E. P. Sanders on suffering in Paul and Palestinian Judaism

Sanders-PAPJ-9781506438146E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism[1] was instrumental in sparking the discussion about Pauline theology that has dominated New Testament studies in the last generation. Though Sanders’ critique of Schweitzer is on point,[2] Sanders acknowledges the participationist language Paul employs, especially with regard to suffering. For example, part-and-parcel with what Sanders describes as “transfer to being a Christian”[3] is “participation in the death of Christ.”[4] Indeed, Sanders summarizes: “the main theme of Paul’s gospel was the saving action of God in Jesus Christ and how his hearers could participate in that action.” [5]

To be sure, Sanders does go on to say, “the principal word for that participation is ‘faith’ or ‘believing’, a term which Paul doubtless took over from the earlier Christian missionaries”[6] but Sanders also points out repeatedly that participation in Christ’s suffering and death is requisite to being “in Christ” and participating in the resurrection. Sanders makes this explicit in his discussion of Pauline righteousness in relation to participation[7] where he points out that participation in Christ in the form of sharing in Christ’s sufferings is “how one attains the resurrection.”[8]

Later in that same discussion Sanders writes that Paul “tells us over and over again: the goal of religion is ‘to be found in Christ’ and to attain, by suffering and dying with him, the resurrection.”[9]

In Sanders’ conclusion to this same section, Sanders concludes that the true righteousness from God “which depends on faith […] is received when one is ‘found in Christ’, shares his suffering and is placed among those who will share his resurrection.”[10]

One further point from Sanders is important to point out. Sanders notes that “Paul does not have one fixed terminology for participation” and concludes that “the very diversity of the terminology helps to show how the general conception of participation permeated his thought.”[11] This means that, first of all, that since participation permeates Paul’s thought we ought reasonably to expect that participation permeates his thoughts on suffering, as well. It also means that we must be careful not to limit discussion of participatory suffering in Paul to passages that employ only certain key terms or phrases, but must be on the lookout for places where Paul discusses such participation in suffering apart from those terms. Indeed, given the diversity Sanders notes, it is reasonable to assume that Paul will discuss participation and suffering employing a variety or terms and phrases.


[1]E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.

[2]“But more important—and this is basically what is wrong with Schweitzer’s theory as a whole—Schweitzer did not see the internal connection between the righteousness by faith terminology and the terminology about life in the Spirit, being in Christ and the like (terminology which here will be called ‘participationist’, which seems better than the controversial term ‘mystical’), a connection which exists in Paul’s own letters.” Sanders, PAPJ, 440.

[3]Sanders, PAPJ, 463.

[4]Sanders, PAPJ, 463.

[5]Sanders, PAPJ, 447.

[6]Sanders, PAPJ, 447.

[7]Sanders’ point in this section is that “righteousness by faith and participation in Christ ultimately amount to the same thing” (506).

[8]Sanders, PAPJ, 505.

[9]Sanders, PAPJ, 506.

[10]Sanders, PAPJ, 551.

[11]Sanders, PAPJ, 456.

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Schweitzer on Pauline Suffering

Albert Schweitzer’s Mysticism of Paul the Apostle[1] is often cited in the debate over participation and union with Chris but his chapter on “Suffering as a Mode of Manifestation of the Dying with Christ”[2] is most informative with regard to understanding Pauline suffering. Schweitzer sees Pauline suffering as a part of participating in Christ’s death (though Schweitzer does not use these terms).[3] While some of the verses Schweitzer cites[4] speak more to identity or self-denial or self-sacrifice in the ministry of the Lord rather than suffering per se, Schweitzer is correct that there is certainly a “dynamic conception of union with Christ in His death”[5] and this union, which Paul relates is signified by baptism, is more than simply an identity marker; this union is a constant lived experience.

Schweitzer’s claim that suffering with Christ is a primitive Christian concept that did not originate with Paul[6] is undoubtedly true, but it is Paul[7] who brings suffering with Christ to the fore.

Schweitzer goes against the notion that Paul’s teaching in this regard is “explained by the unique character of his experience at his conversion” and instead, regards that Paul views his “Christ-dedicated life” as a” being delivered over to death.”[8] This experience, Paul has “generalised in his teaching.”[9]

Schweitzer is correct that Paul sees his suffering as divine validation upon his life and ministry a true Apostle of Jesus Christ and that his suffering is the direct result of his daring to “speak out the full truth about the significance of the Cross.”[10] Paul’s suffering “only shows how far he has already advanced in the dying with Christ, and accordingly, how vigorously the life of Christ is unfolding itself in him. Thus in the end his sufferings come to mean more to him than even being caught up into the third heaven and into Paradise.”[11]

[1]Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, trans., William Montgomery, New York: Macmillan Company, 1955.

[2]Chapter VII, 141-159.

[3]141, 142




[7]As well as Peter, though their emphases might be different.





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E. P. Sanders’ critique of Schweitzer is on point

Here is E. P. Sanders’ critique of Schweitzer, specifically, Schweitzer’s argument in Mysticism of Paul the Apostle. This is from Paul and Palestinian Judaism. (I’ve included Sanders’ footnotes because they have a wealth of information).

This is not to say that Schweitzer’s position is completely correct. It is oversimplified in one minor way and in one major way. It is possible, for one thing, to find some passages in which ‘faith’, if not ‘righteousness by faith’, is related to ethics,4although one must note that Paul generally works out his ethical statements on the basis of the believers’ life in the Spirit. But more important—and this is basically what is wrong with Schweitzer’s theory as a whole—Schweitzer did not see the internal connection between the righteousness by faith terminology and the terminology about life in the Spirit, being in Christ and the like (terminology which here will be called ‘participationist’,4which seems better than the controversial term ‘mystical’), a connection which exists in Paul’s own letters. Thus Schweitzer did not note that besides saying that one becomes one body with the Lord in the sacraments (1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13), Paul also wrote that the Spirit is received through faith (Gal. 3:1–5).50

48See Gal. 5:6 and perhaps Rom. 14:23. In discussing Gal. 5:6 (‘faith working through love’) and 5:22–24 (the fruits of the Spirit), Bornkamm (Paul, p. 153) comments that ‘justification is [the] precondition’ for the fruits of the Spirit. This, however, is just what Paul does not say, and it is precisely in Gal. 5:5 that righteousness or justification is said to be expected in the future. Thus Gal. 5:6 does not lead to the conclusion that ethics are connected with the terminology ‘righteousness by faith’ as such. In Rom. 14:23 (‘whatever does not proceed from faith is sin’), the meaning of ‘faith’ is probably simply ‘conviction’ (see the NEB and Whiteley, Theology of St Paul, p. 59; cf. the Jerusalem Bible: ‘done in bad faith’), so that again ethics are not based on being justified by faith.

49Käsemann argued that ‘participation’ is too weak, since it does not sufficiently describe the power of Christ’s lordship which seizes believers: ‘The Lord’s Supper’, Essays, p. 124. It nevertheless seems the best general term. So also Whiteley, Theology of St Paul, e.g. pp. 130, 152, 154 (‘the main consistent set of symbolism expresses participation’). Note also Tannehill’s terms: ‘corporate patterns of thought (Dying and Rising, p. 24), ‘inclusive patterns of thought’ (p. 24).

50Thus Schweitzer (Mysticism, p. 221) was incorrect in asserting that the possession of the Spirit is never connected with righteousness by faith. It is at least connected with faith.

Source: E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 440.


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December 18, 1854: Charles Spurgeon First Preaches at New Park Street Chapel

According to Iain Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon, It was “on the cold and dull morning of December 18, 1853” that a nineteen-year-old Charles Spurgeon “first stood in the pulpit of New Park Street Chapel.” [1]

This historic church had roots back to the 17th Century and had previously been pastored by such Baptist greats as Benjamin Keach, John Gill, and John Rippon. Though it was much smaller than it had been in years past, Murray notes that it was still the largest Baptist congregation in London at the time. According to William Cathcart, “at his first service there were only 200 attendants in a building capable of holding 1200.”[2]

Spurgeon preached for three months on probation and on April 28, 1854[3], he assumed the pastorate, and would go on to minister to this congregation, through a name-change and a building program, for thirty-eight years until his death on January 31, 1892.

There are many good biographies of Spurgeon (and he himself wrote a two-volume autobiography) but my two favorite biographies of Spurgeon are the following two:

Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold A. Dallimore

Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers by Lewis A. Drummond


[1] Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973) 23.

[2] William Cathcart, ed., The Baptist Encyclopædia (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), 1093.

[3] Cathcart, 1093.

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Happy Birthday, Herman Bavinck!

On this day (December 13) in 1854 one of the premier Reformed Theologians of the

modern age was born in Hoogeveen in the Netherlands. Herman Bavinck first served as Professor of Dogmatics at Kampen Theological Seminary where he wrote the first edition of his multi-volume Gereformeerde Dogmatic (Reformed Dogmatics). He later accepted Abraham Kuyper’s invitation to teach at the Free University of Amsterdam. While a professor there he visited the US in 1908 and delivered the Stone Lectures at Princeton on Philosophy of Revelation. Bavinck also served in Parliament and was a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics are still in print through Baker and these four volumes show a familiarity not only with the history of Reformed thought and with the Church Fathers, but also with the leading liberal thinkers and theologians up to his time.

Baker also has in print Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (which is edited by John Bolt, who also edited the Reformed Dogmatics) and P&R has a highly regarded biography of Bavinck by Ron Gleason entitled Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian.

Here are three of my favorite Bavinck quotes, all from his Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3:  Sin and Salvation in Christ. These are all from Chapter 8, “Christ’s Exaltation.”

It is the crucified but also the resurrected and exalted Christ whom the apostles proclaim. From that vantage point of the exaltation of Christ, they view and describe his earthly life, suffering, and death. For the work he now carries out as the exalted mediator, he laid the foundations in his cross. In his battle with sin, the world, and Satan, the cross has been his only weapon. By the cross he triumphed in the sphere of justice over all powers that are hostile to God. But in the state of exaltation, consequently, he has also been given the divine right, the divine appointment, the royal power and prerogatives to carry out the work of re-creation in full, to conquer all his enemies, to save all those who have been given him, and to perfect the entire kingdom of God. On the basis of the one, perfect sacrifice made on the cross, he now—in keeping with the will of the Father—distributes all his benefits. Those benefits are not the physical or magical aftereffect of his earthly life and death; the history of the kingdom of God is not an evolutionistic process. It is the living and exalted Christ, seated at the right hand of God, who deliberately and with authority distributes all these benefits, gathers his elect, overcomes his enemies, and directs the history of the world toward the day of his parousia. He is still consistently at work in heaven as the mediator. He not only was but still is our chief prophet, our only high priest, and our eternal king. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.[1]

All these ministries and workings proceed from the exalted Christ, who is the one Lord of the church (1 Cor. 8:6) in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col. 2:3; 1 Cor. 1:30). He came into the world to bear witness to the truth over against the lie (John 8:44–45; 18:36). He not only spoke the truth but is himself the truth who has made known the Father, leads us to the Father, and, in the knowledge of God, grants eternal life (John 1:17–18; 14:6; 17:3). In fighting falsehood, he therefore uses no other weapon than that of the word: this word is the sword of his mouth (Eph. 6:17; Rev. 2:12, 16; 19:15). By that word he judges and separates things (John 3:17–18; 9:39; 12:47; Heb. 4:12), but he also makes free and gives life (John 8:31–32, 51; 15:3; 17:3). To remain in his word and make his word remain in them is the calling of his disciples (John 8:31, 51; 15:7; 1 John 2:24). [2]

At the end of the days, when Christ has subdued his church and all his enemies, he will deliver the βασιλεια, the kingship, the royal office, to the Father. Then his mediatorial work is finished. The work the Father instructed him to do will have been completed. God himself will then be king forever. […] God will be king and [thus] all in all. But what remains is the mediatorship of union. Christ remains Prophet, Priest, and King as this triple office is automatically given with his human nature, included in the image of God, and realized supremely and most magnificently in Christ as the Image of God. Christ is and remains the head of the church, from whom all life and blessedness flow to it throughout all eternity. Those who would deny this must also arrive at the doctrine that the Son will at some point in the future shed and destroy his human nature; and for this there is no scriptural ground whatever.[3]

[1] Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 473–474.

[2] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3, 475.

[3] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3, 481-482.


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Calvin on what passes for “Worship” in many evangelical churches

Too much “worship” in churches today is nothing more than the product of people’s imaginations designed to make them feel good. It should be the product of the study Scripture and designed to glorify God.

Having observed that the Word of God is the test which discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated, we thence readily infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption. For men pay no regard to what God has commanded, or to what he approves, in order that they may serve him in a becoming manner, but assume to themselves a license of devising modes of worship, and afterwards obtruding them upon him as a substitute for obedience. If in what I say I seem to exaggerate, let an examination be made of all the acts by which the generality suppose that they worship God. I dare scarcely except a tenth part as not the random offspring of their own brain. What more would we? God rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his Word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience. When shaking off this yoke, we wander after our own fictions, and offer to him a worship, the work of human rashness, how much soever it may delight ourselves, in his sight it is vain trifling, nay, vileness and pollution. The advocates of human traditions paint them in fair and gaudy colors; and Paul certainly admits that they carry with them a show of wisdom; but as God values obedience more than all sacrifices, it ought to be sufficient for the rejection of any mode of worship, that it is not sanctioned by the command of God.[1]

[1] John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 132–133.

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Calvin on the “Due Worship of God”

Let us now see what is meant by the due worship of God. Its chief foundation is to acknowledge Him to be, as He is, the only source of all virtue, justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, power, goodness, mercy, life, and salvation; in accordance with this, to ascribe and render to Him the glory of all that is good, to seek all things in Him alone, and in every want have recourse to Him alone. Hence arises prayer, hence praise and thanksgiving—these being attestations to the glory which we attribute to Him. This is that genuine sanctification of His name which He requires of us above all things. To this is united adoration, by which we manifest for Him the reverence due to his greatness and excellency, and to this ceremonies are subservient, as helps or instruments, in order that, in the performance of divine worship, the body may be exercised at the same time with the soul. Next after these comes self-abasement, when, renouncing the world and the flesh, we are transformed in the renewing of our mind, and living no longer to ourselves, submit to be ruled and actuated by Him. By this self-abasement we are trained to obedience and devotedness to his will, so that his fear reigns in our hearts, and regulates all the actions of our lives. That in these things consists the true and sincere worship which alone God approves, and in which alone He delights, is both taught by the Holy Spirit throughout the Scriptures, and is also, antecedent to discussion, the obvious dictate of piety. Nor from the beginning was there any other method of worshipping God, the only difference being, that this spiritual truth, which with us is naked and simple, was under the former dispensation wrapt up in figures. And this is the meaning of our Saviour’s words, “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth,” (John 4:23.) For by these words he meant not to declare that God was not worshipped by the fathers in this spiritual manner, but only to point out a distinction in the external form, viz., That while they had the Spirit shadowed forth by many figures, we have it in simplicity. But it has always been an acknowledged point, that God, who is a Spirit, must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.[1]


[1] John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 127–128.

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