Is Paul anti-Semitic? Does God play fair?

Is Paul anti-Semitic?  Does God play fair?

Paul’s letter to the Roman’s is difficult.  One reason is because Paul seems uncomfortable with a couple of his own conclusions.  But one thing is clear.  It is the most sustained statement of Paul’s theology (Moo, loc 4011-4019).  But what is that?

One theme concerns the relationship between Jews for Jesus and Gentiles for Jesus.  The Jews came first, they remain God’s chosen people, but they remain stuck on the law.  God is not concerned with the law.  He is concerned with faith and justification.

Another theme is God’s wrath, as well as his caprice.  How could God hate Esau before he was born (Romans 9:13)? (The Greek term used for hate is misei, and should not be rendered by a weaker verb.  See Strongs 3404).  What sense does that make?

A related theme is that it’s all up to God.  We deserve nothing; whatever we get is due to the loving generosity of God.

What strikes me most is how Paul seems to struggle with the answers he comes up with, not always liking their implications, but with the result that his explanation is even more troubling. 

Jews and Gentiles

For Paul, two things are striking about the Jews.  They were and remain God’s chosen people.  Abraham and the other patriarchs of the Hebrew Scriptures remain sacred to God (11:26).  At the same time, Jews have taken a wrong turn.  They zealously trust in the law, by which Paul means not only the Ten Commandments, but the purity codes spelled out in Leviticus and elsewhere.

Often times Paul is simply read as an argument for faith over works, but that’s too simple.  By works Paul meant (as Luther meant) the works of the law.  And faith is only revealed by the works of the spirit.  Without the works of the law we would not know sin; but we are redeemed by faith.  We need both; they are not exclusive.

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The Protestant Reformation was not all great

The Protestant Reformation was not all great.  The Reformation (16th and 17th centuries), initiated by Martin Luther, is credited with the creation of the individual, and fostering the Enlightenment.  This is the usual sketch, and its correct as far as it goes.  I’m going to look at the good parts and the not so good parts.  First, the good parts.*

The good parts of the Reformation

Many people know about Luther’s 95 theses, stuck on the church door in Wittenberg.  In it he attacked the Catholic church’s practice of selling indulgences, which allowed the dead to get out of purgatory faster, a toll road for sinners.  The practice was corrupt to the core.  While his attack on the corrupt church helps explain Luther’s appeal, it is even more important to understand how Luther’s own religious experience lessened the fear that most people lived under five hundred years ago. 

It’s difficult for most of us to grasp Luther’s sense of guilt and dread in the face of an angry God (Marty, loc 105).  Of course, it was not just Luther’s dread, but almost all who believed in the Christian God, which means almost everybody.  People trembled at the thought that when they died, Jesus would judge them, sending some to heaven and others to the fiery flames of Hell, including many who led exemplary lives, but had less than exemplary thoughts.  That includes most of us.  Since God knows our every thought, as well as sees our every act, there is no escape. 

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