Tuesday, July 15, 2008

John Locke on Romans - Must Read This!

I have found many precursors to the New Perspective on Paul. By that I mean those who find the centre of gravity in Romans to be how Gentiles are incorporated into the people of God and how they relate to (i) Jesus-believing Jews, and (ii) unbelieving Israel as opposed to schemes that see Romans as focused mainly on individual soteriology. Working backwards from E.P. Sanders there is Markus Barth, Krister Stendhal, W.D. Davies, and F.C. Baur. It is possible to find similar thoughts in the Church Fathers, esp. Origen and even Augustine, and I would be prepared to argue that even the magisterial Reformers like Luther and Calvin were not completely oblivious to these issues even if their expositions and analyses were dominated by dogmatic questions and wrongly sidelined the social and salvation-historical present in the text.

But I have just been able to access John Locke's paraphrase of Paul's letters (1709) and this is cool. Stop what you are doing and read it this weekend! It is available to read and download at Google Books. Let me give you a quote from what he says on Rom. 3.26: ‘God rejected them [i.e. the Jews] for being his people, and took the Gentiles into his church, and made them his people jointly and equally with the few believing Jews. This is plainly the sense of the apostle here, where he is discoursing the nation of the Jews and their state in comparison with the Gentiles; not of the state of private persons. Let anyone without prepossession attentatively read the context, and he will find it to be so’. Locke stands in sharp contrast to the highly individualistic and pietistic readings of Romans by the English Puritans in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century. His preface to Romans, his introduction to each section, his paraphrase, and notes all contain thoughts that gained currency later. In many ways he anticipates F.C. Baur by seeing Romans not as a dogmatic treatise but as Paul's justification for the inclusion of Gentiles into the church. Locke does not like 'imputation' in Romans 5, he treats the 'I' of Romans 7 as all those who were under the law in order to show that Gentiles do not have to submit to the law of Moses. I bring this to peoples attention not because I am necessarily convinced by Locke's exegesis at every point, but because Locke was way ahead of his time and he anticipates alot of the debate that was to come three hundred years later. Take up and read!

6 comments:

Dane Ortlund said...

Fascinating - thanks.

Bob MacDonald said...

He certainly sounds supercessionist in that first comment. My own take on Paul is that Romans is primarily about theodicy. I would have to talk to him face to face to see if we could hold together on other more peripheral subjects. As to the chosen people - has God rejected them? God forbid - for that would make God impossible with respect to his promises. Locke seems to reflect a spirit I still can read in C.S.Lewis as recently as 50 years ago when the jews are mentioned. Whether the spirit is in the text or in my reading is of course difficult to determine sometimes.

Geoff Hudson said...

I have come to the conclusion that Romans was not originally written to Romans but to Judean prophets by someone in Rome. The context was conflict between priests and prophets.

Geoff Hudson said...

The immoral behaviour described in Romans was originally that of the priests of Judea, not Roman Gentiles. The Gospel of Judas lends some credence to that idea.

Rob Edwards said...

I recall reading an article by Dewey Wallace on John Locke and the doctrine of justification in his The Reasonableness of Christianity, showing its relation to particular justification controversies going on in the church at the end of the 17th c. It provides some helpful theological context to Locke.

Your comments remind me of an earlier controversy that also seems to anticipate more recent discussions. In the 1670s William Sherlock, later to be Dean of St. Paul’s, took to task John Owen’s view of union with Christ, arguing that union with Christ is not an individual and soteriological category as much as a public and soteriological concept in Paul, calling into questions imputation in justification. Obviously this touched off a theological firestorm with many of the nonconforming. Nothing new under the sun....

Rob Edwards said...

meant to say in Sherlock's view, union with Christ is a public and ecclesiological concept...