Questions about Paul
One series of statements that he makes has struck me as rather curious.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5.12–21)I've italicised the last two verses because it's these that struck me as odd. Paul says in a number of places that the law increases sin. For example:
While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. (Rom 7.5)He is careful to say that he is not directely blaming the law for sin:
What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. (Rom 7.7-8)It's not the law that is responsible for his sin, but sin (understood here, apparently, as a kind of malevolent cosmic power) used the law to make him transgress the law.
I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. (Rom 7.9-11)He seems to be saying that the law, which he acknowledges comes from God, was given despite the fact that the malevolent cosmic power of sin would only use it to make people sin even more.
This would seem to raise the question, why would God give the law if it was only going to increase sin? Paul answers this, kind of, in Galatians:
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. (Gal 3.19)In the same letter he says "the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came" (Gal 3.24). But if the law was supposed to act as a "disciplinarian" (paidagōgos, someone involved in the education, discipline, etc., of children), and so presumably given in order to decrease sin, does this mean God didn't know that the opposite was going to happen? It is difficult to imagine Paul thinking that.
Granted, he made these conflicting claims in separate letters, Galatians first, and then Romans. It is apparent that his thinking changed over time. This would explain the conflict between Galatians and Romans, but it doesn't leave the weirdness of Romans unresolved.
For instance, he writes:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Rom 8.19-21)And later:
For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. (Rom 11.32; cf. Gal 3.22-23)It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Paul thinks it was God's will that humans sin, just so that God could later save humans (i.e., through Christ).
I find this impossible to accept. But there is one thing about this idea that I think is of value, namely the idea that what Paul calls "sin," which is what we experience as estrangement from God, is not something unintended by God.
This is something I'll have to explore further in the future.