Anthropological significance in the emergence of the concept ‘conscience’ in the Pauline Epistle

This paper argues that the ethical capability of human beings under the new covenant has been recreated by examining the usage of the term ‘conscience’ in the Pauline Epistles. The Hebrew word corresponding to ‘conscience’ is not found in the Old Testament. The emergence of the concept in the New Testament reveals that the understanding of human beings is distinct from the Old Testament. Furthermore, the unique term ‘good conscience’ not only shows the difference in perspective between Judaism and Hellenism, but also implies that human nature is ontologically renewed and transformed.
First, this work traces the origin and development of the term ‘conscience.’ The Stoic school advocated the concept of conscience as it sought to regain individual moral freedom from totalitarian and superficial ethics due to an autocratic political system in the 1st century BC. The Apostle Paul borrowed the concept from the Stoics and employed it in his epistles. He highlighted the importance for individuals who were oppressed by Jewish communal tradition to have freedom in making moral decisions.
The use of the term ‘conscience’ in Corinthians reflects the spirit of the Stoic conscience. The Apostle Paul argued for the ethical principle of moral freedom limited to mutual awareness among the early church community. In Romans, he insisted that Gentiles perceived sins through their conscience, that is, “the law written on their hearts.”
While these usages parallel the Stoics’ conscience, the Apostle Paul advanced the concept to a unique form and included a new perspective on theological anthropology in his later epistles. In 1 Timothy and Titus, the term ‘good conscience’ always juxtaposes ‘faith,’ and ‘seared/defiled consciences’ are linked to unbelieving. The words ‘faith’ and ‘good conscience’ are interdependent. ‘Good conscience’ is a decisive attribute and indication of a believer. Thus, ‘good conscience’ suggests that the ethical capability of a ‘new creation’ has been recreated and elicits moral discernment.

This writer anticipates this work serving as a catalyst for discussion in at least three areas:
(1) Theological significance of the emergence of the new concept ‘conscience.’
(2) Relationship between the fulfilment of the Law and moral freedom under the New covenant.
(3) Ontological transformation of human ethical capabilities within the discontinuity of the Old and New Testament.

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