Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God– Party Fifty Seven

In this post we cross the Rubicon of p. 1000 in Tom’s tome. That is to say, we cross the two-thirds mark in this massive study. It is worth pointing out that there is a lot of repetition in this detailed study. A lot. The reason for this is, at least in part,because so many seem to have misunderstood, or misrepresented, or simply rejected what Tom has said in the past, sometimes said in passing, that here he wants to leave no doubts about what exactly his views are on monotheism, election, eschatology etc. and how they were redefined around Messiah and Spirit in Paul’s worldview.

Pp.992ff begins with a discussion of Col.2 which really doesn’t break any new ground. Tom contends that the ‘heresy’ mentioned in Colossians appears to be Jewish in character, which I would agree with, with the qualifier, Diaspora, hellenized Jewish. Tom’s point is that Colossians also supports his reading of things including his ideas about covenantal faithfulness. There is an interesting suggestion that Paul is playing on words with the present participle sylagogon…from the verb meaning ‘take captive’, a play on the word synagogos— in other words, don’t let these Jewish folk drag you into synagogue ways, observances of days, months years etc. (see p. 994). This is possible, and interesting.

This portion of the discussion gets going in earnest on p. 995 where Tom turns to Rom. 3.21-4.25 (again). His point is to stress yet again that the phrase ‘God’s righteousness’ “does not denote a human status which Israel’s God gives, grants, imparts or imputes (a righteousness from God as in Phil. 3.9) or a human characteristic which counts with God (a righteousness which avails with God). Nor does it denote the saving power of the one God, as Kasemann and others argued in a last ditch effort to prevent Paul from affirming Israel’s covenant theology. It retains its primary Scriptural meaning which is that of God’s covenantal faithfulness. This includes, and indeed focuses on, God’s faithful justice, his determination to put the world to rights through putting humans to rights, and within that his faithfulness to the promises made in the Torah…” (p. 996). You may remember in the much earlier discussion about righteousness in the Bible, and even in Paul, Tom recognizes that the phrase God’s righteousness can refer to other things than ‘God’s covenantal faithfulness’. Indeed, I would say the phrase regularly does refer to that, and that it includes God’s moral character and his consequent judgment of the world’s sin. This is precisely why God’s righteousness is said to be unveiled in the death of Jesus. His death is an atonement for sin, and God’s righteous character could not allow sin to be passed over indefinitely, as Paul says.

A great deal of Tom’s claim about God’s righteousness is based on his reading of the righteousness language in Isaiah 40-55 (see pp. 998-99), which occurs some 30 times in one form or another in those servant songs. Tom is right that there are some unique features to that Isaian material, not least of which is the reference to human sacrifice of the servant as an atonement for sins. Notice that the servant is the righteous one who will make many righteous and will bear their iniquities. The servant, says Tom, both is Israel and stands over against Israel. Tom of course is pushing for an essentially covenantal reading of Is. 40-55, within which the forensic language also comes into play. It is instructive at this point to note that Ross Wagner, who has hands down done the most work on Isaianic materials and their use in Paul, in the recent Houston conference critiques Tom’s work precisely at this point, and in various ways. I intend to ask Ross for a copy of his paper to publish on this blog….. stay tuned.