Friday, June 17, 2005

Bruce Longenecker on "the righteous" and "the sinners"

I read following today and thought, firstly, that it is interesting and beautiful theology, and secondly, it is worth praising God for. Then I thought what the heck lets type it all out.

In Early Judaism, whereas “the righteous” signified those who were members of God’s covenant people, the term “sinners” was frequently a signifier for “those outside the boundaries of the covenant” – and who were, therefore, in some form of fundamental opposition to god and his ways. Notions as to who was to be numbered among “the righteous” and who among “the sinners,” however, varied from situation to situation, according to the needs of self-definition within particular groups.

For many, the category of those within the covenant was quite large and included most of the Jewish people, who were designated “the righteous.” They were distinguished from the sinners” – that is, from Gentiles and those Jews who had blatantly sinned by intentionally disregarding of scorning covenant obligations, thereby breaking out of the boundaries of the covenant people. For others such as the covenanters at Qumran, the category of “the righteous” was far more restricted, encompassing a much smaller number of Jews who thought that they alone had been faithful before God. In such a restricted understanding, the large majority of Jewish people wee looked on as having abandoned their covenant status thereby, joining the ranks of “the sinners” along with the Gentiles.

In this way, terms like “righteous” and “sinner” operated in Early Judaism in relation to particular convictions about covenant fidelity (see Dunn, “Pharisees, Sinners and Jesus”). And the same was true of Paul. Thus, for example, in Gal 2:15-17 he follows the same simple rules of covenant definition in referring to these diverse categories – although in this view the embodiment of covenant faithfulness is to be found neither in an ethnic people (i.e. Israel), not in a sub-group within that people (e.g., the covenanters in Qumran), but in a single individual: Jesus Christ. It is Christ’s covenant faithfulness alone that is the basis of relationship with God and the vehicle through which God’s covenant righteousness is creating a new sphere of existence, a “new creation.” For Paul, the consequence of restricting the boundaries of covenant faithfulness to a single individual is that all others find themselves to be “sinners.” And such a redefinition may very well be what Paul had in mind when he wrote in Gal 2:17: “If, seeking covenant relationship ‘in Christ’, we ourselves were found to be sinners…”

Bruce W. Longenecker, "Contours of Covenant Theology in the Post-Conversion Paul" in The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul's Conversion on his Life, Thought, and Ministry ed. Richard N. Longenecker. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997, pp.138-139

I am not sure about what he says about Gal 2:17, although i am not sure he is either. But (and I may be wrong, becuase I haven't thought very hard), but isn't that the Gospel summed up, and isn't it great?


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