In Romans 2:15 and 9:1 Paul speaks of the conscience bearing witness/testifying on behalf of someone. These phrases are:
(2:15) συμμαρτυρούσης αὐτῶν τῆς συνειδήσεως
“their conscience bearing witness”
(9:1) συμμαρτυρούσης μοι τῆς συνειδήσεώς
“my conscience bearing witness”
The first reference is found in the context of pagans who do not have the Law doing those things required by Law instinctively. The second reference is Paul preparing to inform his readers that he would be anathema from Christ if it would result in the reconciliation of his kinsmen to Christ (ηὐχόμην γὰρ ἀνάθεμα εἶναι αὐτὸς ἐγὼ⸃ ἀπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ).
In 2:13-15 some have read this as Paul alluding to some sort of “natural law,” and this may be true, but there is an echo of Jeremiah 31:31-33 that shouldn’t be overlooked. In Jeremiah 31 the prophet speaks of a time when the New Covenant will be written on the hearts of the people. It seems to me that Paul is proposing that some non-Jews might be entering the New Covenant, where the Law is written on their hearts, and therefore the old badges of the Covenant, like circumcision, do not function to include or exclude people.
We know that Paul connects the Spirit will the New Covenant in this epistle and others. Passages like Joel 2:28-32 provided helpful language for describing how the Spirit would make new people, the sort of people who do not need a Law written on stone, but one written on a heart (e.g., Ezekiel 36:26). I think it is fair to assume that Paul has the Spirit in view in 2:13-15, even if the Spirit is not mentioned specifically.
The Spirit is mentioned in 9:1. The Spirit testifies with Paul that what he is about to say is not a lie. This leads me to connect these passages: Paul presents one’s conscience as bearing witness. In 2:15 the final verdict is not given: the thoughts of a person accusing or defending them in anticipation of the day when God will judge through Jesus (v. 16). If the Spirit is “present” in this scenario, though the verdict isn’t given by Paul, one might suggest that it can be known. These pagans will receive a favorable verdict. Similarly, Paul is confident that his conscious will be vindicated as he testifies in the Holy Spirit.
I haven’t explored further conceptual connections, but I do find this one interesting.
Immediately prior to [Rom 2:15] is [Rom 2:14] which says:
“ὅταν γὰρ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν οὗτοι νόμον μὴ ἔχοντες ἑαυτοῖς εἰσιν νόμος”
Therefore it is an assumption the context of [Rom 2:15] is ‘pagans’. Context is important. More precisely from “ὅταν γὰρ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου” we see the verse is the ‘nations which have not the law’. Yes this could be ‘pagans’, but not necessarily. It could also be the transplanted paganized nations of the House of Israel.
That there is even some doubt makes for a good exercise in exegesis. It is important theologically, and as said already ‘context is important’.
So what is the point is Paul making? Is it a universal one? We see from [Rom 2:9] is is not a universal one, but a contrast between two groups ‘Judeans’ and ‘Greeks’ (Ἕλλην). Why is he being so selective like this given that he uses a universal word for ‘pagans’ (βάρβαρος) in [Rom 1:14] in contrast to these same Greeks (Ἕλλην).
I suppose we could not question our presuppositions with Paul’s words, but then we’d not be understanding what was intended to be understood. The fact Paul differentiates between pagans (βάρβαρος) and Greeks (Ἕλλην), and Greeks and Judeans (Ἰουδαῖο) means it’s important to what he’s trying to say.
Since this ultimately explains how Paul understands the ‘New Covenant’ (see [Hebrews 8:8]) we might want to investigate further.
Further evidence Paul treats the ‘Greeks’ (Ἕλλην) as a unique identifiable group (unto itself) can be found in [Col 3:11]. Even though Paul is making a universal argument about the nature of man’s relationship to creation and renewed creation, Paul’s comparison nevertheless contrasts two other groups as he draws the comparison. He further breaks down the division between one group (Jew and Greek; circumcised and uncircumcised) and another group (Barbarian, Scythian; bond and free).
This shows that as he speaks about ‘Jews and Greeks’ he is doing so in the context of some type of relationship.
With respect to non-Israelites entering into the Abrahamic promise that — it is not [Jeremiah 31:31-33] that suggests this. Clearly [Jer 31:31-33] is about the removal of the division between the “house of Israel and the “house of Judah“. It says so.
Rather the belief that pagans can enter into a promise, first made to Christ ([Col 1:15-20]), then later made to His kingdom (templated upon Christ) [Exo 19:6][Rev 1:6] is found in [Isa 56:3-6].
However these pagans that do enter into the Abrahamic promise must first join themselves to the Kingdom through the faith ([Isa 56:4]), and then having been brought to the Holy Mountain (a symbol for the Kingdom) [Isa 56:7] fall under the same covenant [Exo 12:49][Num 15:16,29] (though it was promised principally to the faithful heirs of Abraham).
I know your views on “Israel” as your schtick, but do you have anything to add to my questions about the Spirit’s connection with the conscience?
I briefly contemplated saying something about you seeing ‘Israel as my bugbear’, but decided against it. Israel isn’t my Schtick – biblical accuracy is. It just so happens ‘Israel’ is where most people are sloppy. So, I was actually quite amused by the coincidence of your response.
However – your question – Yes, I’d say this:
The Spirit of the ‘New Covenant’ (3rd person of the Trinity?) can’t be simply equated to ‘conscience’ as everyone, saved and unsaved alike, all have ‘consciences’, save perhaps for a few dangerous folks. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of sanctification, I would argue, is the ‘Spirit of the New Covenant’.
Verses such as [Rom 1:18-20] seem to reference ‘consciences’. That particular argument makes it seem like ‘since we all have consciences’ and we all at times choose to ignore our consciences which is our God-given sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ we all incur wrath.
Arguments about Israel’s role in the New Covenant aside, what does the Spirit of the New Covenant seem to do? It seems to grant us access to a storehouse of potential that magnifies that muted voice we are already apt to ignore. More importantly, it makes us capable of actually being compelled to listen.
Accordingly – the Spirit of the New Covenant, though certainly related to our consciences, is clearly something separate from them.
What do you think?
And yes – it is reasonable to see this spirit, though not specifically mentioned, in [Rom 2:13-15]. Coincidentally, I’d also say the same thing about [Joel 2:13-15] (which is where I first went, when reading your question) from the “rend your hearts and not your garments” ….
Agreed, there is a sense in which Paul presents the Spirit as a refresher of the conscience, or as an outside advocate informing the conscience of whether or not one is doing good or evil. In Romans 2 the person may have their thoughts defend or condemn them. In Romans 8 Paul seems to be saying that his thoughts defend him here and that the Spirit serves as the witness to this.
Interesting to conceptualize existentially! What does this “look like?” How does a claim like this one become authenticated?
I’d add one more (controversial) observation – and that would be this:
We know that all will be judged, however I would add that another of tasks of the Spirit of the New Covenant is to bring that judgement forward into time by way of our consciences – so that those undergoing ‘sanctification’ stand before the judgement seat of God as they live.
I would argue this theologically with the following premises (please let me know if you would like to examine the scripture verses I use to justify this) …
Baptism, as spiritual resurrection, is the resurrection that matters.
The ‘New Covenant’ means that as we die with Christ, so we are resurrected like Christ, meaning that we die daily and our sanctification as a function of baptism means we are already resurrected.
When Paul’s eschatology speaks of resurrection, context counts; therefore we need to ask ourselves which resurrection he speaks of – bodily or spiritual.
So New Covenant resurrection is happening all around us, all the time (as a function of the great commission)
Since judgement happens after we are resurrected (Christians often think this is bodily) I see no reason why this should be restricted until after bodily restriction rather than spiritual resurrection.
If this is true, the consequences are revolutionary.
Sanctification means that we voluntarily submit ourselves to God’s judgement before physical death (but after spiritual rebirth) – “yet while we live” in our spiritually resurrected form.
Arguments such as [Heb 12:5-11] show that acceptance of this judgement ‘yet while we live’ has consequences such as allowing us to share in God’s Glory because it allows us to share in His holiness (remember that argument I made about God sharing His glory with Abraham as part of the Abrahamic covenant promise to make Abraham’s name great?)
Acceptance of God’s judgement ‘yet while we live’ also means upon our physical death since we have already placed ourselves by faith before the judgement seat of God, we have already been judged as a type of living relationship between the Holy Spirit and our consciences, unlike the unsaved who still have to account for why they rejected both God by ignoring their God-given consciences)
Finally, it makes it clearer for us to recognize that we are living our lives in the same ‘Eschaton’ Paul already describes: The only future event with respect to Eschatology is bodily resurrection, otherwise all of history is Paul’s Eschaton. Prophecy has been and is being fulfilled!
These last two points are significant because it speaks to the character of God and how we understand Eschatology. The claim that by having God forgive believers only makes him ‘unjust’ is thrown on its head, if we accept that with faith comes correction through judgement by way of the Holy Spirit’s conviction. Why should God reserve judgement until it is too late? Why shouldn’t His Grace include the ability to be judged while we still have a chance to do something about it?
I don’t have any qualms with the idea that our sanctification includes judgment now. It reminds me of the words of 1 Peter 4:17.
Ya, that’s also a very insightful argument along these same lines ([1 Peter 4:17] ….
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