Revisiting 2 Cor 5:21 - a thought on the parallelism
It’s late, but just a thought about Wright’s interpretation of 2 Cor 5:21 before I assess D. MacLeod’s critique. Some suggest that the parallelism in 5:21 (Christ becoming sin, us becoming righteousness) makes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner a certainty (cf. off of the top of my head e.g. John Piper’s treatment in Counted Righteous in Christ). However, the verse actually speaks of the righteousness of God, not Christ, so already there are seeds for suspicion. Indeed, another way of appreciating the force of the parallelism and the point of the i[na (‘so that’) suggests itself.
My suggestion involves the structure of the context, and the implications of this context for the point behind the i[na in 5:21. The construction I want to draw attention to is not difficult to spot, but it develops and strengthens Wright’s argument concerning the context of the verse.
v. 18a ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ’ (Statement concerning the message)The pattern is clear. After Paul speaks of the content of the message, God’s reconciling activity in Christ, he repeatedly and immediately turns to describe his ministry. This pattern works through verses 18-20, and so is well established by the time we confront v. 21. Hence, when Paul starts off this verse with mention of the content of the message (21a), the text following the i[na would naturally be expected to make a statement concerning Paul’s ministry.
v. 18b ‘has given us the ministry of reconciliation’ (Statement concerning Paul’s ministry)
v. 19a ‘in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them’ (Statement concerning the message)
v. 19b-20 ‘entrusting the message of reconciliation to us’ (Statement concerning Paul’s ministry)
v. 21a ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin’ (The message)If to ‘become the righteousness of God’ in 5:21b was a further statement of clarification concerning the nature of God’s reconciling activity, the i[na could be understood as rather misleading given the context and the established dual pattern of thought. In other words, the ‘message’/‘Paul’s ministry’ structure would be dropped, precisely when it would be expected, namely in a i[na construction following three verses evidencing precisely this dual pattern. What one would expect, of course, is a statement concerning Paul’s ministry, which is, according to Wright’s reading, what one finds.
v. 21b ‘so that (i[na) in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (Paul’s ministry - 6:1 continues this emphasis on Paul’s ministry with the words: Sunergou/ntej de. kai..)
This suggestion thus weighs against the argument that Wright’s position fails to take account of the fact that the context also deals with the content of the message, and not just Paul’s ministry. While the content of the message is indeed part of the context, it is precisely so in conjunction with statements concerning Paul’s ministry. And the structure would suggest that a i[na following a statement concerning the message of reconciliation would lead to that which the ‘message’ statements have been paired with throughout, i.e. a statement concerning Paul’s ministry.
This is not, I suggest, about mixing context and content. Rather, this is simply the task of exegesis, to understand the relations in a passage given its context. In a similar way, for example, in my own research I have attempted to shed new light on the difficult verse, 1 Cor 7:35 by detailing how the semantic relations of this verse are anticipated in 7:32-34.
The ‘new creation’ mentioned in 5:17 is another contextual factor that weighs heavily in favour of Wright’s argument, but that is another post – and its getting late now. Admittedly, the above argument needs to be sharpened, but I hope the basic point is nevertheless clear.