Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: June 2020

9 - What Did Paul Think Is Wrong in God’s World?

from Part III - Paul’s Theological Discourse


When Paul gave consideration to the issue of what was wrong within God’s good creation, he saw a consistently repeating pattern all around him. No matter where he looked, Paul observed relationships distorted by the on-going and ever-present quest for self-preservation, together with the consequent abuse of power that all too often characterizes that quest. Paul saw this same pattern of distorted relationality repeated in every area of life. This essay teases out the character of the relational distortion that Paul found lying at the heart of the problem that required God’s salvific intervention. Profitable advances into understanding Paul’s view of “the problem” can be achieved if we place our focus on a single motif: power. But that motif includes within itself at least two separate but interrelated phenomena that, for Paul, lie at the heart of all that had gone wrong within God’s good creation. Those two phenomena are: (1) the abusive application of power within patterns of dysfunctional relationship, and (2) human inability (or the lack of power) to offset those abusive applications of power.

Beker, J. Christiann. “The Dilemma of Sin and Death: Equivalent or Disparate Powers?” In Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought, 213234. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1980.
Brand, M. T. Evil Within and Without: The Source of Sin and Its Nature as Portrayed in Second Temple Literature. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013.
Croasmun, Matthew. The Emergence of Sin: The Cosmic Tyrant in Romans. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
Dunn, James D. G. Chapter 3 in The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998.
Gathercole, Simon. “‘Sins’ in Paul.” New Testament Studies 64, no. 2 (2018): 143161.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. “The Cosmic Power of Sin in Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Toward a Widescreen Edition.” Interpretation 58 (2004): 229240.
Harding, Sarah. Paul’s Eschatological Anthropology: The Dynamics of Human Transformation. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016.
Keener, Craig S. Chapters 1 and 3 in The Mind of the Spirit: Paul’s Approach to Transformed Thinking. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016.
Longenecker, Bruce W. “Peace, Security, and Propaganda: Advertisement and Reality in the Early Roman Empire.” In An Introduction to Empire in the New Testament, edited by Winn, Adam, 1546. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2016.
Longenecker, Bruce W. “Sin and the Sovereignty of God in Romans.” In Sin and Its Remedy in Paul, edited by Goodrich, John K. and Gupta, Nijay K., forthcoming.
Wink, Walter. Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Engagement in a World of Domination. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1992.
Wright, N. T.The Dark Side of Revised Monotheism: The New Vision of Evil.” In Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 737772. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013.