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The Whole of Paul & the Whole in His Theology
Theological Interpretation in Relational Epistemic Process

Paul Study

Section II   Paul and Theology                                              printer friendly pdf version of entire study

Chapter 8      Paul's Theological Forest -- Part 2



Pleroma Soteriology

Pleroma Soteriology Completed

Theology of Belonging

Theology of Ontological Identity



Table of Contents

Scripture Index




For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything;

but a new creation is everything!

                                                                                                                      Gal 6:15



            A phenomenon has been developing in Western medicine, particularly in the U.S. Increasingly, the medical condition (both physical and mental) of persons from in the womb to their death bed is being overly diagnosed with subsequent unnecessary intervention and treatment, which may result in more harm than benefit. This has reduced the definition of what and who is normal, which concerns two medical experts in particular.


            H. Gilbert Welch, an internist, addresses the issue of “How much medical care do we want in our lives?” starting with two life events, birth and death:



So the most fundamental life events—birth and death—increasingly involve more and more medical care. Why should you care about this increasing medicalization of birth and death?


     Simple. Because it exemplifies the medicalization of life. Everyday experiences get turned into diseases, the definitions of what (and who) is normal get narrowed, and our ability to affect the course of normal aging gets exaggerated. And we doctors feel increasingly compelled to look hard for things to be wrong in those who feel well.


    Medicalization is the process of turning more people into patients. It encourages more of us to be anxious about our health and undermines our confidence in our own bodies. It leads people to have too much treatment—and some of them are harmed by it….


     There are many areas in which medical care has a great deal to offer. But it has now gone well beyond them. There may have been a time when the words “Do everything possible” were indeed the right approach to medical care. But today, with so many more possibilities for intervention, that’s a strategy that is increasingly incompatible with a good life.[1]



            Extending that concern to mental health, Allen Frances, a psychiatrist who chaired the current edition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), comments on the repercussions of his edition and the forthcoming edition:



The first draft of the next edition of the DSM…is filled with suggestions that would multiply our mistakes and extend the reach of psychiatry dramatically deeper into the ever-shrinking domain of the normal. This wholesale medical imperialization of normality could potentially create tens of millions of innocent bystanders who would be mislabeled as having a mental disorder….

     The manual, prepared by the American Psychiatric Assn., is psychiatry’s only official way of deciding who has a “mental disorder” and who is “normal.” The quotes are necessary because this distinction is very hard to make at the fuzzy boundary between the two…. Where the DSM-versus-normality boundary is drawn also influences…the individual’s sense of personal control and responsibility….

     Defining the elusive line between mental disorder and normality is not simply a scientific question that can be left in the hands of the experts. The scientific literature is usually limited, never easy to generalize to the real world and always subject to different interpretations.

     Experts have an almost universal tendency to expand their own favorite disorders…from a genuine desire to avoid missing suitable patients who might benefit. Unfortunately, this therapeutic zeal creates an enormous blind spot to the great risks that come with overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment.

     This is a societal issue that transcends psychiatry. It is not too late to save normality from DSM-V if the greater public interest is factored into the necessary risk/benefit analyses.[2]


            The implications of the medicalization of life go beyond overdiagnosis and too much intervention which reduce the normal range of human life and function. Based on advanced medical knowledge, this activity informs physicist Steve Giddings (noted in chap. 6) of a common result he can expect from advancement in mere quantitative knowledge and understanding of the universe. Moreover, this informs computer scientist Jaron Lanier that templates of conformity reducing the human person in function are not limited to computer technology. Most importantly, the medicalization of life underdiagnoses the inherent human relational need and insufficiently intervenes on the human problem—the very human relational need which, ironically, has been also correctly identified by advanced neuroscience.

            This leaves human ontology and function more deeply embedded in the condition of reductionism. All the above human efforts merely attempt to save persons from this physical condition or that mental disorder, without any deeper knowledge and understanding of what human life and function need to be saved to. The deeper knowledge and understanding necessary to save persons beyond their human condition is not a function of quantitative knowledge and understanding, however advanced. Such a bottom-up and outer-in source remains fragmentary, unable to make human life and function whole no matter how much and how long modern medicine can control and sustain it. What is necessary to save human persons beyond these limits is the whole knowledge and understanding which is the unique function of pleroma Christology.

            Pleroma Christology is not a religious statement but a relational dynamic that vitally connects all human life and function to its Creator in order for its condition to be fully restored from inner out and thus made whole. This relational dynamic cannot be a function of static doctrine because the limits imposed by a static position also do not go beyond merely saving from this condition or that disorder, similar to the medicalization of life. Such Christology is incomplete and any soteriology associated with it will only be truncated. Pleroma Christology, however, is only a function of the whole of God’s relational dynamic vitally responding to make whole the human condition. By its very nature, this relational response conjointly saves human life and function from its condition and to whole ontology and function in relationship together. Thus, the saving dynamic clearly emerging from and constituted by pleroma Christology can be only pleroma soteriology, whose function is also in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes.




Pleroma Soteriology



            The reductionist perception of saving human life and function is limited at best to saving it from its condition. This has traditionally involved the doctrines of atonement and justification, which may have limited functional significance (Rom 3:23-26, cf. Heb 2:17) yet lack their relational significance as the means of being saved to the full relational outcome (Rom 5:9-11; Col 1:21-22). Atonement and justification remain fragmentary until integrated in pleroma Christology for their whole understanding in God’s relational dynamic, from which emerges the relational outcome constituting pleroma soteriology (Col 2:9-10; Eph 1:22-23).

            What constitutes the dynamic that salvation is the relational outcome of? And what is this relational outcome that by necessity is definitive for pleroma soteriology?

            In Paul’s theological forest, the human condition of reductionism is a given for all human life and function, both for Jews with the torah[3] and Gentiles without it, (Rom 3:9,23). For Paul, a Jew, to declare “there is no distinction” (diastole, 3:22b) between human persons was, on the one hand, incongruent with the prevailing practice of Judaism and, on the other, compatible to the nature of the covenant relationship established with Abraham (cf. Rom 4; Gal 3:8-9). These may appear as contradictory positions, as may his statements between “no human being will be justified in his sight by deeds prescribed by the law” (Rom 3:20) and “the doers of the law who will be justified” (Rom 2:13). In reality, in these two sets of statements Paul is exposing critical dynamics specific to the sin of reductionism and is illuminating the definitive relational dynamic necessary for human life and function to be whole. The above two positions/statements do not contradict each other; in each pair of statements, the former is about reductionist Jews whose diastole (distinction) was embedded in practices for national identity, and, in contrast and conflict for Paul, the latter is about whole Jews who obey the law in reciprocal relational response to God’s terms only for covenant relationship together. Since the Damascus road, Paul had not shifted from being a contrarian of Christianity to a contrarian of Judaism. He had become vulnerably involved in the relational dynamic of fighting jointly for the experiential truth of the whole gospel and against reductionism in Judaism (which he himself had practiced) and in all human life and function, even in churches, to make them whole. His involvement included challenging theological assumptions, particularly about human ontology and function.

            Just as Paul grasped for himself, he spoke to the reductionism in Judaism necessitating the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction from tamiym (Gen 17:1-2; cf. Rom 4:16), from the covenant of peace (wholeness, Isa 54:10; Ez 37:26), and, most importantly, from the salvific relational work of the Messiah “that made us whole” (Isa 53:5; cf. Eph 2:14-17; 6:15; Col 1:19-20; 2:9-10). Paul clearly shifted the definition of Jews from their human contextualization in Judaism to contextualization in the whole of God’s salvific response of grace as the only means for the human condition no longer “to be apart” from God’s whole—God’s thematic relational response initiated by the covenant relational promise to Abraham (Rom 4:13-17; Gal 3:17-18) and which now “is attested by the law and the prophets” (Rom 3:21, cf. 1:2; Gal 3:8-9).

            Involved in the salvific process are various theological trees, which Paul integrates together in the whole of God’s relational dynamic so that salvation has the necessary relational outcome to be whole—pleroma soteriology. These theological trees included faith, the law, justification and righteousness. For reductionist Jews, the dynamics of these trees had become fragmented, misinterpreted and convoluted in practice for Israel’s self-determination as nation-state, or even for their self-justification before God. The OT attests to Israel’s recurring problem of getting embedded in the larger surrounding context rather than sojourning as God’s people in and to eschatological covenant relationship together. The consequence of their embedding was an immediate concern for deliverance to be saved from those surrounding contexts and related situations, yet just with the primary concern to restore their national identity. The relational consequence had deep repercussions: (1) it constituted a reductionist theology and practice of soteriology (yesuah) limited primarily to save them from (yasa) their immediate burdens, thus reducing the perception of God to only a deliverer whose function is defined by what Yesua does in quantitative terms from outer in; then (2) this reductionist perception of God and God’s function was consequential both for reducing the ontology of their person (individually and corporately) from inner out to outer in, and for reducing their function from qualitative terms to quantitative terms from outer in based merely on what they did without the qualitative function of their heart in the qualitative image of the holy God and without the qualitative involvement in the primacy of relationship together in the relational likeness of the whole and holy God (cf. Rom 2:28-29).

            The dynamic interaction between this relational consequence from reductionism and the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology pervade Paul’s theological discourse as he makes the necessary epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction notably for faith, the law, justification and righteousness to be integrated in God’s relational dynamic of Paul’s theological forest. In contrast and conflict with human contextualization, what clearly emerges from the whole of God’s relational context and process is the fulfillment of God’s thematic salvific response embodied by Jesus Christ: “But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God as been disclosed” (Rom 3:21). God’s relational dynamic of grace vulnerably embodied in Christ is accessible to all persons equalized before him—whatever their sin of reductionism, “no distinction, since all…fall short of the glory of God” (3:22-23)—to be “justified…through the redemption and reconciliation that is in Christ, whom God relationally put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood” (3:24-25, italics inserted, cf. Eph 1:7-9; Col 1:22). Yet this relational outcome of Christ’s salvific work always includes by its nature the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of the relational consequence discussed above. This dynamic interaction involves the experiential truth of Christ’s salvific relational work that “makes us whole” (Isa 53:5) in the covenant relationship together of wholeness (Ez 37:26; Rom 5:1; Col 1:19-20; 2:9-10; Eph 2:14-18)—just as the prophets in Scripture attested (Rom 1:2; 3:21). In other words, this gospel of peace (cf. Eph 6:15) from the peace of Christ (Col 3:15) is the irreducible salvation constituted by pleroma Christology.

            In the fulfillment of God’s relational dynamic of grace in response to the human condition, the pleroma of God functioned in the dynamic of wholeness to conjointly save from and to. The term “to save” (sozo) means both to deliver and to make whole, together constituting the qualitative relational nature of pleroma soteriology. How does this epistemologically clarify and hermeneutically correct the theological dynamics of faith, the law, justification and righteousness?

            Paul points to the experiential truth that “the righteousness of God has been disclosed” (Rom 3:21). Rather than a proposition about God framed in Scripture, this can be distinguished as the experiential truth of not only what has been disclosed but how it was disclosed—phaneroo, not apokalypto. Apokalypto tends to focus on just the object disclosed (as in Rom 1:17). Phaneroo, however, also engages a relational dynamic to focus on the person(s) to whom something is disclosed. That is to say, phaneroo illuminates God’s relational dynamic that is involved in disclosing the righteousness of God for persons to experience the truth of in relationship together. What they can experience of God is not the truth of a static attribute called righteousness (dikaiosyne) or the mere outcome of what God does—namely to receive the gift of righteousness as only something about or from God. The distinction of phaneroo is vital for grasping God’s relational dynamic: to experience the righteousness of God is to experience the fullness (rightness) of who and what God is and to be able to count on this whole ontology in how God functions in relationship together, nothing less and no substitutes. Dikaiosyne, therefore, is never enacted in isolation but is always a function of how one lives in relationship. English translations lose this relational clarity of dikaiosyne, according to E. P. Sanders, by rendering dikaiosyne with ‘justification’ and its cognate verb, dikaioo, with ‘to justify’.[4] For example, God’s salvific relational dynamic in response to the human condition was a demonstration, proof (endeixis) of “his righteousness…that he himself is righteous” (Rom 3:25-26, not in legal terms of “his justice” in NIV), which Abraham counted on God to be and thus to fulfill in relationship together (Rom 4:13, 19-20). God’s righteousness goes beyond God’s character to also be God’s relational function.

            On the basis of God’s relational dynamic to clearly phaneroo the righteousness of God for human persons to experience in relationship together, the other theological dynamics also emerge to make whole the human condition. God’s thematic relational response of grace disclosing his righteousness made definitive the relational context and unequivocally put in motion the relational process necessary for human persons to engage in reciprocal relational response to who, what and how God is in order to be made whole, and thus to live whole in relationship together. Abraham’s relational response constitutes the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction needed for human response to be relationally congruent with God’s relational context and relationally compatible to God’s relational process. In Paul’s theological forest, God’s relational context is irreducible to human contextualization and God’s relational process is nonnegotiable to human terms. This necessary distinction involves Paul’s theological anthropology from his theological systemic framework that challenged prevailing assumptions of human ontology and function. In Paul’s theological discourse, this distinction involving anthropology magnified the dynamic interaction of the relational consequence of reductionism (discussed earlier for Israel) with the relational outcome unfolding for pleroma soteriology. Given the clear relational disclosure of God’s righteousness, Paul simply asks of all human ontology and function, “Then what becomes of boasting?” (or human pride, kauchesis, Rom 3:27). Paul’s polemic is without equivocation: “It is excluded…a person is justified by faith apart from all human efforts at self-autonomy from human contextualization and their human terms for self-determination and self-justification” (3:27-28, italics inserted).

            Moreover, “if Abraham was justified by such human effort and terms, he has something to boast about, but not in relationship to God” (Rom 4:2). Paul does not totally discount any benefit of human effort. Yet, this benefit only exists in human contextualization that Paul amplifies. When fair, human contextualization and its terms operate on a quantitative system of exchange (quid pro quo) resulting in benefits (“wages”) commensurate with human effort (4:4). The results do not exceed the effort, nor can they be expected beyond an exchange process. God, however, does relationship neither on the basis of an exchange principle nor on any other human terms. Rather, “to one who without human effort and terms trusts him who justifies those in the sin of reductionism, such faith is reckoned as righteousness” (4:5; cf. Gal 2:16)—just as it truly was for Abraham (4:3, 20-22; cf. Gal 3:6-9). The former is a relational consequence of reductionism despite any secondary benefits, while the latter is the relational outcome to wholeness. Distinguishing the contextual source of these relational dynamics is critical to understanding the functional significance of the theological dynamics constituting the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology.

            In God’s relational dynamic to wholeness, what are these dynamics of “trust…justifies…faith…righteousness” (Rom 4:5) for Paul? God’s communicative action and phaneroo of his righteousness are always initiated relational responses of grace to human persons for relationship together, which by their nature necessitate compatible reciprocal relational response to complete the relational connection. God’s relational nature precludes unilateral relationship, yet God’s qualitative being in whole and holy ontology cannot do relationship together reduced to human terms, even by well-meaning adherents of the law (Rom 4:13-16). The only compatible reciprocal relational response is faith (pistis, and its cognate verb, pisteuo). Yet, the perception of pistis as ‘belief’ and pisteuo as ‘to believe’ (e.g., in the common translation “Abraham believed,” 4:3) often lacks the relational significance Paul is illuminating in this relational response. Belief and believing may connote acknowledgment of some fact or proposition about God, or may further imply a personal assent of God (even as monotheism, cf. Jas 2:19), neither of which involves the whole of the person believing nor are sufficient therefore to constitute the compatible relational response to God’s righteousness—the whole of who, what and how God is in relationship (cf. Eph 3:17,19). In contrast to this relational process, N.T. Wright would propose “that we use the noun cognate with ‘believer’ [pisteuo] to express the status of this confession [i.e., the Shema] within the Pauline communities: justification by belief [pistis], i.e. covenant membership demarcated by that which is believed.” For Wright, the nature of faith to Paul and the heart of his doctrine of justification by faith were about the things believed or believed in “because he is anxious about the boundary-markers of the communities he believes himself called upon to found and nurture.”[5]

            A static view of pistis as belief, whatever the truth and conviction of its content, may signify status or membership but it does not constitute relationship—specifically, relationship together on God’s terms. Faith as relational trust is the only compatible response that constitutes the vulnerable involvement of the whole person necessary for relational connection with who, what and how God is. This reciprocal relational response from inner out is the depth of Paul’s polemic and desire for Jews to take them beyond merely what they believe to the qualitative-relational nature of faith to be made whole (Rom 10:1, 9-11). Moreover, Paul illuminated to the church at Corinth that even definitive knowledge of a correct belief in monotheism (or the Shema) is insufficient to constitute the relational function of pistis, both with God and in relation to others (1 Cor 8:1-6; cf. the critique of the church in Ephesus, Rev 2:2-4).

            Paul’s epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction were ongoing to distinguish the pistis necessary to be sozo, that is, to be made whole beyond a truncated soteriology. Even pistis as faith, however, can be problematic because, though faith as trust is the necessary response for relational connection, it is not sufficient by itself for relationship together with the righteous whole of God. Other theological dynamics by necessity converge with the relational dynamic of faith for the relational outcome of wholeness in relationship together.

            Faith, even with belief in the Shema, can become ambiguous in its relational significance or elusive in its relational function, just as Paul ongoingly exposed and confronted (e.g., Gal 3:1-5; 4:8-11; 5:1-6; Col 2:6-12, 16-22). In Paul’s thought and polemic, faith becomes ambiguous in its relational significance when its relational context shifts from God’s to human contextualization; faith becomes elusive in its relational function when its relational process renegotiates God’s terms with human terms. In the dynamics of pleroma soteriology, Paul never ignored the relational consequence of reductionism and its effects on the relational outcome to wholeness, since Paul himself had been embedded in it until his experiential truth of pleroma Christology turned him around on the Damascus road and redefined his faith only in God’s relational context and process. Therefore, it is critical to understand the interpretive lens by which Paul perceives faith and interprets its function.

            Faith has been perceived in two ways, implying the source of its perspective which may appear complementary but in function are competing, thus important to distinguish.



1.  From God’s top-down perspective: By the qualitative function of God’s relational nature, faith in functional likeness is a relational dynamic engaged by the relational trust of the whole person in response back to God’s relational initiative of grace from top down in order to constitute the vulnerable involvement necessary to be compatible for relationship together. This is a reciprocal relational process enabled only by God from top down for qualitative function from inner out, therefore by its nature nonnegotiable on only God’s relational terms. Jesus embodied this faith in his relationship with the Father, which was paradigmatic for his followers. In this sense pisteos Christou (Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16; 3:22; Phil 3:9) equally involves the faith embodied by Christ from top down (“faith of Christ”) that his followers must also relationally exercise for the relational outcome constituted by Christ (“faith in Christ”)—who fulfilled this by the faith he embodied from inner out (cf. Lk 23:46). In other words, from God’s perspective Christ is not only the object of faith, the Other; the embodied whole of Christ is also the Subject of faith, with whom his followers need to be involved with relational trust for the experiential truth of relationship together ‘in Christ’—the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology constituted by pleroma Christology. Therefore, the ‘faith of Christ’ is the functional key (the relational Way) definitive for the relational dynamic of faith that is necessary to constitute the response for this relational outcome. If Paul indeed had a double meaning of pisteos Christou (‘faith of Christ’ and ‘faith in Christ’), it was by design for the relational purpose to integrate the two by necessity for the faith of those in Christ to be defined from top down and to function from inner out.


2.  From human bottom-up perspective: Faith makes a functional shift (not necessarily theological) from the qualitative inner out to the quantitative outer in. The shift to less qualitative inner out and more quantitative outer in reduces the primacy of faith’s relational dynamic and thus its relational involvement. This is the relational consequence of reductionism that diminishes both the function of relationship and the ontology of the persons involved. Using this lens, faith becomes more about what we have (e.g., beliefs) and/or do with respect to God (e.g., believe in, cf. Wright). While God is the object or goal of faith, this faith does not engage the embodied whole of Christ as Subject, thus is not defined by God from top down. This is a bottom-up substitute from human contextualization, which at best is an ontological simulation or epistemological illusion. This faith, then, is the human activity which in relation to God intentionally or unintentionally shifts the focus from God’s terms by essentially renegotiating human terms as the determining factor shaping faith’s function from outer in, along with shaping the gospel, its covenant relationship, promise and conclusion. The nature of faith from human bottom-up perspective cannot rise above reduced human ontology or function deeper than outer in, because it is embedded in the very human condition of reductionism that is made whole solely by God’s relational action from top down. This relational outcome, of course, emerges only from a compatible reciprocal response of faith as relational trust, which cannot be wholly engaged while the relational consequence of reductionism prevails. The human alternative to this relational faith trusting God is the self-autonomy of human effort seeking to self-determine any meaning and result of faith—or, essentially, relationship with a disembodied God (e.g., a mere belief) shaped by human terms (e.g., merely believing in an Object, cf. Col 2:18-19). Since this faith is neither defined from top down nor functions from inner out, it is subject to ongoing variation of its identity and interpretation of its function (cf. 1 Cor 4:6-7).



           With these two perceptions of faith, Paul’s readers need to understand what he means when he refers to faith, as well as the faith he implies even when he does not refer to it (e.g., about works, cf. 1 Cor 3:13; Phil 2:12). Paul actually uses both perspectives, notably in his polemics, to distinguish faith’s determining source from God’s terms or from human terms and shaping. For example, in general, all Jews had faith, including belief in the Shema. Paul’s indictment of reductionist Jews was not about having no faith; at issue was their type of faith. His faith-works antithesis is between these two perspectives of faith, thus those engaged in works think they have faith, but do not have the relational significance of faith engaged only on God’s terms. Moreover, many who subscribe to the doctrine of justification by faith may be expressing nothing more than a belief for a certainty of what they have or for security of what they do; or their initial faith-response may have been the relational trust from inner out but has since functioned merely from outer in. Faith is often perceived as a singular act, after which faith becomes what one has or does as a believer, who now has the legal status of being justified by faith. For Paul, this relational outcome was not a doctrine that could be simply claimed by a belief. Such an oversimplification actually obstructs the theological dynamics which are constituted only in the experiential truth of God’s relational context by God’s relational process in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. In fact, Paul clearly identified the relational outcome in Christ as the functional significance of only the relational dynamic of faith conjoined with work in its full relational significance: “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). That is, Paul defines the relational response of faith as ongoing participation in the work (energeo in Gk indirect middle voice) of entrusting one’s whole person to be vulnerable in the relational involvement of agape, not about merely obedience or sacrifice (cf. 1 Thes 1:3).

            The biblical norm for faith rooted in Abraham has always been the reciprocal relational response from inner out to God’s top-down initiating grace in thematic relational response to the human condition (Gal 3:8-9; Rom 4:16). The response of those rooted in Abraham has to be compatible with the relational terms of the whole of God’s relational nature—the definitive terms for relationship together. Anything less and any substitutes for this faith-response of relational trust by the whole person from inner out are incompatible responses from reductionism, which for Paul always needed epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction for wholeness. These two meanings of faith, therefore, are critical to distinguish in the ongoing tension and conflict between God’s relational whole from top down on God’s relational terms from inner out and reductionism of that whole from bottom up with terms from outer in. To confuse these faiths or to not distinguish them will give us inadequate, distorted or fragmented understanding of both the whole of Paul’s own witness and the whole in his theology—whose personal faith was constituted in the experiential truth of God’s relational context and process for the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology (cf. Acts 22:14-15).

            In the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, faith as relational trust is the reciprocal relational response compatible for relational connection with the relationally disclosed righteousness of God, the whole of who, what and how God is and can be counted on to be in relationship. As the relational process continues, other necessary theological dynamics converge with this relational dynamic of faith for the relational outcome of wholeness in relationship together.




Pleroma Soteriology Completed



            Faith as relational trust is necessary but is not sufficient in itself for relationship together with the whole and holy God; other complex theological dynamics are needed to engage the relational process that completes the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology.

            Faith in the Deliverer/Savior may be sufficient for a truncated soteriology of merely being delivered/saved from—as often demonstrated both in Israel’s history and an incomplete Christology. Yet, pleroma Christology constitutes only pleroma soteriology. Paul clarified in his theological forest that the pleroma of God relationally disclosed the righteousness of God (cf. Acts 22:14-15) for the gospel of salvation (soteria, Rom 1:16-17; 3:21; Eph 1:13). That is, the face of Jesus vulnerably embodied the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4-6), the gospel of wholeness/peace (Eph 6:15) basic to the whole of Jesus’ salvific work (Eph 2:14-18), to complete salvation with the relational outcome necessary for also being saved to (Rom 5:1-2, 10-11; Col 1:19-22; Eph 3:6).

            If faith rooted in Abraham is insufficient for this completed relational outcome, what is the sufficient meaning of “Abraham believed and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom 4:3)? And what does it mean that he and his offspring were “justified by faith”?

            Through his experience, what Abraham “gained” (heurisko, discovered, Rom 4:1) in a heuristic process of discovery was not about faith as something he merely possessed or exercised isolated to the individual, but about the relational significance of faith as only a function in dynamic relationship together with God. As our forefather, Abraham’s discovery, by its very nature, must apply to all of us in the same heuristic process. His discovery, however, seems to elude the theological process of some traditions. Since the Reformation, this relational dynamic of faith has been all but lost. Martin Luther has been influential in  minimalizing the theological issue to a conflict between ‘justification by works’ or ‘justification by faith’, which are perceived often without an understanding of the sin of reductionism inherent in ‘works’, and very likely without the relational significance of the dynamics involved in either position. Proponents of a so-called Lutheran view of Paul follow their theological forefather, centralizing the doctrine of justification by faith as the heart of Paul’s thought and theology. This imposition on Paul reduces the issue to a question of doctrinal purity on this matter—a question raised which is not necessarily always pointing to the intent of Paul’s polemic about “works prescribed by the law” and “the law of faith” (Rom 3:27-28). Such a claim to this doctrinal purity about faith tends to signify the very kauchesis (boasting, pride) Paul challenges, that ironically also defines persons in the similar reductionist way as works by what one has/does. This claim is also in contrast to Abraham’s discovery, which was not self-discovery but the outcome of a relational process. The consequence of this reduction is to skew the issue to be more about the faith we have/do, and thus faith isolated to the individual, and less about our functional involvement (“faith working through agape,” Gal 5:6) in relationship together with God and others—thus reversing the heuristic process of Abraham. For Paul, the inseparable theological and functional issue is only between reductionism and wholeness in relationship with God. (For further discussion, see chap. 11, questions 2 and 5.)

            While Abraham could well have “discovered” such doctrine, Paul clarifies that “what was gained by Abraham” was the experiential truth: either persons can attempt to do relationship with God on human terms and be “justified by works,” or they can experience relationship with God on God’s relational terms, the relational dynamic of which is insufficiently explained by the doctrine of justification by faith. In human contextualization, human terms define human effort in a comparative process based on an exchange principle (law) of quid pro quo, which is imposed on God to renegotiate God’s relational terms. This reduces God’s relational context and process constituted by God’s relational dynamic of grace from top down in relational response from inner out, and substitutes human shaping from bottom up and human terms from outer in (cf. 1 Cor 4:6-7). What Abraham essentially discovered then was that relationship with God is not by an exchange process of quid pro quo. Once again, this heuristic process has less theological focus on our faith and more functional concern with our relationship with God. I suggest, therefore, that justification by faith was not the heart of Paul’s thought and theology; rather, justification was one of the complex theological dynamics constituted by God’s relational response of grace to the human condition for the relationship necessary to be whole together.

            How was justification only partially the focus of Paul’s concern and theology, and what then was at the heart of his concern and central to his theology? The heart of Paul’s concern was not for doctrinal purity; though theological purity was certainly needed in the religious pluralism of the ancient Mediterranean world, it was not sufficient in itself to fulfill Paul’s primary concern (nor Jesus’—cf. Rev 2:2-4). The central and integrating theme of Paul’s thought and theology always focuses on, revolves around and illuminates the experiential truth of intimately knowing the pleroma of God in relationship together (examine Paul’s prayers, Eph 1:17-23; 3:13-19). This is further evident in the understanding that the theological Paul emerged not from the historical Paul but from the relational Paul, as discussed previously in Paul’s journey.

            The whole of relationship together was Paul’s experiential truth from the Damascus road and his ongoing relational progression since then (Phil 3:7-11). In this summary reflection shared in one of Paul’s last letters, he illuminates the necessity yet insufficiency of his relational response of faith, and he integrates it with the righteousness and implied justification both necessary and sufficient for relationship with the whole and holy God. Anything less and any substitutes of these theological dynamics would be reductionism of the relationship necessary to be whole together: “I regard everything else as loss…as rubbish in order that I may grow together with [kerdaino] Christ and be found [heurisko] intimately in him (3:8-9, italics inserted). This heuristic process for Paul, as for Abraham and his offspring, is contingent on the convergence of righteousness and justification with the relational means of faith, by which they are received for function sufficient to be whole in relationship together.

            Justification (dikaiosis) is a difficult term to grasp in Paul that becomes more ambiguous when perceived as an isolated theological tree apart from the whole of God’s relational dynamic constituting Paul’s theological forest. On the one hand, justification has a clear judicial sense for Paul that declared persons guiltless from sin and thus right before God (Rom 4:25; 5:9,18), that is, free from any legal charge (anenkletos) and thus without defect or blame (amomos, Col 1:22). While this sense of justification may seem to be merely a static condition, for Paul justification must be understood as a relational condition that also inseparably engages a relational dynamic. The dynamic of justification is also integrated with the dynamics of redemption and atonement for sin (Rom 3:24-26; 8:1-4; cf. Eph 1:7); their purpose together, however, if concluded here, would be incomplete in a truncated soteriology of only being saved from sin. For justification in particular, the judicial aspect to be saved from sin is not the determinative understanding of this dynamic that Paul focused on in his thought and theology. Based on his experiential truth of the whole gospel, justification is not merely about human persons (individually and collectively) becoming OK or right before God. For Paul, on the other hand, the significance of justification is further and more deeply understood only when this dynamic engages the relational process for human persons to be wholly involved in relationship together with God, not only before God. In other words, according to Paul, to be justified (dikaioo) is the relational condition inseparable from its counterpart to be righteous, which is the relational function engaging this relational condition entirely for relationship together; and the conjoint functional significance of dikaioo (both justified and righteous) is lost whenever the primacy of relationship is reduced.

            The dynamic of justification integrated with redemption and atonement converge in Paul’s theological forest for just one purpose. These dynamics point further and deeper to their relational purpose constituted by the whole of God’s relational response of grace: reconciliation and wholeness (peace) in relationship together with the whole and holy God (Rom 5:1-2, 10-11; Col 1:19-22). Faith as relational trust in reciprocal response is  the only relational means by which to receive and experience the relational outcome of these relational dynamics. In a complex process that Paul does not fully explain—likely because the details are secondary to his primary relational purpose, if not a mystery (cf. Ps 71:15)—the necessary relational response of faith is made sufficient by these theological dynamics for the outcome of another theological dynamic that is further necessary to make whole all relationship with God. This other theological dynamic is dikaiosyne, not justification but righteousness—the relational function distinct yet inseparable from the relational condition of justification (Rom 1:17; 3:21-22; 4:3-5; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 4:24).

            Paul always framed his theological discourse in the functional terms of the gospel, the whole gospel embodied by God’s relational dynamic of grace solely for relationship together—thus signifying the primacy of relationship for the theological Paul gained from the relational Paul. For relationship with the whole and holy God to be indeed good news, specific theological dynamics need to be engaged; and these theological dynamics need to function with relational significance for their relational outcome to be the experiential truth of the whole gospel. As much as Paul theologically clarified and illuminated this gospel, he likewise exposed and confronted anything less and any substitutes from reductionism, thereby challenging theological assumptions in the process. The sin of reductionism, which is positioned against the whole gospel, diminishes, minimalizes or otherwise reduces these theological dynamics from their relational purpose to function, at best, in only a truncated soteriology of being saved from even sin, that is, other than sin of reductionism. The specific theological dynamic that negates reductionism and its counter-relational work is righteousness. In God’s thematic relational action in response to the human condition, the righteousness of God (sedaqah) emerges as the definitive relational basis for the hopeful expectation of God’s salvation, as the psalmist testifies (Ps 71:14-15). In Paul’s theological forest of God’s relational dynamic, God’s righteousness relationally embodied by Christ, “the Righteous One” (Acts 7:52; 22:14), is the functional key for the relational outcome of salvation to be complete—specifically to be saved to wholeness in relationship together.

            Relationship with the whole and holy God must by God’s relational nature (dei, not by the obligation of opheilo) be reciprocal; and the reciprocity should not be confused with or reduced to the moral-ethical deeds of opheilo as a substitute for the relational response and ongoing involvement of faith as relational trust (“faith working through agape,” Gal 5:6). Yet, also by the very nature of God’s qualitative being, the ontology and function of the persons involved must be likewise compatible for relationship together. Faith as relational trust is the necessary reciprocal response but not sufficient in itself for human ontology and function to be compatible with God’s. Some means is necessary to eliminate the presence and effects of sin as reductionism so that human persons can be compatible with the whole and holy God. The dynamics of justification, redemption, and atonement make our relational dynamic of faith sufficient in ontology and function to be compatible to have relationship together. However, for our ontology and function to be directly involved in the relationship and to compatibly function with God’s ontology and function, they must be also comparable to God’s righteousness.

        Dikaiosyne is not about justification and its dikai-cognates are not only about God’s justice, being just and justified. That theological function has already been accounted for. Righteousness is a further theological dynamic of how God functions in relationship and can be counted on for that ontology and function. As relationally disclosed, God’s righteousness involves interaction with the dynamic of God’s glory illuminated in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). What the pleroma of God vulnerably embodied of God’s glory was the qualitative being and relational nature of God for the qualitative presence and relational involvement of the whole of God in face-to-face relationship together; this defines “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (4:4). What God’s glory signifies is the ontology and function of the whole of who, what and how God is, which is who, what and how God’s righteousness enacts openly with his own face (not a mask) in relationship together and thus can be counted on for nothing less and no substitutes. In other words, God is righteous (dikaios) when God’s involvement in relationship is congruent with the whole of God’s ontology and function, which by God’s very nature is congruent with the glory of God’s qualitative being and relational nature. This integral dynamic cannot be separated or the whole of God becomes fragmented into attributes without the depth of their relational function.

            Therefore, the relational dynamic of God’s righteousness-glory was embodied congruently by the face of Christ, the Righteous One, who not only relationally disclosed God’s righteousness but enacted the means for transformation necessary for human ontology and function in relationship: first, to be fully compatible with God’s ontology and function (God’s face), then to be vulnerably congruent with our ontology and function (our face), and thus to be wholly comparable to God’s righteousness to be face to face. When God experiences our involvement in relationship together as congruent with our ontology and function and thus can count on us to be that person in face-to-face relational involvement, then God can account for us to be righteous and our involvement will “be reckoned [logizomai] to us” as righteousness (Rom 4:23-24).

            Yet, there are important distinctions to understand in the process to righteousness. Faith does not constitute us as righteous or justified; faith is only the relational means to receive this relational outcome constituted by the theological dynamics of God’s relational response of grace embodied in the face of the Righteous One (cf. Gal 3:14,18). In face-to-face relationship together, the face of our righteousness is not faith but the congruence of our ontology and function ‘in Christ’. This face of righteousness, both Christ’s and ours, must be the relational function of the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, thus by its very nature cannot be anything less or any substitute. The latter is only a mask, not the real prosopon, which just signifies playing a role in ancient Greek theatre different from one’s whole person—which for Paul also involved not being transparent in relationship together, thus in effect presenting a pseudo image of oneself (Eph 4:24-25; Col 3:9). This is the functional significance of hypokrisis of the reductionists warned against by Jesus (Lk 12:1), the relational consequence of which was demonstrated in Peter’s hypokrisis exposed by Paul (Gal 2:11-14). Moreover, this is the critical relational significance of Jesus’ relational expectation for his followers’ righteousness to be clearly distinct from the reductionists (Mt 5:20). The face of righteousness should neither be mistaken for faith nor confused with all who confess faith.

            While through the relational means of faith, yet to be distinguished with being from faith, this righteousness is the dynamic outcome only of transformation in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21). Just as God’s righteousness is congruent with God’s whole ontology and function and is congruent with the glory of God’s qualitative being and relational nature, our ontology and function need to be transformed to be righteous. This necessitates transformation from inner out (metamorphoo, not metaschematizo) that involves the redemptive change of the old ontology and function reduced to outer in for the new ontology in the qualitative image of God and new function in the relational likeness of the whole of God (2 Cor 3:9-11,18; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10; cf. Jesus’ prayer, Jn 17:22-24). This dynamic transformation process, which constitutes us compatible to be involved in relationship together by making us comparable to God in righteousness and congruent with whole ontology and function, is the gospel of wholeness (Eph 2:14-18; 6:15) and its antecedents (Isa 53:5; 54:10; Ez 37:26-27). This is the gospel of the glory of Christ congruently embodied in the face of Christ for face-to-face new covenant relationship together as the new creation (1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; cf. Jn 17:20-21).

            Righteousness, both God’s and ours, is not a static attribute of an individual as if in a vacuum, or the outcome of what one does (e.g., moral-ethical behavior) as if isolated only to that individual. Rather, righteousness is only how one lives in relationship. Even adherence to the torah was insufficient for righteousness, and why Jesus made it clear that his followers’ righteousness exceed the righteousness of the reductionists (Mt 5:20). This is the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction from wholeness (tamiym, Gen 17:1), which for Paul is critical in the heuristic process shared with Abraham (Rom 4:1; Gal 3:1-9; cf. Col 2:20-21). When the full function of righteousness prevails, theological perception and interpretation deepen and theological anthropology becomes whole. In its reciprocal dynamic, righteousness is always a function of persons in relationship. Therefore, by its nature it must be seen in its relational context, specifically, in relational context with God, which means to function in God’s relational context and process. The righteous are not merely morally or ethically right (cf. tamiym rendered as “blameless”) but those who can be counted on by God to function in relationship together as God’s relational terms expect. Righteousness then, both God’s and ours, is the functional basis for hopeful expectation in relationship together, whether it be for salvation (Rom 1:16-17; cf. Ps 71:14-15), the fulfillment of its promise (Rom 4:20-24), or for simply reciprocal relationship together (Eph 4:24; cf. Jn 17:25-26), which includes Jesus praying to his “righteous Father” whom he counted on in relationship together with family love. This is how the dynamic of righteousness is necessary to make whole all reciprocal relationship with God, and why Christ is the functional key to this righteousness for the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology.

            The above complex theological dynamics converge in Paul’s theological forest to be constituted together in pleroma Christology for the fulfillment of their relational purpose. The pleroma of God conclusively embodied the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition, thus completing the relational work necessary for these theological dynamics to constitute human persons solely for the experiential truth of relationship together with the whole and holy God—the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology. Any of these theological dynamics apart from pleroma Christology becomes fragmented, unable to fulfill its relational purpose even though it may serve a doctrinal purpose. Theological trees can only be fragmentary without their theological forest.

             Reflecting further on one theological dynamic in particular perhaps will be helpful. Whenever any theology of justification stops short in function (not necessarily in its theology) of the primacy of relationship in salvation and does not illuminate the relational involvement necessary for the qualitative function of salvation’s relational outcome, it becomes a reductionist substitute of both pleroma Christology and pleroma soteriology. Such a theology of justification by faith invariably operates with a reduced human ontology and function, which effectively becomes a reduction of God’s relational dynamic of grace, and, thus, a theology tending to fall into ontological simulation or epistemological illusion which is in need of the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of wholeness. We need to ask if a traditional (or Lutheran) reading of Paul centered on justification by faith should be included in these shortcomings. I think it does. The incarnation of Jesus was constituted not only by God’s relational dynamic of grace but, equally important, was also constituted in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, wholeness. For Paul, Jesus wholly embodied the pleroma of God (the whole of God’s qualitative ontology and relational function) throughout the incarnation to the cross and the resurrection, therefore also constituting the dynamic of wholeness for all life and function (Col 1:19-20; 2:9-10). The pleroma of God’s salvific work relationally involves the whole and holy ontology and qualitative-relational function of God, which vulnerably engages human persons in their reductionism with the theological dynamics necessary to make whole human ontology and function in qualitative-relational likeness of God for the sole purpose of relationship together with the whole and holy God. Such relationship is irreducible from the whole of God and is nonnegotiable to reduced terms and conditions for the holy God. Therefore, any theology engaging Christ without the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes is an incomplete Christology, and any theology involving salvation apart from the dynamic of wholeness is a truncated soteriology.

            Pleroma Christology is a function of the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. By the irreducible and nonnegotiable nature of this dynamic, pleroma soteriology emerges from pleroma Christology only in the dynamic of wholeness. However, this dynamic is opposed, both theologically and functionally, by reductionism trying to diminish, minimalize, distort, redefine, reconstruct, or otherwise discount or even ignore God’s whole. Grasping this opposition profoundly deepens our understanding of sin and also broadens our perception of it as the sin of reductionism. Paul’s thought and theology evidence this understanding, and his conjoint fight for the whole gospel and against reductionism magnify this perception. Yet, Paul’s readers will neither recognize nor have this tension and conflict with reductionism apart from the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. The consequence will always be to make theological assumptions which Paul ongoingly challenged. One influence of reductionism is the limitation of a traditional doctrine of justification. The traditional issue between justification by faith or by works does not adequately frame the problem because, depending on how faith is defined, both can be functions of reductionism. Moreover, the issues tend to be limited to human contextualization (e.g., the Reformation for a traditional view of Paul, or Second Temple Judaism for a new perspective) without engaging God’s relational context and process—that which was primary for defining and determining the whole of Paul and the whole critical in his theology. Those issues need further epistemological clarification than conventional biblical theology tends to provide, and they need deeper hermeneutic correction than historical theology can identify. This need is fulfilled not by a systematic theology but rather by the relational whole in Paul’s theological systemic framework and his theological forest.

            For Paul, the issue of justification is a relational issue that needs to be framed, and thus understood for the relational implications one engages, as either justification in relational response to God’s relational initiative, or justification ignoring or renegotiating the terms of God’s relational initiative. This relational process implies either justification constituted by relational involvement with God on God’s terms, or justification signifying reductionist involvement with God and thus a function of human terms shaped by human contextualization. While a traditional theology of justification by faith certainly implies a relational response to God’s grace, that response can also function in reductionist involvement with God signifying the influence of human contextualization. This easily occurs without the understanding and perception of sin as reductionism, which is a relational consequence of function apart from the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes of God’s whole. Thus, for Paul, the limitation, contradiction or consequence of a traditional theology of justification by faith is in need of the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of tamiym, which he himself needed to be sozo, made whole in the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology.

            It is the experiential truth of this relational outcome and its ongoing relational involvement together ‘already’ which is at the heart of Paul’s concern and central to his theology (the relational Paul determining the theological Paul). Whole relationship together with the whole and holy God was not a theological construct to be realized in the future. It is the completion of God’s thematic relational response of grace to sozo the human condition, the relational outcome of which ‘already’ functions by necessity in the relational progression to ‘not yet’—just as the whole of Paul’s witness continued to illuminate (Phil 3:12-16). For the whole in Paul’s theology, tamiym, sozo and shalom involve a reciprocal relational dynamic, all of which converge entirely in one relational outcome ‘already’ and relational conclusion ‘not yet’: whole relationship together in God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms.

            The complex theological dynamics, which converged in Paul’s theological forest to be constituted in pleroma Christology, fulfill their relational purpose wholly in the theological dynamic of adoption. As discussed in the previous chapter, adoption was not a theological construct for Paul but the experiential truth of the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology. Adoption is the relational function of the whole of God’s family love constituting persons ‘already’ into God’s family in whole relationship together (Rom 8:15-17; Eph 1:5, 13-14; 2:18-22)—just as Jesus prayed nearing his completion of God’s salvific action (Jn 17:21-23). If adoption is not the conclusive relational outcome of these complex theological dynamics, then these dynamics do not fulfill their relational purpose and any presumed salvation resulting from them is not by the pleroma of God.

            Only pleroma soteriology emerges from pleroma Christology. Therefore, it is wholly completed by the righteous Son with family love in the relational dynamic of adoption in conjoint function with the Spirit—who is his relational extension of the pleroma of God, whom Jesus made definitive (Jn 15:26; 16:13-15) for Paul’s experiential truth (1 Cor 2:9-16) to pleroo the embodied word of God as the church (Eph 1:22-23; 3:16-19; 4:12-13).  

            All these theological dynamics were enacted by the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. By the definitive terms of wholeness, anything less and any substitutes for Paul were always subject to epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction; he had zero tolerance for reductionism. The theology of wholeness is a basic dynamic in Paul’s theological systemic framework and his theological forest. With pleroma soteriology completed, further emerging from its relational outcome to overlap and interact deeply with the theological dynamic of wholeness are the dynamics of the theology of belonging and the theology of ontological identity.




Theology of Belonging



            The medical efforts described at the beginning of this chapter attempt to save persons from their physical condition or mental disorder. Without any deeper knowledge and understanding of what human life and function need to be saved to, this so-called advanced medical activity has compounded the human condition by efforts to control human life and prolong it—alternatives which essentially amount to nothing more than ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from reductionism. The consequence of such advanced intervention and treatment has neither resolved the human problem nor apparently even attempted to fulfill the inherent human need identified by advancement in its own realm, neuroscience. For Paul, the only good news for this reductionism is for human life and function to be made whole in the relational outcome of what pleroma Christology saves to.

            The illumination of this gospel, however, has had to endure attempts to overshadow it by the clouds of reductionism pervading human contextualization. These attempts involve the human shaping of the gospel which essentially reduces the whole of the gospel of Christ. That is, “the gospel of the glory of Christ” is reduced of its qualitative being and relational nature in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:4-6), and “the gospel of peace/wholeness” is reduced of its whole ontology and function (Eph 6:15). These are critical reductions of the whole of Jesus embodying the pleroma of God, who vulnerably disclosed God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms for only relationship together in the very likeness of the relational whole of God. Any reductions of God’s relational ontology and function are consequential for the relationships together necessary to be whole, thus consequential for all relationships needing to be whole. Whole ontology and function and whole relationships together are the ongoing target of reductionism’s counter-relational work.

            The influence of reductionism’s quantitative interpretive lens and its counter-relational work is evident both in modern medical efforts and in human shaping of the gospel during Paul’s time and since. The relational consequence is fragmentary solution for the human problem and thus fragmented fulfillment of the inherent human need. Paul fights decisively against this reductionism and conclusively for wholeness in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes—always challenging a different gospel and theological assumptions of less. The integrity of the gospel for Paul is less about the purity of its truth and more a function of its wholeness. In Paul’s pleroma Christology, the functional priority is always wholeness in ontology and function and in relationship together (Col 1:19-20; 2:9-10). Therefore, the gospel is never sufficient good news in just the truth of saved from; the gospel is complete only when it includes the experiential truth of saved to for pleroma soteriology. In Paul’s thought, theology and polemic, the experiential truth of the whole gospel is the only gospel there is—irreducible and nonnegotiable to human terms and shaping (Gal 1:6-7, 11-12). The relational consequence of anything less and any substitutes is at best a truncated soteriology that fragments the whole relationship together necessary to fulfill the created and thus inherent human relational need for belonging. This belonging for Paul is no longer “to be alone” and most importantly no longer “to be apart” from God’s relational whole (Eph 2:19-22; Col 3:10-11; cf. Gen 2:18).

            In a summary statement both for the whole gospel and against reductionism, Paul made definitive that no form or amount of reductionism “counts for anything [ischyo, capable of producing results to be whole and healthy], the only thing that counts is faith working through agape” (Gal 5:6; cf. Mt 9:12-13). The relational response of faith functioning in agape signifies the whole ontology and function constituting relational involvement on the deepest level. For Paul, the depth of this relational involvement could only be the relational outcome of the experiential truth of Christ’s love, as he prayed (Eph 3:16-19). Thus this is relational involvement only in likeness to the relational nature of the whole of God, as Jesus embodied and prayed (Jn 17:20-26). The experiential truth of Christ’s relational involvement is the same agape that in reciprocal likeness relationally bonds (“binds together,” syndesmos) God’s holy and beloved chosen ones to completely fulfill (“perfect,” teleiotes) their relational function together necessary to be “the wholeness of Christ” (Col 3:12-15; cf. Eph 4:2-6). In Paul’s theological forest, the whole of God’s relational dynamic of agape is the irreducible relational involvement of family love, the extension of which by God’s relational nature constituted adoption.

            The heart of adoption (huiothesia) goes beyond its counterpart in Roman law of the legal and social results of merely taking on the name and responsibilities of the new father and family. Adoption in the ancient Mediterranean world neither adequately defined the relational significance of adoption for Paul, nor determined the depth of its relational function. Though the definitive blessing from God points to having the LORD’s name put on them (Num 6:27), this cannot be reduced to the mere sociocultural significance of name, as significant as it was in terms of having honor, status and privilege. Having the name of the father/family provides just a limited sense of belonging, which is insufficient if not fragmentary for wholeness in relationship. The heart of adoption for Paul is the irreducible and inseparable bond of intimate relationship together in the whole of God’s family (Gal 4:4-6; Rom 8:15-17). This fulfills the relational significance of God’s definitive blessing with the face of his name to “give you peace,” that is, bring change and establish a new relationship (siym) in wholeness together (shalom, Num 6:26), which Paul illuminated theologically as in Christ (Eph 2:14-22).

            The relational outcome of adoption that Paul defined is the relational belonging of wholeness in God’s family. Relational belonging is not to be confused with mere membership or collective identity, yet that is what became Israel’s experience (Lev 25:55; Deut 7:6). Belonging can signify possession, relationship or ontology, or all three. However, whereas Israel had been redeemed to belong as God’s treasured possession, circumcision and observance of other purification and ceremonial laws became the markers of membership and national identity over the primacy of covenant relationship (cf. Ex 19:5)—thus renegotiating the covenant of love by prioritizing the quantity of their population and land (Deut 7:7-8; Gen 17:7-8). Perhaps in a secondary sense this practice of identity markers can be considered necessary for both gaining and maintaining membership in God’s people. Yet, this would not be sufficient to account for Paul’s primary concern against reductionism of God’s relational whole by human terms and shaping (cf. Rom 2:28-29) and for making conclusive the experiential truth of God’s relational whole (cf. his polemics in Gal 2:15ff). It would also be insufficient for the depth and meaning that Paul had in mind for relational belonging as the relational outcome of being God’s family in Christ (cf. Rom 7:4; 9:3-5). Their practice reduced the issue of belonging from the primacy of relationship in being God’s own people to the human terms and shaping of human contextualization, albeit with the designation of God’s name. Paul was decisive in differentiating their practice because previously he had had such membership and had claimed or achieved those identity markers for himself at the highest level, only to realize their reductionism compared to belonging in whole relationship together (Phil 3:4-8; Gal 1:13-16a).

            Moreover, further illustrations of reductionism in human contextualization must be distinguished from Paul’s meaning of belonging, whose intensity of meaning deepens in Paul’s whole theology. What determines this relational belonging for Paul is neither the limited participation commonly found in voluntary associations during Paul’s time, nor the measured engagement of family obligation (opheilo) characterizing kinship groups in the Mediterranean world. Human contextualization is unable to define or determine the relational function of belonging without losing wholeness in relationship together. This relational belonging is determined entirely by transformed relationships (cf. siym in God’s blessing), the relationships necessary for wholeness together in likeness to the relational ontology of the whole of God (Gal 3:26-28; 6:15; Col 3:10-11; Eph 4:24).

            What are these transformed relationships constituting the relational belonging in whole relationship, which would fulfill the inherent human need and resolve the human problem?

            Transformed relationships by necessity involve both redemptive change (Gal 4:5; Rom 6:4) and redemptive reconciliation (Eph 2:14-16). This directly engages the sin of reductionism of human ontology and function. In Paul’s theological forest, the relational dynamic of God’s ontology and function embodied by the face of Christ fully engages, redeems and transforms the reductionism of human ontology and function, whether in its individual or collective self-autonomy, self-determination, self-justification or in its repercussions on others (Eph 2:1-10). This dynamic is contrary to engaging in the exchange process (quid pro quo) of human contextualization, that measures human ontology and function on the merits of what persons do/have and ranks persons in a comparative process according to their more-or-less assets, with the consequence that persons are structured together in stratified relationships and embedded (if not enslaved) in systems of inequality. In this opposing process is the relational consequence of the sin of reductionism and its counter-relational work, which constitutes the human condition. In contrast to and conflict with human contextualization, the whole of God’s relational context and process of grace relationally responds to the human condition with the relational involvement of (agape) family love necessary for the redemptive change and redemptive reconciliation constituting the transformed relationships to be God’s whole family.

            In these theological dynamics to wholeness, the relational involvement of God’s relational response of grace can be described as irreplaceable engagement in the process of equalization for all human ontology and function. This equalizing process is basic to Paul’s theological anthropology and crucial for the experiential truth of persons’ relational belonging in whole relationship together. That is to say, the transformed relationships determining relational belonging are equalized persons relationally involved in equalized relationships—persons neither defined by more-less distinctions from human contextualization, nor determined by function in stratified relationships (Eph 2:11-13).

            Transformed relationships, however, are not only equalized relationships. Equalized relationships by themselves are necessary but not sufficient to constitute wholeness in relationship together—specifically in relational likeness to the whole of God. The relationship of God within the Godhead, embodied and prayed for by Christ, that is constituted for us to “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18), is not for us to be equalized with God in relationship. The relational significance of “access” (prosagoge) is to bring near (prosago) in face-to-face relationship together (cf. Eph 3:12). Even though Moses had face-to-face interaction with God (Num 12:6-8), it was not sufficient for the sustained relational involvement signifying the depth of relational belonging from whole relationship together (2 Cor 3:7-18). The inner-out transformation (metamorphoo) critical to transform relationships involves by necessity this openness of whole ontology and function to each other face to face, which constitutes the relational process of hearts coming together in relationship to become “a dwelling place for God” (Eph 2:22; cf. 1 Cor 3:16). This inner-out relational process of hearts opening to each other and coming together is definitive of intimacy. Therefore, transformed relationships are both equalized relationships and intimate relationships, and their conjoint function is necessary and sufficient to constitute wholeness in relationship together. These are the irreducible and nonnegotiable relationships which determine relational belonging in God’s family as his very own daughters and sons. Nothing less and no substitutes defined and determined the relational outcome of adoption for Paul.

            As adoption becomes a theological given for the whole in Paul’s theology, this raises a functional issue about how far and deep his intensity of meaning for relational belonging must be taken and needs to be for congruence in our relationships together. Paul, himself, gave the appearance of inconsistency or even contradiction in the matter of equalized relationships. While, on the one hand, he clearly established equalized relationships between Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:11-16)—and redressed Peter for reinforcing this inequality in stratified relationships—on the other hand, Paul appeared ambiguous or even complicit, for example, about the inequality of women and slaves in stratified relationships, whether in the church or in the world. With the definitive relationship of belonging from adoption to define persons and determine their ontology and function, can women and slaves belong as full members, daughters and sons of God’s family? The theological answer for Paul is clearly yes, and the functional answer is also affirmative but needs clarification.

            When Paul provided the functional clarity for the gospel in Galatians, part of his clarity involved the relational outcome of adoption (Gal 3:26; 4:4-7). The function of God’s children emerged in the transformed relationships from baptism in Christ, that is, dying to the old and rising in the new (3:27; 5:6; 6:15; cf. Rom 6:4). Their transformed relationships together was functionally clarified in what is commonly perceived as a baptismal formula (Gal 3:28). I suggest this is Paul’s relational language for the necessary function of the transformed relationships together which is conclusive of the relational outcome from adoption into God’s family, and therefore which is inclusive of any and all who “belong to Christ” (3:29). This notably includes those in the pairings highlighted (Jew-Gentile, slave-free, male-female), which go beyond merely pairs of opposites for Paul.[6]

            These are a summary account (not exhaustive) of reduced human ontology and function which construct false human distinctions to stereotype persons for stratified human relations; Paul later stated a variation of this summary in Colossians 3:11 (though such differences are used to dispute his authorship). Whatever human distinctions are highlighted, the relational consequence is fragmented relationships, not whole relationships together. This was clearly exposed by Paul in Corinthians (e.g., 1 Cor 3:21-22; 4:6-7). Therefore, for Paul anything less and any substitutes for the conjoint function of equalized and intimate relationships would not be congruent with the transformed relationships together necessary to constitute relational belonging in God’s family. Nor would human terms and shaping of relationships be compatible to wholeness together in likeness of the whole of God—to which Paul illuminated being restored in his variation of this summary (anakainoo, “being renewed to the original condition of the image of its creator,” Col 3:10-11).

            In the whole of Paul’s practice and the whole in his theology, relational belonging is irreducible for any persons (regardless of human distinction) and is nonnegotiable to the prevailing aspects or surrounding influences of human contextualization. The false human distinctions are a product of human constructs which have displaced God’s created design and purpose for human ontology and function (cf. 1 Cor 4:6-7; 2 Cor 5:5,16; Eph 2:10). These human constructs, terms and shaping are the dynamics involved in reductionism of the gospel. In Paul’s fight against reductionism and for the whole gospel, his polemic includes his personal experience of being redeemed from his own reductionism and transformed in Christ to be made whole (sozo) for pleroma soteriology. It is this whole of Paul and his witness that is basic to his polemic (e.g., Gal 6:14). Thus, in Galatians, when his testimony prefaces his second summary statement both for the whole gospel and against reductionism (the first is Gal 5:6)—“For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything” (6:15)—this is not only theological discourse for Paul but equally important his experiential truth. In changing from reduced ontology and function to whole ontology and function, Paul’s whole person grasped from inner out that relational belonging in God’s family is neither partial to persons nor amenable to human contextualization. Thus, any form of reductionism cannot constitute God’s relational whole for Paul; nor can it signify the whole gospel or represent the wholeness of Christ as his church family (cf. Eph 1:22-23).

            Any other human distinction could have been inserted in his summary statements. By the very nature of God’s relational whole, reductionism simply cannot define and determine relational belonging in God’s family; and by the nature of reductionism’s counter-relational work, it is always in conflict with whole relationship together. Therefore, Paul deeply understood in human relations that women most notably, followed by slaves, were most vulnerable to be subject to reduced ontology and function in subordinate relational positions. In the new creation, the whole of Paul could be in face-to-face relationship together with women and slaves, among others, only on the basis of transformed relationships both equalized and intimate. What defined and determined Paul’s ontology and function also unequivocally defined and determined their ontology and function in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, regardless of their situations and circumstances in the surrounding context. While the latter conditions may still exist for them, Paul is emphatic that these do not and should not be the determinants for their ontology and function. This discussion will be extended and clarified in the next chapter.

            The relational dynamic of adoption involves the integrated outcome of belonging as possession, relationship and ontology. Those adopted ‘in Christ’ now belong to God, who “put his seal on us” (2 Cor 1:22), that is, the identification of ownership as God’s possession (peripoiesis, Eph 1:14). More importantly for Paul, in distinguishing God’s relational whole from the human shaping of reductionism, those adopted into God’s family also relationally “belong to Christ,” the pleroma of God, thus relationally belonging to the whole of God (belong rendered in the genitive case, 1 Cor 3:23; Gal 3:29; 4:4-7). Equally important in this relational dynamic, since “Christ belongs to God” both relationally and ontologically, by relationally belonging (not ontologically) to Christ those adopted also relationally belong to each other as well as belong ontologically to each other in wholeness together (1 Cor 3:22; 12:15-16; Rom 7:4; 12:5, belong also rendered by ginomai, verb of becoming, and eimi, verb to be).

            What unfolds in this theological dynamic ‘in Christ’ is the integrated outcome of belonging. The emphasis of the theology of belonging for Paul in his theological forest is on relational belonging and ontological belonging to signify the new covenant relationship and the new creation. Relational belonging dynamically interacts with ontological belonging in the new creation, and their interaction is the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology in being saved to wholeness in God’s family together (2 Cor 3:18; 5:16-17; Col 3:10-11). Moreover, conjoined with the integrated outcome of belonging, the relational outcome of adoption in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes (the theological dynamic of wholeness) is the relational ontology and identity of the new creation of God’s family as the church (Eph 1:22-23).




Theology of Ontological Identity



            In Paul’s theological forest, pleroma Christology is God’s relational dynamic of grace and agape relational involvement from which emerges conclusively pleroma soteriology. Paul’s antecedents from the Jesus tradition—the new covenant in Christ’s blood (1 Cor 11:2,25), being saved by Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Cor 15:2-4)—are illuminated further and deeper by Paul with epistemic humility (cf. 1 Cor 11:23; Gal 1:12; Eph 3:3-4). Christ’s death for Paul was less about the sacrifice for only saving from sin, as necessary as that was, and more about his relational involvement saving to. The miracle of the resurrection for Paul certainly involved the historical fact, physical reality and propositional truth of Christ rising from death, but even more significant deeply involved the new covenant relationship of wholeness together with God as his new creation family (1 Cor 15:17-19). To Paul, faith as trust functioning in reciprocal relational response to Christ is not futile because the face of Christ is wholly involved relationally for the redemptive means of being saved from reductionism to fulfill God’s relational purpose of being saved to God’s relational whole together. Those who belong to Christ have risen together with him to become “his body, the pleroma of him who pleroo [completes, fulfills] all in pasin, the whole” (Eph 1:23; cf. Rom 12:4-5).

            This relational outcome is rooted in the fulfillment of Jesus’ formative family prayer for those who belong to him: “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (teleioo from teleios, i.e., whole, God’s relational whole, Jn 17:23). Thus, the definitive relational outcome of relationally belonging to the pleroma of God is the ontology of God’s new creation family. And the ontological identity of this new creation ‘already’ is the church family, “so that the world may believe…may know…” (17:21, 23; cf. Eph 3:5-12).

            In congruence with the relational dynamic resulting in adoption, the ontology and function of the church family must always be in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes for whole relationship together, as Paul made unequivocal (Eph 4:1-6, 13-16, 22-24). As these theological dynamics of wholeness, belonging, and ontological identity converge in Paul’s theological forest, however, the dynamic of reductionism and its counter-relational work are always seeking to redefine the qualitative-relational process constituting their theological interaction and to reshape, reconstruct or otherwise fragment the relational outcome emerging from their theological integration. This conflict for Paul necessitates distinguishing the truth of the whole gospel clearly from a different gospel (Gal 1:6-12). In his polemic for this conflict, Paul made definitive two critical and necessary conditions to constitute the only gospel, which he implies in Gal 3:28:



1.  While the incarnation embodied the pleroma of God in human contextualization, the whole of Jesus and his gospel are incongruent and incompatible with any human shaping. Culture in some particular ways can give secondary human characteristics of form to the gospel but is unable to determine the substantive shape of the gospel itself. Human culture in general is always subject to the sin of reductionism, and thus can never be assumed to be neutral. In Paul’s examples, reductionist distinctions, stratified contexts and systems of inequality are the primary functions of human constructs which impose human shaping on the gospel (cf. 1 Cor 4:6-7).


2.  The only shape of the gospel is whole, which by its nature must be determined solely by the whole of Jesus, the pleroma of God, who by God’s initiative (grace) alone relationally involved (agape) the whole of God for the irreducible and nonnegotiable whole relationship together of God’s new creation family.



            The reciprocal relational means for experiencing this definitive whole relationship together as God’s family was also at the center of this conflict for Paul. He grasped that this issue is ongoing unless understood in its proper context. In Galatians, the conflict of relational means appears to be between “the law” and “faith” (Gal 3:1-26). Yet, this would not only be an oversimplification of Paul’s polemic but also a reduction of the law as God’s desires and terms for covenant relationship, as well as a reduction of faith as the necessary relational response to God’s promise of covenant relationship together. Paul put the issue into its full perspective.

            Galatians represents Paul sharing the functional clarity for the whole gospel to address their current issue, situation and related matters in order to take them beyond the human contextualization of reductionism (not only of Judaism) to the further and deeper contextualization of God—the whole of God’s relational context and process embodied in the whole of Jesus. Within God’s relational context and process, the law neither reduces nor renegotiates the covenant relationship. In fact, as God’s terms for relationship together, the law is wholly compatible with the covenant and even is a vital key for the emergence of whole relationship together. That is, not as a functional key to fulfill the promise (3:21), the law serves rather as a heuristic framework (paidegogos) for both learning our human condition and discovering the source of its whole solution (3:10, 22-24; cf. Rom 3:19-20).

            Paul’s focus on the law addressed the condition of human ontology in two vital ways, both of which perceived the law as God’s desires and terms for covenant relationship:



1.  The law unequivocally exposes reduced human ontology and the insufficiency and relational consequence of all human effort, notably for self-determination and self-justification, which are critical to accept in any response to God for relationship.


2.  Moreover, the law also clearly identifies the whole human ontology necessary for the relational involvement in reciprocal response to the whole of God, which is congruent with God’s desires and compatible with God’s terms for relationship together (Gal 5:14; 6:2; cf. Jesus on the law, Mt 5:43-48, and James on faith, Jas 2:8).


When Paul refers to “the law of Christ,” this is God’s law/desires constituted by Jesus’ whole ontology and function in the incarnation (cf. 1 Cor 9:21b), who takes the law of Moses further and deeper into the whole of God’s relational context and process. By vulnerably embodying God’s relational ontology and function, the pleroma of God is the hermeneutical key to interpreting God’s law/desires and the functional key for its practice in relationship together (cf. Mt 5:21ff), which by necessity requires whole ontology and function (as Jesus implied about practice of the law in likeness of the Father, Mt 5:48).

            This became the critical issue for Paul because human ontology is inexorably embedded in the sin of reductionism; and this enslavement needs to be redeemed for human ontology to be freed to become whole. Yet, whole human ontology is constituted only by the redemptive relational dynamic of adoption for relationship together in God’s family. Reduced human ontology is incapable of a response which would be compatible to Jesus for this relationship together. In Paul’s full perspective, the issue underlying the law is nothing less than the issue of human ontology. Therefore, his discourse on the law challenges existing assumptions on human ontology to expose reduced human ontology, while his discourse on faith assumes the definitive ontology which illuminates the whole human ontology and function needed for relationship together in God’s family—and which also fulfills the law of Christ (Gal 5:6; 6:2).

            The reciprocal relational means both necessary to receive and compatible to respond to Jesus for whole relationship together is the issue for Paul, which then necessarily involves human ontology. When human effort is relinquished and replaced by the relational response of faith, Paul adds for functional clarity that we are no longer under the paidagogos of the law (3:25). Paul is only referring to the law’s paidagogos function. This does not mean that the law (as God’s desires and terms for covenant relationship) is finished and no longer functional for the practice of faith (5:14; 6:2; cf. Rom 3:31; 1 Cor 9:21). Paul in truth wants the law to be fulfilled by human persons, and he may confuse us by stating that the law cannot be fulfilled by human effort (Gal 3:10; 5:3). By focusing on the relational involvement of agape (5:14), however, he makes definitive how the law is or is not fulfilled. By necessity, this engages the two conditions of human ontology (whole or reduced), and Paul differentiates their respective involvement with the law (5:6; 6:15). Whole human ontology functions from inner out in the relational response of trust to be vulnerably involved with God and others in family love—just as Christ functioned (cf. Jn 15:9-12)—thus reciprocally responding to God’s desires and terms for relationship together. Reduced human ontology, in contrast, functions from outer in to try to fulfill the quantitative aspects of the law, thus renegotiating God’s terms for relationship by human terms shaped from human contextualization. This reductionism essentially redefined relationship with God to mere relationship with the law, which then disembodies the law from the whole of God and God’s desires for relationship together. For Paul, the underlying issue between function by law and function by faith is clearly between reduced ontology and function and whole ontology and function. The relational consequence of the former is not only the inability to fulfill the law but enslavement to the reductionist futility of human effort (Gal 5:3-4). The relational outcome of the latter is to receive and respond to Christ for whole relationship together with nothing less and no substitutes.

            What functionally emerges in particular from whole relationship together with Christ? As the relational connection with Christ is completed by the reciprocal means of relational trust, the following ontological and relational changes take effect. From relational involvement in the process of redemptive change in being “baptized into Christ” (eis, dynamic relational movement to the person of Christ), the relational outcome is the new identity of who we are and whose we are (Gal 3:26-27). For those who now relationally “belong to Christ” (3:29), Paul clarifies this new identity (4:1-7). The primary identity of who we are emerging from the relational outcome of adoption involves both of the following: (1) the ontological change from inner out essentially of a minor enslaved to reductionism (4:3) to the ontology of sons/daughters (4:6a; 3:26) by the redemptive relational work of the Son (4:4-5); moreover, the new identity involves (2) the relational change in God’s family from a mere place as minor/slave to the relational position of son/daughter and thus an heir (4:7; 3:29). These definitive changes together clearly constitute the new identity not only of who we are but conjointly whose we are.

            Given the new identity of those relationally belonging to Christ—signifying the ontology and relational changes of who and whose we are—nothing less and no substitutes can define our ontology or determine our function. This new identity does not emerge from merely belonging to God’s family theologically, or by the mere certainty of any truth-claims. Nor does it emerge from merely having faith/belief(s), or by mere membership and participation in a church—both of which can be engaged by reduced ontology and function. As Paul made unequivocal, “so you are no longer…but are…”, that is, eimi, verb of existence here, not a mere copula, in second person singular, thus definitive for each person belonging to Christ.

            Moreover, when Paul said “no longer” (ouketi), he also means no further, not any more and not again in reference to previous or other identities (Gal 4:8-9). This points to the reality in human life that there are multiple sources/inputs which go into the ongoing process of identity formation. Identity is not a static condition defining who persons are, or a singular signifier determining what and how persons are. Various influences, both past and present, shape human identity, making it fluid, transient, ambiguous, elusive or even amorphous. Therefore, what is necessary for identity not to be fragmented—which defines and determines persons by reductionism—is for the primary identity to be rooted and ongoingly involved in the definitive whole in order for the basic core of the person to be made whole from inner out. This inner-out core is the person’s ontology, whose function from inner out is signified only by the heart for the involvement necessary to live whole. It is this ongoing involvement of the person’s whole ontology and function from inner out that constitutes the ontological identity, which is irreducible and nonnegotiable to other sources/inputs/influences having secondary parts in a person’s identity formation. This process points to Jesus making definitive that those rooted in and ongoingly involved with him have wholeness despite facing the world’s reductionism (thlipsis, Jn 16:33).

            For Paul, righteousness is the relational function of the heart which lives not merely by faith but in whole ontology and function in the image and likeness of the whole of God (Col 3:10; Eph 4:24). This inner-out function of the heart signifies ontological identity, the primary identity necessary to have wholeness despite the presence of reductionism (Col 3:15). Thus ontological identity is definitive of who the person is and the determinant of what and how the person is. And the integrity of identity is rooted in a person’s ontology, which needs to be whole or its integrity will be fragmented (cf. Paul’s discourse about the church at Corinth). As Paul summarized in Galatians 6:15, any function of reductionism is without any ontological significance of existence (eimi); only the new creation exists in ontological wholeness. Also, the credibility of identity is rooted in a person’s righteousness, which must not be fragmentary (cf. Peter’s hypokrisis, Gal 2:14) or it will lose both its credibility and the integrity of wholeness in identity (cf. Jesus’ expectation of righteousness as whole ontology and function, Mt 5:20). The whole of Jesus’ identity in the incarnation was based on the integrity of his ontology and the credibility of his righteousness, which persons could count on and trust in relationship together. The image and likeness of his whole ontology and function is what we are transformed to (2 Cor 3:18) and who we become (Col 2:10; 3:10), and thus how we function (Eph 4:24; Col 3:15; cf. Ps 71:15). Therefore, anything less and any substitutes defining our ontology and determining our function are a reduction of our wholeness together, a fragmentation of the ontological and relational whole of who we are and whose we are in Christ.

            Moreover, as our identity reveals the underlying roots or heart of how we define our ontology and determine our function, our primary identity also signifies the shape of our gospel—if it is whole or reduced. Paul’s gospel and thus his own identity were not defined and determined by what he had and/or did (both past and present, cf. Phil 3:7-9) or even by his current weaknesses (2 Cor 12:7-9). In his polemic for the gospel and against reductionism, Paul made definitive both the ontological and relational changes which must by nature (dei) constitute the truth of the whole gospel and its relational outcome. It must by the nature of who and what Jesus embodied as “the image of God” and relationally involved of the whole of God’s ontology and function “in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4,6). Anything less or any substitute is not the gospel of the glory of Christ, the gospel of wholeness, but a different gospel of reductionism.


            Putting together these aspects of Paul’s synesis (whole understanding, Eph 3:4, cf. Col 1:9; 2:2) makes clear that the whole of his witness and the whole in his theology were deeply rooted in pleroma Christology; this is how the relational Paul emerged from the historical Paul to constitute the theological Paul. The experiential truth of the pleroma of Christ’s whole ontology and function by necessity involved pleroma soteriology making functional ‘already’ the relational outcome of being saved to God’s new creation family. In the complex theological dynamics of Paul’s theological forest, God’s whole family in transformed relationships together is the gospel of the glory of Christ, the gospel of wholeness in the face of Christ’s whole ontology and function, the pleroma of God (Col 1:19-20; 2:9-10; 3:10-11)—all emerging for Paul in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. Therefore, in Paul’s forest the theology of ontological identity emerges only from the theological dynamic of belonging, which are inseparably integrated and rooted in the theology of wholeness.

            This wholeness is the primary identity that defined Paul’s ontology and determined his function (the historical Paul notwithstanding), and the identity by which all who relationally belong to Christ need to be contextualized to be whole, both as persons individually and collectively. The relational outcome of God’s whole family together is the ontological identity of conjointly who we are and whose we are. Whose we are is always the determinant of who we are, never the converse or there is reductionism. And what whose we are determines for who we are is always about family, not about the individual. Whole persons have been set free by Christ not for self-autonomy but are freed to be whole in whose we are, that is, in likeness of the whole of God (Gal 5:1, 13-14; Eph 4:24-25; Col 3:15; cf. 1 Cor 8:1). Wholeness for the person is contingent on wholeness in relationship together, thus the whole person is inseparable from and indispensable for God’s new creation family—which in Paul’s theological forest is the church, “the pleroma of Christ who makes all whole in the whole” (Eph 1:23; cf. Rom 12:4-5). This is the only relational outcome from the gospel of wholeness (Eph 6:15).

            This whole ontological identity is Paul’s prayer for the church (Eph 3:18-19) and his desires for the church (Col 2:2-3) and his purpose of the church (Eph 4:12-13)—all of which echoes and helps fulfill Jesus’ formative family prayer for his family (Jn 17:20-26). Indeed, nothing less and no substitutes.



[1] H. Gilbert Welch. “Life, medicalized,” op-ed, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2010.

[2] Allen Frances. “It’s not too late to save ‘normal’,” op-ed, Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2010.

[3] This torah, and Paul’s use of nomos, is the sum of the commandments and nonnegotiable desires required of Israel at Mt. Sinai with the accompanying sanctions, and is to be distinguished from the Torah (the Pentateuch) which contains much more than law. See Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 335-40.

[4] E. P. Sanders. Paul: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 52-58.

[5] N.T. Wright. The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 2-3.

[6] J. Louis Martyn perceives these as pairs of opposites in the same way as the elements of the cosmos are pairs of opposites. Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (London: T & T Clark, 1997), 138-40.




©2010 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.


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