Monday, April 26, 2010

What Saint Paul Really Said 10

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.

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