Monday, January 24, 2005

2. Paul: Final Judgement

What can be said about Paul's theology regarding the nature of the final judgement? Here is an exhaustive list of passages that speak directly regarding this concept:

Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

Rom 2:6-11 For he will repay according to each one's deeds: 7 to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

Rom 2:14-16 When Gentiles, who do not posses the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, those not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on the day when, according to may gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

Rom 8:13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

1 Cor 2:9 But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him"

1 Cor 4:5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.

1 Cor 6:9-10 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

2 Cor 5:10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Cor 11:14-15 And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.

Eph 5:3-5 But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. 5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.

2 Thes 1:5-9 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. 6 For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

1 Tim 5:24-25 The sins of some people are conspicuous and precede them to judgment, while the sins of others follow them there. 25 So also good works are conspicuous; and even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden.

Heb 2:1-3 Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him,


The primary concept appears to be one of judgement by works. The clearest verses speak directly of a judgement based on whether one does good or evil (Rom 2:6-11, Rom 2:14-16, 1 Cor 4:5, 2 Cor 5:10, 1 Tim 5:24-25). Most of the rest say clearly that God will punish evil (Rom 1:18, 1 Cor 6:9-10, 2 Cor 11:14-15, Eph 5:3-6).

Interestingly Heb 2:1-3 speaks of the failure to pay attention to the gospel as being similar in kind to other transgressions. It takes for granted that judgement is by works and then reasons from this that to neglect such a great thing as the gospel is therefore to commit a correspondingly great evil. This, perhaps, could be thought to agree with John's theology of faith as a fruit resulting from a good nature.

When we consider the question of whether Paul considers the judgement to be by works or nature (using “works” in a more precise sense here), the answer is somewhat difficult. Paul seems quite happen to speak on the one hand of “wicked deeds” and on the other of “wickedness” and wicked people. Based on the biblical references alone it seems impossible to determine precisely whether Paul regarded the judgement as based on one's deeds or nature.

The clearly unusual verse in this list is 2 Thess 1:5-9 which speaks of serious punishment for “those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (vs 8). What are we to make of this in light of the universal agreement of other verses as to a works based judgement? Perhaps “those who do not know God” is an expression meaning “evildoers”? If the gospel of Jesus calls for good behaviour then those who do not obey it will justly be condemned as evildoers? Actually, 3 John 1:11 uses the same greek words (though it gets translated slightly differently in the NRSV):
3 John 1:11 “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”
It indeed appears to be an expression that means “evildoers”.


Whatever the case in the one exceptional verse in 2 Thessalonians, it seems clear that the primary Pauline understanding of the final judgement is of a works / nature based judgement in which God rewards good and punishes evil.


Blogger BK said...

Interesting post. But I don't see where you are taking into a account the verses where Paul says that those who believe and our baptized shall be saved. Certainly, we are condemned because of our evil, but he certainly doesn't say that we are saved as the result of good works. Maybe I am missing the bigger picture.

Blogger Andrew said...

This post is part of what I intend to be a lengthy series covering all of NT theology. For the purposes of my series and conclusions I am separating the concepts of "salvation" and "final judgement". Verses that involve "salvation" or similar, I have grouped together and will look at in future posts, and am only looking at verses that describe the final judgement here. Hence why I did't discuss your question here.

If, after analysis, it becomes clear that the two concepts are talking about the same thing, fine. But I'm making as few assumptions as possible in this series and I'm not going to assume a relationship between "salvation" and "final judgement" until I conclude that the text warrants it.

Personally, I have long doubted that the connection commonly made by Protestantism between "salvation" and "judgement" is correct, so it will be interesting for me to find out exactly what the connection is.


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