Tuesday, April 27, 2010
As I read various writings on the apostle I will be quoting writers commenting on the gospel Paul proclaimed. Today we will hear from Michael Bird. The quote comes from his book "Introducing Paul" (IVP, 2008).
...The gospel includes a proclamation of the kingship and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is an explosive announcement that the despised and rejected one is now installed in a place of authority and deserves the acclaim normally reserved only for the greatest of worldly kings, for the highest gods of the pantheon, and even for the covenant God, Yahweh. In other words, Jesus is king and reigns over all...But merely stating that Jesus is king is an insufficient representation of the gospel...the gospel is about both the person and work of Christ. God promised in the Scriptures that he would renew creation and restore Israel. The gospel is the good news that God has made these promises good in Jesus, the Messiah and Lord. Jesus died and rose for the purpose of atoning for sins and through faith in him and his work believers are reconciled to God. The new age had been launched and God has revealed his saving righteousness in the gospel so that he justifies and delivers persons from the penalty and power of sin and death (p. 83).
Monday, April 26, 2010
This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at the second half of chapter 7.
Justification and the Church
According to Wright, in Galatians Paul isn't simply addressing how a person can have a relationship with God; he is addressing the issue as to whether the ex-pagan Christians should be circumcised and the question "what defines the people of God?" The issue at hand is, "who can one eat with?" and "who are the people of God?" Wright's reading of Galatians, then, is covenantal. He sees the law as the the Torah, the national charter of the Jewish race. The law did had its place in God's plan (in other words, it wasn't a bad thing) but that stage had now been completed and God was extending salvation to all people in Christ through the Spirit.
For Wright, justification has to do with, "how you can tell who is in the covenant family" (p. 122). The cross stands at the center of it all. "The cross, in fact, througout Galatians, is the redeeming turning-point of history. It is the goal of Israel's strange covenant story" (p. 122).
Wright takes a look at chapter 3 where, he says, Paul is speaking about covenant membership. Wright makes two observations of 3:9: 1) Paul uses membership language and; 2) Paul's covenant status is God's gift. When it comes to 'righteousness' Wright says that Paul is talking about 'covenant status' and the 'righteousness based on Torah' are badges of Judaism. Faith is the badge of covenant membership.
Wright starts at the beginning of Romans and gives a brief 'covenantal' reading of the text. Some important points include:
1) The gospel is the revelation of the righteousness of God. The gospel shows how God has been faithful to the covenant and has dealt with sin through the cross.
2) The covenant was always meant to deal with sin. Law-court and covenant need to be kept together.
3) The Jewish hope of vindication, resurrection, was about, "who will be shown to be the true people of God?" Paul saw that what he expected God to do for Israel at the eschaton he had done for Jesus in the middle of history by raising him from the dead. [Here is where I think Wright has a rich theology of 'imputation'. Jesus was faithful whereas Israel was unfaithful. The vindication that they had been waiting for had happened to Jesus and all those united to him share in the verdict. It's much bigger than "We can't obey the law perfectly but Jesus can and did so we get that perfect obedience imputed to us."]
4) 'Boasting' doesn't have to do so much with 'moralism' as it does with the 'racial boast of the Jew'.
5) Faith in Jesus, not works of the law, is the true badge of the 'righteous'.
6) Romans is a letter about the covenant purposes of God.
In sum, Wright sees Justification in the context of Law-Court, Covenant, and Eschatology.
Friday, April 23, 2010
In light of my last post I wanted to show how the wedge between eccesiology (the church) and soteriology (salvation) does not always exist in N.T. Wright's theology. Take this quote from his latest book, Justification (IVP, 2009):
There is indeed a sense in which "justification" really does make someone "righteous" - it really does create the "righteousness", the status-of-being-in-the-right, of which it speaks - but "righteousness" in the law-court sense does not mean either "morally good character" or "performance of moral good deeds", but "the status you have when the court has found in your favor."...yes, God has vindicated Jesus himself, by raising him from the dead...And yes, that vindication is indeed the context within which the vindication of the believer is to be understood. (p. 92)
Earlier he says:
It is in this sense that "justification" "makes" someone "righteous," just as the officiant at a wedding service might be said to "make" the couple husband and wife - a change of status, accompanied (it is hoped) by a steady transformation of the heart, but a real change of status even if both parties are entering the union out of pure convenience. (p. 91)
So justification isn't just about "identifying" who is in. It is about granting people a new status, a creation of a new reality. Before the status was "condemnation" and now the status is "in-the-right". Just as at my wedding my pastor granted us the status of "husband and wife", a status that we did not previously enjoy, so justification is the creation the status "in-the-right." I agree with Wright that this status also has to do with the covenant (i.e. who are the covenant people of God?). But when one is justified in the present it is because they are united to Jesus, in his death and vindication. Therefore, justification is about soteriology and ecclesiology.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at the first half of chapter 7.
Justification and the Church
What is Justification?
In this chapter Wright affirms that there are truths in traditional statements of justification but he seeks to do justice to the richness of the doctrine. He says that the place to start is Paul's gospel.
Wright doesn't think that justification is the very center of the gospel. He doesn't think it is secondary as is remains organically connected to the very meaning of the gospel. He claims, however, that justification has come to mean something different than what Paul meant by it. The traditional definition is largely concerned with questions regarding how sinners come into a right relationship with God.
Wright suggests a threefold way of understanding the language of justification: covenant, law-court, and eschatology.
Justification in Paul's Jewish Context
Wright, again, emphasizes that Jews like Saul were waiting God to fulfill his promises to Israel. He argues that the covenant wasn't there just for Israel but that it was there to deal with the sin of the world. God, as the judge, would vindicate his true people and this would take the 'concrete form' of resurrection. This would be the fulfillment of the hope of Israel. Wright claims that Jews/ or particular groups of Jews could anticipate this verdict by 'properly' following the covenant charter. Controversially Wright states, "Justification in this setting, then, is not a matter of how someone enters the community of the true people of God, but how you tell who belongs to that community, not least in the period of time before the eschatological event itself, when the matter will become public knowledge" (p. 119). He interprets justification to be more about ecclesiology than soteriology.
[In more recent writings it seems that Wright has backed off a bit in driving a wedge between soteriology and ecclesiology. The two are not mutually exclusive. To enter into the covenant community is to have one's sins forgiven. In Ephesians 2 Paul sees the church and salvation as inseparable. In Paul's writings we don't have to wait for the final day to see who will be declared righteous. People are declared to be 'in the right' as soon as they put their faith in Jesus and this will be reaffirmed on the last day.]
This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at chapter the second portion of chapter 6; the exegesis.
Good News for Israel (pt. 2)
'God's Righteousness' in Paul's Letters
Phillipians and 2 Corinthians
In Philippians 3:9 Paul uses the phrase 'righteousness from God'. Many people have used this to support a reading of 'righteousness of God' in other places as a status that we receive. Wright sees the word 'ek' or 'from' as an important distinction.
In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Wright sees the phrase 'righteousness of God' as still referring to God's covenant faithfulness; he explains the passage by saying that the apostles embody God's faithfulness in their "suffering and fear". [Many people do not find this line of argument convincing. Although I don't totally agree with Wright's exegesis at this point I do not think that this is a statement of imputation. Notice that the apostle does not say that we 'receive the righteousness of God' but 'we become the righteousness of God'. I think Wright is helpful in what he says about 'embodying God's faithfulness' but I do not think it can be limited to the apostles. That would seem like an anti-climatic statement IMO.]
In Romans 3 we see that God had purposes for Israel and despite their failure to live up to them God will remain faithful. God gave Israel the covenant so that the world might be redeemed through them but they were unfaithful; both Jew and Gentile, therefore, are under God's judgment. God's answer to their unfaithfulness was to send his Messiah who would remain faithful to his vocation; he is the faithful Israelite. God's covenant intentions to save the world from sin are realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus. "The 'faithfulness of Jesus'...is thus the means whereby the righteousness of God is revealed" (p. 107). Here covenant and law-court come together; God has been faithful to the covenant and has justly dealt with sin.
This whole passage is about God's own righteousness. Israel does not recognize how God has been acting to bring their history to its intended climax (a Jew and Gentile family). They are clinging to their righteous status (or covenant membership) and not submitting to God's righteousness. In doing so they "betrayed the purpose for which the covenant was made" (p. 108).
Wright says that this passage needs to be understood in light of the whole letter. What Paul wants the Roman church to understand is that God has been faithful to his covenant promises that he would deal with evil (again, remember Wright includes Sin and sins when he speaks of evil; he is not, as some have said, trying to make 'evil' some kind of impersonal force); God has done this through the faithful death of the Messiah. He says that what God has done in Christ was a part of his age-old plan.
Wright concludes the chapter by saying that the book of Romans is, thus, a 'theology of love'. God has been faithful to his promises and has dealt with the sin that has infected his world.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Michael Bird has an excellent post on John Piper's sermon at T4G. When I first heard the title of Piper's talk I thought, "Wouldn't a better question be 'Did Paul Preach Jesus' Gospel?'" Also, check out the discussion that is going on in the comments.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Good News for Israel
This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Realy Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at chapter the first part of chapter 6. Tomorrow we will look briefly at his exegesis of particular passages
Wright starts off the chapter by reminding us that Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, teaching them the good news of the God of Israel, and he believed that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, God was fulfilling his covenant plan. God was doing was he promised he would and this picture was redrawn around Jesus and the Spirit. This starts of his discussion of the key phrase in Paul "the righteousness of God".
In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) the term 'righteousness of God' means God being faithful to his covenant promises. "God's 'righteousness', especially in Isaiah 40-55, is that aspect of God's character because of which he saves Israel, despite Israel's perversity and lostness; Israel can trust those promises. God's righteousness is thus cognate with his trustworthiness on the one hand, and Israel's salvation on the other" (p. 96). [Just as a side note, if you hear the term 'covenant faithfulness' and think that Wright is way off the mark I would encourage you to read Isaiah 40-55 in one sitting (or maybe listen to it on audio).]
Wright sees the term as forensic and from the law court. When 'righteousness' is seen in this light it cannot be the case that it means the same thing for the judge as it does for the defendant and accuser."For the plaintiff or defendant to be 'righteous' in the biblical sense within the law-court setting is for them to have that status as a result of the decision of the court" (p. 98). Wright claims that for the judge to declare someone righteous doesn't necessarily mean they are morally upright; rather, it means that the court has found in their favor. This is where Wright denies that 'the righteousness of God' has to do with imputation but this is not the main point of his argument.
Law-court language and covenantal language go together. Israel pleads to God to rescue her from exile, to vindicate or acquit her. They ask him to be faithful to his covenant. So, for Wright, 'the righteousness of God' is saying something about God. "God's righteousness remains, so to speak, God's own property. It is the reason for his acting to vindicate his people. It is not the status he bestows upon them in so doing" (p. 99).
Now eschatology comes into the picture. "Eschatology - the long hope of Israel for her God to act at last, once for all" (p. 99). Israel desires that the covenant God will vindicate them in the future. Some Jews thought that the present sign in the present that they would be vindicated the future was by loyalty to their covenant obligations, 'works of the law'.
Options for a Key Term
In this section Wright basically discusses the various 'options' one has in defining 'the righteousness of God'. Does it refer to God's own righteousness or the status that God grants to us? A very helpful chart is provided which displays the variety of interpretations. Wright says that the Jewish evidence is on his side in affirming that it refers to God's own righteousness. Wright sees God's righteousness as his covenant faithfulness and his saving power. "[God's righteousness has] to do with God's covenant faithfulness, both as a quality in God and as an active power which goes out, in expression of that faithfulness, to do what the covenant always promises: to deal with evil [Wright uses the word 'evil' to denote a variety of things: sin, evil on a big scale, etc.], to save his people, and to do so with true impartiality" (p. 103).
Friday, April 16, 2010
I am continuing my short summaries/thoughts of Michael Gorman's small book Reading Paul (Cascade Books, 2008). This is a great little book; although one won't agree with him on some important issues, it is a good little tool for those interested in understanding what Paul was all about.
God Raised and Highly Exalted Him
The cross means absolutely nothing if Christ was not raised from the dead. Gorman begins by explaining Why the Resurrection Matters. For Paul if Christ has not been raised then Christians are still in their sins; the cross is emptied of its saving significance and Paul's life of suffering is foolish. But if Christ has been raised that means that he is the "first fruits" of the general resurrection for all those who have died in Christ. The Christian life in not vain. Moreover, the resurrection demonstrates that Jesus is the Messiah, that God has graciously dealt with sin and the church is God's work.
God and the Logic of Resurrection
When Paul encountered the risen Christ he believed that it was carried out by God. There were two major consequences of this: 1) Paul came to see that the crucified Jesus was God's righteous servant who atones for our sins; he is the suffering servant. "If Jesus' crucifixion has been vindicated and validated by God, then clearly his cross must not ultimately be a sign of divine curse but a means of divine blessing" (p. 94-5); 2) The resurrection of Christ is the beginning of the eschatological age which caused Paul to rethinking the relation of Gentiles to Israel. "Since the eschatological age has begun, the Jewish people must be experiencing the eschatological promise of new exodus and new covenant made by the prophets, and the Gentiles must be about the come the the knowledge of the true God, as the prophets (and Jewish tradition) also taught" (p. 95).
Christ and the Resurrection: The Exalted and Present Lord
The resurrection of Christ was physical into a new transformed bodily existence. This resurrected Jesus can be known personally by the church, the "body of Christ", as he dwells in them and they in him. Jesus is the present Lord but he has been exalted to royal status. Jesus is the Messiah who has a unique relationship with the Father and is worthy of the title "Lord".
Jesus is Lord
Gorman claims that in Paul's day there were three lord's that claimed people's allegiance 1) the God of Israel; 2) Caesar; 3) Jesus.
Paul proclaimed Jesus as Lord; but if Jesus was Lord that meant that Caesar was not. The two are mutually exclusive. The Christian gospel and the Jewish gospel, however, are not. The God of Israel is now revealed in his Son, the Messiah.
The Resurrection and the Human Condition: Now and Later
Believers participate in the resurrection now causing them to live new lives. Christ's resurrection was bodily so now we must use our 'members' in service to him. In this way we anticipate the resurrection of our bodies in the future. "What ties these two types of resurrection together, then, is their shared bodily character and the reality of transformation - moral transformation of life in the body now, and actual transformation of the body in the future" (p. 107). Through the power of the power of the Spirit Christians can live resurrection lives in the present. The crucified and risen Lord is present within the community of believers and makes their obedience to him a joy.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Realy Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at the second half of chapter 5.
Good News for the Pagans Part 2
The Challenge: Reality and Parody
Wright begins this portion of the chapter by arguing against the claim that the first-century pagan world was 'ready' for Christianity. Some people may have been tired with the way things were but the "basic features of paganism were deeply ingrained in the lives and habits of ordinary people" (p. 86).
This matters for Wright because, "Paul's challenge to the pagan world was not...a matter of filling in a set of blanks in a system already conscious of them. It was a matter of announcing a truth which, from Paul's point of view, was the reality of which paganism was the parody" (p.86).
Wright goes on to describe six areas where this would have been the case (i.e. Paul offered the reality of which paganism was a parody).
God and Creation: Paul affirmed the goodness of creation; it was the handiwork of the one true God but he did not divinize the creation itself. "Paul stood over against the divinization of creation with the news of the createdness of creation - without any suggestion that creation was therefore less than good" (p. 87).
Cult and Religion: Paul challenged the pagans at "the level of cult"; there were many gods and many sacrifices to be made to those gods. Wright goes into a short discussion on how the eucharist was the feast that showed the church to be "the true exodus community" and at the same time "challenged the tables of demons" as parodies of the reality.
Power and Empire: Jesus is Lord! Paul spoke of Jesus in ways that echoed the way people spoke of Caesar; namely, Caesar is Lord. Paul believed that "when the true God becomes king, all the false gods find themselves dethroned...The powers of the world are confronted with the one who is Lord of all" (p. 88).
True Humaness: Paul proclaimed a new way of being truly human and saw that the pagan way of life was destructive. "In what we call his ethical teaching, in his community development, and above all in his theology and practice of new life through dying and rising with Christ, he articulated, inculcated, and urged upon his converts a way of life which he saw as being the genuinely human way of life" (p. 89)
The True Story of the World: Paul told the true story of the world; the story of creation to new creation. He taught that through the death and resurrection of Jesus the New Age had been inaugurated and would one day be consummated. God, the creator, will be all in all. "Paul's message to the pagan world is the fulfilled-Israel message: the one creator God is, through the fulfillment of his covenant with Israel, reconciling the world to himself" (p. 91).
Philosophy and Metaphysics:For Paul true wisdom was found in God and not in pagan philosophies. Wright demonstrates how Paul would have reacted to three ways of thinking: the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the Academician.
Conclusion:Paul called the pagan world to repentance and allegiance to Jesus; in doing this, his fellow Jews would be provoked to jealousy. In Jesus Christ God had revealed that he was the one true God of the world and those who came to him through faith in the Messiah would be members of his family.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Today we will begin a series on 'Insights into Paul's Gospel'. As I read various writings on the apostle I will be quoting writers commenting on the gospel Paul proclaimed. Today we will hear from Craig Keener. The quote comes from his commentary on Romans in the New Covenant Commentary Series (Cascade Books, 2009); Keener is commenting on the content of Romans 1:1-7. I will be leaving out scripture references (there are many).
"The Good News Paul proclaims is just what the prophets announced...In the Prophets proper, the 'good news' is especially the promise that God would establish peace and blessing for his people, and Paul proclaims that this ancient promise is now being fulfilled in Jesus.
What is the content of the good news foretold by the prophets? The prophets associated their good news of Israel's restoration with the coming of the promised Davidic king and the hope of resurrection. In 1:3-4 Paul declares that his good news concerns God's 'Son.' As a descendant of David, Jesus could be rightful heir to Israel's throne, but once a king was enthroned, he was adopted by God. Jesus was not only descended from David, but attested as God's Son by the Spirit, who raised him from the dead and hence exalted him as Lord. Of course, Jesus is not God's 'Son' only in the ordinary royal sense, but the good news that God has established a king, and hence his kingdom, sets Paul's preaching of Jesus squarely in the context of the [Old Testament] promises.
Many Judeans regularly praised God for his power that would one day be expressed in raising the dead; Paul likewise treats the resurrection as the ultimate display of God's power. Jesus' followers, however, recognize this resurrection as not merely a theoretical hope for the future, but a future reality already initiated in history: Paul speaks literally here of Jesus' resurrection 'from among the dead ones,' implying that Jesus' resurrection is the first installment of the future promise of resurrection for the righteous...The same Spirit who raised Jesus will also raise all believers. Paul stresses Jesus' resurrection as a prominent element of the good news."
Monday, April 5, 2010
Good News for the Pagans
This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Realy Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at the first half of chapter 5.
As Wright has been stressing throughout this book, Paul was a Jew; as such we need to root his thought in a Jewish matrix rather than a substantially Hellenistic one. However, he does believe that we need to take Paul's non-Jewish context seriously. "Paul, after all, describes himself, almost by definition, as the apostle to the Gentiles" (p. 78).
The word paganism is being used in the broad sense and, "denotes, basically, those who are neither Jews nor Christians, and carries the connotation of their develped worldviews, in which religion and politics, superstition and magic, hope and fear, and sometimes ethics and morals, cluster together around a bewildering range of symbols and stories, developed over many centuries and involving many quite diverse cultures" (p. 78-9).
Derivation and Confrontation
Some scholars have suggested that Paul's thought derived from paganism. This isn't the line Wright takes. In relation to paganism (at least I think this is what he is saying), "Direction is more important than derivation; confrontation is as important, if not more important than conception" (p. 79). In other words, Paul didn't adopt a pagan worldview. He confronted paganism with the good news seeking to replace their worldview with a Jewish one that placed Jesus in the middle of it. According to Wright, if we are going to recover Paul's message to his non-Jewish hearers we will have to look at his letters, looking particularly at his work among the pagans.
"By 'polemical engagement' I mean that Paul becomes, as he says, all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9.22" (p. 80). Paul used key concepts from opposing systems of thought but he never became a syncretist (he did 'sharply confront paganism). Since, though, all truth belongs to God "confrontation does not simply mean head-to-head total disagreement" (p. 81).
Paul acted like this because he had a firm belief that it was a part of God's ancient plan to bring gentiles into the blessing of Israel. "When Zion was restored, the nations would flock in to hear the word of Israel's God" (p. 82). Since, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the New Age had dawned the Gentiles would partake in the blessing. This was always a part of God's saving plan; this is why he called Israel in the first place.
The Jewish message was a monotheistic one which meant that the pagan world could be addressed with a message from the one true God. "The message, paradoxically, had to remain essentially Jewish if it was to have its proper relevance to the pagans" (p. 83).
Critique from Within
Paul was like a prophet to Israel warning them that they were headed in the wrong direction and calling them back to true allegiance to YHWH. He was not denying that they were his special people but that they had failed in their vocation; the Messiah, as Israel's representative, had been faithful and God's people were to be defined in him. Israel was in danger of becoming like all the other nations; their 'extreme zeal' was leading them the wrong way.
Wright emphasizes that Paul remained zealous but it was a 'zeal according to knowledge". "He still saw the message of the true God as challenging the false gods. He still saw the great mass of Judaism as being disloyal to the true God, and needing to be brought into line. But the line in question was now the Christian, fulfilled-Israel, line" (p. 85).
Next time we will be looking at the second half of chapter 5 where Wright looks at the specifics of this message to the pagans.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Paul and Jesus
First Century Jewish Monotheism
- In the first century monotheism was a way of saying that God of Israel was the only true God of the world and the pagan gods and goddesses were not. There could not be two lords. God would one day defeat these 'gods' and vindicate his true people. Since God is the creator of this world he would do what he has to do to restore it. The awaited kingdom would come and those who belong to this one true God would get to be a part of it and those who had died would be physically raised from the dead when it came.
- God is transcendent but he is also active and present in this world.
Jesus and the Spirit Within Paul's Jewish Monotheism
- Paul remained a monotheist but because of God's saving work in Christ montheism was redifined around Father-Son-Spirit.
- Paul took passages that spoke of the oneness of God (e.g. the shema) and placed Jesus firmly in the middle of it.
- The Spirit was the spirit of Jesus; God's presence to guide us in the wilderness