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Faith of a mustard seed

by Barbara Woods-Washington

Barbara A. Woods-Washington

Barbara A. Woods-Washington

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins;  it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26) with 4 occurance of ‘pistis/faith’.

Again, the numbers ‘dikaiosune/RIGHTEOUSNESS’ used by Paul not less than 66 times in the Romans Letter.  (Yet again, righteous, just in all of their forms take root in this one and the same word).  This Letter remain ‘as it is written’— in the perfect tense: revealed past; revealed present; yet, revealed future.  Paul’s skillful use of Q&A— a tool for continuous probing into the mind and heart of Christendom— THE most ‘lawless’ of the great Religions of the world?

‘Misrepresentations’, ‘miseducations’ of transmitted Pauline theology.  In these our times of widespread, massive loss and despair, Kasemann is clear to me: In sharp antithesis to hopelessness is ‘righteousness of faith’— God’s right to his creation— revealed saving power.  This remains the truth of justification— a truth which transcends the individual and is directed toward a new world.  ‘o ek pisteos’ (the one with faith), HAS the source of the new life that relativizes all other conditions of existence.

Dodd expressed ’embarrassment’ that our language contributes to the ‘misrepresentations’, ‘miseducations’ of transmitted Pauline theology—  “there is no English verb corresponding to the adjective ‘just’, corresponding to the verb ‘justify’.  Sinful men need do nothing to secure their acquittal, for it is not on the ground of any merit, but by His grace; grace being the free, even arbitrary, favour of a sovereign.”

And then there is Gunther Bornhkamm, another of Bultmann’s students who is perhaps my favorite of the New Testament writing scholars.  His works are plain (my grandmother used to respond to preaching, saying “make it plain”), not just in content but in title— ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and ‘Paul’, both books of which I hold fast to.

In his work ‘Paul’, he examines first Paul’s ‘Life and Work’ and secondly, Paul’s ‘Gospel and Theology’.  Part Two’s 3rd chapter he entitled ‘The Saving Event’ in which the sub-section ‘The Righteousness of God’ is given attention.  After arguing that the righteousness of God and that of the believer are not two things, but one, he moves to say that righteousness is not to be regarded as a quality, (as the Greeks and Latins did in making it a cardinal virtue); making righteousness a ‘property’; of character.  The difference between the two he notes, “In the case of God the active voice is used: to pronounce righteous and thereby to make righteous; with man, on the other hand, it is the passive:”  God’s Righteousness is not subjective, he continues, but a genitive of origin.

Then comes this statement: “But the new and surprising element  in his (Paul’s) Gospel is that God the judge is not himself subject to an unchangeable norm greater than himself and inevitably determining his verdict.  He alone determines what righteousness and being righteous are.  Only because of this can Paul say that righteouness has been manifested “apart from law”— for man an impossible statement.  If man in his presumption puts himself outside the Law and oversteps its limits, the result is lawlessness, and he mut be brought to know that in reality he cannot thus excape from it; more than ever he needs to be made to feel it’s force.  God, however, is not the slave of his Law: the Law serves as his servant.  …There is no place here for a legal fiction, an “as if.”

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