He didn’t lay aside his Hebrew worldview when he was saved. We have often taught, that once Paul was saved, he laid aside his Jewishness and embraced Christ. Then we ascribed to Christ our own view of salvation, which is different to the Hebrew world in which Paul lived.
Paul did not lay aside his Jewishness. He kept to his Hebrew identity solidly. He saw the Messiah as the one who fulfilled his Hebrew hopes and all God’s promises to the Hebrew people. Paul laid aside his Jewish nationalism, the kind of legalism that shut gentiles out of the kingdom. But not his Jewish hopes, not even his keeping of the Jewish law. He just saw that these hopes had been fulfilled in an unexpected way, in Jesus Christ.
Every day Paul prayed the shema. This is from Deuteronomy 6, “Here Israel, the Lord your God is one God and you shall love him with all your life… and your neighbour as yourself.” These two were one law. When they asked Jesus, which was the greatest commandment, Jesus couldn’t answer with one. He added love of neighbour to love of God, because the one is impossible without the other.
The shema was Paul’s worldview. It was taken from the Torah. The Torah speaks of a salvation that is world renewing. It stems from the Hebrew view of wisdom and of the word/ logos of God. The word in creation, had returned to Israel through the Torah. Just as the word fashioned the original creation, it was refashioning the world through the Torah in Israel. They would love God and love neighbour, and enemy, and this new way of nationhood, would reveal God to the worldly nations.
This was salvation to the Hebrew, a renewed creation.
Torah and Creation
But, as Paul says in Romans, the law couldn’t achieve this goal, because of the weakness of our own lives. So, God had to write the law on our hearts. This, to Paul, is what the gospel is about. The gospel isn’t the replacement of Torah, but the writing of Torah on our hearts, so that we will do it, as the shema says. The gospel is the fulfillment of shema. It has come so that Torah in our hearts will bring about a renewed community, a new creation. To fulfil the purpose of the creational logos.
There are many things we need to understand differently here. One of them is new creation. We have taught that new creation comes about by some sudden cataclysmic intervention of God, in which the kingdom of God comes suddenly, at some future time, and changes everything for us. The convenient thing about this view, is that we don’t have to live in kingdom ethics now. We can go on living naturally, by our present worldview.
But Jesus said the kingdom of God doesn’t come like that. It comes within us. It is the Torah written upon our hearts. Jeremiah said, that God would write his law on our hearts. This is how his kingdom comes. A new heart, means a new lifestyle towards our wider community, which means renewed community and ultimately a renewed world. This is how the kingdom of God comes. This means that we have some major part in it now, through our own lives.
It is true that the kingdom comes fully in the final resurrection, but how much of the kingdom is put off until then, and how much of it is to be revealed now by a renewing church, isn’t totally clear.
What is clear, is that we, as the church, are to be living witnesses, a prophetic community, of the kingdom to come, which has already come, by dawning in our own hearts and social lives. It is this witness, that is already meant to reshape our societies and nations today.
Renewing the World
There are other things we need to understand about Paul. Paul saw salvation to do with this world.
He didn’t see the promises of God to be fulfilled by us going to heaven. There is no passage in the bible that says the promises of God are to be fulfilled by us going to heaven. Paul saw God’s promises to do with our land. God said he would bless their land. He said he would fill the whole earth with his glory. This is what Paul was writing about.
Romans is Paul’s primary letter on salvation. We have located his main message in the earlier chapters of Romans, where Paul speaks of our personal salvation. But the main aspect of Paul’s soteriology is in Romans 8. Here, Paul speaks of the church being revealed to the creation, through a new spirit-renewed life. Chapter 8 shows a people whose hearts have been renewed by Torah, so that we live out the Torah towards our communities and wider world.
This is Paul’s soteriology. Paul claims, that the consequence of this Spirit empowered Torah community, even in our suffering, as we follow Christ, would be a renewed creation. He said, that the creation, meaning this world, would be delivered from its bondage to corruption. This means the curse, that is the result of our idolatry, in which we focus on ourselves, instead of on the true God and his true renewing nature. New lives would lead to renewed conditions in the world, meaning the curse and chaos would be driven back, just as it was in creation, in Genesis 1.
Throughout scripture, the first creation is used as a type of the new creation. John speaks of this in John 1. He says that the darkness cannot stand in the way of the light. He was referring to light driving back darkness in Genesis 1. And he meant that the coming of Christ and the spread of the church in the world, would have the same effect on the world. Darkness would be driven back from the creation. Good would overcome evil.
Salvation on Earth
This is what salvation is to Paul. Paul doesn’t say anywhere in Romans, or in any other letter, that salvation is us going to heaven. He says it is the renewal of this creation. In other places, he says it is the resurrection of our body. Our body is raised up to inhabit and rule over this creation.
This brings us to the main Hebrew worldview. They saw themselves as living out the Adamic commission. God promised Adam and Eve that they would govern his creation. The Hebrew saw themselves as the people through whom God was restoring this original Adamic purpose. It was to do with our human call to steward this world in the image and likeness of God.
When Paul says, in Romans 3, that we have fallen short of God’s glory, he meant our dominion over creation. This is the glory the Hebrew scriptures speak of, e.g. Psalm 8. “He has crowned us with glory and honour and set us over the works of his hands, the animals…”
When Paul said in Romans 5 that we have been restored to rule, by the grace of God, it is this Hebrew concept of the Adamic commission that Paul was speaking about. When Paul spoke of our final destiny, to be glorified, he meant the resurrection, to rule over God’s creation. He did not mean in heaven. He meant a new heavens and new earth, brought together in Christ.
This also was how the early church saw salvation. When asked why they refused to serve in the Roman army, why they refused to take any life at all, they didn’t answer because of the idolatry of Rome. They answered that they were the Isaianic people. They were beating their swords into ploughs now. The kingdom was coming to the world through the church community. Isaiah’s promises of a new world were being fulfilled through their lives. Wow, we have fallen a long way behind this today in our worldly empire view of Christendom.