Saturday, April 10, 2010

What Saint Paul Really Said 6

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.

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