Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God– Part Eleven

In the wake of recent Imperial cult studies, including studies of the evidence that the NT reflects a critique of the Imperial cult (as Tom likes to put it— Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not, the latter being the parody of which Christ is the reality), Chapter Five is in some ways the most crucial chapter thus far in Tom’s first volume. It is a pity that Tom’s book went to press shortly before the appearance of Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not (eds. McKnight and Modica, IVP 2013), as it would be interesting to see his reaction to a certain amount of push back against the reading of imperial cult critique into many places in the NT, including a plethora in Paul’s letters. The McKnight and Modica book largely concludes (through the voices of some 12 scholars counting the editors that anti-imperial rhetoric is not a major emphasis of the NT, nor was it a key purpose of the NT writers to oppose Rome in what they wrote. Indeed, some of the authors stress that the real opposition in the NT is not between God’s Kingdom and the Emperor’s, but rather God’s rule and Satan’s (though Satan might well be involved in the governmental structures in various ways). I would commend as well reading Chris Bryan’s fine book Render unto Caesar for a critique on the imperial cult theory of interpretation of the NT. What then does Tom say about the matter?

In the first place, Tom gives a review of Roman history, what led up to their being the Empire, and the laudatory attempts by Virgil and others to explain the whole history of Rome as leading up to the climax in Augustus and a new golden age, call this Roman eschatology or teleology. The point of this is to suggest that perhaps this story of the Roman good news and king and kingdom influenced the way Paul told the story of Christ and kingdom, or served as a counterpoint thereto. This account takes until p. 311. Tom argues “Though the components of this great narrative are so radically different from the great single story in which the Apostle believed himself to be living, the overall shape, and indeed the very idea of there being such an overall shape to a centuries long story, would I think have been recognized at once.” (p. 306). “There is every reason to suppose that an intelligent boy growing up in Tarsus or for that matter in Jerusalem, would know at least its main themes, if not its finer details.” (p. 307).

Not surprisingly, this chapter proves to be one of the longest in the whole work. It is rather crucial to the picture of Paul and his thought world Tom is attempting to draw up.


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