August 3, 2008

Further on Salvation

As additional thought growing out of some questions on my earlier post, concerning Paul's theology of salvation, and how universal it was or wasn't.

I think Paul makes (what would later be articulated more clearly) a distinction between salvation, justification, and sanctification. In his system of thought, just as all were stained by Adam's sin, so all are redeemed by Christ. All means all. It isn't about "each" but "all" -- not about individuals but rather about the whole of humanity, which, from a rabbinic understanding was "present" in Adam. And so in Christ, the new Adam. "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

This is where the distinctions between "faith in" and "faith of" are important, and it's sad to see the NRSV has drifted in the former direction when the latter, as found in the KJV, makes more sense. (Note most especially Gal 2:16,20 3:22) It is the faith of Christ -- his faithfulness unto death -- that saves us.

Salvation is, in this sense, literally "healing" -- that is, healing the wound of sin that has affected the whole of creation, all of humanity, and with which we suffer willy nilly. We recover some of this sense of the meaning of "salvation" as healing when we speak of "the only Name given under heaven for health and salvation..." This is the opening of the door to eternal life.

Justification is another matter, and begins to involve the response of each individual to the free gift; it involves going through the door. This is where personal faith in Christ comes in. (Rom 3:25-26; cp 4:16) Not all will accept it, but all have been made capable of accepting it.

Sanctification follows, again as God's gracious offering, and is entering the room and maybe even sitting down! Or better, falling before the throne...

It is part of our task to distinguish between the sufficient belief in salvation for those who explicitly have chosen Christ and the possible hope that Christ is big enough so that all can find him and be found by him -- maybe the latter ones not even knowing it is Christ who has saved them until they come into his presence revealed in glory. I prefer to follow Paul into that realm of possibility that "all shall be made alive," while keeping one foot well-planted in the sufficient security that "all who call upon his name are saved." This, to me, seems to be where the best evangelism comes from, leaving the door open and reaching out beyond it; as, indeed, Christ did when he left his Father's side to come to us. As "little Christs" we are honored to assist in spreading that word, and the greater the graciousness of our speaking, the more will be won, and the further the word will spread...

Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

Romans 4 sheds some light here: Paul draws a parallel with Abraham, who was reckoned righteous because he trusted in God and acted accordingly. In Rom. 3.25-26, I wonder if Paul is saying to his readers: Abraham trusted that God would give children to him and Sarah. Now you must trust that God has eliminated any further need for temple sacrifices to expiate sin, which he did by sending his son to serve as the ultimate sacrifice. Just as with Abraham, it is your trust in God that causes you to be reckoned righteous.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, DC, I think that is very much part of the picture. And in 4:16 we see that same genetic (and genitive!) sense of sharing in the faith OF Abraham, who is "the father of us all" in terms of faith.

It is a very rich mystery, this salvation / justification / sanctification business. Thanks be to God that God does the greater part of the work, and we do not have to rely on our works!

Anonymous said...

Paul undoubtedly was influenced by the rabbinic understanding of what "faith" (emunah) meant. In Hebrew the word can mean loyalty as it does in English, and applied to God: the word Amen is supposed to be an acrostic for a phrase that means "God the faithful king" (El Melech Neaman). But in the wider implications the word is not just belief in a specific thing: it's not "evidence for things unseen" so much as it is the basis of one's worldview: so it is possible to speak of an atheist's faith. Abraham didn't just believe God, in the way that a child will believe his mother when she says she will make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner that night; he based his entire worldview and all his actions on what he believed about God--and since those actions and that worldview led him to do righteous things, his faith was the source of his righteousness.
Rabbinic tradition also developed the view that redemption can not come for just an individual, but involves the entire nation, and ultimately the entire universe. As long as any human being is not redeemed, no one human can be completely redeemed. However, I don't know how far that idea had been developed in Paul's era, so it was something that he may or may not have encountered. But it's probably apposite to quote his statement about how the whole creation groans and waits for redemption.
And if Simon bar Yohai really did write the Zohar, then Paul might have known some of the Kabbalistic teachings that transform redemption into a sort of wholesale reassemblage of the soul of the original Adam, with every human soul rather like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. But since Siman bar Yohai probably didn't write the Zohar, then Paul was about 12 centuries too early to hear that possibility :)
(But he might have known of another tradition that claims Adam's soul was reborn in David and will be reborn in the Messiah, as proved by the letters of his name (ADM).

Anonymous said...

How does the concept of faith (i.e., "faith in") as a GIFT fit in, Tobias?

It seems to me that EITHER you go down the primrose path of Double Predestination (you weren't given the Gift of Faith, because God always destined you for hellfire!) *OR* one concludes that the Gift of Faith-In must be optional for salvation (in the same way that tongues or prophecy or other charisms are).

When someone describes Christian Salvation (ala Luther) "Saved by Grace, through Faith", I think that the latter's only necessary to be able to SAY something like "I was saved by Grace, through Faith!"

Whereas the salvation part is due to Grace, and Grace alone! JMO.

the Reverend boy said...

Thank you. This helps explain things a bit further. I cannot entirely believe in universal salvation but I do certainly hope it's true! And yes, we should all be grateful that the part of that which we share is not our own doing God's. This is a great mystery as you said and I'm happy to have a chance to explore it.

Anonymous said...


These ideas are very much in sync with the writings and teachings of Luke Timothy Johnson, a professor at Emory University. His lecture on Galatians and the idea of pistis Christou really changed my thoughts on salvation. Are you familiar with his work?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Kishnevi. The rich flowering of Jewish mysticism has deep roots, and I think Paul was certainly foraging in the undergrowth. Wasn't it to Hillel, Paul's spiritual grandfather through Gamaliel, who taught that he who saves a single life saves an entire world? So that idea of the universality and interconnectedness of all living was around, at least purportedly.

JCF, I think we have to see the "faith in" as as much of a gift as the "faith of" -- all our life is a gift, and every gift is from God. God inspires both the will and the deed, in a prevenient way. Yes, the predestinationists take this too far, I think; I can't imagine God choosing ultimate destruction for any sentient being -- and am convinced of the persuasiveness of God's love; these two together tend towards a more complete salvation.

As I noted in my sermon yesterday, echoing Julian of Norwich: God is the source of our hunger as well as the means to satisfy it. And God does so abundantly, with many baskets of leftovers, so that none need go hungry...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I made use of LTJ's NT "survey" in seminary, and have read a few of his articles here and there. I like his approach very much, and it doesn't surprise me he has this take on Galatians. (Frankly, I don't think it makes much sense otherwise).

RB, Thanks for the note. Glad this is helpful...

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that etymologically, the Hebrew words for "save", "salvation", and "savior" all carry the root sense of "breadth" or "spaciousness" or "wide freedom from restriction". To quote one of my dictionaries: For a Jew, "salvation is enlargement" and is always seen as a corporate activity, never a personal experience.

It is interesting that the Greek moves slightly away from the "liberation" sense with (as you point out, Tobias) the basic idea of "healing". But even more important, the Greek (and present evangelical thought) tends to make it a much more personal, individualized matter.

I'm interested in some of the African tribal understandings of self-in-community where "I" refers to the community as a whole – where "How are you?" means "How is your entire family/tribe doing?"

I think a sigular corrective of the private "are-you-saved" thinking is the re-assertion of the corporate and communal dimension of single-predestination salvation.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Fr. J-J. This ties in well with the general geographical thinking in Jewish notions of salvation. It is "being delivered" and entry to the promised land. A real sense of being physically removed from danger to a safe place... and in the company of one's people.

Anonymous said...

Father Haller,

Just recently came across your blog. Praise God for your insight into the Scripture, and actually caring that seeking people come to faith in God in Christ.

It is sad, and beyond incredible to me that we actually have leaders in TEC who seem to have little concern for the conversion of those outside the church.

Even apart from any question of Heaven or Hell, surely a realization of our union with Jesus Christ is it's own reward.