Reviews of

Morna Hooker, ”Paul’s Understanding of Holiness”

In Cambridge, Morna HOOKER, New Testament, Paul, Samuli Siikavirta, SEMINAR REPORTS on February 23, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Report on a senior seminar paper by Morna Hooker, Lady Margaret Professor Emerita, University of Cambridge, 8 Feb 2011.

The list of forthcoming papers in the New Testament Seminars at Cambridge can be found here.

Morna Hooker presented a survey of Paul’s holiness language and theology throughout the Pauline corpus. She expressed at the outset that her reason for giving a seminar paper on this particular topic was the neglect which sanctification/holiness has faced in New Testament scholarship particularly in areas affected by the Protestant overemphasis of justification over against sanctification. What also requires clarification is the confusion of terms in English: holiness terminology in Paul can be rendered in English with such words as holy, saints, holiness, sanctification and consecration.

Hooker started the paper with the Old Testament background of Pauline holiness language. The basic meaning of holiness is the separation and calling of Israel to be God’s holy nation. Israel’s holiness depends on her relationship with God and entails living according to God’s revealed character (Ex. 19:4-6; Lev. 19:2; 11:44ff.). Both cultic separation from the nations (Lev.) and the ethical reflecting of God’s just and compassionate character (the prophets) comprised the Old Testament command to be holy. In the New Testament, God’s command to be holy as he is holy is repeated in the demand that arises from the gift of Christ (as V.P. Furnish famously put it).

Hooker clearly indicated that Paul uses the term hagioi of Christians in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25f., 31; 1 Cor. 16:1f; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1, 12) but also of all Christians (Rom. 8:27; 12:13; 16:2, 15; 1 Cor. 6:1f.; 14:33; 16:15; 2 Cor. 13:12;  Phil. 4:22; Col. 1:4, 12, 26; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:10; Philem. 5,7). The term ‘saints’ is both a declaration of the Christians’ status in Christ and a reminder of what it entails. In Paul’s thinking, also Gentiles are God’s people in Christ. However, in Gal. and Thess. people are not addressed as hagioi but as ekklêsiai.

In her account of 1 Thessalonians, Hooker saw a clear link between faith and behaviour: a life worthy of God is to be lived by the Christians (1 Thess. 2:12; cf. 4:1). God desires their sanctification (hagiasmos, 4:3), which means that they must not live as Gentiles do (4:4f.), because they have abandoned idolatry and been called “in holiness” (hagiasmos, 4:7). Interesting to note here, according to Hooker, was that Paul links idolatry and immorality in a way similar to prophets Hosea (1:2; 4:10-12; 9:1) and Micah (1:7). Paul’s prayers for the Thessalonians to be “blameless in holiness” (hagiôsynê, 3:13), “sanctify” (hagiasai, 5:23) and be “blameless” (amempôs) also echo the Old Testament idea of identification with God’s holy and loving nature, which has now been revealed in Christ and in Paul (2:7-11). According to Hooker, the Pauline idea of sanctification as God’s purpose (4:3) is also God’s work (3:12f; 5:23) through the Holy Spirit (4:8) – but in co-operation with human will (2:12). The Pauline emphasis that believers live “in Christ” (1:1; 2:14; 3:8; 4:1, 16; 5:12) and will live “with him” (4:14; 5:10) is not individualistic but most communal, Hooker helpfully pointed out.

Hooker viewed the narrative in Romans as the mirror-image of 1 Thess 1:9f. Romans begins with a narrative of the Fall, Adam’s universal sin and ends with how Christ’s actions reversed its consequences and will restore creation. Hooker maintained that Paul’s holiness teaching in Romans can be approached through the notions of “identity” and “conduct” – both are vital for Paul who never viewed holiness as merely a status (Rom. 6:1). The Christians’ identity is to be a holy nation in Christ just as Abraham and Israel were (ch. 4; 9:4). Their identity is not in attempting to fulfil the law – in fact, all such attempts must be abandoned because God himself succeeded in Christ in what the law failed (8:3f.). Particularly helpful was Hooker’s focus on Romans 6, which aroused much discussion. In Romans 6, the opposition of the slavery to sin and righteousness/God, purity/righteousness and impurity (6:15, 19-23; cf. 1:24) is the point at which the narrative of Romans converges with that in 1 Thess.: in both, Paul stresses the Christians’ need to be servants/slaves of God. And if Christians have been set free in Christ, they are able to present themselves as such (6:13). “Sanctification is to be set apart to God’s service,” Hooker summarised. The contrasting language continues in chapter 8 with regard to the “flesh” and “spirit” (Rom. 8:11 cf. 1:4). In Christ, humanity, Gentiles included (chs. 9-11), is being recreated into God’s image. Christians are holy only because and when they are in Christ (11:16). Hooker took chapters 12-15 to teach about the implications of holiness whose governing principle is love (esp. 12:1; cf. 1:24, 28).

Regarding the Corinthians, hooker found similar emphases. The Corinthians are “sanctified in Christ” and “called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2), and Christ is their righteousness, sanctification (hagiasmos) and redemption (1:30). They need to be reminded of this. 1 Cor. 5 shows how the Church is holy and must remain so, however, not as a secluded ghetto but in the world. In 1 Cor. 6:11, Paul again connects idolatry with immorality (cf. 6:9, 18; 10:14) and shows how holiness is past, present and future. Christians are “sanctified” but not yet “sanctified entirely” (1 Thess. 5:23). The Christians’ bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (6:19; cf. 3:16f.), just as the community is a temple and the body of Christ built up by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12) of love. Again, it is God’s nature as holy and sincere that must govern behaviour (2 Cor. 1:12; cf. 4:10). And just as Israel in the Old Testament, Christians cannot be both holy and serve idols or live immorally (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). The same calling to be holy belongs to them now as it once did to Israel.

Hooker presented five conclusions: (1) “Sanctification is a soteriological term: it concerns theology as well as ethics.” It is not merely about what needs to be done after salvation, as the traditional Protestant model often suggests. (2) “Paul no longer sees the call to ‘be holy’ as a call to separate from the nations, but as a call to reflect God’s glory to them. They are now ‘my people’, Rom. 9:24.” (3) “Holiness concerns primarily the community, rather than the individual.” (4) “For Paul, sanctification depends on being ‘in Chrst’.” (5) “Sanctification (like other eschatological concepts) concerns what is past, present, and future.” Final holiness may only be achieved through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

On the whole, the paper was a useful account of Paul’s understanding of holiness/sanctification. There was little that struck a student of Paul’s ethics as groundbreakingly new in the survey, but the structured manner of Hooker’s argument proved to be helpful as an introduction to the ways in which Paul approaches the topic in his letters.

Samuli Siikavirta
University of Cambridge

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