Monday, July 11, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 11, Part 5

Paul AFOGThis brings us to the conclusion of 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. This post continues and concludes the discussion of Wright’s exegesis of Romans 9-11 and concludes the chapter on Paul’s eschatology. 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 to Paul's eschatology in chapter 11. As expected, this is also a Jewish eschatology reworked around the cross and resurrection and centered on Messiah Jesus. He sees 11.13-15 as the main point, the center of the chiasm, within this passage. The big point is that the Gentile Christians should be welcoming the Jewish believers into the church because the covenant is based on the Jewish promises and the Gentiles, the same as Israel, are elect members of God's family, whose mission is to bring others in. The role of Gentile Christians is to live out the Jewish promises so that Israel sees, becomes "jealous," and trusts in their own Messiah.

If Israel has embodied the casting away of the Messiah, Israel will now find a way to share his resurrection as well...the one clear signpost is that if Israel, as the Messiah’s people, have lived through the historical equivalent of his crucifixion, being ‘cast away for the reconciliation of the world’, then we should expect some equivalent of the resurrection. 1198–1199

The high probability then seems to be that whenever one or more Jews become ‘jealous’, and turn in faith to the God who has now revealed his covenant plan and purpose in the Messiah (10:1–13), that event ought to be understood by the church, particularly its gentile members, not as a peculiar or even unwelcome event but as another bit of ‘resurrection’, to be celebrated as such. 1200–1201

The Messiah himself has ‘revealed’ the ‘mystery’ of God’s plan, not only the plan that led to the messianic events of Jesus’ death and resurrection but the plan that now leads forwards, pointing into the otherwise unknown future for Gentile and Jew alike. 1206

Now Wright moves away from the center of the chiasm to the next ring of the outline in 11.11-12. The point here is that Paul is opposing the idea that God is replacing Israel with "a new Gentile body." God's purpose in Israel was always to bring all humanity into his kingdom and restore creation. Ultimately this is done through Israel's Messiah who gathers all sin and death, Israel's included, into himself and defeats it. In this way, even Israel's rejection of its Messiah has a redemptive effect on the world. Paul's point is that, if the rejection of Israel had this effect what effect would its "fullness" have?

The point of ‘election’...was to choose and call a people through whom the sin of humankind, and its results for the whole creation, might be brought to the point where that sin, and those results, could at last be defeated, condemned, overcome. 1208

Eschatology, even messianically revised eschatology, is all about peering ahead into the darkness, believing in certain clear fixed points but not being able to say what exactly will happen next. 1209

He then moves to other side of the outline (16-24) and discusses Paul's olive tree picture. The point here is if God was able to graft in "wild" Gentile branches into the Abrahamic family and promises (the olive tree) he certainly can re-graft the unbelieving Jews back into the family. Thus, the Gentile Roman church should not discount the idea of the Jews who oppose them being saved. This is not about Jews coming to Christ at the end of time, but is focused on accepting and welcoming them into the church now.

Gentiles who have come to believe in the Jewish Messiah have no business to act superior to them. God is not finished with them; they have not been ‘replaced’ or ‘disinherited’ or ‘substituted’. God has already brought plenty of them to faith in their own Messiah; we can now understand the reasons why they were ‘hardened’ in the first place; so God will undoubtedly want to bring plenty more to faith, too. That is the emphasis of the ‘olive tree’ picture. 1212

As in Galatians, the gentile Messiah-believers have come to belong to the tree which is Abraham’s family. This would make no sense unless Paul, here as elsewhere, is narrating the gentile believers into the story of Israel. They are part of that single family: neither the beginning of a new family in which Jews are not welcome (as Paul is afraid some Roman Messiah-followers may think); nor even a brand new family into which a few of Abraham’s old family happen to have been included; but the same family which began with Abraham. 1218

The ‘tree’ into which they have been grafted remains Israel’s, the single ‘tree’ of Abraham and his seed. Israel’s covenant narrative, however much it has had to be retold in biblically dark tones as in 9:6–29, remains the divinely intended, and never rescinded, plan of salvation. 1220

Wright then moves further out in Paul's chiastic structure to 11.1-10. In this section Paul is dealing with the idea that God has switched his plan from Israel to a Gentile only church. To contradict this he starts with himself, and then to the "remnant" of Jews within the church to show that there has always been a Jewish element in the church. It is small because the majority of Jews are "hardened," which does not mean that the church should give up on preaching the gospel to them, but that they should continue calling them to transforming faith in Christ.

The hardening of the mind, or the veiling of the heart, is the continuing condition which is only to be transformed by the spirit’s revelation of God’s glory in the face of Jesus—in other words, through what Paul elsewhere refers to in terms of the ‘call’ of God and the work of the gospel of Jesus, resulting in Messiah-faith. 1226
The ‘lump’ and the ‘branches’ of 11:16 are emphatically not beyond the reach of God’s salvation. God has not abandoned the Jewish people; their ‘tripping up’ (11:11) does not mean that they have ‘fallen completely’, that no more Jews can ever be part of the second ‘Israel’ of 9:6b.

Wright wants to get to the main point in the chapter in verses 25-27, but first deals with background questions. The first is what kind of "mystery" is Paul talking about in verse 25. His take is that it is not a new revelation of something but it is a new perspective which would "join up the dots on God's eschatological plan. It is how God will fulfill Deuteronomy 30 and other passages of restoration in the present and in the future. 

First, on the ‘mystery’. It is highly unlikely that when Paul says ‘I do not want you to remain in ignorance of this mystery’ he is referring to a new ‘mystery’, a secret piece of wisdom or doctrine which he is about to reveal...what Paul says here summarizes, and draws out the significance of, the whole previous section from verse 11, rather than adding something substantially new. 1232

Much western scholarship has exemplified a characteristically protestant tendency to allow eschatology to trump ecclesiology 1235

Next Wright deals with the issue of what is the "hardening" of Israel and the meaning of "all Israel will be saved" in Romans 11.25-27. He believes the common view in the West is that the "hardening" of ethnic Israel is a temporary condition that will be removed when Christ returns so that "all Israel will be saved." He says that hardening is always a prelude to judgment in the scriptures and that Jews are not bound in that condition, but have the same opportunity to respond in faith to Christ in the present. The remnant of ethnic Israel thus grows in the same way as the Gentiles as they are added by faith. The point would be that Gentiles should not dismiss Jewish evangelism. The "all Israel" at the end would be the full "olive tree" of God's people, Jew and Gentile.

Paul is not saying that all those presently ‘hardened’ are bound to remain in that condition. On the contrary. That is the position he fears the gentile Christians in Rome may adopt, and he is arguing against it, all the way from 11:11 to 11:32. 1237

But it is in my judgment far more likely that Paul is here referring to the ‘hardening’ coming upon one part of Israel, as in 11:1–7, especially verse 7. This, as we have seen, was for a purpose: with the ‘remnant’ on the one hand and Paul’s Gentile mission on the other, not only will Gentiles continue to ‘come in’, but the ‘remnant’ itself will become very much larger, moving towards an eventual ‘fullness’ (verse 12). 1239

Instead of saying ‘Israel in verse 25 is ethnic, so it must be in verse 26 as well’, we ought to say ‘Israel in verse 25 consists of the whole people of God, within which many Jews are presently “hardened” but into which many Gentiles are being incorporated, so “all Israel” in verse 26 must reflect that double existence.’ 1244

Paul wants to be sure that the gentile Christians in Rome have really understood grace: all who are saved are saved by God’s grace, and that means that ethnic origins, whether Jewish or gentile, generate no claim in themselves. 1251

He then moves to 11.28-32 to discuss "disobedience and mercy for all." The point again is that God is relating to both Jews and Gentiles in the same way in the present. All come to Him through the Jewish Messiah. God is calling both groups into one family now.

The Jews who are at present ‘hardened’ are not to be seen as automatically outside the saving purposes of God...he is not talking of a subsequent mercy for presently ‘hardened’ Jews. He is referring to a continuing possibility that ‘some of them’ (11:14) will be made ‘jealous’ and so provoked into faith and salvation. 1252–1253

God has shut up all people in disobedience, so that he may have mercy upon all. All must come the same way. Paul has now applied this to the gentile Messiah-followers in Rome, to warn them away from a kind of inverted ethnic pride. There is no room for arrogance of any kind. 1255

Finally Wright moves to the edges of the chiasm to discuss the lament (9.1-5) and the praise (11.33-36) that frame the entire section.

Jesus, as Israel’s representative, was the one whose saving death and resurrection provided the pattern which enabled Paul to glimpse the astonishing ‘mystery’ that, instead of Israel being redeemed and the nations coming in to see what all the fuss was about, the Gentiles would be redeemed so that the Jewish people might become jealous and come back into the ‘tree’ which was their own tree in the first place. 1257

This brings us to the conclusion of chapter 11 and Part III of Book II. Wright's focus has been the theology of Paul focused on Jewish monotheism, election and eschatology redefined in light of the Messiah, the presence of the Spirit and the newly formed εκκλεσια, God's unified covenant family. Paul was a "Messiah-man," who helped to unify the newly created church around this theology and the covenant mission to bring the kingdom to all the world.

Paul did indeed transform the hope of Israel. He took that hope, to which he had clung as a young and zealous Pharisee, and thought through what it meant to say, as he found himself compelled to say, that this hope both had been fulfilled through Jesus, in his kingdom-establishing death and resurrection, and the life-transforming spirit, and would yet be fulfilled in the second coming of Jesus and in the work of that same spirit to raise all the Messiah’s people from the dead. 1258–1259

My overall case in Part III has been that Paul’s theology, the prayerful and scripture-based exploration of the foundational Jewish themes of monotheism, election and eschatology, was designed to supply this lack, thus elevating something which (with hindsight) we now call ‘theology’ to a position, in terms of a community and its worldview, which it never previously possessed and which it still does not possess outside Christianity itself. 1260

The covenant, as far as Paul was concerned, always envisaged God’s call of Israel for the sake of the nations. Paul believed that it was the covenant in this sense that had been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of the Messiah, and that was being implemented through his own apostolic mission. 1263

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