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N.T. Wright – Chapter 2 – Creation and Covenant

We realize a central theme in Paul’s writings in N.T. Wrights’s second chapter entitled – Creation & Covenant. Paul, himself a Jew, was evangelizing to a largely Jewish community.  In order to communicate effectively, Paul incorporates the concept of Creation and Covenant which was acknowledged in Jewish tradition as the heart of their faith.  As the chosen people of God, the Jewish people believed that their relationship with Him existed in the context of the themes of creation and the covenant with Him.

Paul utilizes the Psalms and the book of Genesis to guide his writings to the ultimate understanding that Christ is the point at which creation and covenant come to fulfillment. Specifically, in the Psalms, Paul points to our Lord, the Messiah promised, as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  Which is to say, Christ “pre-existed” before creation.  God the Son exists as part of God the Father’s covenantal plan for us. God the Father sent his Son to be the bridge between the man (creation) and his promise of salvation (covenant) to us.

  • Note: T. Wright did not suggest or paint the picture of “Christ the Bridge” in his writings – but I do believe his wording suggests such a notion.  I could be wrong, but when reading this chapter that is the image that came to mind.

Understanding that Christ was the bridge between creation and the covenant suggest that a bridge was needed in the first place.  The problem of creation was sin and death perpetrated by Adam- the first man.  Continuing in human antiquity the chosen people themselves became part of the problem and not “agents of the solution” for they did not submit to the God’s covenantal plan for them.

N.T. Wrights suggests that the ultimate sin of man is the sin of idolatry. The worship of that which is not the living God. In my own understanding of sin, I have different outlook.  I have often believed that all sin can be pointed to the sin of selfishness. We take in account on our own personal will when committing the sin of selfishness. The will of God does not come into play when one is selfish.  N.T. Wright’s insights maybe more to the point.  All sin points to where we have gone against the will of God thus empowering another entity other than God –  the definition of Idolatry.

            – The above begs a question:  Was Christ, who had a human nature (along  with divine) the first man to fully commit to the will of God? Ok, that’s probably more of a statement than a question!

As stated, Paul merged the Old Testament writings, accepted by the Jewish community, with the person and life of Christ.  Essentially crafting his message to the understanding that Christ was/ is:  The Word made Flesh.  Christ was the very point at which creation and covenant come about – how they are linked and become fulfilled.

            Covenant and Creation was the title of this chapter.  I wonder if a sub title could have been: Christ – The Source and the Summit?

Paul Frame Work is both Messiah and Apocalyptic

Wright argues unlike some authors of the last two centuries on Paul’s mind set or framework is both covenant and apocalyptic. That is each reinforces the other. He notes that many authors have ignored the concept of Messiahship. In kind of tong and cheek statement that when Paul spoke about Christos that he was just referring to Jesus’s last name.
For Wright Paul believe Jesus is the long awaited Jewish Messiah. I would agree with Wright with his dual take. For Paul Messiah is the following:
1. Royal Messiahship: Messiah is Israel’s true king
2. Israel: God’s People
3. World’s true Lord
4. Messiah will successfully defeat forces of Evil
5. Messiah will build the Temple: Place God will return and live there.
6. Messiah brings Israel’s history to its climax
For Paul the Israel is related to the Christos by the Flesh. Paul retells the covenant story of Israel from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the Exodus. The Messianic Battle has been redefined not abandoned in Jesus and in particular Christ Crucified. Christ passion, death and resurrection is the renewed Temple built by God on the foundation of Jesus as Messiah and indwelling of the Spirit. The outpouring of God’s Spirit results in a covenant, renewal, resurrection from the dead that is rebuilding of New Temple and New Creation. Jesus is the true Son of David. What is true of Christ is true of his church. Membership in the church is in the one who believes that Jesus is the Messiah the Christos. For Paul Faith, faithfulness and fidelity are central.
Paul believes that Jesus is the great unveiling of all God’s mysteries in true apocalyptic sense. Jesus is the full disclosure if God’s saving plan. God’s long-awaited plan of salvation has come in Jesus. God has done what he said it would do. But indeed, that salvation may not look the way we thought it would. After all it wasn’t a political victory but is was a spiritual victory. Man may not be faithful but God remains faithful. In God’s plan fulfilled in Jesus the whole creation is freed from corruption, evil and death. Wright states and I concur at this point creation, covenant, Messiah and apocalyptic belong together.
God has made full provision for real problem human sin, in the sacrificial death of Jesus, in His faithful obedience to the Father’s saving plan. For many of Jews in their disbelief Jesus becomes a stumbling block. For Paul God’s saving plan has been fulfilled in Jesus. It is only human pride that prevents belief in the saving power of Christ crucified.
Paul also believed Jesus would return which is referred to as Parousia. That is Jesus would be present again and that he is the final secret revealed to All people. God’s true family being is one who believes that Jesus is O. At the end we have Jesus’s royal presence as Judge and Savior. Man is not God. For Paul Jesus is Lord not Caesar. So, what holds the covenant and messiahship together in apocalyptic Centre is Jesus the Messiah and him crucified. I would certainly agree Wright’s view that Paul’s framework would be both covenant and apocalyptic. I

Contemporary Perspectives by Ben Witherington, III

In his essay, “Contemporary perspectives on Paul”, Ben Witherington, III exposes the reader to some various recent perspectives on Paul and his letters.  The author starts the article with “Fresh winds are blowing through the corridors of Pauline studies…” and although some might be really new perspectives, I am not convinced they are really valuable perspectives.   “New and contemporary” immediately strikes me as suspect, as Jesus is the same yesterday, today… and tomorrow.  Since Witherington offered a discussion in four parts, I will approach each in that order as well.

Jewish perspectives on Paul

Witherington makes a statement about close scrutiny by Jewish scholars is really about what makes a Jew a Jew and “Paul appears to address issues of contemporary relevance” in modern Judaism.  He further asserts the study of Paul by Jewish scholars since the Holocaust in the 1940’s with regard to concerns about Paul’s writings as used for anti-Semitic ways, some even blaming Paul for inventing Christian hostility towards Judaism.  Ultimately the author describes Segal as purporting Paul as bringing Judaism to its proper climax or completion, while other “traditional Christian interpreters” simply describe Pauls’ defection or apostasy from true Judaism.

Although the idea of looking at Paul’s letters in the context of “current” events (the Holocaust in the 1940’s), it is obvious that Paul did not write in the context of specific future events in mind.  Much like any human author, Paul wrote within his current knowledge and cultural context; the fact that we, today, can apply his writings and make them relevant to our current situations is a grace and the work of God, who is the true author of sacred scripture.

The author does not firmly establish what it means to be Jewish.  We might say Paul was, in fact a good Jew If we identify the following as a minimum for good Jew: Monotheism, Election and Expectation.  Before and after his “conversion”, Paul held onto the concept of monotheism.  Paul encountered Christ, learned about Christ.  In fact, in acknowledging Christ as God and maintaining monotheistic concepts, Paul took the hard route to explain who and what Christ truly is to the Jewish people.  For Election, again Paul keeps the basic concepts the same, but does so in the context of Christ and an intimate God.  Paul does not throw out the Tora or the Pentateuch; he does not propose there is no temple, but he turns these around a bit to a challenging but ultimately truthful perspective: the law, the book, the land is still what God promised, just not exactly as Jews might have though.  Which leads to Expectation, that is the waiting for the Messiah.  Paul is declaring He has come!

Witherington or the scholars he notes do not acknowledge that we simply do not have enough information on Paul and his entire life.  Furthermore, the author does not put into context the scripture he refers to in Romans 10:12-13 (For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”) and the final conclusion that “‘we’ are no longer under the law.”  In fact, Paul writes earlier in that same letter “For Christ is the end of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith.” (Rom 10:4).  This is final part of the Expectation: the law and justification.

Feminist and liberationist perspectives on Paul

Witherington recognizes “Feminist biblical interpretations is a species of liberationist hermeneutics” and so entertains them here.  While Fiorenza claims Paul inherited an egalitarian movement already in progress, she starts to bend the equality narrative to her own personal, feminist perspectives.  Additionally, Wire introduces some radical ideas on feminism through hermeneutics of suspicion, stating Paul is “trying to curtail” women.  Witherington rightly counters those claims with references to Paul’s letters to Corinthians 11 & 14. Witherington suggests Paul was targeting decent, good and orderly behavior really on the Gentile males from “certain practices.” 

Finally, Witherington shares Castelli’s interpretation that is not viable about Paul being coercive. Castelli takes partial verses like “be imitators of me” to be forcible and self-centered, as if Paul is only talking about himself and how to act.  Witherington cites 1 Cor 4:9-13 – it is Paul who is imitating Christ; Paul is asking us to imitate Christ with him.  Castelli completely misses the meaning by being myopic and selective in her scripture reading.

In this section, I see the dangerous propensity for using Paul as a source of inspiration for those fighting oppression and injustice; using scripture to support their own personal agenda or view of the world without looking at the larger picture.

Rhetorical studies of Paul’s letters

Witherington suggests that widespread lack of studying classics has led to less than adequate understanding of Paul’s letters.  Support for better study and theology (which requires studying the classics) is found in Divino Afflante Spritu (Encyclical of Pope Pius XII), which implores better exegetical study (mostly among the clergy at the time). 

Witherington claims Paul to be a master of rhetoric, to the point that most contemporary commentators fail to recognize Paul’s use of rhetoric and thus draw wrong conclusions.  But his is not new, as the encyclical cited was published in 1943.

Examination of Paul’s letters as scripture

Witherington introduces two authors who make suggestions on how to approach Paul’s letters as scripture.  In the last section of the article, I agree with Child’s premise that Letters do not have theology, people do (definition of theology is: the study of the nature of God and religious belief).

I do take exception at Witherington’s questioning of the normative form of the text in canonical work when the words are “not from the putative inspired author whose authority lies behind the text.”  I would counter that Witherington has not clearly established the author of sacred text: God himself, not Paul, is the author.  We believe this to be the writings of Paul (or his proxy), but the true author is considered to be God himself using Paul as a human mouthpiece.

In the end, Childs suggests the canonical nature of Paul’s writings can be used to hermeneutically “triumph” over perceived historical differences because they contain both Pauline and post-Pauline elements.  This is in line with the premise that we must interpret Sacred Scripture from a holistic approach.

Witherington did review some new perspectives, but those that were new, are likely old rehashes of similar misinterpretations for sacred scripture; the same kind that get us into trouble today.

Gospel and Empire

In the “Gospel and Empire” Wright is pointing out the world that Paul was living where the Roman emperor religion was the fastest growing religion. Because of the Roman military control and victories the emperor was believed to have divine power.  Paul in his letters was reminding his readers that the ultimate ruler was Jesus who was above all others.

By pointing at the cross, Paul identified the earthly ruler’s limits and Jesus victory.   Jesus annulled the emperor’s biggest weapon.   Death was the result of the emperor’s ultimate power on people which Jesus concurred on the cross.  The cross made evident that Jesus was a stronger ruler. This message made Paul’s job a very dangerous one.

For the Jews this was just a reminder since they believed that their God was the one God. They have lived under other earthly rulers in Assyria and Babylon.  So, living under foreign ruler was not new for the Jewish community.

Paul in his letters, also reminded Christians that they are servants of the Messiah, the true lord but that does not give them freedom to ignore the temporary authority who are there to bring order. Also, that the church must live as a sign of the kingdom to come and cannot be inaugurated in the present by violence and hatred.

Wright is highlighting that Paul’s writing had a political dimension.

The Structured Ministry of the Church in the Pastoral Epistles.

   The Structured Ministry of the Church in the Pastoral Epistles

 

              Here I read how Paul instruct Titus and Timothy of their duties on how to run the church, their responsibility on protecting the gospel and more. Paul call Titus and Timothy not only children in the faith but consider his delegates or vicars in the churches of Crete and Ephesus. Now Paul instructing to Titus and Timothy are meant to guide them, his successor, in a caring ministry for these Christian communities. Titus and Timothy as they do the work of evangelist and laying of the hands to others they will be good ministers of Christ. Now some of Paul instructions to Titus and Timothy are as follows: Preaching, Guarding the Deposit of faith, Exercise of Authority, Common Prayer. From among the members of the churches of Crete and Ephesus, Titus and Timothy are to choose those who qualify to function as administrative in the community.

       Now reading on page 591 is where it hit home how picking out a deacon and what criteria needs to be meet:

             1 Tim 3:8-13 deacons are to be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. They should also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons, if they are blameless. Similar, women (are to be) serious, not slanderers, (but) temperate (and) faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husband of one wife, (who) manage well their children and their households. For those who serve well as deacons attain good standing for themselves and much confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

               All of this is still being done even today in age, we have our Pope, (Vatican), Bishops, Cardinals, Monsignor, Priest, Monks or Hermit, deacons, nuns, and all plays a roll I thinks on what Paul instructed to Titus and Timothy in one way or another and I for one can see the Holy spirit at work here and having a structure as such gives me a great sense of peace to know and trust those who are appointed by Christ to govern what we have today the Catholic Church.

Paul’s World, Paul’s Legacy

N.T. Wright opens up with the analogy of a mountain climber standing at the top of the mountain where he can put himself in three counties within Northern England, simultaneously. This is to describe St Paul’s worlds, where he was connected with the Jewish culture, Greek culture, and Roman culture. He then goes into a brief explanation about each. Jewish world is based from the Second-Temple Judaism, which the author assumes the reader knows because he doesn’t explain what is meant by the name. He does say religion, laws, culture and politics are centered around the Second-Temple Judaism. The Greek world is more of the common world. Greek permeated throughout all aspects of living in St Paul’s day, especially the culture, philosophy, and rhetoric. St Paul knew this and he uses it to drive home his points when he debated. The third world is the Roman World with its world domination ideology and massively expanding emperor-cult. St Paul was its citizen which at times he enjoyed and made good use of the privileges.

Wright then goes on to explain how the Roman World is closely integrated with the other two. Rome with its pagan empire was a problem Judaism knew all too well, going all the way back to Egypt and the Exodus. The Greek World fed the Roman World its imperial ideology and cult from its strong philosophy and ideology. However, the one world that reach out to all the other worlds was the world of the “family of the Messiah.” This world was perhaps the forth world that St Paul belonged to. According to Wright this world embraced “an identity rooted in Judaism, lived out in the Hellenistic world, and placing a counter-claim against Caesar’s aspiration to world domination, while being both more and less than a simple combination of elements from within those three.”

The second part of the chapter deals with the “new perspective” which deals with the narrative dimension of Paul’s thought. I have to admit that this section for me was very dense and at times unclear. It was he was using a lot of words to say nothing. My best guess at what Wright was trying to say was the narrative parts of his letters were there to help with the theology. “Small phrases can carry massive implications.” These small phrases within the narrative were common knowledge for St Paul and those he was writing to. “A single small allusion can conjure up an entire world of thought.” The language and history of the time is use to explain the theological concepts.

Again this section was very dense to me.  I look forward to anyone else’s take one it.

Was Jesus Christ Really Buried After His Death?

Craig Evans’ article Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right addresses the thought of Bart Ehrman who takes issue with the claims that Jesus Christ was buried after his death on the cross.  The basis of his argument rests on his faulty stance on Roman execution practices.  Yes, crucifixion was indeed a brutal and perhaps the cruelest method of torture and execution that the Romans could inflict on a person.  Ehrman believes that a significant part of the horror of crucifixion was the refusal of proper burial.  This is true in some cases, but Evans provides evidence that it was not always the result in many instances.  He sites Philo’s account of Flaccus in which it is stated that the bodies of those who had been crucified were given back to friends and families for burial as an act of mercy on Roman holidays.  This was done in an effort to keep peace and also to celebrate the emperor.  He also sites the Digesta which was the summary of Roman law.  Perhaps this source is one of greater credibility as it shows so clearly the Roman instruction that “the bodies of those condemned to death should not be refused to their relatives.”  Cases of those charged with high treason would be grounds for a denial of burial, but there are many other accounts which involve the return of a corpse to a family member.  In addition to this evidence, had there been a common practice of crucifying people with no intent to bury them, the Jewish people would have me furious and demanded that the rite practice of their faith be honored.  The last thing that the Romans would have wanted would be an uprising and a disturbance of the peace.  Furthermore, since Jesus was executed as a criminal, it would have been the responsibility of the Sanhedrin to arrange for a burial.  This was the practice of the time in Jerusalem, but it is not clear as to how far the practice was spread thought Israel.  The point is that it was perfectly normal, and in fact expected, for Joseph of Arimathea to request the body of Jesus for burial.  In short, the clear evidence provided by the burial traditions of the age lead anyone to the conclusion that Jesus Christ was buried after his death on the cross.

Critical review on What Did the First Christians Think About Jesus? / Gathercole

Simon J. Gathercole, in his article What Did Christians Think About Jesus? explains thoroughly why the approach taken by Bart Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became God, does not correspond to the truth of the Bible. Gathercole analyses the arguments presented by Ehrman in which he questions the preexistence of Jesus and argues for a Jesus whose divinity and existence begins at the moment of his conception. For him, a key element in understanding Jesus’ identity is the resurrection, by which they come to believe that Jesus has been adopted son of God and becomes a divine being.

He argues that the Christologies in Matthew, Mark and Luke that show the preexistence of Jesus are very well rooted. Gathercole argues against Ehrman’s assertation that Jesus becomes Son of God at birth, by showing the use of phrase “I have come.” He is in favor of the argument that Jesus ‘came’ from heaven to carry out his mission. Gathercole’s treatment of the ‘tunnel period’ is rather systematic and argues against the idea that Jesus became Son of God at the resurrection. The Fragments from Romans 1:3-4; Acts 13:32-33 and Acts 2:36 cited by Ehrman, show a reputed earlier Christology of exaltation and adoption that is faulty. Finally, Gathercole critiques the interpretation of the exaltation of Jesus and the words “made” and “appointed” as a result of the new role of Jesus after his redemptive act.

The critique made by the author about Ehrman’s point of view is well rooted and explained using the sacred texts and the context in which they were written.  

B.1 Chapter Seven: The Parables

According to Pope Benedict XVI, The parables bear meaning in every age because we find in them the person of Jesus. In comparison to other allegorical interpretation of texts that were prevalent in the time of Jesus, Jesus’ parables stand out as a piece of real life. The parable is a proclamation of the Kingdom of God, which is realized in the person of Jesus. This is why the parable is a call for faith in Jesus and this call is made anew to all peoples at every age.

But there is a bit of confusion when Jesus says he talks to the people in parables else they be converted and be healed. To understand this, one has to put Jesus in the line of the prophets, for through what He suffered, he draws our attention to the true sign of faith in Him: the cross. Jesus knows the demands of the Kingdom and the possibility of refusal. It is only by gazing on His cross that even the hardened heart can finally “turn and be forgiven.”  

The point of the parables is to lead us to the deepest meaning the Kingdom. This deepest meaning of the Kingdom is the cross. The parable of the good Samaritan is an example of how we can be more like Jesus, by going out of our way, on the everyday road from Jerusalem to Jericho where we see humanity beaten, stripped, and lying half-dead. The parable is an invitation for us believe and follow Jesus not just figuratively but in the reality of human history. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will not bear fruit.

Benedict I. Chapter Ten: Jesus’ Identity

         In an examination of who Jesus is, we may turn to the testimony of those present during his earthly ministry. Correctly he is called: “Christ,” “Lord,” “Son of God,” and “King of the Jews.” But, what does Jesus call himself? We find Jesus attributing two titles to himself: “Son of Man,” and “Son.”

            Firstly, “Son of Man.” In the Gospels, “Son of Man” is found only on Jesus’ lips. This is attributed to the fact that “Son of Man” was not used as a messianic title at the time of Jesus. The only access Jews had to the title was the vision of Daniel of the four beasts, the Son of Man, and the Ancient of Days. But Jesus gives a new meaning to the vision: he is the new Kingdom of God, the judge, and he is equal to the Ancient of Days (the Father). Additionally, in Jesus the titles “Son of Man” and “Suffering Servant” are newly connected, making the judge of the new Kingdom compassionate and connected to the suffering humanity.

            Secondly, Son. Here Jesus gives us his “primordial identity”: the Son who receives all from the Father, who knows the Father, and thus is in perfect communion of being with the Father. Different from the political connotations of the kingdoms at the time of Christ, “Son [of God]” here refers to a new communion extended to all humanity through, in, and for Christ.

            From these two titles Jesus ascribes to himself, we hear a call to discipleship: we should let ourselves be drawn into the new Kingdom of the Son of Man, and, through the Son, we should be drawn into communion with the Father.