You are hereII Corinthians 5, Part III
II Corinthians 5, Part III
by Samuel Frost
R. Beiringer is one of many commentators that show the comparison between Paul’s Romerbrief and Corinthians. Specifically, Ro 5.11, just before Paul gives midrash on Genesis 2-3 (5.12-21), which states, “And not only so, but we are also boasting in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom now we did receive the reconciliation” (Young’s Literal). Notice the article: “the reconciliation.” R. Beiringer is one of many commentators that show the comparison between Paul’s Romerbrief and Corinthians. Specifically, Ro 5.11, just before Paul gives midrash on Genesis 2-3 (5.12-21), which states, “And not only so, but we are also boasting in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom now we did receive the reconciliation” (Young’s Literal). Notice the article: “the reconciliation.” This is the eschatological reconciliation of all things to God through Christ. Ro 5.12 then reads, “because of this, even as through one man the sin did enter into the world, and through the sin the death; and thus to all men the death did pass through, for that all did sin” (YLT). When Paul mentions the reconciliation, he immediately goes into the reason for the need for reconciliation: Adam’s breaking of Torah. This links the two together: Adam produced alienation, but the “last man” has produced reconciliation. What the first man undid, God re-did “in Christ.”
Beiringer states, “God’s initiative in Christ had, through the elimination of the sin and its destructive consequences in the world, healed the separation, and by that made reconciliation possible” (my translation from the German text, 2 Korinther 5,19a und die Versohnung der Welt, Studies on 2 Corinthians, Bierlanger and Lambrecht, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, CXII, 1994, 429-459). This is, in a nutshell, the summing up of preterist eschatology. There is no more greater glory, no more greater thing to expect, no more greater status to have and no more greater position to obtain with God in Christ than this. If the reader fails to understand the glory of what has been done in Christ and, as a result, where you stand right now before God, then the reader has failed to grasp the fullness of what God accomplished in Christ. It is for that reason that any theology that advocates a “more later” perspective necessarily denigrates the “already fully” accomplishment of Christ.
We had left our last article off II Co 3.6. There, Paul specifically contrasts “the letter” (Moses’ Torah) and “the spirit” (the new covenant Torah “written on the heart”). The letter is killing, Paul said, but the spirit is “making alive.” Immediately, if the “life” in the aeon to come is new physical life, then how is it that the Spirit was currently in the process of “making alive” Paul’s readers? Were they “dead” and in need of being “made alive” physically? Was Paul writing to near-death readers in need of medical attention to keep their physical bodies alive? The verb is a present participle: “is making alive.” That was what the Spirit was doing through the preaching of Paul’s “knowledge of the son” (2.14). It is quite simple, folks, physical categories simply will not fit this passage. Indeed, “for we speak spiritual truths” (I Co 2.13). That is, Paul uses physical metaphors like “kill,” “death,” “make alive,” “heart,” “tablets of human hearts,” etc. to denote spiritual truths. God did not literally write on my blood-pumping organ with valve chambers and aorta. Nonetheless, since the physical heart is the sine qua non of the body, the metaphor can readily be used by analogy of the heart, or the very person of the individual. The heart is who you are, wholly, entirely, and completely. You are equal to your heart, and it is your heart that God has written on. It is your heart that has been “transformed.”
Even more so, the Torah of Moses was not “killing” in the physical sense, like some deranged tablets of stones animated by supernatural powers running around with a knife in its rocky hand stabbing victims! So, then, if Paul did not mean literal tablets with knives, what did he mean by “the letter is killing”? Killing what? What was being killed? People? Who was “under the Torah” in Paul’s theology? Listen to him in Ro 2.12, “for as many as without law did sin, without law also shall perish, and as many as did sin in law, through law shall be judged” (YLT). There are those “without Torah” and those “in Torah.” Now, in the text, it does not take a scholar to see that he means Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles were “without Torah.” God never made a covenant with them. But he did make a covenant with Israel. Notice his choice of words: those without Torah will perish, but those in Torah will be judged. Judged by what? Torah! And, in Paul’s developed argument in Ro 3, “no flesh shall be justified before God by works of Torah.”
We must keep this in mind when we come to the passage where Paul speaks of “the death is at work in us” (4.12). 3.7,8, following 3.6, clearly shows Paul’s dualism at work. The “administration of the death” (ho thanotos) is the old covenant, “engraved on letters of stone.” The new covenant is “the administration of the Spirit.” The “present evil age” was administered by “the death” that came through Adam (Ro 5.12). The Greek uses the article “the” to denote a specific covenantal definition of death. It is in this link that Paul can say that the “letter is killing” precisely because that is what it did: it administered death. But, Paul, in Romans, traces this back to Adam and concludes that “all men” have been visited by “the death” because all were “in Adam.” The Torah, though, uniquely administered death and it killed those who heard its commandments (Ro 7.9). Paul said when the commandment came, “I died.” Now, did he physically die? Hardly. But it is precisely this type of death that Paul calls, in Romans, I Corinthians 15, and here, “the death.” It is separation from God.
Man in Adam was separated from God, thus the Jew was born separated. However, God brought him in through a covenant. This covenant demanded obedience, and if broken, death would follow. They broke every command. God demonstrated through Israel’s unique covenant the plight of “all men.” The design and purpose of the Torah was “to increase the sin” (Ro 5.20), and “the sin reigned in the death” (Ro 5.21). That is, the design of the “letter” was to “kill” and “put to death” or, in other words, to show that man apart from grace, is utterly hopeless. The administration of the old covenant was to manifest the state of man before God: dead in his sins. Therefore, one can clearly see that for Paul, as a Jew, the commandments he once championed were now seen as working “the death” in him as a Jew. For him, or any other Jew, to remain in the old covenant would be to remain in “the death” and “the sin.”
It is here that Paul saw himself as “a wretched man.” And here that he asks, “who shall deliver me from the body of the death?” His answer: “but now, by dying to what once bound us [Jews], we have been released from Torah so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not the oldness of the letter” (Ro 7.6). Notice the transitional “dying” as a process. Paul saw himself as “putting to death” his old identification and solidarity with the nation of old covenant Israel (Adam). He was dying to what was actually killing (condemning) him: Torah. By dying to the “power of the Torah” Paul’s “outer man” was, in effect, “wasting away,” while his new “inner man” was also in process of “being renewed.” The same tenses are in Paul’s seed analogy in I Co 15: “it is being sown (dying), it is being raised (coming to eternal life).” None of these statements, when seen together through Paul’s overall scheme, are physical, empirical things. They are spiritual truths speaking of a spiritual reality of dying and being made alive.
Now, it is certain that I have raised questions with this analysis, but we must press on for at least one more page. If we continue to understand Paul’s eschatological dualism, we see it again in 3.9: “ministry of condemnation of all men” and “ministry that brings righteousness.” This are the same subjects of Ro 5.12-21. 5.21 states, “just as the sin reigned in the death, so also the grace might reign through righteousness to bring the life eternal.” The “present evil age” was dominated by “the reign of the sin and the death,” but the new age would be dominated by “the grace through righteousness to bring the Life.” “The death” would be “put under his feet.” In fact, Paul says, “the death that is being destroyed is the last enemy.” Note the tense of process. The death, as a principality, and the sin, as a power, were in process of being placed under the feet of Christ as he, while sitting at the right hand of God, was bringing the old covenant, and the death and the sin that entered in through Adam, to an end. By ending the old covenant, wherein “the death” and “the sin” found their power, God in Christ was destroying the death and the sin. Hear Paul: “the sting of the death is the sin, and the power of the sin is the Torah.” Reverse this: end the Torah, and you end the power of the sin. End the power of the sin, and you remove the sting of the death. Remove the sting of the death and “there is no more the death” (Rev 21.4). Why? Because “the death and the hades were thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20.14).
When seen though this scheme, one can easily see why it is impossible to construct an “immortal body at death” view. If physical death is “the death” then, clearly, “the death” has not been thrown into the lake of fire, the great judgment has not happened, and the resurrection of the dead has not yet taken place, nor the “change” that Paul hoped for. The believer’s life is still ruled by the sin and the death. But this is not true in a thorough-going preterist exegesis. There is no more “the death” for anyone (but there is “the second, the death” which is the lake of fire for those who refuse the Gospel). There is no more “the sin” (though one can still sin. The ability to sin must not be equated with the power of The Sin). These had to be removed in order that the “ministry that brings righteousness” could come. If not, then you have a serious problem. You have powers of “the death” and “the sin” reigning alongside of the reign of “the grace through the righteousness.” You have mixed the ages together. Rather, during the 40 year transition from “the death” to “the life,” Paul viewed the principalities as on their way out precisely because the powers of the coming age were already forcing them out and causing them to fade away. For John, the new heavens and the new earth (full eternal life in the new covenant), it would be unthinkable that the powers of the present evil age would remain present with the powers of the age to come. You cannot put new wine in old wineskins. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus meant by his analogy: If the new is poured into the old, the old will burst. And burst it did. It was destroyed as the “newness of the Spirit” was “poured” into “the present evil age” of the old covenant principalities and powers. “Man in Adam” was now being “changed” into “the image of the heavenly man.”