By Bart D. Ehrman, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
The resurrection of Jesus changed Paul’s soteriological and ecclesiological views. Paul realized that Jesus was not merely immortal, he was divine; and this affected his soteriological conclusions. His understanding of who the people of God are also changed once he came to think that Jesus had been raised from the dead; thus changing his ecclesiological views.
Resurrection of Jesus
Soteriology has to do with one’s understanding of salvation. If Christ has been favored by God to be made a divine being, then how does one explain his ignominious death?
This leads one to believe that it must have been part of God’s plan. Because Jesus stood under God’s favor, being God’s favorite, so he must have died because God wanted him to die. God wanted his messiah to die, contrary to all human expectations. Jesus’ death must not have been just some kind of miscarriage of justice or an accident of history; it was all part of the plan.
By raising Jesus from the dead, God showed that the death was meaningful. But how could a senseless death be meaningful? Well, obviously, it wasn’t senseless. We’ve seen that in the Jewish tradition as well as in the pagan, living creatures were killed for the gods, or for God, as sacrifices. If God wanted Jesus to die, his death must have been a sacrifice.
Paul concluded that just as animals are sacrificed in the temple of Jerusalem by Jews to Jewish priests to restore a right relationship with God, such is the case with Jesus. He was the perfect sacrifice that God himself provided to atone for the sins of the world.
This article comes directly from content in the video series The Triumph of Christianity. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
God’s Curse and Jesus’s Crucification
There was a problem for Paul in the manner in which Jesus was executed. Jesus was crucified, and though that’s a problem for everybody, it was especially so for Paul theologically.
A verse in the Old Testament in the law of Moses, Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.” This means that somebody stands under a curse obviously if they’re left on a tree for a while to be humiliated in their death with the corpse just hanging there. Paul took it literally to mean that God curses anyone hanged on a tree, and since Jesus was killed by being attached to a cross and hanged on a tree, he was under God’s curse.
Paul then concluded that it was so that Jesus could take the curse that is due to others. He was cursed for the sake of other people. He was to bear the curse himself, and that’s why he was specifically crucified, and not stoned or stabbed or burned to death. He was crucified because that way he would be cursed by God so that he could take the curse of others upon himself.
Salvation and Relationship with God
Ecclesiology is the understanding of the church, the ecclesia, and the people of God. Paul’s understanding of who the people of God are changed once he came to think that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Since the death of Jesus was the sacrifice that brought about salvation, it was only by accepting the death and resurrection, and by trusting that God had made this sacrifice, that a person could be brought into a restored relationship with God.
It’s Christ’s death that matters for salvation, and nothing else. For Paul, this specially meant that the Jewish law is not what ultimately matters before God.
What ultimately matters is the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s son. That meant salvation could come to anyone, whether they followed the Jewish law or not, whether they kept the Jewish customs or not, and whether they were Jewish or not. The law itself did not establish a person’s right standing with God, only the death and resurrection of Jesus did. So, a person did not have to convert to Judaism in order to accept God’s salvation.
Paul: The Apostle to the Gentiles
Salvation for Paul did come from the Jews. That was the divine plan. It came from the Jews because Jesus was Jewish. Salvation came from the Jews, but it went out then to the entire world.
Now that Christ had fulfilled the law, there’s no need to impose it on anyone who was not Jewish. Gentiles then too could join the faith without keeping Jewish customs and laws, without being circumcised, without keeping kosher or sabbath, and so forth. They only had to believe in the death and resurrection of the son of God, and they would be numbered among the people of God.
It was this realization that transformed Paul’s life, convincing him that he had to take the message to the world at large. He believed he had been called to take the gospel to non-Jews, and so he referred to himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles. His subsequent work ended up transforming the entire world.
Common Questions about the Resurrection of Jesus and Change in Paul’s Views
The death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus were to Paul evidence that Jesus was favored by God. Since his death couldn’t have been for nothing, Paul concluded that it must have been part of a greater plan that God had had all along. God wanted Jesus’ death to be meaningful, which Paul later concluded to mean the atonement of the world’s sins.
Paul had problem of reconciling Jesus’ death on a cross with a verse from the Old Testament which stated, “Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.” Paul took it literally to mean that God curses anyone hanged on a tree, and since Jesus was killed by being attached to a cross and hanged on a tree, he was under God’s curse.
Paul believed that the death and resurrection of Jesus brought about salvation. He concluded that nothing else mattered in the face of Jesus’ resurrection. So, Gentiles only had to believe in the death and resurrection of the son of God, and they could also be numbered among the people of God.