Monday, August 22, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 14 (Part 2)

Paul AFOGChapter 14 continues Part IV of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. Chapter 14 looks at how Paul’s theology would have interacted with the world of Greek and Roman philosophy. 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.

Wright now looks at Paul's relationship with Stoic philosophy and critiques the view of Troels Engberg-Pedersen, who argues that Paul "is basically operating within the essential structure of Stoic ethics." Wright sees this idea as ahistorical, as though "the interpreter understands how a train of thought ‘ought to work’ better than the person, two thousand years ago, who was thinking it." Paul cannot be understood through a 21st century worldview. He must be understood from within his 1st century worldview.

Paul was not a first-century moralizing philosopher who happened to hold, on the side as it were, a few strange views about Jesus, and about the meaning and effect of his death and resurrection. These were, for him, the very centre. 1385–1386

It is the task of the historian to get inside the mind of, and be able to expound the thought of, people whose worldviews, mindsets, aims, motivations, imaginations, likes and dislikes are significantly different from our own at, potentially, every point. 1388

He continues his critique of Engberg-Peterson by pointing out that he misunderstands both the Jewish thinking and environment in which Paul lived and the way Paul reorganized that worldview around Jesus and His resurrection. Paul may have  connected the Stoics by using some of their own ideas, but Paul was no Stoic.

Whenever Paul does speak of that transition (conversion), in his own life or that of others, the point is never that everyone ought to have some such transition for (as it were) its own sake. The point is always Jesus. 1396

Paul does not envisage ‘resurrection’ as meaning ‘being in heaven’...The word ‘resurrection’, for Paul and all other early Christians, was never a fancy way of speaking of ‘going to heaven’. It was always and only about the renewal of actual bodily life—which meant bodily life in a recreated cosmos (see below)...He is looking forward to the Messiah coming from heaven to change the present body into a glorious body like his own. 1399–1400

The goal is not eudaimonia, but the Messiah himself, and the primary character-strength required in the present if one is stretching forward to that future is again agape, love. All this is basic to Paul’s actual and implicit engagement with the philosophical world of his day. 1404

The conclusion of the chapter is basically that a lot more work needs to be done on Paul's relationship to Gentile philosophy and politics. What Wright does assert is that Paul never ceased to view the world as a Jew, who saw in the crucified and resurrected Jesus, the beginning of the "Age to come" prophesied in the Jewish scriptures and continued in the church through the Spirit.

When he says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in the Messiah, he does not mean, as did some who believed that all truth was contained in the Bible, that one could throw all other books away. 1407

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