For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom. 10:12-13).
The primary theme of Paul's epistle to the Romans is the relationship between Jews and Greeks, meaning God's Old Covenant people and His newly recruited New Covenant people. The church in Rome was to be a living example of this truth: there is no ecclesiastical difference between covenant-keeping Jews and covenant-keeping gentiles. They stand judicially before God equally.(1) This was a major theological and institutional issue in Paul's day because the Old Covenant was still in force. It ended in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the temple.(2)
The absence of covenantal differences between redeemed Jews and redeemed Greeks pointed to the healing of a breach that extended back to Abraham, a breach marked by confession and by a physical sign: circumcision. A new confession had replaced both Abraham's and the Greeks': "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2). A new sign had replaced circumcision: baptism. This was the fulfillment of the promise made by God to Abraham, not its negation. God's promise to Abraham, that he would be a father of nations (abraham), had always been appropriated by Abraham and his heirs through faith, not law. "And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were" (Rom. 4:12-17). The church of Jesus Christ, grounded in saving faith, should therefore be an institution marked by cooperation between formerly divided confessional groups.
The healing of this ancient breach, according to Paul, was intended by God to enable His church to experience the advantages of the division of labor (Rom. 12). Jews and Greeks together could build the church and thereby build the kingdom of God on earth and in history. They were told by Paul to cooperate with each other. The New Covenant church would soon completely replace the Old Covenant church, he taught. It would be stronger than its predecessor because it brought Jews and gentiles together in a joint effort.
Jews and gentiles in the church were identified as covenant-keepers. They stood together judicially through their oath of allegiance to Christ and through the dual oath-signs of baptism and the Lord's Supper. This fact raised a crucial question: What of covenant-breaking Jews and covenant-breaking gentiles? Did they also stand equally before God? Clearly, they did not stand equally with covenant-keepers. They stood condemned. "What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:9-12). But did they stand equally with each other, i.e., equally condemned?
This question raised a second question: Would covenant-breaking Jews and covenant-breaking gentiles stand before God in history equally condemned after the close of the transition era, which, in retrospect, we know ended in A.D. 70 with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple? It is this question that Paul answers in Romans 11.(3) His answer is that a future era will arrive in which covenant-breaking Jews will, in large numbers, become covenant-keepers, joining the New Covenant church. This will mark the culmination of the era that Paul designated as the fulness of the gentiles. The church in Paul's day, as in ours, was an institution filled overwhelmingly with gentiles, and almost devoid of ex-Jews. "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Rom. 11:25-27). This will not always be the case, Paul taught.
The difference between covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers is God's special grace. This has always been the difference. But during the transition era, special grace was not shown to large numbers of Jews. Nevertheless, they continued to believe that they were under God's special grace, and they had evidence to prove it: the law, the prophets, and the temple. Paul in Romans presents the case against them: not possessing special grace, they were outside the New Covenant, which was the only way to salvation. Peter had announced this same message at Pentecost: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
Jews were suffering from a delusion, Paul taught. They believed that they were God's chosen people. They were in the process of losing this legal status. They were being progressively disinherited. God's final announcement of this disinheritance came in A.D. 70, but the definitive announcement had already been made by Jesus. "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43). The church, Paul teaches in Romans, is the true heir. "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Rom. 8:13-17).
Jesus had told the Jews that they were without excuse. "I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:43-47). Biblical law condemned them. "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:19-20).
If a man stands condemned before God, how does he know this? If he is eternally responsible before God, and has failed to meet God's standard, how does he know this? The Jews had God's written revelation. They knew. But what about the gentiles? Were they equally responsible? Are they still? If they are, then how can the revelation to them be equal to the revelation given to the Jews? How can they stand on equal footing with covenant-breaking Jews unless they have equal revelation? After all, as Jesus said: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:48b). If they are equally condemned, did they receive equal revelation?
The Old Covenant was fading away in Paul's day. The period from Christ's ministry to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was a transition period. Jesus announced, "But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you" (Matt. 12:28). He was obviously inaugurating His kingdom during the earthly phase of His ministry. But a great transfer of the kingdom still lay ahead. In His final week, before His crucifixion, He told the chief priests and elders of the Jews: "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43). This transfer began at Pentecost and was completed in A.D. 70. In between was the period in which the gospels and the epistles were written. After centuries of silence, God had begun to speak authoritatively once again to certain individuals, who then wrote down what they had been told. This intervention had begun with the ministry of Jesus. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews called this transition period these last days. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds" (Heb. 1:1-2). This transition period closed in A.D. 70.(4)
The revelation given to the Jews was superior to anything given to the Greeks. The Jews had been given God's revealed law. "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:1-2). "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Rom. 7:12). The Jews of Paul's era had seen Jesus and heard His warnings. "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee" (Matt. 11:21-24). So, the gentiles were not under the same degree of responsibility as the Jews were. In the hierarchy of horrors in the eternal judgment, covenant-breaking Jews will be in worse shape than covenant-breaking gentiles.
In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul raises the question of epistemology: "What can men know, and how can they know it?" All men, not just Jews, are supposed to call upon the name of the Lord fir their deliverance from sin and its effects. God requires this. But how can all men know that they must call upon God? In the first two chapters, Paul explains why: they are all condemned by God's revelation of Himself in nature. Some are also condemned by the written law of God: Jews. Others are condemned by the work of the law that is written in their hearts: Greeks. But all are condemned.
Men's initial knowledge of nature, including themselves, condemns them. This is the preparatory work of general revelation. It prepares all men for either the eternal condemnation of God's final judgment or their reception of saving grace in history. Their practical knowledge of God's law through general revelation carries with it a negative eternal sanction, but it also carries with it positive sanctions in history: blessings associated with law and order, meaning God's law and God's order. Without this restraining factor of general revelation, there could be no history. Life would be a relentless war of all against all, as Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan in 1650. This war would destroy the basis of human society through fallen mankind's total depravity run amok. God, in His grace, restrains this war by means of common grace.
Men can know what God requires of them because they are made in God's image. This image is the basis of the dominion covenant that binds everyone.(5) "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Gen. 1:26-28). Men know what God requires of them because God has made them both personally and corporately responsible to Him for the lawful administration of whatever God has placed under their authority.
Then what is the basis of men's access to God's deliverance? Paul's answer: by hearing the word of God. "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:14-17). This is special revelation. General revelation condemns all mankind. Special revelation, whenever men are enabled to believe by God's special grace, redeems them.
What has all this got to do with economics? As writers love to say, "everything." Paul's sections on epistemology help us to answer the epistemological questions of economics: "What do men know, and how can they know it?"
The economist faces the same question that faces every social theorist: "Is man the individual sovereign, or man the collective?" This raises the next question: "Should the social theorist begin his investigation of the way the social world works with the assumption of the sovereign individual or the sovereign collective?" This is the question of the one and the many.(6) How can these be reconciled? Humanistic philosophers struggle with it interminably. Christian philosophers can answer it by an appeal to the doctrine of the Trinity: the equal ultimacy of unity and plurality.(7)
In economics, the two theoretical extremes are laissez-faire individualism and socialism-communism. In my day, these two extremes have been personified by Murray Rothbard, an anarcho- capitalist, and . . . ? Who? Who has best defended the idea of full communism, where all of the means of production are owned by the civil government? I can think of no one. There have been Marxist economists, such as Paul Sweezy and Paul Baran, but they have followed the lead of their master, Karl Marx. They have refused to spell out the details of how such an economy can work, either in practice or theory. If the government owns all of the means of production, most notably people, how can it allocate them rationally? How can central planners call forth men's best ideas, however risky these ideas may be to implement? How can State bureaucrats assess both the risk and the uncertainty of any project, rewarding entrepreneurs according to their contribution to the overall value of production? For that matter, how can the value of production be accurately estimated by anyone in a world without either free markets or free-market prices?
Oskar Lange attempted in the late 1930's to respond to Ludwig von Mises' critique of socialism. Mises had argued that the socialist economy is irrational because it has neither private ownership nor free-market prices. Without free markets, especially capital markets, no one knows the value of production or any component of it.(8) To answer Mises, Lange relied on the idea of a central planning bureaucracy that would set all prices by trial and error, seeing which prices would "clear the market."(9) No Communist government ever tested his theory, including his beloved Poland, to which he returned from the United States when it went Communist after World War II. He served as a senior economic advisor, but he never was able to get the Polish government to implement his theory. He never published a description of the institutional arrangements necessary to implement his theory. Yet from 1937 to 1991, economists who had ever heard of this debate -- very few -- usually dismissed Mises with a brief remark that "Lange completely refuted Mises."
The existence of prices implies the existence of money. It also implies the ideal of consumer choice -- a most unsocialistic idea. What kind of monetary system would be consistent with the government's complete ownership of the means of production? This question was never answered by any Communist economist, either in theory or practice. Finally, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed politically, mimicking its moribund economy, without theoretical or practical answers ever having been offered by its defenders. Like the Soviet Union's publishing of the complete works of Marx and Engels, the experiment failed before the project was completed.
Most economists are somewhere in between anarcho-capitalism and full communism, just as most social theorists are somewhere in between radical individualism and radical collectivism. But merely being in between two extremes is not an epistemologically coherent position unless the theorist has offered a way to reconcile the two extremes in a consistent, comprehensive system of interpretation.(10) An academic defender of the mixed economy should be able to present a theoretical case for the system. But economists generally shy away from presenting a theoretical case for the mixed economy, as opposed to supposedly practical, ad hoc defenses of this or that intervention by the State. Economic theory today has become an arcane mixture of statistical data, abstract mathematical theorems, and ever-popular ceteris paribus ("other things being equal") assumptions. But, in the real world, nothing remains constant -- a fact noted long ago by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus.
Paul's case for men's universal knowledge of God (Rom. 1:18-22) and the work of God's law written on ever heart (Rom. 2:14-15) provides the basis of a systematically biblical Christian epistemology. Here is the basis of shared knowledge, which in turn makes possible the development of a covenantal theory of knowledge that integrates the idea of individual knowledge with the idea of shared knowledge. The Christian theorist should begin with the image of God in man as the foundation of social theory. He need not despair of not being able to move from individual knowledge and decisions to shared knowledge, which in turn makes corporate policy-making theoretically compatible with individual valuations. Men are not autonomous. They are not isolated units of valuation. They are part of multiple corporate entities that are responsible before God and whose decision-makers can and must act as God's lawful representatives. Corporate entities reflect both the plurality and unity of the Godhead.
The Division of Labor
Adam Smith began Wealth of Nations (1776) with a discussion of the economic benefits of the division of labor. This set the pattern for economic analysis ever since. It would have been better if he had begun with the question of private ownership, but the question of ownership raises the question of God, who as the creator established His legal title to the creation. Smith was trying to avoid theological issues in Wealth of Nations. The issue of the division of labor seemed less theological, more universal, as indeed it is. But it does not get to the heart of the supreme economic question: Who owns this?
The division of labor is the issue of cooperation. Smith argued that personal wealth is increased through economic cooperation: voluntary exchange. So is national wealth. He recommended the abolition of civil laws that restrained trade. Trade increases the participants' wealth, and the nation's wealth, too. This was the great insight of Smith's book. Economists have been debating this issue ever since. So have politicians.
Trade is based, Smith said, on economic self-interest. But trade assumes a common universe of discourse: common understanding and perception. How does this common universe come into existence? Its existence is not self-evident. This is the issue of epistemology. It is this issue that Romans answers.
The epistle to the Romans deals with the issue of the traditional division between Jews and Greeks. It is concerned with healing divisions between groups of covenant-keepers. In discussing the basis of this healing, Paul provides answers to the wider social issues of knowledge, trade, and economic cooperation.
The epistle to the Romans is generally known as a book about grace. Indeed, it is the premier book on grace. But it is a book about common grace as well as special grace. It raises the question of how God's common revelation to mankind serves only to condemn them all. This common revelation of God is held back in unrighteousness by Jew and gentile alike (Rom. 1:18-22). It is this active, willful suppression of the truth of God that God's special grace overcomes. This common revelation of what God requires of every person also condemns men, for all of them disobey it (Rom. 2:14-15). This is also overcome by special grace. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
Because Romans is about common grace, it is about cooperation: covenant-breakers with covenant-keepers. Because Romans is about special grace, it is about cooperation: Jews with Greeks in the church. Paul's model of the church as a body in chapter 12 can be used to describe the functioning of the economy. It is less a great machine than a great organism.
1. William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Paul's Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1982), p. 3.
2. David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987).
3. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1959, 1965), II, ch. XVII.
4. Kenneth L. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989). Available for free on-line at www.freebooks.com.
5. Gary North, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis (2nd ed.; Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987).
6. R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy (Fairfax, Virginia: Thoburn Press,  1978).
7. This was one of Cornelius Van Til's themes.
8. Ludwig von Mises, "Economic Calculation in a Socialist Commonwealth" (1920), in F. A. Hayek (ed.), Collectivist Economic Planning (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,  1963).
9. Oskar Lange, On the Economic Theory of Socialism (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964). This is a reprint of Lange's articles that appeared in the Review of Economic Studies, IV (1936-37). The book also contains Fred M. Taylor's essay, "The Guidance of Production in a Socialist State," which was published originally in the American Economic Review, XIX (1929).
10. Of course, there is the problem raised by Kurt Gödel's bothersome theorem: no system can be both internally consistent and complete, i.e., autonomous. But that is for philosophers to contend with.
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