Douglas Moo on the Two Moments of Reconciliation

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21


10 The parallelism between this verse and v. 9 renders the differences between them all the more significant. Perhaps the most interesting is the substitution of “reconciled” for “justified. ” Justification language is legal, law-court language, picturing the believer being declared innocent by the judge. Reconciliation language, on the other hand, comes from the world of personal relationships. “To reconcile” means to bring together, or make peace between, two estranged or hostile parties (cf. 1 Cor. 7: 11).93 The language of reconciliation is seldom used in other religions because the relationship between human beings and the deity is not conceived there in the personal categories for which the language is appropriate.94 Reconciliation in Paul has two aspects, or “moments“: the accomplishment of reconciliation through Christ on the cross (cf. 2 Cor. 5: 19: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself“)95 and the acceptance of that completed work by the believer (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20b: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”).96

Naturally, while the focus can be on one of these moments or the other, the reconciling activity of God is ultimately one act; and in the present verse the complete process is in view. Paul makes explicit the hostile relationship implicit in the language of reconciliation: it was “while we were enemies” that we were reconciled to God. Paul may mean by this simply that we, rebellious sinners, are hostile toward God–violating his laws, putting other gods in his place.97 But, as Paul has repeatedly affirmed in this letter (cf. 1:18; 3:25), God is also “hostile” toward usour sins have justly incurred his wrath, which stands as a sentence over us (l: 19-32), to be climactically carried out on the day of judgment (2:5). Probably, then, the “enmity” to which Paul refers here includes God’s hostility toward human beings as well as human beings’ hostility toward God.98 Outside of Christ, people are in a situation of “enmity” with God; and in reconciliation, it is that status, or relationship, that changes: we go from being God’s “enemies” to being his “children” (cf. Rom. 8:14-17). As in v. 9 justification is accomplished “through” Christ’s blood, so here reconciliation takes place “through99 the death of [God’s] Son.” Similarly, “we will be saved,” though not further defined, must have the same referent as the same verb in v. 9: salvation from the wrath of God on the day of judgment. The meaning of the phrase “through100 his life” is not so clear. In light of Paul’s frequent, and theologically significant, use of “in Christ” language in Rom. 5-8, he could intend to depict our salvation as occurring “in the sphere of” Christ, or his life,101 On the other hand, it is unusual for Paul to use “in Christ” language with another noun intervening between the preposition and “Christ”; and the phrase seems to be parallel to “through him” in v. 9, where an instrumental meaning is certain. Probably, then, the phrase indicates that the new life won by Christ and in which believers share is the means by which they will be saved in the judgment.102 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 311-312; Romans 5:10. [Footnote values and content original; italics original; square bracketed insert original; and underlining mine.]


93The two images are therefore complementary descriptions of the transformed relationship between human beings and God that takes place in Christ. The two are not simply equivalent (contra Barrett); nor is reconciliation a step beyond justification (Martin, Reconciliation, p. 151).

94See F. Büchsel, TDNT I, 254.

95See, e.g., Fryer (“Reconciliation,” p. 56), Morris (Apostolic Preaching, pp. 198-99), and Ladd (Theology, pp. 450-56) for the importance of the objective aspect of reconciliation.

96Paul uses the verb katallasso and the cognate noun katallage, both here and in 2 Cor. 5: 18-20, to depict what has occurred in our relationship to God through the work of Christ; the related verb apokatallasso occurs in Eph. 2: 16; Col. 1 :20, 22.

97See, e.g., Kuss, Kasemann, and Wilckens.

98See, e.g., Godet; Michel; Dunn; Fitzmyer; Morris, Apostolic Preaching, p. 199. Others think that Paul refers only to God’s hostility toward human beings (e .g., Haldane; Martin, Reconciliation, p. 144; Fryer, “Reconciliation,” pp. 52-53; Wolter, Rechtfertigung, p. 86). Of Paul’s nine uses of echthros, six are active (denoting the hostility of the subject toward others–cf. Rom. 12:20; I Cor. 15:25,26; Gal. 4:16; Phil. 3:18; Col. 1:21), one is passive (2 Thess. 3: 15), and two (Rom. 5: 10 and 11 :28) probably work both ways.

99The Greek preposition here is, however, dia (in place of the ev in v. 9); but the two cannot be distinguished in meaning here (cf. Dunn; contra Martin, Reconciliation, p. 147).

100Gk. ev.

101S-H; Nygren.

102Murray; Fryer, “Reconciliation,” p. 50; and see the discussion in Moule, Idiom Book, pp. 194-95.

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