Thursday, June 16, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 10, Part 6

Paul AFOGToday I finish the discussion of  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. In this section Wright continues the discussion of what Paul means by “justification” when he has redefined the idea of election around the actions of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Again, this is a very brief summary of this very important book.  Previous posts on this chapter are here, here, here and here. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Wright now moves on to 2 Corinthians 3 to show that this idea of election redefined around the Messiah and the Spirit (with both juridical and participationist implications) is a central part of Paul's thought (New Covenant).

The spirit has redefined ‘election’, the covenant status of the people of God. The covenant is not now a matter of possessing or hearing the Mosaic law. It is a matter of the transformation of the heart, wrought by the spirit. 983

He then moves to Philippians 3.2-11 to show that "Paul’s argument is solely about ‘covenant membership’ and its redefinition through pistis" (984). The promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Christ, without circumcision or torah, and God's people now show their "covenant status" through hearts and lives changed through the Spirit.

To belong to God’s freshly defined people, one must be ‘in him’, wearing the badge of pistis which was the sign of his own solo accomplishment of Israel’s vocation (‘faithfulness’). Being ‘in the Messiah’, as clearly here as anywhere in Paul, is the new way of saying ‘in Israel’. Not to draw that conclusion would be to deny that he really was the Messiah, which for Paul would mean denying that he had been raised from the dead. 989

Paul has neatly expressed the past, present and future tenses of what it means to be a Messiah-person: the righteous status already given ‘in the Messiah’; the present sharing of his sufferings; the future resurrection. 991

Wright sees Colossians 2 as a warning against returning to Judaism from Christ and going back to "temple, circumcision and torah," much like the warning in Galatians.

Once we cut through the complex language, these are the three things he wants to get across, and they are striking indeed: temple, circumcision, Torah. This can only be a veiled warning against the attractions of the Jewish way of life. 992–993

Wright now moves to Romans 3.21-4.25 to show that God's truth and righteousness are shown, despite human sin, with the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant through Jesus Christ. This would be the solution to the sin problem and the “setting right” of the world . The Old Covenant was unable to do that and thus God did it through the faithful Messiah Jesus.

The helplessness of God’s people causes them to cast themselves on the truth and righteousness of God. That is the underlying logic of Romans 3:20, solidly supported in the passage that now follows. 996

Whereas in most biblical and post-biblical thought the divine covenant faithfulness was appealed to in favour of what God might do for Israel, here the point is what God always planned to do through Israel, and has now done through the faithfulness of the Messiah, the ‘faithfulness’ which led to and climaxed in his self-giving to death. 998

Election is therefore redefined, not just around the Messiah and his faithful death, but around the Messiah’s faithful people. This new people is composed, not only of Gentiles, of course, but of Jews and Gentiles alike who display this pistis, the badge of membership...this radical reworking of election is not the abolition of Torah, but what Torah intended all along. 1001–1002

Section 4 continues to show that covenant membership was always based on faith in the promises of God by Abraham, and by those who imitate his faith in God's promises of life and worldwide kingdom. "The character of ‘faith’ alters depending what sort of God one believes in." (1006) Abraham trusted that God was a promise keeping God and God rewarded him.

The strands of Genesis 15 are thus tied together. The whole seed; the whole inheritance; guaranteed through the Messiah, as himself the gift of the one God, to all those who share (by the spirit, Paul might have said) the faith of Abraham. Election redefined. 1007

Romans 5-8 continues the theme of "righteousness" from chapter 1-4 by showing how the declaration of righteousness in the present is assured in the future. This happens through the death of the old nature and separation from the Adamic curse (7), resulting in attachment to Christ, and the indwelling Spirit to transform the believer. Paul sees this as a "new exodus" defined around Messiah Jesus. First, Christ recapitulates the mission of Israel successfully, and then gives the Spirit, so that God's worldwide people can do the same as "joint-heirs" with Him.

Those who belong to the Messiah are now, he suggests, married to him, in a fruitbearing relationship. The obvious echoes are of the relationship of YHWH with his people, a theme which comes into prominence precisely in the context of the ‘divorce’ of exile and the ‘remarriage’ of return. 1010

The ‘new Exodus’ theme, like so much else in Romans and Galatians, is rooted in the divine promise made to Abraham. The covenant promises in Genesis 15 were focused on the seed and the inheritance; the patriarch was told that the seed would obtain the inheritance by first being enslaved and then being rescued and brought home to their promised land. This Passover-sequence—liberation from slavery by coming through the Red Sea, arriving on Sinai and being given the Torah and finally being led by the presence of YHWH himself in the pillar of cloud and fire until they arrived in the land—this sequence is now recapitulated, majestically in chapters 6–8. 1013–1014

But what is of most concern to Paul, speaking as he says ‘to those who know the law’ (7:1), is to tell the story of Israel because it is the story of the world’s redemption...One cannot, in other words, appreciate the fruit which grows in Romans 8 unless one has understood the roots—the very Jewish roots—in Romans 7. 1015

The resurrection from the dead, the ultimate hope of Israel, the gateway to the ‘life of the coming age’, is the prospect for those who through the spirit constitute the renewed (though still suffering) ‘elect’, the transformed and now worldwide people of the one God. 1020

Wright concludes the section on Romans 5-8 by discussing the role of the Spirit in leading and transforming the believer and focuses on the covenant language (love) at the end of chapter 8 which assures that the declaration made with the believers initial faith will correspond with the final approval at the judgment.

But the idea of being ‘led’ by the spirit, on this journey through the wilderness to the ‘promised land’, indicates that the implicit temple-theme of 8:9–11 is being followed through in terms of the guiding presence of God himself in the wilderness tabernacle, in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night...And this means that, for Paul, the indwelling spirit is taking the place, within the church as a whole and within each of the Messiah’s people, of that fiery, cloudy pillar, the living and dangerous presence of God himself. 1023

The unbreakable covenant love of YHWH for his people, arguably the most central expression of Israel’s election, has been focused on, and revealed in, the son. And this unbreakable love is the secure resting-place of all those who, by the spirit, are ‘in the Messiah’. This is not something other than ‘justification by faith’. This is what justification looks like in solid reality: battered, but believing; suffering, yet sustained by the spirit; dying, but knowing that death itself has been defeated. 1025

Between (1) the beginning of the work of the spirit and (2) its triumphant conclusion, Paul envisages a spirit-led life which does not in any way contribute to initial justification, or to the consequent assurance of final justification which that initial justification brings, but transforms the life of the person who has already come to faith. 1030

Wright then moves on to the role of torah in his view of election. Torah was not just laws for the nation of Israel, but it was a story about what God is like and what he wants in relationship that is revealed in the nation of Israel. It was never meant to be a law code that people could keep and become right with God. That was why sacrifices were required. Throughout its history Israel failed to be what God called them to be. Torah bound people in Adam's sin, but "drawing ‘sin’ onto one place, in order that it might be condemned there (1034), it prepared for Jesus to take the curse of the law/covenant upon himself and fulfill it. Belief in Christ and the transformation of the Spirit upholds and fulfills the torah

Paul saw Torah not simply as a set of commands, but as a narrative: the story of creation and covenant, of Adam and Abraham, focused particularly on Exodus and finally articulated in the covenantal warnings and promises at the end of Deuteronomy. All this Paul fully affirmed as divine in origin, positive in intent, and fulfilled (albeit in unexpected ways) through the gospel. 1033

Torah is actually upheld through Messiah-faith. Again and again Paul speaks of the work of the spirit as enabling people to fulfil Torah in a way previously impossible. 1037

Wright's conclusion...

The promise that one day YHWH would return to the temple, rescuing his people and bringing justice to the world, turned into the announcement that he had indeed returned, in and as his people’s representative. He was himself, in some sense, the one who built the temple and the one who would dwell in it. And the temple he built was not made of timber and stone, but of flesh and blood. Here the major themes of Paul’s thought meet and merge: Israel’s God, coming back to rescue his people and the world and to dwell with them for ever; Israel itself, God’s people, redefined around the Messiah and spirit who were themselves the means and mode of that dwelling. 1041

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