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

As Tom informed us early on in this opus, the three major or central chapters including finally Chapter 11, on eschatology, are the most crucial parts of this major discussion on Paul. So we will be working carefully through pp. 1043-1266 for quite a few posts.

That Wright is treating eschatology last in these three main chapters is in some ways traditional, but it is also in some ways a problem because all of Paul’s thought is done in an eschatological and Christological interlocking framework, and that framework and groundwork is far more pervasive than any discussion about election or monotheism or covenants. He is right of course that the Greco-Roman world did not really have a ‘future hope’ in the Biblical sense. This whole way of viewing both the future and the afterlife is thoroughly Jewish.

On p. 1048 he reintroduces the notion that the coming of Jesus is the return of Yahweh to his temple, etc. and he alludes to the Gospel references in regard to John the Baptizer and what he said about the future. This overlooks the fact that while John may well have expected Yahweh to intervene and judge Israel, what happened instead during his ministry was the coming of Jesus and the Good News of the divine saving activity, the saving reign of God through Jesus’ ministry. In other words, there is a reason why near the end of his life John is confused about who Jesus is— and Jesus simply responds by pointing to his positive ministry outcomes. Jesus does not claim to be Yahweh come to judge the world at his first coming. One can and should makes such a claim in regard to the second coming, but that is quite specifically not what is going on during the first coming— during the first coming Jesus comes to seek and save the lost sheep of Israel, a very different agenda. The two comings of Christ should not be mushed together, nor should the first coming be seen as the bringing forward of the last one in nuce.

Tom is of course right that there is an already and not yet dimension to Paul’s eschatology (I prefer the term ‘already’ Tom prefers the terms ‘now’ and not yet. I do so because for Paul various eschatological events are already in the past, not merely happening while he is ministering, though that is true as well since ‘the form of this world is passing away’). He is also right that the apparent focus of Jewish eschatology was on the future and new creation, not on life in another world without a mortal frame. Helpfully, Tom also stresses that Paul’s ethics are conditioned by the
‘already’ dimension of eschatology, but it is also true that the ‘not yet’ dimension serves as an ethical sanction as well, an important one.

Most importantly, I quite agree with Tom when he says “Paul was not just freewheeling pragmatically into an unexpected situation, making up inaugurated eschatology on the hoof. When he reflects on what was already the case and how that related to what was not yet the case, but would become so through the Messiah and Spirit, he advanced arguments which sought to explain that this interval, however unexpected, had itself a specific purpose within the divine economy.” (p. 1048). Where the wheels come off the wagon, in my view, is when Tom suggests that ‘the mission to the Gentiles was to be the means of rescuing Israel itself”. No, while Paul says in Rom. 10-11 he hoped the mission to the Gentiles would produce some jealousy in non-Christian Israel, in fact he would go on to argue that until the full number of Gentiles had first come into the people of God, then and only then would all Israel be saved by the grace and mercy of God, by owning their returning savior Jesus, when he came back.