N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 8: Eschatology and Romans 9-11

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.

Romans 9-11

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.

N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 7: Eschatology and Ethics

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.

N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 6: Election, the Spirit, and Justification

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.

 

N.T. Wright and the Faithfulness of Paul: Part 5: Election, Righteousness, and Faithfulness

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 disobeyed.

Israel disobeyed.

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.