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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The idea of unity is one of those that are most pervasive in the apostolic writings; and naturally so. Christianity is the religion of reconciliation; and, fully recognizing the radical character of the antagonisms that reveal themselves in experience, it everywhere discloses a profounder unity in which these opposites are harmonized. While it does not assume the function of a philosophy, it does claim to give, from the moral and teleological standpoint, a synthetic view, and, indeed, the only synthetic view, of reality; in Christ it finds the way, the truth, and the life by which the unity of God and man and the whole universe of being must be finally achieved.

On the cardinal issue, existence is seen both as a unity and as a duality. The duality is wholly and tragically real. Physical evil is no illusion, but is the correlate of moral evil; and moral evil is not an inevitable stage in the evolution of moral good, but is sin, that which absolutely ought not to be. Yet this duality exists within the circumference, so to say, of an eternal unity before and after; an original self-existent principle of evil is excluded by NT thought. On the other hand, it attempts no solution of the problem how duality has arisen out of pre-existent unity; it is content to trace sin back to the beginning of human history, or, if further, to the agency of a Tempter who had himself fallen from his first estate. Its interest in the problem is not at all speculative, but solely practical-to emphasize, on the one hand, the fact of man’s innate sinfulness, and, on the other, the fact that sin is precisely that which has no point of origination in the Divine causality, but is in essential antagonism to the nature and will of God.

1. The Being of God as the primal source of all unity.-(a) As against all polytheistic or dualistic systems, apostolic thought posits this as its first truth (1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:6, James 2:19). And this ensures a unity in nature and history. Although the marks of imperfection and disorganization are everywhere seen upon the face of Creation, although it is in bondage to the law of decay and corruption, and is the scene of apparently fruitless tragedy (Romans 8:20-22), yet it is pervaded by a unity of rational purpose and control (Romans 8:28, Acts 27:22-24); and this is true not only of natural processes and events, but of those that are brought about by the volition of men or other free agents (Acts 2:23; Acts 21:10-14, 2 Corinthians 12:7).

(b) The Divine nature is ethically a unity-light in which there is no darkness at all. God is ‘faithful’ (1 John 1:9, 2 Timothy 2:13), unchangeably self-consistent (James 1:17). His different modes of action upon different objects only prove the immutability of His moral nature (Romans 2:6-10, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2 Peter 2:4-9). And the centre of this unity, from which all His ethical attributes derive, is Love; the ultimate explanation of all that God does, and purposes, and permits is-God is Love (1 John 4:8). Hence, also, the Righteousness of God, His Will as imperative for all beings capable of ethical life, is a unity. His Law is an ethical organism, expressing in every part the same principle (Romans 13:8-10), to violate which in one point is virtually to violate the whole (James 2:10). Hence, again, sin is a unity. Within all individual sins (ἁμαρτήματα) there lives that (ἡ ἁμαρτία) which makes them to be sinful. St. Paul almost personifies this principle of sin (Romans 7:11; Romans 7:14). St. John defines it as ἀνομία, lawlessness, the assertion of an evil egoistic will against the perfectly good will of God (1 John 3:4). Sin is not seen in its true character until it is seen in its unity.

2. Unity of mediation.-The explanation of the dualism we are conscious of in experience is not found, as in Gnosticism, in the transition from the transcendent God to the created universe. The unity of the Divine self-existence is not lost when related to other being; its fullness is not portioned out in successive separate emanations. There is one God, and one Mediator (1 Corinthians 8:6, 1 Timothy 2:5)-He who became in human history the ‘man Christ Jesus.’ In Him, as the Image and Only-begotten of the Father, the undivided fullness of the Godhead dwells (John 1:14, Colossians 2:9); and He is not only, by His Incarnation, the one Mediator to mankind of all Divine life, truth, and saving grace, but the Divine agent in all creation (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16), and the principle of its unity (Colossians 1:17). See Fulness; Mediation.

3. The unity of man.-(a) The generic unity, physical and moral, of mankind (already seen in the OT and in Stoicism) is a presupposition of Christian soteriology; human nature has everywhere the same spiritual capacities, needs the same salvation, and is capable of appropriating it by the same means (Romans 1:16, etc.). This unity is categorically affirmed (Acts 17:26); historically it has its source in descent from one common primal ancestor (Romans 5:14-19, 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Corinthians 15:47), but ultimately in the fact that man as man is the image and offspring of God (Acts 17:28-29).

(b) Hence there is unity as regards responsibility. Apart from special revelation, man possesses a rational and moral nature, made for the knowledge and love of God, with capacities for discerning the self-manifestations of God in His creative and providential activities (Acts 14:17, Romans 1:19-21); and especially does conscience bear witness to the sovereign imperative of His righteousness (Romans 2:14-15).

(c) But, actually, unity in responsibility has become unity in sin. Human character has become corrupt at its hereditary source (Romans 5:12; Romans 5:17-19; Romans 5:4 Ezr Romans 3:26, Apoc. Bar. liv. 15, 19); human life universally characterized by wilful sin (Romans 3:9-20), involving guilt (Romans 3:19) and that separation from God (Ephesians 4:18, Colossians 1:21) which is death (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13).

4. Unity of redemption.-(a) For the common human need one common redemption is provided (Acts 4:12, Romans 10:4; Romans 10:12, 1 John 2:2), to be received by the same means (Romans 4:11-16, Galatians 2:16, 1 John 1:7-9), working to the same issues of forgiveness (Romans 8:1, Revelation 1:5), reconciliation to God (Romans 5:1; Romans 5:10, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21), enduement with the Spirit (Romans 8:1-16), eternal life (Romans 5:17; Romans 5:21, 1 John 5:11; 1 John 5:13; 1 John 5:20). Possessing such fellowship with God in Christ, as the source of their common life and object of their common faith, Christians also possess a unique spiritual affinity and fellowship with each other. And, in the Apostolic Age, the consciousness of unity reaches its intensest point in the conception of this fellowship, alike Divine and human, as embodied in the Church. In this, racial and social distinctions-Jew and Gentile, bond and free-serve only to emphasize and enhance the fact that those who are united in Christ, however different in all else, have immeasurably more in common than those who are separated by Christ, however alike in every other respect (1 Corinthians 7:22, Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:11-22). So, also, distinctions of custom and even of conviction do not disappear (Romans 14:5); yet even such diverse interpretations of truth and duty ought only to evoke a fuller realization of supreme truth and duty, the faith and love in which all are one. Unity is emphasized as against mere uniformity (1 Corinthians 12). In the spiritual body, as in the physical, a rich diversity of gift and function is necessary to the complete expression of the organic life-principle (Romans 14:4-6). It is only in its complex collective unity that renewed humanity can reach its Divine ideal (Ephesians 4:11-13).

(b) But in the Pauline Epistles it is seen that, Christ being what He is, universal Mediator and Lord, He is destined to become by His reconciling work the centre of a unity that embraces all existence, and that is essential even for the full redemption of man. Christ must be Head over all things to His Body, which is the Church (Ephesians 1:22); hostile elemental forces must be subdued (1 Corinthians 15:24, Ephesians 1:21); all things, whether on earth or in heaven, must come under His reconciling sway (Colossians 1:20), and the whole creation be emancipated into the liberty that belongs to the glorified state of God’s children (Romans 8:21), that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).

5. The final unity.-As has been said, the NT attempts no solution of the problem how duality has arisen out of an original unity, and the same is largely true of the converse problem, how the existent duality is to be finally overcome, resolved into the eternal unity of Divine truth and love. One thing only is seen as a certainty for Christian faith: of such unity Christ is the sole cause and ever-living centre. He must reign: it is unto Him that all things must be subdued; it is as the fruit of His sacrifice that God will reconcile all things unto Himself; it is in His name that every knee shall bow, Him that every tongue must confess as Lord, to the glory of God the Father. But in apostolic thought (which here virtually means Pauline) the age to come seems to be viewed in different perspectives. In the one the curtain falls upon an unresolved or, at any rate, imperfectly resolved dualism. Christ’s enemies are made His footstool; yet their subjection, if not merely physical, is not completely moral. Evil is still evil, though in chains and, to this extent, subject to the righteousness of God. This is the vision which arises when the final issue is viewed from the side of human freedom and responsibility. If absolute finality is not ascribed to the spiritual choices of the present, the future of those who in this present world reject the life-giving Spirit is left in unrelieved gloom. From another point of view, the necessary consummation of Christ’s victory is seen to be nothing less than the moral unification of all existence. The ruin wrought by Adam and the redemption wrought by Christ seem to be co-extensive in human history (Romans 5:16, 1 Corinthians 15:22); and in the dispensation of the fullness of the times it is God’s purpose to bring all things again into unity (ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι) in Christ (Ephesians 1:10; cf. Colossians 1:19-20, Philippians 2:9-11). When Christ’s work is done, God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). And this is the vision that arises when the final issue is regarded from the side of Divine sovereignty and purpose. As to the means by which such a consummation may be hereafter achieved the NT is silent. Again it has to be said that its interest in the problem is wholly practical, not speculative-to emphasize the fact that there is complete, eternal deliverance and blessedness for all who are Christ’s; that in some sense, at some time, by some means beyond our ken, Christ will be universally victorious, because God is God, and God is Love.

Robert Law.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Unity'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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