Wednesday, April 21, 2010
What Saint Paul Really Said 8
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.