Friday, December 5, 2014

All The Saints (part 18)

That settled, the sensibility-shocking inclusive language expands, and Paul bursts through all manner of tradition and history as he insists that “In Him you were also circumcised---not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ” (Colossians 2:11).  By this, Paul completely dismisses any idea that the covenant marker of circumcision is necessary. 

Of course, the sole covenant marker to which Paul holds as absolutely crucial is the confession of Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Lord of all (the Gospel).  This confession is the means by which a person, be they Jew or Gentile, is justified (becomes a member of the Creator God’s covenant family, with the subsequent responsibility to concern themselves with reflecting that God’s glory into the world by rightly bearing the divine image that has been exampled out by Jesus of Nazareth---paradoxically, God-manifest).    

With verse twelve, realizing that baptism is not unique to the experience of the Christian faith, Paul is again found adapting exodus language on behalf of Gentiles as he writes “Having been buried with Him in baptism, you also have been raised with Him through your faith in the power of God who raised Him from the dead” (2:12).  Just as Paul allows Gentiles to participate in the exodus-related identity of Israel through the use of “redemption” from verse fourteen of chapter one, he here does the same.  Functionally, “being buried with Him in baptism” is the equivalent of exile, while being “raised with Him” is the equivalent of exodus. 

This is not unique to Colossians, as one is able to glimpse this way of thinking here demonstrated by Paul in his first letter to Corinth.  There, in the tenth chapter Paul has written: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).  Without delving into an exegesis of what is here being said in the address to the Corinthian church(es), Paul is here skillfully intertwining the Egyptian exile and exodus experience (which was so crucial for Israel’s self-understanding, it’s comprehension of its covenant God, and its understanding of its relationship with that God) with the concept of baptism. 

For Gentiles, as far as Paul is concerned, as he folds all peoples into the story of Israel that he believes has reached its climax in the story of Jesus, this baptism with Christ becomes something akin to Israel’s experience.  In some respects, for those that are bent towards the need for some outward sign of covenant status, baptism, whatever form it takes, stands in place of circumcision. 

This allows Paul to confidently declare “And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He nevertheless made you alive with Him, having forgiven all your transgressions” (Colossians 2:13).  Quickly revisiting the first chapter, with a reminder of the exodus-related redemption and “forgiveness of sins” (1:14b) there mentioned, it should be acknowledged that this is another deployment of exodus language. 

Building from that thought, what one realizes this to be is yet another statement employed to generate an equivocation between Jews and Gentiles.  Effectively, this is what the Creator God would say to Israel if and when they violated their covenant obligations.  The covenant God would speak of Israel’s transgressions that was bringing or had brought them death and judgment, as they behaved like the uncircumcised people by which they were surrounded, adopting their idolatrous ways.  The end of this judgment would be some form of exile (domination by a foreign power, whether inside or outside of their land). 

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