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. 

11 thoughts on “Paul – Gospel and Empire Chapter 4”

  1. Good synopsis Greg. I feel as if Paul straddles the fence between the political and the religious world in order to reach all in his teachings – both the pagans and the Jews. In the end we know he suffered martyrdom for his teachings and in the end if we choose politics over religion, then our faith will have been for naught. I never thought of Paul in this way as having to tempt his fate against the politics of his time. It brings a whole new light to his mission. Thanks, Greg.

  2. Great job Greg! Your summery picked out the points that I found interesting too. To read these letters in light of the “Roman State Religion” put a whole different twist on them. Knowing your love and study of the bible, I am not surprised that you would do a great summery. Thanks, Tom

  3. Nice work brother Greg! Another thing that really stuck out to me was how the Roman’s tolerated or gave exemption to the Jewish faith. The Jews were not forced to worship the emperor and the Jewish Christians were thought of as Jewish and were also afforded exempt status.

  4. Thanks for the summary Greg. I found intriguing was toward the end when he speaks of Christians are servants of the Messiah but does not give us carte blanche to ignore the temporary subordinates of the day who are there to bring order. He states the church must live as a sign of the kingdom to come and cannot be inaugurated in the present by violence and hatred. This seem to be counter intuitive to the language and actions of those who bastardize Islam for gain.

  5. Thanks for a great summary! I also found it interesting that some terminology that was adopted into Christianity was already being used to speak of the emperors. I particularly liked how Wright mentioned that death was the “ultimate weapon” of earthly rulers and that Jesus, in rising from the dead, overthrew that power. I have often contemplated the Resurrection as conquering death and sin, but loved the further connection with earthly political power.

  6. Wonderful summary Greg. I believe this has been one of the most insightful chapters in the book so far. It reminded me that Paul was not just a Jewish Christian living in his own Jewish community. Paul was living in the Roman Empire.

  7. Great summary Greg, It was great how you were able to bring to light something that I did not notice.
    This chapter was most interesting around page 70 because it talk about how Jesus had overcome the ultimate enemy. It also touches on how people would see Caesar-titles savior and lord. Then how Jesus was not only Savior and Lord of all but also Messiah.

  8. Nice job Greg….I liked the way you captured that the fastest growing religion was Rome’s emperors self-proclaimed divinity. . . N.T. Wright also suggest that the earthly rulers have death as their ultimate weapon…the defeat of death in Jesus’s resurrection is the overthrow of the ultimate enemy which stands behind all of Rome’s tyranny….

  9. Nice summary Gregg – thank you. I paid close attention to the 7 criteria for interoperation that Wright referenced on page 61. Most especially #5 – Historical Plausibility – “Would Paul’s readers have understood what he was hinting at”. I am continually struck at the vast amount of subtle nuance and phrasing in Paul that reading his letters from a 2017 perspective you can easily gloss right over.

  10. Thanks Greg. nice summary.
    I also found this chapter interesting on pages 69-72. Paul’s counter-Imperial
    when the Paul of Acts is on trail for overthrowing the laws of Caesar. saying that there is another king, namely Jesus.
    Again nice.

  11. Excellent review, Greg. After reading this chapter, it causes one to marvel at the difficulty Paul faced in his efforts to convert the polytheistic populace of the places he preached. Wright hit the nail on the head with his comment that the cross, which had “spoken of Caesar’s naked might now spoke of God’s naked love.”

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