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

tom1

The last chapter of Tom’s magnum opus is not quite what one might have expected. There are considerable reflections on modern secular Jewish thought (Benjamin, Marx, etc.) and on the philosopher Heidegger and his connection with the Nazis, and how this may, or may not have affected European theology vis a vis the Jewish character of Paul’s thought. Tom thinks there is some truth in the suggestion that Paul was the philosopher who provided the ideological validation for the worldwide rule of Jesus (p. 1475), but the real aim of this last chapter is stated as follows: “I want…to argue that Paul’s practical aim was the creation and maintenance of particular kinds of communities; that the means to their creation and maintenance was the key notion of reconciliation; and that these communities which he regarded as the Spirit-inhabited Messiah-people, constituted at least in his mind and perhaps also in historical truth a new kind of reality, embodying a new kind of philosophy, of religion, and of politics; and a new kind of combination of those, and all of this within the reality….[of] a new kind of Jewishness, a community of new covenant, a community rooted in a new kind of prayer.” (p. 1476).

Lou Martyn’s commentary on Galatians comes in for some very harsh criticism on p. 1481, where Tom accuses his of “perpetuating the myth of a non- or even anti-Jewish Christianity”, and he has like comments for those who follow an ‘apocalyptic’ reading of Paul’s thought, presumably following the lead of Martyn (but actually it would be better to talk about E. Kasemann in this regard). Is an apocalyptic reading of Paul’s thought an attempt to avoid a Jewish one like Tom’s? This seems to me to be a very odd claim, considering that apocalyptic is a Jewish reading of anything. He is however right to complain that the myth of the delayed parousia has bedeviled too many readings of Paul, ever since Schweitzer, and one needs to make clear that neither Paul, nor other early Christian writers of his era show any concern about a ‘delayed’ parousia. Indeed, if anything they could be accused of enthusiastically hoping for an imminent one. It is a pity, as Tom remarks that this myth of the delay of the parousia so bedeviled German scholarship in the last half of the last century.

As before, one of Tom’s over-arching concerns is a reading of Paul that perpetuates the myth that Paul was all about winning souls so they could go to heaven, two subjects he hardly mentions, rather than a focus on resurrection and new creation. He suggests that the Reformation didn’t really flip the script on this reading of Paul, rather it just changed the terms and conditions by which one could hope to enter heaven (p. 1485). Tom’s particular concern about modern apocalyptic readings are: 1) they aren’t like early Jewish apocalyptic in that they envision a God who only occasionally invades the secular world and does things, not really providing a divine hand on history in an ongoing way; 2) this reflects the Enlightments insistence on a separation of God from statecraft, God from the public sphere, so humans could run it themselves, and there would be no heretical talk of theocracy. 3) this separation of spheres or two spheres idea (from which I would add comes the questionable notion of the separation of church and state, which originally was meant to protect the church from the state, not vice versa) oddly served both the secularists and atheists who did not want their secular paradise spoiled by divine rules and regulations and interference, and on the other hands it served Christians who did not want their spiritual realm spoiled by the filth of the present world. Tom thinks these intellectual trends have nothing to do with Paul’s own agenda and world view.

To be clear, when Tom says reconciliation is at the heart of Paul’s aims, he doesn’t merely mean that in the usual truncated spiritual sense of reconciled in one’s personal relationship with God, and also with at least fellow believers. It was a much bigger thing he was talking about— reconciling the whole of life, the whole world to God, and this includes philosophy, politics, religion. His project was not merely to bring the world to the point of knowing and owning Christ, his project was to bring or at least help bring the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, with God claiming the whole world (p. 1488). Needless to say, if you, like Ralph Martin earlier, want to make reconciliation central to Paul’s program 2 Cor. 5.13-6.2 looms large, not least because Paul hardly uses the word ‘reconciliation’ outside that context. (see p. 1488). The point is that in Paul’s view new creation is already happening and that his communities are the beachhead where you can see it happening, where God has landed again on planet earth. So these reconciled communities of Jew and Gentile are the advance project, or even maybe the foretaste of the new creation. More in the next post.