Sunday, June 17, 2018

Who shall bring an accusation against God's elect? (Romans 8:33) - Not who you might think.

Continuing on with my look at the Biblical term "elect," the first 'controversial' text I want to look at is Romans 8:33 where Paul famously asks: Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? Before diving into that, it's important to recall what the Biblical term "election" (and "calling") refers to, particularly that the Bible doesn't use it to refer to someone who is unconditionally elected to make it to heaven. With that, we can quote the context and I'll present my case for "who" Paul has in mind here. 
32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This passage is often read by Protestants (typically Calvinist/Reformed types) to mean that the Christian is Eternally Secure. That no sin can separate us from God. Catholic apologists are right to point out that this list of dangers which Paul lists are not sins but rather persecutions. This is important because it means Paul is not at all saying that "no sin can separate us," because the fact is sin can separate us from God. That's the whole point of Adam & Eve falling into sin. They were in communion and the fell from communion with God. (I've not really heard a coherent explanation from Protestants as to how Adam & Eve could fall from communion with God if salvation is eternally secure.) What I want to do here is go one step further. 

The question of "who" was not something I had thought to ask before. I had always assumed Satan was the one who brought up false accusations (Rev 12:10), and there's some truth to this. But, really, who else could Paul have been talking about here? I began by looking into the Greek word "charge" (also translated "accuse") to see how it was used in the New Testament. Of the seven times it is used, once is in this Romans 8:33 passage, the other six times are found in Acts dealing with Paul being accused-persecuted, particularly by the Jews (Acts 19:38-40; 23:27-29; 26:2-7). This led to the natural connection that the "who" bringing the accusation against God's elect in Romans 8:33 were the jealous Jews who were trying to say the Gentiles were sinful and couldn't be acceptable to God. And this makes perfect sense, given that Paul is constantly trying to argue that the Gentiles are accepted by God through faith, not by works of the (Mosaic) Law. 

Next, it is important to note that "God's Elect" is not some generic phrase, but rather had a well-established meaning within the Jewish religion: the Jews were the unique "elect of God". John Wesley had some good insights on this passage:
Rom 8:33 "God's elect" - Long before the coming of Christ the heathen world revolted from the true God, and were therefore reprobated, or rejected. But the nation of the Jews were chosen to be the people of God, and were therefore styled, "the children" or "sons of God" (Deut 14:1); "holy people" (Deut 7:6; 14:2); "a chosen seed" (Deut 4:37); "the elect" (Isaiah 41:8-9; 43:10); "the called of God" (Isaiah 48:12). And these titles were given to all the nation of Israel, including both good and bad.

Our Lord and his apostles being native Jews, and beginning to preach in the land of Israel, the language in which they preached would of course abound with the phrases of the Jewish nation. And hence it is easy to see why such of them as would not receive him were styled reprobated. For they no longer continued to be the people of God; whereas this and those other honourable titles were continued to all such Jews as embraced Christianity. And the same appellations which once belonged to the Jewish nation were now given to the gentile Christians also together with which they were invested with all the privileges of "the chosen people of God;" and nothing could cut them off from these but their own wilful apostasy.

It does not appear that even good men were ever termed God's elect till above two thousand years from the creation. God's electing or choosing the nation of Israel, and separating them from the other nations, who were sunk in idolatry and all wickedness, gave the first occasion to this sort of language. And as the separating the Christians from the Jews was a like event, no wonder it was expressed in like words and phrases only with this difference, the term elect was of old applied to all the members of the visible church; whereas in the New Testament it is applied only to the members of the invisible.
And St John Chrysostom has the same themes in mind, in his Commentary on Romans:
Ver. 33. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" Here Paul is against those who say, that faith is no profit, and will not believe the complete change. (i.e. in baptism) And see how swiftly he stops their mouths, by the worthiness of Him that elected. And election is a sign of virtue. For if when a horse-breaker has selected colts fit for the race, no one can find fault with them, but he would get laughed at who should find fault; much more when God selects souls are they that lay any charge against them deserving of laughter.

Ver. 34. "Who is He that condemns?" He does not say, it is God that forgave our sins, but what is much greater, It is God that justifies. For when the Judge's sentence declares us just, and a Judge such as that too, what signifies the accuser? Hence neither is it right to fear temptations, for God is for us, and has shown it by what He has done; nor again Jewish triflings, for He has both elected and justified us, and the wondrous thing is that it was also by the death of His Son that He did so.
It seems that Chrysostom has the Jews primarily in mind, as the "stops their mouths" talk was also used by Chrysostom earlier in the commentary when talking about the Jews. So here we see Paul changing who the "elect of God" are: no longer the Jews but now the Christians. That in itself is a shocking claim, which we today cannot full appreciate.

Furthermore, when Paul says the reason why no accusation can be made, it is because "it is God who justifies," which hearkens back to Romans 4:5 when Paul made the shocking claim that "God justifies the ungodly". I have shown in two older posts (HERE & HERE) that "ungodly" here means uncircumcised, i.e., Gentile. Thus, what Paul is saying in Romans 8:33 is something along the lines of: "How can the Jews bring up any legit charges before God regarding the Christians, especially Gentile Christians? They can't!" And you ask, "how come?" Paul says because "it is God who justifies" these people.

This understanding fits nicely with the verses that follow, with Paul saying the Christians should not fear persecution, as indeed Paul was persecuted when the Jews "accused" him in Acts. This theme is further clinched by the fact that Paul quotes an Old Testament verse in support of his thesis: As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” This verse is from Psalm 44:22, a Psalm dealing with how to explain suffering. How can those who are faithful to God's Commandments be allowed to suffer? Psalm 44:17-19 asks this very question. The point is that God allows His faithful people to suffer, and there's a purpose, and it's not tied to God being mad at them. Similarly, Christians are also called to suffer, even if (and especially if) they've been living as a faithful disciple of Jesus. 

Thus, the issue is thus not about eternal security in the sense of "no sin can separate us from God," nor is the issue some generic works/faith. Rather, it's all within the repeated theme of who is Abraham's true children, the true seed. It fits even with the "called/justified/glorified" theme Paul just mentioned, because the Jews were called/justified/glorified in their own way, but it wasn't enough. Paul says this call/justify/glorify "is to make Jesus the first of many brothers," which fits perfectly with the adoption theme of Abraham's children.


Online Journalist said...

Lets all be on our guard against satan who is targeting the Catholic Church. Whoever makes at least one Rosary Prayer daily without fail will never be doomed...!
Why do Catholics Venerate and Pray to Blessed Virgin Mary?:

Catholic Mission said...

These points should be clarified by the religious communities who are in communication with the CDF and Ecclesia Dei.Ask them if everyone can interpret Vatican Council II and EENS as does the blogger on Lionel's Blog.