Archive for the ‘Anders Nygren’ Tag

Spiritual Responsibility   1 comment


Above:  King Zedekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 11:1-17 (Monday)

Ezekiel 17:1-10 (Tuesday)

Psalm 39 (Both Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Monday)

Romans 2:12-16 (Tuesday)


You chastise mortals in punishment for sin,

consuming like a moth what is dear to them;

surely everyone is a mere breath.

–Psalm 39:11, The Book of Worship of North India (1995)


The judgment of God is righteous, the readings for these days tell us.

Ezekiel 17:1-10 requires explanation, for it uses metaphorical language.  The references involving the cedar, the vine, and the eagles refer to international relations from 598 to 588 B.C.E.  In verses 3-6 the meaning is that King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had taken many prominent people of Judah, including King Jehoiachin (reigned in 597 B.C.E.), into exile, after which King Zedekiah (reigned 597-586 B.C.E.), who was initially loyal to Nebuchadnezzar II, came to the throne of Judah.  The eagle in verses 7-8 is the Pharaoh of Egypt, to whom Zedekiah transferred his loyalty.  The pericope concludes that the survival of Zedekiah and Judah is impossible.

Part of the background of the assigned passage from Ezekiel is the position that pursuing those alliances with dangerous foreign leaders was not only foolish but faithless.  Obey and trust in God instead, prophets said.  Theological interpretation in the context of the Babylonian Exile reinforced that position.  The people and bad kings of Judah reaped what they sowed, the final versions of certain books of the Hebrew Bible argued.  (There were, of course, good kings of Judah.)

God is angry with Judah in Jeremiah 11:1-17.  The people, having generally (with some notable exceptions) refused to obey the covenant with God, will suffer the punishments for noncompliance which the covenant contains.  Among the accusations is rampant idolatry.

The first word of Romans 2 is “therefore,” which leads me back into chapter 1.  The essence of Romans 1 is that Gentiles have no excuse for persistent unrighteousness, including idolatry.  Divine punishment for them for these offenses is therefore justified.  Then, in Romans 2, St. Paul the Apostle tells his Jewish audience not to be spiritually complacent.

The very fact that the Jew agrees so entirely with Paul’s charge against the Gentile shows that he himself is without excuse and subject to the wrath of God.

–Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans (1944); Translated by Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia, PA:  Muhlenberg Press, 1949), page 113

Furthermore, some Gentiles have the law of God inscribed on their hearts, when even some Jews do not.  Doing is better than merely hearing, according to the Apostle.

Three thoughts come to my mind at this point.  The first is that St. Paul was correct.  He echoed Jeremiah 31:31f (the inner law), but expanded the text to include Gentiles.  St. Paul also sounded much like Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  For as you judge others, so will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out will be dealt to you.

–Matthew 7:1-2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The Gospel of Matthew did not exist during St. Paul’s lifetime, but the Apostle did have some familiarity with oral traditions and perhaps some written sayings of Jesus, from which the author of the Gospel of Matthew drew.

My second thought is that St. Paul’s challenge to question one’s assumptions and prejudices is timeless.  Who are those we define as spiritual outsiders?  Some of them might be closer to God than we are, and we might not be as close to God as we think we are.

My final thought in this collection is that St. Paul sounds very much like the perhaps later Letter of James.

Exhibit A:

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

–Romans 2:13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The emphasis here is on active faith.  The Pauline definition of faith was confidence, in the absence of evidence for or against, which leads to actions.  Thus, later in the epistle, St. Paul argued:

Therefore since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ….

–Romans 5:1, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Romans 2:13 and 5:1 stand as portions of a unified, steadily building case in a theological treatise.

Exhibit B:

What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it?  Can faith save him?…So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.

–James 2:14, 17, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Exhibit C:

Do you have to be told, you fool, that faith divorced from action is futile?…You see then it is by action and not by faith alone that a man is justified.

–James 2:20, 24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Faith, in the Letter of James, is intellectual, hence the necessity of pairing it with deeds.  On the surface the theologies of justification in the Letter of James and the Letter to the Romans might seem mutually contradictory, but they are not.  No, they arrive at the same point from different destinations.

The judgment of God exists alongside divine mercy.  The balance of the two factor resides solely in the purview of God.  Our actions influence divine judgment and mercy in our cases, however.  One can find that teaching in several places in the Bible, including Ezekiel 18, Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:6f, and James 2:8f.  Yes, the legacies of ancestors influence us, but our spiritual responsibility for ourselves remains intact.  May we exercise it properly.

Related to one’s spiritual responsibility for oneself is one’s spiritual responsibility for others, as in Romans 2:17-24.  That, however, is a topic for another post.






Adapted from this post:


Our Mission from God   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator Icon

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


The Collect:

Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures

to be written for the nourishment of your people.

Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that, comforted by your promises,

we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 61:1-7

Psalm 19

Romans 7:1-6


The law of the LORD is perfect; it restores vitality,

the commandments of the LORD are reliable;

they provide wisdom for those who need it.

–Psalm 19:8, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley


That is true.  Yet what are we readers supposed to do with Romans 7:1-6?

I found the Commentary on Romans (Swedish, 1944; English, 1949) by Swedish Lutheran Bishop Anders Nygren helpful in considering that question.  Nygren’s Commentary has proven to be influential and durable, for other published exegetes have quoted and/or referred to it.  So why not cut out the middle man and go directly to Nygren?

Nygren argued that, according to St. Paul the Apostle, the Law (Torah) never dies.  It has not expired or run its course, and Christ has neither superceded, negated, nor repealed it:

The law does not die.  There is only one way to liberation.  Only in the fact that the Christian has died with Christ is he really and truly set free beyond the realm of the law.  Paul’s emphasis lies on this genuine liberation.

–Page 272

On page 268 Nygren presents in two columns the parallels between Romans 6 and 7:1-6.  In Chapter 6 Christians die to sin so that they might walk in newness of life, in freedom from sin.  When we turn to Chapter 7, we read of dying to the law for the purpose of serving in the new life of the Spirit, in freedom from the law.

This liberation has come through the death of Christ, and through the fact that by baptism we have become sharers in His death.

–Page 269

As a note in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) stated well,

The point Paul desires to make is that death ends obligations; the law has lost its claim over Christians, who have transferred their allegiance to Christ.

–Page 2019

The theme of liberation via God to live righteously in the joy of God applies also to Isaiah 61:1-7.  The speaker in that text is most likely the author of the last few chapters of the Book of Isaiah.  The notes in The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) identify him as Deutero-Isaiah.  I think that Trito-Isaiah is the accurate label, but that is a minor issue.  The prophet speaks of his mandate from God

To bind up the wounded of heart,

To proclaim release to the captives,

Liberation to the imprisoned;

To proclaim a year of the LORD’s favor

And a day of vindication by our God;

To comfort all who mourn….

–Isaiah 61:1b-2, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The historical context of this pericope is the return of the Hebrew exiles to their ancestral homeland.  Decades of captivity had understandably caused much despondency and prompted much derision, hence the necessity of the prophet’s mission.

In a broader sense, is not the prophet’s mission that of all who have known the love of God?  Grace is free yet definitely not cheap; it requires a positive, faithful response.  The wounded of heart and those who mourn are always around us.  Captives and prisoners (both literal and metaphorical) are numerous also.  The mission of Trito-Isaiah is mine as well as yours, O reader.  Jesus claimed it as part of his mission in Luke 4:16-19.  If he claimed it for himself, should not we who follow him?








Adapted from this post: