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GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HUMAN LAW: A NEW TESTAMENT PERSPECTIVE ON LAW AND THEOLOGY

  • Jens Schröter (a1)
Extract

It is a remarkable fact that ancient Christianity did not establish a distinct legal system. The early Christians did not take over the Jewish law as the basis for the church. Rather, they accepted the administrative and legal context of the Roman Empire and developed their religious and ethical views within this framework. Consequently, unlike in Judaism and Islam, a “Christian law” was not established, even not after the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion in the Roman Empire or as Christianity became the prevailing religion in the Middle Ages and remained so into modern times. Nevertheless, Christianity developed its own perspective on legal and ethical matters. Distinctive for this view is the difference between the commitment to God's will on the one hand and the respect for human legal systems on the other. In other words, Christianity developed a perspective on the relationship of law and theology that can be described as the implementation of a double directive: Christians are bound to an ethos oriented towards God's will, but at the same time they accept the rules and authorities of this world. This view also means that God's commandments found in the scriptures of Israel are now interpreted in a new way. They are not regarded as ethical and ritual rules that would separate Christian communities from society. Rather, God's law, interpreted by Jesus Christ, serves as the guideline for a life of the Christian believers within the world of the Roman Empire. Both of these concepts—the acceptance of the legislation of the society and the commitment to God's will—can come into conflict with each other, as has often happened in Christian history. Already in early Christianity it was pointed out that obedience to God should prevail over human law.

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References
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1 See the contributions in Labahn Michael and Zangenberg Jürgen, eds., Zwischen den Reichen. Neues Testament und Römische Herrschaft: Vorträge auf der Ersten Konferenz der European Association for Biblical Studies (Tübingen: Francke, 2002); Labahn Michael and Lehtipuu Outi, eds., People under Power: Early Jewish and Christian Responses to the Roman Empire (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015).

2 See the discussion in Brocke Christoph vom, Thessaloniki – Stadt des Kassander und Gemeinde des Paulus: Eine frühe christliche Gemeinde in ihrer heidnischen Umwelt (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 167–85. For an overview on the religious situation in Roman Thessalonica, see Steimle Christopher, Religion im römischen Thessaloniki: Sakraltopographie, Kult und Gesellschaft 168 v. Chr. – 324 n. Chr. (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008). All passages from the Bible are from the New Stardard Revised Version.

3 The hypothesis that Paul would refer to a slogan of Roman imperial propaganda was first introduced to Biblical scholarship by Bammel Ernst, “Ein Beitrag zur paulinischen Staatsanschauung,” Theologische Literaturzeitung 85, no. 11 (1960): 837–40. The evidence for a fixed formulation is sparse. See White Joel R., “‘Peace and Security’ (1 Thessalonians 5.3): Is It Really a Roman Slogan?New Testament Studies 59, no. 3 (2013): 382–95. However, the Greek or Latin terms for “peace” and “security,” occasionally supplemented by others, such as “righteousness,” appear together, for example on inscriptions and in literary texts. See Weima Jeffrey A. D., “‘Peace and Security’ (1 Thess 5.3): Prophetic Warning or Political Propaganda?New Testament Studies 58, no. 3 (2012): 331–59, who points to the numismatic, monumental, epigraphic and literary evidence of the imperial period, propagating pax and securitas on coins, altars, and inscriptions, as well as in literary documents.

4 See Deissmann Adolf, Licht vom Osten: Das Neue Testament und die neuentdeckten Texte der hellenistisch-römischen Welt (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1923), 314–20. Deissmann refers to papyri, inscriptions, and coins from the Ptolemaic and Hellenistic-Roman era celebrating the arrival (παρουσία or adventus) of a ruler.

5 See the similar description in Philo, De confusion linguarum 78: The wise men “return to the place from which they set out at first, looking upon the heavenly country in which they have the rights of citizens (πατρίδα οὐράνιον ἐν ᾧ πολιτεύονται) as their native land, and as the earthly abode in which they dwell for a while as in a foreign land.” (Translation taken from Loeb Classical Library).

6 The political connotations of the designation savior can be observed, for example, in the usage of the term in inscriptions venerating the Roman emperor. See, for example, SIG3 814: Nero as liberating Zeus and savior (σωτήρ); OGIS II 458: Augustus as benefactor and savior (εὐεργέτ[ης] καὶ σωτήρ). SIG3 refers to Dittenberger Wilhelm, ed., Sylloge inscriptionum graecarum, 3rd ed. (Leipzig 1915–1924). OGIS II refers to Dittenberger Wilhelm, Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae (Leipzig 1903–1905).

7 The structure and terminology of Philippians 3:20–21 has similarities with that of the “Christ hymn” in 2:6–11. See Martin Ralph P. and Hawthorne Gerald F., Philippians, revised and expanded ed. (Nashville: Nelson Reference and Electronic, 2004), 228–30.

8 See Lategan Bernard C., “Reconsidering the Origin and Function of Galatians 3:28,” Neotestamentica 46, no. 2 (2012): 274–86.

9 See Wolter Michael, “Identität und Ethos bei Paulus,” in Theologie und Ethos im frühen Christentum: Studien zu Jesus, Paulus und Lukas (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 121–69.

10 Seneca, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium 47:1. In this letter Seneca is concerned with the treatment of slaves by their owners.

11 See Roth Ulrike, “Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus: A Christian Design for Mastery,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 105, no. 1 (2014): 102–30; Wessels G. Francois, “The Letter to Philemon in the Context of Slavery in Early Christianity,” in Philemon in Perspective: Interpreting a Pauline Letter, ed. Tolmie D. Francois (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter), 143–68.

12 Luke is referring here to the rule that Romans were not allowed to adopt foreign gods. See Cicero, De Legibus, 2:8:19; Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 4:30:10–11.

13 See Marguerat Daniel, “A Christianity between Jerusalem and Rome,” in The First Christian Historian: Writing the Acts of the Apostles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 6584 .

14 See Rothschild Claire K., Paul in Athens: The Popular Religious Context of Acts 17 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014).

15 See Marguerat Daniel, “Paul as a Socratic Figure in Acts,” in Paul in Acts and Paul in His Letters (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 6677 .

16 See Hill David, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 82162 .

17 See Schröter Jens, “Gerechtigkeit als Thema biblischer Theologie: Ein neutestamentliches Votum” (Öffentliche Vorlesungen der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 164, 2011), 4573 .

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