Barclay-introduction on grace

John Barclay gave this lecture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

Don’t be put off by the short introduction being in Italian.  Barclay’s lecture is in English.  Of course, if you are Italian, you may be put off by the Barclay speaking English in Rome.

Before getting into Galatians and Romans, he introduces Paul’s thought and the theme of grace.  Paul’s thinking is about salvation.  Barclay makes four points about this Pauline notion of salvation.

First, the content of Paul’s doctrine of salvation is union with Christ.  Although salvation is over against things like sin, death, and slavery to the powers of this age; its content for Paul is participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Barclay sees development in this theme from 1 Thessalonians, where Paul just talks about being “with Christ” to much more developed discussions of sharing the cross and resurrection fate of Christ in the later letters.

Second, Paul develops the theme of salvation with a variety of metaphors.  These include metaphors drawn from economics, family and law.  Among these metaphors is that of justification.  Justification is a social and legal metaphor for being in a right relationship with God.  However, justification is just one of several metaphors whose content is union with Christ.  In other word, justification is subordinate to the larger concept of union or participation in Christ’s life.

Third,  we can’t treat union with Christ or redemption or justification as abstract theological concepts. They are part of a narrative framework that goes from creation through the election of Israel and on to the story of Jesus and the church.  They are part of a dynamic movement from the creation of the world to its consummation.

Finally, leading into the main subject of this lecture, the shape of salvation is grace. Grace is how it works.  Grace is not the content or one of the metaphors for salvation. It is the “distinctive pattern” of how God brings about salvation “without regard for worth”.

So the next thing will be to deal with the two letters, Galatians and Romans.

I do not really disagree with anything in Barclay’s introduction, although I wander if salvation could be replaced by consummation as the heart of Paul’s thinking. Salvation is often based on the idea of the Fall and how we can remedy the resulting situation. This puts Romans 5, with its Adam typology, at the center.  The subjection of creation to decay and the hope for a cosmological rebirth in Romans 8:19 ff. may be more central for Paul.  Union with Christ seems to me to fit better with a goal of universal consummation than simply setting right something that went wrong during the prehistory of the world.

We will see how, or if, Barclay deals with this.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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