Thursday, February 11, 2010
What Saint Paul Really Said 2
'Zeal' is an important word in this chapter. The pre-Christian Paul was zealous for Torah. This did not mean that he woke up in the morning with a hot cup of coffee did his devotions and said his prayers (although that is a very good thing to do). Zeal was something that was done with a knife! He was from a strict sect of Pharisees known as the Shammaites. He was zealous for YHWH and Torah and this expressed itself in violence. He was willing to do anything to bring about God's kingdom, the longed for liberty.
Paul was waiting for the great promises made in the prophets to be fulfilled, the true 'return-from-exile'. Like many other Jews of the day he thought that these things were still going to be truly fulfilled in 'accordance with the Scriptures.' This was a story that still needed an ending and his goal was to bring it about. God had promised to deal with sin through his covenant with Abraham. Yet the people of promise themselves became sinful and were cast into exile. The scriptures spoke of a day when all of this would be sorted out. One day YHWH would return to Zion, evil would be defeated and the true people of God would be vindicated. This might be summarized in three points: monotheism, election and eschatology. The one true God had chosen Israel as his special people and he would bring his plan through-them-for-the-world (I borrowed that from his latest book) to its climax. YHWH would become king over all the world; in order for this to happen, however, Israel needed to keep Torah. Paul would make this a reality through violent zeal, 'zeal for God, zeal for Torah, zeal that will bring in the kingdom.'
Paul wasn't just looking for some sort of timeless salvation. He was waiting for the promises of God to come to their climax. He was waiting for God to redeem Israel and fulfill his covenant, the purpose of which was to undo the sin of Adam. The bearers of the solution, however, needed saving and were waiting for God to act.
Wright goes on to discuss some technical terms in light of this reading of Paul, namely, justification and eschatology. Justification and eschatology go together. The eschatological hope of Israel was that God would vindicate his people. Through obedience to the Torah, with a particular zeal, one could be assured in the present that they would be vindicated in the future.
After Paul saw the resurrected Jesus all this changed. He came to see that God did for Jesus, in the middle of time, what he thought he was going to do for Israel at the end of time. The resurrection showed that Jesus really was the Messiah. "But if Jesus really was the Messiah, and if his death and resurrection really were the decisive heaven-sent defeat of sin and the vindication of the people of YHWH, then this means that the Age to Come had already begun, had already been inaugurated, even though the Present Age, the time of sin, rebellion and wickedness, was still proceeding apace."