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.

5 thoughts on “Gospel and Empire”

  1. The post above does a good job identifying two key elements in the political ‘dimension’ of Paul’s presentation of the Gospel in the first century: 1) the significance of Christ’s death in the political realm with the cult of the emperor and 2) that Paul would not permit the Christian communities from living apart from or ‘ignoring’ the temporary authority. When reading Paul it is easy to sometimes get caught up in his rhetoric or theological contributions while the political ramifications can oftentimes be overlooked.

  2. Pascual, Nice summary of Wright’s writings on Paul’s life amidst a political landscape (and how Paul addresses the political world around him). Particularly relevant is Wright’s introduction before getting into Paul and his political world (and a brief history) was Wright’s description that we tend to unconsciously project our own life’s view (and that of the Enlightenment) when interpreting Paul; that we must be very careful. In Paul’s lifetime, people were more integrated in the their theology and society and politics and religion – I am not sure how a society survives by not having those integrated.

  3. Pascual, you so concisely highlight how Paul was able to preach the message of Christ in the environment that he was living and working. Paul lived and preached in an empire and to cultures that could be so contradictory to the Christian message. Yet, Paul was able to adapt the message of Christ to the people he was preaching to without changing or watering down the message. Paul not only understood the Jewish mind, but he also understood the many Gentile groups living under Roman rule. And, Paul used this understanding to help Christians live and follow Christ in a society that was hostile to the Christian message. What a lesson for today, as we need to follow Christ in a very secular and even anti-Christian culture!

  4. Thank you for the concise post, Pascual, demonstrating the deftness of Wright in describing how Paul’s writing has taken us from Creation and Covenant to Messiah and Apocalyptic to this point of Gospel and Empire. Wright’s use of the OT references and the ones in Pauline letters have brought forth Paul’s point that Christ, via the cross, is the true King. Thanks again!

  5. Nice summary, Pascual. I cannot agree with you enough that Paul’s preaching of the gospel was dangerous because of the political power of the time, the emperor, who was considered the most powerful leader of the world. It was a challenge to the emperor, to have heard Paul preached Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. When anyone is inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Lord will guard you through, in midst of oppositions from political powers.

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