Saturday, July 09, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 11, Part 4

Paul AFOGWe continue to look at Paul’s eschatology in 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 this post we will discuss Wright’s exegesis of Romans 9-11. 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, here and here. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Wright now moves into the main passage for discussing Paul's eschatology. He introduces the passage with four important points for their understanding. 1) If Romans is mainly about God, this passage is all about God - the righteousness of God being revealed in the Messiah. 2) This passage is a retelling of Israel's story, making sense of God's promises in light of the exile and based on prophecies of covenant renewal fulfilled in the acts of Jesus and sending of the Holy Spirit. 3) The section is a response to the problem that most Jews rejected Jesus and, in Paul's time, were rejecting the apostolic preaching of the gospel. 4) This is a highly structured section. It is a deep chiasm with 10.9 right at the middle as the key point. This is all about redefining God's people around Messiah and faithfulness to Him.

Paul is out on his own at this point, thinking through a fresh model of Jewish eschatology in the light of Messiah and spirit. 1157

There are no Jewish texts, in scripture or in the second-temple period, that address the question of what happens when the Messiah turns up and most of Israel rejects him, when the covenant is renewed and most of Israel opts out. 1160

(Romans 9-11) is all about the fulfilment of Deuteronomy 30: in other words—though this is almost always missed by commentators!—covenant renewal and the end of exile. It is all about God’s righteousness revealed in the good news of the Messiah for the benefit of all who believe. 1164

Paul’s point is that Jesus is the prophesied end of the great narrative of Israel, providing justification through his life, death and resurrection and the sending of the Spirit. Faith alone in Christ is sufficient to receive the declaration of "righteousness" now, that is membership in God's people and assurance of the same ultimate verdict at final judgment.

We should not be surprised, then, to find such a clear statement of ‘justification by faith’ at just this point. Indeed, were it not that western theology did not really know what to do with Romans 9–11 as a whole, still less with Paul’s reading of Deuteronomy 30, one might have supposed that it would have been Romans 10:9–13, rather than Romans 3 or Galatians 3, that would have been the parade text for this greatest of Reformation doctrines. 1167

Paul’s basic claim about Deuteronomy 30 is that the great change in Israel’s fortunes which that chapter describes—or, as many of his contemporaries would have said, prophesies—is precisely what has come about through Jesus the Messiah...the Messiah is the end, the goal, the final destination of Torah. This is where the narrative had been heading all along. 1172

Most of Israel failed to attain this righteousness because they failed to pursue it through faith. Wright sees 9.6-29 as a retelling of Israel's story through the perspective of its fulfillment in Christ's cross (resurrection in the parallel passage in 11). God's choosing of Israel and then casting them away is fulfilled in Christ's life and crucifixion. This is how the promise to bless the world will be fulfilled. This, to Wright, is not "replacement theology," but "fulfillment theology."

(Israel's) use of ‘works’ (sabbath, food-laws, circumcision and so on) as the way of ‘hunting for the law of righteousness’ was the way of using some of the badges of Torah-keeping as the way of doing what Deuteronomy 9 warned them against, setting themselves up to be inalienably God’s people, and keeping everyone else at bay. But this itself was not outside the divine purpose. That is the point of the ‘stumbling stone’ image (Rom. 9.30-33). Israel has misused the Torah, but God seems to have intended that Israel should do just that. 1178

To confess Jesus as lord and to believe that God raised him from the dead is to ‘attain the Torah’, the nomos dikaiosynes, the ‘law of covenant membership’, the point towards which the whole Pentateuch was heading. 1179

Paul, I propose, is re-reading the story of Abraham’s family in the light of the great vertical which he knows is coming up, the messianic event which had forced him to rethink everything, to conclude that this was what it had meant all along. 1182

Romans 9:6 is a point, directed at gentile Messiah-believers in Rome, which says, ‘Do not imagine that your inheritance of Israel’s promises means that you can discount their history, their scriptures, their very election. On the contrary, their entire story stands firm, makes sense in its own terms and is the foundation of yours as well.’ 1186–1187

Romans 9.6-23 does not say that Israel's rejection of Jesus forced a change in God's plan, but that it was God's plan all along. Even the rabbi's would have agreed that the Old Testament narrowed the focus of who faithful Israel was. What they didn't see was a wholesale rejection of the Messiah. God's plan in this was to use the elect people to show the extent of the infection of Adam's sin, gather it into one place and allow Messiah as Israel's representative and substitute to finally deal with it. This section sets this up and paves the way for the final section in chapter 11.

The promise to Abraham always envisaged that God would justify Gentiles by faith (Galatians 3:8) and that God would ‘justify the ungodly’ (Romans 4:5). Now, it seems, the principle of election itself points the same way. 1188

The specialness of Israel consisted precisely, according to Romans 5:20 and 7:7–25, in being the people in whom, even paradoxically through Torah itself, ‘sin’ could do its worst, increasing and bringing into sharp focus the ‘problem of Adam’, allowing sin to grow to its full height. 1190

Might it not be that Paul was determined now to understand the history and purpose of Israel in terms of the Messiah, not only as representative but also as substitute? What if Paul were re-reading the whole history of Israel through the lens of the cross? 1192

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