Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 11, Part 3

Paul AFOGWe now continue through the final chapter 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 chapters 9-11, Wright has been showing that Paul’s theology is a reworking of the Jewish doctrines of monotheism, election, and, in chapter 11, eschatology. In this section he shows Paul’s reworked eschatology from several passages in Paul’s letters. Again, this is a very brief summary of this very important book. Previous posts on this chapter are here and here. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

In the final section Wright takes on the controversial subject of Paul's eschatology in relation to the nation of Israel. He looks at Romans 9-11 as the main text here along with a few others. In this post though, we will first look at Galatians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. He outlines several of the views on this and emphasizes the need to...

Let the text to be the text, rather than make it say what we want. There is after all no one ‘Christian’ view on these matters. If it turns out that Paul says things I do not want to hear, I shall live with it. If it turns out that I say things which Paul doesn’t want to hear, perhaps he will one day put me straight. If it turns out that Paul says things the twenty-first century doesn’t want to hear, it’s better that we get that out into the open rather than sneakily falsifying the historical evidence to fit our predilections. 1133

He starts with Galatians 4-6. He says that this section is driven by Paul's eschatology. Messiah has come and has brought the new age. If we try to live under the covenant of the old age, it is like "trying to build the new Jerusalem while we are living in exile in Babylon." This is such an important issue to Paul that he urges the Galatian church to expel the false teachers who are trying divide the one family of the Messiah. In Wright's view Paul urges the whole church to live as one family, as the "Israel of God."

Here again we see Paul’s revised eschatology, exactly as in 3:23–29: now that the Messiah has come, we are no longer under the Torah. And—a brilliant polemical side-thrust, but fitting exactly into the same revised eschatology—we no longer take orders from ‘the present Jerusalem’. We belong to the new Jerusalem, not in the sense of ‘going to heaven when we die’, but in the sense that the long-awaited return from exile, and indeed rebuilding of the temple, has happened. The heavenly Jerusalem has come to earth in the person of Jesus the Messiah and the power of the spirit. 1139

It is important to remind ourselves that he is not saying that being a Gentile is now what matters rather than being a Jew, but rather that ethnic background of whatever sort counts for nothing within the community of God’s people. 1140

Paul’s whole argument is that the one God has one family, not two, and that this one ‘seed’ consists of all those who believe in Jesus the Messiah, with no distinction of Jew and Greek, slave and free, male or female. 1144

(Paul) is himself a living, breathing demonstration of what it means that the world is crucified to him and he to the world. This, he suggests as in 2 Corinthians, is what ‘new creation’, or at least its emissary, looks like as he walks around the world. 1151

Wright then goes to 1 Thessalonians 2 to show that Paul was not "Anti-Semitic" in his comparison of the suffering inflicted on the Thessalonians by their Gentile neighbors to his description of the suffering of Jesus inflicted by "the Jews." Paul is doing the same thing as the prophets in warning his people that rejection of God will bring judgment in this life, even before the final judgment.

This, to repeat, does not make him anti-Jewish, still less anti-Semitic—any more than Josephus was anti-Jewish for blaming the disaster of AD 70 on violent Judaean troublemakers. Paul would have snorted at the very suggestion...In any case, his point here is that the Judaeans who opposed Jesus and the first Christians were typical, precisely not of ‘Jewish’ behaviour, but of local opposition, which in the Thessalonians’ case was obviously non-Jewish. 1155

To say that divine wrath has come, or is coming, upon wrongdoers is to say, by clear Pauline implication, that human wrath is inappropriate. 1156

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