecies, ecstatic speech and ‘knowledge’ will be superseded, while faith, hope and love will last; and love is the greatest of the three. Again, since early Christian eschatology is not purely futurist but has its roots in the present, it is the love which already finds expression in action which will continue on. Circumstances vary, but the gospel of love remains the same — end of the world or world without end.
The History of God’s Acts in Paul And John
We have already seen, in dealing with the question of New Testament ethics, that the problem of eschatology arises in a fairly acute form. To what extent are the minds of the New Testament writers conditioned by eschatology? What are their views of their historical situation in the sequence of God’s acts? In order to determine the extent of the conditioning we must first ask what their eschatological ideas really were. Now following the approach which we have, previously employed we must continue to insist that we cannot speak of New Testament eschatology as purely futurist in direction; we cannot speak of Jesus as one who simply proclaimed the imminent advent of God’s reign. On the other hand, we cannot say that he announced nothing but the realization of eschatology, as if the possibilities of God’s action were exhausted in his mission or even in the creation of the Church. Both aspects, it would appear, were present in his proclamation. On the one hand, his mission, with all that it involved, was the inauguration and the incipient realization of God’s reign. On the other, there was still more to come, and this ‘more’ is expressed in the Lord’s prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ in the promise of the Spirit, and in the expectation of the future coming of the Son of Man. The kingdom of God is not fully made actual in the Church; to quote from the Didache once more, Christians pray to God to gather the Church into the kingdom.
The attitude of Jesus is not fully comparable, then, to that of his Jewish contemporaries who spoke of ‘this age’, the present one, and ‘that age’, the age to come. In the mission of Jesus the present age was already giving way to the future age of God; as he drove out demons the kingdom was incipiently present and Satan had already fallen like lightning from heaven.
But in the teaching of Jesus there is no fully developed interpretation of the past of Israel in relation to present and future. At most, we encounter the hint of such an interpretation in his remarks about the divine plan in creation, where it is stated that Adam and Eve were to become, and did become, ‘one flesh’, and that the divine plan was modified by Moses when he permitted divorce (Mark 10:1-12). What God has yoked together, a man must not separate. If we take these words seriously, we see that the man involved must be Moses; the time of Moses must be one in which men’s hearts were hardened. But this criticism does not apply to everything Moses said. Some of his words were obviously expressions of the commandments of God — for example, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ (Mark 7:10) and other commandments of the decalogue (Mark 10:19), as well as the Shema and the command to love one’s neighbour (Mark 12:29-31). Generally speaking, Jesus criticized the traditions of men (presumably including the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1) as erroneous and misleading additions to the true law of God. On this basis we can probably proceed to say that in Jesus’ view there was a pre-traditional period, a traditional period of human corruption, and the age to come, already breaking in and restoring the authentic plan of God. During the traditional period the prophets (including David, Mark 2:25; 12:35-7) were given insight into what was to come.
Something not unlike this picture is to be found in the Pauline epistles, and it underlies much of what Paul has to say about the human situation. At the beginning and the end of the history of God’s people stands God the creator, he who is the source and origin of creative activity (I Cor. 8:6) and of the new creation; both works of creation were and are effected through Christ. Paul refers what is said of ‘man’ in the first creation story in Genesis to Christ, who is at once the Wisdom-image of God through which creation was made and the created image of God mentioned in Genesis 1:26. But he does not speak of Christ the image of God as man. He goes ahead to the second creation story in order to find there the one whom he calls ‘the first man’, the man of earth (I Cor. 15:47). He calls Christ, the ‘man from heaven’, the second because he is thinking of eschatology, not of history or of Vorgeschichte. We have borne Adam’s image (I Cor. 15:49) because, according to Genesis 5:3, Adam begat sons after his own image.
The most significant observations about Adam are to be found in Romans 5. Adam’s sin of disobedience to God was imitated by his descendants, but the penalty of death which was given him affected even those who did not, like him, sin. Because of his transgression all his descendants died.
Even before Adam’s sin (and Eve’s), the later human situation was depicted in the second creation story. According to I Corinthians 11, man, not woman, is ‘the image and glory of God’; apparently Paul has Genesis 5:1 in mind, where the mortal Adam is described as made in God’s image. Paul insists that woman is to be subordinate to man, for she was made from man and for man (Gen. 2:18-22). Yet ‘in the Lord’ woman is not entirely apart from man or man apart from woman, for the human situation points beyond itself to an original and an eschatological mutuality. While woman is from man, man is born ‘through the woman’ and ultimately all things are from God. With this we may compare Galatians 3:18; in Christ there is . . . neither male nor female. Though at the fall Eve was deceived by the serpent and was no longer a ‘pure virgin’ (II Cor. 11:2-3), in the restoration effected by Christ husbands are to love their wives as themselves and as Christ loved the Church; thus the prophecy of Adam about the two becoming one flesh will be fulfilled (Eph. 5:25-33).
A somewhat different way of depicting the primeval history is found in Romans 1:19-32, perhaps because the material comes from a homily explaining the wrath of God to gentiles. God made himself known to all ‘from the creation of the world’; men were once aware of his eternal power and deity; they knew God. But they turned aside to worship the creation instead of the Creator, and as a penalty God delivered them to ‘uncleanness’, to ‘dishonourable passions’, and to ‘an unsuitable mind’ (1:24, 26, 28). Such men and women are ‘worthy of death’ (1:32), as are those who look favourably on them. The analogy of this account with that in Romans 5 is obvious; whether man’s sin consisted of disobedience or of idolatry, it was an affront to God, the source of his being, and death resulted.
In the midst of the reign of death God did not leave himself without witness. ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness’ (Gen. 15:6; Gal. 3:6; Rom. 4:4). The story of Abraham shows that God requires faith, not obedience to a legal code, for he was called by God when he was not circumcised. Moreover, a promise was given him, that he would be the father of many nations; the promise was given to him and to his descendants, and his true descendant was the Christ who was to come. Indeed, imaginatively (that is to say, allegorically) one can find even more in the story of Abraham. He had two wives, one slave, one free. The children of the slave girl Hagar correspond to the children of the present Jerusalem; the children of Sarah resemble Isaac, her son, who is like Christ. The promise of God, given to a people yet to come, was not annulled by a law which was added 430 years later as a mere codicil (Gal. 3:17).
Yet the law was given. Why was it given? According to Galatians 3:19 it ‘was ordained because of transgressions, until the coming of the seed to which the promise had been given; it was enjoined through angels by the hand of a mediator.’ The words we have translated ‘because of’ are ambiguous and may well mean ‘for the sake of’. Romans 4:15 States that ‘where there is no law, there is no transgression.’ Thus there was a commandment not to covet; the commandment was holy and just and good, but sin seized the opportunity to produce covetousness and other kinds of lawless desire. Sin perverted the good. Therefore, as good, the law presumably was laid down because of transgressions or in order to prevent them; but as the occasion of sin, it was laid down with the result that it multiplied transgressions. ‘The law locked up everything under sin so that the promise based on faith in Christ Jesus might be given to believers’ (Gal. 3:22). It had a temporary goal, and it was nullified with the death of Christ.
Paul explains this nullification in relation to two passages in Deuteronomy. First, a curse was laid upon everyone who did not perform all the commandments in the legal code (Deut. 27:26). He does not deny the possibility of such legal observance (cf. Phil. 3:6), but he does state that legal observance could not produce righteousness, for righteousness comes from faith (Hab. 2:4). It would appear that for his argument, however, the notion that most people could not observe the law is required, for he assumes that the curse had to be taken away. It was taken away because in Deuteronomy 21:23 a curse was also laid upon anyone who ‘was hanged on a tree’. This curse was assumed by Christ (Gal. 3:10-14).
It is obvious that in Paul’s view the effect of the Mosaic law was largely bad, whether the law was bad or not. This is the problem to which he devotes much of Galatians and Romans. On the other hand, in II Corinthians he tries to explain that the true meaning of the law was misunderstood by the Jews, and he makes use of a passage in Exodus 34:33-5 according to which Moses placed a veil on his face — a veil taken away whenever a man turned towards the Lord. Christians behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces.
Paul’s emphasis upon the problem of the law prevents him from making much of the Exodus, but this motif is present in his letters, especially I Corinthians. There he expressly identifies Christ with the paschal lamb and urges Christians to keep the true, spiritual Passover (5:7-8). Again, he compares the crossing of the sea and the guidance by a pillar of cloud with Christian baptism, and finds prefigurations of the Lord’s Supper in the gift of manna and the water from the rock. Indeed, the whole period of wandering in the desert provides a prefigurative warning to Christians who may assume that baptism and the Eucharist work automatically or finally. Some of the Israelites in the desert were idolaters; some committed fornication; some tested the Lord. Such men suffered penalties given by God or his destroying angel (10:1-11). But Paul’s emphasis on the Exodus is of minor importance compared with his emphasis upon the promise to Abraham. In part, as we have suggested, this is due to his concern for the rôle of Moses not as leader but as legislator. In part it is also due to the importance of the work of Christ, far superior to that of Moses.
In the period from Moses to Christ, then, men were under a curse, under sin, under death. Sin worked through the flesh, with the result that the law, even though potentially good, was not actually good. As for the gentiles, they were slaves of gods who actually have no existence; they served the elemental spirits (later, through Christ’s work, weak and impoverished). Both Jews and gentiles lived by a calendar of days, months, seasons and years (Gal. 4:8-10).
Finally God sent his Son, ‘born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption’ (Gal. 4:4-5). Christ took the curse of the law upon himself; he became a ‘curse’ for us. He ‘became sin’ for our sake (II Cor. 5:21). He delivers us from the wrath to come (I Thess. 1:10). Christ reconciles us to God (Rom:5; II Cor.5); he triumphs over death (I Cor.15). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but God has forgiven all because of the sacrifice of Christ, who died for sinners. To be baptized into his death means dying with him and in principle rising with him, though our final resurrection is yet to come. It means receiving a new life in which the Spirit of God becomes the guiding force.
This is to say that Christ undid or reversed the work of Adam by obeying God instead of disobeying him; he fulfilled the promise made to Abraham; and he nullified the evil effects of the law of Moses.
But while Christ’s victory has already taken place, there is still more to come. We are children of God and heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ; sufferings in the present age are insignificant when compared with future glory (Rom. 8:17 ff.). We live on the borderline between the two ages, and Paul can speak either of what has already been done or of what will be done. Apparently there are more sufferings yet to come, but ultimately Christ will absolutely overcome whatever in the cosmos is hostile to God, and God will be everything to everyone (I Cor. 15:25-8). The end is not yet; something — perhaps the Roman state — is restraining the powers of lawlessness and preventing the final conflict (II Thess. 2:7); but the Christian knows that final victory is certain.
This framework and foundation of Paul’s thought can be called eschatological history. In many respects it resembles contemporary Jewish eschatological histories, but the difference between it and them lies simply in the fact that for Paul the Christ has already come and the messianic age has already begun. There is a shift of emphasis from something exclusively or at least largely future to something in which the present already represents and is the future. The new creation has already taken place, though it is still to be fully realized in the future.
But we must avoid limiting the range of Paul’s thought simply to the historical or even the eschatological. His thought goes beyond the historical; it has dimensions both cosmic and personal. For example, the personal (‘outer man’, ‘inner man’) is combined with the cosmic in II Corinthians 4:16-18, which concludes with the words, ‘not looking at what is seen but at what is not seen; for what is seen is temporary, while what is not seen is eternal’. Or again (Col. 3:1-4),
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; think of things above, not of things on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God; when Christ is manifested, then you too will be manifested in glory with him.
The various motifs are combined, and the eschatological is blended with the cosmic and the personal.
For this reason it is not a complete surprise when we find a similar blending in the Gospel of John. The eschatological is certainly present in John, and so is the emphasis on the premonitions of eschatology in the Old Testament. Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ (John 8:56), presumably because he had been promised that Isaac would be born (Gen. 17:17). The law was given through Moses, but Moses performed symbolic actions pointing towards Christ and actually wrote about him (John 1:17; 3:14; 5:46). Isaiah beheld Christ’s glory and spoke of him (12:41). But in John’s writing the eschatological is to a considerable extent subordinated to the cosmic and personal. Jesus is the incarnation of the creative Word of God which expressed itself as light and life. He came down from heaven (3:13) or ‘from above’. His resurrection was his exaltation; his being ‘lifted up’ took place so that he might draw all men to himself. Finally he ascended into heaven in order to show men the way and to prepare a place for them. This is to say that the cosmic is emphasized rather more strongly than it is in Paul’s writings. Moreover, the emphasis on personal decision and the ‘present’ nature of decision and its consequences is equally strong. ‘He who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and does not come to judgement but has passed from death to life’ (5:24; cf. 11:25-6). To be sure, the future is not completely dismissed (unless we regard ‘futurist’ passages as interpolations), but John’s stress is laid on the present. To overstate the situation somewhat, the essential Pauline contrast between past and present/future is replaced by emphasis on the present, and while Paul’s scheme is primarily historical/eschatological John’s is cosmic/personal. This is an overstatement, however, since all these elements are to be found in both writers. For both, what matters is that Christ has come, that the Spirit has been given, and that there is more yet to come. Both understand the past and the future in the light of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.