Thursday, April 20, 2017

Threefold Gospel in Paul's Letters

Yung Suk Kim

I remember visiting a web page of the prominent Seminary in the U.S and found a brief mission statement of the school, which emphasizes the mission to spread "the gospel of Christ." I cannot say which Seminary I refer to, but actually many mainline seminaries include this kind of wording in their mission statements. Then, I wondered what that "gospel" really means to me, and how it is communicated to students and others. That is a huge task since two nouns of "the gospel and Christ" demand a thorough interpretation.

In addition, what I really lament about this primacy of "the gospel of Christ" is they usually do not articulate the gospel's relation to God; that is, "the gospel or good news of God" must be a starting point for mission, as both Jesus and Paul begin their ministry with this "gospel of God" (Mark 1:14 or in Rom 1:1). Even before we talk about the gospel of Christ, we should talk about the good news of God, which is none other than God's good news. God is the good news. God is righteous. God's righteousness is being revealed (Rom 1:16-17; 3:21-26). God is the center of Paul's theology. 

Now "the good news of God" was manifested through Christ's faith and his loving sacrifice at the risk of his life. This is another aspect of good news about Jesus. The good news is not that he died for you or instead of you but that he brought God's righteousness to the world. Therefore, Paul talks about the gospel of Christ in his letters (1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 9:13; Gal. 1:7; Phil. 1:27; 1 Thess. 3:2). Christ is the foundation of the church because he laid the foundation of love and faith. The church is being built not by the human commission or from any human authorities, but by the love that is shown by Jesus. 

Finally, this good news of God proclaimed by Jesus cannot become a reality of people unless they change a mind toward God or Jesus. That is metanoia in Greek, which is to change a mind, and also the Hebrew verb shub, which means to turn back to God. So Paul tried to spread this good news to all and asked them to trust God and Jesus. All people, Jew and Gentile, can become children of God through faith, which is to follow the way of God or to imitate Jesus. That is his gospel (Rom 2:16;16:25). Christians are a letter of Christ to others. They should be good news to them. Their good news is not by word only but by the power of the Spirit. Who can have this power? Paul answers in Rom 8: 13: "Those who put to death the deeds of the body."

This three-fold structure of Paul's gospel is clearly seen, if rightly understood, in Rom 3:22: "God's righteousness through Christ Jesus's faith for all who have faith."

We must bring God's good news, informed and exemplified by Jesus, through our life. We need three gospels: God's gospel, Jesus's gospel, and our own individual one. Each person must be the good news to others.

For this thesis of three participatory aspects of Paul's gospel, I wrote A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters) in 2011 and published several articles. I have a passion for Paul's gospel that includes God, Jesus, and Christians. Put differently, the gospel or good news must be thought of in terms of three aspects participation: God, Jesus, and Christians. Thus if we talk about the gospel at all, we should name three kinds of it: God's good news, Christ's good news, and our good news.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Jesus is better compared to Moses than to God in the Fourth Gospel

Yung Suk Kim

In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is better compared to Moses than to God. While in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus appears as a great teacher like Moses, in the Fourth Gospel, he appears as a great liberator/leader like Moses. Moses is sent to Pharoah like God (Exod 7:1; c.f., 3:10-11). His mission is to liberate the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. For this purpose, he is given power and authorities. He acted like God for God. Otherwise, he is thoroughly an emissary sent by God.

Interestingly, in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus almost always emphasizes, if anyone wonders about his identity or work, that he is sent by God to do the work of God, which is none other than to bring the life and light to people in a chaotic world. He is given power and authorities to do this mission. Otherwise, he never claims that he is equal to God. The opposite is true. He says that God is greater than he (John 14:28). At other times, he says that "The father and I are one" (John 10:30). What he means is that he does the work of God; they are united with the common work. This is not the language of mutual equality, as commonly misunderstood. If I say that my family is one, I do not mean that all members are the same or equal. I mean that all are united in a family, loving and working together. Jesus's relationship with God is similar.

The conclusion is that the Fourth Gospel does not portray Jesus as God. Rather, he is better compared to Moses, who is sent by God to Pharaoh to deliver the Israelites from their bondage to Egypt. Jesus is also sent by God to do God's work in a dark world: to bring life and light to the world that God loved so much. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who came to testify to the truth of God (John 18:37).

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Misunderstandings about Logos Theology or High Christology in the Fourth Gospel

Yung Suk Kim

Usually, the Fourth Gospel is called the Gospel of high Christology, which means that Jesus is God. So much so that the Johannine Prologue (1:1-18) is also read from that perspective of high Christology. That is, God became Jesus, quite literally (1:14: "The Logos became flesh"). The Logos (word) in the Prologue is equated with Jesus, who was with God from the beginning. Jesus is also the preexistent Logos. But this view of high Christology is not well supported by the text, as opposed to a common understanding. First, in John 1:1-13, the Logos does not refer to Jesus. While the Logos is God's word or wisdom or spirit in the Hebrew Bible, it is Reason in Greek philosophy. It may have to do with Jesus implicitly in these verses, but he is not clearly mentioned or explored therein. All things in those verses are about the Logos.

Second, finally, at John 1:14, readers come to think about the Logos and its relation to Jesus because 1:14a says: "The Logos became flesh and lived among us." But even here the meaning of the Logos becoming flesh is not self-evident because this sentence has a metaphoric statement, which must be understood metaphorically, not literally. Interestingly, 1:14a does not say that the Logos became Jesus, but flesh, which evokes the image of flesh as a concrete life in the world or of flesh as a vulnerable world. The point is that the invisible word of God (or the truth of God) became visible and touchable through flesh, which happened to be Jesus and his life. In this regard, Jesus incarnates the Logos; otherwise, these two are not the same. Jesus delivers God's word (17:1-14) and testifies to the truth of God (18:37).

Third, even in 1:14b ("we have seen his glory, the glory like or as of (hos) a father's only son, full of grace and truth"), the Logos is not equated with Jesus. We should take note of "hos" the particle of comparison, which means "like" or "as." John says that "his glory" (ten doxan autou, i.e., the glory of the Logos) is compared to the glory of a father's only son (doxan hos monogenous para patros). The glory of the Logos is seen in Jesus because the Logos is embodied through his life, full of grace and truth. Thus, John 1:14b is the language of comparison, not of equality. The Logos and Jesus are not the same.

I wrote a book on this topic of Christology and Logos: Truth, Testimony, and Transformation: A New Reading of the "I am" Sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pistis christou in Gal 2:16, 20, and Rom 3:22

Yung Suk Kim

Both the NRSV and NIV are united to mislead us about the translation of pistis christou in Gal 2:16, 20, and Rom 3:22. They treat this genitive phrase as an objective genitive. But this translation does not seem to fit Paul's thought and his gospel. In Gal 2:16, one's justification (not in the sense of imputed/imparted righteousness) means that he/she stands in a right/good relationship with God. Paul says that this right relationship with God is possible through Christ's faith (pistis christou). It is not by "faith in Jesus." In other words, if one lives by Christ's faith, he/she is in a good relationship with God. That is what justification (dikaiosyne) means by Paul. The similar idea of this is also found in Rom 1:17 (c.f., Hab 2:4): "The righteous one shall live by faith."

This righteous relationship with God is not by particular law, works, or any tradition, but through living in Christ or following his faith. In this light, justification is not made once and for all. It must be sought and lived out until the end.  

With this above understanding, Gal 2:16 is translated as follows: "yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through Jesus Christ's faith. And we have come to trust Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by Christ's faith, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law."

The importance of Jesus Christ's faith is further emphasized in Gal 2:20 in which Paul says that he wants to live by Jesus Christ's faith. This verse is also translated as follows: "and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Pistis christou is also important in Rom 3:22,  in which Paul summarizes his threefold gospel: God's righteousness, Christ's faith, and Christian participation in his faith.

See this blog for a difference between pistis christou and pistis en christo.

For more about this idea of faith, see this book below:

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pistis christou vs pistis en christo (Paul's letters)

Yung Suk Kim

It is a shame for Christians not to read Paul's important theological phrase pistis christou (a genitive phrase) as a subjective genitive, that is, Christ's faith. Paul emphatically says that it is Christ's faith through which God's righteousness has been revealed for all who have faith (Rom 3:22). It is not simply his death but his faith through which God's love is manifested. His death is the result of his faith. But oftentimes in Christian circle, there is no emphasis on Christ's faith in his humanly struggle and existential emptiness due to his work for God. He was a real human being, who prayed to God to avoid difficult paths before him: "Father, if possible, please remove this cup from me." But he submitted to God because he found there was no other choice but to continue his work, which is to proclaim the good news of God; for some, his work is a comforting, encouraging good news. For others, however, it is a sharp critique and challenge because he advocated for the poor and oppressed.

But most English Bibles, including the NRSV and NIV, translate pistis christou ("faith of Christ") in Rom 3:21-22 and Gal 2:16 as "faith in Christ," to support the doctrine of "justification by faith." This is very problematic because I don't think Paul means by believer's faith in Christ. If he had meant it, he would have used the preposition en instead of the genitive case, like "pistis en christo," which appears frequently in the Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral Letters: Col 1:4; 1 Tim 1:4; 3:13; 2 Tim 1:13; 3:15. In these later epistles, authors clearly mean believer's faith in Christ.

But in Paul's undisputed letters, he points to Christ's faith first and then believer's participation in his faith. In Rom 3:22, he says that God's righteousness comes through Christ's faith for all who have faith [in my book (see below), Rom 3:22 presents a snapshot of Paul's threefold gospel, which contains three elements of participation: God's righteousness, Christ's faith, and believer's faith]. Similarly, the righteous one shall live by faith (Rom 1:17; c.f., Hab 2:4). In Rom 3:26, Paul says that God justifies the one who has "faith of Jesus," which is Jesus's faith. Also, in Gal 2:20, he says he wants to live by Christ's faith (not "by faith in Christ") because Christ lives in him.

In 2011, I wrote A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters to check in with Paul's thought on the threefold gospel, in which I pointed out the importance of God's righteousness (not our righteousness), Christ's faith (not merely his death), and Christian participation in Jesus's faith (not merely salvific knowledge).

Friday, April 7, 2017

Gifts and fruit

We must tell people by fruit, not by gifts, which can be manipulated. Oftentimes more talented people ruin much of our civilized life. Gifts need responsibility and must be used properly in ways that help to bring more of life to everybody in a community. As Paul says, eventually, gifts pass away. The only thing that really matters is love. "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1).

Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Jesus means nothing unless ..."

Yung Suk Kim

Jesus means nothing unless there’s something worth to imitate. The name Jesus would be hollow if there is no work to discern to follow. He pointed his finger to God and did the work of God. But sometimes people look at his finger and worship him. That is an idol. Jesus would be nothing more than a shaman if there were no ethics or things to follow. We have to see what he did for God. He makes it clear about this in John 10:37-38:
If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.
Furthermore, Jesus also "said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free'" (John 8:31-32). 

A mere belief about him is naive. A mere name Jesus is hollow.