Date of Award

5-1995

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Religious Studies

Supervisor

Professor S. Westerholm

Abstract

To determine the importance and function of the concept of grace in the letters of Paul, this study examines texts, as they occur throughout the undisputed Pauline letters, which have to do with the apostle's beliefs concerning dependence on God at the time of entrance into the Christian community and texts which relate to dependence on God throughout the life of the believer. Although the study does not focus exclusively on the issue of the law in relation to the church, it points toward answers to questions about Paul's views of the role of grace in relation to the Jewish Law.

The picture that emerges is that grace is a theme of vital importance for Paul, not simply because it is a useful part of his arsenal in the battle against what he perceives to be a wrong-headed reliance on "works of the law." For Paul, salvation cannot be contingent on any human activity; it must, rather, be a gift.

Paul believes divine grace to be a fundamental component of the matrix of the believer's life, past, present and future. The study concludes that the "justification" texts fall into a pattern widely evident in the Pauline corpus. Paul's views on grace may be shaped by polemical concerns, but his beliefs about grace also shape the polemical texts, causing him to reject "works" of any kind as leading to divine action which benefits humanity. Faith and obedience are the believer's response (made possible by God) to God's offer of salvation and to divine resources which make possible compliance with the ethical demands of the gospel.

In Paul's thought the divine and human do not play equal roles. Paul intends his paraenetic texts to be taken seriously, but demonstrates that he believes that human achievements and effort find their origin in the divine realm. Paul is not a theological fatalist: people can frustrate the work of the Spirit, but when they allow themselves to be led "by the Spirit." God's purposes will be accomplished. For Paul, one of the most significant defining characteristics of life in Christ is dependence on God's grace.

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