Sunday, July 17, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 12, Part 1

Paul AFOGChapter 12 begins Part IV of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. This post will cover the introduction and first few sections of chapter and the next post will cover the rest of the chapter. 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.

Part IV moves us into the final part of Paul and the Faithfulness of God. In this section Wright tries to fit Paul into his world and show how his thought intersected with the Roman, Jewish, and Greek thought that was all around him. How did Paul take his newfound understanding, reformed around Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the Spirit and God's people, and make them understood in this complicated world of the 1st century? He lays these out in a chiastic form to balance his descriptions of Paul's world in Book 1, chapters 1-5.

I wanted to explore the ways in which the main emphases of Paul’s theology, his revised monotheism, election and eschatology, would relate to the three worlds in which he lived, those of the Jews, the Greeks and the Romans...I hope that by laying out these different elements in this way, and attempting to show the way they belonged together in Paul’s own mind and (not least) in his actual life and work, we may be able to collect ourselves in from the blurred edges and arrive at some preliminary conclusions about where Paul belonged as a figure of first-century history.  1269

In chapter 12, THE LION AND THE EAGLE: PAUL IN CAESAR’S EMPIRE, he begins by discussing the significance of the Roman world, especially Caesar, to Paul's thought and presentation. He sees Paul's approach as "nuanced," having elements of the "already" in which, being in exile, we must be good citizens of the empire, but because Christ's rule has already invaded the "already," we must work to "flee the uncleanness of Babylon" and rescue people for God's "new, alternative kingdom." He also would see Christ in conflict with the imperial cult.

The two biblical positions belong in fact within the same narrative: (i) at the moment, God has given the pagan rulers sovereignty, and Israel must navigate its way to a seeking of the welfare of the city which does not compromise its ultimate loyalty, but (ii) the time will come when God will overthrow the wicked pagans, not only rescuing Israel but setting it up as the new, alternative world kingdom. Eschatology is all: the key question is, ‘what time is it? 1275

The next section discusses Paul's interaction with the Roman empire. By seeing Christianity centered in the εκκλεσια, which owed its first loyalty to Christ, Paul was challenging the culture of the ancient world, especially the Roman vision for the world. Christ now ruled and His "united and holy community" had a worldwide task as they awaited His final triumph. This certainly made the Romans very nervous.

For Paul the gospel of Jesus the Messiah created and sustained a particular community. For Paul, those who were en Christo constituted a ‘people’, a family of ‘brothers and sisters’, with mutual ties and obligations indicated by the word koinonia. Their allegiance to Jesus as Christos and Kyrios, and to one another within this ‘fellowship’, was their primary identity. 1277

Paul’s narrative world, the story he assumed and which he wanted his communities to assume as their own, was consciously global and cosmic. It spoke of the one creator God, of a single human race and of the focusing of that human race on to Abraham and his family. 1279

Like other Jews, (Paul) believed that the One God had appointed human authorities and intended that they should be obeyed. Like other Jews, he believed that the One God would hold such authorities to account. Unlike most other Jews, he believed that this holding-to-account had already happened, and that Israel’s Messiah was already installed as the true ruler of the world. 1283

The next section "Jesus is Lord and Therefore...”, deals with the implications Jesus lordship has for the relationship of church and empire (state). The Roman claim to allegiance was at odds with that of Christ, and the gospel provides a very different worldview than that of Rome. So how to deal with the conflict? He begins with a description of the "enemy." Paul widens out the "enemy" from a political state to include the spiritual forces behind it. Both the spiritual and physical authorities have rebelled against God and must be opposed, but by spiritual means.

Paul can think of the Olympians on the one hand, and know that they are a fiction; of Caesar on the other hand, and know that his theological claims are false. To this extent, the very ordinary human who hides within the apparently divine status is parallel to the unpleasant little demons who hide behind the imposing facade of the fictitious pagan pantheon. 1285

Paul recognizes that the victory which the Messiah’s followers must now implement is not the transfer of ordinary political and military power from one group to another, but the transformation of that power itself into something different altogether, something in fact much more powerful. The greatest power in and beyond all creation, as he says at the end of his greatest chapter, has now been unveiled in action, and it remains the one thing that can withstand all other powers. For Paul, its nature and its name was Love. 1288

The next section is entitled "The Apocalyptic, and Therefore Political, Triumph of God." Apocalyptic literature is designed to reassure God's people of His sovereignty even though this evil world is dominated by political powers under the thumb of the Satan. In Paul's day this would have been Rome. Wright focuses on the more apocalyptic letters of Thessalonians and Philippians to show that Paul was teaching that Jesus has already triumphed over the forces of evil but we must live in the present evil world in a way that "worked out" that triumph. We must obey the government to a point, but resist, with the weapons of love, unity and holiness, government's pretensions of deity and sovereignty until Jesus' returns to set up his final earthly kingdom. Thus, Those that rely on government for their "peace and security" have placed their faith in the wrong god. (1 Thess. 5.3)

Paul is declaring (1 Th. 5.3-7) that in any case the proud tyrants of this world, with their global protection-rackets (‘do what we say and you’ll be nice and safe’), are part of the old order of things, the night-time world which will be swept away when the new day, which has already dawned in Jesus, bursts at last upon the drunk and sleepy citizens of darkness. N. T. Wright, 1291

The Philippians, believing that Jesus was the only one at whose name every knee should bow, were faced with the task of working out, in the practical details of everyday life within Caesar’s world, what it would mean, what it would look like and feel like, to explore the soteria which Jesus offered instead. Philippians 1.28, 1295

For Paul, as for the gospels, the Messiah is already reigning—and it is the unity and holiness of the church that demonstrates that fact to the puzzled and possibly angry continuing rulers and authorities. This, he says, is the sign that signifies the coming final destruction of the arrogant powers of the world, but the sign to the Messiah’s followers that their ultimate rescue is at hand. 1299

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