Answers to Chapter Four

by Ron Julian


Ron Julian has provided the following answers to the study questions from chapter four of The Language of God.

Question #1

First of all, we need to know that “peace” in the NT does not often mean “peace of mind” or “feeling at peace in my heart,” but more often is talking about “peace” in the sense of “absence of conflict.” We have “peace with God”; that is, we are no longer His enemies (as in Romans 5), and we should be at peace with one another. So which way should we understand it in Colossians 3:15, “a feeling of peace” or “an absence of conflict”? The context strongly suggests that “absence of conflict” is Paul’s meaning. For example, we are called to this peace “in one body,” which ties in with the very strong theme in the immediately previous verses.

  • There is no distinction in Christ among Jew and Gentile, etc.
  • Put on a heart of compassion and humility (toward one another).
  • Bear with and forgive one another, just as Christ has forgiven you.
  • Put on love, the bond of unity.

The theme is Christian brethren choosing to accept one another, be at one with one another, forgive one another, and love one another because of the unity to which Christ has called us. In other words, we should be “at peace” with one another, and that seems to be the clear sense in which we should understand the word “peace” in 3:15.

Secondly, this passage is not about finding a technique to discern the will of God in a particular decision. There is a “decision” to be made, but a very particular one: how are we going to react to the faults of other believers? The idea that Paul is telling us to use a feeling of peace as a technique for finding God’s will in a particular situation is very foreign to the context.

The sense of Colossians 3:15, then, seems to be something like, “Let the unity and absence of hostility to which Christ has called you be the goal, the deciding factor in your hearts as you decide how you are going to treat each other.”

Question #2

The main issue is this: does the idea of a “temple of the Holy Spirit” mean the same thing in each passage? I don’t think so. I Cor 6:19 clearly refers to our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul makes this point in exhorting us to seek sexual purity. But it is unlikely that Paul has the bodies of individual Christians in mind in 3:16. As we argued in the book, the immediately preceding context in chapter three concerns Paul’s warnings to Apollos and other teachers that they take care to “build” the Corinthian church with good materials, with teaching that is as solidly grounded in the gospel as Paul’s original teaching was. After telling the Corinthians they are a building-one for which Paul laid the foundation and on which others are building-Paul tells them “you are a temple of God.” In context, this would clearly seem to mean once again the church as a whole. What kind of building are they? They are a temple of God, and if any teachers were to go so far as to undo, tear down, destroy the church with strange and anti-gospel teaching, then they are bringing the judgment of God upon themselves.

It is inappropriate, therefore, to directly connect the phrases concerning the “temple” in chapters three and six. Paul is making two different points: 1) the Corinthian church is a creation and dwelling place of God, so no one had better try to destroy it; and 2) our bodies are a dwelling place of God’s Spirit, so we had better take care how we conduct ourselves sexually. Paul says nothing in these passages about destroying our bodies, so we cannot use these passages to directly argue against something like smoking. However, it may be possible to use the argument of 6:19 as one piece with which to build a larger theology of the body; perhaps when that theology is put together, it would imply that we have an obligation to keep our bodies as healthy as we can. We need to be careful, however, in building that theology that we have accurately understood Paul’s argument in chapter six.

Question #3

When Paul says in Galatians 3:28 that there is “no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female,” in what sense does he mean that? The issue in Galatians is justification; who is justified before God? Paul asserts that the blessings promised to Abraham come not on the basis of physical descent from Abraham or on the basis of keeping the Jewish law, but on the basis of faith in Christ. All people who put their faith in Christ have equal access to that blessing–Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women. All are one; all are united in having the gift of eternal life given to them on the basis of what Christ did for them. The distinctions that the Law made between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, and men and women, are not relevant to the question “who can find salvation.” They all can find salvation alike.

Can we conclude from this, however, no distinctions of any kind are relevant any more? Paul has not addressed that issue here. He has said that being “in Christ” is not dependent on distinctions like male and female, but he has not spelled out what that looks like for everyday life. The evidence from the rest of the Bible suggests that Paul continued to see differences between people’s roles in life; for example, he urges servants to obey their masters and children to obey their parents. To claim that Galatians 3:28 eliminates all “social distinctions” between people is to take Paul’s argument farther than he did. Yes, there is no male and female in Christ, but that doesn’t mean that from now on men will be the mothers and women will be the fathers. What Paul believed about the day-to-day roles of men and women cannot be discerned from Galatians 3:28. What we can know, however, is whatever distinctions there may be in men and women’s day-to-day roles, those distinctions have no relevance in determining who has access to salvation in Christ.

Copyright February 2002 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

Ron Julian