Sunday June 22 ’08 I prayed in the early hours for the truth regarding the doctrine of ‘the Atoning Blood of Christ.’
For some months this has been on the mind. It is such a seminal Prot. doctrine is now become ascendant, to the point that more Catholics seem to have embraced this soteriology.
Now, pertaining to the Blood and the DIDACHÉ:
The Atonement is absent. And this is not by mere incidental oversight.
Rather, I think the Atonement concept arose as a dialectical riposte to the DIDACHÉ. Blood Atonement as the salvific purpose and solution of Christ came first, I think, to the mind of Paul. And he aimed it squarely against the DIDACHE. One might say the Atoning Blood is a dialectical counter-position to the DIDACHÉ, which, more practically, instructs people how to live righteously, and, when we sin, to confess (DID. 14.1) our sins before the assembly. This is actually an rather urgent necessity, as confession is equated with cleansing of the soul. So, there is, I would say, a radical difference between the notion of Blood Atonement as the means of attaining Grace, in Paul’s writing, and the notion of sacrifice, in the DIDACHÉ.
Moreover, besides making open confession, a person should give a little to the poor, as a ‘ransom for sin’ (DID. 4.6). This is about as un-Lutheresque, un-Protestant and un-Pauline as you can get.
So, one can fairly assert that there is conceivably, and on the face, a contradiction between Paul and the DIDACHE on several matters, among them, the doctrine of the Blood of Atonement perhaps.
And so, Sunday at 3:00 a.m. or so I sought God’s Wisdom on this, and received an answer in my spirit and in Bible study after dawn.
Essentially, I came to understand Paul as having derived his teaching in an ‘inspired’ moment, shortly upon his having reflected on the intensely negative rebuke that the DIDACHE represented to his teaching ministry to the Gentiles
and thus to his ministerial livelihood and how he might reply in order to save the
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latter. (As to who or what ‘inspired’ Paul in that moment
whether God or the nemesis I will leave to you the reader.)
What happened (as I imaginatively reconstruct it for myself, guided by the spirit which is in me) is perhaps this:
First, that Paul understood the Two Ways doctrine as presented in the DIDACHÉ, and did not really disagree; in fact he knew that it was rock-solid truth (being after all, essentially a reverberation of classical Israelite wisdom and Torah).
And Paul realized that the teaching as such was irresistible, irrefutable and one might say unstoppable.
And so, in his rather desperate, livelihood-saving retort to the DIDACHE, what did Paul contrive? It appears that he came up with an ingenious jujitsu move, in which he simply attributed the bad Way, the Way of Death to the works of the flesh. This was his coinage. The vices listed by Paul and by the DIDACHÉ overlap somewhat (as noted in another post.) Where the texts differ, however, is that Paul comes up with a dichotomy that more particularly differentiates between the flesh and the spirit. These two are, for Paul, the Two Ways.
This theme first appears, I think, in Galatians. And the association between this text of Paul’s and the DIDACHE is probably most obvious and blatant. However, Paul repeats the theme elsewhere (as I will perhaps get around to showing). He embellishes the theme and adds nuances with each retelling.
In any case, this distinction he makes between the spirit and flesh is really Paul’s prize strategic coup. Prior to Paul, the Two Ways was simply a moral choice posed to everyone. It was eminently wise conduct (or wickedness). The root source was perhaps from the Psalms (as I write about elsewhere)
All of which, Paul deftly twisted into something else. First, he sort of demonized the practical way of Life, by associating it with the Law—which he then regarded derogatorily as a curse and other bad things. And, because of the law, we are accursed and condemned to death. And because of the law, which give us no-nos, our flesh becomes excited and lustful to do evil.
And now Paul introduces his distinctive notion that the only way to conquer the deadly works of this flesh (which has become corrupted by the law), is by reckoning the flesh to be dead, à la, the death that occurred in the body of Christ.
For Paul, then, Christians thus ‘die’ with Christ in baptism. We are then are ‘raised in the spirit’ as a resurrection.
By this means, the dire and ominous moral dichotomy that is posed by the Two Ways, is vicariously solved for us, by Christ’s death and resurrection.
A Christian receives this righteousness as a ‘gift,’ through faith (that is, by believing both Paul’s teaching, and believing in the Resurrection in the first place).
Paul goes on to elaborate on the theological, soteriological, and one should say mythological character of Christ’s death, and on how this death accomplishes the perfect triumph over the Way of Death, or, in Paul’s argot, over the way of sin and of the flesh.
The solution, he writes, is the shedding of Christ’s Blood. It is by this means that Christians’ sins are collectively atoned for. And it is by a Christian’s having faith, that God is finally pleased.
And God imputes this faith-assent as ‘righteousness.’ It is a faith He has given only selectively as a gift. And this faith-gift is the only righteousness that God respects and accepts.
This, at least, is my paraphrased interpretation of Paulianity. Time permitting I expand upon this in other articles.
For now, the key point is simply that (in answer to a recent prayer) I have come to believe that Paul devised this doctrine as a ministry-saving retort after the severe chastisement of the DIDACHÉ. He claimed to have received his gospel directly from the Lord; I do not know about that. The textual evidence which I find, however, in his letters, and indicates that his doctrine was borne of response to the DIDACHE; responding to a scathing rebuke the DIDACHE had leveled at false ministries (promulgated from a sizeable ministry team).
In this context, come responses from Peter, James and John, all of which bear upon the question of purification from evil. The Jerusalem apostles greatly understand the strength of Paul’s challenge: it represents a very easy, painless “free gift of righteousness.” And the Twelve realize they are up against a potent, well-funded, high-literary opposition team, who know how to undercut the competition.
If the Lord provides the means, perhaps I may be allowed to expound and elucidate this obviously enormously important point further. You may want to subscribe to the RSS feed or visit again soon.
In Christ’s service,