For if we have been grown together in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be [grown together] in the resurrection. Knowing that our old humanity was crucified together [with him] in order that the body of sin would be powerless so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin because the one who has died has been vindicated from sin.
2 Corinthians 4.16-18:
So we do not lose heart. Even if our outer humanity is being destroyed, our inner [humanity] is being renewed day by day, for the momentary insignificance of our affliction is producing an everlasting weight of glory beyond extraordinary for an excess. We do not pay attention to what is seen but what is not seen because what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is everlasting.
Now this I say and insist in the Lord: you should no longer walk just as the Gentiles also walk in the futility of their mind. They are darkened in understanding, having been estranged from God’s life because of the ignorance that is in them on account of the insensibility of their heart, who, having become callous, have given themselves over to licentiousness for the pursuit of every impurity with greediness. You did not learn the Messiah in that way, if indeed you did listen and were taught in him (just as truth is in Jesus) to lay aside the old humanity in conformity to that former way of life (which is being corrupted in conformity to deceitful desires), to be renewed by the Spirit of your mind, and to wear the new humanity that has been created in conformity to God in righteousness and true devotion.
Therefore, put to death the body parts that belong to the earth: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the covetousness that is idolatry. God’s anger comes upon the sons of disobedience because of these things, in which you formerly walked when you were living among them. But now you all should lay aside all of these things, anger, rage, wickedness, and slander, from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, take off the old human with his deeds, and put on the new [humanity] [that is] renewed in knowledge in conformity to the one who created it, where there is not Greek or Jew, circumcized and uncircumcized, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all and in all.
In Biblical studies, there are two large approaches as to how interpreted Paul in relationship to apocalyptic thinking of Second Temple Judaism. The one aptly named the apocalyptic interpretation of Paul, represented by scholars such as J. Louis Martyn and Douglas Campbell, may be summarized as the belief that Paul interpreted Christ as bringing about something dramatically new in the world from God. The implication of this is that you can not come to understand Christ by anything prior to his coming, such as the Old Testament, but one must know Christ and then from that perspective come to understand the OT and everything else. By contrast, salvation-history accounts, best resembled in NT Wright’s scholarship, put forward that Christ is the ongoing outwork of God’s work in history as told by Israel’s Scriptures. While something new does occur with Jesus, it is better to be seen as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. The apocalyptic element in Paul’s theology is reflected in the dramatic changes in history that are expected to occur, most notably the rise and fall of political powers.
There are weaknesses to both approaches. On the one hand, Paul’s letters are replete with references to Israel’s Scriptures and stories that are pivotal in understanding the significance of the present reality inaugurated by Christ and His crucifixion. While one may attempt to try to suggest the reading of these stories are only had in light of Christ, such as Campbell’s hypothesis as the problem of Adam in Romans 5 is only understood in light of the solution in Christ, the diverse uses of Israel’s Scriptures make a wide-ranging, post-hoc, Christological interpretation of Israel’s stories unlikely. Apocalyptic interpretations of Paul need to assume its own validity in order to make the assumption that Paul understands Israel’s story only by understanding Christ first. Furthermore, for the degree of emphasis that is given to the dramatic new nature of apocalyptic revelation given by apocalyptic interpreter’s of Paul, we don’t see a corresponding emphasis on the theme of newness in Paul’s letters. It primarily shows up, as I am going to put forward, when Paul is discussing the emergence of a new humanity in Christ. It does not, however, really reflect how Paul understand’s the person of Jesus in relationship to Israel’s Scriptures or to the nature of revelation itself.
On the other hand, the salvation-historical interpretations of Pauline apocalyptic conventions as it pertains to the rise and fall of political powers also lacks robust support in Paul’s letters. The observation of occasional references to Rome are perhaps warranted, but they are not very common. Even where we do see them, such as most prominently in 1 Corinthians 2, we aren’t getting a picture of the rise and fall of the Roman empire as much as we are getting a critique of the intellectual and moral practices. More consistent with Paul’s recurring moral criticism of the vices witnessed in the Greco-Roman world, Paul’s apocalyptic “thinking” seems to be much more focused on the wider social realities than simply the ruling, political power of Rome.
What I would put forward at the center of Paul’s understanding of Jesus Christ is the idea of apocalyptic anthropology. Before moving forward, I want to offer a rudimentary definition for apocalyptic anthropology. Apocalyptic anthropology is a form of thinking characterized by the imagination of the transformation of human life that is brought about by a dramatic, life-altering event or events. As a modern example, COVID-19 may be seen as an event that is fundamentally changing the nature of human life across the globe. Whether it will permanently change the course of human life after it is contained remains to be seen, but it has fundamentally altered the way we relate to one another, the way we work, the role of science in our daily lives, etc. There was no gradual development to these changes, but they were a pretty dramatic, sweeping change that has made a lot of us feel uncomfortable in one way or another, both for those who accept the necessary changes to our lives and those who seek to resist them. At the core of an apocalyptic anthropology is a crisis event or events that bring about a rapid and otherwise unpredictable change in how people live. In a similar manner, Paul’s apocalyptic anthropology may be characterized as envisioning a dramatic change in how people live in light of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.
In Romans 6.5-7, 2 Corinthians 4.16-18, Ephesians 4.17-24, and Colossians 3.9-10 Paul describes the passing away or letting go on what Paul refers to as an old humanity (ὁ παλαιὸς ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος/τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον) and outer humanity (ὁ ἔξω ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος). Unfortunately, most English translations take ἄνθρωπος in these passages to mean “self,” suggesting that Paul is referring to the characteristics that make a person distinct and different from other individuals. While ἄνθρωπος can be used to designate specific, individual persons, there is little evidence the word is intended to be used reflexively by itself.1 The presence of the article makes it much more like that Paul uses ἄνθρωπος in reference to the more abstract concept of humanity or personhood. The advantage of this translation of ἄνθρωπος is that in three of the four times Paul addresses the old human(ity), it is made in the context with other anthropological and cultural discussions Paul regularly engages in. Romans 6.6 falls on the heels of his contrast between Adam and Christ in Romans 5.12-21. In Ephesians 4.17-24, Paul discusses lay aside the old humanity in the context of addressing the practices of the Gentiles. Then, in Colossians 3.5-11, Paul follows up the discussion with the Christological union of all people regardless of various social identities. The usage of ἄνθρωπος seems to be connected with Paul’s understanding of the current social world he inhabited.
However, Paul does not always describe the alternative state as ἄνθρωπος, at least explicitly. There is no reference to a new ἄνθρωπος in Romans 6.5-7. In 2 Corinthians 4.16-18, Paul may be using ellipsis in his description of the inner humanity. Colossians 3.5-11 would also have to be using ellipsis but in a rather strange syntactic form in describing a new humanity. Only Ephesians 4.17-24 is explicit in referring to a new humanity. Nevertheless, in three of the cases, the old humanity is understood to be in contrast to a new way of moral living, whereas the contrast between outer humanity and the inner in 2 Corinthians 4.16-18 is focused more upon the way the person’s response to suffering and persecution resembles and reflects Jesus. In each case, Paul envisions a different characteristic of life for those who are transitioning away from the old humanity and outer humanity and, in each case, the new phase of life is explicitly connected to Jesus.
The conclusion to draw from this is that Paul envisions that Christ is responsible for bringing about a dramatically new, different way of people human that is qualitatively different from what precedes it. To that end, it begins to satisfy the definition of apocalyptic anthropology that I gave above. Furthermore, in three of the four cases given (excluding Ephesians 4.17-24), Paul makes reference to significant themes in apocalyptic thinking of Second Temple Judaism. In Romans 6.5-7, the discussion of the new humanity occurs in the context of a reference to the resurrection, an event that is first described in the apocalypse of Daniel 12.1-3. The looking towards a future eschatological glory in 2 Corinthians 4.16-18 alludes to the idea of a resurrection. Then Colossians 3.5-11 discusses the anger of God that comes upon those who practice “earthly” vices as a picture of an eschatological judgment. In these three cases, Paul’s anthropological discussions about two different humanity are present with implicit and explicit themes and ideas of apocalyptic literature in Second Temple Judaism.
The advantage of this view in understanding the rest of Paul’s letter is manifold. First, it provides a way to address the questions of continuity and discontinuity between Paul’s understanding of Christ and Israel’s Scriptures. The newness that Paul perceives is not a new “perspective” on understanding the person of Jesus as suggested by Douglas Campbell. The closest we get to that is in 2 Corinthians 5.16-17, but it is much more likely that Paul is not talking about a new, non-fleshy perspective by which we understand Jesus and other people, but rather what qualities about Jesus and other person’s are people specifically paying attention to, that which is visible markers of status within the current social world (flesh) or an emerging glory and the new creation that is not observed by paying attention to what is directly visible to the eye (cf. 2 Cor. 4.18). Here, the newness of new creation is about the fundamental characteristics that define a person in Christ, which further buttresses the idea of an apocalyptic anthropology in Paul. Thus, insofar as Paul embraces an apocalyptic anthropology, the discontinuity that he describes and prescribes is connected to the nature of human life lived in light of the crucified, resurrected, and glorified Savior. Asides from the first element chapters of Genesis, Israel’s Scriptures are not properly taken to be reflective of how God viewed humanity as a whole. Aside from occasional reflections, there are not broad, sweeping understandings about a shared human nature between Isreal and the nations in the Old Testament. Israel’s Scriptures are decidedly particularistic in its purpose, describing God’s relationship with the specific people of Israel. As such, a picture of a new humanity that both Jews and Gentiles participate in that is not determined by the contours of the Torah would by nature be highly discontinuous with the content of Israel’s Scriptures.
By locating an “apocalyptic newness” within the domain of Paul’s anthropology, there isn’t the need to try to understand the person of Christ from an entirely new angle in order to satisfy the conventions of apocalyptic literature. Instead, the person of Jesus and the events of His life, particularly the crucifixion and the resurrection, are best situated within the context of creation and God’s promises. In other words, the Gospel as proclaimed by Paul can be understood as the story of Jesus understood in light of God’s overarching purposes as reflected in Israel’s Scriptures that then come to fruition in Jesus without throwing out any sense of newness.
As the man from heaven (1 Cor. 15.47), Jesus inaugurates a new way of being human that is discontinuous with Israel’s story in the Scriptures as it testifies to human sin and weakness (cf. Rom. 3.19). At the same time, his death and resurrection are understood in light of God’s promises from Israel (1 Cor. 15.3-4). Put more generally, insofar as the Scriptures are a reflection of God’s word and promises, Jesus is continuous with the Old Testament. However, insofar as the Scriptures are addressed to and testify to the human sin evident in Israel, the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection in bringing about a new humanity that diverges from the fate inaugurated by Adam will be highly discontinuous with Israel’s story.
In addition to addressing the questions of continuity and discontinuity, an apocalyptic anthropology also serves as a vital center for the rest of Paul’s reflections of social life within the church and the wider world. If the newness that emerges as a result of the crucifixion of Jesus is a new type of humanity, that provides a clear intellectual basis for why Paul rejects the works of the Torah as normative for Christian communities. If the new humanity only emerges from Jesus Christ, then the Torah was never really intended as a picture of how God’s People were ultimately intended to live. Furthermore, the oneness of believers (Gal 3.28, Col. 3.11) can be grounded in the idea that the new humanity makes the old divisions between different social identities obsolete for those who are being transformed, that is those who are in Christ; this transformation suggests a movement away from the old categories for distinguishing different people groups that were prominent in Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures. Also, the emergence of the new humanity provides from the person of Jesus explains why Paul repeatedly connects his and other people’s experience to the pattern exhibited in crucifixion and resurrection: the new humanity emerges from a participatory experience with the heavenly man’s own suffering and new life. At the same time, the central work of the Holy Spirit in persons only accentuates the apocalyptic nature of Paul’s thinking, as this new humanity emerges in individual persons through heavenly acton.
In conclusion, I would put forward that Paul’s theology may be best understood as having an apocalyptic anthropology with a fundamentally Trinitarian shape at its center: the redemptive power and love of the God of Israel is revealed for the world in the crucified-and-resurrected Jesus Christ, which brings about a dramatic anthropological transformation for those who are lead by the Holy Spirit. This new anthropology, then, may be understood as the basis for understanding how God’s purposes to bless the world through Abraham is coming to fruition, as the old ways of being human that left people enslaved to the powers of sin and death along with fear and sinful desires, producing widespread social misery, are being overturned with a dramatically new way of living as a human that emerges by believers learning from and imitating the life of Christ through the leading of the Spirit that frees people to experience the positive life as described by the fruit of the Spirit. This also leads to transformer believes becoming salt and light in the world that reflect a different way that even non-believers could adopt themselves, just as Paul describes himself as an aroma of Christ that is a fragrance, that is metaphorically knowledge, of both the Christian way of facing death and living life to both the saved and those who are perishing (2 Cor. 2.14-17). In other words, a transformed, apocalyptic anthropology extends beyond simply being of benefit to those who follow Christ, but when rightly realized it becomes a beautiful fragrance that charms even the unbelieving world. In other words, the actualization of an apocalyptic anthropology in Christ may also become a basis for effective cultural engagement and pre-evangelism.