Saturday, June 12, 2010

Old and New Perspectives in Diognetus

I'm currently working on the reception of Paul in the Epistle to Diognetus. Along the way I've noticed that the Old and New Perspectives on Paul can both find roots in ED which confirms my view that the Reformed and NPP views simply aren't new and are not mutually exclusive. Consider the following:

First, note this soteriological picture in ED concerning a forensic alien righteousness that clothes believers.

"So then, having already planned everything in his mind together with his Child, he permitted us during the former time to be carried away by undisciplined impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts, not at all because he took delight in our sins, but because he was patient; not because he approved of that former season of unrighteousness, but because he was creating the present season of righteousness, in order that we who in the former time were convicted by our own deeds as unworthy of life might now by the goodness of God be made worthy, and, having clearly demonstrated our inability to enter the kingdom of God on our own, might be enabled to do so by God’s power. (2) But when our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and it had been made perfectly clear that its wages—punishment and death—were to be expected, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last his goodness and power (oh, the surpassing kindness and love of God!). He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grudge against us; instead he was patient and forbearing; in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, “the just for the unjust,” the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. (3) For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? (4) In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? (5) O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners! (6) Having demonstrated, therefore, in the former time the powerlessness of our nature to obtain life, and having now revealed the Savior’s power to save even the powerless, he willed that for both these reasons we should believe in his goodness and regard him as nurse, father, teacher, counselor, healer, mind, light, honor, glory, strength, life, and not be anxious about food and clothing." (ED 9.1-6).

Second, note the condemnation of Jewish boundary markers in ED, especially about boasting in circumcision by Jews.

"But with regard to their qualms about meats, and superstition concerning the Sabbath, and pride in circumcision, and hypocrisy about fasting and new moons, I doubt that you need to learn from me that they are ridiculous and not worth discussing. (2) For is it not unlawful to accept some of the things created by God for human use as created good but to refuse others as useless and superfluous? (3) And is it not impious to slander God, as though he forbids us to do any good thing on the Sabbath day? (4) And is it not also ridiculous to take pride in the mutilation of the flesh as a sign of election, as though they were especially beloved by God because of this? (5) And as for the way they watch the stars and the moon, so as to observe months and days, and to make distinctions between the changing seasons ordained by God, making some into feasts and others into times of mourning according to their own inclinations, who would regard this as an example of godliness and not much more of a lack of understanding? (6) So then, I think you have been sufficiently instructed to realize that the Christians are right to keep their distance from the thoughtlessness and deception common to both groups and from the fussiness and pride of the Jews. But as for the mystery of the Christian’s own religion, do not expect to be able to learn this from man." (ED 4.1-6).

So we have a very Pauline soteriology with a clear forensic justification plus a recognition of the boasting of Jews in their elect status, arguing for the freedom of Gentiles from Jewish observances - Jimmy Dunn plus Martin Luther are now reconciled - how wonderful it is when brothers dwell in unity, it's like oil flowing down the beard of Aaron.

Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (547–549). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.


Mike K said...

Nice Post Mike and interesting to compare the two soteriologies. I think one of the big differences between Paul and Diognetus is that while Paul (and authors of Hebrews, Barnabas, Justin Martyr) try to use really careful scriptural argumentation for why Christians (or at least Gentiles in Paul) are not obligated to follow these Jewish observances, Diognetus reads to me not too concerned with the fine points of Scripture but more finds the fussiness about days and months and the "mutilation of the flesh" to be "rediculous" (much like a Greco-Roman satirist). Also, it seems to me that in defining Christians as this new people (kainon touto genos) (ED 1.1) and outline the nature of their citizenship (politeia) in chapter 5 in contrast to the Greeks and Jews, he seems to be defining Christians as a kind of "third race" which seems to be a later development after Paul.

Michael F. Bird said...

Mike: There are differences between Paul and ED. Mainly that ED has no affirmation of Israel's election and really just plays on Graeco-Roman rejection of Judaism. However, on the "new race" Paul does indeed lay the bedrock for it 1 Cor. 10.32 with reference to "Jews, Greeks, and the Church of God"!

Saint and Sinner said...

I fail to see how a concern for boundary markers is specific to the New Perspective (or at least in comparison to the more nuanced versions of the Old Perspective).

Secondly, I have not read to much of Wright, but can you tell me how he would handle Acts 13:38-39, 15:1-11, and Titus 3:4-7?

Saint and Sinner said...

Oops. That should be "too much of."

Jason B. Hood said...

I have to say that I'm sorry you couldn't take a cue from Joel and post about your nation's appearance in the World Cup, Mike. Way to deflect attention elsewhere.

Michael J. Gorman said...

(4) In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? (5) O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!

Sounds like Irenaeus, Athanasius, Bonhoeffer, Morna Hooker, Ben Blackwell, Gorman, etc--i.e., a touch of participation and theosis.