Thursday, July 20, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 4)

Part 1 is available here. Part 2 is here. And Part 3 is here.

AP: What about Rom. 14:16–17? These verses fall within the exhortatio or what you sometimes hear called the paraenetic section of a discourse. Paul is focusing on the importance of the unity of this community. According to Paul, it is the group that is saved before God and found within it, the individual. Based on this, those who have a better understanding of the faith––the "strong" (i.e., those who know perfectly well that nothing is unclean when it comes to food, and impurity comes by divine decision––must have patience, respect, understanding, and love towards the "weak," who are not as mature in their faith. The latter are tripped up easily with "scandal." In a metaphorical sense, this use is very Jewish; see Lev. 19:14; 4Q 271:1–3. The term is used later by Josephus, the Mishnah, and two Talmuds. The "weaker" believers are drawn by the example of the "stronger" and end up eating what their consciences tell them is impure. That scandal can be an impediment to salvation, according to Paul. It is in this context that we encounter v. 17, which deals with the future kingdom of God and the ethical preparation necessary to enter it. Paul argues that, in the moments preceding the actual reign of God and his Messiah, such preparation is not affected by what you eat or drink.

In fact, says Paul, everything is lawful. He uses a two-part argument: (1) The law of Moses that discriminated between clean and unclean foods, was not already in force for the Gentiles who have believed in Christ; (2) the gods, those to whom certain foods have been offered, do not really exist. They are demons (1 Cor. 8:4–7). The world to come will be a spiritual space, marked by goodness, full of life and joy, granted by the indwelling of God's Spirit in every believer.

Then there are the two passages in 1 Corinthians 15 (vv. 22–28 and 50–55). These must be read very carefully since they contain the essential information needed to investigate Paul's understanding of the kingdom of God. Here are those texts one more time:
1 Cor. 15:22–28: "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive. However, this will happen to each person in the proper order: first Christ, then those who belong to Christ when he comes. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has done away with every ruler and every authority and power. For he must rule until God puts all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be done away with is death, for 'God has put everything under his feet.' Now when he says, 'Everything has been put under him,' this clearly excludes the one who put everything under him. But when everything has been put under him, then the Son himself will also become subject to the one who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all."
1 Cor. 15:50–55: "Brothers, this is what I mean: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and what decays cannot inherit what does not decay. Let me tell you a secret. Not all of us will die, but all of us will be changed––in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the sound of the last trumpet. Indeed, that trumpet will sound, and then the dead will be raised never to decay, and we will be changed. For what is decaying must put on what cannot decay, and what is dying must put on what cannot die. Now, when what is decaying puts on what cannot decay, and what is dying puts on what cannot die, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory!', 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'"
In these texts, Paul argues that the disobedience of one man (Genesis 3) brought about the most terrible of consequences for all of humanity. In the same way, the obedience/faithfulness to God all the way to the cross by one person, the Christ, had an absolutely transcendental effect: forgiveness and forgetfulness (that is, the not taking into account mentioned in Rom. 3:25) of sins by God and the final reconciliation of humanity with its creator.

So, according to Paul, those who believe in the Messiah who died prior to the second coming of Jesus––in fullness of power, in the parousia––will be resurrected. That general resurrection is Jewish: It takes place before the Judgment. Paul holds that it is the whole person that will be raised from the dead; therefore, not just the soul, but also the physical body of each person. This concept is very Jewish and Semitic in general. But these bodies, he argues, will be immediately transformed into "spiritual bodies." The reason for the necessity of this change is based on Platonism (the opposition of the material world to the realm of spiritual ideas). For this reason, Paul says, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Nor does corruption inherit incorruption (1 Cor. 15:50). Those who are still living at the time when the kingdom comes (and this includes Paul as far as he was concerned up to this point when he wrote 1 Thessalonians––will have their bodies transformed into that corporeal-spiritual entity, just as the bodies of those who were raised first (of the dead). For Paul, there is no contradiction in this area between "physical" and "spiritual," as it is understood today. Therefore, those who participate in the future kingdom of God and his Messiah will have a "bodily-spiritual" existence in the world to come, even if no one knows exactly how it will be. The whole man is an indissoluble "soul-body" for Paul.

There's more to come. We'll pick up in the next post.

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