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.

Author: McDCarp

Deacon Candidate at St Charles Borromeo Seminary.

5 thoughts on “Paul’s World, Paul’s Legacy”

  1. Excellent!.

    Good theological explanation of three different cultures; Jewish, Greek, Roman cultures and traditions, and how each is integrated into the world of Jesus Christ- “The Family of the Messiah” by striving, with difficulties, to reach the mountain top from where the world is viewed and corrected, when wrong, based on the Gospel and teaching of Jesus Christ.

  2. I agree, the writing was a little “dense.” But Wright was trying to help us understand to a great level of depth the obstacles Paul faced when he was trying to understand and write. N.T. Wright is saying we are “stuck” trying to look at Paul’s writings through the Roman, Greek and Jewish lenses.

    Think of an Irish immigrant coming to the United States. They live in the United States and interact for a number of years in that culture, but they also carry with them their Irish heritage, ways of thinking and idioms. All that wrapped up in a Catholic belief.

    In the same way, we, as people studying Paul need to be aware of the various cultural influences in his life and writings.

  3. Kevin – great synopsis of Wright’s first chapter. Yes – his writing is a bit dense and I have to say – a couple of years ago – it would have all been greek to me! Again – good job!

  4. Good job, Kevin. I like the 3-part intersection of Paul’s experience of Jewish, Roman and Greek cultures. This provides a good context for me in learning and understanding Paul’s letters a bit better. Thank you.

  5. N. T. West describes St. Paul as a tetrahedron person. I agree with your access- meant of the writing. The four dimensions were the Jewish culture, the Greek world, the Rome world finally the “family of the Messiah.” As Wright pointed out this was St. Paul’s fall back to his preaching, which he was speaking to the Jewish People. He would fall back to his Jewish roots to make his preaching applicable to his Jewish audiences. He used another dimension to run counter claims against Caesar’s aspirations.
    Being a great debater, he enjoyed the Greek philosophers with their philosophical views. Then used persuasion to convince the Greeks of their errors.
    I also found the final pages of the Paul legacy a total disconnects with the legacy of St. Paul. Wright probably was referring to St. Paul’s. wording in his letters to present various theological viewpoints. After all, I don’t think St. Paul was trying to be a great orator compared to the as the Greeks philosopher, but St. Paul was a great preacher, why lose an audience with over whelming working. Keep it simple and on the message, Christ died to save mankind.

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