Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God– Part Twenty Four

The discussion which begins on p. 634 on how exactly Paul reformed and reaffirmed Jewish monotheism is interesting in various ways. Tom begins by discussing texts such as the cause celebre Rom.8.18-30. His translation of key phrases is interesting (on which see his earlier Romans commentary). Instead of the word predestined, he prefers ‘marked out in advance to be shaped according to the model of the image of the Son’. He also prefers the translation ‘called according to his purpose’ even though the word ‘his’ is nowhere in any Greek manuscript, and as Chrysostom says, the word itself can mean choice. Then one has to ask— Whose chose, God’s or the responders? This is indeed a viable question here because the ‘ous’ in vs. 29a has as its antecedent ‘those who love God’. In other words, the text reads ‘for those who love God, whom God foreknew, he also destined or marked out in advance. The discussion then is about the destiny of believers, not about how persons came to be believers in the first place. Their destiny is to be conformed to the image of the Son. And again, Paul is referring to a group of people— ‘those who love God, who were called according to choice/purpose’. Those folks whom God foreknew would love him (making clear that God’s choice was not mere fiat, or arbitrary but on the basis of God’s clear advance knowledge of how these people would respond). None of this is really dealt with at this juncture in the book, but we may hope for more later. Tom is certainly right here that we have a clear affirmation that the God who created it all is also the God who is in the process of recreating it all. This is an expression of creational monotheism, now reconfigured to include the Son and conformity to the Son’s image (p. 636).

But there are more implications to an affirmation of creational monotheism: “This positive view of creation also explains the passages where Paul indicates that, even among pagans, there is a moral sense which will recognize the good behavior of the Messiah’s people, and from which, in turn one can even learn by example. It is this too which enables Paul exactly in line with at least one regular second Temple viewpoint, to affirm the goodness and God-givenness of governments and authorities…even while reserving the right both to remind them of their God-given duty and to hold them to account in relation to it” (p. 639).

p. 640 finds Tom affirming an interesting connection— no idols also means there is only one true ‘image’ of God that has ever been on earth since the Fall, that is Jesus the Messiah, himself the truly human one. Those who are in the Messiah are to be renewed according to that image. What Tom does not say, but could have done is that this fits nicely with Paul’s contention that Christ is the last Adam, remembering that the first one was also created in the image of God.

On p. 644 Tom turns more specifically to the discussion of Jesus and monotheism. He is not happy with either the traditional liberal notion that high christology is late and therefore tells us nothing about the historical Jesus, nor is he simply happy with the attempts ala Hengel and company to demonstrate high Christology was thoroughly Jewish and early. He rejects the analysis of modernity saying “At the same time Romanticism constantly implyied that the ‘primitive’ form of any movement was the genuine,inspired article, the original vision which would fade over time as people moved from charisma to committees, from adoration to administration, from spontaneous and subversive spirituality to stable structures and a salaried sacerdotalism.” (p. 646). Nice turns of phrase, and there are many such in these volumes.

I found ironic Wright’s pronouncement on p. 647 that the work of Hengel, Bauckham, Hurtado makes it “almost inconceivable that one would go back to the old days of Bousset and Bultmann (or even Dunn, Casey, and Vermes).” (p. 647). Obviously, he was not aware that Bart Ehrman was about to launch yet another salvo based on such assumptions with a title something like How Jesus became the divine Son of God, or the like. Nonetheless, Tom is right that the idea that high Christology must be late has been so widely rejected that even Jewish scholars like Daniel Boyarin “have swung round in the opposite direction, arguing that most if not all of the elements of early Christology, not least the divinity of the expected Messiah, were in fact present within pre-Christian Judaism itself” (p. 648— see e.g. the recent flap over the Gabriel Stone). Wright’s judgment is that Boyarin has claimed much more than the early Jewish texts will support.

More importantly Wright is correct about noticing what Paul does NOT have to argue for— “”early Christians, already by the time of Paul, had articulated a belief in the ‘divinity’ of Jesus far more powerfully and indeed poetically than anyone had previously imagined. Paul can in fact assume his (very ‘high’) view of Jesus as a given. He never says, even to Corinth ‘How then can some of you be saying that Jesus was simply a wonderful human being and nothing more?’ Nor does christology seem to be a point of contention between him and (say) the church of Jerusalem. Despite regular assumptions and assertions, there is no historical evidence for an ‘early Jewish Christianity which (like the later Ebionites) denied identification between Jesus and Israel’s God.” (p. 648). Tom thus concludes that Paul’s view of Jesus couldn’t all have come from that revelatory moment on Damascus Road.

Thus the question remains, what pushed Jesus’ earliest followers after Easter in the direction of a high Christology. Tom is not satisfied with the older view that Jesus himself made such a thing possible and clear by the use of Son of Man language, thereby some kind of equality with Israel’s God, and that the early church saw the resurrection as the confirmation of Jesus’ claim. Tom oddly says about this view “I regard such a view as hopelessly short-circuited though not entirely misleading and mistaken” (p. 649). He does not explain what he means by short-circuited.

Tom is more impressed with the proposal of Larry Hurtado that “it was the sense and experience of the personal presence of the exalted Jesus, in the way that one might expect to experience the presence of the living God, that led Jesus’s earliest disciples first to worship him (without any sense of compromising monotheism) then to re-read Israel’s Scriptures in such a way as to discover him in passages which were about the one God”… In other words it was “‘early Christian experience’ of the risen lord in their midst that compelled them to the first stirrings of what would later becoming trinitarian and incarnational theology.” (p. 650). Wright things Hurtado is basically correct in his presentation and analysis of the phenomena and he sees it as completely ruling out the Bousset hypothesis (namely that when Christianity full engaged with the pagan world it absorbed pagan notions about deities and lords and applied them to Christ). In addition, Wright points to the recent work of Chris Tilling which demonstrates that Paul’s descriptions of the relationship between the early Christians and Jesus match the scriptural descriptions of the relationship between Israel and the one God (C. Tilling, Paul’s Divine Christology, Mohr, 2012). For example Paul’s passages about Christ being married to his believers (2 Cor. 11.2;Rom. 7.4-6, never mind Ephes. 5) relate directly to the OT theme of Israel being Yahweh’s bride.

But even beyond a basic agreement with Hurtado, Wright finds the proposals of Richard Bauckham even more important. The major point is that you can’t get to divine worship of Jesus as divine, from what is said in early Judaism about exalted angels or mediators. For example, notice the fierce rejection of the worship of an angel in Revelation coupled with the clear worship of God and the lamb. “Bauckham’s main proposal is that the NT, Paul included offered a christology of divine identity in which Jesus is included in the unique identity of this one God” (p. 651). So Bauckham stresses that identity concerns who God is, to be distinguished from ‘nature’ which concerns what God is. Thus he distinguishes what is going on in the NT from later debates about Jesus’ divine and human natures. (Bauckham notes however there is one exception to the rejection of the worship of intermediary figures— namely what is said about the Son of Man in the parables of Enoch).

Thus Bauckham concludes “the highest possible Christology– the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity–was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the NT writings were written, since it occurs in all of them” (p. 652– quoted approvingly by Wright). Bauckham stresses there are three key aspects to Jewish monotheism– God is the sole creator, he will at last establish his kingdom, and he and he alone is to be worshipped. He then proceeds (in ‘God Crucified’) to demonstrate that in the NT Christ is portrayed as the agent of creation, the one through whom all things are reconciled and kingdom comes, and he is to be worshipped.

Tom’s own proposal is to build on Bauckham, but to add another component to eschatological monotheism, namely that the God who abandoned the Temple when it became corrupt, had also promised to return to Jerusalem and his Temple after the exile, come back to be king once more in Zion and set his people free from bondage. We will continue this discussion in the next blog post on this book.

  • Carlos Xavier

    Wright contradicts himself when he writes that “…what Paul the apostle—or someone else before him—has done with this famous prayer is utterly breathtaking…It is a measure of the dramatic shift that has come over contemporary New Testament scholarship in the last generation that this conclusion, which was hardly even noticed 30 or 40 years ago, now seems unavoidable and central to our understanding of Paul’s christology…the Shema is the REDEFINED… the real SHOCK is of course simply the expansion of the Shema to include Jesus within it… A small step for the language; a GIANT leap for the theology… And that fresh theology…finds its riches and densest expression in Paul’s RADICAL REVISION of the Shema.” Faithfulness, Ch. 9: The One God of Israel Freshly Revealed. [CAPS mine]

    Yet, in one of his previous books Wright says that “the answer Jesus gave [in Mar 12.29] was thoroughly NON-CONTROVERSIAL, quoting the most famous of Jewish prayers…The Shema…[that] was as central to Judaism then as it is NOW…” Jesus and the Victory of God, Volume 2, pp. 304-305.

  • BenW3

    Carlos what Paul says about the Shema is one thing. What Jesus said about the Shema is another. These are two different subjects. Tom did not contradict himself. BW3

  • Carlos Xavier

    How are they different?
    And the contradiction I noted has to do with the “controversial” yet “non-controversial” aspects of the Shema as noted by Wright.

  • BenW3

    Big difference. Jesus is articulating his vision within the context of speaking to his fellow Jews, and within the OT context of Jewish monotheism as stated in the Shema. Paul is modifying the Shema in light of the revelation of the character of God in Jesus’ coming dying and resurrection. That modification of the Shema was definitely controversial. BW3

  • Carlos Xavier

    Just to be clear, so Jesus’ Shema was NOT Trinitarian hence “non-controversial” to his fellow Jews but Paul’s Shema is Trinitarian?

  • BenW3

    There are places where Jesus intimates and even articulates the idea that he is part of the divine identity, but not when he is quoting or responding to a quote of the Shema. BW3

  • Carlos Xavier

    So Jesus does NOT quote a Trinitarian statement of faith but Paul does? Please be clear.
    And why would Jesus not only AGREE but BLESS the non-Trinitarian response?

    Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
    [Mar 12.34]

  • BenW3

    I’m being very clear. The term God, to an early Jew before Jesus came along, had one specific meaning— YHWH. Jesus is not YHWH. So when he refers to the Shema, he is referring to YHWH. Paul is writing to those who are already Christians. He does indeed modify the Shema in 1 Cor. 8.6 in a Christian way to include Christ and the Spirit within the divine identity. Now if someone had asked Jesus are you the Son of God and therefore part of the divine identity, he would have said yes. But that is not what is under discussion when Jesus talks to another early Jew about the Shema. It’s a matter of context. BW3

  • Carlos Xavier

    Thank you for clarifying. Difficult subject to try and get my head around, I hope you understand.
    So the “God” in question in the Shema is the Person of YHWH only? If so, Jesus then includes himself AND the Spirit within the Person of YHWH in 1Cor 8.6? All I see in that text is the Person of the Father, YHWH, and His Son, Jesus [the Spirit excluded].

  • BenW3

    Paul, in 1 Cor. 8.6, not Jesus, includes God the Father and the Son within his discussion of the Godhead. He elsewhere includes the Spirit within that discussion where the Shema is not the subject of conversation or revision. BW3

  • Carlos Xavier

    Thank you.
    Could you please point me to where the term “God” is defined as a Trinity? i.e., the One God is Father, Son, HS.

    Again, trying to understand your position since for Paul the “one God” IS “the Father” and not BOTH “the Father and the Son”, as McGrath has pointed out:

    “…it would be very difficult for Paul to distinguish between “God” in the Shema as referring to the Father and “Lord” in the Shema as referring to the Son, since the Shema clearly identifies “Lord” [YHWH] and “God”. That Paul could do this in passing, without explaining it or defending it, seems very unlikely indeed. The fact of the matter is that Paul does not say that there is one God who is both Father and Son.”
    The Only True God, pp. 38-43.

  • BenW3

    Carlos may I suggest you look at my little book The Shadow of the Almighty? In the original Shema, the term God and the term Lord are both used to refer to Yahweh. In the revised Shema in 1 Cor. 8.6 the term God is used of the Father and Lord of Jesus. Lord is just as much a term for the one God in the OT, as ‘God’ is. If you want to see an implicitly Trinitarian statement look at the Great Commission in Mt. 28, or consider the benediction in 2 Cor. 13.13. Finally, there are seven places in the NT where Jesus is clearly called God (theos). One of these is in Romans 9.5. Blessings, Ben W.

  • Carlos Xavier

    Thank you.
    Agreed, YHWH is both the LORD and God of the Shema. I think Paul is still within his Jewish creedal heritage when he reiterates the fact that the One God is the Father.
    As far as being “called God”, I am sure we would agree that many other people [Moses, judges] and angels are “called God” in a representative sense throughout the Hebrew scriptures.
    Is it possible to have you and Dr. McGrath dialogue further on this matter?

  • BenW3

    As to the latter question, nope. I’m much too busy. As to your former point, no Moses is not called God in the OT, nor as judges. This is a matter of knowing how to read the Hebrew. If McGrath says that, he’s just wrong. And its clear enough that Paul says in Phil. 2.5-11 that Christ is ‘in very nature God’ and has equality with the Father. BW3

  • Carlos Xavier

    That’s too bad.

    How to read the Hebrew? I don’t understand what you mean by this. Many scholars cede the point wholeheartedly:

    “The titles Elim, Elohim are used in some few cases of men, as possessors of God-like power or rank [Job 41.25; Ezek. 17.13; 32.21; 2Kings 24.15]…
    Moses is to become Elohim in relation to Aaron [and] again he is to be Elohim to Pharaoh [Ex 4.16; 7.1]…
    Elohim is employed to denote judges or rulers, either as acting as God’s representatives, or as exercising a power which is God-like [Ex 21.6; 22.8-9, 28; 1Sam 2.25; Ps 82.6; Ps 138.1]…
    And, once more, the intensive plural Elohim appears, upon the only tenable explanation, to be used in Ps 45.6 of the King who forms the subject of the poem…”
    C.F. Burney, Outlines of Old Testament Theology, pp14-16.

    As to Phil 2.6, I am sure we agree that “in very nature” by the NIV is not a true translation of the Greek morphe. The MAJORITY of the translations bear this out. But be that as it may, v.7 would also mean Jesus is “in very nature” a servant as well. How do you reconcile that?

  • Keefa

    @BenW3:disqus What do you mean by the original Shema? Are you checking the entire Metsudah Chumash? What Hebrew manuscript are you quoting from? Yeshua Ha Mashiach uttered the Shema as he went into the Beit Midrash, are you saying he included himself in this sacred utterance? for such alteration of the biblical text would have got him crucified from day one of his ministry. However since Paul says that he was born under Torah, then we can trust he held to the Shema as written in those Judaic scrolls.

  • BenW3

    I mean of course the Shema in the OT, not the clear modification of the Shema in 1 Cor. 8.6. I am not saying that Jesus modified the Shema. As for Gal. 4– Paul says Jesus was born under the Law to redeem those under the Law out from under the Mosaic Law and covenant. Jesus in fact does not simply reaffirm the OT Law. The Sermon on the Mount makes this clear with his antitheses— ‘you’ve heard it said, but I say…’ He feels free to set up a new covenant with new laws, some of which are a reiteration of the Mosaic Laws and some of which definitely are not. And yes, in the end Jesus was sent to Pilate for blasphemy, for claiming to be the Son of Man of Daniel who shall come on the clouds, judge the world, rule forever, and be worshipped by all nations. BW3

  • Keefa

    DaniEL 7:13 reads ..behold with the clouds of heaven, one B’BAR ENOSH was coming, and he CAME up to the ATIK YOMIN(Ancient of Days) and was brought before him.

    1. BAR ENOSH=human being

    2. YHWH is not a human being

    3. this human being was brought before him( personal pronoun) which is another person?

  • Keefa

    Paul was a student of Gamaliel and would have not altered the Shema, for Paul says IT IS WRITTEN over 39 times in his writings. Paul adhered closely to the Biblical text and in no way would have modified the Shema without approval from the Master Rabbi Jesus, who says in NAS Revelation 3:12 ‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.
    who is the My God, that Jesus is talking about?


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