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

Anyone who has also read Tom’s Pauline Perspectives volume will discover that he hasn’t much changed his mind in any major ways over the 40 plus years of his pondering and writing about Paul. It is thus all the more significant in the section we are analyzing today from Paul and the Faithfulness that we find some change of views on a couple of things. We will be examining closely pp. 900-911 in this post.

On p. 900 Tom broaches the subject of what Paul will have believed about the Law when he was a Pharisee. It’s an interesting subject especially since Paul is clear enough that when he was a Pharisee ‘in regard to a righteousness that comes from Law keeping, I was blameless’ (see Phil. 3.5-6). What has confounded most expositors is how Paul, now as a Christian, now with a new view, with benefit of hindsight of the role of the Law, can say this. He can say this, I would suggest because Rom. 7.13ff. is not about Paul, is not autobiographical, and furthermore, is probably not about Israel either! It’s about those in Adam trapped in sin, knowing better but not being able to do better. In other words, its chiefly about Gentiles outside Christ, and most of Paul’s audience in Rome had once been such folk. Paul will talk about Israel in the subsequent chapters— 9-11. Tom however conjectures that as a Pharisee Paul may have hoped that strenuous law-keeping might lead to suffering but it might also chase off the problem of evil. Or perhaps he believed that despite even Israel’s and his own inclination to sin, the sacrificial system was sufficient to deal with the problem. This however is unlikely because Paul knew very well the sacrificial system did not deal with ‘sins with a high hand’ for which there was no atonement (see Paul’s remarks in Acts 13).

In terms of major points that he wants to reiterate here, Tom is right of course that both the concept of election and the concept of monotheism, and furthermore the concept of the people of God are redefined around Jesus (and the Spirit). This major point or points, though not all the implications Tom draws from it, may be said to have been established by p. 900 or so in this tome. But what this surely means is that Christology, and not ecclesiology is central– the fixed point around which all else revolves and is redefined.

A further point I think Tom has well established is that juridical and participationist notions about salvation are both found in Paul, and they are all subsumed under a larger heading. Tom thinks that heading is covenant faithfulness. I think this is not quite correct. It would be better to say it’s all redefined on the basis of Paul’s fresh Christological and soteriological thoughts, not mainly his ideas about covenants and election. After all forensic righteousness is about how one gains right standing with God, in short it is about the porch of salvation.

Some will find it odd that nowhere in this section does Tom deal in detail with the much debated Rom. 8.28-30. It is surprising to say the least since he talks so much about election. And yet the word predestination unto salvation is nowhere mentioned in this section. Interesting and plausible is his treatment of Rom. 8.10 on p. 901– “the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness”. He says “There should be no doubt: dikaiosune refers to the verdict righteous issued in the present over all who believe, issued because of the Messiah’s faithfulness, his self-giving to death.” What Tom does not add, but could have is that this makes the discussion in Rom. 8 here a parallel to what is said in Rom. 4 about Abraham where we are told that Abraham’s trust in God was counted as Abraham’s righteousness. So here in the case of Christian believers. And in neither case are we talking about the imputing of Christ’s righteousness to someone else.

On the matter of changing his mind on something see n. 350. Here he is clear that spirit refers to the Spirit here as in 8.2. He also says he used to think that righteousness here referred to the divine righteousness (see 1.16-17), but has since changed his mind.

About 8.31-39 Tom says “The whole paragraph is about what it means to be ‘in Christ’ but the whole paragraph only makes the sense it does because justification lies at its heart.” (p. 903). Fair enough.

Once again Tom tries to argue that what Paul is saying about God’s beloved Son is likely deeply indebted to what is said about Isaac and Abraham in Gen. 22. While I am willing to be convinced on this point, even Tom has to admit that the Jewish traditions about the Aquedah being some kind of atonement for sin are from a later era, not Paul’s. Nonetheless the offering of the Beloved Son is seen as the narratival fountainhead (p. 905) for the newly revealed doctrine of election. “The reason Paul could make this major move, still within second Temple Judaism, was not in order to legitimate ‘the church’ not because Jesus as ‘the church’s Messiah’ or ‘the Messiah of Christian belief; but precisely because he believed that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, the Messiah of Jewish expectation.” True enough, but the way Tom draws out the implications for non-Christian Israel in the church age, is not the way Paul himself does so in Rom. 9-11.

On p. 906 we hear more about Paul’s use of the servant songs of Isaiah, and Tom is right that in early Judaism, there was a messianic reading of this material, in fact two different approaches, one which suggested ala Ps. 2 that the Messiah would inflict the suffering on the Gentiles, and another which suggested Israelite martyrs, not the messiah were depicted as suffering in these passages. Does Paul then sees his own suffering in that latter light? No because he sees Isaiah 53 as referring to the sufferings of the Messiah, and by extension the suffering of the Messiah’s messengers/ apostles, like himself.

There is a nice summary on pp. 908-911 which the reader will find helpful at this juncture, summing up some of the major themes of the whole book thus far. He ends elegantly “Psalms and prophets sang of peace, a covenant of justice. And instead: exile; hope lost; the rise of bestial empires; Then when the times and tears had overflowed, God sent his only son, the strangest king, to be for Israel what they could not be; obedient; faithful; Passover in person. He was the seed, the servant, the Son, the chosen, the beloved, the victory won.” (p. 911).