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

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Chapter 14 is to be paired with Chapter 3, only this time we are bringing together Paul and the philosophers, and doing some comparing and contrasting. The central three chapters of exposition of Paul’s thought is assumed and drawn on here. To begin with Tom sets out the usual three categories into which ancient philosophy fell— physics (under which heading things like cosmology and theology fell– see below), ethics, and logic. Paul in fact draws on some form of these three categories in various places as ways (for instance, in regard to the later Tom points to the diatribe, but one could also point to syllogisms or enthymemes like we find in 1 Cor. 15 or the Pastorals). And Tom is further right that Paul does not anthematize all Greek philosophy with its search for knowledge, wisdom, and truth, for as Phil. 4.18 suggests whatever is noble or true or excellent wherever one finds it should be affirmed. All truth, after all is God’s truth. “there were plenty of thoughts out there which he might have judged , would be ready servants if only they were brought up and employed within the right household.” (p. 1359).

Tom is further right that Paul does not pit general revelation in creation off against special revelation in the Scriptures. He thinks there are things to be learned from both creation and the Scriptures. Paul however, as Tom stresses, is a creational monotheist, and what this means is that God is not a part of nature or the cosmos, but rather the creator of it. This is why Paul would never place theology under the heading of physics. Further, we would add, Paul did not see the human dilemma as merely an issue of ignorance, and so of seeing in the dark without adequate light. He saw it as an issue of human fallenness, and so of a heart of darkness, not merely darkness in the world. God is not an item within the cosmos to be investigated like anything else (p. 1360), and human beings have an inherent inward problem as fallen creatures. Information alone cannot dispel this darkness. Transformation of a fallen human into a new creation is required, and this in turn requires revelation. For Paul the study of nature or human nature would never be enough to part the clouds of unknowing and get at the essence of reality. Because there is only one omniscient being in the universe, God, it follows that the overarching knowledge is the knowledge God has, and is prepared to share. This new sort of true knowledge comes through what has happened through the Christ event, and the acceptance by faith of the Christ. The blindness of the lost is not merely a matter of being led astray by sense perceptions which were cloudy, or passions that fog up one’s glasses. In part, as Tom shows from his treatment of Rom. 1, the issue is not pure ignorance (God and his power are evident in all creation), but rather a willful ignoring of the truth by fallen persons, which in turn leads to God ‘handing them over’ with the inevitable result of both idolatry and immorality. (see p. 1363). It is human rebellion against a God already glimpsed that is the real epistemological and personal problem. People simply prefer darkness to light and only the Spirit of God working in human fallenness can overcome this.

Interestingly, on p. 1365 Tom suggests that Plato’s famous allegory of the cave does apply to the fallen. What they are seeing is but shadows of the real reality, shadows on the wall, but what they need to do is turn around, walk out of the cave and into the light, and meet the reality in person, directly. But Paul had some good news about all this. This present evil ages was already passing away since the Light of the World had already come to earth, come to light, and those who belonged to Christ had the capacity to see the world for what it was, know God as he truly is, and best evaluate the knowledge the world has amassed.

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