The Berryman Trail (BT) is a 27-mile trail in between Steelville and Potosi about an hour south of St. Louis, Missouri. The BT is a loop, making it possible to hike the trail over 2 days without needing a shuttle. I hiked the trail with Ben, my brother Jeff, and my friend Dave from St. Louis. Ben and I have hiked two other times (here and here) and my brother and I hiked the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail last summer. This was Dave’s first hike.We started the BT on Thursday, April 9 at 1:15 p.m. Our plan was to begin with the eastern loop, hiking the trail counter-clockwise. We headed out under sunny skies and it was in the upper 70s. I had read that the eastern side of the loop was the “dry side,” meaning less water. After days of rain in the area, we found all the streams to be full. I only carried a liter of water and filtered water out of one of the streams when I ran out. We hiked through a a mixture of hardwoods and pines on a beautiful day.It seemed like we had a stream crossing every few miles or so. We enjoyed finding creative ways to cross the streams without getting our feet wet.It turned out to be a hot day with the temperature reaching near 80 degrees. There were no tough climbs but we tackled more steep ups and downs on this side of the loop than we would on day 2. We all had AT&T phones and cell service was spotty. We found a signal from time to time.We arrived at the Brazil Creek Campground at 6:00 p.m., completing 10 miles on our first day. Before we left from the Berryman trail head, we dropped a vehicle at the Brazil Creek Campground because there was a 60% chance for severe thunderstorms. We stashed a pop-up canopy and four chairs in Dave’s vehicle at Brazil Creek. Once we arrived at camp the clouds started rolling in so we set up our shelters first. Dave, Ben, and I were all hammocking. Jeff brought his tent. We set up the canopy over the fire pit and gathered some firewood to keep the wood dry whenever the rain started. But the rain never came.We built a small fire and started cooking supper. I ate mash potatoes and turkey bites, one of my favorite meals on the trail. Ben had a weather radio and we listened as severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches were issued for our area. The winds blew up to 20-25 mph. We watched storm clouds come and go and heard thunder in the distance but all the severe weather went around us. We only had a few sprinkles. We never needed the canopy.I slept pretty good in my hammock. My new underquilt worked great but the winds continued to rattle my tarp until midnight. Lows dropped down to the low 40s and I woke up cold at about 5 a.m. I used my 40 degree down bag as a top quilt. I should have used my 20 degree synthetic bag. I got up at 6:00 a.m. and built a small fire. I was never shivering cold and I couldn’t see my breath, but it was chilly. After heating water for coffee and oatmeal and after the sun began to peak through the trees, I started warming up.Brazil Creek was a nice campground. No running water or privy, but it was right by the creek and it did have a picnic table, which is always a plus. It looked to be primarily a horse camp, but there were plenty of flat spots for tents and trees for hammocks. We hit the trail at 9:15 a.m. thinking we had a 14-mile day in front of us but it ended up being a 17 miles to get back to the Berryman trail head. Some of the maps online for the trail are old. We figured out that trail maintainers have rerouted certain sections of the trail to do more ridge walking, following the contours of the bluffs instead of dipping down into the valleys. You do not need a map to hike this trail, but if you are looking to hike the BT and want a map, use this one.It was cool when we started hiking, but it warmed up quickly. We continued hiking through pines and hard woods. There was even a couple of “views,” at least views for the Ozarks. The second day seemed to have less ups and downs than on the eastern side of the loop. We continued hiking until noon, when we stopped for lunch by a stream. I set up my hammock to enjoy lunch “off the ground.” I love hiking with a hammock because where ever you go you always have a place to sit.When we were stopping for lunch, two other hikers stopped to chat for a second. They were day hikers, hiking the entire trail that day. One of the guys was from Columbia and the other was from St. Louis. We talked a bit about the BT and gear and then they mentioned that they hiked on the AT last May. They hiked from Springer Mountain to Dick’s Creek Gap in Georgia in May, a couple of weeks before Jeff and I hiked the entire Georgia section. Funny. Small world. These were the only people we saw on the trail.As we wrapped up lunch, I laid back in my hammock and thought about taking a nap, but we had miles to go before we got to camp. We packed up and headed back down the trail. The longer we hiked, we realized we had more to miles in front of us than expected, which was fine with me. It was sunny and 65 degrees. A great day for hiking.The western side of the loop overlaps with the Ozark Trail.The Ozark Trail (OT) is a collection of trails in the Missouri Ozarks, 390 miles worth. There are plans to connect all of the trails to create a continuous footpath, but right now there is 200+ miles that are connected. While hiking, I thought about doing a long section hike on the OT, maybe 100 miles or so. Maybe summer 2016. Who knows?There were a number of access roads crossing the BT, but there were signs at every intersection. There was no way of losing the trail. I appreciate the volunteers who have kept the trail in good shape. We passed a couple a new blow downs and one tree that had recently been struck by lightning, presumably from storms the last couple of days. We didn’t see much wildlife on the trail. I heard turkeys early in the morning and we saw one tree frog, a chipmunk and a squirrel, and one small black snake. We stopped at an artisan well on the trail at the Edward Beecher Recreation Area. This would be a great camping spot. We filled our water bottles from the spring without filtering and then pressed on.We pushed on realizing we had seven miles to go. I noticed the conversations came to an end as we continued to hike, a sure sign we were getting tired. We took a short break and I checked for a cell signal and got one! I laid down on the ground and rested on my pack. I texted home and posted some pictures from our break spot and then we made the final push to camp.We made it Berryman Trail head about 5:45 pm and I shot a quick video.Jeff and I collected firewood, while Ben and Dave drove over to the Brazil Campground to pick up Dave’s vehicle. We set up camp and started supper. We could have driven home, but I would not have gotten back to the house until 11 p.m. I am glad we decided to camp a second night. We ate supper and I built a good-sized fire.Ben drove into town and returned an hour and a half later with pizza and gummy bears. Even thought I had eaten supper, I ate a slice of pizza. I figure I burned enough calories hiking 17 miles that day. It was a cloudless night and the stars were out as we sat around the fire. We headed to bed around 10:30 p.m. or so and I was fast asleep within about five minutes. I slept good. I did wake up at 4 a.m. a bit cold. I realized that my underquilt had slid out from underneath my hammock. My mistake. I hung it too lose under my hammock. A mistake I will not make again. I fell back asleep and woke up about 6 a.m.I boiled water for coffee and oatmeal. Ben stoked up the fire and we warmed up. It was about 4o degrees or so. We packed up and headed home about 8 a.m. I am looking forward to my next adventure this summer on the Buffalo River Trail.
Lent comes early this year. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, is tomorrow. Christmas Day is the same day every year on the calendar. Easter moves around…something about the phases of the moon. I’m not sure. Lent has been a part of the Christian tradition for a long, long time; I have only been observing Lent for six or seven years. My mistake.
Lent has become a regular part of the year for me. I look forward to it, not in the same way I look forward to Christmas or Easter (Have you ever tried frozen peeps!). I look forward to Lent because it has been a time-tested practice of the church to grow in faith and identify with Jesus. Lent is a season on the church calendar the 40 days before Easter that helps us to prepare for Easter. It is designed to be a time of confession, prayer, repentance, fasting, and “giving something up” in order to identify with the sufferings of Jesus. Every Sunday is a mini celebration of the resurrection, but Easter Sunday is the ultimate celebration of the resurrection. For those of us following Jesus resurrection is a BIG deal. So for many of us the season of Lent has become a big deal. Lent is important as a way to prepare for Easter, because…
You cannot know the joy of the resurrection without enduring the sorrow of the cross.
Lent gives us a slow, winding, meticulous way to reflect on the sufferings of Christ culminating on his death on the cross. Lent is not convenient. Lent is not comfortable. It does not fit our consumer-driven sensibilities. It does help to form us in Christ-likeness. It does help expose our idols. It does help us to grow up.
At Word of Life Church, we are venturing out into the Lenten season with four Ash Wednesday Services (7 a.m., noon, 5:30 p.m., and 7 p.m.) and then we are praying every day (except for Sunday) in our Upper Room prayer chapel at 12:15 p.m. These prayer gatherings will follow a Midday Prayer Liturgy that will sound and feel the same every day. We are baptizing people on the first Sunday of Lent and we are offering Lenten Small Groups on Sunday morning immediately following the worship service. We have also put together a Lenten Scripture Reading Guide to focus your Bible reading on the sufferings of Christ.
For me personally, I am reading three books: Simply Good News by N.T. Wright, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers compiled by Andrew Louth and Maxwell Staniforth, and Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words by Rod Bennett. I try to pick books to read during Lent with a particular focus on Jesus. This year I wanted to read from some of the writings of the church fathers. I threw in an N.T. Wright book in the mix just because.
I invite you to join us on this Lenten journey. Pick some meals or days during the week and fast. Give something up. Seek out silence. Repent. Give yourself to prayer. Join a small group. Read. Read slowly. Read contemplatively. Expect things to change. And most of all, look for Jesus.
As I sit here waiting for some friends to come over to the house for our New Year’s Eve celebration, it’s a good time to reflect a bit on the calendar year that is passing. I was recently asked to recount what had happened in 2014 and share any aspirations I had for 2015. The first thing that came to mind about 2014 was a little truth that became real for me this year. I think I am further down the road in becoming a patient person. What I have learned is this:
Almost all wisdom can be summed up in patience.
I have known for quite some time that patience is a Christian virtue, a fruit of the Spirit, the calling card of the aged sages. I have never really been a patient person. I have been in a hurry for seemingly all my life. When I was 13 years-old, I wanted to be 16. When I was 16, I wanted to be 18. When I was 18, I wanted to be 25. It was not until my early 30s when I begin to really practice the patience I had heard about for so long. In my early 30s I was pastoring a church and learning the slow, difficult process of loving people on the way to becoming more like Jesus. In my vocation as a pastor I adopted patience as a philosophy of ministry; it is the way pastors love and serve their congregations. We do so with patience.
I had learned to serve God’s people with patience, but I don’t know if I had reallybecome a patient person at that time. I was still unsettled, discontented, and unsure about myself. I pursued further education and began to write books, which were deeply satisfying, but not enough to change me. Then came 2014. I turned 40 years-old. The transition from 29 to 30 came and went without much thought, but turning 40 was a big deal for me. If by strength we are given 80 years of life then I had reached the halfway point. I turned 40 in the most memorable way. I woke up on my birthday at the Hawk Mountain Shelter on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and by the early afternoon I was standing on top of Springer Mountain in North Georgia, the Southern terminus of the AT. By the end of the day, I was standing under the iconic arch at the visitor center at Amicalola State Park bringing the end to a 17-mile day and a 100-mile hike that had started 8 days earlier in Deep Gap, North Carolina. Long distance hiking requires a lot of patience. I could drive 100 miles in less than 2 hours. By foot, it took me 8 days. I did a lot of thinking on the trail, a lot of thinking about they kind of person I wanted to be in my next 40 years of life. I thought a lot about patience and about being present to the present moment. I think I am getting closer to being a patient person.
My wife Jenni and I recently (re)watched Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt. The movie reminded me of the great patience and contentment of the Buddhist people. What drives them towards patience and contentment is different than what drives me as a follower of Jesus, but the patience is the same. I can rightly look at practitioners of Buddhism and call them wise as they reflect the patience I see in Jesus. Please do not misunderstand. I am committed to the Christian faith. I am committed to God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am committed to allowing the Holy Spirit to produce the life of patience in me. I am equally committed to admiring all who exhibit patience. I asked my wife if she thought I had become a more patient person. Her hesitation and silence told me all I need to know; I still have a long way to go. She agrees I have become more patient but we both agree I have not yet arrived.
Now back to waiting for my friends to arrive.
Waiting. This is what patient people do.
I am blogging my way through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, creating an outline of the book as a part of a class I am teaching at our church. This is the ninth and final blog in this series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. Check out the previous posts here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8
I had promised a PDF copy of this outline when it was complete, but I now have a different plan. The complete outline turned out to be 22,555 words, which is 50 pages single-spaced. Instead of uploading the PDF, I am going to format it as an ebook and make it available as Kindle download. Who knows maybe I will release it in print form too. We shall see. If you simply cannot wait for the ebook, let me know and maybe…just maybe…I will email you a PDF copy.
Part 9: Paul in History
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 12-16
I. Bringing It All Back Home
N.T. Wright has taken us into Paul’s world, particularly the world of pagan religion, Greek, philosophy, and Roman politics. We have seen Paul’s Jewish context and his Jewish worldview, two things which formed the foundation for a detailed examination of Paul’s theology summarized by three themes—monotheism, election, and eschatology. These three Jewish concepts were massively rethought and reworked in light of the coming of Jesus the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit. Now Wright wants to bring it all back home with an exploration of Paul’s theology at work in Paul’s world with a spotlight on 1) Paul in the politics of the Roman Empire, 2) Paul in the world of religion, 3) Paul and the philosophers, and 4) Paul in his native Jewish world.
II. Paul and Caesar
“Every step Paul took, he walked on land ruled by Caesar.” (1271) The language Paul used to talk about Jesus did not derive from the empire; it was a direct confrontation to the empire. Paul expected the Jewish Messiah to judge the nations and bring salvation and peace to the world. The nations had their leaders, but this was temporary. Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord, which created communities loyal to Jesus as Lord, Savior, and Son of God, titles already used in the empire to speak of the Caesar. While those in authority are to be respected, the idolatry and arrogance of Caesar was challenged by these communities loyal to Jesus the Messiah. Paul does not proclaim Jesus as a better version of Caesar, rather the Gospel of Jesus subverts and overtakes the Gospel of Caesar. “In a world where loyalty to Caesar had become one of the major features of life, it could be that the Christians were ‘working out their own salvation with fear and trembling’, and coming to realize that, somehow or other, if Jesus was lord Caesar was not.” (1302)
Paul does not endorse the Roman way, but calls for submission to Roman authority as a way to live wisely in the empire. Followers of Messiah in these scattered communities of faith are able to respect those in civic authority knowing they are ultimately held accountable by Jesus the judge and ultimate ruler. Earthly rulers will stand before the judge as will all people. Paul advocates a different kind of politic centered in and around the Messiah which creates a certain kind of revolution, but not a kind that separates us from the culture. “(Paul) saw the gospel of Jesus the Messiah as upstaging, outflanking, delegitimizing and generally subverting the ‘gospel’ of Caesar and Rome.” (1306) Living as loyal subjects of the Messiah does not require either “Constantinian compromise” or “Anabaptist detachment,” but rather a visible witness to a “gospel-shaped and gospel revealed new world of justice and peace.” (1318)
III. Paul and Pagan Religion
Religion in the world of Paul did not teach people how to behave as much as it provided signs, myths, and rituals binding people together. “Paul was indeed teaching, operating and living within something we might very well call religio, however much it had been redefined.” (1332) The use of Jewish Scriptures and the worship of one God would had seemed unique to pagan onlookers. Yet it was the one God of Israel, one Lord, and one Spirit that bound together the followers of Jesus the Messiah. Baptism as the initiation into the Christian community and the celebration of the Eucharist formed the primary rituals for Paul’s communities. “The eucharist thus clearly functions for Paul as a rite, complete with traditional words; as a rite in which a ‘founding myth’ was rehearsed, though in this case the founding myth’ was an actual event which had occurred not long before; as a rite in which the worshippers share the life of the divinity being worshipped, though the divinity in question is a human being of recent memory; as a rite dependent on a prior sacrifice, albeit the very strange one of the crucifixion of that same human being; as a rite which should bind the community together….” (1347-1348) This would look like a religion, but one that had never been seen before. It had all the marks of ancient religion but it was infused with theology in a way that was unique.
IV. Paul and Philosophy
“Jesus is not simply one person whom one might know certain things. He is the one in whom the very treasures of knowledge itself are hidden.” (1361) Greek philosophers were interested in three topics: logic (what we know), physics (what is there), and ethics (what we do). In the Greek mind, theology was a subset of physics, but Paul would challenge such a view as the God of Israel was not a thing in the material universe.
Regarding questions of logic, Paul would argue “there is a deeper darkness and a new dawn” in terms of knowledge (1362). Greek philosophy was about coming out of the darkness in order to see what others could not see, but Paul would argue for a deeper darkness. He wrote to the Ephesians describing Gentiles who were “darkened in their understanding” (Ephesians 4:18). They live in darkness as they have lived lives with distorted habits of behavior rooted in a hardness of heart the result of humanity going terribly wrong as described in Genesis 3-11. Jesus is the light of the world that has provided the true light that can consume even the deepest darkness of the human heart.
Regarding questions of physics, Paul remains steadfast as a creational monotheist. The God of Israel has created all things. Paul writes, “All things created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15). Even in their darkness, humanity could see God’s divine attributes in creation, but because of their darkness the light of the one God is necessary to see all things as they are. As the creator, the one God will ultimately call all things into account.
Regarding questions of ethics, the dominant logic of the Greek philosophers was once humanity can discover what is, human beings should then go with the grain of the way things are. The Stoics saw divinity in everything, so right living was a matter of going along with nature as it is. The Epicureans saw the gods as far away, but admit gods set up things before their departure, so, like the Stoics, we should just go with the flow of life. In stark contrast, Paul’s ethics were tied not to the ways things are, but eschatology, how things will be under the reign of Messiah. Paul’s inaugurated eschatology announced the coming of the light of truth, beauty, and goodness has come. Therefore we should live in the light of this new world, the one that has come and is coming. “Paul believed that the world had been renewed in the Messiah; that those who were themselves ‘in the Messiah’ had also been renewed as image-bearing human beings; and that the task of such people was to live in accordance with the new world, rather than against its grain.” (1371) The arrival of this new world marked the “rehumanizing power of the gospel of Jesus.” (1376).
V. Paul and His Jewish Context
“He came with a Jewish message and a Jewish way of life for the non-Jewish world. He did not see himself as founding or establishing a new, non-Jewish movement. He believed that the message and life he proclaimed and inculcated was, in some sense, the fulfillment of all he had believed as a strict Pharisaic Jew.” (1408) Paul was an apostle to the Gentile nations as a Jewish thinker.
A. Paul’s Jewish Identity
Paul was a Jew by birth and he had no modern notions of converting to another religion. He did not compare religions or offer something in the Messiah to replace religion in general or the Jewish religion in particular. He was not attempting to start a new religion or replace religion with something called “faith.” He was extending to non-Jews the opportunity of membership in the renewed-covenant with the God of Israel. Paul did have an encounter with Jesus the Messiah which solidified his call and it became the impetus towards rethinking and reimagining what it meant to be a Jew. Paul admits he died to the law. He had been crucified and raised with the messiah. His identity was no longer Jewish but “Messiah-ish.” Paul was a Jew ethnically but it was not his primary identity. “Paul’s life and work is not a ‘system’, not a ‘religion’, not an attempt to forge a new social reality in and of itself, but a person: the crucified Messiah.” (1146) In Messiah, Paul found his identity and called people to imitate him as he imitated the Messiah.
B. Paul and Israel’s Scripture
Paul was a reader of Israel’s scripture and he did not randomly pick verses from the Jewish scripture (the Old Testament) in order to make them fit what he is writing. Paul was well aware of the context of the specific verses he quotes. The larger context in the Old Testament was on his mind when he uses particular quotes from the Old Testament. He understood the tension present in the Old Testament between the promise of God and the commands of God….that is, the promise to bless/save/redeem the world through the people of Abraham on one hand and the system of blessings/curses in the torah based on Israel’s response to the covenant on the other hand. This tension seemed like “two voices” or “two movements” in Israel’s narrative history. Nevertheless the entirety of Jewish thought (including Jewish scripture) was, for Paul, rethought, reworked, and reimagined in light of the coming of Jesus the Messiah and the Spirit.
In reading and using Old Testament scripture in his writings, Paul is reworking it in the larger context of Israel’s narrative history. “Paul reads Israel’s scriptures as a vast and complex narrative, the story of the faithful creator, the faithful covenant God, the god who in Israel’s Messiah kept his ancient promises and thereby created a people marked out by their pistis, their own gospel-generated faith or faithfulness. The scriptures do not so much bear witness, for Paul, to an abstract truth (‘the one God is faithful’). They narrate that faithfulness, and in doing so, invite the whole world into the faithful family whose source and focus is the crucified and risen Messiah.” (1471)
VI. Paul’s Aims and Achievements
“The Messiah and the redemption of history…has to do not simply with ‘spirituality’ or ‘religion’, not with an escapist salvation in which of the world ceases to matter, but with the challenge to action in the world itself.” (1474)
N.T. Wright drew upon the words of Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt to describe the Jewish desire to move in action in the present. He quotes Arendt who wrote: “We can no longer afford to take that which was good in the past and simply call it our heritage, to discard the bad and simply think of it as a dead load which by itself time will bury in oblivion. The subterranean stream of Western history has finally come to the surface and usurped the dignity of our tradition. This is the reality in which we live. And this is why all efforts to escape from the grimness of the present into nostalgia for a still intact past, or into the anticipated oblivion of a better future, are vain.”
This decidedly Jewish impulse was present in Paul. He was not a detached thinker, but a doer. He was a thinker no doubt, but he was not content with merely dreaming up some good ideas and talking about them. The God of Israel had returned to his people. Messiah had come and the Spirit of Yahweh was dwelling within the human, flesh and blood temple of his renewed people, and above all, God’s act of new creation had begun! God’s action prompted Paul to act. So what was Paul trying to do? “Paul’s practical aim was the creation and maintenance of particular kinds of communities; that the means to their creation and maintenance was the key notion of reconciliation; and that these communities, which he regarded as the spirit-inhabited Messiah-people, constituted at least in his mind and perhaps also in historical truth a new kind of reality, embodying a new kind of philosophy, of religion and of politics, and a new kind of combination of those; and all of this within the reality we studied in the previous chapter, a new kind of Jewishness, a community of new covenant, a community rooted in a new kind of prayer.” (1476)
Paul did not write philosophical essays or political manifestos; he wrote letters to churches. Paul’s aims and intentions are wrapped up in the planting, building, and flourishing of the local church. (Side note: Paul and the Faithfulness of God is the fourth in a series of academic books on “Christian origins.” According to Wright, his next volume in this series after the Paul book is a book on Christian missiology.) These aims or goals can be best described as a ministry of reconciliation.
The words “mission” and “evangelism” in our modern context have departed somewhat from what they meant during the time Paul was planting churches throughout the Mediterranean world of the ancient Roman Empire. Evangelism for Paul was not a matter of “saving souls for heaven,” a phrase we never see in Paul’s writings, or anywhere in Scripture for that matter. When Paul was traveling, preaching, teaching, writing, and suffering on behalf of the church, he saw himself as engaging in the ministry of reconciliation. “For Paul, everything grew into the field of God’s new world.” (1488) Those who are in the Messiah have entered into God’s new world. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ [behold] new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV). This new world is a world reconciled to God and those who are in Christ are a reconciled people. This new world launched with the resurrection of Jesus is the first stage of the renewal of all creation.
These new communities formed around the Messiah would appear to the outside world to be a new school of philosophy, a new kind of religion, a new political movement heralding a new king and a new way of being human. “If we do not recognize Paul’s churches as in some sense philosophical communities, religious groups and political bodies it is perhaps because we have been thinking of the modern meanings of such terms rather than those which were known in Paul’s world.” (1492) These reconciled communities were to be a prototype of what is to come, demonstrating to the world what it looked liked to be reconciled to one another and reconciled to the God of all creation.
Paul saw his ministry of reconciliation, and indeed the ministry of the church, as “temple-building” and not “soul-saving.” His mission was to build the communities as mini-temples where there Spirit of Yahweh would dwell. Individuals experience the Spirit, but each individual reconciled to God, indwelt by God’s Spirit, living in God’s new world, served as a signpost to a larger truth, namely the faithfulness of God. These new temple communities were made up of Jews and Gentiles living in unity. The Gospel Paul preached was for the Jew first but also for a Greek, an unquestionable “Jewish message for the non-Jewish world.” (1498)
B. Paul’s Work in Caesar’s World
Paul would not have seen the modern subjects of theology and politics as separate and unrelated themes. Paul was a Roman citizen, but his allegiance was to the Messiah and this double position was consistent with Paul’s eschatology. The age to come had broken into history, but it is not here in it’s fullness. Jesus the Messiah has been highly exalted over all earthly political figures, but Caesar still reigns. The Messiah’s reign was best seen within the local communities worshiping Jesus the Messiah. Caesar, to some extent, had tried to create such a religion within the empire whereby he would be the object of people’s devotion. Caesar’s reign over his empire would not endure as long as Jesus’ reign through his church.
Not only did Paul see Jesus’ reign as superior to the reign of Caesar, he saw an “integrated vision of the one God and his world.” (1508) Paul would agree that all truth is God’s truth and he regularly affirmed the goodness of creation. God’s kingdom in and through the reign of Messiah was a physical, earth-bound kingdom. “Paul’s aim was to be the temple-builder for the kingdom, planting on non-Jewish soil little communities in which heaven and earth would come together at last, places where the returning glory of Israel’s god would shine out, heralding and anticipating the day when God would be all in all.” (1509) He proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and trusted the power of the gospel message to transform the lives who received it. Paul’s theology was important, but it was to be lived out in these gospel-formed communities.
Reconciliation and integration are good ways to sum up Paul’s theology. We who study Paul’s theology in communities of our own should expect the reconciliation and integration of those who see justification as primarily God’s legal action (juridical or forensic) and those who see justification as primarily God’s invitation for us to join him (participationist). Our study of Paul should lead to an end to the squabbling between those of the old perspective and those with the new perspective(s) on Paul. We should hope to see an integration of those who are interested in Paul’s historical context with those who are interested in Paul’s theological perspective.
In the end, we like Paul, are best served when our life of study and participation in the community of faith are sustained by prayer. “The renewed praise of Paul’s doxologies takes its place at the historically situated and theologically explosive fusion of worlds where Paul stood in the middle, between Athens and Jerusalem, between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world, between Philemon and Onesimus, between history and theology, between exegesis and the life of the church, between heaven and earth.” (1518) Paul is a central figure in Christian theology.
Wright ends the book with these words: “Paul’s ‘aims’, his apostolic vocation, modeled the faithfulness of God. Concentrated and gathered. Prayer became theology, theology prayer. Something understood.” (1519)
VII. Final Thoughts
Theology matters. History matters. Wrestling with Scripture matters. These tasks matter because God has been faithful to his covenant. His reign has begun! New creation has begun and we get to participate in it as people of the Messiah as the new temple indwelt by the Spirit.
I am blogging my way through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, creating an outline of the book as a part of a class I am teaching at our church. This is the eighth of a nine-part series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. Check out the previous posts here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Part 8: Eschatology and Romans 9-11
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 11, Sections 6.4 – 7
I. Approaching Difficult Terrain
“It is easy to be overwhelmed by Romans 9-11: its scale and scope, the mass of secondary literature, the controversial theological and also political topics, and the huge and difficult questions of the overall flow of thought on the one hand and the complex details of exegesis and interpretation on the other.” (1156) We approach Romans 9-11 admitting the difficulty of the challenge before us. Those who say Romans 9-11 is easy to understand and easily applied to our lives haven’t taken the time to seriously read these 90 verses. N.T. Wright discusses this section in the context of eschatology, but these three chapters are connected to monotheism and election, and belong to the rest of the book. They are “bound into the letter’s whole structure by a thousand silken strands.” (1157)
Romans 9 is filled with questions related to God’s future purposes. This chapter is a retelling of Israel’s story from God’s election of them for a specific job to the exodus event with Moses and Pharaoh, including some comments from the prophets. This section (Romans 9-11) follows logically from where Paul leaves off in Romans 8, where he has discussed the life and love experienced by those who are in the Messiah. Romans 9 deals with those who have not believed, primarily those of Israel who have not believed in Jesus the Messiah.
II. Artistic Structure of Romans 9-11
One of the most helpful tools in understanding this section is to see the structure and counter balance of the ideas presented with the central thought found in Romans 10:9.
A. Starting in the middle (Romans 10:1-17)
In quoting from Deuteronomy 30 in Romans 10:6-8, Paul is using language to describe the renewal of the covenant and the end of exile. The “righteousness based on faith” (Romans 10:6) is picture of the “faith-based covenant” (1169). In Deuteronomy 30 it is a commandment which is not in heaven or beyond in the sea, but in the mouth and circumcised heart of God’s people so they can obey. In Romans 10, Paul says the word is in your mouth and heart. This word (or message) is the Gospel: “ if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) Paul is still talking about justification, that is the one God’s declaration (redefined monotheism) of those who are in the right as members of the one covenant people (redefined election), a future act God is declaring in the present (redefined eschatology). The Jewish people were seeking to establish their own covenant membership (Romans 10:3), but justification and salvation were not only for those with Jewish ethnicity, but for both Jew and Greek alike (Romans 10:12-13). Jesus the Messiah is the end, the termination point, of the torah making covenant membership available to those who wear the badge of faith (Romans 10:4). The God of Israel intended on circumcising the hearts of his people (Deuteronomy 30:6) so there would be a “new way of doing the law” (1173). According to Paul, preaching becomes necessary in this new way. Preaching the Gospel is the announcement that the one God of Jews and Gentiles has become Messiah and King in and through Jesus. Salvation, in addition to justification, is now available for Jews and Gentiles. Keeping Paul’s conclusions in these verses in mind can prevent us from getting lost in Paul’s longer arguments regarding Israel in Romans 9 and 11.
B. Taking a step back (Romans 9:30-33 and 10:18-21)
Paul sums up in four verses the case he has been building in Romans 9, God choose Israel to be examples of his righteousness, but they have stumbled because they pursued righteousness, that is a covenant status, not by faith, but by the torah. This line of thinking takes us further back to Romans 7 and 8. The torah gives sin an opportunity to spread, but God condemns sin in the flesh of Jesus the Messiah (Romans 8:3). Romans 9 describes the election of Israel and their stumbling, but there is no mention of sin, although Roman 1-8 deals often with the topic if sin. In pursuing a covenant status formed by the torah, Israel ends up stumbling over the very intent of the law and ultimately the goal of the torah, Jesus the Messiah. The Jewish stumbling in Romans 9:30-33 intended to make the Gentiles jealous as described in Romans 10:18-21. Paul draws upon Moses (Romans 10:19) and Isaiah (Romans 10:20) as witnesses to the fact that “Gentiles were going to be brought in to make Israel jealous.” (1180) The hope for Israel is while God has included Gentiles in the covenant family, those who have pursued covenant membership by faith, God still holds out his hands of mercy towards Israel (Romans 10:21).
C. Israel’s Strange Purpose (Romans 9:6-29)
This section is, in part, a retelling of the story of Israel beginning with Abraham. “This, in fact, is how (second-temple Jewish) eschatology works: first you tell the story of Israel so far, and then you look on to what is still to come.” (1181) Paul is talking about eschatology, but Jewish eschatology includes a recounting of God’s activity in history. In one sense, we could read Romans 9 as speaking of the past, Romans 10 dealing with the present, and Romans 11 as Paul’s discussion of the future. Paul is recounting Israel’s story in light of where that story goes namely to the coming of Jesus the Messiah who does for Israel what Israel could not do for herself. The God of Israel has been active in history “showing mercy” and “hardening” in order to fulfill his purposes. Paul is not retelling Israel’s history to demonstrate how God saves people in general using Israel as an example. Rather Paul is describing God’s action in and surrounding Israel, because it is in and through Israel in particular that God has chosen to save the world.
This retelling of Israel’s election is told from a Jewish point of view to point out to Gentile believers in Jesus the Messiah that they have been included in a irreplaceable story of God’s purposes in and through Israel. Paul’s emphasis is God has shown mercy to Jacob (i.e Israel) a part from Israel’s lack of commitment to the torah. If God can by his grace choose a people unfaithful to the torah then what if God has chosen to be patient with Gentiles these seemingly “vessels of wrath” (Romans 9:22)? Paul uses the metaphor of a potter and clay to describe his dealings specifically with Israel and not all humanity. Israel cannot tell God: “You are unfair in molding us in a certain way!” God has chosen Israel and he is the master potter and can mold pottery in any way he chooses. This act of choosing is what we mean by election. “It is not, then, that ‘election’ simply involves a selection of some and a leaving of others, a ‘loving’ of some and a ‘hating’ of others. It is that the ‘elect’ themselves are elect in order to be the place where and the means by which God’s redemptive purposes are worked out.” (1191)
God’s act of hardening, like his act of electing, was to demonstrate his saving purposes. Paul writes: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:22-24). By writing “what if” Paul is introducing a new interpretation to Israel’s story. What if God wanted to demonstrate his judgment (wrath) and power (authority) by showing patience towards “vessels of wrath” and revealing the richness of his mercy in his “vessels of mercy” which includes Gentiles? The answer is: this is exactly what has happened in Messiah. Paul quotes from the prophet Hosea to answer the question: “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’” (Romans 9:25, quoted from Hosea 2:23).
D. Israel’s Mysterious Future (Romans 11:1-32)
Paul asks another rhetorical question: “Has God rejected his people?” He answers: “By no means!” (Romans 11:1) If Romans 9 is a retelling of Israel’s history (election) then the counter-balance is an account of Israel’s future in Roman 11 (eschatology). Israel has been seemingly “cast away” for a purpose, that would ultimately lead to their acceptance. The inclusion of Gentiles was not a sign indicating the God of Israel has rejected his people, rather it was to make Israel jealous. Israel is also invited to participate in the reconciliation of Jesus the Messiah. Paul writes, “For if their rejection [casting away] means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15) The covenant is renewed for the Jewish people who confess Jesus is Lord which makes them alive. They are experiencing a “partial hardening” (Romans 11:25), not because God has rejected them and replaced them with Gentiles, but that they would become jealous by the Gentile inclusion and “all Israel will be saved.” Israel stumbled (Romans 11:11), was broken off (Romans 11:19), was hardened (Romans 11:25), and “they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you (Gentiles) they also may now receive mercy” (Romans 11:31).
Will all Israel be saved? Paul’s answer is, at first glance, complex. In Romans 11:14 Paul expects “some” to be saved, but in Romans 11:26 he says all Israel will be saved. He is clear: “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” (Romans 11:32) God’s mercy extends to all, Jew and Gentile alike, but will all Israel be saved or just some? The answer is found in looking back at the rhetorical center of Romans 9-11, which is Romans 10:9-13: “..If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In this regard, Jews cannot boast and neither can Gentiles. Gentiles have been grafted in and if Jews have been broken off, God has the power to graft them in again. Salvation for Israel is the same as salvation for the Gentile nations; it is found in a covenant status pursued by faith in Jesus the Messiah.
E. The Beginning and the End (Romans 9:1-5 and Romans 11:33-36)
This section follows the pattern of many of the Psalms, by opening with a lament and closing with praise. Pauls opens with: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:2-3) He closes this section with: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36). “Paul is doing again what he does best: expounding the ancient faith of Israel, rethought and reimagined around Jesus and the spirit, in such a way as to take every thought captive to obey the Messiah.” (1256)
III. Summing Up Paul’s Theology
Paul has taken three Jewish paradigms—monotheism, election, and eschatology—and thoroughly reworked them in light of Jesus the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit. In doing so he has transformed the hope of Israel by bringing the Jewish law to its intended termination point. The covenant has been renewed as promised. Yahweh has been faithful to the covenant and has returned to his people who are marked by faith in the Messiah. His Spirit now dwells in his rebuilt temple, that temple made with stones that breathe. His final act of judgment has been experienced by those in the body of Messiah. Both Jews and Gentiles have been declared in the right and thus members of God’s covenant family. Gods action of blessing, saving, and healing God’s world has begun, but it is not complete. God has been faithful to his promise to Abraham, a faithfulness to the covenant that has been displayed by the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.
IV. Final Thoughts
The Gospel is for the Jew first and also for the Greek, the Gentile, the non-Jew. The Gospel declares how the God worshiped by the Jews has become the King of the world. The future for Israel and Gentile nations depends on how they respond to the Gospel.
I am blogging my way through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, creating an outline of the book as a part of a class I am teaching at our church. This is the seventh of a nine-part series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. Check out the previous posts here: Part 1 |Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Part 7: Eschatology and Ethics
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 11, Sections 1 – 6.3
I. Introducing Eschatology
To talk about God’s future for God’s world (eschatology) is to speak of hope. “Many ancient Jews clung on to a hope which had specific content and shape. Rooted in scripture, this was a hope not just for an individual future after death, but for a restoration and renewal of the whole nation, and perhaps even for the entire created order.” (1043) For Paul, eschatology is connected to both election and monotheism. Eschatological hope was never an individual hope, but the hope of one people of God, who, as the one true and living God, has a plan for his good world.
II. Eschatology and Hope
“This is not simply a hope beyond the world. It is a hope for the world.” (1044) Paul’s hope was a Jewish hope rethought around Jesus the Messiah, that is, the return of Yahweh to Zion. This hope has begun (Christ has come), but it is not complete (Christ will come again). The present time is in between “the already” and the “not yet” of the day of the Lord. During this time we experience the transformation of character, becoming people fit for the age to come. Jewish hope was built around the return of Yahweh to Zion where he would rule and sort out everything that had gone wrong. This is what is meant by “judgment.”
“What Yahweh does in the tabernacle or temple is a sign and foretaste of what he intends to do in and for the whole creation…to fill the whole earth with his glory and to set up his kingdom of justice, peace and prosperity.” (1053) This rule through the coming of Messiah would show God’s faithfulness to his covenant (i.e. his righteousness) and therefore enable his people to “bless the families of the earth” and “inherit the world.” This coming rule, the age to come, has broken into this world ruled by sin and death. We who are in the body of Messiah have received eternal life, that is, the life of the age to come.
A. Hope redefined by Jesus
The resurrection of Jesus the Messiah marked a definite breaking in of the age to come into this present evil age. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). The presence of the age to come with the resurrection is kingdom-language. The age to come has been escorted in with the kingdom of God. “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26 ESV). We are not waiting for Jesus to rule then, Paul makes it clear: Jesus is “already ruling the world.” (1063)
Jesus is the world’s true Lord and King. His rule, has begun, but it is not complete. The rule of King Jesus is undoubtedly political in nature. “When Paul said that Jesus was now in charge, he meant something much more dangerous and subversive. he meant, in some sense or other, that Caesar was not the world’s ultimate ruler.” (1065) Calling Jesus “King” and “Lord” implies the kingdom has come to overthrow the current structures of political authority, which was the very hope of Jewish eschatology. As we change our allegiance, we are freed from the present evil age. Paul writes: Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4 ESV). “The ‘evil of the present age, in Jewish thought, consists not in the present world being a dark, wicked pace from which we should try to escape, but in the intrusion into, and infection of, God’s good creation with the power of evil.” (1069)
We have been delivered from the present evil age as the new exodus people of God. We were slaves to sin and subject to death, but now we have received the life of the age to come! This new exodus fits squarely with Jewish expectations, although rethought through the cross and resurrection of Messiah. Shockingly Jesus, the new-Moses, brought about our liberation by his death at the hands of the very authorities he was overthrowing. Any talk of the atonement (i.e. the meaning and implications of the death of Jesus) needs to consider the historical context of the death of Messiah. “The cross, then, is not simply part of the definition of God or the key fulcrum around which the purpose of God in election is accomplished. It is also at the heart of Paul’s inaugurated eschatology.” (1071) By “inaugurated eschatology,” he means the launching of God’s future new creation project. As previously stated, the death of Jesus, as the means by which the new age breaks into the old, demonstrates God’s righteousness, that is, his covenant faithfulness and justice.
B. Hope redefined by the Spirit
We who are in Messiah are the new temple where the Spirit dwells. The Spirit accomplishes the work of heart-transformation, the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:28-29), and exists as a sign that Yahweh has returned to his people. We await with all creation for the grand reworking and renewal of all things but the Spirit has been given to us as a deposit “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV). Paul’s vision of the future is a “Spirit-driven inaugurated eschatology.” (1078) New creation has begun in us as a sign of what is to come.
III. The Day of the LORD
The day of Yahweh has become the day of our Lord Jesus. That day has come and is coming. Paul writes: “…who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8). (See also 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2) This day will be a time of judgement, not simply condemnation. On that day, the creator God will sort things out and make right everything that is out of order. This day will mark the appearing (Greek word: parousia) of Jesus. It is not that he will “come back” as if he has been far away. Rather he will make his presence known.
The day of the Lord will be an unveiling of the wrath (judgment) of God, judgment for people with hard, unrepentant hearts who have been storing up judgment for themselves (Romans 2:5). God will ultimately rid the world of evil and renew and restore all creation. The creator God, the one God of Israel, appearing in the person of the Messiah, made a world fit for himself and so he shall restore it and fill it with his presence and justice.
IV. Eschatology and Ethics
“The new world beckons” (1096), the world of new creation made known within us by the Spirit calls to us and invites us to live a certain way. Protestant Christianity has a tendency to push ethics to the background and pull salvation to the foreground. This shifting of emphasis is out of fear of equating ethics with “work.” The danger seen by those with a strong Reformed impulse is we will attempt to earn our salvation by works if ethics is too close to the center of Paul’s theology. “Once we understand how Paul’s eschatology works, and how moral behaviour and indeed moral effort (a major theme in Paul, screened out altogether within some interpretative traditions) is reconceived within that world, any such imagined danger disappears.” (1097)
A. Ethics in light of the “already” in the new age
Ethics for Paul is tied to his eschatology. We have the responsibility of cooperating with the creator God in his new creation project and so he is developing within us the kind of character necessary to be up for the task. Paul did not work out a sophisticated theology out of Jewish story and symbols and then merely add a few moral commands. Paul’s ethics go hand-in-hand with his theological vision of the arrival of new creation, as if he is saying: “the kingdom has come, Yahweh has returned to make everything new and put everything back into order. This is big news! This changes everything! We cannot live the way we used to live!”
In the body of Messiah we are a new humanity living in a Spirit-breathed, Spirit-formed new creation. So it is not merely that we are imitating Jesus, rather we are living out of a new identity. We are cooperating with the Spirit. “Part of the mystery of the spirit’s work, at least as Paul understands its work, is that that work does not cancel out human moral effort, including thought, will, decision and action. Rather, it makes them all possible. It opens up a new kind of freedom…” (1106-1107) As Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled the Torah, so those who are in Messiah, who walk by the Spirit, fulfill Torah as well.
B. Ethics in light of the “not yet” of the new age
Those in the body of Messiah have received the life of the age to come and are already participating in that age, but the new age is not yet here in its fullness. It has officially been launched but it is not complete. “Chasing towards the line: one of Paul’s various athletic metaphors, indicating that the ‘not yet’ of eschatology does not mean hanging around with nothing to do.” (1113) We are pressing toward the goal (chasing towards the finish line) to become fully mature, fully transformed into Christ-likeness, even though we have not yet arrived. Paul writes: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:5-8). Those who live in the darkness of the present evil age will not inherit the kingdom of God, so don’t become partners with them. They are living in the not yet. You are living in the light of the age to come. “Paul envisions a renewed humanity in terms of new creation, a new world in which the creator’s original intention would at last be fulfilled; and this new world is to be seen in advance in the Messiah’s people….Sexual immorality destroys the vision of new creation in which the purpose begun in Genesis 1 and 2 can at last find fulfillment.” (117)
They way we live in the present evil age anticipating the age to come is the way of love. “Love, then, is obviously and uncontroversially central to Paul’s vision of the Christian moral life, in a way not true in either Judaism or the greco-roman world.” (1119) Love flows from a transformed character and a renewed mind. Christians who belong to Messiah develop and maintain Christian patterns of thinking. For Paul, the human mind is able to grasp key truths about the creator God, which guides behavior. The mind and heart are not divided in Paul’s theology.
V. The Question of Israel
“If Jesus really was Israel’s Messiah, as (the first Christians) believed the resurrection had demonstrated him to be, then in some sense or other the narrative and identity of Israel had not been ‘replaced’ but fulfilled — fulfilled by him in person, and therefore fulfilled in and for all his people.” (1129) In Galatians, Paul describes the people of God as once enslaved by sin to the Torah, but now “no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:7). He chooses Hagar and Sarah as examples of two different ways to be the people of God. Hagar the mother of Ishmael is from Mount Sinai representing the giving of the law to Moses. Sarah is the mother of Isaac representing the promise and covenant with Abraham. By faith (and not by the Torah) we are children of the promise. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). The issue is not Judaism versus Christianity. The issue is not whether or not an individual is “saved.” The issue is this: How does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus shape how we are to be the people of God in the age to come? Paul writes: “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:5-6 ESV).
The question of Israel is the question of being the people of God. In the Messiah, being the people of God has been redefined from slavery under the Torah to freedom by faith and love. Jewish ethnicity and adherence to the Torah are no longer the markers of the people of God. Now what identifies people as God’s people is faith and love. Paul sums up his thoughts at the end of his letter to the Galatians: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16). By “Israel” Paul means the people of God both Jews (Judeans) and Gentiles.
VI. Final Thoughts
The new world has broken into the old world, flooding the darkness of this present evil age with light. Live as people of the light.
I am blogging my way through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, creating an outline of the book as a part of a class I am teaching at our church. This is the sixth of a nine-part series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. Check out the previous posts here: Part 1 |Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Part 6: Election, the Spirit, and Justification
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 10, Sections 4 – 5
I. The Spirit and the Gospel
The Gospel is the announcement that the God of Israel has been faithful to his covenant by fulfilling his promises through Jesus the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit. The Gospel is not how to “get saved” or “how to be justified.” It is the announcement of what God has done in and through Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. The Gospel announcement comes with the work of the Spirit. No one can say “Jesus is the Lord” without the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Furthermore, the Spirit accomplishes in the renewed people of God what the Torah could not do in the initial people of God.
II. The Shape of Justification
Paul’s discussion of justification is in the context of his reworking of the election of Israel summed up in Jesus the Messiah and lived out in the one people of God by the Holy Spirit. The logic of the election of Israel was not God choosing one ethnic group in order to condemn the rest of the world or allow them to remain in pagan darkness. The logic of the election of Israel was God choosing a certain people through whom he would rescue the world with the light of his love. To be justified is to be put right as the people of God for the purposes of God.
A. The logical context behind Paul’s theology of justification
1. “God the creator intends at the last to remake the creation, righting all wrongs and filling the world with his own presence.” (926) We start where the Christian narrative begins, the actions of the one true God making the world as a place to be shared with humanity.
2. “For this to happen, humans themselves have to be ‘put right’.” (926) Because humanity is intricately connected to God’s world, they must be put right, that is, they must be justified.
3. “God’s way of accomplishing this is through the covenant.” (927) God intended to remain faithful in and through Israel.
4. “(The covenant) is how the creator God will put humans to rights.” (934) God is responsible for setting right a world gone wrong and he has the power and authority to do it.
5. “All these themes point forward to the decisive divine judgment on the last day, in other words, to ‘final eschatology.’” (936) There is a final justification coming, a final verdict and sorting out of things gone wrong. The present justification experienced for those in Jesus the Messiah is a foretaste of the justification to come.
6. “The events concerning Jesus the Messiah are the revelation, in unique and decisive action, of the divine righteousness.” (942) In the death of Jesus, sin (the source of humanity’s wrongdoing) is condemned and in the resurrection of Jesus, God’s new creation (where the world is being put right) has begun. Through the Messiah we see God’s righteousness displayed both in terms of his covenant faithfulness and his restorative justice.
7. “When Paul speaks about people being ‘justified’ in the present, he is (arguing)…that in the present time the covenant God declares ‘in the right,’ ‘within the covenant,’ all those who hear, believe and obey ‘the gospel’ of Jesus the Messiah.” (944) This declaration “creates and constitutes a new situation, a new status,” namely, those who are justified are a part of the people of God. It is not a description of a person’s moral character but a declaration of a person’s social identity. “Those who are declared or accounted ‘righteous’ on the basis of Messiah-faith constitute the single covenant family which the one God has faithfully given to Abraham.” (961)
B. Justification at work in Galatians 2:15-4:11
“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through [the] faith[fulness of] Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:15 ESV)
The context was the “Antioch incident” where Peter was not sharing a table with Gentile Christians. Paul confronts Peter, because his sin was fundamentally a gospel issue as he explains in Galatians 2:15. We are not justified—declared righteous and therefore members of God’s people—because we keep the law, but because of the faithfulness of Jesus. We believe in Jesus and are justified. Our justification is based on Jesus’ faithful death. Our faith is the badge indicated we are members of God’s people.
“Paul’s whole argument is about membership in the single family, sharing the same table-fellowship, not primarily about the way in which sins are dealt with and the sinner rescued from them.” (969) There is little mention of sin, and no mention of death, in Galatians. The letter focuses on the definition of Christian community, that is, what does it mean to be the people of God? What are the markers that define Christian community? This definition has been reworked around Jesus the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit. “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3) Paul is addressing the Galatians (plural) according to 3:1. This new shape of the people of God is the work of the Spirit.
This called people, the children of Abraham, redefined by Jesus and the Spirit will be the means by which God blesses the nations (Galatians 3:8). The promise given to Abraham was not merely for one ethnic people (the Jews) in one particular land (Israel); the promise was for the whole world. Jesus became a curse for us (N.T. Wright notes the “us” refers to Jewish people), redeeming them from the curse of the law so that “the blessing of Abraham may come to the Gentiles” (Galatians 3:13), so that “we (both Jews and Gentiles) might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14).
To be declared righteous members of God’s chosen people (election) has been redefined. Members who once were marked by keeping the torah are now marked by both faith in Jesus as Messiah whose faithful death demonstrated God’s faithfulness to the torah and the reception of God’s Spirit.
C. Justification at work in 2 Corinthians 3:3
“And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV) The people of God has been redefined by and through the Holy Spirit who has come in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of a coming new covenant where the one God of Israel would write his laws on the hearts of his one people (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The coming of new covenant implies a new definition of election, that is, being the people of God. “The spirit has redefined ‘election’, the covenant status of the people of God. The covenant is not now a matter of possessing or hating the Mosaic law. It is a matter of the transformation of the heart, wrought by the spirit.” (983) The Shekinah glory of God which under the old covenant dwelt in a particular place, the Temple in Jerusalem, now dwells in the hearts of his people.
D. Justification at work in Philippians 3:2-11
“The emphasis of the passage is precisely not ‘so that is how I shall be “saved”’, but ‘so that is how I will be demonstrated to be truly within the covenant people.’” (984) The context in which Paul talks about receiving righteousness from God is in the context of those who define covenant membership by circumcision and thus, adherence to the torah. “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God…” (Philippians 3:3). This statement speaks of the redefined “we,” redefined by the coming of the Spirit.
Paul continues by recounting his Jewish heritage. He was not bragging that he had earned points as a Jew and was somehow self-righteous. He was providing the evidence that he was a legitimate part of the covenant family, but none of that matters now that Messiah has come. Paul describes his covenant status as in Christ. “…that I may be discovered in him, not having my own covenant status (righteousness) defined by Torah, but the status (righteousness) which comes through the Messiah’s faithfulness: the covenant status (righteousness) from God which is given to faith.” (Galatians 3:9 The Kingdom New Testament) “Being ‘in the Messiah’, as clearly here as anywhere in Paul, is the new way of saying ‘in Israel.’” (989) Justification here is not a matter of the forgiveness of personal sin, but an incorporation into Christ and into Christ’s people.
E. Justification at work in Romans 3:21-4:25
In this section, which is one complete thought, we see the righteousness of God on display, not the righteousness we receive from God (Philippians 3:9), but God’s own righteousness, his covenant faithfulness and faithful justice. God’s covenant faithfulness has been displayed apart from the law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus for the benefit of those who believe (Romans 3:22). There is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, we are all a part of the plight, given to sin and subject to death, and we are justified, declared to be members of God’s family by grace (Romans 3:23-24). “What we loosely think of as ‘justification’ is very closely joined in Paul’s mind with the incorporation of believers into the messianic reality of Jesus death and resurrection.” (997) We are justified through the redemption that is in Jesus the Messiah (Romans 3:24). The death of Jesus is described by Paul using sacrificial terms: “blood,” “propitiation” or “atoning sacrifice,” and “passed over.” God is demonstrating his faithfulness to the covenant to bless the world through Israel which had a sacrificial system, but the Messiah’s death meant the fulfillment of the sacrificial system. The redefined people of God, the church, would no longer carry on that practice. “The ‘righteousness’ of God which was called into question by the failure of Israel to be ‘faithful’ to the divine commission (3:2-3) has been put into effect through the faithfulness of Messiah” (1000).
Because of the covenant faithfulness of God revealed in the faithful death of Jesus, no one gets to brag (Romans 3:27), not Jews and not Gentiles. God is the God of both (Romans 3:29), because God is one (monotheism!) (Romans 3:30). How does he justify? By faith! “This new people is composed, not only of Gentiles, of course, but of Jews and Gentiles alike who display this pistis (Greek word for “faith”), the badge of membership. This is the same badge, whether one’s covenant status is renewed or initiated” (1001).
Romans 4 moves to a discussion of Abraham, not as an example of how individuals get “saved” by faith, but as continuation of the display of God’s covenant faithfulness. Paul is bringing up Abraham, because covenant faithfulness is about God’s promise to Abraham. What was gained by Abraham? (Romans 4:1) He did not gain a personal relationship with God. He gained seminal membership into God’s family. Abraham wore the badge of faith and God declared him to be a member of God’s family. “The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well” (Romans 4:11). The covenant was all about the one God having one family of Jews and Gentiles.
What was the promise for this one family? “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world…” (Romans 4:13). The redefined people of God would be occupants of the whole world. There was a promise of land given to Abraham, but the land promise has been redefined, as with everything else, around the coming of Messiah and the gift of the Spirit, whereby we see the “holy land” as the whole earth. This promise did not come through the torah, rather it come through the display of God’s covenant faithfulness through the faith of God’s people (Romans 4:13) who share the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:16). Abraham was strong in faith “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:21 ESV). God displays his faithfulness to do what he promised to do in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Abraham wore the badge of faith and was included in God’s family and we wear the badge of faith and are included in God’s family because Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead for our justification, or inclusion in God’s family (Romans 4:25).
F. Justification at work in Romans 5-8
We start somewhere in the middle. “We are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6). This section continues with the theme of the covenant people of God redefined by Jesus and, particularly noted here, by the Spirit. “The spirit is not some alien force, but rather the fresh (though long-promised) manifestation of the one God of Jewish monotheism.” (1008) In Romans 7 Paul is addressing Jewish Christians specifically because in telling the story redemption of Israel, he is telling the story of the redemption of the world. This section reverberates with themes of a new exodus, where sin in the slave master, baptism is the Red Sea crossing, and the redeemed world is the promise land.
Romans 7:15-25 is not Paul discussing his struggle with sin either pre or post conversion. Paul is not describing the normal Christian life as a life-long struggling with sin. When Paul writes, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:15),” he is describing Israel under the law. He is using the rhetorical first person “I” to describe Israel struggle with sin under the law. The law is good in that it draws Israel to the one true living God, but the law imprisons Israel in sin.
Sin is the enemy, not the law. Sin is the slave-driver keeping Israel in slavery. Jesus the Messiah set us from from the slavery of sin. Paul repeats this fact in Romans 5:6-11, 6:7-11; 8:1-4. Jesus is the liberator, but the freeing of sin is in the context of the renewed, redefined people of God. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). The plural pronouns denote the context of Christian community. God show his love for us. Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We have been justified. We will be saved from the wrath (judgment) of God (Romans 5:9). Death and sin have reigned, but in the renewed promise land, grace and life reign through Jesus the Messiah (Romans 5:12-21). The movement from death to life is through the red sea crossing of baptism (Romans 6:3-4).
Sin has, at long last, been condemned in the death of the Messiah (Romans 8:3). “This is the divine purpose: that sin be drawn onto this one place, onto Israel, so that it can be dealt with conclusively by the covenant God himself in the persion, in the flesh of israel’s Messiah, the son of this very God.” (1015) So what was the point of creating Israel as a chosen people and giving them the law? “The point of Israel’s election was not ‘for the creator God to have a favourite people’ but for the sin of Adam to be dealt with. Election itself, and Torah as the gift which sealed election, was designed – this is Paul’s point – to draw sin onto that one place so that it could be successfully condemned right there.” (1015)
In Romans 8, we see the newly defined people of God as the new temple where God’s Spirit dwells, a people led by the Spirit, as the people of Israel were led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of cloud by night. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). The Spirit redefines the children of God as those who have been incorporated in Jesus the Messiah. The world-wide implications of the demonstration of God’s covenant faithfulness is experienced by creation itself in the rhetorical climax of Romans 8, where Paul writes, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility…(creation waits to) obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21)
III. Final Thoughts
It makes sense to talk about Paul’s theology of justification by faith in the context of Paul’s redefinition of election around the coming of the Holy Spirit, because justification is God’s gracious act of declaring in the right those who are a part of the chosen people of God who carry out God’s purposes for God’s world.
I am blogging my way through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, creating an outline of the book as a part of a class I am teaching at our church. This is the fifth of a nine-part series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. Check out the previous posts here: Part 1 |Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 5: Election, Righteousness, and Faithfulness
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 10, Sections 1-3
I. Defining “Election” in Paul’s Theology
Election means “choosing,” but not in the sense of voting. Election-as-choosing for Paul is not what is reflected in Calvinism in their doctrine of predestination whereby God has chosen some for salvation (the elect) and chosen other for damnation (the reprobate). “The word ‘election’, as applied to Israel, usually carries a further connotation: not simply the divine choice of this people, but more specifically the divine choice of this people for a particular purpose.” (775) In other words, election for Paul is about vocation not salvation.
As with monotheism, election for Paul is a Jewish concept that has been redefined around Jesus the Messiah. Election includes salvation, that act of God rescuing, healing, and justifying. Justification is the act of God as judge in a court of law pronouncing “in the right” those who are guilty. “Paul’s thought is best understood in terms of the revision, around Messiah and spirit, of the fundamental categories and structures of second-temple jewish understanding; and that this ‘revision,’ precisely because of the drastic nature of the Messiah’s death and resurrection, and the freshly given power of the spirit, is not mere minor adjustment, but a radically new state of affairs, albeit one which had always been promised in Torah, prophets,and Psalms.” (783)
Israel’s purpose: bear God’s image and tend to God’s world, a direct echo of Adam’s purpose:
Adam was given a garden.
Israel was given land.
Adam received commands.
Israel received commands.
Adam was exiled.
Israel was exiled.
God came by the Messiah and the Spirit to do what Adam and Israel could not do. In this sense, Jesus and the Spirit do not replace Israel, but fulfill Israel’s vocation.
II. Defining “Righteousness” in Paul’s Theology
N.T. Wright uses the word “covenant” in his definition of “righteousness.” By covenant he means Abraham as the answer to Adam, that is, the promise made to Abraham to form him into a great nation whereby God would bless (save) the nations of the world, a promise expressly seen in the Exodus event. “Righteousness” in Paul’s writing can mean:
1) right behavior: …one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (Romans 5:18)
2) legal status: Those who receive…the free gift of righteousness… (Romans 5:17)
3) moral character (in reference to people): For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
4) covenant faithfulness (in reference to God): But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… (Romans 3:21)
A better English word for the Greek work dikaiosune (most often translated “righteousness”) is “just” or “justice.” Examples: His actions were just. Justice will prevail. As a parent, he is just. When we speak of God’s righteousness we are speaking of his covenant faithfulness and/or his restorative justice. God’s own righteousness is his faithfulness to his covenant to bless the world through the people of Abraham. (See Isaiah 9:7, 42:6)
III. Israel’s Election as the People of God
God’s righteousness is connected to the job of Israel to be the instrument by which God would save the world. “Yahweh’s choice of Israel as his people, was aimed not simply at Israel itself, but at the wider and larger purposes which this God intended to fulfill through Israel. Israel is God’s servant; and the point of having a servant is not that the servant becomes one’s best friend, though that may happen too, but in order that, through the work of the servant, one may get things done.” (804)
Through Israel the one God, the God of creation, the God of Israel intended to bring his righteous rule to the entire world. This promise has been fulfilled through Jesus the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit upon the body of Messiah, the church. Does this mean the people of Messiah have replaced the people of Abraham as the people of God (so-called “Replacement Theology”)? No. Jesus doesn’t replace Israel. The church doesn’t replace Israel. Jesus is after all Israel’s Messiah. He does not replace Israel, but embodies Israel and fulfills Israel’s vocation, since this was the purpose of election in the beginning. In fulfilling Israel’s mission, Jesus redefines what it means to be Israel. “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29 ESV)
IV. Messiah as the Focus of Election
Messiah is the location where the one God of Abraham (monotheism) and the one people of Abraham (election) met. When Paul proclaims Jesus as Messiah he is demonstrating how the entire purpose of Israel’s election has found its termination point. Paul draws on royal passages from Psalms and Isaiah in speaking of Jesus (See Romans 15:8-12; Psalm 18:49, 117:1; Isaiah 11:10). Christ (whenever you read “Christ” think “Messiah”) came as God’s servant to confirm the promises of Israel, so Gentiles would see God’s mercy. Messiah brings the end (the termination point) of the law (Romans 10:4), bringing the long awaited ending to Israel’s story.
Paul uses incorporative language in talking about Messiah. “Jesus, as Messiah, has drawn together the identity and vocation of Israel upon himself.” (825) In other words, Jesus as Messiah incorporates BOTH the defining markers of what it meant to be the people of God and the job the people of God were to fulfill. Israel was God’s servant, so Israel’s Messiah was God’s servant. What could be said of Israel, could be said of Messiah. Jesus was Israel in the flesh.
“To be ‘in the king,’ or now, for Paul, ‘in the anointed one,’ the Messiah, is to be part of the people over which he rules, but also part of the people who are defined by him, by what has happened to him, by what the one God has promised him.” (830) To be in Christ, i.e. in Messiah, is to be in “Israel” as the people of God. This Israel is a redefined, but not replaced Israel, redefined according to the Hebrew prophets to be a people of a new covenant, living in a new age. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16 ESV)
So what about the Torah, the Jewish law? “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:24-29 ESV)
“Paul regarded Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, and that he saw and expressed that belief in terms of Messiah’s summing up of Israel in himself, thereby launching a new solidarity in which all those ‘in him’ would be characterized by his ‘faithfulness’, expressed in terms of his death and resurrection.” (835)
V. Jesus the Faithful Messiah in Romans 3 and 4
“The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Greek: pisteos Iesou Christou) for all who believe. For there is no distinction.” (Romans 3:22 ESV)
Should we translate this as “faith in Jesus Christ” or the “faithfulness of Jesus Christ?” Wright says the the latter. “The faithfulness which was required of Israel, but not provided, has now been provided by Israel’s representative, the Messiah.” (837)
Back up to Romans 2:24-29. This text sets the context for our interpretive question in 3:22. The context a question itself: Who is a Jew? Answer: “No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” (2:24-29 ESV) Paul here radically redefines what it means to be a member of the chosen people of God (i.e. a Jew).
We continue with Paul’s thought process into Romans 3. “Then what advantage has the Jew?” (3:1) Answer: “Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” (3:2) Then Paul asks, “What if some were unfaithful (in their vocation)? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? (Romans 3:3). The context here is the faithfulness of Israel and the faithfulness of God.
Romans 3:9-20 makes it clear that Israel shares in the failure of humanity to reflect God’s image. Israel too is under sin. Israel has not been faithful to the oracles of God entrusted to them. “If the covenant God is going to bless the world through Israel, he needs a faithful Israelite.” (839) Now we return to Romans 3:22. First Paul writes that the righteousness of God, that is God’s covenant faithfulness, has been manifested apart from the Jewish Law, even though the law points to it. And now Romans 3:22: “God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, for the benefit of all who have faith.” (Kingdom New Testament)
It is not faith in Jesus that demonstrates God’s righteousness (covenant faithfulness/justice), but rather the faithfulness of Jesus. Personal faith is still necessary if we are to be justified, which is why Paul writes “for all who believe” (Romans 3:22 ESV). Israel has been unfaithful. Jesus the Messiah as Israel-in-person proudly wears the badge of faithfulness. Faith, and not the law, then becomes the badge worn by the Messiah-people who are identified as the people of God. In wearing the badge of faith, human beings — both Jews and Gentiles — are justified. (More on this later.)
The faithfulness of God has been demonstrated through the redemption that is in the Messiah Jesus by his blood (3:25). Redemption language draws upon Jewish imagery, the celebrated passover event, where God rescues Israel from Egyptian slavery. God has passed over sin, but sin has been dealt with at the cross. We are now justified, set right, not by the law demonstrated by actions, but the law demonstrated by faith, because faith in Jesus sums up the law, it brings the law to its intended purpose (3:31).
The issue in Paul’s redefinition of election (those chosen to be the people of God who carry out the mission of God on the earth) is to make the point “Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also…” (Romans 3:29 ESV) The language used by Paul fits into both juridical and participationist categories.
Juridical = having to do with legal status, a courtroom metaphor
Participationist = having to do with human participation, a relational metaphor
We are justified by faith apart from the law (3:28). This statement implies we are “reckoned to be within the justified people, those whom this God has declared ‘righteous’, ‘forgiven’, ‘members of the covenant’, on the basis of pistis (faith) alone.” (847)
VI. Faithfulness and Justification
A person is not justified by works of the law but through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2:16) “Justification is all about being declared to be a member of God’s people; and this people is defined in relation to the Messiah himself.” (856) When we are justified we are “declared to be in the right” and thus members of God’s covenant community.
Those who rely on the works of the law as the badge of membership in the family of God are under a curse, but Jesus redeems us from the curse by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13) so that God’s promise to Abraham could come true and the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles (i.e. the nations, the people of the entire world). Jesus’ redeeming death is how he demonstrates God’s faithfulness to the covenant.
So why then the law (the Torah)? (Galatians 3:19) In a word: sin. The Torah served as as a stand-in, a babysitter, until Messiah came. “Torah offered life, it could not give it — not through its own fault, but through the sinful human nature of the Israel to which it had been given.” (871) The law was necessary, but temporary. It created two families where the one God desired one people. “How do we know that this God desires that single family? Because God is one….Monotheism, freshly understood through Messiah and spirit, provides the ground and source for the fresh christological understanding of election.” (872) The law was not wrong. It was not opposed to the promises of God, but because of human sinfulness (including the sins of Israel) it was bound to enslave God’s people.
VII. Messiah’s Action and Our Participation as the People of God
“God’s covenantal purpose to bless the world through Israel – has been accomplished through the Messiah.” (879) God acted in and through Jesus the Messiah and as Messiah’s people we participate in what he has done.
“He died for all (Messiah’s achievement), that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (the implementation and our participation).” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV)
“God through Christ reconciled us to himself (Messiah’s action) and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (our participation)…” (2 Corinthians 5:18 ESV)
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin (Messiah’s action), so that in him we might become (embody) the righteousness of God (our participation).” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The death of the Messiah brought sin, the plight, to a single point where it could be condemned and its power broken. “For God has does what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh (God’s work through Messiah’s action), in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (our participation).” (Romans 8:3 ESV) “The cross is, for Paul, the sign of the centre: the centre for Israel, the centre for humankind. It is the middle of everywhere, the definite line which refocuses edge-lured minds, the axis of everything.” (910)
VIII. Final Thoughts
Monotheism, the one reign of the one God of Israel, informs Paul’s understand of election — God’s one promise to bless the world by choosing one nation, Israel, to reflect his glory in his world. “The elect” in Paul’s writings refers to the people of God identified by faith who have received the task of being the instruments of salvation, reconciliation, and healing of God’s good, but broken, world.
Prayer to God the Father
A Prayer of Irenaeus
I appeal to you, Lord,
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob and Israel,
You the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Infinitely merciful as you are, it is your will that we should learn to know you.
You made heaven and earth, you rule supreme over all that is.
You are the true, the only God; there is no other god above you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ…and the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
grant that all who read what I have written here may know you,
because you alone are God; let them draw strength from you;
keep them from all the teaching that is heretical, irreligious or godless.
(Taken from Early Christian Prayers, Edited by A. Hamman, Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1961, 30-31)
N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 4: Monotheism Redefined in Light of Jesus and the Spirit
I am blogging my way through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, creating an outline of the book as a part of a class I am teaching at our church. This is the fourth of a nine-part series. All quotations followed by a number in parenthesis are quotes from the book. Check out the previous posts here: Part 1 |Part 2 | Part 3
This section begins N.T. Wright’s discussion of Paul’s theology around three central themes: monotheism, election, and eschatology. This section discusses Jewish monotheism.
Part 4: Monotheism Redefined in Light of Jesus and the Spirit
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Chapter 9
I. Introduction to Paul’s Theology
“Worldview and theology go together in a chicken-and-egg sort of way, as opposed to a fish-and-chips sort of way.” (609) Paul’s theology is shaped by his worldview and when we look at his theology we begin to see his worldview in vivid detail.
Paul’s theology is built around three primary elements of Jewish theology: monotheism, election, and eschatology. Paul did not reject Jewish elements of life and thought, but he “rethought, reworked and reimagined them around Jesus the Messiah on the one hand and the Spirit on the other.” (612)
A. Monotheism: the worship of Yahweh, the God of Israel, the creator God rethought in light of Jesus and the Spirit (Part 4)
B. Election: God’s calling and vocation for Israel to be the one people of the one God reworked through Jesus’ work to build his church through the Spirit (Part 5-6)
C. Eschatology: God’s future for God’s world reimagined through the coming of Messiah and the outpouring of the Spirit of Messiah (Parts 7-8)
II. Jewish Monotheism during Second Temple Judaism
“God the creator, God of Israel…is the constant refrain, not least for those who believe themselves to be living in a continuing ‘exile.’ Their God is the true God, and his rescue of Israel will reveal the fact to the nations.” (622) Jewish monotheism is connected to Jewish kingdom theology (i.e. the kingdom of God). The one God of Israel will rescue Israel and demonstrate his rulership over the nations. The oneness of God was not a reference to the inner nature of God (ontology), but to God’s supremacy over all other gods and rulers (politics).
III. Paul’s Reaffirmation of Monotheism
“Empires thrive on religious relativism; the more gods the better, since the more there are the less likely they are to challenge the ruling ideology.” (634) In the spirit of second temple Judaic monotheism, Paul expressed the cry of monotheism in a pagan world in passages like Roman 3:29-30: “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, God is one—(and he) will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”
If we take the Jewish Shema (Hear O Israel the LORD your God is one and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.) as the cornerstone of Jewish monotheism, we hear echos of it in places like Romans 8:28 “to those who love God….”
Paul further affirms monotheism in his reference to God as the creator and judge of the world as Jewish monotheism is best expressed not in speculative thoughts about the nature of God, but the actions of God in history (e.g. creation and judgment). See Romans 1:19; 11:33-36; 1 Corinthians 15:23-28
IV. Monotheism Rethought through Jesus
A. Thoughts on Christology (the study of the person and work of Christ)
Some have speculated that the early Christians, including those of the apostolic era of Paul, did not believe Jesus of Nazareth was God in human form because this was not a Jewish idea. There was a Jewish expectation of the return of Yahweh who would reign as king and rescue Israel from exile. Early Christians believe he had returned in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and “Jesus’ first followers found themselves not only (as it were) permitted to use God-language for Jesus, but compelled to use Jesus-language for the One God.” (655)
B. A revised Shema with Jesus in it
N.T. Wright chooses five texts as examples of monotheism rethought in light of Jesus: Galatians 4:1-11; Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Colossians 1; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Philippians 2:6-11. Here is one text: “Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6 ESV)
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul address the issue of eating food used as a sacrificial offering in pagan idol worship. He offers his pastoral guidance upon sound theology based in the Shema: “there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4). “To pray the Shema was to embrace the yoke of God’s kingdom, to commit oneself to God’s purposes on earth as in heaven, whatever it might cost. It was to invoke, and declare one’s loyalty to, the One God who had revealed himself in action at the Exodus and was now giving his people their inheritance.” (663)
We worship the one God in a world with many gods, but for us “there is one God, the Father…. Everything Paul has written so far is in line with Jewish thinking, but he adds “…and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Compare the two lines (1 Corinthians 8:6):
one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist
one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist
Paul has intentionally (and shockingly for a Jewish reader) expanded the Shema to include Jesus. He adds no explanation or argument, so we can assume a theological revolution has taken place among the primarily Jewish followers of Jesus the Messiah. In the Greek translation of the Torah, the Shema uses the word “Lord” (Greek: kyrios) for Yahweh. Paul is now using the word “Lord” to speak of Jesus.
Shema in Greek: akoue Israel kyrios ho theos hemon kyrios heis estin
1 Corinthians 8:6: heis theos ho pater…..heis kyrios Isous Christos
“Israel’s God has returned at last in and as Jesus, (this) anchors the key worldview-symbol, the single community of the Messiah’s followers. The revised Shema sustains both the unity and the holiness of the community.” (666) Not only has the one God returned in and as Jesus the Messiah, but the Messiah has been crucified (1 Corinthians 8:11), increasing the redefinition of monotheism in shocking terms.
“Paul sees the community of those who live by the rule of the One God, One lord — which is the community of the crucified Messiah, defined by him in his death and resurrection — as the community in and through whom God’s sovereign rule is coming to birth. To pray the revised shema, just as much as the ancient one, was to take upon oneself the yoke of the kingdom.” (668) The coming Kingdom meant God had returned to his people, which Paul proclaims has happened in the coming of Jesus. He thought of Jesus in categories belonging to Yahweh.
C. The resurrection of the one Lord Jesus
Jesus embodied the return of the One God of Israel in life, death, and resurrection. His resurrection on the third day, revealed Jesus was indeed the Messiah. “(He) was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4). “Son of God” was already used by the empire to speak of the Caesar, but for Jewish listeners the term spoke of the one sent from God. Jesus himself had called God his “Father,” so it seemed fitting to refer to Jesus as the Son. The resurrection did not create something new, but revealed what was already there.
In using the title “Lord” in reference to Jesus, Paul is implying that Yahweh himself is “arriving in the person of the Messiah, at the climax of the story of Israel” (705) For example, the confession “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9) brings about salvation for both the Jew and the Greek because, in quoting from the Old Testament, the “same Lord is Lord of all” and “all those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” “Lord” in the Old Testament is a reference to Yahweh.
V. Monotheism Rethought through the Spirit
“The spirit was not, for Paul and his contemporaries, a ‘doctrine’ or ‘dogma’ to be discussed, but the breath of life which put them in a position to discuss everything else — and more to the point, to worship, pray, love and work.” (710) An understanding of the full divinity of the Spirit came about in the fourth century, but the church fathers used the language of first century biblical writers to work out their descriptions of the Holy Spirit. For example, Irenaeus (second century church father) wrote: “For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, he made all things. This is to whom also he speaks, saying, ‘Let Us make man after our image and likeness.’”
The Spirit, like Jesus, was doing the sorts of things a first century Jewish person would expect Yahweh to do. The Spirit dwelling in the temple of our bodies (1 Corinthians 3:16) is a picture of the long-awaited return of Yahweh to the temple. The Spirit here plays the role of the Shekinah presence of God dwelling on the earth. Yahweh has returned to Zion through Jesus and the Spirit as he promised (Isaiah 52:6-8).
“The Spirit is the personal, powerful manifestation of the One God of Jewish monotheism, the God who, having given Torah, has at last enable his people to fulfil it and so come into the blessings of covenant renewal…” (719) The Spirit enables us to do what the Shema requires in a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) forming a new exodus out of sin and death and into the family of life (Romans 8). The new temple where the Spirit works out this new covenant and new exodus is the “fellowship of Messiah’s people.” (726)
In identifying both Jesus and the Spirit as accomplishing the work of Yahweh, the one God of Israel, Paul has radically rethought and redefined monotheism using Jewish language, imagery, and intent. The oneness of God in Jewish monotheism was not theoretical speculation on the essence of God, but rather the rule of God as creator over the pagan gods worshiped by so many others. Paul redefines monotheism within this framework. “The kingdom has been inaugurated through the work of Jesus, who, both as the embodiment of Israel’s God and as the single bearer of Israel’s destiny, has defeated the old enemy, has accomplished the new Exodus, and is now, by his spirit, leading his people to their inheritance — not, of course, ‘heaven’, but the reclaiming of all creation.” (735)
VI. Monotheism and the Problem of Evil
“The stronger your monotheism, the sharper your problem of evil. That is inevitable: if there is one God, why are things in such a mess?” (737) Paul viewed the problem of evil through his redefined Jewish monotheism. Scripture does not provide a detailed answer to the the question, “Why is there evil and suffering in the world?” Paul works within the Jewish tradition of not providing answers to the “why” question, but offering responses regarding what the creator intends to do about evil in his world. “Paul’s radical rethinking of creational and covenantal monotheism contained within itself both an intensification of the problem and an equally radical solution.” (747)
VII. The Plight in Paul’s Theology
The problem of evil, that is the plight of Israel and humanity, have been rethought by Paul in light of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit. Paul understood the problem of idolatry and injustice contributing to evil and suffering in the world, but he came to find the “solution” to the problem in the death/resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit. If the solution required the death of the Son of God then the plight is far worst than Paul first imaged.
A. The plight in light of the cross & resurrection
If the plight was essentially a problem with pagan/Gentile nations oppressing and preventing Israel from fulfilling her vocation to be a light of salvation to the world, then why did the Jewish Messiah have to crucified? The problem was not merely the Gentiles not acting like Jews or the oppression of Jews by the Roman Empire. The problem was sin and death itself. Israel, while the chosen covenant people of God, had become a part of the problem. The Messiah is crucified so sin could be condemned and death could be defeated (Romans 8:3). The plight is both personal and cosmic, both individual and corporate, both a Gentile problem and a Jewish problem.
B. The plight in light of the Spirit
The Spirit came to do what the Torah alone was unable to do, transform and renew the hearts of God’s people. The transformational work of the Spirit would produce the life promised in God’s covenant with Israel. “The One God had revealed this ‘life’ both in the resurrection of Jesus, in the promise of resurrection for all Jesus’ people, and in the new moral shaping of their present lives. This was what the Torah could not do, because by itself it could not in fact deal with either sin or death.” (759) The problem revealed by sin and death is not simply that individuals were guilty and subject to the judgment (wrath) of God, but that sin and death prevented the covenant community of God from carrying out God’s purposes to save and restore the world.
C. The plight in Romans 1:18-2:16
The wrath of God has been revealed against unrighteous and ungodly men (Romans 1:18). For Paul the “wrath of God” is a picture of the divine punishment of sinners (Romans 1:32). This is future judgment coming upon those who are “storing up wrath yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). Gentiles are without excuse because they have seen God’s attributes in creation. Jews who practice evil and yet judge the Gentiles are equally complicit in the plight. “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:9-11).
VIII. Final Thoughts
What Israel and Torah could not do, the one God of Israel did in the coming of Jesus and the Spirit. “Idolatry-and-immorality was not simply a pagan problem to which Jewish Torah-possession and Torah-keeping would provide the answer, either in terms of protecting Jews from catching the infection or more positively, enabling them to bring the world back to its senses.” (770)