Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Covenental Nomism in 1 Clement

I was recently given the task to lecture on the "New Perspective" for an undergraduate class on the Pauline Epistles. The class was made up of Bible College students who were, for the most part, completely unfamiliar with the debate. Thankfully, they were already initiated through an assigned reading of James Dunn and Alan Suggate's short but helpful book, The Justice of God: A Fresh Look at the Old Doctrine of Justification by Faith. The basic thesis of the book is that justification, when read from the perspective of Paul and Second Temple Judaism rather than Luther, has profound social dimensions and cannot be limited to individuals' salvation from hell. Most students enjoyed Dunn and Suggate even if there were not totally convinced.

I spent a lot of time introducing students to Sanders' articulation of "Covenantal Nomism" which he defines as:
The view that one's place in God's plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression [. . .] Obedience maintains one's position in the covenant, but it does not earn God's grace as such [. . .]. Righteousness in Judaism is the term which implies the maintenance of status among the group of the elect. (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 75, 420, 544) – Dunn pieces together this definition in Jesus, Paul and the Law 186.
None of this is new or surprising to anyone reading in Pauline scholarship for the last forty years. Sanders' argument, though not without its detractors, has basically won the majority of scholars. It is now widely accepted that first century Jews, for the most part, did not consider their salvation to be dependent on "earning," but were firmly convinced that their salvation was a result of God's gracious election in the covenant. However, their obedience, or rather disobedience, could place them outside of that covenant.

I suggest that 1 Clement displays precisely the same thought pattern. In the midst of his argument for unity and reestablishment of the displaced Corinthian leadership, Clement makes an argument for election leading to obedience/good works and disobedience leading to a judgment that places the elect Corinthians outside of God's covenantal grace.

Clement encourages the Corinthians to worship boldly since God the Father has "made us his chosen portion [ἐκλογῆς μέρος]" (1 Clem 29.1). "Portion" is the word used in the LXX to describe the land Israel was promised to inherit (Num 18.20; Deut 12.12; 14.27). "Chosen" is an obvious word for election and is likewise used in the LXX to refer to the specific choosing of a group within the already chosen people of Israel (Num 16.5, 7; 17.20; cf. 1 Sam 17.8). Clement then cites a series of passages from Deuteronomy proclaiming God's election of Israel (1 Clem. 29.2-3; Deut 32.8-9; 4.34; 14.2; Num 18.27). Drawing from OT theology of election, then, Clement describes the elect status of the Corinthian churches.

Having firmly established his election theology based on God's grace – a grace he will clearly describe coming through Jesus (1 Clem 32.4) – Clement argues for obedience. "Since then we are a holy portion, we should do everything that pertains to holiness" (30.1). Clement exhorts the Corinthians to cling to their election by their obedience. Not surprisingly, Clement draws from the example of Abraham and Isaac (31.2‒3). God's gracious election leads to obedience, but this obedience does not earn grace. Rather, obedience is the proper response to God's previous elective action.

In a rhetorical aside, similar to Romans 6.1, Clement wonders if God's work in believers prompts laziness. "Shall we grow idle and not do what is good? Shall we abandon our acts of love?" (33.1). The obvious answer, like Paul's μὴ γένοιτο, is "of course not." Instead, God's work in believers ought to stimulate them to "hasten with fervor and zeal to complete every good work" (33.1). According to Clement, believers ought to reflect the image of God (33.4‒7), which means his good creative action, and so "with all our strength we should engage in righteous work" (33.8). Clement is then explicit that believers will be judged according to their "works" (34.3; cf. Rev 22.12). Since eschatological glory is beyond comparison (34.8 citing 1 Cor 2.9; 1 Clem. 35.1‒3) believers ought to "strive to be counted among those who wait" for that promised glory (35.4). How do believers wait? Clement is explicit that believers must "seek after what is pleasing and acceptable" to God and by "casting off from ourselves all injustice and lawlessness, greed, strife, malice and deceit, gossip and slander, hatred of God, haughtiness and arrogance, vanity and inhospitality" (35.5). The Corinthians to whom Clement writes are in the gracious covenant through Jesus. Their failure to adhere to the covenant obligations, however, will result in their judgment.

Clement, not unlike Paul and Second Temple Judaism as a whole, is clear that human effort is part of salvation. This does not equate to "earning" salvation, but it is articulated as placement in the covenant people of God. Clement, then, fits in the pattern of Second Temple Jewish "covenantal nomism."

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