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The MOST Theological Collection: Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (The Thought of St. Paul)



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Preliminary note: It is of capital importance to know the ways in which St. Paul uses a given word. Luther's error could have been avoided if he had known the meaning St. Paul gives to the word faith. For example, the major Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, in its Supplement volume (l976), on p.333, explains the correct meaning of St. Paul in the same way as that which we will give below in this glossary -- a way very different from Luther's notion.

How can we be sure of what meaning St. Paul intends? The most basic way is to use a concordance, a book that gives us a list of every passage in the New Testament in which, e.g., the word faith appears. Then we look up each passage in context, see how it is used there, keep notes,and at the end add them up. One can also use various dictionaries of the Bible -- not all are equally reliable. Especially good is A. van den Born, Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by Louis Hartman.1

We need to notice too that not all writers of Holy Scripture use the same word in the same sense, e.g., St. James uses the word faith to mean mere intellectual assent to truth, which is far different from Paul's use as we will see.

Still further, it is very important to notice that St. Paul, trained as a Rabbi, commonly does his thinking in Hebrew, and so uses Greek words in the Hebrew sense, as he knew it in the Old Testament.

call, election: Paul means the call of God to be a member of the Church, in the full sense (for there can be a lesser degree of membership. Cf. comments on Romans 2:14-16).

faith: Luther thought the word meant confidence that the merits of Christ are credited to me, when I take Christ as my personal Savior, or make a decision for Christ, as many say today. If we picture a ledger with credit and debit pages, on the credit page one writes infinity, for the merits of Christ -- then no matter how much he has sinned, is sinning, will sin, it makes no difference, so long as he believes Christ has paid for it all. Cf. Luther's Letter 50l to Melanchthon: "Sin boldly, but believe more boldly." And his Epistle to Melanchthon of August 1, 15212: ". . . you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. . . . No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day."

St. Paul, in contrast, means the total adherence of a person to God, so that if God speaks a truth, we assent in our mind (1 Thessalonians 2:13), if He makes a promise, we are confident in it (Romans 4:3), if He gives a command, we obey (Romans 1:5), all to be done in love (Galatians 5:6). At times, e.g., Romans 1:5, Paul speaks of the "obedience of faith" -- the obedience that faith is. As we said in the preliminary note, the major Protestant Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplement p.333, gives the same explanation of St. Paul's meaning: "Paul uses pistis/pisteuein to mean, above all, belief in the Christ kerygma [preaching], knowledge, obedience, trust in the Lord Jesus. It comes by hearing with faith the gospel message . . . by responding with a confession about Christ . . . and by the 'obedience of faith' . . . 'the obedience which faith is'."

Of course Paul does not mean that our obedience earns salvation -- then there would be no real difference between justification by faith and justification by works, whereas Paul insists we are justified by faith. Yet he says that disobedience can earn punishment: Romans 6:23. How distorted of Luther to say faith justifies disobedience, when faith includes obedience.

focusing: Paul has two ways of looking at the law, and some other things also. In the focused way (it is as if we were looking through a tube and so could see only what is framed by the circle of the tube): the law makes heavy demands -- it gives no strength -- to be under heavy demand with no strength means a fall. But in the factual way (we remove the limit of the circle, and see the whole horizon): Law still makes heavy demands and gives no strength, but off to the side, in no relation to the law, there is grace, given even before Christ, in anticipation of His merits. With it there need not be a fall, instead, great blessing. As we shall see, understanding that Paul has these two ways of looking allows us to solve numerous problems that no one else has solved in Paul, e.g., most of the time he says dire things about the law: no one can keep it, it is the ministry of condemnation. But in Romans 3 and 9, early in the chapter, he says having the law was a great privilege of the first People of God.

grace: The most common Old Testament word is hen which means: favor on God's part to humans, then, the expression of that favor, then what He gives as a result. The Old Testament does not speak broadly here -- it mentions only blessing and wisdom as things He gives. It does not use the word as broadly as the New Testament uses its words for grace.

The most usual New Testament word in Greek is charis. In secular Greek it means charm, the quality that attracts favor. Then it picked up all the Old Testament uses of the word, then spoke more broadly of any kind of gift given by God to us.

Because of this breadth of meaning, various translations may choose different words, chiefly grace or favor, according to the context. But if we translate by favor we must keep firmly in mind that it does not mean that God just, as it were, sits there and smiles, but gives nothing. Then we would act by our own power -- which would be Pelagian heresy. The word grace expresses what He gives. Protestants commonly use the word grace to mean just favor, thinking that we are totally corrupt, and that grace does not change us interiorly at all. Cf. Luther's major work, The Bondage of the Will.

We gather from 1 Corinthians 12 that there are two broad categories of graces -- sanctifying and charismatic. Sanctifying graces are aimed at making the recipient holy; charismatic graces do not aim directly at that: they are for some benefit to the community. Sanctifying graces include two chief types: habitual grace (also called sanctifying) which by its very reception makes the person holy, and actual graces, those given at this moment, to lead and enable one to do a particular good thing here and now. Charismatic graces include chiefly two types: those that are miraculous, such as healing the sick, tongues, etc., and those that are not, such as the grace of being a good apostle, priest, parent, teacher etc. Of course, these distinctions and added terms are not found explicitly in St. Paul: we deduce them from many statements of St. Paul, as we shall see. The principles God has chosen to follow in the two areas, sanctifying and charismatic, are very different. He freely offers sanctifying graces to all, for He as accepted the infinite price of redemption, and so obligated Himself to offer grace without limit. What we get is conditioned by our receptivity. But charismatic graces are given where the Spirit wills, independently of the deserts of the recipient.3

St. Paul often uses two words in his greeting: Grace and peace to you. Grace can also reflect a common Greek greeting: chairein plus the common Hebrew greeting shalom.

heart: The Hebrew leb is very broad, often means the whole interior life of a person.

holy: The Old Testament sense of qadosh means primarily set aside or consecrated to God. One so consecrated of course ought to be high on the moral scale -- and so our modern sense of holy is related. St. Paul often uses holy in the Old Testament sense.

Holy Spirit: We cannot always be sure Paul means the Divine Person in a given passage, though He surely knows of that Divine Person. But the Old Testament use of Spirit of God often means a power that comes forth from God to do what He wills. If we find the word the, it will not prove St. Paul means the Divine Person, for the Greek of his day often used the differently from the way we do.

justice, righteousness: Paul commonly has in mind Hebrew sedaqah, which means the virtue that gets one to do everything that morality requires. In the later Old Testament period it also developed the sense of salvific activity by God -- but even that seems to be derived from the primary: if the people do what they should under the covenant, God will reward them, and this is justice; if they do what is wrong, He will punish them, it is also justice. Actually the most common sense of justice as applied to God means His concern for the objective moral order in which sin is a debt which His Holiness wants repaid. This is found in the Old Testament, Intertestamental literature, the New Testament, Rabbis, and the Fathers. Cf. the appendix to this commentary.

justification, justify: getting right with God. See comments on Galatians 2:16

know: like Hebrew yada it often, though not always, means not only mental knowledge, but also love.

love: St. Paul nowhere gives a definition of love, but he gives a beautiful description in 1 Corinthians l3. We can get help from 2 John 6: "This is love [namely] that we walk according to His commands." This is the same thought as the words of Jesus in John 14:15 & 21: "If you love me, you will keep my commands. . . . He who has my commands and keeps them, he it is who loves me."

To love is to will or wish good to another for the other's sake. But this applies only to love of a human being. For we cannot hope God is well off -- yet Scripture pictures Him as pleased when we obey, displeased when we do not. It is not that He gains thereby. There are two reasons: 1) His generosity is pleased in being able to give -- if we are open to receive it. So His commands tell us how to be open to receive. 2) Obeying these simultaneously steers us away from the evils that lie in the very nature of things for sin, e.g., a hangover after getting drunk, or the grave danger of a loveless marriage from much premarital sex. Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12.

peace: St. Paul has in mind Hebrew shalom which besides our English peace, means more broadly, well-being.

save, saved: There are three senses of save, saved: (1) rescue from evils of this life (common in the Old Testament), (2) entry into the Church (e.g. Romans 9:27; 10:10; 11:14; 11:25-26 and comments on those verses),(3) reaching final salvation (e.g., Philippians 2:12; 1 Timothy 2:9 and comments on those verses). There is no instant permanent salvation by taking Jesus as personal Savior: cf. Romans 5:3-4; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 10:1-2 and comments on those verses. The standard reference, G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament makes no mention at all of the frequent Protestant notion of permanent salvation by one act of taking Jesus as Savior.

walk: like Hebrew halach it often means to live one's life.


1 McGraw Hill, 1963.
2 Works, American Edition, 48, pp.281-832.
3 Cf. the article by W. Most, "Grace, in the Bible" in the New Catholic Encyclopedia.

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