Basic Scripture

By William G. Most,

(c) Copyright, 1997 by William G. Most

[Ninth Section of HTML version]

Romans: It seems Paul had written Second Corinthians from Macedonia, in the fall of 57. He went to Corinth, perhaps directly, perhaps by way of Illyricum. He came to Corinth, his third visit, in the winter of 57, and stayed three months in Achaia. During this period, probably at Corinth, he wrote Romans.

We do not know when Christianity first came to Rome. Some Jews from Rome were at the first Pentecost, and became converts. We do not know if they went back to Rome - some Jews may have stayed to live out their last years in the Holy Land.

All admit Paul wrote Romans, but there is a problem over 16:1-12, which seems to be an unrelated letter of recommendation for Phoebe, who has worked for the church at Cenchrae. Most admit it is by Paul, but it is not clear if it was part of Romans. Also there is a problem about the doxology in 16:25-27. Is it part of the original letter? The Council of Trent declared all these part of inspired Scripture, regardless of the question of authorship and place.

1:1 - 2:17: The great thrust of the first three chapters is to show first that Gentiles are all hopeless if they try for justification by keeping the law, then to show, starting at 2:17, that the Jews are also hopeless. Finally in chapter 3 he sums up: all are hopeless, and so all must turn to faith for justification. It is very important to keep this picture in mind. Many commentators today overlook this. In dealing with chapter 1 where Paul makes so great an accusation against the gentiles, many say that this applied only to some of them, or expressed just tendencies. But to say that ruins Paul's great argument. Then some could achieve justification by law, not by faith.

Before looking at that problem in detail, we see Paul opens by saying atheists are inexcusable. That is true of real atheists. But we know St. Justin Martyr (First Apology 46) said that some in the past, such as Socrates, who were considered atheists, were really Christians, because they followed the divine Logos, the Word. Justin also said (Second Apology 10:8) that the Logos is in everyone. What does He do there? In Romans 2:14- 16 we will see that He writes the law on the hearts of every one, i.e., tells them what is morally required. So if Socrates obeys that, as he did, he is accepting the Spirit of Christ, not knowing that is what he is accepting. Now we learn from Romans 8.9 that if one has and follows the Spirit of Christ, he belongs to Christ. So Socrates belonged to Christ. Hence he was Christian, not by formally joining the Church, but substantially. We add this: to belong to Christ means to be a member of Christ, which is also a member of the Church. Vatican II wrote in Lumem Gentium #49: "All who belong to Christ, having His Spirit, coalesce into one Church."

In 1:17-18 we meet the words "the justice, or righteousness of God." Many commentators think this means God's action to save His people. But this view neglects the normal usage of Hebrew sedaqah as revealed by a concordance, and by a study of the same concept in intertestamental literature, in the New Testament, in the Rabbis, in the Fathers. Rather: God in His Holiness loves everything that is good (please recall our comments on sin as a debt in chapters 5 and 11). So He will act accordingly, will reward those who keep His covenant, punish those who do not (this is simply the Deuteronomic theme we saw widely in the Old Testament). So in this light we will be able to understand the words of Romans 2:6-13 where Paul says that "God will repay each one according to his works." If we look at the fundamental sense, no creature by its own power can generate a claim on God - all is mercy. But in the secondary sense, given the fact that God freely made a covenant, then if people obey, He owes it to Himself to reward or repay; but He also pledged to punish disobedience. Actually, in 2:6 Paul is quoting Psalm 62:12 which in the Hebrew says: "You O Lord, observe the covenant bond (hesed) - for you will repay each one according to his works."

But so many did not observe the covenant, they took the opposite path, and went lower and lower, as if on a spiral, became more and more corrupted and blind. At the end of chapter 1 Paul says that they, "having known (exact translation of aorist participle epignontes) that these things deserve death, not only do them, but approve of doing them." It is bad enough to sin - but to call sin good is the lowest degradation.

It is widely admitted that the picture in Chapter 1 is too strong. And Paul himself knew it, as we said before, in 1 Cor 6:11 he said: "Certain ones of you were these", great sinners. The solution is simple: in Romans 1 he uses a focused picture; in 1 Cor 6:11, a factual picture. Paul can move from one perspective to another as his argument requires. In 2:14-16 he turns to a factual picture, then in 2:17 goes back to a focused picture.

Now we must add something even more striking. At the start of chapter 2 (we recall the chapter and verse numbers were not by Paul, were added long after), Paul says that anyone who condemns another, "for this reason... he is guilty of the very same sins."

Commentators do miserably at this point. They do not know what to do with the opening word of chapter 1, dio, "for which reason". They try to say it is a Greek particle with hardly any meaning. - There are such words, but dio is not one of them. It is a preposition dia with the relative pronoun: "For which reason." It ties the thought to what was said in chapter 1 of the vices of the gentiles. And soon it adds that all who condemn another are not just sinners in general - commentators try to get off by saying that - but are guilty of the very same sins. We can solve this if we use our focusing technique strenuously: The law in general makes heavy demands - gives no strength - so one must fall. But we must add: Each large precept in the law is a heavy demand - it gives no strength - so each one is guilty of each thing, that is, of "the very same sins."

2:17-24: Here Paul makes great charges against the Jews. Commentators know they are not realistic. So they try to soften by adding question marks (Paul's manuscripts used no punctuation at all). But if we see that it is a focused picture, there is no problem at all. At the end, in verse 25, we read "circumcision does help". If Paul had quote marks, he would have used them here to quote a Jewish claim against Paul. Paul at once adds: If you break the law, you might as well not be circumcised.

Chapter 3: Paul, after accusing Jew and Gentile, concludes: "The whole world is found guilty before God, for, on the basis of works of the law, all flesh will not be justified before Him. For through the law, [comes only] knowledge of sin." But no strength was given, so, as we said, all go down. This is a focused picture. Vv. 24-26 are beautiful if read correctly, so as to understand what we saw at 1:17, that "justice of God" means His love or concern for all that is right, that is, for rectifying or rebalancing the objective moral order put out of line by sin. (We recall the words of Pope Paul VI, and of Simeon ben Eleazar in chapters 5 and 11, on this rebalance of the objective order). Without filling in this concept, then Christ would be merely the new propitiatory, with no more visible reason than to be smeared with blood like the old propitiatory. Then: Why such suffering for a mere ceremony?

6:23: Paul says the wages - what one earns - of sin is death, but the free gift - what one does not earn - of God is eternal life. This is the same as our saying about justification or salvation: You can't earn it, but you can blow it.

7:7-13: Paul keeps saying I. It means not himself alone, but any human. In 7:9-10 he implies two periods: 1) from Adam to Moses, when there was no revealed law, "I was alive at one time" having no revealed law to break; 2) from Moses to Christ, when there is a law. About the first period, as we noted, he says was he was spiritually alive. For there can be no violation of a revealed command when there is no revealed command. He is focusing on that kind of sin, leaving out of the picture the sin which can be committed by violating what the Spirit writes on hearts (2:14-16). In the second period, we have basically our familiar focused picture: the law makes heavy demands, gives no strength, so one must fall.

7:14-25: Paul repeats the ideas of 7-13, but in a psychological presentation. Within a focused picture, he can see what is right, but has no strength. So he is wretched. But Jesus, in chapter 8, will rescue him.

If we did not understand the focusing here, we would seem to see the total corruption Luther imagined: we can see what is good, but cannot do it.

8:1-17: Here, in another focused picture, the regime of the Spirit, as such, can bring nothing but good. However, now Paul breaks his focus a few times, chiefly in verses 9 and 17. Terrible misunderstanding would follow otherwise, that of Luther, who thought if one takes Christ as his personal Savior, he can sin as much as he wants. We answered this earlier, especially by noting that Pauline faith includes obedience (cf. Rom 1:5) and so, faith which includes obedience cannot justify disobedience.

8:29-39: Paul speaks here of predestination. But we must watch the context, it is not a predestination to heaven (or hell) but a predestination to (full) membership in the Church - e.g., he speaks of the "call". Predestination is an arrangement made by Divine Providence to see that someone gets either that membership, or gets to heaven. We mentioned full membership, because there is a lesser, but substantial membership possible, as we saw above in comments on 2:14-16.

Scripture never speaks explicitly of a predestination to heaven. Earlier centuries thought it did, hence many terrible fears, and much confusion. Pope Clement VIII in 1597 summoned representatives of the "Thomist" and the Molinist schools to Rome to debate predestination and human interaction with grace. It ran for ten years, until Paul V in 1607 decided to approve neither side - a sign of Divine Providence protecting the Church. Both sides misused Scripture, taking things out of context, not seeing Paul spoke not of predestination to heaven, but of predestination to (full) membership in the Church. Hence, no good result.

Paul here and in chapters 9-11 says God predestines to this full membership without regard to merits.

If we may fill in on what Paul does not say, a new solution to the problem of predestination to heaven is this (cf. Wm. Most, New Answers to Old Questions,London, 1971): There are three logical steps in God's decisions: 1)He wills all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4--the founder of the "Thomist" school, Domingo Banez, said God did not will all to be saved); 2)God looks to see who rejects His grace gravely and persistently - so that he throws away the one thing that could save him. With regrets God decrees to let those go, to hell; 3)All others not discarded in step 2 are predestined to heaven - but not because of merits, which have not yet come on the scene, nor even because of the lack of resistance, but because in step 1, He wanted to do so, and they are not blocking Him. (The same conclusion can be reached by the Father analogy: 1)Parents want all to turn out well; 2) the children do not have to earn love and care (parallel to predestination without merits); 3)but children could earn to be disinherited, rejected, let go to ruin.

11:25-27: Paul foretells the conversion of the Jews. He says they will be "saved". This means entering the Church. He cannot mean reaching heaven, for he knows that can happen even without formal entry into the Church, as we saw at 2:14-16. Paul does not say when this will be, but we get the impression it will be shortly before the end. Since Scripture also foretells the return of Elijah the prophet (Sirach 48:10; Malachi 3:23-24), we may wonder if he is to be the agent of their conversion. We note too the similarity in wording: in 11:25, a blindness has come in part on Israel "until the fullness of the gentiles enters"; in Luke 21:24: "Jerusalem will be trodden by the gentiles, until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled."

13:4: Writing in the time of Nero, Paul calls for obedience to the civil authority, unless of course it orders what is immoral. He said: "It [the civil authority] is a minister of God for good to you. But if you do evil, be afraid. For not without reason does it bear the sword. For it is the minister of God and avenger for [God's] wrath on the one who does evil." Therefore, to say capital punishment is wrong is to contradict St. Paul. One could, however, ask whether it is expedient or beneficial. (Nero was not at his worst in this period. But Titus 3:1 also calls for obedience, and was written probably in 65, when Nero was a wild tyrant).

14:1 - 15:3: Paul is urging avoiding scandal to some - we do not know their exact trouble - who are weak in understanding that no foods are wrong by nature. The thought is quite similar to what we saw in his treatment of scandal in 1 Cor 8 - 10 in connection with eating food sacrificed to idols.

16:1: Paul speaks of Phoebe who is a deaconess (diakonon) of the church of Cenchrae. The Council of Nicea, in Canon 19, explained about such women: "We have spoken of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, even though they have not been in any way ordained. They are surely to be counted among the laity."

Philemon: Paul sends Onesimus, a runaway slave whom he converted, back to his master, Philemon, asking him to take him back as a brother. Here we should recall the comments made on slaves at 1 Cor 7:21.

Colossians: Until the commentary of Meyerhoff in 1838, no one doubted Colossians was by Paul. Now it is very fashionable to say he did not write it.

There are two kinds of arguments: 1)External witnesses who says it is by Paul - an impressive list: Tertullian, the Muratorian Canon, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, plus heterodox authors Marcion and Valentinus. Colossians is at least probably mentioned in the works of St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, St. Justin Martyr, and the Epistle to Diognetus. No ancient author contradicts or doubts.

The arguments against Paul's authorship are internal: 1)Vocabulary and style are somewhat different from other Epistles - but we reply that here he has a new kind of opponent, which calls for new words. Anyone who knows that the pagan historian Tacitus wrote both his four historical works (very pungent and distinctive style), and the Dialogue on Orators, so different in style, will not be impressed. 2)Theological considerations: a)Paul speaks little here of justification by faith, salvation, law. - But he has little occasion here. His purpose is different. b)Christology: he does not speak of Christ as the Son who died, was buried, who is at the right hand of the Father. - Again, Paul has a different purpose. He does say that we have been raised with Christ, and sit in heavenly places with Him: 3:1-4. c)Eschatology: Paul does not here expect the end soon. - Nor does he elsewhere, as we showed in detail in commenting on 1 Thes 4:13 ff. d)Ecclesiology is more advanced. - Any live person should develop over a period of time. Paul now speaks explicitly of Christ as our Head - it was implied before in saying we are His members. Other developments are to meet the new opponents.

Who are the opponents? Two chief possibilities: 1)Gnostics. At least a start of Gnosticism was around then. Gnostics spoke of many intermediate aeons between God and the world, used terms such as pleroma (fullness), principalities and powers. 2)Jewish Apocalyptic speculators. They too used similar language. Hence we are not certain. It is clear Paul often uses the language of his opponents to meet them. And by 2:15 it is clear that the spirit powers these opponents say we must worship along with Christ are really, in Paul's mind, evil spirits. (Paul surely does not speak of nine choirs of angels).

Date and place of composition are uncertain. It could be Ephesus or Caesarea. Rome, 61-63, seems somewhat more likely. The advanced doctrine on the Church means it should be relatively later in Paul's life.

1:15-20: may be a hymn. It surely speaks of Christ as the head, the firstborn etc. over all principalities and powers. So we need not worship them: in Christ all fullness (pleroma) of divinity dwells in bodily form.

1:24: Paul is pleased to fill up what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ in himself, for His body, which is the Church. Christ the Head lacked no suffering - but the whole Christ, including His members, may lack. Paul knows that since we all are part of the one Mystical Body, one can make up for another. He does that, heroically. Please recall our comments in chapters 5 and 11 on sin as a debt.

1:26: He begins to speak, not too clearly, of a mystery hidden from the ages. In Ephesians 3:6 it will come out more clearly. It is this: God calls the gentiles to be part of the People of God along with the Jews who accept Christ.

2:15: Christ despoiled the principalities and powers. So they are evil spirits, not angels.

2:16-23: Paul attacks the rules given by opponents who think they must have certain ascetic practices. Paul does not object to mortification in itself (cf. 1 Cor 9:26; 2 Cor 11), only to their reasons for demanding it. It seems they worship angels or spirit powers.

3:18 - 4:1 This is a picture of the ideal household. The husband has authority in matters pertaining to the household. Cf. Pius XI (Enchiridion Symbolorum 3709): "This order includes both the primacy of the husband in relation to the wife and children, and the ready and willing obedience that St. Paul commands [Eph 5:22-23]. This obedience does not deny or take away the freedom which fully belongs to the woman, both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble position as wife and mother and companion. Nor does it direct her to obey her husband's every request if it is not in harmony with right reason, or with the dignity due to a wife, nor finally, does it imply the wife should be on a level with those who are legally minors." It is merely that a committee of two can be deadlocked much of the time.

Ephesians: Again, as with Colossians, many think Paul did not write Ephesians. The arguments used against his authorship are much the same as for Colossians, and the answers are the same. Here are a few differences: in 2:11-22 Paul speaks of both Jew and Gentile being made one in Christ. They say this differs from Acts 28:24-28 where Paul speaks dimly of the fact the Jews will not accept Christ. - But the objectors miss something obvious: In Acts, Paul speaks of the Jews who still rejected Christ; in Ephesians he speaks of Jews who have accepted Christ. Further, the objectors say Paul took a dim view of marriage in 1 Cor 7; while here he is more optimistic. But in 1 Cor 7 Paul spoke of marriage and virginity/celibacy as both being graces. He was contrasting the different spiritual possibilities in 1 Cor. Here he is giving an ideal picture of the family, much like that of Colossians.

We said that the ancient witnesses who say Ephesians is by Paul are just as strong as they were for other Epistles of his, chiefly: St. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, the Muratorian Fragment, plus heretical authors: Marcion, Basilides, and Valentinus.

We conclude that the external evidence easily outweighs the very weak internal evidence against Pauline authorship.

The opponents here seem to be the same as in Colossians, because of several mentions of principalities and powers: 1:21; 3:10.

There is a different problem here. The opening line is usually rendered: "Paul, an Apostle... to the holy ones who are at Ephesus... ." But several major manuscripts omit the words "at Ephesus. Further, in 1:15 and 3:1 Paul speaks as if he had not been to Ephesus. Yet we know he spent several years there.

The probable explanation is this: Ephesians was really sort of circular letter, and a blank was left, for the reader to fill in the name of the church where it was being read. The fact that circular letters are not known to have existed in that day proves nothing: Paul could still have gotten the idea.

Ephesians was probably written after Colossians. Paul is in prison - he was in several prisons. The traditional view is Rome, 61-63, but Caesarea is also possible.

Chapter 1: Here Paul speaks of predestination, but just as in Romans, it is a predestination to (full) membership in the Church.

2:8-9: Paul says that even faith, the condition for justification, is a gift of God. This does not imply a blind predestination: God offers faith to all; those who do not reject it get it. The process we explained in connection with Romans 2:14-16 is the explanation of how this works.

4:7: Here Paul speaks of grace given "according to the measure of the giving of Christ." We need to notice from the context, vv. 8- 13, that Paul speaks here of charismatic graces, not of the graces essential for salvation. These latter He offers most abundantly, without measure, since the price of redemption earned an infinite objective title for each person (cf. Gal 2:20). But charismatic graces are given without regard to merit (cf. Mt 7:21-23) according to what the Spirit wills to give (1 Cor 12:11).

5:21- 6:1: Here we have the Haustafel, the ideal picture of the family, much like that in Colossians, except here Paul adds that the union of husband and wife is like that of Christ and the Church. In v. 33 the wife should "fear" her husband. It means respect rather than fear.



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