In Rom. 1.16 the Apostle Paul writes that the gospel (το ευαγγελιον), which he has already mentioned three times in the letter already (1.1, 9, 15), is the “power of God for salvation” for anyone who believes. The gospel itself is not salvation, but it does provide the means (something he unpacks in the context surrounding 10.14-17).
In the gospel the righteousness of God (a often debate phrase) is revealed. In v. 17 for those who believe (just mentioned) there is a connection with justification (an often debate soteriological concept). In gist we get the idea that those who hear and respond in faithfulness to the gospel will be vindicated by God on the day of judgment. At least that is how the overarching context of the epistle leads me to read it.
I like vv. 16-17. It is v. 18 that has caused me trouble. In v. 17 Paul writes that in the gospel (εν αυτω, “in it”) the righteousness of God is revealed. The word for “revealed” is αποκαλυπτεται. This is the word from which we derive “apocalypse”. It is a cataclysmic unveiling of truth which the gospel brings and it tells us of God’s righteousness. This is positive for those who believe.
That is not all it seems to reveal. In v. 18 Paul says that “the wrath of God” has also been “revealed” (αποκαλυπτεται) just like the “righteousness of God”. This wrath is against ungodly people who suppress the truth in “unrighteousness”. This is explained in vv. 19-21 as people knowing God–especially his eternal power and divinity–as being self-evident yet rejected by humans from the beginning. Since humans reject God they are now corrupt inside-out.
It seems to me that Paul is saying the gospel has two-fold implications: (1) For those who believe/have faith it reveals God’s righteousness and this person will live (1.17) and (2) for those who reject the knowledge of God the gospel is a “revealing” of God’s wrath which we see in this epistle results in God’s judgment and we may assume the anti-thesis to life which is death.
Does the gospel declare wrath as well as hope? Is it a message for salvation, but also a message to evil doers that judgment is coming? Do you read it this way? If so, how do you see the gospel revealing the wrath of God as well as the righteousness of God?
It reminds me of what Paul says in 2 Cor. 2:12-17:
12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.
Paul frames the statement “aroma that brings life…death” by the phrases “the gospel” in verse 12 and “word of God” in verse 17, which appear to be synonyms for Paul’s gospel ministry.
@Bryan: Yes, that is a great connection! I had not thought of it. And it seems to unpack the death-life juxtaposition of the gospel in a way that is hinted in Rom. 1.16-21.
This is exactly what “Scottish Theologians” (Evangelical Calvinists) about the Gospel; here’s how TF Torrance describes this line of thought in regards to James Fraser of Brea (Scottish theologian from the 17th cent):
Of course the passage of scripture being dealt with is II Cor 2, but still Pauline. I think what you’re getting at with Paul in Romans has implications for how someone’s view of election might be shaped; i.e. that election/reprobation is grounded in Christ (II Cor 8.9) — this could be called a ‘Christ-conditioned’ view of election 🙂 — and that all of creation is now reoriented to Him (and for people that’s either through Gospel-life or Gospel-wrath [which is what some Scots of old called it]).
*. . . thought about the Gospel.
@Bobby: Excellent quote (maybe I will warm to Torrance)! I do think that is what Paul is saying in essence. I wonder for Paul, and maybe you can give me insight into Torrance, et al., what this means for those who never hear the gospel? Is there a sense in which they are excluded to a different unknowable category or do you see them as rejecting the gospel/Christ another way?
That’s always “the” question. I really don’t know how to respond to that one when it’s asked except to appeal to “who” God is as love and who is both merciful and gracious towards us. I am not a “universalist,” which would certainly be the easy way out on that question; maybe we the answer is that we simply need to “go” (great commission stuff). And I’m also not averse to the idea that God has other “messengers” that have been said to have shown up to certain “tribal” people with the Gospel.
But I would say, that all of humanity is now oriented to God in Christ; since, picking up on another Pauline passage (Col. 1), Jesus is supreme over both death and life; and is the firstborn of creation (recreation/resurrection), which again fits into the theme that you’re hitting on with your Romans exegesis — which to me is very exciting stuff (good news! 🙂 ).
One more point, it seems like what’s lurking behind the question that you asked has to do with God’s “fairness,” or equity; again, I would just appeal to who we know He is in Christ — and just become comfortable with the tension and idea that “many” will not bow the knee to Him through the Gospel, except as their judge for rejecting the Gospel (so wrath) . . . which almost too much to contemplate (I hate thinking about the fact that folks are already experiencing “Gospel-wrath” both here and in eternity 😦 ).
And that there are those in our own neighborhoods who have not truly heard the Gospel, which to me means that we’d better get busy. I think we have at least a “stewardship” (as Paul says I believe in I Cor 9) to proclaim the Gospel; and that’s really the direction the answer to your question goes (towards those who are supposed to be ambassadors for Christ).
@Bobby: There is an aspect of “fairness/equality”. That is part of my thought, but I am also wondering more specifically about Paul’s thoughts here. If the gospel is the message of “God’s kingdom is coming. The faithful will be vindicated, the sinful will see wrath” then it by default raises the question whether or not those who heard were already condemned and they just did not hear and therefore when the gospel announces wrath it doesn’t change anything, per se, but merely informs or does hearing the gospel and rejecting it actually equate to the gospel functioning as the cause of God’s wrath? Does that question make sense?
Oh, I see better what you’re saying, Brian. More of an issue of “causation.” Now we’re really starting to tread on Calvinist/Arminian questions 😉 . . . even though I know you’re trying to keep this an issue of Paul’s categories (which I really appreciate!). It does seem like we’ll have to engage in working out the “inner-logic” of things, since I don’t think straightforward exegesis will really deal but with (as our friend Barth says) issues of the Text’s “outer-logic.” I.e. which really will leave us in a place that is able to describe and notice the “depth” that the Text is begging for us to answer (so deal with the “inner-logic”). All of that to say, I don’t know. I do think that the Gospel has the effect on those who receive it (or Him) to believe; but why it then has the opposite effect on those who remain in unbelief, to me, remains a mystery. It really seems like the Gospel for Paul emphasizes or presupposes the positive aspect of Revealing/Reconciling (cf. II Cor 5) vs. getting into issues of negation and unbelief (or why people stay in their sins to use a Johannine phraseology). So there seems to be an asymmetry between those who believe and their response (we know why they respond, because they have the Holy Spirit cf. I Cor 12.3), and those who disbelieve and make that their response. This is a good question though, Brian; something worth thinking about more.
I guess, sorry for getting so long-winded, I would say the cause of God’s-wrath needs to be grounded in His holiness vs. grounding it in the response someone has to the Gospel (and also at the same time saying that somehow embedded in the Gospel there is some sort of secondary cause that “creates” a space for wrath or something in the unbeliever). So the cause of God’s wrath, technically, I would say, needs to always somehow be cruciformed in shape so that we see it orbiting around or from what Jesus did on the cross. But now I’m going outside of the bounds that Paul can be taken (at least per the “outer-logic” that his communique in Romans or in his corpus probably provides — as far as explicitly discussing the issues that I think your questions might be pressing [which might go deeper than Paul explicitly allows]). I wonder if anything I just said makes sense 🙂 ?
@Bobby: It is indeed difficult to ask whether or not Paul gives an answer to something he does not seem to address explicitly (or he presupposes something he did not share with us).
I do think your point about God’s holiness being the basis of wrath is important. Do you think this indicates that God’s wrath is already there because of his holiness and therefore rejection of the gospel doesn’t bring God’s wrath, but rather it does not relinquish it? In other words, we are already condemned whether or not we reject the gospel, but accepting the gospel is the freedom from that condemnation?
Of course, when I think of Paul as a royal herald (an apostle) of the King (Jesus, the Messiah), my mind does go to Ps. 2 where God’s wrath does seem to be the result of rejecting his installed King. So in some sense it would appear that Paul may have seen rejection of the gospel as something that incurs God’s wrath, not just our pre-hearing wickedness.
Brian, as to your question it is interesting to think of “good news” as entailing a message of wrath as well as hope isn’t it? But I think, yes, an element of the gospel is that the wrath of God will wipe out all ungodliness, wickedness and evil, oppression, injustice and so on. That should indeed be good news, should it not?
@Brian F: That is very good point. For those who claim allegiance to Christ, we do indeed await such justice. It is not hard to think of someone like Hitler as deserving, but I guess the gospel confronts us with the fact that the evils that we don’t “hate” are still hated by God, and in need of judgment.
On your second paragraph: I think I might want to reframe that and say that because of the cross we’re already made “free” (objectively) through Christ’s choice for us (e.g. to become man); so in a sense there is universal salvation — and so the fact that some stay in the spot of “death” “wrath” or “having their minds blinded to the light of the Gospel” can only be relegated to a place of mystery; given the fact that Jesus has just come and “recreated” (Col 1) “reconciled” (II Cor 5) to Himself. So maybe we start out — now, objectively — in Christ, and the reason that people don’t subjectively recognize the “freedom” they actually have can only be relegated to the inscrutable nature of sin.
I need to think more about your point on Ps 2. I don’t think though that God’s response there though should be thought of through a kind of dualistic lense; but that we should still see that as framed through His cruciform shape. In other words, I think my main concern would just be to make sure than any response God has is first mediated through or grounded in Christ. So that’s a bit of a theological read 🙂 .
Lots of interesting discussion here, but in response to the post itself…
Two words come to mind – mercy and grace. Christians today love to talk about grace. Grace is when you get good things you don’t deserve. Biblical grace is ultimately about obtaining eternal life in the company of our Savior. Mercy, on the other hand… Mercy isn’t so popular. Mercy is when you don’t get what you do deserve. Humanity is corrupt. Humanity deserves to be wiped out. If you say you are without sin, you lie.
Between grace and mercy lies justice. Justice is a terrible thing. That’s why Paul spent so much ink speaking (seemingly) against the law. He said things like, “for you are no longer under the law, but under grace,” and things like that. He also said, “the law is perfect.” The problem with the law is also the great thing about the law – it is perfect… and it defines justice. We cannot be saved by justice. We are condemned by justice. We do not want justice, yet God is just. Oops. Justice is a problem and God is just? Yeah. … and then there was mercy and grace.
The gospel is both wrath and hope. What is mercy if there is nothing from which mercy is required? What is grace if there is not something better in which to hope? If not for mercy it would be the lake of sulfur for the lot of us. If not for grace there would be no mansion of many rooms to hope for. Christianity has done itself great harm by discarding what it doesn’t like. The same could be said of several other things Christians don’t like, but you’ve mentioned a big one – and I’m thankful to have this venue in which to say so. Bless you.
@Bobby: It seems to me that Paul maintains Christ as the center, as in places like Rom. 1.1-7 he seems to see Ps. 2 as fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection. His apostolic proclamation seems to function much like the Ps. 2 proclamation: The King is installed, submit or be at odds with God.
It may be that Christ’s death wiped the slate clean (I think you may be saying something like that, but I am open to qualification) and now our issue is not our former injustices as much as it is whether or not we submit to his son, the Messiah. That still leave me with some questions about how that works (e.g. pagans before the cross; those who do not hear the gospel announcement of Jesus’ inauguration as King). I have reformatted the question here: https://nearemmaus.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/the-gospel-as-the-aroma-of-life-and-death-2-corinthians-2-12-17/
@Lance: A lot of what you said makes a lot of good sense! It is true that we have no framework for grace/mercy without wrath/judgment from which to be saved. It does seem much of what Christianity proclaims has a lot of the first grouping but little of the second. The hearer isn’t sure from what they are being saved.
I concur, seeing the theme of God’s judgment as an apocalypse is sustained throughout chap. 2 as well. In fact, 2:16 is unmistakable in all this.
@TC: Excellent observation. Paul says “my gospel” declares this. He must have seen it as common to his gospel proclamation to present either/or, life/death.
Yeah, I just read your follow-up post – tough questions too! 😉
I think Paul’s intends that our understanding of wrath has to do with the Hebrew understanding of the “Day of the Lord” which was considered to be the day of “Wrath” Which comes into my premise that here Paul is speaking to the the Jewish hearers who would have been astounded that the Gentiles were included in God’s plan of salvation.
In effect Paul is telling his Jewish hearers that if they suppress the Truth of Christ… then God’s Wrath is upon them….
@Craig: This may be the case. I tend to see it as a bit broader because I see the remaining part of chapter one as addressing humanities reenactment of the Adamic rebellion. If this is the case both Jews and Gentiles are addressed here.
Comments are closed.