Paul, Christianity’s great missionary, who founded churches all over the eastern Roman world, was also its first theologian. Born a Jew, trained as a rabbi, and at first a dedicated enemy of Christianity, he claimed to have encountered Jesus as a blinding light and a voice on the road to Damascus. Although he never met Jesus during his lifetime, he claimed to be one of the disciples and his influence far outshone that of all of the original twelve disciples put together, partly because he dedicated himself principally to converting non-Jews. He linked the new Christian ideas with older Jewish ones, but also frequently made radical breaks with tradition when he thought it necessary. No break was more radical than his rejection of the Jewish belief that obedience to the Law was the path to salvation. In the following passage Paul maintains that complete obedience is impossible because we are born damnably flawed (according to a doctrine known as original sin), and that only belief in Jesus can bring salvation (a doctrine known as salvation by faith). In modern times, liberal churches tend to dwell on the Sermon on the Mount, conservative churches on writings like this.

What makes all Christians equal, in Paul’s opinion?

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

New Revised Standard Version


reader_cover_1This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Paul Brians
Department of English
Washington State University
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