Thursday, April 28, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 9, Part 2

51YyKVMJh L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_We continue with chapter 9, Book Two and Part III of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. This is a long chapter but I will cover it in two posts, recognizing that this is still a very brief summary of this very important book. The first part of chapter 9 is here if you would like to read it. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

The Spirit is also key to the redefinition of election. He also, to Paul, was to be identified as God. The Spirit was the new Shekinah of YHWH returned to his temple, the church.

For Paul at least, the spirit was not simply a generalized or sub-personal divine force that later theology would turn into a third ‘person of the Trinity’. As far as Paul was concerned, the spirit, just like Jesus, was doing what YHWH himself had said he would do. The spirit was the further, and ongoing, manifestation of the personal presence of the one God. 711

Wright then points out several passages that show that the Spirit is the personal presence of God completing the Exodus of His people, as promised in Deuteronomy and the prophets. In Paul's language about the Spirit and Son, Wright sees a "a nascent Trinitarian monotheism," not in the philosophical language of the Church Fathers, but of 2nd Temple Judaism.

God sent the son; God sent the spirit of the son, making ‘you’ no longer slaves but sons, just as in the Exodus story. And the point, not to be missed in the middle of all this dense exposition (Galatians 4.3-11), is that with this sending of son and spirit we now know the name of God. We have discovered, fully and truly, who YHWH is. 718–719

The Spirit, understood as the outpouring of the personal presence and energy of the one true God, enables his people to do what the Shema required, to love God with the heart, with the strength (Romans 6:12–23; 8:12–17)), with the mind (8:5–11; 12:1–2) and if need be, as with Akiba himself, with the life (8:31–39). 722–723

The spirit is the one through whom the new Exodus comes about, and with it the Deuteronomic fulfilment/renewal of the covenant, the keeping of the Shema, the loving of God from the heart and (not least) the establishment of the community as the true temple. 727

In Ephesians Paul discusses the main symbol of this Jewish monotheism redefined around Jesus: the unified church. No longer was the temple the worldview symbol of God's people, but it was the gathered, unified by the Spirit, praying community. This new community would challenge both the Jewish and Roman rulers and only its theology built on the resurrection and unity in the Spirit would provide the strength to endure the persecution that would follow.

You, he says to the ex-pagans of western Asia Minor, are no longer foreigners or strangers, separated from God’s people: you are being built into the new temple. The central symbol of Israel’s life, of second-temple Jewish aspirations, is being reconstructed—in bits and pieces, scattered all over the pagan world. It is no longer a temple of stone, timber and fine decorations. It is a temple consisting of human beings, a structure ‘in the lord’, the Messiah being its cornerstone and the living God dwelling within it in the person and power of the spirit. This is Jewish monotheism all right, but thoroughly and controversially revised and reframed. 729

Ultimately the goal is not to "prove" that Jesus is God, but that He is the Messiah-King who will perform what YHWH was predicted to do in bringing the kingdom - the complete restoration of God's rule. (1 Corinthians 15)

When Paul wrote of Jesus (and the spirit) in the ways we have observed, he was doing so, not in order to affirm their ‘divinity’ for its own sake (indeed, he was presupposing it), but in order to affirm that in and through Jesus and the spirit the one God had established his kingdom in a totally new and unexpected way. The point of declaring ‘Jesus is lord’, with the full sense of Kyrios we saw earlier, was not, then, that one might feel happy about having made a crucial dogmatic confession. The point was to sign up under the banner of this Kyrios, implicitly at least against all other claimants to that title, for the kingdom-work in which Paul and his colleagues saw themselves engaged. 733

In the final section of the chapter, Wright turns to Paul's view of the plight of evil and God's solution to it. Again, unsurprisingly, he sees it firmly grounded in Jewish creational monotheism and reworked around Jesus and the Spirit. The Jewish view recognizes that evil is in the world, though it does not focus so much on its entrance. It is there, in the garden at the beginning of the story, (the serpent) and is made worse by idolatry, quest for empire and the poor moral decisions of humanity.

The various accounts of evil functioned, not as scientific ‘explanations’, but as signposts to dark and puzzling realities. Human rebellion, idolatry and arrogance, mingled with shadowy forces from beyond the present world, had infected the world, humans and Israel itself. The narratives drew attention to different apparent elements within the problem, and left it at that. 740

The fact that one cannot really understand evil is itself an element of creational monotheism, a demonstration that evil is an intruder, a force not only bent on distorting and destroying the good creation but also on resisting comprehension. If one could understand it, if one could glimpse a framework within which it ‘made sense’, it would no longer be the radical, anti-creation, anti-God force it actually is. 742

Idolatry, in other words, isn’t just something you choose to do from time to time. It gives away the responsibility which humans should be exercising over the world to unpleasant and destructive forces. Within human life itself, idolatry becomes habit-forming, character-shaping, progressively more destructive. It enslaves people. Ultimately, it kills people. And it allows creation itself to collapse into chaos. 743–744

Wright's point here is that Paul's widened understanding of the Messiah and his role led to a widening of his understanding of the plight of the world. If Messiah had to die to "save" the world, the world's problem was much deeper than could be dealt with by the OT law. Sin infected all people, Jewish and Gentile alike. What was required was the death and resurrection of the Messiah  which provided new life through the Holy Spirit to his followers and defeated the spiritual powers of evil, so that humans were no longer subject to the law and power of sin. This would be the first step in the larger plan to redeem all of creation.

(Paul) came to the conclusion that the fact of the crucified and risen Messiah, and of his place at the heart of Jewish monotheism, went hand in hand with an equally radical revision of ‘the plight’ both of the world and of Israel. 751

When humans are ‘saved’, rescued from sin and its effects and restored to their image-bearing, heart-circumcised, mind-transformed vocation, then, according to Paul, creation itself can and will be rescued from the bondage to decay which has come about through the human derogation of duty. As for the humans themselves, they will be raised to new life as part of this larger scene, rescued from the death which was the natural entail of that sin. 754–755

The plight to which the gospel offers the divine solution was the plight of the whole created order, with the specifically human predicament as a vital element within that larger picture but by no means comprising the whole picture in itself. 757

Paul takes the problem back deeper and further than Israel to the real enemy, sin and death. The corruption of Adam is so deep that it required a change of heart, a deep cleansing of the infection of sin and death within the human being done by the Holy Spirit. Paul the Pharisee saw this happen with pagan Gentiles in a much more profound way than he had seen in his torah devoted peers. Both Jew and Gentile needed a "new heart."

In several passages Paul makes it clear that this spirit-given character is in fact the kind of human life to which Israel’s law had been pointing all along, but which it had been powerless to bring about. The giving of the spirit was seen by Paul, after all, as one of the central eschatological gifts: it was another sign, correlated exactly with Jesus’ resurrection, that the new age had dawned at last, and that with it a new transforming power had been unleashed into the world. 759

The problem of ‘sin’, in other words, was not simply that individuals faced the divine wrath. The problem was that Israel, being infected with sin like everybody else, could not carry forward the divine purpose...What is required, and what has been provided in Messiah and spirit, is the ‘justification’ of a new people, in advance of the final day: a transformed covenant people, a remodeled Abraham-family. 760–761

‘Salvation’ was now revealed as God’s rescue from the ultimate enemies themselves. The death and resurrection of Jesus transformed Paul’s Pharisaic belief in the bodily resurrection of righteous Jews, to share in the coming kingdom of the One God, into a radicalized version of the same hope: the hope for a totally renewed cosmos and for the people of this One God to be given an immortal physicality to live in it. 762

The coming wrath that will be revealed by God in judgment also deepens the 2nd temple Jewish view of the plight of the world. The problem was more than pagan idolatry or even Israel's unfaithfulness. But the death and resurrection of Jesus shows that the problem of sin and death was an infection that went back to Adam and thus, more universal than they had thought. It required the death of the Creator and a transformation from inside through the Holy Spirit.

The creator God would indeed save the world through Abraham’s seed. Israel would indeed be the light of the world. But all this, Paul believed, had been fulfilled, and thereby redefined, in and around Israel’s Messiah and the holy spirit. What Israel and Torah between them could not do, Israel’s God had now done. He had been faithful to his promises. 772

Discerning the crucified Jesus at the heart of the Shema meant that Paul had signed on in the service of a lord who had won his kingdom through his own death at the hands of Rome, and who had promised that his followers would inherit their own glory through similar suffering. 773

No comments: