You are on page 1of 12

Bryan E. Lewis DIV2701, Formation of Christian Traditions Dr. David A.

Michelson Assignment: Expanded Remix 12/10/2012

Lewis 1

Soteriological Development
Reframing Soteriology Introduction Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, writes: "The mainstream Western Christian tradition running from Augustine through Luther (in its Protestant branch) to Bultmann has rendered a reading of Paul fixated on individual salvation, but it has been able to do so only by strenuously suppressing the voice of the scripture in Paul's letters, stifling Paul's own claim to expound a gospel that underscores God's faithfulness to Israel."1 Dr. Hays has summed up my thesis in one sentence, that is, he has well illustrated how soteriology mutated from a corporate concept to an individualistic one. Soteriology from post-Judaic Christianity forward has fixated on ambiguous forms of individualistic salvation. These many shapes came in the form of martyrdom, asceticism, partaking of sacraments, and debates over Christology. Their interpretations compounded, as they were built upon the arguments of prior church fathers, before resting on what would become the accepted soteriological framework set forth by Augustine. However, it did so, only by moving away from Jewish-Christian soteriology.2 This shift occurred sometime


1 2

Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, (Yale University Press, 1993). 159. The term Jewish-Christian is used to denote first-century Christianity. Also called the Jesus Movement.

Lewis 2

after the Gentilezation of Christianity, as soteriology moved from the idea of atonement for Israels corporate sins to individual sins. In this thumbnail sketch, I intend to give a brief summary of soteriological development by painting with a broad brush its metamorphosis from Judaism through post-Constantinian Christianity. This will demonstrate how early soteriological ideas mutated from a corporate concept to an individualistic one; thus, laying the foundation for my final thoughts, given at the end of this paper, on what I believe is a needed correction in the way soteriology is discussed among scholarship.3 Israel, Jewish Christianity, and First-Century Soteriology Initially, our starting point should begin with ancient Israel, which historically, should be seen as a progression from pre-exilic Judaism to post-exilic Judaism, then to Hellenistic Judaism. Post-exilic Judaism consisted of returned Babylonian exiles that were concerned with preserving their religion unadulterated, from the victorious Hellenization campaign of Alexander the Great. Unfortunately, they were not entirely successful. Therefore, to some degree, Judaism in the first-century was infected by Hellenic influence. Thus, the argument within the world of scholarship has always been to what degree did Hellenic influence pervade a Judaic-Hebraic mindset. My position is simple. For example, in the case of Paul, due to his continual use of Hebrew Bible passages and the use of inclusio, I posit that his mindset must be seen as Hebraic, i.e., he did not move into Hellenism in his interpretations. Therefore, I posit that the letters of Paul must be understood, not as Hellenistic writings, but against the background of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish context of the early church.
3

See New Perspectives on Paul, James Dunn, Richard Hayes, N.T. Wright, and E.P. Sanders.

Initially, Christianity developed from Judaism; therefore, first-century

Lewis 3

Christianity must be seen as Jewish-Christianity, since first-century Christians viewed themselves as part of Judaism. It took a while for Judaism and Christianity to gain distance between themselves, and therefore, a lot of the divisions and distinctions that would come later were still in flux in the first-century. Distinctions only began to occur, as supersessionism4 became more prominent within early Christianity. Jewish Christians, i.e., the Jesus movement, remained faithful to their own religious heritage. Like Jesus, they were completely embedded in the Judaism of their time. As a result, Jesus' disciples began to understand Jesus as the fulfillment of their messianic hopes for the restoration of Israel. Thus, the prominent belief among many first-century Jewish Christians was one of apocalyptic expectation, i.e., the idea that God was finally going to solve the problem of injustice, unrighteousness, and evil in the world. This would be accomplished not necessarily by ending the world, but by ending the present evil age and by bringing about a transformation of the present order. This is evident in the New Testament as Jesus himself, as an apocalyptic prophet, taught an imminent coming Kingdom. Likewise, John the Baptist, as an apocalyptic prophet, who preached that God was soon going to bring about a catastrophic event, is seen planting apocalyptic expectation all over the Jewish homeland. Therefore, this firstcentury movement's soteriology was not something foreign to the Judaism of its time. Instead, it had to do with Israel's national re-establishment and a transformation of their present order. Thus, I posit that for Jewish-Christians salvation was not about the setting aside of individual sins, but corporate sins.
Supersessionism, also known as replacement theology, is the idea that Christianity is a replacement for or the corrected version of Judaism.
4

The Gentilezation of Christianity

Lewis 4

After the Jewish rebellion of 66-70 C.E., the destruction of Jerusalem, and the death of the last apostle John there followed a time of confusion, out of which emerged a movement consisting almost exclusively of Hellenic influenced gentiles, who begun to brand their own versions of soteriology. I call this the Gentilezation of Christianity; it is akin to Adolf Harnack's idea, which he termed, the "Hellenization of Christianity." 5 This is because it is understood that from this point forward, a subtle shift begun to take place in the thought surrounding soteriology, which was far different than that of Jewish Christianity. Second-Century Soteriology Among early post-Jewish Christians, there was no unanimous soteriology. Instead, soteriology began to be worked out over time, as schisms broke-out over Gnosticism, which posited salvation through the achievement of special knowledge. It was this idea of salvation that turned the heads of many early post-Jewish Christians, and thus, gave way to the need to develop a sort of salvific rule of faith. To be sure, these early soteriological ideas were developed as influential early post-Jewish Christians began to reflect on the words of Jesus and his apostles in light of what they perceived as this Gnostic threat. Thus, it was seen as important to develop a salvific rule of faith. Though it did not address the specifics of an early soteriology, development of this rule is visible in Irenaeus work Against Heresies, written sometime between 175-185 CE, "Believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendor, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the
5

See Adolf Von Harnack, History of Dogma (New York: Dover Publications, 1961).

Lewis 5

Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent."6 Though a developing soteriology can be seen, in the second century, early postJewish writings rarely made mention of salvation in terms of the individualistic means to which one obtains it. Therefore, what existed was a convolution of soteriological understandings. For example, some early post-Jewish Christians seemed to indicate by their writings that salvation was acquired through practicing different forms of asceticism. This is evident from the teaching of Montanus, to the text of the Shepherd of Hermes. Ultimately, these ideas would set the precedent for the later monasticism of the Desert Fathers, who saw asceticism as a form of renunciation, which was necessary for salvation. Other post-Jewish Christians seemed to understand martyrdom as a path to salvation. This is evident in such early writings as the Martyrdom of Polycarp, which seems to indicate that martyrdom is seen as a form of salvation, which is necessary for redemption, thus enabling one to redeem themselves from eternal punishment by [the suffering of] a single hour.7 Moreover, the Didache, an early second-century document, known as "the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," has no emphasis on soteriology. Instead, it seems to posit a moralistic focus on Christian conduct. In fact, it has often been termed, "the handbook of Christian Morals and Church Order."8 In it, if soteriology is assumed at all,
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.4.2 Joseph Barber Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers: The Martyrdom of Polycarp (London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1891) 190. This soteriological understanding is also confirmed by other early writings, such as, Perpetua and Felicity.
7 6

John Wayland Coakley and Andrea Sterk, Readings in world Christian History (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004) 12.

Lewis 6

it is done only through mention of sacraments, such as baptism and the Eucharist, which would later become influential in early soteriological development. In fact it was Ignatius soteriology that seemed to center on sacraments. How does one acquire salvation? According to Ignatius, by "breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality."9 For Ignatius, the Eucharist as a sacrament was a means of grace that transformed the person partaking. This was a common soteriological idea among early post-Jewish Christians. Another group of writings in the second-century were that of the apologist. Two of the most prominent examples are found in the writings of the Disciple to Diognetus10 and Justin Martyr. However, these writings make no mention of Salvation. Instead, their efforts center on defending Christianity against Greco-Roman culture. Only Justin Martyr provides, somewhat vaguely, a hint of soteriology by explaining what God incarnate meant through the concept of logos.11 Finally, Irenaeus, as already mention and often regarded as the first theologian to attempt a systematization of soteriology, did so, by expressing his view concerning salvation over and against the Gnostics. For Irenaeus, every aspect of Jesus' incarnation was necessary to effect salvation. He believed that Christ's incarnation affected all of humanity thereby reversing the fall of Adam. For him, salvation came about through the incarnation of God as a man, which drew to a conclusion the problem first presented by


Joseph Barber Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers: Ignatius to the Ephesians, (London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1891) 142. See Joseph Barber Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers: Epistles to Diognetus, (London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1891) 501-511.
11 10 9

See Leslie Barnard, The First and Second Apologies (New York: Paulist Press, 1997).

Adam. Thus Irenaeus soteriology was bound up in his, recapitulation theory of atonement."12 Third-Century Soteriology

Lewis 7

Third-Century soteriology tended to continue along the same ambiguous lines. For example, Tertullian's soteriology is not entirely clear, though it appears to have focused on baptism, which he considered to be a necessary sacrament for salvation.13 However, Like Irenaeus, Tertullian was more concerned with issues surrounding Christology and the incarnation, and thus, he was instrumental in laying a future foundation for the doctrine of the trinity over and against Praxes.14 Origins soteriology was understood to be a process of transformation in which human will synergistically cooperates with Gods grace in order to become conformed to Christs image. Ultimately, Origins soteriology was a form of universal reconciliation, known as, the doctrine of apokatastasis.15 Later it would strongly be condemned along with the idea of synergism, which would play a vital role in later soteriological development. Finally, Cyprian appears to have married salvation to the physical church. For him, soteriology was inseparable from both ecclesiology and baptism. Thus, salvation is


12 13 14 15

See E.B. Pusey, Irenaeus Against Heresies (Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2007). Ibid., The Epistles of Saint Cyprian. Ibid., Tertullian Against Praxeas. Ford Battles, Origen On First Principles 3.6 (Pittsburgh, Pa.: Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 1972).

Lewis 8

an individualistic process that is initiated by a baptismal regeneration that occurs within the church.16 Cyprian believed there was no salvation outside of the church. Fourth-Century, the Councils, and Soteriology The fourth-century brought more in the way of the debate over Christology and incarnation. The prevalent idea was that individualistic salvation could not be effected if Jesus was not either truly human or fully deity. These debates over Jesus identity were then manifested in the fourth century between Arius and Alexander, and ultimately, with Athanasius. The debate found its way onto the world stage by way of Constantine at Nicaea, in 325, and then in Constantinople, in 381. There, Arianism was finally condemned. Augustine a New Era in Soteriology We end at Augustine, because he provided a framework for the rest of Christian theology, which has been mimicked by Protestant Christianity ever since. Augustine's salvation was developed by way of his argument with Pelagius. Before Augustine salvation was primarily seen as synergistic in nature, i.e., man's will working in conjunction with God's spirit for regeneration or transformation. Augustine however, posited monergism, i.e., the idea and belief that human agency is entirely passive and God's agency is all determining in both universal history and individual salvation."17 From there, the soteriology of the reformers, confession writers, and later theologians would go on to build upon this very foundation.
See E.B. Pusey, The Epistles of Saint Cyprian and On the Unity of the Church (Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2007). Roger E. Olsen, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999). 254-256.
17 16

Lewis 9 Augustine took the view that because of our fallen nature, being captive to sin and

death, we cannot fulfill God's command without His grace. For Augustine, our will is bent away from God; it must be delivered from its place of sinful captivity before man will even call upon the Lord. Thus, Augustines view is individualistic. For him, humans are bound by their sinful natures, and therefore, unable to please God without his sovereign grace. Reframing Soteriology I will now return to my earlier comment, which is the thesis of this paper, I posit that for Jewish-Christians salvation was not about the setting aside of individual sins, but corporate sins. As I wrote earlier, it was Augustine who provided a model for Christian theology, which has been mimicked by protestant Christian thought ever since. By way of his debate with Pelagius, he clinched a final individualistic definition for salvation, which in-turn concentrated on ones personal sin. Thus, much of western Christianity has mimicked this model ever since. However, I posit that this is wrong-headed. Pauls understanding of sin was covenantal and corporate not personal. The sin to which Paul refers has to do with the sin of men under old covenant law. Here, I shall very briefly attempt to lay-out the general framework of this understanding, while attempting not to shrink the argument beyond what it can bare. Individualistic ideas of a sinful human nature, flesh, body of sin, total depravity, a will bent away from God (per Augustine), have missed the boat. I posit that these terms should be seen as mans condition in Adam rather than the internal sin of an individual. Since so much of this has been discussed by the plight of scholarship known as New Perspectives on Paul, it is necessary to use Paul as an example.

What was the sin with which Paul was concerned? Paul's focus was on

Lewis 10

deliverance from the law of sin and death, i.e., mans condition in Adam. Certainly, this is speaking of the same death that came in the garden, which was a result of Adam's sin. This death caused a separation in that Adam and Eve were expelled from the presence of God in the very day they ate the fruit (Genesis 3:23-24). They died spiritually not physically. Therefore, it is this death that Paul has in mind in Romans 5:12, Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because all sinned. The subject here with Paul is not physical death and he is not concerned with individual sins. Instead the subject is the law of sin and death. It was deliverance from this law that Paul longed for in Romans 7:24. He desired to put off the body of death created by sin and exist in a body of life. Here he speaks of putting off the image of Adam and putting on the image of Christ, again, that is-mans condition in Adam vs. mans condition in Christ. Thus, I posit that Paul is speaking of humanity (both Jew and Gentile) as it stands in covenant relationship to God, i.e., the corporate relationship of humanity to God. Therefore, Pauls soteriology had to do with a time when Christ would finally put aside the Old Covenant of Death and put into place his new covenant of Life in Christ. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:1-3). At the end of the day, I posit that the concept of sin and death should not be interpreted individualistically, but corporately. It is speaking of the unredeemed position of humanity in its relationship to God. Therefore, humanity must be seen in covenantal

Lewis 11

bondage. It was once alienated from God, but now the blood of Christ has brought it nigh.18


I apologize for the brevity of this argument, but to say more than this would certainly invited the wrath of my TA, as I would be exceeding the word limit more than I have already.
18

Lewis 12

Bibliography
Barnard, Leslie, The First and Second Apologies. New York: Paulist Press, 1997. Battles, Ford Lewis, Origen on First Principles. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 1972. Coakley, John Wayland, and Andrea Sterk, Readings in World Christian History. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004. Hays, Richard, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. Yale University Press, 1993. Lightfoot, Joseph Barber, The Apostolic Fathers. London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1891. Meecham, Henry, The Epistle to Diognetus. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1949. Olsen, Roger, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999. Pusey, E. B.. The Epistles of Saint Cyprian. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger Pub., 2007. Pusey, E.B.. Irenaeus Against Heresies. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger Publishing, 2007. Pusey, E.B.. Tertullian Against Praxeas. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger Publishing, 2007.