Archive for October, 2014

No Secret Plan: Why You Don’t Have To “Find” God’s Will For Your Life

October 20, 2014

By Phillip Cary

A LAJRGE STRAND of contemporary evangelical theology- what I call the “new evangelical theology”- emphasizes the need to “find God’s will for your life.” This challenge turns out to be a terrific source of anxiety for the students I encounter. They’re young, which means they have a lot of life ahead of them and a lot of big decisions to make. When they hear about the importance of “finding God’s will for your life,” they conclude that it’s not enough to learn how to make good decisions about what career to pursue or whom to marry. On top of all that, you have to figure out whether this is exactly the decision God has in mind for you. And how do you figure that out?

The will of God is an important biblical concept, but it turns out that what my evangelical students are trying to find is something different. The commandments and promises of God. in which he tells us what he wants us to do and believe, are easy to find: they’re right there in the Bible. But that’s not what my students are looking for. They have something else in mind when they refer to “God’s will,” though it’s not easy to say what. And it’s certainly not easy to find. Given all the effort it takes to find it. it must be awfully easy to miss.

And that’s where the anxieties come in. The way my students talk about it. God’s will is out there waiting to be found, like the one person they’re convinced God has picked for them to marry. But how do you know where to look? And how do you know when you’ve found it? (The “how do you know?” questions, with their accompanying anxieties, are a sign that something’s gone wrong.) What happens if you mistake the will of God and don’t marry “the one” that God has chosen for you? (Do you wonder why evangelical Christians have as high a divorce rate as everyone else?) Or what happens if you only get God’s “second best” will for your life? (Do you wonder why “disappointment with God” is so common among evangelicals?) A whole boatload of anxieties is tied up with this notion of “finding God’s will.”

The good news is that the will of God is not really like that. It’s not the kind of thing you have to look for and find, and therefore it’s not the kind of thing you can miss. What you can do is disobey God’s will. That’s easy to do- it’s called sin. But in another, quite different sense you can never miss God’s will, no matter how badly you sin or disobey God. For in addition to God’s will revealed in his word, there’s also his hidden will, as it’s called, which means bis providence governing the universe and all of history. His word we can disobey, but his providence is sovereign over heaven and earth, and we cannot overcome it or even escape it. It’s not something we are capable of disobeying, much less missing.

So the will of God that my students are trying to find is some third thing: not God’s revealed will (because it’s something they have to “find”) and not bis providential will (because it’s something they might “miss”). It’s an extra kind of will of God that is not found in the Bible. That is to say, it doesn’t really exist. And that’s good news. It means- if they only knew it- that they are allowed to make their own decisions like responsible moral agents like adults seeking to grow in wisdom and understanding or stewards learning how to invest their talents. They don’t have to find what God has hidden.

If you want to know God’s will for your life, here it is: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mie. 6:8). The will of God for your life is justice, kindness and a humble walk with him. Nothing more is required of you. Of course, what this verse has to teach us takes a lifetime to learn, but it will make a good lifetime, one that honors God.

There are other biblical passages with the same basic message. Most important of all is the teaching of our Lord Jesus, which he derives directly from scripture. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39, based on Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18).

Again, if you obey these commandments, which are the heart of the law of God, then you are doing all that is required of you. Anyone who tells you that you need to do more in order to be “in the will of God” is teaching you falsehood. Be free of such falsehood. Obey the law of God instead and you have enough to do for a lifetime.

In this way, as the great Reformer Martin Luther taught in bis Treatise on Good Works, the law of God reinforces the gospel of Christ. It frees us from doctrines cooked up by human beings and from self-chosen works by which we try to prove how spiritual we are- all the techniques that are supposed to make us more spiritual but that mainly make us more anxious, as we keep trying to figure out whether we’ve done a goodenough job. Instead, after the gospel of Christ sweeps away all such anxieties, the law of God gives us all sorts of good work to do. This is the good work that God has prepared for us to carry out (Eph. 2:10), yet it is work that truly becomes our own as we increasingly learn to walk in love, kindness and justice.

Yes, God has told us what is good. And he does tell us a lot, not adding to our burden but filling in the details about what justice, kindness and love amount to in practice. So to grow in the knowledge of God’s will we have the whole of God’s word to study and learn from, not only the law of Moses but also the words of the prophets, the writings of the apostles and the teachings of our Lord Jesus himself. These are words to strengthen the soul, for they give us the will of God to live by instead of subjecting us to human fantasies and make-believe. In this respect the law of God is very good news indeed.

The best place to start, once we have learned Jesus’ two great commandments, is the Ten Commandments in the law of Moses. Luther recited them every morning in his prayers to remind himself why he didn’t have to believe the decrees of the pope or the rules of the monks, with their supposedly superior spirituality. Christians in our day could scarcely do better than to follow his lead, contemplating the Ten Commandments daily so as to know why they don’t have to play the anxious games that the new evangelical theology seeks to pressure them into playing. That would certainly be much better than what actually happens now, when many young people who couldn’t recite the Ten Commandments if their life depended on it get up in the morning and “listen” for God to tell them what to do that day. For them, the revealed will of God has been replaced by the thoughts of their own hearts.

Again, it is not exactly their fault: this is what they think they’re supposed to do to be good Christians. It’s like the host of medieval superstitions that Luther confronted: people got tangled up in them because that’s all they knew. They were anxious about getting everything right, and they were never really sure they had, but they didn’t have anything better. The preaching of the gospel of Christ gave them something better to trust, and the teaching of the law of God gave them something better to obey.

Obeying God’s commandments is enough to do. But this directive doesn’t tell us exactly what to do in every situation. That’s how the notion of “finding God’s will for your life” gets its foothold. We have specific decisions to make about things like career or marriage, and the law of God doesn’t tell us to choose this job over that one or this potential spouse over that one. So how do we know what to do?

Once again, the “how do you know?” question is a sign that something’s wrong. If you’re looking for a formula or method for making decisions, then you’re looking for the wrong thing. There is no recipe. There is only wisdom, the heart’s intelligent skill at discerning good decisions from bad ones. This skill is not a method- not a formula you can apply to particular situations simply by following the rules, but a habit of the heart you have to develop through long experience of your own, which includes making mistakes from time to time. The concept of wisdom is what every method for finding God’s will leaves out of the decision-making process. It’s left out precisely because the project of finding God’s will is an attempt to guarantee that you won’t make a mistake. All such guarantees are falsehoods, attempts to short-circuit the hard work of acquiring wisdom.

Think of the work of a steward, beginning the day after bis master leaves town. He has been given a commandment to do business (see Luke 19:13), which means that his master expects him to make good investments with his talents. What he hasn’t been given are instructions about which investments to make. Those decisions are up to him.

Conceivably he could learn to make good investments by following a formula or detailed instructions from his master. But learning to make good investments really means acquiring the kind of skill or virtue that the Bible calls wisdom, which is centered on the ability to discern between what is good and what is bad. In this case, it’s the ability to discern between good and bad investments. To develop this ability, there’s no substitute for practice- making many decisions and learning from experience which kinds of investments are profitable for his master’s kingdom and which are not.

So there’s a major reason why the new evangelical practice of finding God’s will is not in the Bible. It would defeat the purpose of stewardship, which is to learn in our own hearts how to carry out God’s work in the world. For this we need to acquire the virtues and wisdom needed to do God’s work well, so that his work becomes ours and we become co-workers with God, as Paul says (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1). We can’t learn this if we don’t make our own decisions- which includes making our own mistakes and learning from them. “Finding God’s will” is an attempt to short-circuit this learning process by taking our own decisions out of the loop. That’s why God disapproves of it; the steward who tries to avoid making his own decisions is the one he condemns as disobethent- the one who buries bis talent.

To make a good decision, you need to start with a good question- a question about what is good: Is this a good way to invest my talents? Is this a good person to marry? Can we be good parents together? and so on. But in answering such questions there is no formula and no substitute for wisdom. Which is why when young people have to make a big decision- say, about marriage- it is utterly appropriate that they leam from the wisdom of those who have had to make such decisions before. They need help írom outside themselves. Above all, they need help from God, which is why they should pray. What they need to pray for is help in discerning between good and bad ways to invest their talents and their lives. But that’s simply another way of saying they must pray for wisdom.

Pertinent here is the famous prayer of Solomon, the son of David, when he becomes king after his father’s death. As king, he is the steward of Israel’s true King enthroned in heaven, the Lord God himself. But he’s just a young man- “only a little child,” he says- and he’s worried that he’s not up to the job (2 Kings 3:7). But when the Lord appears to him in a dream, Solomon does not ask God to tell him what to do. He does not ask about God’s will for his life. He already knows that: God has made him king, so God’s will is for him to be a good king and govern well. He doesn’t need God to tell him that. What he needs is wisdom.

Solomon’s description of what he’s asking for shows us what we should be asking for too whenever we face difficult responsibilities: “Give your servant therefore an understanding heart,” he prays, “to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). Wisdom means discerning between good and bad, like a king discerning between good and bad decisions in governing his people, or like a steward discerning between a good and a bad investment of his talents.

What Solomon realizes, and the new evangelical theology does not, is that the crucial terms to use when making decisions are “good” and “bad” (see also Heb. 5:14). This includes moral good and evil, for which our guide is God’s revealed will and his commandments. But it includes many other things as well, for there are many ways of making bad decisions that are not immoral, as, for example, in making a bad investment. It is not a sin to make a bad investment- unless, of course, you’re motivated by greed or some other immoral purpose. But if you’re a steward who’s still learning how to make good investments, you’re bound to make a few mistakes, and that’s not a morally evil thing to do.

So everything points toward the Lord’s wanting us to make our own decisions and even our own mistakes, rather than ask him what to do. Learning from Solomon, we need to see that when we’re faced with tough decisions, what we need to pray for is not how to discern the Lord’s will for our lives, but how to discern good from bad. For we already know the Lord’s will for our lives: he wants us to learn how to discern good from bad, including how to make good investments for his kingdom.

This is a crucial point that the new evangelical theology gets wrong. We shouldn’t be praying to discern the Lord’s will in our situation; we should be praying to learn how to discern good from bad. That’s the kind of prayer that makes us co-workers with the Spirit of Christ, who is working in us, reshaping our hearts so that they will be hearts of wisdom. To ask what the Lord’s will is distracts us from the task our Lord has given us, which is to learn how to make good decisions. Learning this takes time and effort, and the Lord does not short-circuit the learning process by making our decisions for us.


Paul’s Experience of God’s Revelation of God’s Son, the Victim of the Law

October 20, 2014

Paul’s experience of God’s revelation of God’s son on the road to Damascus is recorded not only in Galatians (Gal. 1.11-17) but also in Acts (9.1-19, 22.4-16, 26.9-19). It is an encounter between the one cursed by the law (Gal. 3.13), but raised by God (Gal. 1.1), and the “persecutor inspired by his zeal for the law”. This encounter of Paul with Jesus Christ brought forth an insight into the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ “as the epiphany of sacred violence.”[1] It exposed to Paul what had been concealed in Judaism, to which he belonged, that Judaism was a sacrificial structure of sacred violence. This revelation made a radical impact on Paul’s life that resulted in change of his worlds.


  1. Paul’s Pre-Conversion Zeal

A zealotic religious ideology affirms the salvific power of violence. It denigrates people who do not follow the social order based on its interpretation of the Torah, thus permitting discrimination and violence. Paul associated violence with which he had persecuted the church with “zeal” for the law. He not only was persecuting the community of Jesus Christ but also wanted to destroy it because of his zeal “for the traditions of my ancestors” (Gal. 1.13-14). For Paul the way of life in Judaism provided a context where the law was used as a means to violence against those considered to be apostates. The law that governed his life, before his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son, was the law interpreted in exclusionistic terms, which enforced a wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles. The community of Jesus Christ that he persecuted did not observe the Jewish distinctive rituals (circumcision, dietary laws etc) that expressed this separation, because the cross has made the rituals no longer significant (Gal. 5.11). It is this situation that has led to zealous Jewish persecution to preserve strict observance of ritual requirement of the law or the social order that promoted exclusionism (Gal. 5.11; 6.12).

  1. Zeal

Zeal was an important characteristic of the Second Temple Judaism Period (about 515 BCE-70 CE). This is evident in the Maccabean movement. The zealous Jews were vigilant against those who were a threat to the Torah (i.e. zealot interpretation of the Torah), which was the constitution of the Jewish communities. In order to maintain the social order based on the exclusionistic interpretation of the law, they used violence against individuals and communities that threatened the social order of the Jewish communities. During Paul’s “life in Judaism,” he was “extremely zealous for (his) ancestral traditions,” so much so that he “used to persecute the community of Jesus Christ and tried to destroy it” (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:6). The precise reasons for Paul’s persecuting activity are unknown. But there can be no doubt that it had to do with his zeal for the law and what he perceived as the threat by Jesus’ communities to the Torah, the constitution of the Jewish communities (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:6). Paul characterises his life in Judaism and his persecuting activity to “destroy” the community of Jesus Christ by the Greek term zēlōtēs, meaning a “zealot”.[2]

  1. Paul as a Zealot

In Gal 1.13-14, 23 (and Phil. 3.5; cf. I Cor. 15.9) the extraordinary zealotry of Paul is related to his persecuting activity of the communities of Jesus Christ. However, earlier studies on the persecuting activity of Paul did not always pay much attention to the character and role of his zeal.[3] Some scholars have offered psychological reasoning for Paul’s persecuting activity, claiming that it was a result of purely personal aberration. They contend that it was an external attempt to silence his dissatisfaction with his life under the law and to suppress “all humaner tendencies in the interests of his legal absolutism.”[4] However, this view is no longer in currency. Moreover, the zealot Jewish behaviour has precedence in Mattathias, the father of Maccabean movement, and his followers on the model of Phineas.

Echoing the Reformation interpretation of Judaism F.C. Baur argues that Paul’s persecution of the community of Christ has to do with its rejection of the Jewish idea that true religion was a matter of “outward ceremonies”.[5] Baur remarks that Paul understood the gospel as a “refusal to regard religion as a thing bound down to special ordinances and localities.”[6] Bultmann reformulated the Reformation view by stating that the concern at the heart of Paul’s persecution was faith versus works. Paul became a persecutor of believers in Christ because he understood the gospel of the Hellenistic Jewish believers as a message of “God’s condemnation of his Jewish striving after righteousness by fulfilling the works of the law.”[7] However, E.P. Sanders strongly refutes the Reformation understanding of Judaism as a religion of works-righteousness by saying that it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of it.[8] According to him, the Torah in Judaism functioned as part of a system, not of legalism but of “covenantal nomism”.

Hengel supposes that the proclamation of the crucified one as the Messiah, who would lead the Jewish nation to salvation, would have been an intolerable offence to someone like Paul who combined nationalist aspirations with zeal for God and his law.[9] For Menoud the heart of Paul’s persecution was that “the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah was not only a contradiction in terms, totally unanticipated in Jewish eschatological expectation, it was categorically prohibited by Deut. 21.22-23.”[10] According to Sayoon Kim, the scandal of the cross could be the proclamation by the followers that Jesus Christ, the cursed one God, is the Messiah.[11] Hultgren notes that even though there were several messianic movements before and during the times of Jesus Christ, followers of these movements were not persecuted. He contends that the messianic movement centered on Jesus, however, is different in several reasons. Two of the reasons are its proclamation of a crucified one as the messiah and the inauguration of the new age in Christ.[12]

In the above studies Paul’s claim that he was “an extraordinary zealot for my ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1.14; cf. Phil. 3.6) is not taken seriously. However, in his 1975 article on the call of Paul, Klaus Haacker focused on Paul’s zeal as important for understanding his persecuting activity.[13] According to Haacker Paul’s zeal should not be understood as a psychological category, but as a “pure theological category”. For Paul as a Pharisee, the law was his ruling measure and as a persecutor, the zeal his “obligatory norm, which is a decisive governing principle.”[14] Haaker understands the term “zeal” as referring to a violent religious intolerance rooted in the times of the Maccabean movement. This zeal was directed primarily against Jewish apostates, but not foreigners. He contends that the claim of Paul to be a zealot does not indicate that he was a member of a revolutionary Zealot party, since it is doubtful that such a party ever existed. So Paul’s designation as a zealot denotes that he belonged to a radical wing of Pharisees.

Some scholars assume that references to zeal or zealot in the New Testament, such as Simon the zealot, refer to the Zealot Party. Justin Taylor argues that Paul’s claim to being a “Zealot”, before his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son, should be understood as a reference to his membership in a Zealot party. He suggests that the reason for Paul’s persecution of the community of Jesus Christ was due to “the supposed hostility of a Zealot towards a group which stood apart from the national struggle.”[15] According to Taylor, the Zealots were already opposed to Jesus and his teachings because of his “refusal to ally himself with them, and more generally his preaching of non-violence and even of non-resistance to Roman rule.”[16] Therefore, they considered him to be a “no-less-dangerous quietist, hardly better than a collaborator and a traitor.”[17] Paul’s persecutions were of the same kind as the Zealots’ political struggles. As Taylor notes, “He persecuted the followers of Jesus for the same kinds of reasons that Zealots had to be hostile to Jesus himself, namely that not only did they not take part in the national struggle . . . but they were a threat to it.”[18]

However T.L. Donaldson and M.R. Fairchild disagree with Taylor’s view. They contend:

(Considering) diversity of offenses, the cross-section of literature glorifying zeal, and the variety of individuals and groups to which zealous actions were attributed (eg. Paul the Pharisee was a “zealot”) suggest that the term “zealot” was not a sectarian designation but descriptive of a type of piety which was not limited to one group or sect.[19]

Donaldson and Fairchild argue that the evidence from Josephus indicates that the “Zealots” as an identifiable party did not appear until Roman-Judean War during 66-70 C.E.[20]

Donaldson emphasizes that Paul’s claim of being a zealot does not denote that he belonged to a specific revolutionary party. He contends that a zealot is one who was not only passionate towards observance of the Torah, but also willing to use violence against those who were a threat to the Torah. Donaldson notes, “Zeal was more than just a fervent commitment to the Torah; it denotes a willingness to use violence against any – Jews, Gentiles, or wicked in general – who were contravening, opposing or subverting the Torah.”[21] The reason for persecution of the communities of Jesus Christ by the zealots, according to Donaldson, was the conflict between Jewish sequential understanding of the Torah and Messiah, with the Torah defining the community guaranteed salvation when the Messiah arrives, and the “peculiar already/not yet structure of early Christian messianism.”[22] He explains:

In early Christian proclamation the Messiah had appeared in advance of the full eschatological salvation, and participation in that salvation is dependent on acceptance of this Messiah. In consequence of this, Christ becomes, at least implicitly, another-thus rival-way of drawing the boundary in this age of the community guaranteed of salvation in the age to come.[23]

Fairchild also argues that Paul’s claim of being a zealot does not make him a member of the Zealot party, because there had been zealot ideology that was cultivated over decades from the times of the Maccabees. The zealot ideology transcended the boundaries of the Jewish parties and had adherents not only among the various Jewish parties, but also among the unaffiliated Jewish masses. Zealotry expressed itself in violent actions against those perceived to be a threat to the Torah, such as Paul’s persecution of the community(s) of Jesus Christ.

Paul claimed, “I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors” (Gal. 1.14 cf. Phil. 3.6). This terminology is so close to the words of Mattathias, the father of the Maccabean movement, in Josephus’ Antiquities 12.271: “If anyone be zealous for the laws of his nation”. Septuagint records these words in I Maccabees 2.27 differently and uses the verbal form of the word for zealot: “He who is zealous for the law and the established covenant”. This change is significant in view of Josephus’ consistent concealment of past Zealot history.[24] The pivotal demonstration of zealous piety, which inaugurated the Maccabean movement, may have become a pattern of pious action for the future.[25] This implies that Paul was a follower of zealot tradition. He aligned himself with his predecessors of venerable individual zealots.[26] This does not, however, make him a member of the Zealot party.[27] But Paul, being zealous for the Torah, saw himself as acting out the model of Phineas, even to the extent of using violence against those perceived to be a threat to the Torah. Thus he became a persecutor of the communities of Jesus Christ.[28] Paul’s zealotry resembles that of Mattathias. The zealotry of Mattathias was first, zeal for the purity of the ancestral tradition, and second, zeal that drove him to use violence against those considered to be apostates and posed a threat to these traditions.[29] In Gal. 1.13-14 Paul mentions the same concerns: zeal for the ancestral traditions and violent action against those considered to be posing a threat to these traditions. By turning into a threat to the Torah, the constitution of the Jewish communities, the communities of Jesus Christ have become a threat to the Jewish freedom of patterning their lives according to the zealotic interpretation of the Torah, a privilege the Jews were enjoying in the Roman empire.

  1. Paul as a Persecutor

In the NT “to persecute” (diōkō) is used in the sense of “pursue” (Phil. 3.12,14; Lk. 17.23), “follow” (Rom. 9.30, 31, 12.13), and “persecute” (Mt. 5.10,11,12,44). Therefore, the context becomes important in determining the meaning of diōkō.

In Gal. 1.13 Paul testifies about his conduct in Judaism. His use of the term “Judaism” (Ioudaismos) is very significant. In the NT this term is used only in Gal. 1.13,14. “Judaism” came into currency with II Maccabees, where it was used to distinguish those who were faithful to the Jewish way of life from those “adopting foreign ways” (II Macc. 2.21, 8.1, 14.38). According to Dunn, Judaism is “a description of the religion of Jews, only emerged in the Maccabean revolt…in reaction to those who attempted to eliminate its distinctiveness (as expressed particularly in its sacrificial system, its feasts, circumcision and food laws – II”[30] Thus, the religion represented by “Judaism” is a religion based on the zealotic interpretation of the law. Paul followed the same kind of Jewish religion that demanded exclusionistic way of life expressed primarily by the Jewish distinctive rituals such as circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath and festivals. This is confirmed not only by the description of Paul’s way of life in Judaism in Gal. 1.13-14, but also the usage of cognate expressions “Jew” and “live like a Jew” in the context of the controversy over the dietary laws in Antioch (Gal. 2.14). These cognate words are found only in Galatians. Raisanen aptly comments that “the word Judaism carries connotations which hint at those practices which separated Jew from Gentile.”[31] Moreover, the word “way of life” occurs only in Galatians. Significantly this term also occurs in II Maccabees 6.23 (and Tobit 4.14) in the context where the Jewish way of life was seriously threatened.

Paul explains his way of life in Judaism by two interrelated clauses in Gal. 1.13-14. The first one is “I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it” (Gal. 1.13). It is significant that the word “persecute” (diōkō) is used in I Maccabees to describe the Maccabees’ pursuit of “the sons of arrogance” and the “lawless” (I Macc. 2.47, 3.5). Paul uses the verb diōkō not only in describing his own persecuting activity (Gal. 1.13-23; cf. I Cor. 15.9; Phil. 3.6), but also the persecution he himself suffered (Gal. 4.29, 5.11, 6.12; cf. I Cor. 4.12; II Cor. 4.9). The persecuting activity of Paul, before his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son, is recorded not only in Paul’s letters but also in Acts (I Cor. 15.9; Gal. 1.13, 23; Phil. 3.6; Acts 8.1-3, 9.1-2, 22.4-5, 26.9-11). The verb diōkō is modified by the adverbial phrase kath’ huperbolēn, which means “beyond measure”, “excessively”, and “intensely” (Gal. 1.13).

Paul also uses the verb “to destroy” (portheō) to describe his way of life. This term occurs only in Gal. 1.13, 23 (and Acts 9.21) in reference to Paul’s activity towards the communities of Jesus Christ. P.H. Menoud argues that because Paul was never accused of murder, portheō here refers to the destruction of faith (Gal. 1.23), rather than physical destruction.[32] Hultgren too contends that the verb portheō does not have violent connotation and so it simply means that Paul tried to put an end to Christian faith, or Christian church.[33] However, the zealot context in which portheō is used implies the meaning of physical violence. Here portheō is used in the sense of “devastate” or “destroy” cities.[34] This verb is directly associated with diōkō both in Gal. 1.13 and 1.23. What is evident is the intensity of Paul’s violent activity beyond trying to destroy “the faith”. Paul does not need to exaggerate his violent activity, because the communities of Jesus Christ knew about it (Gal. 1.23). Therefore, the violent zealotic nature of Paul’s persecution of the communities of Jesus Christ in the model of Phineas and rooted very much in the Maccabean movement is evident.

The second clause that describes Paul’s way of life in Judaism affirms what the first clause explains: “I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors” (Gal. 1.14). Paul’s sense of superiority with regards to his progress in Judaism, based on the exclusionistic understanding of the Torah, is expressed by his usage of the preposition “beyond”. This sense of superiority is based on his “being an extraordinary zealot for my ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1.14). Zealotry for the ancestral traditions, the Torah, and God would not have been perceived differently (cf. Gal. 1.14; Acts 21.20, 22.3; Josephus Ant 12.271). It was this extreme zealotry for the ancestral traditions of the law that had prompted Paul to use violence against those perceived to be a threat to the social order based on the exclusionistic interpretation of the law.

Considering Paul’s activities as a persecutor in the mould of Mattathias and the Maccabees with Phineas as their model, leads to a conclusion that such a behaviour stemmed from his zealotic interpretation of the Torah. Such an interpretation of the Torah demanded exclusionism expressed by the Jewish distinctive rituals that formed walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Maccabean crisis had promoted a few rituals such as circumcision and dietary laws, as key elements of law observance or boundary markers of God’s covenant community. These rituals remained central even in the time of Paul as the boundary markers between those who belonged to God’s covenant community and those who were outside this community. Any community that tried to remove the walls of separation was considered to be posing a threat to the Torah, the constitution of the Jewish communities. Donaldson comments, “Persecution arises not because a group holds ideas at variance with the norm, but because it does so in ways that threaten social cohesion.”[35] Paul saw the communities of Jesus Christ as representing such a threat. This is implied in Gal.5.11-12, where Paul says that the cross of Christ has become a “scandal” to the Jews (cf. Gal. 6.12; I Cor. 1.23). The scandal of the cross for the Jews is that it has annulled the Jewish distinctive rituals in the communities of Jesus Christ, thus removing the walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles (Gal. 5.11). This results in upsetting the social order that has been constructed on the exclusionistic interpretation of the Torah. In order to maintain social order based on the exclusionistic understanding of the law, it demands “good violence” against the “bad violence”, which is the cause of social disorder. The cross by demolishing the ritual barriers around the Jewish community and thus bringing together the Jews and the Gentiles, those who were excluded by the exclusionistic interpretation of the law, has given zealous Jews the motivation to engage in scapegoat mechanism, to maintain social order based on the zealotic interpretation of the Torah. Since in a zealot context faith in God is understood in terms of zealous action for God or the law, it is linked to sacred violence. It is a violent action against apostates to maintain conformity to a pattern of life according to the law, and thus preserve unity and order of the community. The unanimity of the members of Judaism in directing their violence against apostates is required to maintain the system of sacred violence. All cooperate mimetically in directing their violence against the victims. Those who withhold consent and cooperation in this conspiracy against victims are a threat to the very foundation of the sacrificial structure of Judaism. When Paul confessed that as a zealot, he was violently persecuting the communities of God and was trying to destroy it, he was, in fact, confessing that he used sacred violence against apostates to preserve the pattern of life according to the law, the constitution of the Jewish communities. In other words, by guarding the constitution of the Jewish communities, he was protecting their freedom to live according to the zealotic interpretation of the law.

  1. Paul’s Conversion-Call and God’s Revelation of God’s Son

Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus is recorded not only in Galatians (Gal. 1.11-17), but also in Acts (9.1-19, 22.4-16, 26.9-19). There are different views surrounding this experience. Some scholars insist that it is inappropriate to call this experience “conversion”. Krister Stendahl argues that the emphasis in the autobiographical account is on Paul’s call to be an apostle to the Gentiles, rather than on his “conversion”. In his essay “Paul among Jews and Gentiles” Stendahl argues that Paul, by echoing the language of Isaiah and Jeremiah, describes his experience as a call, similar to that of the prophets. The same God whom Paul had been serving since birth has now given him a new task. This task is, through the risen Messiah, God “asks him as a Jew to bring God’s message to the Gentiles.”[36] Though Stendahl does not deny the fact that Paul’s experience on the Damascus road has resulted in a striking shift in his perspective, he rejects the description of this experience as “conversion”, because Paul did not change from one religion to another.[37] However, Stendahl’s “call rather than conversion” formulation is an overstatement, because the term “conversion” properly understood can be appropriately applied to Paul.

There are many scholars who consider Paul’s experience as “conversion”. They have offered several proposals to explain Paul’s conversion. It is interpreted in terms of the psychological struggle with the Torah, and a result of his long struggle with the law in which he was dejected of ever achieving the righteousness it demands.[38] J.S. Stewart describes how “Paul’s growing sense of the failure of Judaism” gave way to the sudden conviction “that he had found the truth for which all men everywhere were seeking.”[39] However, Paul nowhere in his letters gives a hint of going through a period of dissatisfaction or mental turmoil. He rather testifies about his extraordinary zealotry for the Torah. The only thing that can be understood from his testimony is that his conversion was sudden and unexpected, and was a result of his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son. Some other scholars understood Paul’s conversion in terms of his reaction to the scriptural apologetic and steadfastness under persecution of the communities of Jesus Christ.[40] Some argue that Paul through his experience of God’s revelation of the risen Christ realized that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Further he understood that since Messiah had come, the law ceases.[41] E.P. Sanders contends that Paul on the road to Damascus was convinced that God had provided in Christ a universal means of salvation both for the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul’s rejection of the Torah as a means of salvation is a consequence of his new conviction: if the salvation is through Christ, then it is not through the law.[42]  Donaldson sees the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the demonstration of God’s provision of universal salvation in Christ. Therefore, if salvation is through Christ, then it does not come through the Torah.[43] Heikki Raisanen proposed a different view of Paul’s conversion. For him, Paul was converted from a rigid Jewish religion to Hellenistic Jewish Christianity and adopted its less rigid attitude towards the Torah, particularly the ritual and cultic aspects.[44] F.F. Bruce maintains that for Paul who considered the proclamation of a crucified one as the Messiah as blasphemous, the experience of God’s revelation of the risen Christ is a “conversion” experience. He further says that this conversion was both an external and an internal event. It was an objective revelation of the risen Christ as well as an overwhelming inward experience. Bruce takes seriously the change in Paul from persecutor to apostle.

There are also diverse views regarding the connection between Paul’s experience of God’s revelation of God’s son and his gospel. Concerning the essentials of Paul’s gospel, Raisanen proposes developmental hypothesis. Paula Fredriksen argues that the autobiographical conversion report of Paul tells more about his state of mind at the time of reporting than at the time of conversion.[45] However, these views can not be sustained in view of Paul’s polemic against the teachers of the “other gospel” that the essentials of the gospel he preaches remain same from the beginning (cf. Gal. 1.17, 5.11). Otherwise Paul would have faced criticism from his opponents, had he preached a different gospel at the beginning of his ministry. That means, Paul’s view of the Torah and the essential content of his gospel are the result of his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son on the road to Damascus. Bruce rightly sees the connection between Paul’s experience and his theology. He supposes that although Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith was not developed fully at that time, it too was implicit in the conversion.[46] However, the weakness of Bruce’s analysis is that he relies more on the secondary source, the Acts, instead of Paul’s letters. Developing on his mentor’s view Seyoon Kim finds Paul’s conversion as the source of his thought.[47]

It is important to refer to Paul’s account of his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son to see a connection between his conversion and his gospel. Paul claims that his gospel is not “of human origin” but “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1.11-12). “Revelation” and its verbal form ”to reveal” in Paul’s letters refer most often to the end time and linked to God’s action in the end time (I Cor. 1.7, 3.13; Gal. 3.23).[48] Therefore, Paul’s reference to “revelation” in Gal. 1.11-12 and 1.16 underlines the eschatological significance of the experience. This revelation is “of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1.12), which may be taken either as subjective genitive (revelation from Jesus Christ) or objective genitive (revelation about Jesus Christ). In the light of Gal. 1.16 which refers to God’s revelation of God’s son, “revelation of Jesus Christ” should be understood as objective genitive. It implies that the content of the gospel is Jesus Christ, who was revealed. What is striking is that in the following verses (Gal. 1.13-14) Paul, instead of explaining the revelation, first describes his former way of life in Judaism (notice the usage of the temporal particle hote). This implies that the information about his former way of life in Judaism has significance in the context of Paul’s experience of God’s revelation of the risen Christ. After explaining his extraordinary zealotic way of life based on the exclusionistic understanding of the Torah, expressed in the exclusion of the Gentiles, Paul returns to the apokalypsis (Gal. 1.15-16). In order to express the transition due to the impact of his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son in not only putting an end to his former way of life in Judaism, but also starting a new life and vocation, Paul uses the temporal phrase hote de. Through this Paul is indicating a sharp contrast between the two periods of his life.[49]

In Gal. 1.15-16 Paul describes the action of God and the purpose of that action. Paul says that God revealed the son “to me”. Paul elsewhere describes his Damascus road experience in terms of “seeing” Christ, or Christ “appearing” to him (I Cor. 9.1, 15.8; cf. II Cor. 4.6). In Gal. 1.16 Paul describes it in terms of God “revealing the son”. The subject here is God. God is disclosing the reality that has been hidden. What has been concealed is the scapegoat mechanism that is generated by the zealotic way of life in Judaism. The power of this mechanism lies in its deception and concealment. On the one hand, it deceives by depicting God as the one who is demanding “sacrificial victims”, and thus, portraying violence against victims as a sacred act. On the other hand, it conceals the plight of innocent “sacrificial victims” and transforms violence against victims as a sacred violence. The content of God’s revelation is God’s son, the victim of the curse of the law (Gal. 3.13). Through this God is revealing not only his rejection of the law (the law on which Paul’s zealotic way of life was based) that crucified Christ, but also God’s vindication of the victim of the curse of the law. Paul says that God has revealed this en emoi. Beverly Gaventa argues for a meaning of “to me” based on parallel usage en tois ethnesin Gal..[50] It is an encounter between the cursed one of the law and the persecutor inspired by his zeal for the law. This encounter of Paul with Jesus the crucified and cursed by the law (Gal. 3.13), but raised by God (Gal. 1.1), brought forth a realization that the one cursed by the law is vindicated by God. By vindicating the cursed one of the law, God has revealed to Paul that the cursed one of the law (that is, the exclusionistic understanding of the law) is not cursed one of God. Paul reiterates this in Gal. 2.19: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” That means, the way of life expressed in strict adherence to the Jewish distinctive rituals such as circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath and special days, and thus excluding the Gentiles, is not equivalent to living for God.

Paul draws on prophetic imagery in Gal. 1.16-17 (cf. Isaiah 49.1; Jeremiah 1.5) to “convey the radical impact of the revelation.”[51] Even though Paul’s language here echoes the call of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, and implies that he views himself as standing in the prophetic tradition, it does not mean what has happened to Paul may be considered simply as his call. Though Paul’s call and commission are included in this experience, his experience of God’s revelation of God’s son is not limited to these. His experience has called into question his zealotic understanding of the law and the way of life patterned according to such an understanding. When Paul experienced God’s revelation of the risen Christ, the victim of the “curse of the law”, he realized the problem of Judaism to which he belonged. This problem of Judaism is the exclusionism expressed in its distinctive rituals. Paul realized that it is the way of life in Judaism based on exclusionistic understanding of the law that has led to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, whom God has vindicated. In other words, the law that has excluded the Gentiles is the same law that caused the crucifixion of God’s son. And God is rejecting the way of life based on the law. Paul understood how the law was (mis)used in Judaism to serve violence, which was expressed in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, persecution of those considered to be apostates, and exclusion of the Gentiles.[52] Thus, the revelation of Jesus Christ has exposed what has been concealed in Judaism, to which Paul belonged. That is, Judaism is a sacrificial structure of sacred violence.[53] Paul realized the law and the community that patterned its life according to this law as a system of sacred violence. This realization made a radical impact on Paul’s life and disrupted his way of life in Judaism. Paul’s cosmos has been shattered (cf. Gal. 6.14). This has resulted in his transfer from Judaism based on exclusionistic understanding of the law, to the community of the new creation, where circumcision and uncircumcision are no longer significant (Gal. 6.15).[54] The contrast between these two worlds is expressed by the conjunction de (Gal. 1.15). Charles Cousar comments, “God’s revealing of the son to Paul not only involved a radical assault on his previous life, but also that assault was part of God’s world-changing activity, the bringing of new creation.”[55]

God’s revelation of God’s son has a purpose: “that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1.16). It implies that the conversion and the call of Paul belong to a single event. Interestingly the content of God’s revelation that disrupted Paul’s way of life in Judaism and the content of the message that Paul was asked to proclaim are same. It is Jesus Christ, the victim of the curse of the law. It is also significant that Paul was commissioned to preach this message to the Gentiles, who are also victims of the Torah (Gal. 1.16; cf. Is. 49.1-6; Jer. 1.5).[56] Paul understands his commissioning from that very moment of his experience of the revelation of the son as having Gentiles in view. This conviction is integral part of his experience on the Damascus road. It did not come to Paul later or grown over a period, as some have argued.[57] Christiaan Beker comments that “Paul’s conversion experience is not the entrance to his thought.”[58] However, Paul claims that he already had a well formed conviction before he first met other apostles (Gal. 1.16-17), and asserts its divine origin (Gal. 1.1, 11-12).

Thus, Paul mentions his conversion-call experience in contrast to his persecuting zeal for the ancestral traditions in the context of Galatian controversy in order to affirm that the way of life patterned according to the law (that is, the exclusionistic understanding of the law) and that according to the gospel of Jesus Christ are mutually exclusive.[59] His experience of God’s revelation of God’s son disclosed that the death of Jesus Christ was the result of sacred violence. Paul realized that it was the same sacred violence expressed in exclusion of the Gentiles. This realization has resulted in his transfer from Judaism, the system of sacred violence, to a community of Jesus Christ, the victim of sacred violence. Paul was commissioned to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, God’s disclosure of Judaism as the system of sacred violence, which is expressed in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and exclusion of the Gentiles, and the vindication of the victim of the sacred violence. The conversion-call experience of Paul has a direct implication on or become a threat to the self-understanding of Jewish Christians (and Jews) as the covenant people of God, and their zealotic way of life in Judaism. It poses a threat to the Jewish social order and freedom to live according to that order. This led Paul, in his former life in Judaism, to persecute the communities of Jesus Christ. This has also led the Jewish community, to which Paul once belonged, to persecute Paul and the members of the communities of Jesus Christ.








[1] Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence: Paul’s Hermeneutic of the Cross (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 66.

[2] Justin Taylor, “Why Did Paul Persecute the Church?” in Tolerance and Intolerance in Early Judaism and Christianity, ed. by Graham N. Stanton and Guy G. Stroumsa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 105.

[3] Torrey Seland, “Saul of Tarsus and Early Zealotism: Reading Gal. 1.13-14 in Light of Philo’s Writings,” in Biblica 83 (2002), p. 453.

[4] C.H. Dodd, “The Mind of Paul: A Psychological Approach,” in BJRL 17/1 (1933), pp. 12-13; “The Mind of Paul: Change and Development,” in BJRL 18/1 (1934), p. 36.

[5] F.C. Baur, Paul: Apostle of Jesus Christ (London: Williams & Norgate, 1876), I. 57.

[6] F.C. Baur, The Church History of the First Three Centuries (London: Williams & Norgate, 1878), I. 46.

[7] Rudolph Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, tr. by Kendrick Grobel (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), I. 187-188.

[8] E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977); and Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983).

[9] Martin Hengel, Pre- Christian Paul (London:  1991), p. 83; The Atonement: The Origins of the Doctrine in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), p. 40.

[10] P.H. Menoud, “Revelation and Tradition: The Influence of Paul’s Conversion on His Theology,” in Interpretation 7/2 (April 1953), p. 133.

[11] Seyoon Kim, The Origin of Paul’s Gospel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 47.

[12] Arland J. Hultgren, “Paul’s Pre-Christian Persecutions of the Church: Their Purpose, Locale, and Nature,” in JBL 95/1 (1976), p. 110.

[13] K. Haacker, “Die Berufung des Verfolgers und die Rechtfertigung des Gottlosen,” in ThBeit 6 (1975), pp. 1-19.

[14] Haacker, “Die Berufung,” p. 8.

[15] Taylor, “Why Did Paul Persecute the Church?” p. 112.

[16] Taylor, “Why Did Paul Persecute the Church?” p. 108.

[17] Taylor, “Why Did Paul Persecute the Church?” p. 108.

[18] Taylor, “Why Did Paul Persecute the Church?” p. 110.

[19] David Rhoads, “Zealots,” in ABD, Vol. VI, ed. by David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), VI. 1045.

[20] Rhoads, “Zealots,” VI. 1045.

[21] Terence L. Donaldson, “Zealot and Convert: The Origin of Paul’s Christ-Torah Antithesis,” in CBQ 51/4 (October 1989), p. 673.

[22] Donaldson, “Zealot and Convert” p. 679.

[23] Donaldson, “Zealot and Convert” p. 679.

[24] Martin Hengel, Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period from Herod until 70 AD (Edinburgh: 1989), p. 155; E.P. Sanders, Practice and Belief 63 BCE – 66 CE (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), p. 409.

[25] Mark R. Fairchild, “Paul’s Pre-Christian Zealot Associations A Re-Examination of Gal. 1.14 and Acts 22.3,” in NTS 45 (1999),” p. 522.

[26] Torrey Seland, “Saul of Tarsus and Early Zealotism: Reading Gal. 1.13-14 in Light of Philo’s Writings,” in Biblica 83 (2002),” p. 466.

[27] Donaldson, “Zealot and Convert,” p. 673.

[28] Hengel, The Pre-Christian Paul, pp. 70-71; J. Dupont, “The Conversion of Paul, and Its Influence on His Understanding of Salvation by Faith,” in Apostolic History and the Gospel, ed. by W.W. Gasque and  Ralph P. Martin (Exeter: 1970), pp. 183-87; N.T. Wright, “Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (Galatians 1:17),” in JBL 115 (1996), p. 686.

[29] Fairchild, “Paul’s Pre-Christian Zealot Associations,” p. 527.

[30] James D.G. Dunn, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, London: A. & C. Black, 1993, p. 56.

[31] Heikki Raisanen, Jesus, Paul and Torah: Collected Essays, tr. by David E. Orton (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), p. 23.

[32] Philippe H. Menoud, Jesus Christ and the Faith: A Collection of Studies, tr. by Eunice M. Paul (Pittsburg: Pickwick Press, 1978), pp. 47- 60.

[33] Hultgren, “Paul’s Pre-Christian Persecutions of the Church,” p. 110.

[34] Richard N. Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 41: Galatians (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1990), p. 28.

[35] Donaldson, “Zealot and Convert,” p. 671.

[36] Krister Stendahl, Paul among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), p. 7.

[37] Stendahl, Paul among Jews and Gentiles, pp. 7-23.

[38] A. Deissmann, St. Paul: A Study in Social and Religious History (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1912), pp. 93-98, 122; C.H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1932), p. 115; J.S. Stewart, A Man in Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935), pp 83-88; J.C. Beker, Paul the Apostle (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), pp. 24-243.

[39] J.S. Stewart, A Man in Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935), pp. 119, 141.

[40] O. Pfleiderer, Paulinism (London: Williams & Norgate, 1891), I. 3-13; J. Klausner, From Jesus to Paul (New York: Macmillan, 1943), pp. 312-329.

[41] W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (London: SPCK, 1948), pp. 16, 71-73; Hans Joachim Schoeps, Paul The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History, tr. by H. Knight (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961), pp. 88, 171-73; Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (New York: Seabury, 1968), pp. 188-93, 198.

[42] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism; and Paul, the Law and the Jewish People. 

[43] Donaldson, “Zealot and Convert,” p. 680.

[44] Raisanen, Paul and the Law, pp. 231-236.

[45] Paula Fredriksen, “Paul and Augustine: Conversion Narratives, Orthodox Traditions, and the Retrospective Self,” in JTS 37 (1986), pp. 3-34.

[46] F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977), pp. 69-75, 87, 188.

[47] Kim, The Origin of Paul’s Gospel.

[48] Beverly Roberts Gaventa, From Darkness to Light: Aspects of Conversion in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), p. 23.

[49] J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1997), p. 163.

[50] Gaventa, From Darkness to Light, p. 28.

[51] Gaventa, From Darkness to Light, p. 28.

[52] Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, p. 7.

[53] Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, p. 7.

[54] Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, p. 7.

[55] Charles B. Cousar, Reading Galatians Philippians, and I Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Maco, Georgia: Smyth and Helwys Publishing, 2001), p. 32.

[56] The prophetic call-stories from which the vocabulary here derived, also contain the phrase “to the nations”.

[57] Dupont, “The Conversion of Paul”; J.G. Gager, “Some Notes on Paul’s Conversion,” in NTS 27 (1981).

[58] Beker, Paul the Apostle, p. 10.

[59] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), p. 92.


Justification by Faith in Christ, not by Works of the Law

October 18, 2014

The term “to justify” and its cognates are predominantly Paul’s words in the New Testament.[1] In Galatians the verb “to justify” is used eight times, of which four occurrences are in Gal. 2.16-17, and the noun “justification” four times (one of them occurs in the Old Testament quotation in Gal. 3.6), of which one appears in Gal. 2.21.

In order to understand Paul’s usage of the term “justify”, the incident at Antioch where the Jewish distinctive ritual, the dietary laws, which has served as a wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles, is to be taken seriously. The repeated usage of the term “justify” in Gal 2:15-21 reflects on the withdrawal of Peter, Barnabas and the other Jewish believers from table fellowship with the Gentile believers at Antioch. This indicates that “justify” has a corporate dimension. Paul uses this term in the context of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles.

The separation between Jews and Gentiles is expressed by the Jewish separatist vocabulary “we ourselves are Jews by birth” and “Gentile sinners”. Striking here is the Jewish description of Gentiles as “sinners”. In Jewish thought “sinners” are “pre-eminently those whose lawless conduct marked them out as outside the covenant, destined for destruction and so not to be consorted with (eg. Pss. 1.1, 5; 37.34-36; Prov. 12.12-13; 24.20; Sirach. 7.16; 9.11; 41.5-11).” Thus, this term is used to characterize the Gentiles (Tobith. 13.6; Jubilee. 23.23-24; Psalms of Solomon 2.1-2). Paul, by using this separatist Jewish language, echoes not only the conduct of the group “from James”, but also the behavior of Peter and the other Jews who withdrew from table fellowship with the Gentile believers. It is in this social context Paul uses the term “justify”. Paul’s concern here is the relation between Jews and Gentiles. (The traditional understanding revolves around remitting of sins. But the vocabulary of “forgiveness” is missing in Galatians.)

The term “justify” refers to the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, who are separated by the “works of the law” lifestyle.

Justification is a social event. It ties human to human together. Leander Keck has proposed the translation “rectify” for the Greek verb dikaioō (“justify”). The action involved in the Greek verb “justify” is the idea of “rectifying” a relationship or righting the wrong. Justify depicts God’s activity of rectifying a relationship or righting the wrong. What has gone wrong in the world is relationship among human beings through construction of walls of separation. In the context of Antioch incident it is the separation of the Jews from the Gentiles through the practice of the Jewish distinctive ritual, dietary laws. This Jewish lifestyle, which excluded the Jews from having fellowship with the Gentiles, prompted the usage of the phrase “works of the law”.

Paul contrasts “works of the law” with “faith in Jesus”. Paul is  not criticizing “works” as such in an attempt to divorce “believing” from “doing”, but “works of the law”, which is “living like a Jew”. This Jewish way of life has crucified Jesus Christ, persecuted apostates and excluded Gentiles from having fellowship with Jews. Paul reminded Peter and those who followed Peter at Antioch that although they were Jews they believed in Jesus Christ, because they knew that “a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16). God justifying a person or making one right is through faith in Jesus Christ. This implies that he/she has died to the law, “a death to its ritually excluding aspects that undergird Jewish separatism.”

Peter being convinced that a person is justified by faith in Christ abandoned the “works of the law” lifestyle and had table fellowship with the Gentile believers before the group “from James” arrived at Antioch. By withdrawing from fellowship with the Gentile believers after the arrival of the group and following the abandoned Jewish way of life based on the exclusionistic interpretation of the law, Peter made Jesus “a servant of sin” (Gal. 2.17). Because his faith in Christ has made him to abandon the “works of the law” lifestyle and so, to transgress the law by eating with the Gentile believers. To return to the Jewish way of life was tantamount to making Jesus an agent of sin. By his withdrawal from the table fellowship with the Gentile believers at Antioch, Peter demonstrated that violation of the dietary laws was a sinful action. His withdrawal further displayed that Christ was promoting the sinful action, which, for Paul, was an absurd conclusion. Paul argues that Christ does not promote sin, because to be justified means to be crucified with him (Gal. 2.19) and that means “to die to the law through the law”.

Paul has refused to return to the way of life demanded by the lifestyle patterned according to the works of law. Because it would amount to again “building the walls of separation” between the Jews and the Gentiles that have been torn down. Paul uses two terms kataluō and parabatēs to express what he intends to say (Gal. 2.18).  Kataluō means dissolve, dismantle, tear down, abolish, bring to an end and destroy. In the light of the issue of table fellowship at Antioch (and circumcision at Jerusalem Gal. 2.1-10) Paul’s metaphors of “tearing down” and “building up” (oikodomeō) refer to the distinctive laws of the Torah that maintained separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. Ta and tauta in the context refer to the distinctive customs of the Jews such as dietary laws (circumcision 2.1-10, 5.2-3 and special days Gal. 4.10).

By withdrawing from eating with the Gentile believers at Antioch Peter demonstrated himself a parabatēs. The nouns parabatēs and parabasis are related to the verb parabainō. The verb parabainō means not only “to transgress, to violate”, but also “to deviate, to step by the side of” (LXX Dan. 9.5; Sirach 23.18, 42.10; Acts 1.25).  In Gal. 2.14 Paul has accused Peter, Barnabas and the other Jewish believers of deviant behaviour when he charged them of not walking straightforwardly according to the truth of the Gospel, when they withdrew from eating with the Gentile believers. Rebuilding the walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles by adopting the “works of the law” lifestyle is in a way denial of God’s justifying or rectifying or unifying act through the Christ event.

The truth of the gospel, according to which Jews as well as Gentiles are justified or unified by faith in Christ, establishes a new pattern of life. Paul tries to explain that the life expressed by works of the law and that by faith in Christ are mutually exclusive. Paul expresses his severed relationship with the life patterned according to the exclusionistic understanding of the law through the metaphor of “dying to the law”: “Through the law I died to the law” (Gal. 2.19). Paul died to the law when he participated mimetically in the death of Christ on the cross, when he put faith in Christ, the victim of the curse of the law (Gal. 2.19). The identification of Paul with the crucified Christ has brought an entirely new relationship with Judaism, to which Paul once belonged. The perfect tense of the verb “crucify” denotes both the punctiliar action of dying to the law and the continuing life for God. In other words, Paul says that the system of sacred violence that crucified Jesus Christ is the same system that excluded the Gentiles through the practice of the Jewish ritual boundary markers. Notice that the system based on the exclusionistic understanding of the law is not destroyed. Rather the death of Jesus Christ has exposed the system of sacred violence, and that the life demanded by this system is not living for God. Paul says that he died to the life patterned according to the works of the law that mandated the separation of the Jews from the Gentiles. Dying to the law is necessary to live to God. Since through the law Paul died to the law and his present life in Christ is a life to God, he deviates from the truth of the gospel if he once again lives according to the law which enforced separation between Jew and Gentile.

In Gal. 3.19-25 Paul argues that the law is active in its function of imprisoning and guarding its subjects from having any contact with the “outsiders”. It is from this “bondage” or “slavery” that God through his justifying act in Jesus Christ has redeemed humanity. God’s justifying act in Jesus Christ is a unifying act, unifying Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female into one single community. This righting of relationships between the Jews and the Gentiles fulfils God’s promise to Abraham: “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you” (Gal. 3.8). Therefore, for Paul no one is joined to Christ except together with a neighbor and for Jew the primary neighbor is Gentile and vice-versa. The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed by Paul is the good news that the promise of God to Abraham (that is, the unity of the nations) is fulfilled through the Christ event. The death of Jesus Christ brings in the new creation where people irrespective of their ethnic, class and gender backgrounds are united in Christ as the children of God, and possess God’s eschatological gift of the Spirit.


Therefore, a believer who maintains a lifestyle based on caste, class, language, race or gender that separates him/her from other believers is actually joining the forces that crucified Jesus Christ. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ has demolished the barriers that separated human beings from one another and united the believers in him. Those who are justified received the spirit of God irrespective of their ethnicity, caste, class, gender, race and region.



[1] Pauline corpus contains 27 of the 35 New Testament occurrences of the verb “justify”.

Christian Detachment from Worldly Things

October 13, 2014

Our effectiveness as Christians hangs on our concept of what “Christian detachment from worldly things” means. Perhaps most of our personal and family, and Christian church and organisation problems would be solved if we had a proper biblical concept of what it really is.

The question of Christian detachment from worldly things has been a bone of contention among Christians for many years. Though Scriptures are clear on this matter, still we may not be able to solve all the problems in this article. But we do want to take a good look at the subject.

A. Misconception

1. Worldly Things

There are some very pointed warnings in the New Testament to Christians concerning worldly things:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world…For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride in riches – comes not from the Father but from the world” (I John 2:15-16).

“Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).

Regarding a young man who travelled with him, Paul says, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (II Tim. 4:10).

So Christians, as a result of these warnings, have through the centuries drawn up lists of things they considered worldly. Naturally their ideas have differed widely on these matters. Whenever people had difficulty with some temptation or some particular type of recreation or some activity which gave them trouble, they learned a lesson from it, or thought they did, and marked that particular thing down as worldly.

So there came into being a great many different lists of worldly things, varying widely because of the different places of origin. As a result of this, we have today certain Christians in the US (Amish sect) called “hook-and-eye Baptists”. They are given that name because they believe that buttons are worldly and that the proper biblical way to fasten your clothing is not with a button but with a hook and eye. In their view button wearing Christians are worldly, and the hook-and-eye Christians are spiritual. It is as much a worldly thing to them as some of the things on your list are to you. And they feel quite as upset over violations as you do when your standards are transgressed. So on the basis of our lists of “Christian standards” we blithely determine ourselves and others either worldly or spiritual.

Standards differ widely in Christian circles about many things. We all have a tendency to think that the things that we have been taught while we were growing up are the inspired truth. Many of us often seem to mistake our prejudices for convictions. Few of us have ever taken time to check these with biblical principles as to whether they are really true or not.

When we make a list of “things” which we regard as inherently worldly and evil in themselves, we tend to withdraw into our own watertight Christian circle of affairs which results in people becoming insensitive and unsympathetic, and eventually smug and complacent in their views towards others. We become like the priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who each passed by on the other side of the road when they saw the wounded traveller, lest they become defiled by helping him. These are the Christians who are so concerned about being defiled with worldliness that they have lost touch with the world. They are no longer interested in helping people around them, in meeting their needs and addressing their problems.

2. Detachment

In contemporary usage detachment suggests separation, seclusion, aloofness and withdrawal from the world. To withdraw from household life, renounce possessions and adopt a solitary mendicancy in order to concentrate on spiritual life.

In colloquial usage, to say a person is detached implies that the person is not willing to become involved with others or that s/he is neither approachable nor sympathetic.

Must a follower of Jesus Christ completely isolate herself/himself from the world, and everything in it, in order to avoid being worldly? Must Christians be odd and weird, and sound and look “spiritual” in order to avoid worldly things?

We often cite the exhortation of “being in the world but not of it” as the fundamental tension of living the Christian life. Although it suggests, rightly, that we need some detachment from our concerns in the world, it does not mean that we should be oblivious of the world around us. Neither does it mean that there is nothing good in the so-called secular world. Rather, Christians need to examine values that have developed in the society and discern the goodness that Jesus revealed in his life.

As Christians we should be willing to not only notice the goodness or virtues in the lives of people, but also learn from them. Take the example of P. Kalyanasundaram, a gold medallist in library science. He worked as a librarian over 30 years at Kumarkurupara Arts College, Srivaikuntam, Tuticorin district, Tamil Nadu. He also did M.A. in literature and history. A will to serve combined with a sense of social justice has been guiding principle of Kalyanasundaram, who has spent in social service for over 45 years. In his 30 years plus service as a librarian, every month he donated his salary to help the needy. He worked as a server in a hotel to meet his needs. He donated even his pension amount of about 10 lakhs to the needy.

In recognition of his service, the United Nations Organisation adjudged him as “One of the Outstanding People of the 20th century.” An American organisation honoured him with the “Man of the Millennium” award. He received a sum of Rs. 30 crores as part of this award which he distributed entirely to the needy. The International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, has honoured him as “One of the Noblest of the World”. The Union Government of India has acclaimed him as “The Best Librarian in India”. He has also been chosen as “One of the Top Ten Librarians of the World”.

He stays as a bachelor and has dedicated his entire life for serving the needy.

On the other hand, being in the church does not automatically save us from the opportunistic, insensitive, and even vicious behaviour of fellow Christians which hinder the church’s development of values which Jesus himself embodied.

Even if we wanted to, could we really have Jesus without also having worldly things along with him? If our piety involved relating to a God who had never entered the human condition, then it would follow that we can best be united with this God by stripping ourselves of all concerns of and for the world. But our faith is a matter of relating to God who has taken on humanity. So we should not expect our relationship with this God to remove us from either the joy or the pain of human life in the world.

If we take Jesus as the model for “being in the world but not of it”, we can see right away that he was very much involved in the world. Jesus showed his appreciation of the food and drink and hospitality offered by a respectable rich man such as Simon the Leper as well as that offered by tax collectors and sinners such as Zacchaeus. He lived a normal human life in the Palestinian society.

If so, what is meant by “Christian detachment from worldly things”?

B. Christian detachment from worldly things

Christian detachment is not essentially a physical act of withdrawal, let alone austerity. It is not an extreme turning away from that which nourishes the human body. Here it is important to distinguish between detachment and renunciation. Renunciation involves depriving oneself of something, actually rejecting it. In detachment you still retain it, but you cease to be its slave. For true understanding of detachment one must look away from external acts and look towards the area of inner attitude and motivation.

Detachment from worldly things is not a matter of things – of doing this or not doing that. But it is a matter of the attitude of mind and heart, the attitude of thinking and dealing with things. Detachment is not from the things of the world per se, but from “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” It is not setting one’s mind on the things of the world, not thinking or affectionately desiring them. Jesus says, “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and they defile a person” (Mk. 7:21-23). Greed or acquisitive desire or grasping underlies these “evil things”. So when we talk about Christian detachment, the emphasis is on inner transformation – transformation of mind and heart.

Detachment is not separation from the world and the people of the world. It is being distinct or different. Distinct or different in our attitude towards material things and people. In essence, it is engaging with people and material things with a transformed mind and heart.

Detachment from worldly things is an essential component to draw towards God, fulfilling God’s will with total love and obedience.

1. Lust for material things

God intends that His children consider material possessions properly, to use them wisely, for the good of others as well as themselves. However, the problem occurs when a person sets her/his heart on gaining material wealth, when everything s/he does and thinks about revolves around GETTING.

In this age of consumerism material things play an important role in establishing one’s social standing. Because in unequal societies status competition is intense and we are sensitive to how we are perceived or judged by others. Consumption is about status competition. That’s why people spend thousands of rupees on “status goods”, such as cars, electronic gadgets, furniture and clothes, handbags and sunglasses with right labels, to make statement about themselves. Money is spent not on “things”, but on the value attached to some of the consumer goods in society. So consumer goods are not mere stuff, but LANGUAGE in social relationships. Through things we convey with one another our identity, social status and social affiliation. They play a role in our lives that goes way beyond their material functionality. That’s why consumer goods continue to be craved beyond the point of their usefulness, and houses are no longer for habitation but to store the “status goods” (we hardly find room for free movement inside some houses, because of lot of material goods). Companies intensify and maintain this craving for social identity, status and affiliation by stuffing the market with new consumer goods and promoting them by hiring popular brand ambassadors to entice consumers to emulate these popular figures in order to reposition themselves in the ladder of status in society.
Most of the time the expensive material things we surround ourselves with convey a void in life and a craving for acceptance, recognition and identity − the basic human needs. One may have all the money, yet live with the nagging feeling of emptiness, restlessness and even boredom. A void that can not be filled with wealth and material things.

2. Lust for sensual pleasures
God created the five senses – sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing – so that we could experience, enjoy, and take pleasure in physical things. No particular physical thing of itself represents worldliness. But lusting after that thing is wrong. Lust is an illicit and sinful desire. It is having a self-absorbed desire for a thing, person or an experience. It can make us desire or use something in a manner contrary to God’s will and purpose for which He created it. The object of our lust is placed above all other things in life, and thus lusting is idolatry. Lust represents a wrong attitude of mind and heart.

Notice the world of mainstream entertainment and media. It’s about what’s hot, what’s new, what’s the latest. Today entertainment is about “how far can we go?” in pushing (or blurring) the boundaries of decency and good taste. More pre-marital and extra-marital sex, more violence, more consumption and less morality. There is a continuous changing colour, caste and creed of money, movies, sex and relationships. A core slogan that reverberates in the present Indian society is “Greed, The City and The Pursuit of Happiness.”

Greed is fathered by aspiration and grows in the womb of determination, so no one can fault its lineage. Its problem, like those of the failed brakes, is that it doesn’t know when to stop. Someone said, “What does a person who has everything want? The answer is ‘More’.” It’s that four-letter word which makes desirable “aspiration” transform into unconscionable greed. The surrounding sound of consumerism brainwashed us with its anthem: “Give Me More”. From soft drinks to sex, from moolah to ooh la-la, the yearn-churn screamed, “Yeh dil mangey more!” This greed has turned ordinary people into unflinching murderers, extortionists, and heartless neighbours like the rich man in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. If we have so deliriously chosen Aspiration Unbound, we have to learn to accept its uncontrollable cousin, Greed. The antidote for greed is contentment. As Paul says, “For I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Phil. 4:12).

Attachment to sensual pleasures destroys the mind’s ability to think clearly and objectively. Detachment is linked to the practice of mindfulness, and to seeing into the truth of things. It is seeing true nature of things. If lust always arises when an opportunity for gaining a quick pleasure or satisfaction is glimpsed, sensual pleasures will never be seen objectively as they really are – as transient, subject to change, and no answer to the search for happiness. The presence of lust appreciates neither the consequences nor the alternatives. In fact, if any decision has to be made, the alternatives will not be seen clearly as long as the mind is clouded by lust. Dishonesty and manipulation of others in order to gain what is craved might result.

As greed for material possessions and lusting for sensual pleasures lead to disputes and contentions both within family and nation, detachment from greed and sensual pleasures leads to concern for the welfare of others and to create a just and harmonious society.

3. Lust for power

One particularly destructive way of attachment to worldly things worth looking at is the lust for power. When the disciples argued about who is the greatest, Jesus placed a small child in front of them and told them to be like that child. The point is not that we should be like little children, because they are always sweet and adorable. Rather, we should be like children because they have no power in the world. That is how much power a follower of Jesus should want! Great harm is done by those addicted to the exercise of power, whether it is a dictator moulding a whole country to his image, a Christian mullah who prefers exercising control over others, or parents who try to make their children into copies of themselves.

However, Christianity cannot be reduced to a naive protest against any use of power at all. Power is not something we can just throw out of this world so that there is no more of it lying around for anybody to pick up. In any case, society cannot function without a structure of authority.

Power exists and is a part of our lives whether we like it or not. We have to face the fact that we will affect other people in our lives, no matter what we do or don’t do. And that is power. Since we will have some influence on the other people in our lives, we must be concerned with what that influence will be. Are we encouraging other people to grow in virtue, or are we reinforcing their self-centeredness or life of selfishness?

The way to UNWORLDLY use of power and authority is shown by the way Jesus used them. He showed his power in serving others – casting out evil spirits, healing various diseases, providing food, forgiving sins and addressing what he considered evil. Yet Jesus did not claim to have either power or authority on his own account. He did not come to do his own will but the will of Him who sent him. Even Jesus, the Son of God, willingly derives his power from his Father rather than presumes to act on his own initiative. If we are to follow Jesus’ example, then we should also be more concerned that our authority and power come from God and not from our own desires for authority and power on our own terms.

Moreover, the power and authority Jesus exercised never violated anyone’s fundamental freedom to believe or not to believe, or the freedom to follow or not to follow him. These are freedoms which Christ still gives to all of us. Is this not the freedom the Church as the Body of Christ should offer her members and the world?
There is a terrific risk in renouncing the desire to remake other people according to our desires. We do not feel secure when we relinquish our attempts to control other people. Not only that, but if we do relinquish control, we are sure to suffer all the more from the shortcomings of others. How often we wish we could find the magic words that will turn other people into what we want them to be! When we live with the otherness of others, there is no choice but to give others space to find themselves in God, just as we assume this right for ourselves.

At the bottom of our turning away from worldliness is an emptying of self. In order to appreciate other people, to “regard others as better than (ourselves)” and to “look to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4), we must have “the same mind…that was in Christ” (Phil. 2:5). We must empty ourselves of our tendency to possess or grasp and use them for our own agendas in life. We must also empty ourselves of the illusion that we can pull ourselves out of our worldliness by our own bootstraps. God does not give us bootstraps, God gives us grace.

With the self put in God’s hands, the self gains new life, the life of God. The emptying of self begins to purify our hearts and minds so that we may become faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

“Some people wish to be pretty, rich and famous or popular. Me? I just want to be happy.”

“The measure of your life will not be in what you accumulate, but in what you give away.”

“Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position, or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service, and character.” – William Arthur Ward

Life Doesn’t Get Easier, We Just Get Stronger (James 1.2-8)

October 13, 2014

How many times have you heard preachers say that once you believe in God through Jesus Christ all your troubles will end and no more tears, pain and sufferings? A Christian who expects her/his life to be easy and pain-free is in for a shock. Peter emphasizes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you…as though something strange were happening to you” (I Pet. 4.12). Faith in God through Jesus Christ does not make a person immune to trials, pain and sufferings. Cross is a part and parcel of Christian life. As Warren Wiersbe says, “we are “God’s scattered people” and not “God’s sheltered people”.” Believers in God encounter adversity of various kinds (Greek word poikilos means “multicoloured” James 1.2). Peter says, “…even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials” (I Pet. 1.6). Some trials come simply because we are human – sickness, accidents, disappointments and death -, and some other come due to our foolishness. Some other trials come because of our faith in Jesus Christ. James is talking about trials encountered by believers due to their loyalty to God. They are of various kinds – discrimination, oppression, persecution etc.

Christians’ reaction to the trials determines the effect of these trials on them, and their reaction depends upon their outlook of trials. Outlook decides the outcome. Our perception of trials determines our reaction or response to trials. That is why James says, “Consider it nothing but joy” (James 1.2). The Greek word hēgeomai means to think, consider, count or regard. This is an economic term. If “joy” is a head in the accounting ledger, then trials because of our faith in Jesus Christ are placed under this head! The word “consider” denotes mental evaluation. Our evaluation is determined by our values. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. We become bitter, not better. Job had the right outlook when he said, “But he (God) knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23.10). Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad” (Mt. 5.11-12).

James, however, does not say that merely the testing of one’s faith by trials is the cause for joy, but rather the result that occurs through the testing. Although trials pose a threat to our faith, they serve to test the quality of faith by producing “endurance”, when they are perceived and borne in the right way. The endurance thus becomes, as Peter Davids says, “(the) new facet of the believer’s character that could not exist without testing.” Endurance is more than passive acceptance and bearing of sufferings. We endure trials with an expectancy or hope of “beauty from ashes”. That beauty, Ropes suggests, is the “staying power”. This is unwavering constancy of faith in spite of adversity and suffering. This is not a single act but a state of character that results over time when there is a faithful response to trials. Moffatt writes, “Only trial can prove what we are made of, whether we possess this supreme quality of steadfastness or constancy to our convictions.” With the trust firmly anchored in God, and surrendered life to God’s will, the believer moves forward in life in the face of trials with steadfastness and a persistent determination. The goal of constancy and perseverance is maturity and completeness of character (James 1.4), producing the fruit of Christian disposition and expressed in good works (James 2.14-26). Jesus says, “Every good tree bears good fruit…A good tree cannot bear bad fruit” (Mt. 7.17-18). So the “complete character” of a believer is expressed by the consistency of faith and conduct.

Therefore, trials produce endurance, and endurance results in the ethical integrity, which characterises a mature Christian. Maturity is the ultimate goal of one’s faith being tested.

The problem which faces the believer who is going through suffering is that there is a tendency to lose perspective and direction. It is easy for one’s attention to be diverted from God to the circumstances surrounding him/her. In order to see the trials and sufferings in proper light and to know how to cope with them, believers need wisdom (James 2.5). Those who are facing trials do not simply need more knowledge. Instead they need wisdom in applying what they know in a particular situation. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. It helps us understand how to use trying circumstances for our benefit. Believers seek this wisdom from God, because he is the source of wisdom (Prov. 2.6). “I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me” (Wisdom of Solomon 7.7). Again the writer of Wisdom of Solomon says, “I perceived that I would not possess wisdom unless God gave her to me…so I appealed to the Lord and besought him with all my heart” (8.21). The prayer for wisdom should be continually offered, for it is that spiritual insight which enables the believer to maintain perspective and a sense of order when everything surrounding him is in chaos. God responds such a prayer by giving wisdom generously and graciously (James 1.5).

However, the act of prayer alone is not effectual, but it is the prayer “in faith, never doubting” that ensures God’s response (James 1.6). Ineffectual prayer, according to James, is due to “being double-minded and unstable” (James 1.7,8). Regarding the character of the double-minded person Kierkegaard said, “If it changes continually, then he himself becomes changeable, double-minded and unstable. And this continual change is nothing else than impurity.” Such are vacillating persons, who lack foundation. The instability, according to James, extends to every area of life (“in every way” James 1.7,8). This would not only include his life of faith, but also his dealings in everyday affairs with others.

Therefore, when believers in God encounter trials, they should pray to God for wisdom so that they may respond to them properly. However, such prayer must be offered in faith, not in doubt, if it is to be effectual.

Elisabeth Kubler Ros writes, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro

October 7, 2014

by Frederick Douglass

A speech given at Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852

Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens:

He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country school houses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.

The papers and placards say that I am to deliver a Fourth of July Oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way, for me. It is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence. But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall seems to free me from embarrassment.

The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable-and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium. With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous indulgence I will proceed to lay them before you.

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the Fourth of July. It is the birth day of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, as what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. l am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young.-Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations.

Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is, that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British subjects. The style and title of your “sovereign people” (in which you now glory) was not then born. You were under the British Crown. Your fathers esteemed the English Government as the home government; and England as the fatherland. This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgment, it deemed wise, right and proper.

But your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. I scarcely need say, fellow-citizens, that my opinion of those measures fully accords with that of your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part would not be worth much to anybody. It would certainly prove nothing as to what part I might have taken had I lived during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy. Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when, to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were accounted in their day plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.

Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated, by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner. Their conduct was wholly unexceptionable. This, however, did not answer the purpose. They saw themselves treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. They were not the men to look back.

As the sheet anchor takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the cause of your fathers grow stronger as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure. The greatest and best of British statesmen admitted its justice, and the loftiest eloquence of the British Senate came to its support. But, with that blindness which seems to be the unvarying characteristic of tyrants, since Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea, the British Government persisted in the exactions complained of.

The madness of this course, we believe, is admitted now, even by England; but we fear the lesson is wholly lost on our present rulers.

Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so than we, at this distance of time, regard it. The timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day were, of course, shocked and alarmed by it.

Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this planet; and their course, in respect to any great change (no matter how great the good to be attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it), may be calculated with as much precision as can be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change! Of this sort of change they are always strongly in favor.

These people were called Tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.

Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it.

On the 2nd of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day, whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it.

“Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”

Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history-the very ringbolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ringbolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day-cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.

The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness. The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime. The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too-great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settIed” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final”; not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defence. Mark them! Fully appreciating the hardships to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep, the corner-stone of the national super-structure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interest-nation’s jubilee.

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait-perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.

I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!

My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and His cause is the ever-living now.
Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead.
We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have “Abraham to our father,” when they had long lost Abraham’s faith and spirit. That people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham’s great name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchers of the righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men shout-“We have Washington to our father.”-Alas! that it should be so; yet it is.
The evil, that men do, lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.-The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, “It is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less; would you persuade more, and rebuke less; your cause would be much more likely to succeed.” But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgment that the slave is a moral, intellectual, and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and ciphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding.-There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Take the American slave-trade, which we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave-trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words from the high places of the nation as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the Jaws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our doctors of divinity. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish them selves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon all those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass without condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.

Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh jobbers, armed with pistol, whip, and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-curdling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul The crack you heard was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow this drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me, citizens, where, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.

I was born amid such sights and scenes. To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality. When a child, my soul was often pierced with a sense of its horrors. I lived on Philpot Street, Fell’s Point, Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves the slave ships in the Basin, anchored from the shore, with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to waft them down the Chesapeake. There was, at that time, a grand slave mart kept at the head of Pratt Street, by Austin Woldfolk. His agents were sent into every town and county in Maryland, announcing their arrival, through the papers, and on flaming “hand-bills,” headed cash for Negroes. These men were generally well dressed men, and very captivating in their manners; ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms of its mother by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness.

The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number has been collected here, a ship is chartered for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile, or to New Orleans. From the slave prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for since the antislavery agitation, a certain caution is observed.

In the deep, still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead, heavy footsteps, and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my boyish heart was intense; and I was often consoled, when speaking to my mistress in the morning, to hear her say that the custom was very wicked; that she hated to hear the rattle of the chains and the heart-rending cries. I was glad to find one who sympathized with me in my horror.

Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic. In the solitude of my spirit I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.
Is this the land your Fathers loved,
The freedom which they toiled to win?
Is this the earth whereon they moved?
Are these the graves they slumber in?
But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented. By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason and Dixon’s line has been obliterated; New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women and children, as slaves, remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the star-spangled banner, and American Christianity. Where these go, may also go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime. Your law-makers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, your lords, nobles, and ecclesiastics enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing. Not fewer than forty Americans have, within the past two years, been hunted down and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to slavery and excruciating torture. Some of these have had wives and children, dependent on them for bread; but of this, no account was made. The right of the hunter to his prey stands superior to the right of marriage, and to all rights in this republic, the rights of God included! For black men there is neither law nor justice, humanity nor religion. The Fugitive Slave Law makes mercy to them a crime; and bribes the judge who tries them. An American judge gets ten dollars for every victim he consigns to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of American justice is bound by the law to hear but one side; and that side is the side of the oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world that in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America the seats of justice are filled with judges who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding the case of a man’s liberty, to hear only his accusers!

In glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administering law, in cunning arrangement to entrap the defenceless, and in diabolical intent this Fugitive Slave Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation. I doubt if there be another nation on the globe having the brass and the baseness to put such a law on the statute-book. If any man in this assembly thinks differently from me in this matter, and feels able to disprove my statements, I will gladly confront him at any suitable time and place he may select.

I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were nor stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.

At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness. Did this law concern the “mint, anise, and cummin”-abridge the right to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A general shout would go up from the church demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal!-And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to solicit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner. Further, if this demand were not complied with, another Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old covenanters would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox would be seen at every church door and heard from every pulpit, and Fillmore would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox to the beautiful, but treacherous, Queen Mary of Scotland. The fact that the church of our country (with fractional exceptions) does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love, and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe ofÝ mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.”

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines, who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty and leave the throne of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and with out hypocrisy.” But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation-a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons, and your appointed feasts my soul hateth. They are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea’ when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow.”

The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in its connection with its ability to abolish slavery.

The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”

Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday School, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery, and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds, and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.

In prosecuting the anti-slavery enterprise, we have been asked to spare the church, to spare the ministry; but how, we ask, could such a thing be done? We are met on the threshold of our efforts for the redemption of the slave, by the church and ministry of the country, in battle arrayed against us; and we are compelled to fight or flee. From what quarter, I beg to know, has proceeded a fire so deadly upon our ranks, during the last two years, as from the Northern pulpit? As the champions of oppressors, the chosen men of American theology have appeared-men honored for their so-called piety, and their real learning. The Lords of Buffalo, the Springs of New York, the Lathrops of Auburn, the Coxes and Spencers of Brooklyn, the Gannets and Sharps of Boston, the Deweys of Washington, and other great religious lights of the land have, in utter denial of the authority of Him by whom they professed to be called to the ministry, deliberately taught us, against the example of the Hebrews, and against the remonstrance of the Apostles, that we ought to obey man’s law before the law of God.2

My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom Henry Ward Beecher, of Brooklyn; Samuel J. May, of Syracuse; and my esteemed friend (Rev. R. R. Raymond) on the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that, upon these men lies the duty to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains.

One is struck with the difference between the attitude of the American church towards the anti-slavery movement, and that occupied by the churches in Eng land towards a similar movement in that country. There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating and improving the condition of mankind, came forward promptly, bound up the wounds of the West Indian slave, and re stored him to his liberty. There, the question of emancipation was a high religious question. It was demanded in the name of humanity, and according to the law of the living God. The Sharps, the Clarksons, the Wilberforces, the Buxtons, the Burchells, and the Knibbs were alike famous for their piety and for their philanthropy. The anti-slavery movement there was not an anti-church movement, for the reason that the church took its full share in prosecuting that movement: and the anti-slavery movement in this country will cease to be an anti-church movement, when the church of this country shall assume a favorable instead of a hostile position towards that movement.

Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education; yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation-a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen, and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against the oppressor; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a three-penny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere, to love one another; yet you notoriously hate (and glory in your hatred) all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare before the world, and are understood by the world to declare that you “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain in alienable rights; and that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

Fellow-citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad: it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. it fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement; the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet you cling to it as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

But it is answered in reply to all this, that precisely what I have now denounced is, in fact, guaranteed and sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States; that, the right to hold, and to hunt slaves is a part of that Constitution framed by the illustrious Fathers of this Republic.

Then, I dare to affirm, notwithstanding all I have said before, your fathers stooped, basely stooped

To palter with us in a double sense:
And keep the word of promise to the ear,
But break it to the heart.
And instead of being the honest men I have before declared them to be, they were the veriest impostors that ever practised on mankind. This is the inevitable conclusion, and from it there is no escape; but I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe. There is not time now to argue the constitutional question at length; nor have I the ability to discuss it as it ought to be discussed. The subject has been handled with masterly power by Lysander Spooner, Esq. by William Goodell, by Samuel E. Sewall, Esq., and last, though not least, by Gerrit Smith, Esq. These gentlemen have, as I think, fully and clearly vindicated the Constitution from any design to support slavery for an hour.

Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but interpreted, as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gate way? or is it in the temple? it is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slaveholding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can any where be found in it. What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a tract of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain rules of interpretation for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are well established. They are plain, commonsense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that the question of the constitutionality, or unconstitutionality of slavery, is not a question for the people. I hold that every American citizen has a right to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one. Without this right, the liberty of an American citizen would be as insecure as that of a Frenchman. Ex-Vice-President Dallas tells us that the constitution is an object to which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. He further says, the Constitution, in its words, is plain and intelligible, and is meant for the home-bred, unsophisticated understandings of our fellow-citizens. Senator Berrien tells us that the Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. The charter of our liberties, which every citizen has a personal interest in understanding thoroughly. The testimony of Senator Breese, Lewis Cass, and many others that might be named, who are everywhere esteemed as sound lawyers, so regard the constitution. I take it, therefore, that it is not presumption in a private citizen to form an opinion of that instrument.

Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.

I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion.

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery.

“The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from “the Declaration of Independence,” the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated.-Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other.

The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er!
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign.
To man his plundered rights again

God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;

That day will come all feuds to end,
And change into a faithful friend
Each foe.


October 6, 2014

A controversy broke out in the UK, when its Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in the Church Times that British people should “be more confident about our status as a Christian country.” In response 50 prominent individuals including authors, broadcasters, comedians and scientists added their names to a letter to the newspaper Daily Telegraph which argued that the UK was largely a “non-religious society”. But two senior Conservative ministers have backed the prime minister arguing that those who deny the UK is a Christian country are “deluding themselves”.

The important question is: On what basis did David Cameron label UK as a “Christian” country?

In Christian circles the answers are not clear. A Christian is sometimes said to be someone who belongs to a church; or someone who confesses the “right” creeds/doctrines; or someone who has made a decision.
There is a vast body of people that endorses the concept that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ is a Christian. But this simply is not true. Consider the case detailed in John 8. The record indicates that as the Lord taught, “many believed in him” (8.30). Jesus addressed those who believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (Jn. 8.31-32). In the same breath he accused them, “You look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word” (Jn. 8.37), and “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him” (Jn. 8.44). So these believers were in reality the children of the devil!!!

So what does being a “Christian” mean?

Surprisingly, the word “Christian” appears only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11.26; Acts 26.28; I Peter 4.16). According to Acts 11.26, “It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians”.” Thus, the origin of the term dates back in the Luke’s chronology somewhere between AD 40 and 44. The text tells us two things about the Christians. First, “Christian” was not a name that the early church chose as a self-designation. Second, it was a term that was placed on “the disciples”, indicating that the title was coined by those outside of the church.

A common Greek (or Hellenistic) practice in the 1st century AD for identifying adherents was to attach the Greek ending ianos (Greek plural ianoi) to the name of a leader or master. Eg. Greek word Herodianoi (“Herodians” Mt. 22.16; Mk. 3.6,12.13; Josephus Antiquities 14.15.10). Therefore, the term Christian (Greek word Christianos) is formed from Christ (Greek word Christos) and indicates Christ’s adherents or followers or devotees.

Therefore, a “Christian” is one who follows the life, teachings and deeds of his/her Lord or Master Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul helps us understand what a Christian is by stating that he imitated Christ (I Cor. 11.1). The apostle Peter likewise reminded the believers that they were to follow Christ’s example (I Pet. 2.21). However, the term virtually lost its meaning since then, as it is usually not accompanied by the same way of life and understanding.

According to John’s Gospel, believers in Jesus Christ are those who “know the truth”. To “know the truth” means to be in the truth (Jn. 8.44). Truth is not a sum of statements, nor a system of concepts or doctrines, nor a matter of knowing this or that. Truth is not a deposit of acquired knowledge. To merely know the truth is insufficient. Mere knowledge of truth is, in a way, same as not knowing the truth. In this case truth does not affect the person in anyway. In order to have any effect on or value for the person, that person must have a subjective relationship with the truth. That means, truth must be appropriated subjectively.

The truth, which John’s Gospel is talking about, is more relational than rational. If a person relates herself/himself to the truth, that person is supposedly in the truth. It is like food. Just as food is appropriated or assimilated and thereby becomes the sustenance of life, so also the truth. Merely having a set of Christian doctrines and claiming to have knowledge or teaching them to others is not being in the truth. One may become a “believer” in Jesus Christ without allowing his word or the truth to become a part of her/his life. For such people, truth becomes merely objective and a matter of indifference. They were believers in a sense, yet still unregenerate. So a Christian is one who has relationship with Jesus Christ, the embodiment of truth, in such a way that this relationship controls the life of the believer.

As mentioned above, the term “Christian” was coined by those outside of the church. Of those outside, the Jews were not likely to have referred to the disciples as Christians, followers of Christ, the Messiah, since this would have validated Jesus’ claim to that title. The Jews instead referred to the disciples of Jesus as “the sect of Nazarenes” (Acts 24.5). Hence the name “Christian” must have been coined by the Gentiles of Antioch. In the large metropolis of Antioch, with its many competing cults and mystery religions, those who spoke about Christos (Christ) were soon called Christianoi (Christians). This term differentiated the followers of Jesus Christ from the Gentiles and the Jews who did not follow Jesus Christ.

More likely, the term may have arisen generally among the populace as a slang term to indicate those who were followers of their God Christos, and who were regarded as a sort of mystery fellowship. The name Christos, Messiah, means nothing special to the Gentiles, sounding more like a second personal name for Jesus than a religious title.

In all three NT passages (Acts 11.26; Acts 26.28; I Peter 4.16) the variant Chrēstianoi (crhstianoi) occurs in the uncorrected Codex Sinaiticus (4th century AD manuscript). This remarkable persistent textual testimony confirms that Gentiles often confused the term Christos with the homophone Chrēstos. Chrēstos was a common proper name, especially for slaves, and apparently Gentiles tended to think that the disciples were followers of one called Chrēstos. This is the likely reason why the Roman Historian Suetonius (c 69 – after 122 AD) says that Jews were expelled from Rome because of disturbances made at the instigation of one called Chrēstos (Suetonius Claudius. 25.4). Tacitus (AD 56 – c 120), Roman senator and historian, appears to correct for his readers the common mistake among the Roman populace of confusing Chrēstianoi with Christianoi (Tacitus Annals. 15.44).

Therefore, there is no New Testament evidence that the term “Christian” was commonly used as a self-designation by the early church. According to Acts 11.26, the common term for believers at the time of the origin of the title “Christian” was “disciples” and other terms soon came to be used by the early church such as “believers” (Acts 5.14; Rom. 1.16; Acts 10.45; I Tim. 6.2), “brothers” (Acts 6.3; James 2.15) and “saints” (Acts 9.13; I Cor. 1.2).

The term “Christian” appears for the first time as a self-designation in Didache 12.4 (Didache is a brief early Christian treatise of the late 1st or early 2nd century AD), and is commonly used by Ignatius (c 35 – c 107 AD, Bishop of Antioch) for a member of a believing community, but the name does not occur in abundance elsewhere in the writings of the early church fathers. In the middle of the 2nd century Polycarp (AD 69 – 155-160’s) calls himself a “Christian” (Epistles 10.1; 12.1). The reason for the scarcity of the term in the early church fathers may be found in a letter by the Roman governor Pliny, the Younger (AD 61 – c 113), to Emperor Trajan (AD 53 – 117). Those accused of believing in Jesus Christ were asked whether or not they were “Christians”. If they admitted the name, they were put to death, or else, if they were Roman citizens, sent to Rome for trial (Letters 10.96). In the days of persecution of the early church, the use of the term was dangerous, because it clearly marked them out in the minds of the Romans as believing in a god who was in opposition to the emperor. But nonetheless, in the church, as early as I Peter 4.16, honour was associated with those who suffered because they bore the name of their Messiah, since suffering as a “Christian” glorifies God.


Michael J. Wilkins, “Christian,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol 1 (A-C), ed. by David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 925-926.