Thursday, May 19, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 10, Part 2

Paul AFOGWe continue in chapter 10 of 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. His big point is that Jesus accomplished everything that Israel expected YHWH and His Messiah to do. Again, this is a very brief summary of this very important book.  I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

In the next section Wright moves into his main argument- that Paul sees the purpose of Israel accomplished in the death, resurrection and enthronement of Jesus as He brings in the New Covenant predicted in the Prophets. This was exactly what 2nd Temple era Jews expected the Messiah to do.

The purpose for which the covenant God had called Israel had been accomplished, Paul believed, through Jesus. The entire ‘theology of election’ we have examined in the preceding pages is not set aside. It is brought into fresh focus, rethought, reimagined and reworked around Jesus himself, and particularly around his death, resurrection and enthronement. 815–816

The Messiah, in other words, is ruling the world while God himself acts, through him, to defeat all his enemies...the narrative role which Paul assigns to Jesus in this passage (Ps 110) is that of Israel’s Messiah. There can be no doubt that the biblical quotations and allusions are to passages commonly used as messianic in early Christianity. N. T. Wright, 821

In passage after passage in Paul the point being made is that Jesus, as Messiah, has drawn together the identity and vocation of Israel upon himself. 825

Jesus, as the Divine Messiah had completed the purpose and mission of Israel and the torah. As the Messiah King he brings those who are "in Christ" into relationship and sharing in his promised kingdom in the present and more fully in the future.

The resurrection also declared, for Paul, that the divine purpose for Israel had been fulfilled, uniquely and decisively, in this Messiah, this Jesus. He was, in effect, Israel in person. And it was precisely as Messiah that he therefore represented his people. 828

Paul sees Jesus as the one who has been established as Messiah through his resurrection, drawing Israel’s history to its strange but long-awaited resolution, fulfilling the promises made to Abraham, inheriting the nations of the world, winning the battle against all the powers of evil and constituting in himself the promise-receiving people, so that all ‘in him’ might receive those promises, precisely not in themselves but insofar as, being ‘in him’, they are incorporated into the True Jew, the one in whom Israel’s vocation has been fulfilled. 830

In the Messiah Jesus, God has launched his project of bringing the human race together into a new unity, and those who believe in him are summoned into that koinonia tes pisteos, that fellowship of faith, in which their previous differences are transcended. 833

Wright understands the righteousness of God and faithfulness of Jesus in Romans 3-4 from this perspective: Jesus as the faithful Israelite, the Messiah, provides the new Exodus for the idolatrous world and unfaithful Israel into the promised blessing of the covenant. Romans 3-4 are basically a commentary on Genesis 15 making the point that Abraham's justification meant, mainly, that he was brought into God's covenant and its promises, through faith. From the beginning the covenant was intended to deal with the sin problem and lead to a universal restoration of creation.

If the covenant God is going to bless the world through Israel, he needs a faithful Israelite. In 3:21–26 Paul argues that this is exactly what has now been provided. Once we understand Christos as the Messiah, Israel’s representative, Israel-in-person if you will, the logic works out immaculately. (a) The covenant God promises to rescue and bless the world through Israel. (b) Israel as it stands is faithless to this commission. (c) The covenant God, however, is faithful, and will provide a faithful Israelite, the ‘faithful Israelite’, the Messiah. 839

The covenantal perspective on election, and its redefinition through Jesus the Messiah, provides the larger category within which ‘juridical’ and ‘participationist’ categories can be held together in proper Pauline relation. 846

Abraham’s faith in God the creator, the life-giver, is thus well re-expressed in terms of Christian faith in the raising-Jesus God. Same God, same faith, same justification. But this is no mere parallel, no mere wearing of the same badge. This is about the fulfilment of a two-millennia-old promise, the unveiling of the faithful covenant justice of the God who told Abraham he would give him an Adam-rescuing family, and who has now done exactly that. 850

He then moves on to Galatians 2-4 to show that Paul now saw this universal covenant people oriented around the Messiah, rather than Torah. The point here is that there is one family of God, not separate Jewish and Gentile family. Jesus is the fulfillment of Torah and the Covenant promises and His people are defined by faith in the crucified, resurrected Messiah.

Far too many discussions of ‘justification’, which is a central and vital topic in Galatians, assume that ‘salvation’ is more or less the same thing, which for Paul it certainly is not. 855

What matters is not now Torah, but Messiah. Justification is all about being declared to be a member of God’s people; and this people is defined in relation to the Messiah himself. 856

Once you understand how the story works, the great covenant story from Abraham to the Messiah, you can see (a) that the Torah was a necessary, God-given thing, with its own proper role within that story, and (b) that the God-given role of Torah has now come to a proper and honourable end—not that there was anything ‘wrong’ with it, but that it was never designed to be permanent. 862

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