Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God– Part Forty One

Time and again, one of the major hermeneutical moves Tom Wright makes is what I will call the ‘both-and’ approach. For instance, on pp. 821ff. we hear that Christ has taken on both the role of Adam in ruling over creation and the role of the Messiah in rescuing God’s people, and in Wright’s view the purpose or mission of Israel to rescue the world. It’s one stop shopping in Jesus. Christ becomes all things to all persons so by all means he may save some. The most fundamental question to be asked about this approach is whether this doesn’t gloss over important distinctions. Let’s take an example from Qumran. As is well know their literature in some places suggested there would be both a princely anointed one and a priestly anointed one— in effect two Messianic figures. Now it was not the role of these figures ‘to fulfill the story of Israel’ or even ‘to fulfill the story of true Israel as seen in the sect at Qumran. No, it was not their job to be Israel but to lead and free Israel. It appears to me that this really is a fundamental flaw in Tom’s reading of the script of the story of Israel. The Messiah does not fulfill the story of Israel. On any showing in early Judaism, the story of Israel continues on after Messiah has shown up. Consider for example the ministry of the historical Jesus himself— he chooses 12 not to replace the lost tribes or lost sheep of Israel, not to be Israel, but to free Israel– hence he sends them out two by two to get the reclamation project going. Does then the Messiah fulfill the mission of Israel to the world? Again, if we look at the Jesus tradition itself, Jesus flatly denies this is part of his early ministry– he is sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and he must focus on them. God’s people must be reclaimed first. It is the disciples he sends out into the world, and later of course Saul of Tarsus. Most fundamentally, while Israel’s story cannot be fulfilled without the role of their Messiah, both at his first and at his second comings (see Romans 11), the role of the redeemer of God’s people, who turns away the impiety of Jacob in the future, as well as in the present, it should be noted that Paul assumes there is still a Jacob, still an Israel out there to be redeemed. Israel’s story is not over, though it will never come to full fruition until Jesus returns. I bring this all up because it makes clear something is very wrong with saying Jesus is Israel and he fulfills not merely Israel’s mission or purpose, but Israel’s whole story. Was Israelin the OT really chosen to save the world? No, but they were chosen to be a light and enlightenment to the nations. It was only their Messiah who was anointed and appointed to save the world. Something is lost when one blends together the roles of Adam over creation, Israel as the chosen people, and the Jewish Messiah.

At this juncture Tom relies on the recent work of Novenson who suggests that ‘Christos’ is neither a name nor simply a title but rather an ‘honorific’ which has some features in common with a title, consider the use of the term Augustus of Caesar.

Tom then goes on to argue that Christ is Israel’s incorporative Messiah, the corporate and incorporative feature coming from the very fact that Jesus is Israel’s messiah. And here again we see Tom’s both-and approach. On the one hand (p. 825 n. 153) he is happy to affirm Moule’s insight that the ‘in Christo’ language and the body of Christ language reflects Paul’s view that Christ is a divine person, indeed an omnipresent person, and so humans in various places and times can be incorporated into him. This makes perfectly good sense all by itself. But Tom wants to say in addition the reason for the incorporative language is ALSO because Jesus is the Jewish messiah, and incorporative figure. He adds that Paul thought “the people of God and the Messiah of God [were] so bound up together that what was true of one was true of the other.” (p. 826). This does not sit very well with Jesus’ own notion that the Messiah is the groom, and God’s people the bride of Christ (see also Ephes. 5). The bride and the groom even though the two become one, still remain two. And it is not true that whatever one says of the one, mutatis mutandis one can say of the other. Nor for that matter does this work when it comes to the head/body language applied to Christ and his people. The head is integrally connected to the body, and of course there are things that one could say about both of them together, but there are also things one can only say of one part or the other. Now Tom admits that we look in vain in the early Jewish literature from the 2nd century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. for the incorporative messiah notion. No language about being in the Messiah or vice versa can be found in that literature. Is this language then simply parallel to Paul’s ‘in Adam’ language in Romans 5? The answer to this would seem to be no, since what Paul means by being ‘in Adam’ is that we all came from him, and were influenced by what he passed down to us, both bad and good. He is not saying the same thing about the Messiah in the ‘in Christo’ language, it would appear. Perhaps in the last Adam language in 1 Cor. 15 we see ways that being in the first or the last Adam are parallel, but Adam is not the Messiah, nor was he called to be the light to the nations etc. Tom’s proposal then is the the resurrection of Jesus is what caused this mutation of the incorporative language. In particular, Pharisees were looking for the raising of Israel, and when it happened that only the Messiah was raised, Paul assumed this was the raising of Israel. The problem with this proposal however is that the Pharisees also expected, on the basis of Dan. 12.2-3 presumably, the resurrection of the wicked as well, as does Jesus in John 5. So, it does not really appear likely to me that the resurrection explains the incorporative language. Much more interesting and plausible is the references to having shares in David or in the King in 2 Sam. 20.1 or 1 Kngs. 12.16.

On p. 831, Tom offers and interesting translation of Phil. 3.8b-11- dikaisoune tou theou– he translates as covenant status, so that Paul is contrasting the covenant status he had under Torah and the covenant status he now has in Christ through the faithfulness of Christ (and in both cases the issue is status, being legally in the right). Paul however here is concerned about the actual righteousness and holiness of his audience, and indeed of himself. Being conformed to the death of Jesus after all has to do with the death of the old person, the burial of the old person (Rom. 6) when one is in Christ. Paul is not merely talking about either right standing or covenant faithfulness here. After all, God does not owe anyone the new birth. He is talking about conformity to the righteous image of the Righteous One which is not finally completed until the future resurrection, as he mentions. Yes, it begins with right-standing, but this should hardly be rendered covenant faithfulness. Furthermore, it is one thing to say the Messiah is the representative of his people, another to say the people are summed up and their story fulfilled in Him. Yes to the former, and not quite to the latter. That people are incorporated into Christ is not the same thing as saying “Christos denotes the Messiah and his people”. No, Christ is the spiritual location into which people are incorporated. On the basis of Gal. 3.28, Tom concludes that the phrase ‘into Christ’ must be taken rather literally, so that what Gal. 3.28 actually means is ‘Christos designates the single messianic family in which radical differences are overcome’ (p. 834 n. 176). Wouldn’t it be better to say, “Christos designates Christ into whom we are incorporated and so become a family unit where such differences, while they do not cease to exist, cease to define who we are in any meaningful way?” I would add that the future of non-Christian Israel itself is in Christ and among his people as Romans 11 says. There can never be two peoples of God really at any one point in time.


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