Did Paul Teach the Doctrine of the Atonement?

by John B. Cobb, Jr.

John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common Good; Becoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. His email address is cobbj@cgu.edu..

This lecture was presented at St. Paul’s Theological Seminary, date unknown. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


In analysis of Paul, especially in the book of Romans, Dr. Cobb along with David Lull’s translations, discusses how much we misunderstand Paul’s legalism and it’s impact on church doctrine.

First, let me say very clearly that I am engaged in a problematic venture. I will be talking about texts that I am barely able to make out the words in Greek. Stating this is not a matter of modesty; it is simply acknowledging the deplorable truth. When David Lull, who teaches New Testament at Wartburg Theological Seminary, first asked me to consider taking part in a commentary series for Chalice Press that was to reflect a generally "process" view, I laughed at the idea. To write a commentary on a New Testament book must involve wrestling once again with the Greek text. It has been a source of keen regret to me throughout my career that I never learned to read it. As a theologian I have been completely dependent on New Testament scholars for my understanding of this crucial theological source. I have recognized as one reason for the overall superiority of the theologians of continental Europe their ability to relate their theological reflections directly to their own fresh encounter with the biblical texts. I have admired and envied the ability of a few American theologians to take part in this kind of reflection.

However, David did not allow this to end the discussion. He offered to co-author a commentary with me. I asked him why he did not just write the commentary himself, but I allowed myself to be convinced that a theological perspective, as well as technical scholarship, is involved in the interpretation of scripture. He thought I would bring a point of view and theological concerns that would be beneficial to the commentary.

When he further proposed that we could work together on Romans, I was persuaded to postpone other projects and give this one a try. In my view, legalism is undercutting the gospel in our churches today as much as ever. I could, of course, simply as a theologian write against legalism in our churches. In doing that I could point to passages in Paul for support. But a theologian in our day has very little authority, or even credibility. The Bible remains the central authority. To clarify its meaning and show its contemporary relevance has a greater chance of influencing Christians than other forms of theological writing.

Often legalists appeal to Paul in support of their position. Today this appeal is especially focused on turning what Paul says about homosexuality into moral and ecclesiastical laws. Nothing could be more offensive to Paul than that. However, many biblical scholars, because of their commendable desire to undercut the appalling anti-Judaism that has been associated with anti-legalism, have been downplaying Paul's polemic against legalism. I wanted to try my hand at showing the critical relevance of Paul's theology to the United Methodist Church (as well as other old-line denominations) without giving support to the anti-Judaism that we are fortunately beginning to overcome. I think David and I are doing this fairly successfully.

I had developed my understanding of Paul's rejection of legalism simply by reading English translations. To expound this in general did not require a great deal of critical new scholarship, although I learned much from this scholarship in the process.

However, under David's tutelage studying the new scholarship I found much that transformed by own understanding of Paul's theology. I like what we have now come to believe Paul taught much better than I liked the positions I previously attributed to him. For this transformation I have been completely dependent on David Lull and those scholars to whom he guided me. It is this new discovery on my part that I want to share with you today.

Previously I had thought that Paul provided a variety of images of how the salvation of Jesus was effected by Jesus, or better by God through Jesus. I thought it was important not to absolutise any one of these. We could say for sure that Paul thought that Jesus, especially the cross of Jesus, was the event through which salvation was mediated to those Gentiles who believed in Jesus, but that Paul did not feel the need to assert one clear theory of how the cross saved us. I thought that one of the images he used was that of an atoning sacrifice modeled on, and displacing, the sacrifices performed in the temple on the Day of Atonement. I thought that adopting a more or less Pauline Christianity did not require that one adopt an atonement theory, certainly not that of Anselm. However, I thought that atonement theories had a clear basis in Paul, not only in Romans 3:21-26 but also in a number of other passages.

I now believe that there is no atonement theory in Romans and that Paul had a different, and fairly clear, theory of how Jesus saves us. Lest one hear this as more extreme than it is, let me say emphatically that there is no question but that Paul thought that Jesus' death on the cross was central to human redemption. Furthermore, he believed that Jesus had died for the sake of sinners, including those in Rome whom he addressed. These ideas are central to Paul's teaching.

The question is whether Paul thought that God sacrificed Jesus to atone for human sins. During the past thousand years, this idea has often been viewed in the Western church as at the heart of Christianity, and many of those who uphold it have appealed to Paul as its basis. Accordingly, the question of whether Paul actually thought in this way is of some theological importance. On the other hand, many have found this idea repulsive and have blamed Paul for imposing it on the Christian imagination. Accordingly, there is also some importance in deciding whether the imposition was by Paul or on him.

Those persuaded that Paul did not think that God offered Jesus as an atoning sacrifice could simply shorten their list of models suggested by Paul about the way Jesus' death has functioned redemptively. But in the process of re-interpreting the text, an alternative emerges that seems to be quite consistently in Paul's mind. It is as important to spell out this alternative as to show that the atonement model is not Paul's.

If Paul had frequently imaged Jesus' death in terms of temple sacrifice and the Day of Atonement elsewhere, or if he had elaborated this idea in Romans, seeking an alternative interpretation of his teaching would be a waste of time. But this is emphatically not the case. Apart from one passage in Romans, 3:21-26, there would be no grounds for attributing this thinking to him. The impression that he taught this idea frequently grows out of traditional interpretations of this one passage and then reading other passages in light of this interpretation. But none of the other verses would by themselves lead to this doctrine if interpreters did not bring it to them. They can be understood more naturally and plausibly in another way.

The case for Paul's teaching the doctrine of the atonement actually rests, not on this whole passage, but on one part of one verse, Romans 3:25. Interpreting this one clause involves decisions on some very technical matters, but since I cannot deal with those, I will describe the issue in more general terms.

Many scholars have believed that this clause does use the temple sacrifice on the Day of Atonement as an image of what Jesus' death accomplished. The New Revised Standard Version makes the connection quite explicit. "whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood effective through faith." This translation is allowed by the Greek text, but it is not the only possible one.

In fact, the word "atonement" is lacking in many standard translations. The King James Translation uses "propitiation", and the Revised Standard Version uses "expiation." The American Translation reads: "For God showed him publicly dying as a sacrifice of reconciliation to be taken advantage of through faith." The Good News Bible renders the meaning as: "God offered him, so that by his sacrificial death he should become the means by which people's sins are forgiven through their faith in him."

Despite this variety, and the common avoidance of the word "atonement," all these translations agree with the New Revised Standard Version in suggesting that God sacrificed Jesus so that people could be reconciled to God through faith. All thereby support the idea that is most directly formulated by the use of the word "atonement."

Recently, however, several scholars have looked at the text without this idea of atonement in mind and have read it quite differently. To understand this new interpretation requires a detour focusing on the Greek word usually translated as "faith," the word pistis. All the translators of this passage assume that this pistis is that of those sinners for whom Jesus died. But the Greek reads as easily, some say more naturally, if the reference is to the pistis of Jesus rather than to the pistis of others directed toward Jesus. It has been widely assumed that Paul was not interested in Jesus, except for his death and resurrection, certainly not in his subjective states. Hence, despite the openness of the Greek to this reading, it never appears in most translations. In the NRSV, however, it sometimes appears in the footnotes as an alternate reading.

The resistance to reading the Greek in terms of the pistis of Jesus has been partly the result of the translation of pistis as "faith," This is a valid translation and richly suggestive word. In English, "faith" includes trust, belief, and assurance, all of which are also suggested by the Greek pistis. But pistis is even broader in its meaning. A number of Greek scholars have suggested that "faithfulness" captures this wider range of meanings better than "faith." This does not mean that there are not occasions when the focus is on trusting, believing, or being assured, so that translation with words such as these is also possible, and "faith" sometimes is best. But there are other times, when "faithfulness" helps us to understand Paul's intention better.

The main difference is that "faith" focuses attention on inner subjective states of being. These were important to Paul, and in some passages they are certainly in the foreground. But pistis was not limited to them. It is a way of being in the world. It expresses itself in the total relation to another, in Paul's case, often, to God.

If we think of "faithfulness" when Paul speaks of pistis, our reading of Paul changes significantly. For example, the contrast between pistis and "works," so important for the Reformers, is moderated. One cannot be faithful apart from action. The contrast of pistis and reason, which has also played a large a role in the history of Christian theology, does not come so sharply into view. Being faithful is not in opposition to being influenced by rational thought.

Recent scholarly interpreters of Romans have persuaded me that, whereas Paul may not have been interested in the pure subjectivity of Jesus, highlighted by the English word "faith," there is no reason to suppose that he was not interested in Jesus' faithfulness. I believe, therefore, that where the Greek is most naturally read as speaking of the pistis of Jesus, we should understand it to mean "the faithfulness of Jesus." Once this is established as important to Paul, this translation should be tried out even in passages that can be read equally well as attributing pistis to Jesus or to his followers. The choice in these cases will ultimately be theological. Which reading makes the meaning fit better with Paul's views as expressed elsewhere?

This experiment will be particularly important when we undertake to unpack the passage crucial to our topic: Romans 3:21-26. Let's begin with the New Revised Standard Version and then engage in a process of re-translation.

"But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove in the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus."

Now consider a change in the last part of the first sentence. The NRSV itself indicates in a footnote that the Greek can be read as "the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe." This removes the puzzle of two successive references to faith in Jesus in the NRSV translation; "faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." According to the Harper Collins Study Bible, which is based on the NRSV, this "alternate translation … is closer to the Greek and is gaining acceptance. . ."

One remaining problem with making this change is that it is hard to see how Jesus' faith reveals the righteousness of God. However, if we translate pistis as faithfulness, this problem disappears. The righteousness of God has been revealed through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. This is effective for all who have pistis. This is translated as "for all who believe." But it makes more sense if we do not focus on the beliefs entertained but on faithfulness.

The beginning of the sentence in the NRSV is also puzzling to the reader. The translation is correct, but confusing. It says that what is disclosed apart from the law is attested in the law. Paul uses "law" in two ways. Sometimes it means all the laws that the good Jew was taught to follow. Sometimes it means what we call the Pentateuch. Paul believed that the Pentateuch and the books of the prophets teach that people are saved by pistis in a way that makes obeying laws unnecessary. The meaning of what is given in the NRSV as the first sentence of the passage can be more clearly, and more accurately, if not quite so literally, rendered in English, therefore, as "Apart from the law the righteousness of God has now been disclosed to all who are faithful in the faithfulness of Jesus. This is attested by the Jewish scriptures."

I propose one more change. The primary advantage of this change does not appear until we get to the end of the passage. The Greek word dikaiosyne that here, and generally elsewhere, is translated as "righteousness" can equally well be translated "justice." Indeed, when translating non-Jewish Greek texts, this is standard practice. The reason that most translators of Paul usually use "righteousness" is that the Hebrew words replaced by this Greek word have a broader meaning than the Greek word had elsewhere. "Righteousness," in English is also more inclusive that justice.

I do not question that when Paul used the word it had a richer meaning than was borne by its usual Greek usage. Nevertheless, he was writing chiefly to Gentiles for whom it would probably connote much of what "justice" connotes to us. Further, Paul's paradoxical point is heard more sharply in English if we translate dikaiosyne as "justice." What is disclosed in Jesus' faithfulness is that God's justice is very different from the Wrath that had previously been associated with it. The meaning of true justice in human affairs is also quite different from the ordinary understanding.

Furthermore, the same root underlies the word that is regularly translated as "justification." Some have suggested that this could be replaced by something such as "rightwising," in order to bring out the close connection in Paul's mind between the character of God and the way God regards those who are faithful. This remains awkward. The simpler solution is to use "just" in both cases. I am not alone in preferring this translation. It is adopted in the New English Bible and also the NIV.

Accordingly, we now read: "Apart from the law the justice of God has now been disclosed to all who are faithful in the faithfulness of Jesus."

The next change I propose is from "redemption" to "liberation" in verse 24. This is less important. "Redemption" is in fact an excellent translation, and it has been used in most translations from the King James on. However, the word has taken on a theological aura in subsequent use and connects the reader to the idea of atonement that lies just ahead in the NRSV. The connection with the original meaning of the word, that is, buying the freedom of a slave, is hardly heard. If we suppose that meaning to have been in Paul's mind, then "ransoming" would be the best translation. This would provide a basis for a different theory of the work of Christ, one that played a large role in the early church. Since Paul sometimes speaks of our being slaves of sin before we become faithful, we could understand him to mean here that Christ pays a price to sin for our freedom.

However, to take this route would be to press the original meaning of the word too far. The focus here is not on paying a price but on setting free. Those translations that do not settle for "redemption" move in this direction. The American Translation speaks of "deliverance;" the New English Bible, of "liberation;" and the Good News Bible of setting free.

If we ask from what we are liberated, the answer, in the context of Romans is the power of sin, the law, and the flesh. We can then ask what Paul means by this liberation being "in" Christ Jesus, and I suggest that he means "effected by." The argument seems to be that the faithfulness of Jesus Christ has effected the liberation of those who are faithful.

Now we come to the key phrase: "whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith." This needs to be reconsidered in several respects. First, there is the question of the final phrase "effective through faith." This has been generally taken to mean that the sacrifice of Jesus atones for the sins of those who believe in him. But we have seen that the earlier part of the paragraph can be better understood if we take Jesus' faithfulness to be what discloses the justice of God. If so, it fits the context better to suppose that the "faith" through which the liberation becomes effective is the faithfulness of Jesus.

Next, "the blood" here is a way of speaking of Jesus' death. The King James and the RSV and NRSV keep the literal reference to blood, but most other translations understand this simply as a way of referring to Jesus' death. If the "faithfulness" is that of Jesus, then the Greek can be understood to connect that faithfulness to Jesus' death. What liberates us by revealing God's justice is Jesus' being faithful even to death.

But what about "the sacrifice of atonement?" The Greek word hilasterion was used in reference to the Day of Atonement and the rites associated with it. The translators of the NRSV assumed that this connection was decisive for Paul's meaning. But the word is used in a far more general sense as well, so that the reference to the Day of Atonement should not be assumed without other evidence. Since Paul made no reference to it elsewhere, and since the passage can be read better without the connotations of atonement, that evidence is lacking.

The word hilasterion does not appear elsewhere in Paul. However, it is used in Luke 18:13. There it means, according to Luke Johnson, "to 'cover over' something by overlooking or forgiving or not counting against" people the wrong they have done. A positive relation is thereby restored. (Reading Romans NY: Crossroad, 1997, p. 59) In the second half of the verse, Paul picks up on this idea, writing of "God's having passed over the sins previously committed." The word "conciliation" has been proposed as a translation of hilasterion here to replace "sacrifice of atonement." Finally, instead of God putting this forward, we may think of God as purposing this.

We now get the following translation. "which God purposed as an act of conciliation through Jesus' faithfulness to death." The connection with animal sacrifice on the Day of Atonement is entirely absent. Although Jesus' death is important for Paul, it seems important here chiefly as an indication of the radical character of Jesus' faithfulness. This is a note struck elsewhere by Paul, and in the gospels as well.

The remainder of the passage has difficulties, but it makes more sense based on this reading than that of NRSV. The NRSV leaves the reader wondering how God's sacrificing Jesus shows God's justice. That God had earlier passed over sins does not provide any answer to this question. Nor are we helped by being told that God sacrificed Jesus to prove that God is just and that God justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Here the use of "just" instead of "righteous" brings out the connection between God's character and the condition of the faithful. God's justice includes justifying the faithful. The word "justify" has a primarily forensic character, whereas the Greek does not. It can mean that God makes the faithful just, as well as that God treats them as if they were just. When pistis is understood as "faith," the emphasis must lie on the forensic element. But when what is in view is faithfulness, that God effects in the faithful something of the justice that characterizes God also makes good sense. Paul probably did not reflect much on this difference.

There is another advantage of using "just" rather than "righteous" to describe God in this passage. It brings out the paradox more clearly. God has shown justice by not punishing sinners. That means that God's justice is quite different from what human beings normally think of as justice. It is this kind of justice that God effects in, or attributes to, the faithful.

In consideration of all this, our proposed translation is as follows: "God did this (the act of conciliation) to show God's justice (which had been disclosed in Jesus' faithfulness). Although God had expressed forbearance earlier by passing over sins, the new disclosure was to demonstrate at the present time that God is just and that God justifies the one who participates in the faithfulness of Jesus."

Much of the difference comes from relating what is said here to a different reading of the preceding sentences. The other major change is in the last phrase, where we shift from "the one who has faith in Jesus" to "the one who participates in the faithfulness of Jesus." That this is a possible reading of the Greek is acknowledged in a footnote in the NRSV, which offers the alternative "who has the faith of Jesus." This is more intelligible and plausible when, as I have explained earlier, we translate pistis as faithfulness. The shift from "having the faithfulness of Jesus" to "participating in the faithfulness of Jesus" is an effort to bring out the probable meaning in harmony with Paul's general thinking about how the faithful relate to Jesus.

We are proposing here that the faithful participate in the faithfulness of Jesus. This may seem a strange idea initially. But the more one reads of Paul, the more participation in and with Jesus appears as central to Paul's thought. Romans 6:3-6 is full of images of this kind. There is no need to re-translate the NRSV in order to bring this out.

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin."

At the heart of Paul's vision of salvation is the idea that the faithful were crucified with Jesus, buried with Jesus, and will be raised with him. I understand this in terms of participation. The faithful participate in Jesus crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. In Romans 8:17 we learn that we also suffer with Jesus. It would be easy to expand this discussion of Paul's vision of how we are related to Jesus or to Christ. The faithful are in Christ, and Christ is in them.

Given all this, it is hard to see why there should be resistance to seeing the faithful as participating in the faithfulness of Jesus. This is the most inclusive way of stating the relation. Participation in Jesus' faithfulness, which was a faithfulness even to a suffering death on the cross, includes participation in Jesus' crucifixion, suffering, death, and burial. Since Jesus' faithfulness climaxes in resurrection, participation in that faithfulness involves anticipation of resurrection.

Those who insist on the atonement often suppose that without such a doctrine Christians cannot explain how their salvation depends on Jesus Christ. They point out that what is called the moral influence theory fails to take full account of the power of sin. Paul certainly gives some suggestion of an influence of Jesus upon us, with his extraordinary faithfulness even to death on the cross evoking faithfulness on our part. But the idea of moral influence is far too weak to capture his meaning.

Paul surely believed that Jesus revealed the nature of God's justice and that in doing this, Jesus deeply changed the way we think of God and relate to God. But Paul did not suppose that changing our understanding of God by itself saved us.

Paul believed that in Jesus God won a victory over sin. But the idea that God did this by paying Jesus to the Devil as the price for ransoming human beings would have made no sense to him. Certainly, the later explanation of God's victory over the Devil in terms of tricking him into unjustly killing Jesus was not at all in the horizons of his thought.

I agree with the objections to these alternative theories of what was redemptive in Jesus. But the failure of these other theories does not justify any claim that Paul supports the theory of atonement. He does not teach that God sacrificed Jesus as the price for justifying us. Even if the NRSV translation of Romans 3:25 were correct, this would be far too slight a foundation for the judgment that this is Paul's true view of how Jesus saves us. And I am convinced that this verse is more accurately understood in a quite different way, a way that fits his overall position much better.

Jesus saves us by being radically faithful. This faithfulness shows us the true character of God's justice. This whole passage emphasizes God's disclosing and demonstrating this paradoxical justice that would more typically be called mercy. The disclosure transforms the relation of God and the world from one of wrath of one of love. Human participation is this new transformed situation is by faithfulness. This faithfulness is a participation in the faithfulness of Jesus. God views those who participate in Jesus' faithfulness in terms of the justice to which they thereby attain rather than in terms of their continuing sinfulness. This participation in Jesus' faithfulness entails readiness to suffer with Jesus. In baptism we participate in Jesus' death and burial. By thus being united with Jesus, the faithful live in confidence that they will rise with him and share in his glory.

This final resurrection is the fullness of salvation. It involves the liberation of the entire cosmos. But in the meantime the faithful live in the tension between the change that has already come into being through their dying to the life of sin and the continuing power of sin. They are already justified, already reconciled, already indwelt by the Spirit. But all of this is only a foretaste of the blessedness to come.

In this situation obedience to the many laws or rules governing what is usually understood to be the righteous life is irrelevant. The question is faithfulness and what that entails. Paul discusses that quite concretely in Chapters 12-14. What is involved in faithful living is immensely important, but it is not settled by appeal to moral principles. Indeed the style of life that is governed by rules or principles has not yet been liberated.

I did not start working on this commentary with this understanding of Paul. Frankly, I found Paul's various statements and images about salvation confused and confusing. If I am confined to the English translations, I still find them so. Hence I close as I began with my appreciation to the scholars, especially David Lull, who have opened up to me the scriptures. What I now see in Paul is far more attractive than what I had previously understood.

Part of the attraction is a greater congeniality of Paul to process theology than I had anticipated. Process thought emphasizes that human experiences participate in the formation of other human experiences. This is "influence" in a much stronger sense than is meant by those who see each entity as self-contained. From that point of view Jesus can influence us only in the sense that our admiration of Jesus may influence our actions. For process thought, and for Paul, Jesus can flow into us, partially constituting what we are.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that I can simply subscribe to Paul's views. His vision of a final consummation is beautiful, but incredible. Whatever happens on this planet, the vast reaches of the cosmos will be little affected. Further, I cannot live by an expectation that one of these days the faithful will be publicly glorified and that the whole planet with all its inhabitants will be thereby transformed.

How drastically does that separate me, and others who share my incredulity, from Paul? This depends on two things. First, how important was this picture to Paul? Second, what alternative eschatologies can be convincing to us?

With regard to Paul, I judge first that the expectation that the faithful have a destiny like that of Jesus was central to his hope. He had glimpsed the glory of the resurrected Jesus in a vision. He was confident that those who participated in his faithfulness would share that blessedness. Without that confidence, he would not have had a gospel to proclaim. But beyond that there is considerable variation in his comments on the final salvation. It seems that no one formulation of the final salvation was essential to his message.

I do believe that we all live on in God beyond our physical death. What the process conceptuality most clearly implies is that all that we have been remains forever alive in God. This conceptuality allows for new experiences in continuity with those that have constituted our lives in this world. Some combination of these ideas might explain what Paul experienced as the risen Christ. The expectation that we can be united with Christ in death and in the life to come could constitute a hope close enough to that of Paul to support much of his theory of salvation.

I must still acknowledge the deep divide between my thinking in the twenty-first century and that of Paul. He lived in the excitement of a community that anticipated the key role in the final salvation of the whole world. Efforts to recreate that kind of expectation today are more likely to lead to dangerous cults than to the profoundly different communities that Paul brought into being. In Paul's day accepting baptism truly separated one from much of the world in which one had lived and initiated one into another, quite different, context. Today, in a country like ours, the boundaries between the church and the world are blurred, and interpreting baptism as dying and being buried with Jesus often rings false.

I could continue in this vein. We cannot solve the many problems we confront today by direct appeal to Paul's teaching. Nevertheless, most of us owe our participation in the Christian movement to Paul's theology. His message that through Jesus we have come to know God's justice as love rather than as wrath has deeply shaped our understanding. His vision of how we participate in one another and in Jesus is a needed challenge to our usual habits of mind. His call for us to be ready to participate in Jesus' suffering is as needed now as ever. I could continue in this vein as well.

Paul remains our greatest theologian. We need to return to him again and again. When we do so, we find that we have misunderstood him as much as we have learned from him. When we understand him better, we can learn from him afresh. I am in the process of such learning and I invite you to share in it.