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Chapter 7

This Chapter discusses how St. Paul reworks or rethinks the Jewish views of eschatology. The author shows that Paul makes Jewish eschatology come to pass in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. He writes, taken from Romans 8.17, 28-30, “the spirit conforms the Messiah’s people to his suffering and glory, so that the Jewish expectation of the coming of the Messiah is not just fulfilled in the Messiah himself, but, extraordinarily, in His people as well.” Jewish eschatology thinks God will put all things right. They are the chosen ones, they have covenants with God and if God doesn’t make all things right, and paganism not defeated, then even God is in question. Paul reshapes Jewish views by showing that though Jesus Christ and His death, resurrection and ascension, all is fulfilled. Paul paints a vision that the end of all things is derived from the Old Testament and is in two stages. He redefines the Jewish doctrine using both the Messiah and the Holy Spirit.

I most enjoyed the comparison to the exodus and the two comings of Jesus Christ. First we are baptized into the Messiah as when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Now we live in between times like the wandering in the desert. We sin and suffer, but still are walking with God. We are no longer slaves of the Torah when we walk with the Holy Spirit and keep Him as our guide. Till the second coming when there will be a new heaven and new earth, we then will reach the Promised Land.

Chapter 6

This Chapter 6, “Reworking of God’s People” focuses on Paul’s emphasis and convincing argument that ALL people belong to God’s family.  N.T. Wright points out that throughout the Old Testament, it is shown that God chose Israel as His chosen people and it was the belief of the Jews that because of this, only Jews were the selected people, the special people, of God, who were to be His royal nation, His holy priests and the light of the world.  Paul takes this thought and shows how election is redefined through the Messiah.  As seen in Galatians 3, God desires a family of all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, and this is very difficult for the faithful Jews to accept.  Wright shows that Paul preached unity of God’s people through this redefinition of election and that God has one family, not two.  His family consists of all those who believe in the gospel.  This family is defined as the people of the Messiah, no longer Jew or Gentile.

Wright shows that the “Messiah represents His people so that what is true of Him is true of them.  He has been crucified; therefore they have been crucified with Him.  They share His new life, not in terms of fleshly identity, that is, of Jewish ethnicity, but in terms of the Messiah’s own new life, a life in which all nations can share equally (p. 113)”. This is not an abandoning of the Jewish ways, but a reworking of God’s people in the Messiah to unite His family as one people.

This is a beautiful way to express the intense love that God has for all His people.  In Christ, we are united as faithful believers.  The Messiah came not to divide but to unite and those who participate in both faith and works are called to become one family in Christ.

Chapter 5 – Rethinking God

In Chapter 5 of “Paul, N.T. Wright reviews the way that St. Paul puts forth a fresh new way of looking at God, steeped in Jewish tradition but redefined in terms of the reality of Jesus of Nazareth as the long awaited Messiah.  He covers the Jewish theology of Monotheism (one God), Election (one People of God) and Eschatology (one future for God’s world), but in the light of Christ. 

Wright reviews the Jewish foundational theology of the one God of Israel as the God of both creation and covenant.  He then explains the Christological dimension, equating Jesus with God the father, often in the redefining of the Shema prayer with God the father/creator and Jesus as Lord.  The second phase of the redefinition of God is expressed in terms of Jesus and his Spirit together.  Paul famously explains that there are many gifts, but one Spirit, many types of service, but one Lord in Jesus, and one God and Father who accomplishes all in all. 

Finally, Wright shows how Paul uses Old Testament passages to show their fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah.  Paul continues the Jewish theme of the people of God against the pagans found throughout the Old Testament, but now meaning both Jews and Gentiles who accept Jesus as Messiah and savior.  Paul goes on to show how this new people of God must necessarily be set apart from the pagan communities around them and live in a certain way of Christian love and service.

This reader found Wright’s analysis to be thorough and convincing.

Paul – Gospel and Empire Chapter 4

Gospel and Empire

This chapter deals with the power and influence of the Rome within the world of St Paul at the time of his letters.  Wright points out that St Paul’s mission was a dangerous one since it took shots at Roman ideology.  Wright also reminds us of Paul’s faithful assertion of Jesus’ divinity and His role as redeemer.  It is interesting to realize the very “Christian” words like “savior”, “good news”, “lord” and “son of god” were used by the Roman emperors and therefore Paul’s use of those words would have spoken to those reading his letters at the time that Jesus was more than the emperors of Rome.  I did not realize that the religion of Rome’s (emperor divinity) was the fastest growing religion at that time due to Rome’s military might.

Paul’s world would have been comfortable mixing religion, politics, and culture into the belief system – not separating these categories.  The Jewish people of the time would also have been comfortable seeing God as the one who used pagan rulers or nations to do His divine will, being the actor to do God’s bidding as well as receiving punishment for their actions.  This view would have relevance in their present (Rome) as well as from History (cf. Babylon or Assyria). They would have been accustomed to working within the confines of Roman rule by making the best of it versus anarchy and rebellion. 

Wright lists some very interesting exegeses from various letters with respect to Rome and its imperial force.  He helps give context to some of the letter such as Corinthians where he states that Corinth was more Roman than Rome.  Another example is from Thessalonians where “peace and security” are mixed in travail and destruction – a reference to Rome’s promise of peace and security. Jesus conquers death – much more powerful than simple military conquering.  Wright suggests that woven within Paul’s writing are words that would have evoked recognition of Roman signals –of Rome’s expected support and/or Rome’s reliance on military power and the emperor’s role. 

Chapter 3: Messiah and Apocalyptic

Chapter 3 speaks to the concept of Messiah and Apocalyptic.

Messiah: N.T. Wright states that there is a school of thought that Paul was a ‘political’ thinker rather than a ‘religious/theological’ thinker.  That the concept of Jesus as the Messiah would have had no meaning to the Gentile audience that Paul evangelized so that Paul’s concept of Messiah was a political category rather than a religious one.  Wright argues than Paul, in his writings was very clear that Paul saw Jesus as the true royal Messiah that was promised to Israel.  That Jesus was a descendent of the royal house of David (that Jesus came from “the seed of David”).  That Jesus fought the ultimate battle against evil and death, and won.  That had built, in himself, the promised new Temple; and has done all of this as both Israel and God’s representative.  Bringing to a culmination the promised Old Testament covenants.  Which leads into party two of Wrights chapter…

Apocalyptic:  Wright states that over the last few generations the word apocalyptic has been interrupted in a variety of ways.  Many believe this to be a reference to the ‘end times’, or as Wright states God’s abolishing “the space time universe forever, in a cosmic conflagration”.  Most recently in popular culture, is the concept of the righteous being ‘taken’ to God’s eternal glory and those deemed unworthy ‘left behind’.  Wright argues that Paul believed that the apocalypse has already come about!  For Paul, the apocalypse was the “sudden, dramatic, and shocking unveiling of secret truths, the sudden shining of bright heavenly light on a dark and unsuspecting world”.  That Jesus Christ the Messiah, through his death on the cross and resurrection has fulfilled the Old Testament covenant plan “through which the whole creation would be liberated from corruption, evil and death.

Regarding Messiah, I completely agree with Wright.  Regarding Apocalyptic, I had never considered the perspective of Paul presented by Wright – that the apocalypse has already occurred.  In reading this chapter and contemplating on it, I can see and understand the perspective presented.  As presented it makes complete sense.  That said, I am not certain that I fully agree with Wright on this. I will have to consider this more.

Creation and Covenant (Chapter 2)

The first section of Chapter 2 addresses “creation and covenant” in the Old Testament.  Two very different Psalms, Psalm 19 and Psalm 74, are used to show how God is the God of creation, but also a God that is just, all-powerful, and conquers evil.  Wright draws on certain covenants of the Old Testament such as: Abraham.  He points out that God is the creator, yet he is the God of covenant.  He will rescue and deliver his people from the enemy and from all evil.  Through Israel, God will address and solve the problems of the world, bringing justice and salvation to all people and how creation is “invoked” to solve the problems within the covenant.  God is FAITHFUL, but He is righteous.  

 

The second section of Chapter 2 focuses three new passages: Colossians 1: 15-20, 1 Corinthians 15, and Romans 1-11.  This section, as well as the third, seemed similar in the fact that the emphasis was on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, being the NEW creation and the NEW covenant.  Wright states that Paul goes back to Genesis and makes it evident how God fulfills his covenant promises through Christ and renews creation.  

 

There is one particular line that struck me from the third section that I want to share.  It reads. “When God fulfills the covenant through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the spirit, thereby revealing his faithful covenant justice and his ultimate purpose of new creation, this has the effect both of fulfilling the original covenant purpose (thus dealing with sin and procuring forgiveness) and of enabling Abraham’s family to be the worldwide Jew-plus-Gentile people it was always intended to be.” Therefore, God never leaves anything unfinished.  He fulfills, completes, and makes his covenant even greater, in His timing.    

St. Paul’s World and Legacy

The first section of Chapter 1 addresses St. Paul’s worldview and his use of narrative. I like the way Wright posits that St. Paul uses elements of each of the three worlds in which he lived, Jewish, Greek, and Roman, to propose to his readers a unique fourth world that pre-existed his conversion: the newly developing world of Christianity. This perspective clearly counters the notion that St. Paul “created” Christianity. Wright also addresses the narrative techniques found in the Pauline letters, emphasizing that they are not just literary devices that add decoration to separate theological content, but that narrative is the vehicle for the theological content that makes it accessible to all audiences, both Jewish and Gentile, ancient and modern. This is consistent with the technique of reading Scripture with an eye to all four senses that has been emphasized in other Scripture classes I have taken.

The second section of this chapter is devoted to what Wright calls St. Paul’s “legacy,” that is, the research on St. Paul that has been performed over the past two centuries. He goes into some rather particular details, but his main point in this section seems to be that, while a reader should always approach a text as objectively as possible, it is not possible to remove oneself completely from the context of the world in which one lives, and so reading of Scripture will always have an eye to its relevance in the current age. I particularly appreciate in this section that Wright does not propose an “impossibly objective” reading of St. Paul, but rather assures the reader that it is natural to read a text within one’s own historical context, and that one can never discredit the working of the Holy Spirit as scriptural texts are re-read with fresh eyes. In comparison with some of the positions we discussed in class and some that he mentions in this chapter, Wright seems to have a balanced perspective on the writings of St. Paul.

Resurrection in Jesus of Nazareth

In the chapter on the Resurrection in Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI focuses on the fact that the Resurrection is the foundation of the Christian message. It cannot be boiled down to an invention of the early Church nor is it a mystical experience of the Apostles. It is an event that is rooted in history, that is, it actually happened, yet it transcends history as we are confronted with an entirely new reality. He continues to examine this central theme through the use of two different types of testimony, the “confessional tradition” (which gives the essentials of the Easter faith in short phrases that establish the basics of what occurred) and the “narrative tradition” (which is the type of testimony used in the Gospels that gives content and shape to the faith through narrative).

The part of this chapter than I enjoyed reading the most was the section that talked about the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection. Someone of faith can sometimes be intimidated by “scientific” arguments against the Resurrection, and this often causes doubt. It is important to know that there is plenty of evidence to the historicity of the Resurrection, and this evidence can be comforting to someone of faith who is currently questioning if what they believe was a human invention or factually based.  

Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right

In the article “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right,” Mr. Craig A. Evans presents a detailed and precise argument in support of the hypothesis that Jesus was buried in a tomb.  He does this in response to the arguments of Mr. Bart Ehrman, who believes that Jesus’ body was not laid in a tomb based on the facts that a) his burial was not mentioned in the early creeds of the Church and b) it was not the custom of the Romans to allow the burial of criminals.  Because of this, he believes that the story of Jesus’ burial, even the detail about a certain “Joseph of Arimathea,” was a legend that was added to the gospels at a later time.

To counter these arguments, Evans thoroughly lists ancient sources, both Jewish and Roman, as evidence to support his claims.  By citing historians and witnesses like Philo and Josephus, Evans is able to give substantial proof that, according to the ancient burial customs of the Romans and the Jews (especially of criminals), Jesus’ entombment is not only plausible, but probable.

I enjoyed Evans’ methodical and thorough approach to the issue.  Though he seemed repetitive and his evidence lengthy, all seemed necessary to adequately satisfy the doubts that Ehrman leaves in the mind of the reader.  However, my favorite part was the last section of the reading.  Here, Evans logically and concisely answers the issue of the tomb, wonderfully summing up the evidence he manifests throughout the article.  It is a perfect apologetic answer for the average person.