15 Christ Outside Christianity
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the Law and the prophets bear witness for it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
This sentence has long been acknowledged by many New Testament scholars as the main theme of Paul the Apostle. If this sentence be translated literally phrase by phrase, it would be like the following; "But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, testified by the Law and the prophets, that is, the righteousness of God, through faith, of Jesus Christ, for all who believe."
Notice the order of the phrases. The phrase "apart from law" comes first in the sentence that describes the present situation after the conjunction 'but now'. It means this phrase is emphasized. In stating the essence of the gospel he had been preaching for many years, Paul had to cry at first, "apart from law." What does this fact mean? It means that for Paul this is the most important and the most impressive fact in God's saving work. We will understand the reason for this emphasis when we know Paul's life and experiences before he suddenly met the revelation of his savior on the way to Damascus.
Paul was a Pharisee, a member belonging to one of the most ardent sects of Judaism. Let us listen to his own confession in his letter. He wrote, "You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 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.1:13~14).
He was "far more zealous" than many other colleagues and "advanced in Judaism beyond many others." 'Advancing in Judaism' means advancing more strictly in observing all the regulations of Judaism. Paul made every effort to be strict in observing all the regulations of Judaism because Judaism is the only way to be accepted by God and achieve the fellowship with God, to be short, to be righteous. Paul was a champion of Judaism.
On the way to Damascus to persecute Jesus' believers, however, resurrected Jesus appeared to Paul(Act.9:1-11). By this experience (often called "Paul's Damascus experience") Paul's life was clearly divided into two. Before it Paul was against Jesus the Christ and was in the vanguard of persecuting Jesus-believers. But after that experience he became a servant of Jesus Christ and preached "the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ" as an apostle until his martyrdom.
Paul's sentence quoted at the beginning of this article shows Paul's understanding of 'the righteousness of God'. Here Paul uses this phrase as meaning 'God's working to make men righteous'. It is necessary for us to live in the fellowship with God, the fountain of life, in order that we should fulfill the meaning of our existence. To live with God, we have to be righteous, that is, acceptable to a righteous God. Paul made every effort to be righteous by keeping all the demands of God given in Judaism, the only true religion for the Jew.
However, all his efforts led him only to persecuting God's people who believe Jesus as the Christ. By his experience on the way to Damascus he suddenly found that believing Jesus as the risen Christ and following Him is the only way to be accepted by God. He found that observing all the regulations of Judaism is not the way to salvation, nor to the reality of life. He found the way to God's reality outside of Judaism.
As I noted before, the Greek word 'nomos', usually translated as 'law', pointed to Judaism as a whole in Paul's time(Message No.14 first section). When Paul states 'without law' or 'outside law', therefore, he means 'without any relation to Judaism' or 'outside the realm of Judaism'. For Paul, Judaism is the only true religion among all the religions in the world. Now Paul cries, "But now, outside the realm of religion, God is making acceptable to Himself those who have gone astray far from Him and giving the power to walk on the way to Himself."
Paul adds to this statement, "although the Law and the prophets bear witness for it." In the phrase where 'the law' is told in combination with 'the prophets', 'the law' means 'the first five books of Moses' called 'Torah' in Judaism. 'Torah' is the foundation of Judaism and regarded as the most important part. The expression 'the law and the prophets' points to the whole of the holy scriptures in Judaism at Jesus' and Paul's time. Every rabbi founded his theory on a verse from the law and a verse from the prophets.
Here Paul founds his central theme of the gospel "apart from Judaism the righteousness of God has been manifested" on the holy scriptures of Judaism which we usually call "Old Testament". Paul claims that Judaism itself supports Paul's gospel. Paul himself often quotes from Old Testament in order to found his Gospel thesis. For example, in chapter 4 of his Roman letter he quotes Abraham's life and experiences in chapter 15 of Genesis in the Old Testament to found his gospel thesis that man is justified (accepted by God) not by works but by faith, proclaimed in the chapter 3 of his Roman letter.
Paul's attitude toward Judaism has two sides. These two sides are stated in one verse Rom.3:21. The one side is expressed by the phrase "apart from law" and the other side is stated "testified by the law and the prophets" (literal translation). The practical expression of the principle "apart from law" or "outside Judaism" can be seen in Paul's fervent struggle against those who asked the circumcision for Gentile believers.
Some Jewish believers claimed that the Gentile believers should be circumcised. To be circumcised means to convert to Judaism, and Judaism demands the followers to keep all the regulations of the holy religion Judaism. The claim for the Gentile believers to be circumcised, therefore, means to claim for a man to belong to Judaism in order to be saved. That means to restrict the salvation to Judaism. Paul fervently opposed this restriction. "The gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Message No.1) The power of God for salvation is given to the circumcised and the uncircumcised alike.
The mission of Christ-believers is to proclaim the gospel of Christ, the saving work of God in Christ. It is not to convert people to Christianity. Missionaries of Christian churches usually try to convert people of other religions to Christianity by baptizing them with water. But listen, Paul says, "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel."(1Cor.1:17) If your baptism in water is the real confession of your Christ-faith (see Message No.6), you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit by risen Christ and experience God's work in you(Message No.3). You will experience the reality of God's grace and God's saving work in you.
Now I have to discuss the other side of Paul's attitude to Judaism. Just after he said, "apart from law the righteousness of God has been manifested," he adds, "testified by the law and the prophets." God's saving work in Christ has been manifested through the testimonies of all the Holy Scriptures of Israel. Judaism is a religion, but for Paul a Jew it is the religion, the one true religion.
Judaism is denied its role as a necessary condition for the salvation by the phrase "apart from Judaism," but it is given an important role as testimony. The claim that Judaism is necessary for the salvation is denied by the gospel. "Apart from Judaism" or "outside Judaism" we can be saved. But Judaism is given the position or the significance as a testimony or the pointer to the gospel. I call these two sides of Judaism "the relativity of Judaism."
The opposite of 'relative' is 'absolute.' Religions of the world in history usually insist that they are the true ways for a man to be saved or to be perfect. Sometimes they emphasize that they are the only ways for it. Religions often urge that if a man wants to be saved, he must belong to this religion. When a religion makes belonging to it the condition for a man to be saved, I call this claim "absolutism of religion." In religion there is a tendency towards absolutism.
However, religions are relative. As Paul declared Judaism relative, we have to acknowledge that all religions are relative. We may call this acknowledgement "religious relativism" or "relativism of religions," although I am not confident of the usage of this word 'relativism' in this case. In any case, we have to recognize that all religions are relative.
Jesus of Nazareth also made Judaism relative. Jesus declared, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17) Jesus called and gathered around him those who were called "sinners". They were the people who could not observe the regulations of Judaism. They were called "sinners" by the leaders of Judaism who thought of themselves as "the righteous." Jesus called them "the poor", and said to them, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Jesus as a Jew lived in Judaism, but he denied the absolutism of Judaism.
Now Christianity is a religion as Judaism is a religion. Christianity has its own rites, the baptism and the Holy Supper, its own clergy who make these rites effective, and its own creeds or dogmas. Then the same thing can be said about Christianity as it is said about Judaism. To acknowledge the relativity of Christianity means to negate the absolutism of Christianity. The absolutism in Christianity declares, "There is no salvation outside Christianity." The absolutism of Christianity insists that a man must be baptized with water and belong to Christianity and a Christian Church if he wants to be saved.
But the gospel of Christ declares, "Apart from Christianity, or outside Christianity the saving work of God has been manifested in Christ, testified by Christianity." The saving work of God has been manifested in the gospel of Christ, for the gospel is the power of God for salvation. (Message No.1)Now we can find Christ outside Christianity. Now we are saved by Christ-faith outside Christianity.
Then, are we denying Christianity? No, we are not denying Christianity. Christianity is given an important meaning and role. It is the most important testimony for the gospel of Christ. Christianity holds the gospel of Christ in it and has been keeping it through history. Christian Churches have spread Christianity all over the world. Many people have found the gospel and Christ in Christianity and lived noble holy lives. They found Christ inside Christianity.
We can find Christ inside Christianity, but we can find Christ outside Christianity too. Being inside Christianity is not the necessary condition to be saved. This is the negation of the absolutism of Christianity. Christianity is relative as a religion. Christianity is one of many religions which are relative. All religions established through long histories have their own values and have carried out their roles in their situations. But among them, I believe, Christianity is the most precious religion, for it holds the gospel of Christ in it.