• Introduction
  • Providence
  • Redemption
  • Purpose
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

  • Introduction back to top

    There is one thing that occupies the center of St. Paul's theology: his great interest in God (Morris, 25). The epistles of St. Paul are saturated with the concept of God, in fact Paul's epistles contain over 40 percent of all the New Testament references to God (Morris, 25). This is formative in understanding the Apostle's perspective, because it defines how he thought of everything else. He was, above all else, theocentric, in that his understanding of God formed the starting point and context of his theology.

    The first of St. Paul's epistles in the canon is his epistle to the Romans. According to Matthew Henry, the reason that Romans appears first among his epistles is "because of the superlative excellency of the epistle, it being one of the fullest of all" (Henry, 363). Romans is one of the best places to find an organized expression of Paul's theology and in it he teaches a radical doctrine of theocentricity having three aspects: God's providence, God's redemption and God's purpose.

    Providence back to top

    Providence is the most general aspect of Paul's theocentric theology for it defines the relationship that exists between the Creator and the entire created order. God is the one who controls and governs all things. The entire cosmos is only as it is because God has both created to be as such and has sustained it as well. In Romans 4:17, Paul calls God the one who creates out of nothing, because He called the universe into existence without the aid of any other being or without the benefit of using pre-existing materials. Everything that exists does so "from Him and through Him."(11:36) God is the governor of the universe and is Lord over all things.(10:12) Therefore, He owns the universe and as such is the center of it. According to Romans 9, God is a potter and man is a lump of clay, and God has the right to make of that clay whatever He desires. It is God's intrinsic and unalienable right to do with the universe whatever He wills. The authority that man seems to possess is not his, it is given to him by God.(13:1,6) Even the sinful state of man is as it is because God has so ordained it to be. In Romans 1, Paul uses the phrase, "God gave them over..", three times in four verses. Man did not arrive at his evil condition, except that God has given him over to it. God is the one who governs and controls all that He has created.

    Redemption back to top

    The second aspect of the theocentricity of Paul's theology has to do with redemptive work of God whereby He reclaims that which belongs to Him. Redemption is a work that "is all founded on the impregnable rock of the eternal will of God" (Dodd, 142). Paul, in Romans 8, writes that it is God who foreknows, predestines, calls and glorifies. "God's action in redemption is free and absolute, springing wholly from within Himself" (Stevens, 98). He is the perfect initiator in the work of salvation; man plays only the role of a passive lump of clay (Stevens, 114). Priority in salvation is on divine grace and the absolutely gratuitous character of God (Ridderbos, 349). God is the one who saves His own from His own wrath.(5:9), for He is both the judge and the advocate, having mercy on whom He wills and hardening whom He wills.(9:18) All the world is accountable to God (3:19) and deserving of death (3:23), but He is also "the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."(3:26) According to Paul, "it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."(9:16)

    Purpose back to top

    God not only governs all things but He is also the one who redeems. The final aspect of the theocentricity of Paul's theology describes God's purpose in both His governing and His redeeming. For Paul, all things are done for God. In Romans 11:36, Paul says, "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen."(emphasis added) God has worked all things according to His purposes so that all things will work for His benefit. This is the primary motive of God. "Christ himself seeks above all things the glory of his father in the redemptive work, in his life, in his death, in his triumph" (Kennedy, 289). God brings about all things for His benefit and in so doing also brings benefit to His people. The Christian's hope, according to Paul, is the glory of God (5:2), as such they are defined by their expectation of the vindication of the glory of God. Paul also defines the Gospel in these terms by calling it "the righteousness of God" (1:17); which is, according to C.H. Dodd, the act of God whereby He vindicates the right (Dodd, 13). God is the right and the process of the history of redemption is the unfolding of God's plan whereby He is vindicating His character by redeeming back to Himself what is His. "Paul's conception of God's righteousness is that it consists basically in his inclination to act always for his own name sake, that is, to maintain and demonstrate his glory" (Piper, 160). God's purpose is, in all things and at all times, to bring glory to Himself, which is what He rightly deserves.

    Conclusion back to top

    The primary task of the Christian, then, is to be righteous and bring glory to God. Paul urges, "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship"(12:1). It is the Christian's primary duty, his "spiritual service of worship" to give himself to God as an instrument of righteousness to God (6:13). The theocentricity of Paul's theology drives the people of God to perceive their tasks and value from the perspective of God. According to Paul, a man derives his benefit in his enslavement to God.(6:22) Only in as much as an individual gives himself over to be possessed and used of God as He desires, is that individual valuable. "The glory and the praise of God should constitute the chief preoccupation of any Christian worthy of the name in his pursuit of salvation, penetrated as he is with the love of God and of the savior" (Kennedy, 292). "For if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's"(14:8) "Paul was a God intoxicated man" (Morris, 25). His epistle to the Romans reflects this passion and his theology is rested upon it. God is the center and is, by His own design, the primary beneficiary of all that occurs. Christ has accepted His people for the purpose of bringing glory to God (15:7), therefore God's people are to always act and think as Christ thinks, theocentrally.

    "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:5,6).

    Bibliography back to top

    • Dodd, C.H. The Epist1e of Paul to the Romans. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 193Z.
    • Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Whole Bible. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1935.
    • Kennedy, H.A.A. The Theology of the Epistles. trans. John Dingle. London: Gerald Duckworth and Co. LTD., 1959.
    • Morris, Leon. New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing, 1990.
    • Piper, John. The Justification of God. Grand Rapids, mich.: Baker Book House, 1983.
    • Prat, Fernand. Theology of St. Paul. trans. John L. Stoddard. Maryland: Newman Bookshop, 1958.
    • Ridderbos, Herman. Paul: An Outline of His Theology. trans. John R. DeWitt. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975.
    • Scott, Charles Anderson. Christianity According to St. Paul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961.
    • Stevens, George B. The Pauline Theology. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900.