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The Individual and the Community in Paul

It’s been a concern of mine for some time that a number of New Testament scholars such as Tom Wright take an approach to justification in Paul which subordinates individual issues (such as personal sin, guilt and salvation) to communal concerns. The same is true in some scholarly approaches to Paul’s use of the word “covenant”. But the individual and the community should not be pitted against one another or placed in an ordered hierarchy like this. They are both very important aspects of our salvation in Christ.

My colleague Ben Dunson has written a great review of scholarly approaches to individual / communal issues since Bultmann and Käsemann, with helpful suggestions for further avenues of research and a call for integration of the individual and the communal elements in Paul.

Published inChurchJustificationPaul

4 Comments

  1. I think there is a pendulum swing that is needed. In a age of individuality and the emphasise “I can do it”. “My gift”. “My calling” etc I think the the concentration on the communal is an important rebuke to the church at large.

    Even within the Sydney Anglican church this rebuke is needed in the way the word / sermon is emphasised over and above the other activities within the fellowship service. This emphasis tends to or can elevate the preacher / minister to a individual status above the rest of the congregation, instead of creating a communal sense of gathering of all contributing to the fellowship of the faithful.

    • Hi Craig, thanks for your comments. I think that problems of over-emphasis (like the individualism of our current age) do need to be addressed, but not simply by pushing the opposite emphasis. The problem with pendulums is that they keep swinging back and forth and hurting people as they go.

      I’m not sure if the issue of the emphasis on the word / sermon really fits into the category of individual / communal; I think it’s another issue entirely. I do believe that making the word of God a priority is really important in our gatherings because it is the source and foundation of everything else (see, e.g. James 1:18). But the word needs to be listened to, obeyed, and lived out in love (e.g. James 1:22-27). But it shouldn’t be done in a way that elevates the status of the preacher / minister. Paul is a very good model here: he puts the “word of the cross” right at the centre of everything (1 Cor 1:18), but he insists that the preachers are not to be given a superior status (1 Cor 3:5 etc.)

  2. Secondly, I often hear Anglicans use the story of Cornelius and his family and the goaler and his family being baptised..as a foundation to baptise children. It seems within the story of the early church these family members were fully immersed into the commune of believers…I’m wondering where the sense of guilt, personal sin and salvation is brought into being in regards to the family…. would it not be worked out within the gathering?

    • Craig, I guess the answer to your question is “yes”, and I think this illustrates the importance of both individual and communal elements in our Christian lives.

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