Manifest in the Body: Deeds, Sin, Righteousness, and Glory

The startling language of 2 Cor 5:21 has commanded the attention of biblical scholars and theologians alike, and may with profit be used as an indicator of the exegete’s overall understanding of Pauline theology. A major aspect of the ongoing debate over this verse focuses on the identity of Paul’s “we” language as personal, apostolic or general, and therefore what the word dikaiosyne might mean. Especially important to this discussion is whether or not the verse constitutes a Pauline articulation of what comes in Christian tradition to be known as “the great exchange,” and, if so, whether the transformation should be envisaged in terms of soteriology, apostolic privilege, or something more grand. In dealing with these questions, this paper will take note of the prominent language concerning the physical or glorified body in the verses surrounding 2 Cor. 5:21, and consider the importance of outward, visible manifestation in Paul’s description of the righteousness of God. Taking this as a point of departure, I will offer a reading of chapter 5 that comes to a climax in verse 21, where the “righteousness of God” here is portrayed as something tangible and even perhaps physical, displayed not only in the apostolic ministry but also in the community that does not receive the grace of God “in vain.” Where in virtually every other case in the Pauline corpus dikaiosyne theou refers to God’s very own righteousness displayed before Israel and the Gentiles, here it is used exceptionally in order to indicate the outward display of the new creation in human beings.