Becoming Righteous and Becoming Rich

I’m currently doing some study in 2 Corinthians for some of my personal study, partly because I became interested in the structure of the book when studying 2 Corinthians 5:21. I blogged about that previously, looking at the interpretations of Wright and Piper. In that post I obliquely questioned whether 2 Corinthians 5:21 was such a good penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) text in the first place. Some further reading has made me question this further.

The specific verse that started me thinking is 2 Corinthians 8:9. Here we have the following:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he became poor for our sake, though he was rich, so that we, through his poverty might become rich. [my own very formal translation] — 2 Corinthians 8:9

In English translation, the verse looks more grammatically parallel to 5:21 than it is in the Greek. In fact the vocabulary and structure is not very parallel at all, but semantically it seem to be it is. In the one case Jesus is made sin, so that we can be made “righteousness,” while in the other he becomes poor (Trinitarians should have no problem with the change from “made” to “become” in this case), so that we might become rich. On the off chance that someone might suspect me of teaching a prosperity doctrine let me note that in the context of 2 Corinthians, this is clearly a spiritual state of riches.

Now in this second verse, would we talk about either impartation or imputation? We might, of course, talk about impartation, though in fact the spiritual riches are probably to be seen as a gift. But more likely it’s a change of state; riches are imparted, not richness, if that makes any sense. (Remember these are preliminary thoughts!)

I would note further that 3:18 refers to a continuing transformation, i.e. a process, while 5:17, we have the reference to new creation. Frankly throughout the book it looks to me as though Paul is talking about something more like radical transformation than like imputation. If it’s impartation, it’s something that can happen over time.

I would suggest that the best interpretation here would follow something along these lines: There is a transformation when one becomes part of the community of Christ. This is what is referred to as the “new creation.” This transformation continues as one lives inside that community or is a citizen of the kingdom of God. A citizen of God’s kingdom is by definition rich. The transformation continues until we leave this body behind, and put on the new one, where we also face God’s judgment (5:1-10). This is the soteriology that lies behind Paul’s defense of the apostolic calling.

As of the moment, I see no proper place where one can import the forensic elements of PSA into this passage, and thus whatever one decides on the meanings of specific terms in 2 Corinthians 5:21 it is not a text about forensic justification.

Of course, I continue to study the book. In my next post I’m going to start blogging my way through a commentary I’m currently using in my study of the book.

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