Rediscovering Paul, by Capes, Reeves, and Richards

A former college professor of mine, David Capes, coauthored a book on the apostle Paul entitled Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology.  While on vacation last week, I completed this wonderful introduction to the apostle’s letters and thought. 

Rediscovering Paul is a good introduction to Pauline theology and current Pauline issues.  The writing does not bind the reader with over-technical and scholarly-entrenched jargon.  The authors make a concerted effort to introduce us to Paul while not confusing and/or boring us in the process. 

The book is filled with helpful questions, illustrations, anecdotes, contemporary applications, all presented in an engaging writing style.  The authors cover Paul’s world and background (chapters 1-2), an approximate timeline of his life and ministry (chapter 3), his letters (chapters 5-9), his theological legacy (chapters 10-11), and his relevance for contemporary churches (chapter 12). 

Especially helpful is an 8-page glossary of terms such as amanuensis, diatribe, kerygma, quire, and soteriology–all of which are terms used in discussions of Paul’s writings.  For any reader of Pauline theology, coming across an obscure term can hinder effective reading.  A glossary like what is found at the end of this book is a great help. 

Though the book contains great strengths, the authors seem influenced by the New Perspective on Paul that calls into question certain Protestant convictions that were affirmed during the Reformation days of Luther and Calvin.  I was also unconvinced that “election” in the New Testament does not pertain to God’s choosing individuals.  Despite my few qualms with the book, Rediscovering Paul is a helpful read to the serious church member, the fresh seminary student, and even the inquiring unbeliever.  I am thankful for this book, and recommend it enthusiastically.  Happy reading. 

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The Faith of Ungodly Abraham

In order to show that sinners are justified by faith (and not by works), Paul presents Abraham as a model of saving faith.  In Romans 4:3 Paul quotes Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Then Romans 4:5 contains an interesting clause modifying “God”: who justifies the wicked

Let’s draw a conclusion from Romans 4:3 and 5.  If God justifies the wicked, and God justified Abraham, then Abraham was not justified because he was good.  Abraham was justified in spite of being ungodly himself.  Abraham, the man of obedient faith!  Abraham’s ungodliness would be shocking to Jewish readers of Romans.  Jews would not think that Abraham was ungodly or wicked.  But such a Jewish misunderstanding empowers Paul’s argument: if Abraham must be justified because he was wicked and not already righteous, how much more do all Jews and Gentiles need justification! 

Paul considers what would be true if Abraham was justified by his own works: “he had something to boast about” (Rom 4:2).  Since only God can be credited with saving the sinner, boasting is excluded.  Romans 3:28 affirms that “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”  So God prevents legitimate human boasting when it comes to salvation.  If a believer tries to boast in his own works as the basis for his justification, he is a fool.  It is sin to claim for oneself what belongs to God alone. 

I’m thankful that Abraham was ungodly, aren’t you?  Because God justifies the ungodly.  And since you and I are ungodly (Romans 3:9-11), we can be justified through humble faith in Jesus Christ.  We need to have the faith of ungodly Abraham. 

The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15 is the longest biblical treatment of the believers’ resurrection.  Paul describes Jesus as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  Those who have fallen asleep are Christians who have already died.  When the “firstfruits” of crops came in, they were a guarantee of more to come.  Paul means, then, that Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of more to come. 

The resurrection will happen when Jesus returns.  “Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (1 Cor 15:23).  Those who belong to Jesus are resurrected at His return.  When Jesus comes, He will hand the kingdom to His Father, because every enemy, authority, power, and dominion will have been defeated (1 Cor 15:24).  The Last Enemy is death, which will be overcome when the resurrection of believers occurs.  For believers, death is still an enemy, because Paul himself calls it an enemy.  The reason death is an enemy, even for believers, is because the bodies of dead believers are still bound by the cords of death.  But at the return of Christ, death will be defeated once for all, and bodies will be raised. 

The resurrected body will have both continuity and discontinuity with our present body.  First of all, the resurrected body will still be us, and will likely bear physical resemblances.  But there will be discontinuity as well.  For example, our present bodies get sick, bleed, bruise, break, age, and die.  But the resurrected body will be incorruptible, imperishable: it will never experience pain, it will never wear down, and it will never die. 

God gives bodies appropriate to the state of existence.  For example, God gives plants, animals, fish, and humans appropriate earthly bodies (1 Cor 15:37-39).  But God also gives the sun and stars the splendor and glory of a heavenly body, in a heavenly realm (1 Cor 15:40-41).  God is able to provide humans earthly bodies appropriate for a worldly existence in this life, and God is able to provide glorified bodies for a transformed, renewed existence in the life to come (1 Cor 15:42). 

The reason the fullness of God’s kingdom must be inhabited by saints with resurrected bodies is: perishable flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50).  The nature and make-up of our present bodies are inappropriate for existence in God’s new world.  So God will resurrect believers to inhabit the consummation of His kingdom. 

God will accomplish the resurrection of believers by His mighty power.  Instantaneously, His mighty power will effect the change of corruptible bodies to incorruptible bodies (1 Cor 15:50-52).  The perishable will be clothed with imperishable, like putting on a new garment (1 Cor 15:53-54). 

Let’s sum up the doctrine of the resurrection by answering 6 basic questions from 1 Corinthians 15.  “Who?”  Believers.  “What?”  They will be raised.  “When?”  At Christ’s return.  “Where?”  At the renewal of all things, on God’s new world.  “Why?”  Because our present bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God.  Therefore the perishable must be clothed with imperishable.  “How?”  By the power of God, which will overthrow the Last Enemy, death. 

The Most Important Paragraph in the Bible? Part 8

Romans 3:26 is amazing.  It explains why God set forth Jesus as a propitiation (a wrath-satisfying substitute for sin).  The Father did it to “demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” 

It is important to God that He proves His righteous character before sinners who may accuse Him of passing over sin due to apathy or dispassion.  In the cross, God says, “I do care about sin.  Behold my Son who bears my wrath for the sin of the world.”  In the cross, God says, “See my justice.  See my righteous Name upheld.”  In the cross, God says, “Look at the agony, look at the pain, look at the blood.  This death is the price for redemption from sin.” 

At the death of Jesus, God showed himself as “just” and “the one who justifies.”  What does this mean?  First, God is always in the right.  He shows His “righteous character” by pouring His wrath on His Son who bore the world’s sin.  Second, God shows grace to sinners by declaring “righteous” those “who have faith in Jesus.”  Marvel at this truth: because of the death of His Son, God can show mercy while never compromising His righteousness; God can justify sinners while never compromising His justice. 

One other comment about “the most important paragraph in the Bible.”  God “justifies those who have faith in Jesus,” because faith is the requirement for justification.  God declares sinners righteous when they humbly trust the Father’s saving, sufficient, substitutionary work in the death of His Son. 

After studying Romans 3:21-26, I understand why Martin Luther called this the most important paragraph in the Bible.  Is there another passage of only six verses where so many deep and powerful doctrines and truths are held together in such close proximity?  What a precious passage.  What a precious truth: Our saving God is both righteous and full of mercy.