Paul’s view of salvation, Adam, and sin from Romans
Before the Apostle Paul penned such grand themes as the universal sin of mankind, the place of the law to condemn, and justification by grace through faith; Paul was busy persecuting those who believed that Jesus is the Messiah. He was a Pharisee trained according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers. Yet somehow this Saul of Tarsus could not fathom the things that this new sect of Messiah-anity was proclaiming.
Let me suggest that Saul of Tarsus had done what so many dispensationalists have done. Saul started with the nation of Israel when studying the law. Saul had begun with the giving of the Mosaic law instead of beginning at the beginning. Since Saul focused his attention on the Mosaic law, his conclusions were that which any Pharisee had in that day. The law must be kept. Through the law we have a right relationship with the One, true God, the God of Israel. Saul had not started correctly so he wouldn’t finish correctly.
When dispensationalists begin their study of the covenants, they begin with the Abrahamic Covenant and in particular, they focus on the promise of God to form a nation from Abraham’s seed. Then they move to the Mosaic Covenant which they term “the old covenant”. Most then turn to the Davidic Covenant, all the while they are explaining the difference between conditional and unconditional covenants. They have started incorrectly so they will finish incorrectly.
It is no wonder that Saul would have to personally seek God’s face (Galatians 1:11-18) to understand where he had gone wrong in his studies of the law as a Pharisee. Saul and other Pharisees had completely missed the foundation of Genesis 1-4. This is why Paul spends so much time pointing out the universality of sin revealed in both scripture and creation in Romans 1-3. In Romans 5:12-21, Paul points back to the first man, Adam, and the fulfillment of the Seed Promise in Jesus Messiah. Sin has spread to all mankind because it began with Adam, the first man. Justification for sin comes through Messiah by the grace of God. We don’t keep the Mosaic law to get it; we put our faith in Messiah. Paul specifically points out the period of time between Adam and Moses. It was characterized by sin even though there was no law. Here was where his Pharisee theology had fallen short. How could those before Moses have a right relationship with God if there was no law? Since Abraham was before Moses (Romans 4) and was justified in God’s sight, something was seriously wrong with the Pharisee approach.
Paul’s treatment of Abraham deserves our full attention. Don’t just skim what I’m writing in this paragraph. Paul paints Abraham as an uncircumcised Gentile who walked by faith, Romans 4:9-12. Far from the promises to Abraham being simply for the nation of Israel, Paul insists they are for all humanity, as in, all who walk by faith. Note that Paul believed that Abraham was to one day be the literal heir of the entire world, not just the land we now know as Israel, Romans 4:13. This promise of an inheritance preceded the giving of the law, and was obtained solely by faith in the promises of God. Based on Abraham’s place as spiritual father to all who are of faith, Paul demands that any Gentile be fully included in the promises to inherit the world right alongside Abraham, Romans 4:14. Further, Paul does not paint Abraham as being solely the father of Israel, but a father of many nations, Romans 4:16-17, and Galatians 3:7-9 with 3:14, rooted in Genesis 17:5. Yet all believers from any of those Gentile nations are one seed in Messiah having Abraham as their father, Galatians 3:16, 27-29.
While Paul spends the majority of his time in Romans demonstrating the correct foundation for sin, righteousness, justification, grace, and universal themes which encompass all of humanity, Paul does not end there. Once we examine the plight of humanity with the proper foundation, it is obvious that Messiah had to come and suffer for sins if mankind is to be justified. Messiah must fulfill the picture that Abel’s life and death painted as the unrighteous put the righteous to death. Yet Israel’s Messiah has more to fulfill than just to be crucified and rise again. Paul takes three chapters in the middle of Romans (chapters 9-11) in which he brings to the forefront the question of God’s plan for Israel.
The question of Jesus being the Messiah for the nation of Israel and the Savior for all humanity is not an either/or issue; it is clearly both/and. The same Savior for humanity is the Christ for Israel. This is where I’m having a hard time finding my identity. Covenant Theologians would say that there is no need for God to fulfill any promises to the nation of Israel since the Messiah has redeemed all of humanity. The church has spiritually received all of those blessings promised to the nation of Israel so there is nothing left to fulfill. Dispensationalists, on the other hand, will place the plan for the nation of Israel on pause once Pentecost took place. At the end of the age, God’s plan for Israel will once again begin to unfold.
The problem with the CT point of view is that Paul would not spend three chapters talking about his desire for the nation of Israel to be saved if God was done with the nation of Israel. Paul overtly states that God is not done with Israel, but will fulfill His plan for them, including “all Israel will be saved.” Paul has already gone through God’s plan for humanity to be saved by grace through faith in the Messiah. Now in Romans 9-11, this same Jesus as the last Adam is the Deliverer of the nation of Israel to nationally take away their sins immediately following the current time wherein Israel is spiritually blinded. So CT’s assertions that God is spiritually fulfilling His promises to the nation of Israel via the church make no sense upon examining Romans 9-11 as a future part of God’s plan to redeem humanity to Himself.
The problem for dispensationalists is the divorcement of God’s plan for humanity from God’s plan for Israel. Messiah coming to die for the sins of humanity IS God’s plan for Israel. To say that God’s plan for Israel was placed on pause for this current time is to ignore Paul’s applications in Romans 9-11. Paul claimed to be an Israelite through whom God was currently working. Paul also asserted that while Israel as a nation was under blindness, a remnant of Israelites were saved and believing Gentiles were grafted into that very assembly. The continuity between Israel and the church as portrayed in Romans 9-11 is simply ignored by dispensationalists.
As if Paul had not said enough about God’s future plan for Israel, we have the salvation of the Gentiles contained within Romans 15:8-12. Paul quotes four OT prophecies which show Israel saved with Gentiles also praising God alongside the nation of Israel. The settings are various but always point to the establishment of a Messianic Kingdom wherein the nation of Israel is the centerpiece as Gentiles also praise the God of Israel. It almost seems incongruous. Paul has spent chapters writing about justification by grace through faith, yet he concludes his letter with hope that the nation of Israel will wake from her spiritual sleep, Romans 11:8, at which time Gentile nations will find favor with God, Romans 11:15, 15:8-12.
In summary, Paul’s theology of sin, righteousness, and judgement find their foundation in Genesis 1-4. Once we establish that foundation, we move onto God’s plan for the nation of Israel. Far from replacing that plan for Israel with a plan for all mankind, or for the elect, Paul demonstrates that because Messiah has justified all who believe, both Israelite and Gentile, this proves that God will fulfill His word to the nation of Israel when their spiritual blindness is lifted and they awake from their spiritual sleep.
Where would Paul’s theology be without Genesis 1-4 and the Seed Promise?
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-The Orange Mailman