Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Jew and Greek in Christ

On The Busybody, Loren Rosson has an interesting post headed In Christ There Is Jew and Greek, developing from his earlier post Controversial Studies and the Question of Motive: The Apostle Paul; this is a quotation:
Paul was no more an egalitarian than Jesus, and by the time of Romans he had even given up on the apocalyptic formula of Gal 3:27-28 (cf. I Cor 12:13). The reason is simple: Gal 3:27-28 was offensive, impractical, and doomed to fail in the ancient Mediterranean, where different ethnic groups, genders, and social classes could get along only by preserving their identities. Attempts to eliminate distinctions in honor-shame societies only encouraged groups to re-assert their identities in aggressive ways. That's why there is Jew and Greek in Christ, after all.
I am inclined to agree with Loren here, but with the qualification that Paul's thought becomes most clear when it is interpreted in its eschatological context. For "egalitarian" in scholarship on the New Testament, we should substitute "eschatological". The reason that Paul can say, in Gal. 3.28, that there is no Jew nor Greek "in Christ" is that we should remember that "in Christ" is itself an eschatological concept. Those who have been baptized into Christ, those who have "put on" Christ are those who share his destiny, those who belong to the one who will return to establish his reign. It is in that future that there will be no Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. What being "in Christ" means is having the hope of salvation, a future in which such distinctions will have no meaning. It stands to reason for Paul and his contemporaries that there is still male and female in the present. There is no attempt to abolish gender differences. Likewise there is still slave and free in the present. He is not trying to change the social order. It will be God who does that thing which is promised to those currently "in Christ".


Loren Rosson III said...

Thanks, Mark; I agree, and said similarly to Steven Carr in comments under my "Crossan and the Context Group" post:

"Paul was calling for distinctions to be erased in view of the apocalypse. In some sense that apocalypse was in-breaking, but to whatever degree that was so, the issue was not one of social/political egalitarianism -- a concept not even conceived until the post-Enlightenment period."

Holger said...

Can't say I entirely agree with either of you (eg. I think there are false alternatives in this), but that's another story. Much more importantly, I find this hermeneutically very interesting: an excellent example from both of you how a certain kind of modern 'scholarly hermeneutics' operates. I shall get my students to analyse your respective blog entries in that regard. As you both put this out 'into the world' through your blogs I hope you won't mind. Thanks!

Bob MacDonald said...

About Paul's intent in Galatians - he did not intend to eliminate difference but to recognize the one equal possession and identity(John Donne: XXVI Sermons 1660, 29 February 1627/8). In Romans 7, Paul addresses both Jew and Gentile inviting that radical death in Christ that creates the new 'marriage' relationship. To the Jew who reads the Song at Pentecost, this new identity will mean more than to a Gentile - but Paul does not compare each to other as better or worse on either side in my opinion.