Paul’s announcement of the reign of grace seems innocuously theological. But there was already supposed to be an age of grace operating in the first century, inaugurated by the divine benefactor, Augustus Caesar. James Harrison ( Paul’s Language of Grace in Its Graeco-Roman Context (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 2, 172) , 2-3) writes: “The emperor Augustus . . . had ushered in an ‘age of grace’ that eclipsed all his rivals by virtue of the seemingly endless charites he was able to marshal for his beneficiaries.”

Later, he adds (213-4): “In antiquity, the reign of Augustus represented a turning point in beneficence. The charites of Augustus had acquired soteriological, eschatological, and cosmological status within his own lifetime throughout the Greco-Roman world. The grace of the Caesars would remain a continuing refrain.” as evidence he cites a decree concerning a provincial calendar for the Asian League from 9 BC: “Since Providence, which has divinely disposed our lives, having employed seal and ardour, has arranged the most perfect culmination for life by producing Augustus, whom for the benefit of mankind she has filled with excellence” (228-9). The world is abuzz with the good news ( euaggelia ) of an Augustan age of grace.

Even Paul’s “innocuously theological” claims have a political edge.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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