Friday, August 26, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 15 (Part 2)

Paul AFOGChapter 15 continues Part IV of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. Chapter 15 looks at how Paul’s theology would have interacted with the world of 1st century Judaism and the Jewish sacred texts. 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.

Next Wright deals with Paul's statement that "to Jews, I became as a Jew." He stays with the traditional view that this was a cross-cultural mission strategy. The persecution of Paul shows clearly that he did not live like a Jew regularly. His identity was in Christ and he identified with all who followed Messiah. Christ had fulfilled the old covenant and Paul no longer lived under it. However, he was willing to give up those rights as an evangelism or discipleship strategy when necessary

Paul does not say, in other words, what some dearly wish he had said, namely that ‘Jews and gentiles should each stick to their respective ways of life.’ Nor does he say, more specifically, that ‘Jews are to remain practising Jews and not live as Gentiles. 1435

Being a ‘Jew’ was no longer Paul’s basic identity. He backs it up: for the sake of his mission ‘to the people who are under the law’, that is, the Jewish people, he became like someone under the law, even though that was not now ‘who he was’ at the deepest level. 1436

Paul does not see Torah simply as a set of commands, a lifestyle. He sees it, as Josephus saw it, as Daniel saw it, as Qumran saw it, as a narrative; a narrative that was straining forward to an explosive dénouement; a narrative that, in Paul’s case, had reached that dénouement in the Messiah. 1439

Paul is asking the Corinthians to be prepared to abandon their ‘rights’ for the sake of the gospel. That is what he does on a regular basis. And ‘becoming a Jew’ means, for him, putting on hold his ‘right’ to live in a new way, not indeed anomos theou but definitely ennomos Christou. 1443

So did he consider Christians to be a "third race?" In a way he did, but to follow Christ had both continuity with Judaism and some discontinuity. So, in many ways they were a "third race" to which unbelieving Jews could be "naturally grafted in" and into which Gentiles could "become new creations."

For Paul anyone who was ‘in the Messiah’ and indwelt by the spirit could be called Ioudaios. Such people were worshipping Israel’s God, and at least some aspects of their behaviour (avoiding idolatry and porneia) were to be ordered accordingly. 1444

Those who belong to the Messiah are defined, are given an ‘identity’ if we must use the term, that is (a) rooted in Israel’s Messiah, and hence in that sense inalienably ‘Jewish’, but (b) redefined around the crucified and risen Messiah and hence in that sense inalienably ‘scandalous’ to Jews.  1446

Wright now turns to how Paul uses the Jewish scriptures. His main point is that Paul is seeing the entire Old Testament as a narrative about God's revelation of Himself and His covenant to and through the Jewish people. The prophets, especially the 12, show this to be an incomplete narrative, still awaiting the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 30's redemption from exile. Paul sees this story fulfilled in his day through Messiah Jesus. God is faithful and the gospel going to the entire world fulfills the Abrahamic promise.

Paul believes that it is a central part of Christian faith to be not only a reader of scripture but one who is changed by that reading. 1456

Paul’s understanding of Israel’s scriptures should have as its basic framework the covenant narrative of Israel...God had made solemn covenantal promises to Abraham; Paul believed they were now fulfilled. God had promised Abraham a single worldwide family, inheriting not just the land but the whole world; that was now being accomplished in the reign of Israel’s Messiah and the spirit-driven mission of his followers. 1453

The scriptures do not so much bear witness, for Paul, to an abstract truth (‘the one God is faithful’). They narrate that faithfulness, and, in doing so, invite the whole world into the faithful family whose source and focus is the crucified and risen Messiah. 1471

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