Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What Saint Paul Really Said 9

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.]

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