In Christ – Romans and Galatians

As I have previously stated, I am spending the summer researching Paul’s understanding of being ‘in Christ.’ Much ink has been spilled over this phrase and I want to guard the amount of time I spend swimming into the wormhole of literature. My plan was to read through Con Campbell’s new book Paul and Union with Christ as a guide to my studies.

But as I began reading I realized he was doing all the heavy lifting. In other words, I had not examined the phrase in Paul’s writing myself. So, I decided to work through Paul’s letters before I returned to his book. (Disclaimer: I am using his book to help identify the various ways Paul incorporates these ideas into his letters.) 

This series of posts will record my initial findings. I have categorized each usage of the phrase within three lines – the use of the preposition εν; the main referent or object of the phrase; and its place within Paul’s already/not yet framework. The first set of posts contain Paul’s use of εν Χριστω, starting with Romans and Galatians.


  • 3:24 – means, cause: justification via redemption: already
  • 6:11 – state, cause: alive to God: already
  • 6:23 – state, cause: eternal life: not yet
  • 8:1 – location*, state: no condemnation: already
  • 8:2 – state, cause: set free: already
  • 8:39 – state, cause: love of God: already
  • 9:1 – cause, agency: truth: already
  • 12:5 – state: one body: already
  • 15:17 – state: my work for God: already
  • 16:3 – location*: fellow workers: already
  • 16:7 – location*: were…before me: already
  • 16:9 – location*: fellow workers: already


  • 1:22 – location: churches of Judea: already
  • 2:4 – state, cause: freedom: already
  • 2:17 – means, cause: justified: already
  • 3:14 – means, cause: the blessing of Abraham: already
  • 3:26 – location*, state: sons of God: already
  • 3:28 – state, cause: are one: already


Few initial thoughts:

1. The phrase is consistently tied with the already portion of Paul’s thinking. “In Christ” seems to be a present reality for Paul, not a future hope. Thus, in trying to understand Paul’s usage we need to identify the ways it impacts life in the here and now.

2. Being “in Christ” is tied with both Christ as cause and our state of being joined with Christ. I have often pushed back on those asserting participation as a key to understanding Paul, especially Douglas Campbell, because I felt the term was imprecise.  Examining the phrase may help to clarify what it means to participate with Christ, especially since cause and state seem to be closely knitted together.

*Location simply means Paul may be using phrase to identify a “Christian”

Framing and Interpretation

In Michael Bird’s Four Views On The Apostle Paul, for my brief review see here, each of the authors was asked to give their thoughts on, “What is the best framework for describing Paul’s theological perspective?” And in my opinion, one of the most interesting things about the book was examining how influential each author’s answer to this one question is on their overall reading of Paul.

Without going into detail, here is my view of their answers to the framework question:

1. Tom Schreiner – the now, not yet nature of Paul’s gospel (he also refers to as prophecy fulfilled (now), mystery revealed (not yet))

2. Luke Timothy Johnson – a balance of religious experience (Paul’s and his readers) and cultural heritage (Jewish and Greco-Roman)

3. Douglas Campbell –   revealed (revelation as the basis for Paul’s thinking on God), triune (the Trinity as the God who is revealed), missional (Paul is called to participate in the loving mission of God)…the primary focus is revelation (Greek apokalypto)

4. Mark Nanos –  Paul (who never left Judaism and continued to be Torah observant) wrote from the viewpoint that because the Messiah had come the new age had come (the addition of the non-Jews was the sign of the coming)

Now lets look at how two of authors perceives the overall objective of Paul (obviously grossly understated) and how I think the framework plays a major role in determining their perception:

1. Tom Schreiner – Christ-Centered and Cross-Focused: Schreiner starts with defining the problem – sin, judgment, wrath and beginning with grace shows how humanity’s salvation (reversal of the problem) is secured in cross. Schreiner’s account focuses on the what has been done and I believe this arises mainly from his now, not framework (must focus on the now, especially given the not yet is seen as mystery). I think this accounts for, what I would consider to be a weakness in Schreiner’s account, the lack of attention given to resurrection. It is not that the resurrection is completed neglected, but since it falls in the realm of not yet (at least for all except Jesus Christ) it gets treated as a secondary issue. I would not want to suggest that Schreiner actually believes the resurrection is a secondary issue, only if one decides to work within the now, not yet framework this is a natural (necessary?) result.

2. Luke Timothy Johnson – Rescue from Death: Johnson focuses on Christ’s rescuing humanity from alienation from God (death) and giving us a share in the life that is distinctive to God. While he agrees with Schreiner that there is now, not yet quality to this life, he believes Paul focuses on “in-between-time” of salvation where Christians are to conduct themselves in manner worthy of calling. This leads to an interesting distinction which I believe flows out of his framing of Paul’s thought. For the Johnson, the cross is crucial because there is tension between cross (history) and resurrection (experience) and in his account, the cross becomes the hermeneutical key to reinterpreting Torah, God’s gift, etc. While the cross is certainly hermeneutical, is it not also more than that? This is where the interaction between experience and heritage becomes the lens to understanding Paul, and reveals how his framing plays a crucial role in how he reads Paul.

Campbell’s revelatory and Nanos’ Jewish expectation viewpoints could be analyzed the same way, but for the sake of time (my time that is!) I think these two show how important framework is for interpretation. Framing is found in all interpretation, and I am not suggesting we need somehow to leave framework behind, just that we need to be conscious of how frameworks influence our readings.

That is why I found it so interesting in this book, the authors had to explicitly state their framework along with their interpretation. With the frameworks there for all to see, their influence became obvious. And it led me to think,

Am I aware of my own framework for interpreting Paul? Could I write it down for all to see and analyze?

Can I see the influence my framework is having on my interpretation (both good and bad)?

Does my framework so override my interpreting that the text is never allowed to question it?


A God who Raises the Dead!

I am writing my thesis on Galatians. There are various reasons why this book captivated me enough to decide to spend 3+ years researching and writing on it…and one of the main reasons is the opening verse:

Galatians 1:1 – Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through men, but through Jesus Christ and God our Father who raised him from the dead…

This is the only explicit mention of the resurrection in Galatians and many assume that the resurrection has no real part in the trajectory of Galatians. But its importance does not come from the number of times it is mentioned, rather from its placement. Paul’s first point, as he tries to convince the Galatians that there is only one gospel, is that God raises Jesus from the dead.

For those of us who grew up in church and have heard this in sermons, seen it in passion plays, spoke it through songs this is not all that surprising…but it does not mean it is any less amazing. Just take a moment wherever you are reading and say these words out loud, “God raised Jesus from the dead.” He was not asleep, he was not just buried in a tomb, he was dead…and God RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD!

For Paul, however, it does not stop there:

Ephesians 2:4-6 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

All those saved by the grace of God have been made alive! This is not something we have to wait for, it is something we have right now in Christ Jesus. The God who raised Jesus from the dead has made us alive together with Christ! Do it one more time, wherever you are say this out loud, “I am alive with Christ!”

In Galatians, Paul is facing disappointment and even anger over their decision to turn to another gospel. His first response is to lean on God’s ability to raise the dead. The gospel he believes and preaches requires this – to be brought from dead to life, from dead to alive requires a God who can raise the dead.

I do not know the problems facing you, nor do I know the way God will choose to comfort you in them and deliver you from them…but like Paul I do believe that we worship a God who raises the dead. No matter your situation this is the truth of the gospel. The God who empowers the gospel is a God who raises the dead.

Let us trust in that promise!

Is Paul a Storyteller?

For once the answer seems obvious, of course not, Paul is a letter writer. But leave it to a scholar to cloudy up a clear sky, and in this case the scholar has a name, Richard B. Hays. His book The Faith of Jesus Christ (1983 and 2002), the publication of his dissertation,* brought the narrative approaches common in Gospels studies into Pauline studies.

I am not going to review the book in this post, but have attached a precis of the book on writings page if interested. Here it is suffice to say that Hays argues that the story of Jesus the Messiah generates and sustains Paul’s gospel. Underlying all of Paul’s letters is a fundamental narrative which Paul uses to speak into the contexts of his readers. This way of reading Paul has gained wide acceptance, not unanimous mind you, in the field of Pauline studies. For example, N.T. Wright, probably the most well known outside of the academy, also sees Paul’s thought as rooted in a a fundamental narrative, he just focuses on a different story, the story of Israel.

But we have to ask the all important question, “So what? What does it matter if Paul is narratively grounded?” As far as I am concerned, it matters a lot.

Paul’s letters, yes I think we can all agree he does write letters not stories, are full of commands or propositions. If one reads him as propositionally grounded then his letters can become a long list of rules and regulations for us to follow. The basic premise is I (Paul) have figured it out and now let me tell you (those who have not figured it out) what to do. In reading Paul this way we can fall into a trap harmful to our lives as Christians and harmful to the way we teach and preach Paul. Paul’s gospel starts with a list of rules and regulations for us to follow and impose on others; follow the rules and you will experience salvation. Paul’s gospel as however does not start with rules and regulations but freedom, deliverance, righteousness, and being “in Christ.” There is much to learn from him and yes we should seek his advice. But how ironic that Paul, who is fighting against those trying to impose rules and regulations upon those who have become “new creations” through the saving power of the gospel, is the one now imposing rules on us.

But when Paul is read as narratively grounded then the primacy turns from his propositions and commands to his gospel. All things flow out of and into the story of Jesus Christ, salvation is entering into (being folded into) the story of Christ. Being “in Christ” is not only the entry point into salvation but the story which we are called to constantly live into; being “in Christ” is the power to save and transform.

Hays and others like Wright, have done a tremendous service by returning the focus to the story, and for the most part I agree with them (more with Hays than Wright, will talk about that in another post). Paul is narratively minded, he writes out of a story and calls others into a story.

But being narratively minded is not the same thing as being a storyteller, that is distinction I will tackle later.

*Both encouraging and discouraging for those of us writing a dissertation. Encouraging because I cannot think of any other modern dissertation that has so impacted NT studies. Am I missing one? Can you think of another? So just go ahead and get this thing done, over with because it will most likely not change the world! Discouraging to think I will work for 3+ years to research and write this thing and it will be read from cover to cover by less than 5 people – counting family and friends!