Paul as Preacher


Kathy Quinter  

                                                         “Paul as Preacher”

          NT Wright, former Bishop of Durham, presented a Michael Devlin lecture in 2005, which was published in the Irish Theological Quarterly 72 (2007), entitled “Paul as Preacher:  The Gospel Then and Now.”  He presents some really good insights on how to think of St. Paul and his early spread of Christianity, especially in light of our own contemporary world.  Bishop Wright looks at how Paul confronted the Empire of Rome with Christ’s message that was very countercultural, and then applies it to how we need to look at Christ’s message in our own postmodern and postsecular world.  One item though that Bishop Wright seems to be missing is the message itself:  in Christ we are saved.  He does not seem to emphasize the specific message of salvation as preached by Paul, and he seems somewhat overly focused on this world rather than the next.          

           I especially enjoyed Bishop Wright’s analogy of the Rugby Union World Cup in trying to explain the environment in which St. Paul preached.  Bishop Wright writes how he was in Atlanta, Georgia when he heard that England won the Rugby Union World Cup.  He explained how excited he was and how happy he was at the conference.  He even started his lecture by happily and enthusiastically announcing “from the roof top” that England won.  Then he realized that he was by himself in his excitement as the American audience had no comprehension on the significance of the Rugby Union World Cup and how great it was that England won!  Then he thought back to how difficult it was for St. Paul to preach Christ’s message that was so countercultural and hard to comprehend for the people of the Roman Empire of the first century. 

           St. Paul, a Jew, was trying to explain to a Gentile world, which was part of a great secular empire led by an all-powerful emperor, that their lives should be rooted in a son of a Jewish carpenter who was from a “hick” province and who was crucified on a Cross, a punishment reserved for the lowest of the low in society.  Yet, Paul did not water down his message as he was proclaiming an incredible truth about Jesus dying for mankind and being raised from the dead.  Paul was not simply trying to win over his audience with ideas that they could relate to.  Instead, he was challenging them.  Again, I love the analogy that Bishop Wright uses:  Paul tells his Greek audience that “idols and temples” are a waste of time” which is like telling punters in a pub in Dublin that “God doesn’t like Guinness.”  Paul’s basic preaching was about “something that had changed the way the world was.” 

           Paul’s preaching belongs in the world but he preaches to change the world.  He preaches the death and resurrection of Jesus in the context of the completion of Israel’s waiting for the Messiah.  He preaches that his word is not the word of man but is the word of God.  Because it is rooted in God, this can be a very powerful and even attractive message to the people.  Paul preaches about love and community which would draw people to this message.  The people are living in a very structured society in which classes of people are ignored.  It is a violent time and society in which there can be little respect for the individual, especially those individuals at the bottom of the social ladder.  A message of love and belonging is very attractive.  Men who are at the bottom of the social rung and even those who feel the pressure of being at the top can find consolation that they are loved for just being themselves and not for who they are or who they are suppose to be.     

          Man can now feel part of a community, which emphasizes love and healing.  Paul’s message emphasizes love and hope something that many are looking for.  Paul preaches how Jesus will rescue his people and the world from corruption and that our weak bodies will be transformed like Christ’s glorious body.  Paul’s message is more than about the future as God’s kingdom is here and now fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ. 

         I was hoping though that Bishop Wright would have emphasized more the salvation history message.  He tended to focus more on the things of this world rather than specifically state how Christ died for our salvation.  He tended to water this point down a bit even though he does warn the reader to not let the contemporary world water down the message.   

          Bishop Wright does do a nice job of explaining how radical and even subversive Paul’s preaching was.  Paul was declaring that Jesus was God and that he was a King, something that would not sit well with the Romans who had or at least demanded such a devotion to the emperor.  Paul was challenging the Roman culture and religion by preaching that people needed faith in Christ, the Lord which rules over the Roman emperor and usurps the Roman gods and worship.    

          Bishop Wright further looks at how Paul’s preaching and his message is so antithetical and counter to the world today.  According to Bishop Wright, in the postmodern world there is a “collapse of the shared sense of truth.”  There is an “elevation of feeling over argument,” and “spin over substance.”  According to Bishop Wright, in a postsecular world, “religion is for wimps and weaklings.”  And, the challenge is “how can we announce Jesus as Messiah and Lord within this world” just as Paul did in his world? 

         Bishop Wright is so correct in that the message cannot be watered down just as Paul did not water down Christ’s message to the 1st century world.  Yes, our world is looking more like the early Greco-Roman world as contended by Bishop Wright, but that is even more of a reason why we need to preach Christ’s message.  We must preach it and live it in the market place and in our culture.  As nicely stated by Bishop Wright, it was the modern world after all that gave us WWI, the Soviet Gulag, and Dachau.

         We cannot, as Bishop Wright states, preach a message that Christ only rescues us from this world to take us to a safer place.  Yet, we cannot gloss over the message of eternal life and life in Christ by making this world our only priority.  This is where Bishop Wright falls short.  Yet, it is clear that like St. Paul, we need to show how Christ is pertinent in the world of today and how Christ, not just a community, provides “a peace” and “joy” that the world, even the modern world, cannot give. 

Chapter 5 – Rethinking God, a review

This review is for chapter five, “Rethinking God”, by N.T. Wright.  I will attempt to show that the author is successful as he demonstrated through different phases of how the God of Israel, the one monotheistic God is now being redefined through Paul with the inclusion of Jesus as the final revelation, the final fulfillment of the new covenant in the Holy Spirit.  Over all, I feel the chapter is extremely informative and clearly expressed the Paul’s theology as an introduction.  In the chapter, the author often mentioned that what he wrote need and deserve further treatments.  As someone who starts to learn about Paul, I found these statements somewhat formidable, thinking that there is so much more for me to learn.

In the first two sections of the chapter, I love how the author has taken the time and led us through the many aspects of monotheism.  He compared the Jewish monotheism (Judaism) to other types of monotheism such as Stoicism.  He then dug deeper in the Jewish roots of monotheism, the one compassioned God, actively in covenant with man.  Paul, being a Jew, believed in practice this type of monotheism. The author then expanded further on the idea of how God and evil and how man has fallen and how God had over and over times come to the rescue.

The author then introduced us to monotheism and Paul’s Christology and how Jesus is oneness with the God of Israel, the monotheistic God (referencing Roman 3 and Galatian 3).  And how the New Testament of Jesus Christ fits into the God of Old Testament as cited in Romans 10.5 – 13.   The author further claimed that Paul had read Deuteronomy 30 and tied that to clearly declared that Christ is the new Exodus, the new covenant.  The author then used the Old Testament’s specifically in the Septuagint reference to Lord (kyrios) and applied that reference to Jesus [Philippians 2.6-11].  Here, the author concisely brought in Jesus as the Son of God, uniting the idea of Son of God as Israel people and the Son of God as the Messiah.   

Then we are introduced to the aspect of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Monotheistic God.  The Spirit in which is the love of the God the Son Jesus and God the Father.  The Spirit with all the work of God among his people, put strong emphasis on the language of the spirit where one is inspired.  In 1 Corinthians 12, there, Paul clearly declared that only through the spirit one can know God and that the Spirit is truly at work inspiring the Gospels and the authors.  The author used Roman 8 and Galatian 4 (among others) to portray Paul’s intention for this subject. 

The author further expands on the redefined monotheism both in respond to the pagan as well as to the Jewish definition of monotheism.  He demonstrates that Paul’s work not only use in his writing but also use in his life and his daily life and work; setting of the examples for the early Christians.  For example, the Author shared that in Romans chapter 9 and 10, Paul emphasized the context in which Jesus is the final fulfillment of the new covenant.

It should be said that throughout the chapter and in each subsection, the author had clearly cited the proof points per Pauline letters as well as the writing in Acts.   

In conclusion, in this chapter, the author has successfully taken us through how Paul had completely redefined monotheism according to the Jewish faith. He clearly showed a redefinition through the introduction of Jesus Christ as a central figure in fulfilling God’s promise of salvation. He also explained the introduction of the Holy Spirit and how Paul has single-handedly upended the traditional definition of the one Jewish God. The author successfully backed up his claims with references to the many letters not only in Pauline’s letters but also in the Acts. Over all, the chapter has successfully informed me of the steps that Paul had gone through to redefine the Jewish monotheism and introducing the Christian God in the same God the Father, with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

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?

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 by Jesus Burgos.


              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.

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.