N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 25 (Passing over sins previously committed, Part 4)


N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 3:24-25

(Rom. 3:24-25 NET)  24 But they are justified [declared faithful to God’s covenants with the Jews] freely by his grace through the redemption [freedom from slavery] that is in Christ [King/Messiah] Jesus.  25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat [place of forgiveness in the Holy of Holies, God’s throne on earth] accessible through faith [faithfulness/trust]. This was to demonstrate his righteousness [faithfulness to the covenant], because God in his forbearance [tolerant patience] had passed over the sins previously committed [by whom?]. 

So … In Conclusion [JFG]

Okay. I admit it. I’ve gone pretty far afield from Wright’s book. But not from his comments on Rom 2:4 and 3:25 and Acts 17:22-31. To his credit, Wright doesn’t avoid hard topics, and he admits that Paul says sins committed by both Jews and Gentiles pre-Pentecost were forborn and so unpunished. To me, this surely means that there was no gehenna for the damned. They just died never to be resurrected — which is why the OT is silent on gehenna and eternal punishment but does speak of the blessed afterlife for faithful Israel.

Not all commentators believe that references to being “gathered to his fathers” refers to a belief in the afterlife — partly due to an assumption that the Israelites were too primitive to be concerned with such things and partly because, if you think in Platonic (Greek or pagan) terms, you assume that a blessed eternity must imply hell — and the OT knows nothing of hell.

So this is all a thought experiment. I mean, let’s just think through the possibilities and see how well they fit the text, and so far, the theory seems to fit pretty well. After all, Jesus  himself said that the Patriarchs enjoyed resurrection to eternal life.

(Matt. 22:29-32 ESV) 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.  30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.  31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:  32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 

But he doesn’t say that everyone born died to live with God in the resurrection — and yet, according to Paul in Romans, everyone was left no worse than unpunished due to God’s forbearance.

If this speculation is true, then the coming of “forgiveness of sin,” the Spirit, the Messiah, and the Kingdom also brought punishment for the damned in the afterlife: gehenna.

Now, I prefer gehenna to “hell” because gehenna is a garbage dump, whereas in the popular imagination, hell is a place of perpetual conscious torment, and the Greek says gehenna. And as we’ve covered, I agree with Edward Fudge that punishment post-Pentecost is finite. The damned suffer a perfectly just punishment in the afterlife and then cease to exist — never to be resurrected. No second chance. No one repents. They are destroyed.

(Matt. 7:13-14 ESV)  13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” 

(1 Thess. 5:3 ESV)  3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 

(Rom. 9:22-24 ESV)  22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Available Light, Part III [JFG]

So if this is all true, and it’s likely not. I mean, I surely got something wrong in there. But if it’s even close to right, this study sheds considerable light on the Available Light theory. According to many Bible scholars — some of whom I hold in the highest esteem — people who’ve never heard the gospel are saved — provided they’re good people.  And I disagree. But I think there’s another possibility.

The question is when is “now” in Acts 17:30 —

(Acts 17:30-31 NET) 30 “Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent,  31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Does “now” mean “now that Jesus has been resurrected”? Or “now that Pentecost has come”? Or does “now” mean “now that I’m preaching the gospel to you”? Or does it mean “this date in  history worldwide, even though I’m only preaching to a handful of Greek philosophers in Athens”?

If “now” refers to the coming of the Kingdom, then between Pentecost and Cornelius, there were several years — perhaps a decade — when God’s forbearance for the Gentiles had expired and yet, as a practical matter, they’d had no opportunity to repent. I guess they could have found God in the Creation, but in Acts, “repent” typically (not always) means “repent of your unbelief” — and how can they believe unless they are preached to? — as Paul writes in Rom 10.

If God was forbearing to punish in hopes of the Gentiles repenting, he really needed to forbear until they heard the gospel. Only then could they truly repent by believing in Jesus.

Rejection of the gospel [JFG]

Consider these passages:

(Lk. 10:16 ESV)  16 “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” 

(Jn. 12:48 ESV)  48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

(Jn. 3:16-18 ESV)  16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

(Heb. 12:25 ESV)  25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.

It’s not an overwhelming body of evidence, but one could argue that condemnation (meaning punishment) is reserved for those who reject the gospel and so refuse to believe in Jesus.

That would mean that those who’ve never heard the gospel are not destined for punishment in the afterlife. They just die and are annihilated. This is, in a sense, punishment and, in a sense, not punishment. After all, plenty of people outside of Jesus fear death, even though they believe it means annihilation. First, they’re not so sure that it doesn’t mean hell, and second, we humans have a very powerful survival instinct. It takes very real faith to not fear death. It’s built into us.

But death followed by the wrath of God, separation from God, and punishment that’s perfectly just, well, that’s terrifying. Well, it should be.

So does that mean that when we preach the gospel to a new land that we subject our listeners to the risk of hell? Well, only if we define “hell” as finite, perfectly just punishment. And if it’s perfectly just, then this is a good thing — in the same sense that putting rapists and murderers in jail is a good thing. Justice is, by definition, good and holy. It’s part of God’s good nature. When we see justice as cruel and unfair, we’re revealing our unhealthy understanding of the nature of God.

So, then, from what did the apostles “save” their converts when they preached the gospel in Acts? Well, remember that their favorite proof text is Joel 2:32a, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” Joel and the other OT writers had no concept of hell or gehenna. Salvation was not understood as being salvation from eternal torment. Rather, Joel’s original readers would have understood him to be speaking of salvation (or rescue) from the curses of Leviticus and Deuteronomy for disobedience. He was speaking in terms of the end of Exile.

But, of course, as we’ve seen, the end of Exile means a return to the inheritance God promised his people, but in the NT this is the entire earth, purified and transformed by God to be the New Heavens and New Earth (NHNE). And this means the receipt of the Spirit and the reign of God’s Messiah. So it all fits. The NHNE is not a change in the promises of God to end Exile but an expansion and fresh understanding in light of Jesus — but not nearly as different as we imagine. Both speak to a transformed world in which God dwells with man.

More difficult is what “saved” meant for Gentiles — and it means the same thing. They would be grafted into Israel (Rom 11) and so enjoy the covenant promises of Israel. But the Gentiles were not under the curse of the Law. They were, however, under the curse of Creation of Gen 3 — and so in Rom 8, Paul explains how the Creation itself is to be redeemed when God’s people are redeemed. After all, one cannot enter into Jesus and receive the Spirit unless the uncleanness of the curse of Gen 3 is removed by restoring the convert to the image of God — through the Spirit.

Last point for today — this all only works if it fits Rom 5. And I’m seriously tempted to go straight to there, but we’ve not even finished Rom 3, much less 4. So remember all this and in a few days we’ll return to it. And if Rom 5 proves me wrong, I’ll delete all these posts before y0u get to see them. I could be wrong  …

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 25 (Passing over sins previously committed, Part 4)

  1. Larry Cheek says:

    You have commented, “Not all commentators believe that references to being “gathered to his fathers” refers to a belief in the afterlife+++”.
    Yet, I do not understand how you could arrive at that conclusion either. Here are all the references to that wording in the OT and it is self explanatory within the text that the discussion is directed to being in the grave. Not a remote hint of them understanding the concept of being alive in any manner. They were as you might say in the same cemetery, which we know that they were not. You have mentioned many times about how we must look at the messages in the OT as if we had only the knowledge that they had, and with that in mind read these portions of scripture also refer to the balance of the text in close relationship with these and explain how they could have related to an after life, other than just to death. I do not find any communications about an after life in OT, Christ was the beginning of that concept, yes we will find that some of sects of the Jews either accepted or rejected the message but all the teaching came from Christ. Even with our understanding reading backwards the concept is not found in OT.
    (Gen 49:29 ESV) Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,

    (Jdg 2:10 ESV) And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.

    (2Ki 22:20 ESV) Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.'” And they brought back word to the king.

    (2Ch 23:2 ESV) And they went about through Judah and gathered the Levites from all the cities of Judah, and the heads of fathers’ houses of Israel, and they came to Jerusalem.

    (2Ch 34:28 ESV) Behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place and its inhabitants.'” And they brought back word to the king.

  2. Dwight says:

    There must have been some concept about the resurrection due to the Pharisees believing in it before Jesus came. And they must have had some understanding about heaven…promised land as well before Jesus. But much of this might have relied on their faith in God and the concept of going to God and heaven. The Egyptians at least held to a belief of the afterlife which had to with status.
    But this might have been where faith comes in? If we relate this to them coming out of Egypt God led them to where exactly, although God did tell Moses “bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites”, they were certainly going to a place they had never seen and might have heard of. I mean God didn’t say to Moses, I am going to take you from here and place you here and then give them a brochure of Canaan land. Their destination was vague, but they knew where they were and any place had to be better.

    This might be a detriment to us in that if we have it pretty good here are we going to see heaven as better or just the same or even possibly worse if we don’t have 51 channels and a remote and a recliner. Heaven in relation might be harder to envision than those who have nothing or live in slavery like the Jews did.
    Solomon understood that God dwelt some place other than earth. David in the Psalms makes many references to “heaven” sometimes in the sense of firmament and sometimes in a more spiritual sense. God is sometimes referred to being “above the heavens” and even “To Him who rides on the heaven of heavens, which were of old! Indeed, He sends out His voice, a mighty voice.” No matter they almost all speak of God’s eternal glory and the brief moment of life in some sense.

  3. Larry Cheek says:

    You have mentioned, “There must have been some concept about the resurrection due to the Pharisees believing in it before Jesus came. And they must have had some understanding about heaven…promised land as well before Jesus. But much of this might have relied on their faith in God and the concept of going to God and heaven. The Egyptians at least held to a belief of the afterlife which had to with status.”
    But, unless you can find it, my point is that there are no mentions in OT or NT about a resurrection until Jesus announces it. Jesus talked about it and had a few believers, but they were not totally convinced, even the Apostles who had heard him teaching about it were not convinced that he would be raised from the dead. I cannot identify that anyone in Israel had ever professed a knowledge about a resurrection prior to Jesus’s teachings. Paul spoke about the resurrection, pay close attention to the fact that he explains in detail, ( that Jesus is the firstfruits). Paul was very knowledgeable about all the Torah and the history of the Israeltes, and it is obvious that even he was positive that was no teaching about anyone being raised from the dead within the Israelite Nation or in the world.
    1Co 15:12-20 ESV Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (13) But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. (14) And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (15) We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (16) For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. (17) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (19) If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (20) But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
    To believe that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were raised from the dead would deny that Christ was the (firstfruit). The bodies of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were still in the grave and will not be resurrected until the same time that Christs followers are raised. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were alive at that time in the same manner as Christ spoke to Martha, and as recorded in Luke.
    Joh 11:24-26 ESV Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (25) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, (26) and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
    Luk 20:34-38 ESV And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, (35) but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, (36) for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (37) But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. (38) Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”

    Joh 5:28-29 ESV Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice (29) and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

    In Hebrews the message about dead being resurrected is referring to those who Jesus had preached to who were in prison and many of them and other followers of Christ suffered. This is not an OT event because it took place while they were after Christ’s death.

    Heb 11:35-38 ESV Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. (36) Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. (37) They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— (38) of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

    In verse 4 below, the first resurrection is becoming Christians, once a Christian the second death has no power, this is not a bodily resurrection, it is being born again from being dead as a sinner. How do I know, notice this first resurrection does not eliminate the first death. If the first resurrection was the resurrection of the body then no one who is bodily resurrected could be judged and condemned to hell. But, many will be told depart from me I never knew you, being sent to the second death.
    Rev 20:4-8 ESV Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (5) The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (7) And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison (8) and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.
    Can you produce text that confirms that any Israelite’s from the OT or NT before the teachings of Christ had a concept of going to God and heaven?

  4. Dwight says:

    Larry, I am telling what I see in the scriptures, not what was said and sometimes understanding comes from what is seen instead of words. In the scriptures Enoch is recorded as going up to be with God, then Elijah, then we see in the NT that Abraham was with Elijah and Jesus. We also have stories where people ask for forgiveness and receive it, not necessarily salvation, but forgiveness. But is clear that although we don’t hear the an specific plan for salvation, they believed as Noah stated, “Salvation is of the Lord.” Now the salvation might have been for things directly in front of them, but still they believed that God saved in general.
    Now I admit that “that there are no mentions in OT or NT about a resurrection until Jesus announces it”, but they did have examples of people going to God and being with Him. This and resurrection may not be the same, but the end is the same…being with the God whom we are separated from.

  5. Alabama John says:

    The Bible is one story about God recorded for a purpose.
    All over the world humans have believed in an afterlife with God and demonstrated it in their preparation, dress for death, to meet God and in their drawings etchings carvings, or spoken, handed down history.
    God has not been limited to only those main human beings in the bible and all others forgotten and sentenced to hell.

  6. Larry Cheek says:

    I am interested in what has influenced you to see the concept that you are expressing about the beliefs of men of the Bible concerning a “going up to God”. We see the example of Enoch and Elijah, Enoch was just taken by God, the text says taken up, to where is our own imagination because the text does not explain the location. But, the text does state the purpose, “so that he should not see death”. We have no insight into what his life was like after he was taken, nothing has been reviled. We are told the reason that God took him, “Enoch walked with God” while he was still on earth. These are the only portions of scriptures which are provided for us to know about Enoch.
    Gen 5:22-24 ESV Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. (23) Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. (24) Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
    Heb 11:5 ESV By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.
    Jud 1:14-15 ESV It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, (15) to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

    Can we find any text in scripture which testifies that any other man on earth had a desire for God to take him as he did Enoch? Did any of God’s prophets express an idea that they expected God to do the same for them?

    Elijah was one of the most active men in the scriptures in communications and service to God who interceded between men and God’s judgments. We are never given a reason as to why God took him up in the whirlwind, but his legend will be discussed in the future revelations of God’s Word. Jesus identified a mission which had been prepared for Elijah.
    2Ki 2:11 ESV And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

    Mat 11:13-14 ESV For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, (14) and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
    Mat 17:1-13 ESV And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. (2) And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. (3) And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (4) And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (5) He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (6) When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. (7) But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” (8) And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (9) And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (10) And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” (11) He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. (12) But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” (13) Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

    So as we examine the legacy of these two men. Elijah was expected to return by the popular beliefs, because of the prophesy.
    Mal 4:5-6 ESV “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. (6) And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

    But, nothing more is said about Enoch.

    As we read the balance of scripture, there is never a thought presented that other men would participate in an action similar to these two. So where would any in the OT or prior to Christ’s announcing about a going to a presence with God come from? I believe that if we come to the conclusion that these men did think in those terms it must be contributed to by the understanding that we have been assured of being applied in reverse. In other words because we understand from instructions that we will one day see God and be with him then all mankind understood the same message.

    But Jesus also informed us.
    Luk 10:23-24 ESV Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! (24) For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

    You have made a statement, “but they did have examples of people going to God and being with Him”. In searching the scriptures the only place I can find a concept which resembles “going up to God” is in this location.
    Rev 12:5 ESV She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne,
    This is a communication about Jesus.

  7. JohnF says:

    First of all, how can ANYONE live with just 51 channels of entertainment? (remove sarcasm font)
    I see in the transfiguration Peter’s enthusiasm suggesting three means to God (Moses, prophets, Christ) and God showing clearing that there is only ONE way to the Father (other verses substantiating this abound). Not a Church of LAW (Moses), a Church of Prophets (Elijah as representative, but only a church belonging to Christ.

    If only Lazarus had come back to warn the brothers. No doubt we would know SO MUCH more to satisfy our imaginations.

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