Tuesday 21 July 2015

delegalising the gospel

Three helpful paragraphs from an essay on ‘Forensic Metaphors in Romans’:

"As far as his dealings with believers are concerned, this judge [God] shocks all expectations. He sides with the guilty; he takes painful measures to vouchsafe their acquittal; he shows mercy where he should have punished severely; he acquits unconditionally. Instead of judicial objectivity and equity, mercy is now the norm. The only requirement is that they should accept his offer. Instances of pardon were well-known in Romans legal practice, but these were spasmodic, eclectic, frequently qualified and conditional, and very often politically motivated. A timeless, universal and absolutely unconditional pardon like the one here in Romans, was totally unheard of."

"Metaphors have their strengths and weakness. Paul’s forensic imagery also has its limitations. As such, it can only depict sin as guilt before God. Other metaphors are necessary to portray, for example, its enslaving, estranging or defiling aspects. It also cannot describe the specific effect of Christ’s salvific work. For that purpose Paul had to resort to other metaphors like deliverance (Rom 3:24), atonement (3:25) and reconciliation (5:10-11). An additional weakness is that, apart from their new status as righteous and the imperative resulting from it, the forensic imagery focusses pre-eminently on believers’ entry into the new community. It reveals very little about the nature of their new life in Christ."

"On the other hand, Paul’s forensic metaphors are pre-eminently suited to highlight the sovereign activity of God, the radicality of sin and the even greater radicality of grace. In order to highlight the surprising otherness and the joy-bringing “goodness” of the good news to his Romans addressees, the apostle could scarcely have made a better choice. This was the language they would understand Ironical as it may seem, exactly by using forensic imagery, Paul completely delegalized the Christian message. In God’s gospel court room grace reigns supreme (Rom 5:20-21)."

Andrie B. du Toit ‘Forensic Metaphors in Romans and their Soteriological Significance,’ Salvation in the New Testament: Perspectives on Soteriology, ed. Jan. G. van der Watt (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 213-246 (this quote on 242-243, emphasis original).