Paul's Conception of Christ as more-than-individual
Paul's conception of Christ as "corporate" invites
us to recognize the undeniable fact of our
Sr. Bernie Dianzon, FSP
When we read Luke's report in the Acts of the Apostles concerning Paul's encounter
with Christ on the road to Damascus, what could strike us as strange and puzzling
is Christ's self-identification when Paul asks him, "Who are you, sir?"
The reply goes: "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." If we can
stretch our imagination and engage our fantsy a bit, we might picture Paul
protesting, "You are already dead, how can you say I'm persecuting you?
It is the followers of 'the Way that I'm persecuting, not you!" But even
this protest sounds
absurd, for the person Paul encounters in the vision is very much alive. The
insight Paul gets from this strange meeting and conversation shapes his conviction
about what the risen and glorified Christ really means for him and for all
Christ Paul encounters on the road to Damascus transcends the individual category.
He is no loner a single person, the man historically known as Jesus of Nazareth.
He is now an inclusive personality-one in whom believers find themselves incorporated.
Paul begins to speak of Christian life as lived in an 'area' which is 'Christ'.
This idea is echoed by the Acts of the Apostles, where we read: In him we
live and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). This extraordinary conception
of Jesus Christ is what New Testament scholars call the "Corporate Christ'.
Paul employs various expressions to convey notion of Christ.
'In Christ is an important prepositional phrase that Paul uses one hundred
and sixty-four(164) times to express various ideas of incorporation into Christ.
Paul seems to think of himself and of other Christians as included or located
in Christ. Moreover, a Christian is not 'in Christ' as an isolated believer.
Being 'in Christ', for Paul, is a communal conception and not an individual
possession. It is a life shared with those who have responded to Christ.
Adam in the letters of Paul is a corporate, more-than-individual figure. The
first Adam signifies sinful humanity in need of redemption. The second Adam,
who is Christ, signifies redeemed humanity. Thus, Paul, more than any other
New Testament writer, develops the understanding of Christ as Adam. Paul goes
beyond Israel to the scope of all humanity, finding in Christ not only true
Israel but renewed humanity.
BODY OF CHRIST is the expression coined by Paul to convey the idea that our
union with Christ is 'organic' in nature. Christ himself is the body of which
Christians are limbs. It is by union with this body and by incorporation in
it that Christians become Christians. Christ is the true self of the human
race, standing in that perfect union with God to which others can attain only
as they are incorporated in him.
At this time when individualism is all the rage, Paul's conception of Christ
as corporate invites us to recognize the undeniable fact of our connectedness.
Many of our problems today are communal and even global in nature. If we can
acknowledge our responsibility to the larger communities in which we live,
we can facilitate solving global issues and discover a greater sense of meaning,
inasmuch as it will allow individuals to realize that we are our brothers'
and the sisters' keepers.
PAUL'S UNDERSTANDING OF THE JUSTICE OF GOD
Bernie Dianzon, FSP
Many of us probably
grew up with the notion of divine justice as “rewarding the good and
punishing the wicked.” Thus, heaven and hell, respectively, spell eternal
reward and eternal punishment, while God is conceived of as a calculating
judge. These images may have sufficed to make us behave properly as children,
but they have not altogether been helpful in sustaining a mature adult faith.
They have created a caricature of God, fashioned after “our own human
image and likeness.” St. Paul can sympathize with those of us who struggle
to break away from these notions, which are a far cry from his own first-century
teaching about the “justice of God.”
We know from
experience that translating an idea into another language is a tough job.
And not infrequently, essential aspects of the idea are lost in the course
of translation. “Justice” is an inadequate translation of the
Greek term dikaiosyne, which Paul uses. For us today, “justice”
only evokes images of a legal system – law, court hearing, verdict,
etc. An alternative translation is “righteousness,” which points
more to moral uprightness, but likewise cannot capture the mentality behind
Paul’s original expression. Although Paul writes in Greek, his thinking
is very much Jewish. And when he writes dikaiosyne, the notion he conveys
is the Hebrew tscdaqah. The expression tsedaqah refers to Yahweh’s covenant
faithfulness in relation his covenant-partner Israel. Far from referring to
a cold legal system, it is a relational term, which is associated especially
with God’s saving activity. Fidelity, mercy, steadfast love, defense
of the weak and the helpless are various aspects of God’s tsedaqah.
We find in this concept the reason why God continues to save Israel despite
her repeated infidelities.
The Old Testament
notion of God’s justice as “fidelity to the covenant” provides
the base for understanding Paul’s vision of the “justice of God”
as his “saving activity.” In the Letter to the Romans, Paul writes:
I am not ashamed of the gospel: is it the power of God for salvation
for everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
For in it the justice of God is revealed
from faithfulness unto faithfulness… (Rom 1:16-17).
Paul finds God’s justice made manifest in what Christ did for us, obediently
accepting death on the cross, in faithfulness to the saving mission for which
he was sent by the Father. Christ himself is the “gospel,” which
is God’s power for salvation. For God, in Christ, has taken the initiative
to right the wrongs of his suffering world by taking their weight upon himself.
The faithfulness of Christ that leads him to the cross is the supreme manifestation
of God’s tsedaqah (from faithfulness [of Yahweh] unto faithfulness [of
Christ]). Christ becomes God’s “amen,” the fullest expression
of Yahweh’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel. The covenant is
not revoked, but rather recreated in Christ, and made universal in scope –
“to the Jew first, but also to the Greek.” All have sinned, Jew
and Gentile alike, but all have been made just. This is what the “justice
of God” is all about – it is LOVE IN ACTION.
St. Paul Anti-Feminist?
Bernie Dianzon, FSP
St. Paul is regarded
by most advocates of feminism and women's liberation as a notorious figure,
who is hostile to their cause. The English writer George Bernard Shaw, summing
up this gloomy impression, describes St. Paul in his book Androcles and the
Lion as the "eternal enemy of woman." Certain statements in the
letters attributed to St. Paul apparently corroborate this impression. Taken
as they are, without deeper study, these statements appear to denigrate women,
or at least relegate them to a subordinate role. If you are a woman who believe
in the equality of men and women, how will the following passages strike you?
1 Cor 14:34-35
The women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted
to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything
they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful
for a woman to speak in church.
1 Tim 2:11-14
Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to
teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed
first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and
became a transgressor.
Col 3:18 Wives,
be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Eph 5:22 Wives,
be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.
The above statements,
however, show only one side of the coin, and we would be doing St. Paul a
grave injustice if we draw a definitive conclusion about his attitude towards
women without considering the other side of the coin.
Just as bad news
easily sparks publicity, so the negative statements of St. Paul seem to attract
more attention than his positive pronouncements. But the following are equally
worthy of consideration:
Gal 3:28 There
is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither
male nor female; for you are alone in Christ Jesus.
1Cor 7:3-4 The
husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife
to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband
does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does.
consensus among scripture scholars regarding the letters whose authorship
is attributed to St. Paul, is that only seven truly came from his pen - Romans,
1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1Thessalonians, and Philemon.
This scholarly conclusion has an important implication for the present discussion.
The two positive pronouncements cited above both come from authentic letters
of St. Paul. They reflect the Apostle's original attitude towards women. On
the other hand, three of the four letters were written not by the Apostle
himself, but by his disciples, who had to accommodate following the Apostle's
death. Christianity's concern then was survival in the predominantly patriarchal
milieu. St. Paul's disciples, without losing the essence of their master's
message, had to make some compromises and tone down certain revolutionary
elements, such as the view regarding women.
The only statement
that needs to be clarified in order to exonerate the Apostle, is 1Cor 14:34-35.
Coming from an authentic letter of St. Paul, it openly contradicts his pronouncements
on the equality and mutuality between men and women in Gal 3:28 and 1Cor 7:3-4.
How can this contradiction be accounted for?
and approach in 1Corinthians can resolve the apparent ambivalence. One of
Paul's sources of information regarding the problems in Corinth were letters
written by the Corinthians themselves. Careful analysis of 1 Corinthians reveals
that the Apostle was deliberately and liberally using "Corinthian slogans",
that is, he was lifting verbatim expressions used by the members of the community
in the letters they wrote to him. These slogans are situated just before Paul's
response to the various problems, thus serving like some kind of an introduction.
To one who reads 1 Corinthians without any background, the slogans would read
as though they were Paul's actual words. The statement in 1 Cor 14:34-35,
ordering women to keep silence in the assembly, is considered by many scholars
as a Corinthian slogan. Paul's response follows immediately in verse 36.
We can thus safely
say that the original Paul was far from being a male chauvinist and anti-feminist.
He was, in fact, a champion of eschatological egalitarianism.
to St. Paul the Apostle
For Our Nation
Saint Paul, teacher
of the Gentiles, watch over with love, this nation and its people. Your heart
expanded so as to welcome and enfold all peoples in the loving embrace of
Now, from heaven,
may the charity of Christ urge you to enlighten everyone with the light of
the Gospel, and to establish the kingdom of love.
Inspire vocations, sustain those working for the Gospel, render all hearts
docile to the Divine Master.
May this nation
ever more find in Christ the Way and the Truth and the Life. May its light
shine before the world, and may it always seek the kingdom of God and his
enlighten, comfort and bless us all. Amen.