Thursday, April 20, 2017

Threefold Gospel in Paul's Letters

Yung Suk Kim

I remember visiting the web page of the prominent Seminary in the U.S and found a brief mission statement of the school that emphasizes the mission of spreading "the gospel of Christ." Many mainline seminaries include this kind of wording in their mission statements. Then I wondered what that "gospel" really means and how it is communicated to students. But in fact, the gospel relates to God first; that is, "the gospel or good news of God" must be a starting point for the 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 faithfulness. 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 for 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.  

For more about this thesis of three participatory aspects of Paul's gospel, read A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Misunderstandings about Logos Theology

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.

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 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).

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.

Monday, April 3, 2017

10 Rules of Biblical Interpretation

Yung Suk Kim

1. Don’t say that the Bible says. Strictly speaking, the Bible does not say or speak to you. Even if it says, it speaks more than one thing. The Bible is not a single book. Bible derives from the Greek word biblia, which means “books.”

2. Texts don’t mean, but we mean with them. Both text and reader are important.

3. Know the historical and literary context of a text. No context, no meaning!

4. Even before reading the Bible, know who you are and what you are up to. Reading is a critically informed conversation.

5. Be aware of the diversity of interpretation, but know there is also a boundary of a text.

6. Do not put God into a box. God is more than or beyond the Bible.

7. Your Bible is a translation, which is imperfect. Know biblical languages and translate texts properly.

8. Do not fix the meaning of a text, but open your mind and heart toward a new voice or insight. 
Sometimes, the problem is we know too much about the Bible.

9. Name oppressive or abusive texts or interpretation. Nothing in the text is taken for granted. 

10. Read texts closely and raise many reader-response questions.

*For more about biblical interpretation, see Biblical Interpretation: Theory, Process, and Criteria (Pickwick, 2013).

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Charity ends, but love (agape) never ends

Yung Suk Kim

My colleague, Dr. Boykin Sanders, here at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, gave a powerful sermon this morning at the regular chapel of the school. The title of his sermon was "Charity or love." I was greatly touched by his passionate and critical reading of the Corinthian text. I write my own reflection in the following.

          Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor 13 that love never ends. True love is based on the need of others. It is other-centered love and action. It is an expression of love for God and others. It is a humbling attitude that no one can live without others. But this other-centered love does not simply mean that one must sacrifice himself/herself for others. The love must be authentic and voluntary. There must be a good balance between the following three loves: "love of the self, love of neighbor, and love of God."

          While love does not end, charity ends. It is often not an expression of true love. It may be selfish love. It may be a way out of personal guilt. A giver may feel good about it and expects others to be like him/her. In addition, charity often works with binary constructions between the haves and the have-nots, between the rich and the poor, between the poor and not-so-poor, and between the abled and the disabled. Here people ask questions like "who is my neighbor?" or "who is worthy to be loved?" But love breaks down all these binary constructions and asks the issue of justice for all. It is like the justice found in the parable of the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). God's vineyard needs full employment and adequate pay for all.

          Gifted people such as those who speak in the tongues or prophesy or have charity organizations may fall into the trap of self-promotion. That is why Paul wants to show "a more excellent way," which is agape. Before doing anything or giving anything, one needs to check his/her motivations.

"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of the angels, but do not have love (agape), I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1).