Monday, June 11, 2007

God's Elusive Judgment

Most people voted yes in yesterday's poll which asked:
Did Paul believe that God would judge the elect?

Yes. Paul believed that God would judge both the righteous and the wicked. Christians were guaranteed salvation, but they might still be punished for bad deeds.

No. Paul believed that God would judge only the wicked. Christians would appear before God at the judgment and give an account of themselves, but would be waved through after receiving their reward.
I kept the poll open for about 24 hours, and 25 readers voted.

17 (68%) voted yes.
8 (32%) voted no.

I'm in the minority with the nay-sayers but with a qualification.

Of the key texts in question, I Cor 3:10-15 makes the strongest case for "yes". As an anonymous commenter mentioned, Paul speaks of those being "saved, but only as through fire". However, as an offline correspondent pointed out, this passage is really about church founders, not believers in general. Paul was saying that churches founded by rival apostles leave much to be desired, and are subject to judgment. The "builders" of these churches may be saved in the end, but will suffer serious punishment ("through fire") for leading others astray. Paul apparently held pastors like himself to a higher standard than lay believers who would not be judged.

For, as I mentioned in the first post (following Philip Esler), Rom 8:33-34 implies that no charge will be brought against God's elect. Once we appreciate what Paul meant by "righteousness", this is easy to understand. Righteousness was a form of ascribed honor, or privileged/blessed identity. It had nothing to do with forensic/declaratory categories, nor behavioral/ethical ones. The righteous were acceptable to God, period. Their righteousness was gifted to them not because they'd done anything to deserve it, but because God had chosen them (Rom 4, 9). They would not be charged at the judgment: they would give an account of themselves, and then be waved on after receiving their reward. For better or worse, that seems to be what Paul believed.

It was competition and rivalry which brought out nuance in Paul's theology of the judgment -- much as we might expect of a Mediterranean macho man. His belief that God would (naturally) not judge the elect whom He had righteoused was tempered by growing convictions that the deity might very well make certain apostles "pay the price" for misleading people in ways that were not pleasing to Paul.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

<< However, as an offline correspondent pointed out, this passage is really about church founders, not believers in general. Paul was saying that churches founded by rival apostles leave much to be desired, and are subject to judgment. The "builders" of these churches may be saved in the end, but will suffer serious punishment ("through fire") for leading others astray.>>

Hello Loren,

I don't know, maybe I missing something. But it appears to me that Paul is not directing his criticisms at Apollos or Cephas or the other apostles. He's reprimanding the Christians at Corinth for building strife and division upon the foundations that have been laid for them.

If anything, I'm more inclined to see this as a criticism of the Church leaders at Corinth -- if there were any -- than as a slap at Apollos or Peter or the other Church founders.

Regards,
John McBryde

6/12/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Hi John. My working assumption is that Paul would apply the judgment of I Cor 3:10-15 to any kind of church leadership, even if Corinthian teachers are immediately in view here. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to learn that he thought Peter would be saved "through fire" after the Antioch incident.

6/12/2007  
Blogger The Mom With Brownies (The story of us) said...

Couple that with John 3:16 "...That whosoever should believe in Him shall be saved." and we have a very clear view that believers (followers of Christ) will be saved..not judged.

Shelly

6/12/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Loren,

I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that your working assumption is causing you to read things into the text. I don't see anything in 1 Cor. 3 that reflects negatively on Apollos or Cephas or any of the other apostles/founders. If anything, Paul is claiming them as his partners in God's work.

You may be able to make your case concerning Paul's negative opinion of the others. But I don't think you can do it using 1Cor. Chapter 3.

Regards,
John

6/12/2007  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

In 1 Cor 3:6,8 Paul says, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. ... 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work as one, but each will receive his reward according to his (own) work." Thus, even though Paul and Apollos are partners, they are still individually accountable for their own work.

Then Paul switches metaphors and reiterates: "... like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, but someone else (ἄλλος) builds on it. And each one must be careful how he builds" (v.10) In Corinth, the singular "someone else" is Apollos.

Paul then explains that he has nothing to worry about because the foundation he lays is Jesus Christ (v. 10), but warns that anyone building on his work will have their work tested by fire (v.13). Again, in Corinth, the one building on Paul's foundation is Apollos.

Because Paul's foundation is Jesus Christ, the dissention at Corinth can only reflect poorly on the building of Apollos.

6/12/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Stephen,

Thank you for taking the time to weight in and give your opinion. It goes without saying, that your views -- and Loren's -- should be carefully considered.

However, I still have some doubts and a few questions.

I might be more inclined to follow your line of reasoning, if it could be shown that Apollos was actually in Corinth and presiding over the Church at the time Paul wrote. But apparently he was no longer in Corinth and hadn't been there for quite some time. So I fail to see why he should be blamed for what was occurring in his absence. Anymore than Paul should.

Nor was Apollos the only one around whom factions where forming. As we see early on in the Epistle.

-- For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren.
What I mean is that each one of you says, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? -- 1 Cor 1:11 -13

As we move into Chapter 3, Paul is reprimanding the Corinthians for being carnal and immature. And for causing strife and divisions. He starts using Apollos and himself as examples:

-- For when one says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely men?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. -- 1 Cor 3:4 - 8

Which brings us to:

-- According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. -- 1 Cor 3:10


Here is where you say that Paul is referring to Apollos. At this point, I still not so sure. (1) Because Apollos wasn't even in Corinth at the time. And (2) because I'm inclined to think that Paul is making an indirect reference to the "arrogant ones" who make their appearance in Chapter 4.


-- Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. -- 1 Cor 4:18 - 20

Paul also mention how he has used Apollos and himself as a teaching example:

-- I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. -- 1 Cor 4:6


Paul then goes on to answer what appear to have been some questions he has received and at points, to defend his rights as an Apostle.

So I'm still left with a few questions.

From your knowledge of Greek; can you say definitively that the phrase translated "and another man" in 1 Cor 3:10, must and can only be referring to Apollos?

If that is the case and Paul apparently hold Apollos in such a negative light. How would you explain Paul's continuing confidence in Apollos as evidenced in:

-- When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am ... As for our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brethren, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity. -- 1 Cor 16:10+12 ?

Finally, do you also hold to the opinion that started this thread. That Paul viewed the majority of the apostles and church founders in a negative light?

Anyway, I would like to thank you for your time and you expertise. And I look forward to you reply.

Regards,
John

Ps. I apologize for any sloppiness. I'm in a bit of a hurry, as work is about to begin.

6/13/2007  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

Thanks John for your comments. I'll try to concisely respond to them.

Apollos is open to blame because people in Corinth are claiming to belong to him (1 Cor 1:12, 3:4). Not just in honor-shame cultures but especially so in them, leaders are always accountable for the public behavior of their followers. Apollos does not have to be there to be responsible for the behavior of those that claim to be with him.

I'm concerned that the phrasing "must and can only be referring to" sets up an unreasonable standard in exegesis. Not even criminal law has such a tough burden of proof. I can say however, that Paul's diction, using the singular ἄλλος, and his practice of employing multiple metaphors to reiterate the same concept, make the reference to Apollos more superior than your proposed alternative. If Paul meant what you proposed, I'd expect him to phrase it different, such as with a plural. (In 3:11-15 Paul does generalize his teaching to all church builders, but Apollos is still in focus here and definitely not excluded.)

I also don't think that Paul is even willing to concede that the "arrogant ones" (as you put it) would have the status of being builders of a church. There's nothing explicit in the text that gives them that status, but, on the other hand, there's 1 Cor 3:1-3, which says "So, brothers, I could not speak to you as spiritual but as carnal, as infants in Christ. ... In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still carnal."

I don't see how 1 Cor 16:12 is particularly positive of Apollos. In fact, Apollos almost seems petulant here.

As for your final question, I think that Paul would view any apostle in a negative light who did not build a foundation upon Jesus Christ but on something else (like circumcision or other works of the law). I don't know how many they were or whether they would be a majority, but we know Paul struggled with Peter, even denouncing him for hypocrisy in Gal 2:11-14. Let's not minimize the difficulties Paul said he had.

6/13/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Stephen,

Thank you for your time and your input. While I'm tempted to add a few comments, I think we've probably run the course, especially in this format.

At the end of the day; I don't think there's enough evidence in the text, to come to the conclusions that you and Loren come to. But that's just my humble opinion. I also wonder if your honor /shame construct is coloring the way you read the text. And to what degree that coloring is
warranted. Is it just the latest fashion, like so many others before it? Or will it stand the test of time?

We will see.

I will continue to mull it over and keep an open mind. And who knows ...

Thanks again.

Regards,
John

Ps. My apologizes, there is one thing I'm curious about. You wrote:

"Apollos is open to blame because people in Corinth are claiming to belong to him (1 Cor 1:12, 3:4). Not just in honor-shame cultures but especially so in them, leaders are always accountable for the public behavior of their followers. Apollos does not have to be there to be responsible for the behavior of those that claim to be with him."

They were also claiming to belong to Cephas and Paul, not to mention Christ. So why doesn't the same standard apply to Peter and Paul? Especially in Paul's case, he was the real founder and leader of the Corinthian Church. Not Apollos.

We don't even know how long Apollos was there, or how long he had been away. Do we know if he was really a leader in Corinth? Or was he an itinerate preacher who past through, watered Paul's plant for a while, and then moved on? Not knowing that a faction had formed behind him?

Do we know if Peter was ever there? Or maybe emissaries from Peter? Why were factions gathering around him? And is he to blame, too?

There is too much here we don't really know. And I tend not to like extrapolations built on uncertainty.

6/13/2007  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

Well, the same standard would have applied to Paul and, specifically, the behavior of his people would have reflected upon Paul. Nevertheless, Paul's position is that the foundation he laid is Jesus Christ (3:10-11), so he's saying he's not worried about how his own work will be judged.

6/13/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

I also wonder if your honor /shame construct is coloring the way you read the text. And to what degree that coloring is warranted. Is it just the latest fashion, like so many others before it? Or will it stand the test of time?

John, the construct is anything but an academic fad. Honor-shame codes are real and verifiable. That superiors/leaders in these cultures are held accountable for the behavior of their subordinates/followers can't be understated. (See, for instance, the parable of the so-called Dishonest Steward, where failing to understand this renders the parable meaningless.)

6/14/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

<< John, the construct is anything but an academic fad. Honor-shame codes are real and verifiable. >>

Hello Loren,

I'm not disputing that. What I'm questioning is how useful it is for interpreting any given text. I would imagine that in some cases it's very useful. However, I also think that its use can lead people to see things, that aren't really there.

So, it's not its reality that has to stand the test of time. It's the degree of its applicability, in any given circumstance.

Thanks guys,

Regards,
John

6/14/2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home