Scot McKnight begins a month-long discussion of N.T. Wright's newest Volume 4 on Paul from his summary series of an intended 5-volume set, Christian Origins and the Question of God, begun back in 1992 (Vol. 1 - The Church, Vol's. 2&3 - Jesus and His Resurrection, Vol. 4 - Paul, Vol 5. - untitled). Wright's latest volume deals with how Paul's theology should be viewed within in his own first-century Jewish context and away from the church's more popular Westernized, Medieval, Augustinian context of "salvation by justification.". This latter understanding is readily seen through popular Reformed and Calvinistic systematic doctrines such as eternal security, predestination, election, heaven, hell, salvation, and faith (as mixed or separated from with its opposite polarity within Evangelicalism's Wesleyan, Baptist, and Charismatic churches known as Arminianism re prevenient grace, human choice and freedom, works of faith, holiness, obedience, the divine-human cooperative, and so on). This newer perspective which encompasses all the theological views above is known as the "New Perspective of Paul" (and more accurately might be called the "Newer Perspectives of Paul") which we'll shortly explain.
Accordingly, NT Wright has struck a nerve within contemporary Christianity by redirecting the Church's efforts backwards towards its antecedent roots in Jewish Theology and what that meant to the Christianized Jews of Jesus' and Paul's day. And especially after the Apostle Paul's profound Damascus Road experience of Christ where the NT's over-zealous Jewish Rabbi is confronted with the Christ he persecuted, to be profoundly overthrown in his life and thoughts, once blinding him to the deep sublimity of Christ's personage, passion, death, and resurrection. Immediately we see Paul begin a lifetime's discussion to re-interpret (or re-measure) his past Jewish theological training and heritage in the aftermath of the Christ-event that he experienced: both historically, in the context of Israel's Redemptive history; and, personally, within his own religious life context as a priest and Jew.
Soon thereafter Paul begins down a very long, and arduous, theological road describing how he has become a Messianic Christian selected to proclaim Jesus to the Gentiles as distinguished from being a Jewish Christian to his Jewish brethren worshipping and ministering in the churches of Jerusalem. To be a Jewish Christian was indicative of the Jerusalem Christian's preference to retain as much of their Jewish heritage as possible (sic., Peter's remedial conciliation to do as they wish while no longer preaching the necessity for circumcision, while avoiding idol meat and sexual immorality, against his own profound discovery of the Gospel's proclaim to all non-Jews and heathen Gentiles: Acts 11 and Acts 15). As a Messianic Christian, Paul - who once was a former Jewish Rabbi but now a Jesus convert, and servant to The Name, respects his Jewish heritage while radically uplifting its OT flavor into, and around, the newer paradigms presented through Jesus of Nazareth as man's Messiah-Savior-Redeemer. This theological understanding of Jesus would quickly revolutionize the reading of the OT through Jesus, and soon necessitated the construction of a New Testament as a series of apostolic books bearing both continuity, and discontinuity, to that of the Jewish/Hebrew Canon (itself solidified several hundred years earlier under the Council of Jamnia during the second Temple period) and to the Christian religion centered upon Jesus, God's Son and Savior.
N.T. Wright's 4 volume series (5, overall) is meant to be a legacy-capstone project to his professional theological studies in summary discussion to the following ideas. That Christianity's conflicted legacies were struggling with identification and spiritual meaning even as Jewish doctrine was doing the same. Because of Israel's history of warfare and exile, much of its heritage had been lost and incomplete (we call this period of Talmudic transition late Judaism). With Israel's return to the land from Babylonian exile under Nehemiah (technically, Judah's return, as the southern kingdom of Israel's split kingdom) a massive effort was undertaken by Ezra and the scribes to recapture Israel's ancient heritage and beliefs. From their efforts came the Old Testament, which was a collection of their oral history, prophetic writings, and so forth, during this second temple period of restoration. And from that began a several hundred year effort to re-teach God's Word to the Jewish people creating many splintering groups of Jewish beliefs (such as John the Baptist's much later Essene group in Jesus' day) which debated the particulars of God's Word.
From these efforts arose a Jewish priesthood of scribes to transcribe the OT Scriptures from the classic Hebrew language into the modified Aramaic of their day (thus preserving its records), and the Pharisees, who handled the observances of those records through priestly duties and teachings. By the first century, Rabbinism was beginning to form to disseminate first-century beliefs, practices and precepts of the old Talmudic tradition. It was clearly unformed and not yet solidified because of Jesus' many conflicts with Rabbinic teachings and traditions. And to this turmoil came the Christian church's own conflicts and disagreements with Rabbinic doctrine as each body of believers formed and reformed, consolidated, splintered, and re-consolidated again, until a general body politic arose from each mediating group in the centuries preceding.
Each tradition - one old (Judaism), one new (Christianity) - were in the incipient (early or unformed) stages of development. Even as the church's doctrine was forming through the ages of the Church Fathers (Christianity's first six centuries), so too was Rabbinism under its own efforts. And quite often, as is normal with any movement, they each played off the other, reacting to one thing or another. And as each religious group moved towards consolidation, so did the church rapidly move towards codifying its own New Testament Scriptures centered around Jesus' teachings and life story, along with His disciple's apostolic observations and writings. This was generally completed around 150 AD but it wasn't until c.692 that the NT was fully instated at the Council of Trullan:
"For the Orthodox, the recognition of these writings as authoritative was formalized in the Second Council of Trullan of 692, although it was nearly universally accepted in the mid 300's. The Biblical canon was the result of debate and research, reaching its final term for Catholics at the dogmatic definition of the Council of Trent in the 16th Century, when the Old Testament Canon was finalized in the Catholic Church as well." - Wikipedia
Proceeding apace were reciprocal theological efforts to comport NT Christian beliefs with the OT Jewish Scriptures showing the continuities and discontinuities between historical era and redemptive activity. Thus the Church Father's worked towards developing an Apostolic theology from within their own cultural settings of Greek Hellenism and from the Syrian-Coptic-African Christian attitudes of the early church (remember, Alexandria still held the great libraries of the learned at that time). What resulted were years and years and years of developing dogmas, doctrines, church traditions and beliefs, as regionally demarcated geographically even as they were temporally demarcated culturally. Formative church doctrines such as the Trinity of God or, the nature of Jesus' divine and human nature (known as hypostasis), slathered back and forth creating doctrinal ideas reflective of a church's own culturally-based ideologies as seen in the separation between Roman/Western Orthodoxy as versus the Greek/Eastern Orthodox branches of the church. And later in the Medieval ages between Reformed bodies politic as versus a Catholic understanding. Or even in today's modernistic Bible-believing churches as versus the older mainline denominational churches. Added to these doctrinal differences has come philosophic and cultural ingression into the theologies of the church. From the Greek Hellenism within first century Judaism; to Medieval doctrine's founded in late Hellenism; to today's philosophies of enlightenment - both modern and postmodern, with all the residual affects that each bring to the other.
Thus Sanders, Dunn, and Wright's propositions to attempt a return, if possible, from the church's Westernized, systematic theologies steeped in a plethora of late Medieval philosophies, Reformed-Enlightenment, and Evangelic-Modernism to a first century Jewish understanding of Jesus and Paul's teachings. Of course time and culture cannot be avoided, and thus the transfer vehicle in this case is postmodernism to help us redact earlier philosophic eras with its engrained prejudices and beliefs. So when describing this rich tradition of doctrinal turmoil and philosophical rebuttal we find ourselves within the larger philosophical ideas of how one can know God, oneself, one's senses, this world, and all that is within it - as set apart from one's heritage and traditions, and socio-cultural upbringing. As such, Christianity has always been embroiled within the ideas of a larger philosophical setting. In fact, the disciplines of theology and philosophy find themselves as inseparable twins to the idea of "how one knows what one thinks s/he knows." Which has been the great, good benefit of postmodernism to today's church theologies. The early churches were no less embroiled within these discussions when dealing with the Greek philosophies of Aristotelianism and Platonism; its many perambulations as found in Augustine, Aquinas (Scholasticism and Thomism); and the later arising Reformational ideas found within Catholic v. Eastern, Lutheran v. Reformed doctrines. No foreigner to these debates is today's contemporary church working through its own ideas of a literalistic bible enmeshed within a culture of in anti-intellectualism and anti-science to that of postmodernism's meta-scientific, existential-phenomenological debates. Certainly, theology and philosophy go hand-in-hand even as faith works both within-and-without of religious beliefs.
Consequently, Tom Wright will occasionally work through some of these ideas (as he did in Vol. 1) but mostly, one may expect biblical discourses on New Testament doctrine while struggling through the development of a more up-to-date hermeneutical reading of the Word of God known as critical realism that is basically a blended reading of the Bible with a science-orientated view to it. Which by this means that a critical-realistic reading of the Bible is a less naïve reading of God's Word than the standard interpretation used by many pew members today as instructed by their pastors from the pulpit; or exampled by Sunday School teachers in class; or the many inspirational Christian books and devotional tracts that one reads today.
And thus, falling across the rich traditions of E.P. Sanders and J.D.G. Dunn, N.T. Wright works through the ideas of the New Perspective of Paul and away from the heavily influenced Lutheran and Reformed views of Paul (known as the older perspectives of the church. That of Calvin, Luther, Law and Grace, Faith and Law, covenantal nomism, etc). And towards a more Jewish-Pauline perspective of Jesus:
"It is often noted that the singular title "the new perspective" gives an unjustified impression of unity. It is a field of study in which many scholars are actively pursuing research and continuously revising their own theories in light of new evidence, and who do not necessarily agree with each other on any given issue. It has been suggested by many that the plural title "the newer perspectives" may therefore be more accurate. In 2003, N. T. Wright, distancing himself from both Sanders and Dunn, commented that "there are probably almost as many ‘new perspective’ positions as there are writers espousing it – and I disagree with most of them". There are certain trends and commonalities within the movement, but what is held in common is the belief that the "old perspective" (the Lutheran and Reformed interpretations of Paul the Apostle and Judaism) is fundamentally incorrect.
"Since the Protestant Reformation (c. 1517), studies of Paul's writings have been heavily influenced by Lutheran and Reformed views that are said to ascribe the negative attributes that they associated with sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism to first-century Judaism. These Lutheran and Reformed views on Paul's Writings are called the "old perspective" by adherents of the "New Perspective on Paul". Thus, the "new perspective" is an attempt to lift Paul's letters out of the Lutheran/Reformed framework and interpret them based on what is said to be an understanding of first-century Judaism, taken on its own terms. (Within this article, "the old perspective" refers specifically to Reformed and Lutheran traditions, especially the views descended from John Calvin and Martin Luther, see also Law and Gospel.)
"Paul, especially in his Epistle to the Romans, advocates justification through faith in Jesus Christ over justification through works of the Law. In the old perspective, Paul was understood to be arguing that Christians' good works would not factor into their salvation, only their faith. According to the new perspective, Paul was questioning only [practices and] observances such as circumcision and dietary laws, not good works in general." - Wikipedia
October 1, 2013
edited October 8, 2013
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
by Scot McKnight
Oct 1, 2013
What will we call “PFG”? N.T. Wright’s magisterial, academic 2-volume study of Paul called Paul and the Faithfulness of God, volume 4 in his series called Christian Origins and the Question of God. I’ve got a PDF of Tom’s ground-breaking work and we’ll be discussing it until at least SBL in late November. So join along.
I begin with this: In my lifetime only a few books have been like this one (set). I consider EP Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Martin Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism to be two rivals, with Jimmy Dunn’s Paul the Apostle a close third. This book rivals and may excel the others, so I want you to understand that we will be examining a book that will undoubtedly shape conversations for at least a decade and will influence discussions for decades.
Which of NT Wright’s book is most influential? your favorite?
Where will we be going? Beyond what most have called Paul’s theology or New Testament (NT) theology or NT history, and behind much of what is called both. Here’s how Tom puts it:
Here we may note one particular result of this proposal. Most works on ‘Pauline theology’ have made soteriology, including justification, central. So, in a sense, does this one. But in the Jewish context ‘soteriology’ is firmly located within the understanding of the people of God. God calls Abraham’s family, and rescues them from Egypt. That is how the story works, and that is the story Paul sees being reworked around Jesus and the spirit. This explains why chapter 10, on ‘election’, is what it is, and why it is the longest in the book. I hasten to add, as readers of that chapter will discover, that this does not (as some have suggested) collapse soteriology into ecclesiology. Rather, it pays attention to the Jewish belief which Paul himself firmly endorses, that God’s solution to the plight of the world begins with the call of Abraham. Nor does this mean that ‘the people of God’ are defined, smugly as it were, simply as the beneficiaries of salvation. The point of the Jewish vocation as Paul understood it was that they were to be the bearers of salvation to the rest of the world. That, in turn, lies at the heart of his own vocation, issuing in his own characteristic praxis.
Tom sent some of this manuscript about four years ago when he was on sabbatical at Princeton and at the time there was not yet an introduction. So the manuscript began right where it begins now (without that Intro), in a most surprising place, with [the Pualine letter to] Philemon. That little letter [has been] often ignored. But Wright opens up with a letter from Pliny the Younger writing to a friend about a runaway freedman and then Wright compares that letter with Paul’s letter to a friend, Philemon, about his “wandering” (not quite runaway) slave who had become a Christian while [ironically] Paul, of all places, was in [the] prison in Ephesus [for being a slave to Christ] … all to show that instead of [(the Roman view of)] hierarchy, and power, and benevolence, we [have in its place the view of] brotherhood, and family, and love, and forgiveness. In other words, a “world apart” (6).
Instead of a [being considered a] fugitive, Onesimus is [to be regarded as] a brother and Paul’s own [adopted] son. In those terms we see the heart of the Pauline experiment of grace flowing in all directions. Paul’s word is “fellowship”: he is creating a new family, or God is creating a new family, that includes people from all tribes and nationalities and statuses. Gone, then, is the power hierarchy so typical of Rome.
Wright has a wrinkle on [the word] “for-ever,” where he sees a possible looking back to the [books of the] Pentateuch in which a slave could choose to be a slave forever by refusing manumission [(release from slavery)]. Wright then suggests Onesimus will say "Please let me back and I will serve you forever." And then v. 21 might suggest manumission as the far reach of what Philemon can do.
A classic paragraph from Tom Wright:
A classic paragraph from Tom Wright:
These discussions about the actual situation and the request Paul made have tended, as I said, to make exegetes overlook the point which is just as important in its way as the question of what Paul was asking for, namely the argument he uses to back up this central appeal. In order to make his triple (and increasingly cautious) request, Paul adopts a strategy so striking in its social and cultural implications, so powerful in its rhetorical appeal, and so obviously theologically grounded, that despite the chorus of dismissive voices ancient, and modern, the letter can hold up its head, like Reepi- cheep the Mouse beside the talking bears and elephants, alongside its senior but not theologically superior cousins, Romans, Galatians and the rest (16).
What we have then is a radical revisioning of monotheism and [divine] power on the basis of the cross [(where rule and power is given up)], and resurrection’s power to create one new body in Christ [between all men and tribes and nations]. It’s all about learning to think through this thing called “worldview”, as Tom says it:
In particular, this way of approaching the matter explains why the tendency since at least medieval times in the western church to organize Paul’s concepts around his vision of ‘salvation’ in particular has distorted the larger picture, has marginalized elements which were central and vital to him, and – because this ‘salvation’ has often been understood in a dualistic, even Platonic, fashion – has encouraged a mode of study in which Paul and his soteriology is seen in splendid isolation from his historical context. Paul experienced ‘salvation’ on the road to Damascus, people suppose; his whole system of thought grew from that [(isolating)] viewpoint; so we do not need to consider how he relates to the worlds of Israel, Greece or Rome! How very convenient. And how very untrue. If we take that route, a supposed ‘Pauline soteriology’ will swell to a distended size and, like an oversized airline traveller, end up sitting not only in its own seat but in those on either side as well. In particular, it will become dangerously self-referential: the way to be saved is by believing, but the main theological point Paul taught was soteriology, so the way to be saved is by believing in Pauline soteriology (‘justification by faith’). For Paul, that would be a reductio ad absurdum. The way to be saved is not by believing that one is saved. In Paul’s view, the way to be saved is by believing in Jesus as the crucified and risen lord.*
[*however, most evangelics that I know are always careful to connect the two thoughts of faith in Christ and not to separate them so foolishly as faith in one's faith. - re slater]
The hypothesis I offer in this book is that we can find just such a vantage-point when we begin by assuming that Paul remained a deeply Jewish theologian who had rethought and reworked every aspect of his native Jewish theology in the light of the Messiah and the spirit, resulting in his own vocational self-understanding as the apostle to the pagans.
Tom will be using the story of Philemon throughout PFG so it might be good to read it again, at least the core parts in Philemon 8-22
Philemon 8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Philemon 17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Philemon 22 One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.
Here is the outline to PFG, and those numbers are page numbers (so, Yes, this is a big double volume).
Contents: Parts I and II xi Preface xv
Part I - PAUL AND HIS WORLD
- Return of the Runaway? 3
- Like Birds Hovering Overhead: the Faithfulness of the God of Israel 75
- Athene and Her Owl: the Wisdom of the Greeks 197
- A Cock for Asclepius: ‘Religion’ and ‘Culture’ in Paul’s World 246
- The Eagle Has Landed: Rome and the Challenge of Empire 279
Part II - THE MINDSET OF THE APOSTLE
- A Bird in the Hand? The Symbolic Praxis of Paul’s World 351
- The Plot, the Plan and the Storied Worldview 456
- Five Signposts to the Apostolic Mindset 538
Contents: Parts III and IV ix
Part III - PAUL’S THEOLOGY
Introduction to Part III 609
- The One God of Israel, Freshly Revealed 619
- The People of God, Freshly Reworked 774
- God’s Future for the World, Freshly Imagined 1043
Introduction to Part IV 1269
- The Lion and the Eagle: Paul in Caesar’s Empire 1271
- A Different Sacrifice: Paul and ‘Religion’ 1320
- The Foolishness of God: Paul among the Philosophers 1354
- To Know the Place for the First Time: Paul and His Jewish Context 1408
- Signs of the New Creation: Paul’s Aims and Achievements 1473
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
NT Wright Series - Christian Origins and
the Question of God, 5 Volumes (4 completed)
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The New Testament and the People of God/ Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol.1 by N.T. Wright and N.T. Wright (Sep 1992)
Part of a five-volume project on the theological questions surrounding the origins of Christianity, this book offers a reappraisal of literary, historical and theological readings of the New Testament, arguing for a form of "critical realism" that facilitates different readings of the text.
Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2) by N. T. Wright (Aug 1, 1997)
In this highly anticipated volume, N. T. Wright focuses directly on the historical Jesus: Who was he? What did he say? And what did he mean by it?
Wright begins by showing how the questions posed by Albert Schweitzer a century ago remain central today. Then he sketches a profile of Jesus in terms of his prophetic praxis, his subversive stories, the symbols by which he reordered his world, and the answers he gave to the key questions that any world view must address. The examination of Jesus' aims and beliefs, argued on the basis of Jesus' actions and their accompanying riddles, is sure to stimulate heated response. Wright offers a provocative portrait of Jesus as Israel's Messiah who would share and bear the fate of the nation and would embody the long-promised return of Israel's God to Zion.
The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3) by N. T. Wright (Mar 1, 2003)
Why did Christianity begin, and why did it take the shape it did? To answer this question – which any historian must face – renowned New Testament scholar N.T. Wright focuses on the key points: what precisely happened at Easter? What did the early Christians mean when they said that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead? What can be said today about his belief?
This book, third is Wright’s series Christian Origins and the Question of God, sketches a map of ancient beliefs about life after death, in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds. It then highlights the fact that the early Christians’ belief about the afterlife belonged firmly on the Jewish spectrum, while introducing several new mutations and sharper definitions. This, together with other features of early Christianity, forces the historian to read the Easter narratives in the gospels, not simply as late rationalizations of early Christian spirituality, but as accounts of two actual events: the empty tomb of Jesus and his "appearances."
How do we explain these phenomena? The early Christians’ answer was that Jesus had indeed been bodily raised from the dead; that was why they hailed him as the messianic "son of God." No modern historian has come up with a more convincing explanation. Facing this question, we are confronted to this day with the most central issues of the Christian worldview and theology.
- Paperback: 740 pages
- Publisher: Fortress Press (March 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0800626796
- ISBN-13: 978-0800626792
Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God) by N. T. Wright (Nov 1, 2013)
This highly anticipated two-book fourth volume in N. T. Wright's magisterial series, Christian Origins and the Question of God, is destined to become the standard reference point on the subject for all serious students of the Bible and theology. The mature summation of a lifetime's study, this landmark book pays a rich tribute to the breadth and depth of the apostle's vision, and offers an unparalleled wealth of detailed insights into his life, times, and enduring impact.
Wright carefully explores the whole context of Paul's thought and activity— Jewish, Greek and Roman, cultural, philosophical, religious, and imperial— and shows how the apostle's worldview and theology enabled him to engage with the many-sided complexities of first-century life that his churches were facing. Wright also provides close and illuminating readings of the letters and other primary sources, along with critical insights into the major twists and turns of exegetical and theological debate in the vast secondary literature. The result is a rounded and profoundly compelling account of the man who became the world's first, and greatest, Christian theologian.
N.T. Wright is Bishop of Durham and was formerly Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey and dean of Lichfield Cathedral. He taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford Universities. Wright's full-scale works The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God are part of a projected six-volume series entitled Christian Origins and the Question of God. Among his many other published works are The Original Jesus, What Saint Paul Really Said and The Climax of the Covenant. He is also coauthor with Marcus Borg of The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions and the volume on Colossians and Philemon in The Tyndale New Testament Commentary series.
Continue to Index -