Romans 1:18-32: The Premise of False Teaching Rejected by Paul

The discussion in the first 3 chapters of Romans only broaches Paul’s main point in his gospel. This discussion concludes that all are culpable, all have sinned, and there is no advantage to having the law, but by chapter 7, it is not just that the law is of no help, but the law itself is implicated in the problem. In chapter 7 Paul is referencing the commandment given to Adam and Eve, so that the law and its problems are universalized. It is not only Jews who have a law problem, all people in Adam have the same problem.  It does not matter if the reference is to Jewish or Gentile law, the law of Moses or the law theoretically written on the heart. It does not matter what the source of this law is, as sin creates a deception in regard to the law. Romans 7, implicating the law (period) as giving rise to sin, needs to be kept in mind in chapters 1-3, as in many traditional readings Paul will be attributed with teaching a contradictory understanding to his conclusion in chapter 7: “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. . ..  The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment deceived me and through it killed me” (7:7a; 10-12). Far from teaching that the law is foundational to the gospel, Paul teaches that the gospel delivers those in bondage to the law. Chapters 1-3 is an illustration of how this bondage works, while Romans 4-8 pictures how rescue occurs. Read retrospectively, we can see that Paul is building a case in these first three chapters, not just that the law is of no advantage, but that the law is part of the problem.

It is not just that the human problem is not to be perceived in terms of law and its transgression, but this wrong perception is the problem. The law, which gives rise to forbidden desire, in spite of the life that it seemed to offer and due to the deception of sin, produces death for the ἐγὼ or a life of death described as an agonistic struggle in which the self is split against itself and sin is in control. Paul sums this up as the “body of death” (7:24) or “the law of sin and death” (8:2). The law of sin and death is the structuring principle of the Subject in which life is controlled by an orientation to death due to law (a primordial deception and a destructive drive).

In Paul’s depiction of the Subject, participation in the Trinity is displaced by participation in the law. Specifically, the law displaces relationship with God as Abba, and instead of being found in Christ the struggle with the I or the ego is definitive, displacing life in the Spirit with a death dealing deception. Righteousness perceived on the basis of the law is the sin problem directly addressed by Christ: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4). Being made dead to law (whether Jewish or Gentile), delivered from its strictures, is a key part of salvation.

If we should imagine Romans 1:18-32 is the last word or even the beginning word in regard to the human situation, the conclusion is that the wrath of God is primary. There is no mention of the love of God, which Paul will describe as primary (in chapter 8). The compassion of God has no place in this understanding, and God’s mercy – at least for these pagans – is absent. God judges and condemns, and the notion that he might forgive cannot be contemplated, as God’s righteousness demands judgment. But we know Paul does not think wrath and retribution are the essential nature of God, though in this presentation, all people, but especially non-Jewish people, are culpable and damned. They know what they should do and yet cannot help themselves. They have a law written on their heart, they have a natural revelation about God, but they have chosen to be idolaters and have become sexual predators and perverts. They could have enlightened minds, but instead they are totally depraved with their hearts completely darkened.

In this system, it is not clear whether the culpability is assigned to individuals or to the group as a whole, as it seems some got sin rolling with initial sins, and then this block of humanity suffers the consequences. As Douglas Campbell puts it, “It speaks in strongly condemning tones about others: ‘they have sinned and sinned and sinned again, . . . and I can assure you personally that God is angry with them’ (‘since he and I are on such good terms,’ one is tempted to add).”[1] The “they” here, as a result, is unclear. Who exactly has this philosophical opportunity to recognize the omnipotence, omniscience, and justice of God? It seems an original few may have ruined it for the rest. “After a foolish rejection of the single transcendent God, the disobedient pagans in the passage are rapidly overwhelmed by lusts . . . becoming so immersed in depraved behavior that they generate an entire culture of idolatry and sexual immorality (so vv. 23–27). The pagans are collectively trapped.”[2] By the end of the passage, philosophical man is gone, and subsequent generations are inundated with sinful passions and ultimately murder. Is it fair that they still be expected to know God and act accordingly. Can they “fairly be expected either to perceive a transcendent God or to act in accordance with that God’s wishes.”[3] It would seem there is a fundamental inequity for those who suffer the consequences of the decisions of those given the original opportunity. Where an original few had the possibility to save themselves at the judgment through wisdom, those who come after are tricked by wisdom.

Wisdom is now foolishness, which shows itself in their worship of the creation. They are “filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Ro 1:29–32). God is angry, retributive, and punishing. Pagans are going to die in their sins, and they deserve it. They are getting their just deserts.

If this is simply Paul’s opinion, we hear nothing of the self-indictment which will come later in the letter, or in notions that he is the chief of sinners (I Tim. 1:15). Are pagan idolaters peculiarly sinful in Paul’s theology, and how does this accord with his notion in Galatians that Judaizing Christians are guilty of idolatry? Whoever Paul is giving voice to, it is in the third person, and he or she is not included among these pagans and their idolatrous ways. As Campbell has described it, this person “has taken the ethical and rhetorical high ground in relation to the pagans, with a striking absence of self-knowledge . . ..  He speaks of God, perhaps as something of a self-appointed representative; indeed, he discloses the future wrath of God now in his own preaching, thereby in part deploying it himself! But this figure has not included himself within this orbit of fallibility. He stands outside and above it. Hence, even if there are elements of truth in what he is saying, the tone of his judgment is potentially repugnant.”[4]

Is this Paul’s starting premise in regard to the human situation, or is this in fact the understanding of a false Teacher he is refuting? What is at stake in our reading of the opening of Romans is nothing short of our understanding of reality. In Romans there are two possible anthropologies, cosmologies and theologies. If we do not clearly sort out the difference here in Romans 1-3, the danger is we will imagine the false anthropology, ontology and theology are presumed by Paul. In these verses retributive justice is the only option, judgment is on the basis of works, and all people have access to full knowledge of God through revelation (they would not need Jesus Christ if they had only done what they know is right).

It is easy to imagine the Teacher giving the amen to 1:18-32, and then extending the argument. “These pagans do not have the benefit of the Mosaic law, by which means idolatry is avoided and enlightened thinking capitalized upon. We possessors of the law control our base desires – you will not find sexual perverts or gossips among us. We circumcised ones, by the very efficacy of this sign receive the benefits of having our desires curtailed.” Texts, such as Maccabees, describe the virtues conveyed by the law – “the goodness or rightness, wisdom, self-control, and courage—to conquer their own bodily appetites and passions even in the most extreme circumstances, here excruciating pain, fear, loss, and humiliation under torture (and this at the hands of dissolute passionate pagans, it should be noted!).”[5] Paul may be arguing so extensively in regard to circumcision, as this is the key sign the Teacher emphasizes. Philo explains the advantages conveyed by circumcision, and the Teacher may presume as much:

It prevents disease (4), “secures the cleanliness of the whole body” (5), makes “the part that is circumcised … [‘resemble’] the heart”—and both organs are, after all, concerned with generation, the heart of thoughts and “the generative organ … of living beings” (6), and allows the seminal fluid to proceed easily, making those nations practicing circumcision the most numerous (7). Philo goes on to suggest, however, that these rationalizations are traditional (8); he supplies two further arguments of a symbolic nature that are closely related to one another. First, circumcision “is a symbol of the excision of all the pleasures which delude the mind; for since, of all the delights which pleasure can afford, the association of man with woman is the most exquisite, it seemed good to the lawgivers to mutilate the organ which ministers to such connections; by which rite they signified figuratively the excision of all superfluous and excessive pleasure, not, indeed, of one only, but of all others whatever, through that one which is the most impervious of all” (9). Similarly, circumcision is a symbol of “discarding that terrible disease, the vain opinion of the soul” (10). Here, then, circumcision is symbolic of the excision of vice and of the achievement of a superior ethical state, which Philo goes on to link immediately not merely with sound sexual ethics but with the absence of idolatry.[6]

The Teacher cannot imagine how sin is going to be curtailed and ethics instigated apart from circumcision and the Jewish law. These pagan Christians will need to be circumcised, they will need to practice Jewish ethics, and only in this way will they be declared righteous at the judgment.

Whether or not there is a specific false Teacher who may have proposed this understanding (the proposal of Douglas Campbell), what is obvious in chapters 2-3 is that on the basis of the premises here laid out, in the words of Richard Hays, Paul has set up a sting operation.

Romans 1:18–32 sets up a homiletical sting operation. The passage builds a crescendo of condemnation, declaring God’s wrath upon human unrighteousness, using rhetoric characteristic of Jewish polemic against Gentile immorality. It whips the reader into a frenzy of indignation against others: those unbelievers, those idol-worshipers, those immoral enemies of God. But then, in Romans 2:1, the sting strikes: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” The reader who gleefully joins in the condemnation of the unrighteous is “without excuse” (anapologētos) before God (2:1), just as those who refuse to acknowledge God are anapologētos (1:20).[7]

As Campbell points out, many interpreters understand that Paul is trapping someone in their own argument, but the problem is who (or whom) and why? This is not the argument of a typical Jew, but more than likely the argument of a false Teacher on the order of the Judaizing false Teacher in Galatia. This Teacher acknowledges Christ but only in conjunction with the law – setting the work of Christ on the foundation of retributive justice, the primacy of wrath, and the necessity of good works. In this understanding Paul is made to agree with the basic theology of 1:18-32, while in the following chapters he is trying to evoke a bit more self-awareness on the part of someone who would presume to judge someone else. “One ought to be aware that one is in the same boat, so to speak; the judge is also a sinner and ought to acknowledge this. Hence, this turn (in chapter 2) is designed to jolt the figure into a healthier level of self-knowledge—one that might elicit repentance and salvation, rather than hard-heartedness and condemnation of others (see esp. 2:3–5).”[8] But is this all that is going on here; namely that Paul wants potential judges of others to repent and receive forgiveness? If this is aimed at Jews in general, does Paul consider hypocrisy intrinsic to Judaism. If this is all there is to it, this judge seems a bit stupid (in Campbell’s words), in preaching just deserts and then excluding himself. Is this what the typical Jew does? Are Jews as a class of people, judgmental, hypocritical and stupid?

According to Paul then—and for the argument construed in these terms to work—Judaism is not merely contractual, conditional, perfectionist, monolithic, and ahistorical, but innately judgmental and hypocritical! It necessarily includes an internal insensitivity to sinfulness, combining this with a rigorously judgmental attitude to outsiders. In short, Jews are stupid as well as conditional. They promulgate a system that, to a man, they do not live up to themselves, but they nevertheless attack others on ethical grounds and are unaware of their own ethical shortcomings.[9]

While some Christian’s may perceive Judaism in this anti-Semitic manner, I presume not many Jews will see themselves in this portrayal. If it is simply Judaism Paul has in mind, is he presuming that this hypocritical Jew is squandering his opportunity to repent (2:4). Is Paul trying to get a stubborn Jew to repent, receive forgiveness, and be saved – and all of this without mention of Christ. Can a pagan or Jew, in the non-Christian phase here described, receive salvation if they repent and start living up to the law? Does phase one of human history, and phase one of the law prior to Christ, contain the possibility of salvation through the law?  

If those trying to do good deeds prior to Christ can sin and then repent, being forgiven those sins, then they may well arrive at the day of judgment effectively righteous. Given the appropriate contrition—which could presumably take place on their death beds if necessary—such individuals would have been forgiven their sins and shortcomings and so be righteous. God would then have to declare them that and save them on the day of judgment, and they would then have been saved independently of Christ, the church, Christian preaching, and Paul![10]

Given these presuppositions, presumably most Jews will be able to repent and be saved and there is no need for Christ.

Lest anyone should miss this is not and cannot be Paul’s understanding of the gospel – he says as much in 2:16: “according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” In the middle of this presentation, he notes that all of this is contrary to his gospel. His gospel is not a law-based system, but a Christ based system. Though this is only mentioned in passing, Paul will soon make it clear that Christ does not deliver by means of the law but he delivers from the law. But before Paul lays out his gospel, he is going to show the absurdity of a law-based gospel, a law-based judgment, or a law-based understanding of God.

Chapter 2, in universalizing the presumptions of 1:18-32 undermines the Teacher’s notion. He has passed judgment and has not included himself but presumes to judge all of the pagan world, not submitting himself to the same criteria. This Teacher presumes that because he is a law-keeping Jewish Christian, he has met the required standard. In his understanding, the law and circumcision are the means and measure of righteousness. Possessing the law, including or marked by circumcision, must be the means of constraining the sinful passions, evident especially in pagans. The law saves as judgment will be according to works of the law. If this were the case, then Jews and especially Jewish law-keeping Christians would be at a definite advantage (the Teacher’s point).

Paul is not simply trying to convince a hypocritical Jew to repent, he is arguing this entire system makes no sense. He concedes that circumcision may have value if you practice the law, but if not, it is a worthless sign (2:25). On the other hand, the opposite is true: “So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?” (2:26). Paul’s point is the law does not aid in righteousness, and as he will eventually argue, it disenables righteousness.

Paul argues, that according to the criteria of the Teacher there are potentially bad Jews and good pagans. “There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (2:9–10). Paul may be ironically quoting the Teacher in this construal of first and last, as to be damned first may not be a privilege, and there is no real difference between Jew and Gentiles in this scheme (to say nothing of Christian or non-Christian).

This Teacher must be boasting about the efficacy of the law: “you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth” (2:19–20). In the Teacher’s view, the law automatically conveys an advantage, such that those who possess it are to be the guides to the rest of blind humanity. Paul gives an historic example (also recorded by Josephus) of some Jews who do not live up to this standard (2:21-24), not to prove that all Jews are charlatans and robbers of temples, but to show that the law and circumcision do not convey the automatic benefits the teacher imagines nor automatically make the Jews the chosen race. 

Having extracted a firm commitment from the Teacher to the principle of soteriological desert, he uses this principle to eliminate an entire set of supposed Jewish advantages—advantages as the Teacher defines them, that is. The Teacher must submit to these eliminations or be exposed as inconsistent if not hopelessly self-contradictory. Paul seems well aware, moreover, that the principle of desert, when it is strictly applied, is peculiarly destructive to historical and elective concerns. Its strict application can produce quite appalling results, if it is pressed.[11]

By 2:29 Paul has rebutted the Teachers arguments using his own premises: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (2:28–29). By the Teacher’s argument it may be concluded, against the Teacher, that it is righteous gentiles who may judge unrighteous Jews. Jews, even, or especially, by his premises, must be accorded no special privilege.

Paul, however, is going to reject this entire scheme. He does not believe God is retributive, or that righteousness is determined by the law, and so too the traditional reading of 3:1-9 is reversed. Verses 2, 4, and 6 are advocating justice and judgment by works. Paul is usually attributed with this portion of the argument, but this is the Teacher’s argument. It is Paul (in 1,3,5,7 and 9) that questions the advantage of the Jew (3:1), who argues the law is nullified by a lack of faith (v. 5), who suggests a strict works-righteousness system is unfair (v. 7), and who questions that the Jew has any advantage. If we miss Paul is refuting the arguments of the Teacher, not only do we end up with the premises of 1:18-32 but we are likely to get his argument in 3:1-9 exactly wrong, attributing to Paul the argument of the false Teacher and attributing to Paul’s interlocutor (in the traditional understanding) Paul’s point.

The alternative is to recognize that Paul, using the premises of 1:18-32, has refuted the false Teacher. In 3:19-20 he silences the Teacher by driving him into a corner through a series of scripture quotations, the very ones on which he relies. The Teacher may imagine he is rescuing Christian converts by insisting they keep the law, the only way of being saved in his scheme. Paul, on the other hand, considers the teaching that the law is primary as falling short of the true gospel.

Paul makes it clear at the end of chapter 3, should there be any question, he rejects law as the basis of righteousness, he rejects retributive justice, and he rejects the entire scheme of the false Teacher. He clarifies the starting point of his gospel at the conclusion of the chapter:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (3:21–24).  

This clinches the argument, but it also serves as the beginning of Paul’s full explanation of the unconditional gospel.

[1] Douglas A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (p. 546). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

[2] Campbell, 359-360.

[3] Ibid..

[4] Campbell, 546.

[5] Campbell, 564.

[6] Cited in Campbell, 566.

[7] Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996), 389. Cited in Campbell 362-363..

[8]  Campbell, 363.

[9] Campbell, 364-365.

[10] Campbell, 367.

[11] Campbell, 551.

Introducing the Course on the Gospel of John

Is there in John, and by extension in Genesis, the notion that evil (in the form of darkness and chaos) precedes and enters into creation from its inception, or is John foreclosing this “narrative gap” to locate the origin of evil subsequent to creation? This is not an academic question, as the Gnostics and their predecessors (to say nothing of present-day Gnostics) find in Genesis and John a cosmic dualism, in which light and darkness are engaged in an ongoing ontological struggle. Philo, for example, presumes that chaos, emptiness, and darkness were there from before creation, and so too in some modern interpreters of John, these nothings are not among the things that come into being as these are over and against being.[1] These are of the nothing and non-being, such that one could say (and mean something very different than John) that “Nothing came into being apart from the Logos.” The Nothing of creation ex nihilo that is, is assigned an actual reality as a counter force over and against God and creation.

Is it the case that there was a preexistent evil resistance to creation and this is represented by darkness?  Or is the darkness subsequent to creation and accounted for within the parameters of the story (the story of creation or the story of the Gospel)? Is sin and evil something we can locate, name, and identify, along with its defeat or is the battle between light and darkness of such proportions that we are mere pawns in a game in which we cannot know from whence it came or where it is going? The answer to this question divides the Christian world (roughly between East and West) but it also amounts to two readings of John. The basic contention is whether John is a text that accords with the Platonic tradition (identity through difference, the necessity of a dualism)[2] or is John, in taking up the Logos (a key Greek philosophic term), describing an understanding over and against the Greeks and the Gnostics?

There is no part of the Christian enterprise that is not affected by how we conceive the Logos, as it is the abstraction of the Logos (conceived as the preexistent Christ and reduced to something like a first principle) which accounts for or accords with the mystification of sin, the turn to apologetics, the focus on an abstract atonement theory, the privileging of the law, the turn to nominalism, and the basic tenor of Western theology.

This understanding begins with a separation within the Word – separating the Logos from the “word of the cross,” making a division between the word and work of Christ. The nominalist positing of an empty sign or the disconnect between word and action or between words and ultimate reality, or the gap posed between God and creation flow out of this separation. For example, Luther and Calvin could not conceive of first order participation in the divine nature, as man is totally depraved and justification is outward (legally imputed) and there is no real participation in divine life. But the nominalist/Protestant inspired devolution from Hegel, to Kant, to Marx, to Nietzsche, is not simply a modern dilemma but is the condition addressed by Christ.

The incarnate identity in the New Testament and early church is pictured as definitively established in the cross. The presumption in John and among the early church fathers was not that this identity was some pre-incarnate form of the Logos.

John opens his depiction of recreation with the (Genesis) light personified in Christ and with the confirmation of creation ex nihilo through Christ but also with the resistant chaos of darkness threatening: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:3-5). The darkness does not overtake, grasp, overpower, or vanquish the light but the very existence of the penetrating light relativizes the darkness.

As in Genesis, the chaos of the waters and the darkness of night, is not a residue of the nothingness from out of which things were made but is a condition existing within creation. The “formless and void” condition and the “darkness over the surface of the deep” is limited by the light (1:2-4) and in the midst of the waters, atmosphere is formed creating a vertical space, and land is formed holding back the waters, creating a horizontal space (1:6-10). In John, Jesus’ movement between heaven and earth is on the order of the creation of an atmosphere in which heaven and earth meet as the life and breath of God are readily available in this joining. So too in John, the darkness can be named, comprehended, grasped, and is even overpowered in the culminating “it is finished” which sums up creation and recreation.

It is not that darkness takes on substance in John or that the dualism between light and dark are affirmed. Rather, John is depicting a decisive defeat of the darkness, and not a battle between two equal and opposite forces or the balancing out of the powers. The cure of the human disease is not, as it is for the Gnostics, in reconciling light and darkness and seeking a middle way of harmony between these opposed pairs. The Star Wars “dark” and “light” sides of the Force typify this Gnostic sort of dualism, in which evil is pictured as a competing reality with the good. In this world, good and evil or life and death constitute a “reality” of struggling between opposed pairs. As the Stranger describes in Plato’s Sophist:

Whereas we have not merely shown that things that are not, are, but we have brought to light the real character of “not being.”  We have shown that the nature of the Different has existence and is parceled out over the whole field of existent things with reference to one another; and of every part of it that is set in contrast to “that which is” we have dared to say that precisely that is really “that which is not.” . . . [We have proved] that the Kinds blend with one another; that Existence and Difference pervade them all, and pervade one another, that Difference. . . by partaking of Existence, is by virtue of that participation, but on the other hand is not that Existence of which it partakes, but is different; and since it is different from Existence . . . quite clearly it must be possible that it should be a thing that is not (Sophist 258-259).[3]

In other words, the nothing and nonexistent competes with and participates in being. Where a dualism is posited, reality and truth are not to be found on one side of the duality, as the dualism constitutes the existence (with the lie, in Plato’s description, having its own reality and substance necessary to the truth).  Life, peace, goodness, and light, do not survive, either conceptually or as lived possibilities, when paired with death, violence, evil, and darkness. Where life is gained through death, where peace is the end product of war, where goodness is the counter to evil, and where light is apprehended through the darkness, the oppositional reality infects both poles of the duality.  The lie resides not in one of the opposed pairs but in the opposition itself.  This system, what John will call the cosmos of darkness, does not present a true picture of alienation, rather it is a system of alienation in which the seeming route to overcoming alienation enacts it.  John’s Gospel opposes this proto-Gnostic tendency, not because it is the peculiar sin of his day, but because this identity through difference is the universal form of sin.

The illusion or lie is to imagine that difference is definitive and that existence and non-existence and the endless differences of the world constitute the world. Simply stated, the human failing is to confuse reality with unreality, setting up an antagonistic struggle to the death.  Life is consumed in an agonistic striving toward balance, but the illusion – producing suffering and death, is that engaging the struggle more intensely is the means of resolving the struggle. This peace through war or life through death antagonism not only misconstrues the power and substance of war and death but loses life and peace in the process. 

 John’s Gospel, defines the cosmos of darkness through a series of oppositional dualities which are precisely not dualisms, as John will reduce and collapse one pole of the opposed pairs. Hierarchy, law, and sacrifice are aimed at warding off chaos through maintaining a rigid balance, while in John, the Logos explodes this cosmos of darkness in that the light will penetrate and expose the darkness, life will defeat death, heaven will come to earth, and the children of the Devil will become the children of God. The evil, fleshly, world below is not an enduring autonomous reality but is exposed and defeated so that the apparent dualisms are exposed as mere oppositional dualities (and not equal and opposite dualisms).

Just as darkness in the original creation is an absence of light, so too in John, the darkness is a negation of the Light and belief is an apprehension of the Light. The Light is not only apprehended through belief but by this means “you may become sons of Light” (12:35-36). It is not that the darkness is a definitive direction or quality (a definitive counterforce) or a necessary ingredient of its opposite. As Jesus describes it, walking in the darkness apart from the Light will allow the darkness to “overtake you” as “he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes.” On the other hand, walking in the Light is to imitate Jesus and walk so as to avoid the darkness.

 As James Alison describes it, there are no secret deals, no dark blood-letting, no prior chaos with which God has to deal.[4] God has spoken definitively and finally in the word of the cross. “It is finished” (John 19:30); the Spirit is given and recreation has commenced. Any social or religious order founded upon seeking God in chaos is directly refuted by this God who speaks directly and clearly into the world in the word of the cross, the Logos of God.

(Register for the upcoming Class on the Gospel of John starting May 9th here:

[1] For example Jonathan A. Draper, “Darkness as Non-Being and the Origin of Evil in John’s Gospel” Darkness_as_Non-Being_and_the_Origin_of_Evil_in_Jo.pdf William Lane Craig, as one of the key promoters of the kalām cosmological argument, posits this gap in God as existing between “His timeless intention to create a world with a beginning, and His power to produce such a result.” The distinction is between “His causal power in order for the universe to be created” and “God’s timeless intention to create a temporal world” (fashioned of the same stuff as Augustinian/Calvinist sovereignty). Causal forces exist in time (this side of the nothing in creation ex nihilo) and exist over and against the eternal (prior to nothing) and so the thought (which is eternal), and “God’s undertaking to create” (which has a definitive beginning), must be differentiated. What is differentiated and divided is the nothing, prior to which God only intends to create and after and out of which he creates. (“Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Rejoinder,” forthcoming in Faith and Philosophy. Quoted from Wes Morrison, “A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” accessed at God’s undertaking is the very first event God causes, which posits the same sort of infinite regress the argument rejects. The kalām argument depends on there not being an actually existing series of objects or discrete entities (an infinite library or infinite rooms in a hotel reduces to contradiction as subtraction or addition to either will not register) reduces to a logical contradiction. Yet Craig needs this same discretion to exist in the mind of God so he does not simply fall back on an unreasonable eternity. He insists on this element of the argument to preserve the argument from the unreason it repudiates and builds upon.

[2] See for example, Plato’s description of the status of a lie and of difference in the Sophist.

[3] F. M. Cornford, Plato’s Theory of Knowledge: The Theaetetus and the Sophist of Plato translated with a running commentary (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1935), 294-296. Quoted in Draper.

[4] See chapter 4 of James Alison’s, On Being Liked, (Herder & Herder, April 1, 2004).

I Kissed Dating Goodbye as I am no Longer Human: Curing This Sickness Unto Death

Total freedom and the possibility of total destruction are not simply global phenomena (the “free” possibility of ending organized civilization through nuclear warfare or global warming) but are conjoined in a “despairing” Subject. Progress toward attaining the self, whether it brings down the world or simply destroys what is, marks the present world order but also the despairing, fear bound Subjects emerging at the end of late modernity. This despair, in Søren Kierkegaard’s depiction of it, might be despair at not being conscious of having a self, or despair at not willing to be oneself, or despair at willing to be oneself, but all three reduce to the same predicament.[1] There is a disease of the spirit (the spirit of the age or the individual human spirit) a dividedness and fear in which unity is sought (becoming or attaining the self) in negation of the self. Kierkegaard calls it “the sickness unto death.” Continue reading “I Kissed Dating Goodbye as I am no Longer Human: Curing This Sickness Unto Death”