I’ve lately been reading a good deal that I hadn’t yet from Jerome Murphy-O’Connor. Much as I’ve previously appreciated his scholarship, my gratitude for his careful, detailed reflection has only grown.
Among some of these reflections I’ve recently worked through are the following comments:
In both [1 Cor 6:15 and 8:12] ‘Christ’ is predicated, not of the historical Jesus, but also of the Christian community. This is unambiguous in 1 Cor 8:12 where ‘brethren’ and ‘Christ’ are interchangeable. It is also clear in ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so also is Christ’ (1 Cor 12:12). ‘Christ’ here can only mean the corporate body of Christ. Once this is recognized, the interpretation of many other texts is greatly simplified. ‘To be baptized into Christ’ (Gal 3:27; Rom 6:3) means to undergo the rite of initiation into the believing community.1
Murphy-O’Connor consistently resists any “mystical” undercurrent here. So he interprets “being [in] Christ” as simply Paul’s way of saying “being a Christian.”
I’m less persuaded that how Paul conceives of the incorporative role of the Messiah can ultimately be reduced simply to the kind of community membership that one might experience in a local rotary club. But Murphy-O’Connor’s caution is well taken.
The church is an eschatological community, a colony of heaven. But in order for the heavenly reality to be a present, earthly experience, believers need to work out the salvation promised to them. Paul desires to see an ecclesiological fulfillment of the eschatological promise of salvation. This understanding of working out salvation as a present expression of God’s promise of salvation does not contradict but rather implements Paul’s earlier instruction to look after the interests of others (2:4) (174–75; cf. 177).
Indeed, for Paul, decoupling eschaton and ecclesiology was a highly precarious activity, for such an action would tend to deconstruct the Christian community’s identity and its witness in the world to God’s mighty acts in Jesus (e.g., 1 Cor 6:1–11; 10; Phil 3:17–21).
At the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectureship at Dallas Theological Seminary, Klyne Snodgrass discussed a “hermeneutics of identity” in four parts.
Part 1: Theory and Theology
Part 2: Gospels
Part 3: Paul
Part 4: Church and Ministry
The whole series is excellent and highly engaging. Snodgrass repeatedly observes the New Testament’s consistent concern with issues related to identity, but he also clearly distinguishes the direction of the New Testament’s robust concern in this area from the directions that this concern’s poorer cousins have taken. Each lecture is around 45 minutes long, and taking about 3 hours to listen to the whole series is fairly certain to be time well spent.
The design of the parable [of the Pharisee and the publican] is to show them, that the very publicans shall be justified, rather than they; as appears by the reflection Christ makes upon it, Luke xviii. 14. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other;” that is, this and not the other. The fatal tendency of it might also be proved from its inconsistence with the nature of justifying faith, and with the nature of that humiliation that the Scripture often speaks of as absolutely necessary to salvation; but these scriptures are so express that it is needless to bring any further arguments.
How far a wonderful and mysterious agency of God’s Spirit may so influence some men’s hearts, that their practice in this regard may be contrary to their own principles, so that they shall not trust in their own righteousness, though they profess that men are justified by their own righteousness—or how far they may believe the doctrine of justification by men’s own righteousness in general, and yet not believe it in a particular application of it to themselves—or how far that error which they may have been led into by education, or cunning sophistry of others, may yet be indeed contrary to the prevailing disposition of their hearts, and contrary to their practice—or how far some may seem to maintain a doctrine contrary to this gospel-doctrine of justification, that really do not, but only express themselves differently from others; or seem to oppose it through their misunderstanding of our expressions, or we of theirs, when indeed our real sentiments are the same in the main—or may seem to differ more than they do, by using terms that are without a precisely fixed and determinate meaning—or to be wide in their sentiments from this doctrine, for want of a distinct understanding of it; whose hearts, at the same time, entirely agree with it, and if once it was clearly explained to their understandings, would immediately close with it, and embrace it:—how far these things may be, I will not determine; but am fully persuaded that great allowances are to be made on these and such like accounts, in innumerable instances; though it is manifest, from what has been said, that the teaching and propagating contrary doctrines and schemes, is of a pernicious and fatal tendency (Edwards 1:654).