Paul and his Recent Interpreters by N.T. Wright— Part Two


In the 2nd chapter Tom Wright rehearses the in some ways unfortunate of the Reformation forcing all our reading of Paul into a discussion about justification and salvation. He then critiques even further reductionism like that of Bultmann who reduces theology to anthropology, and Christology to soteriology, so the whole Pauline discussion is about humankind and its salvation. What he is complaining about is not only reductionism but forcing Paul into modern molds in which he does not fit, for example the ‘Hellenism’ mold when his theology is profoundly Jewish in character. With Schweitzer, whom he lauds at various points, he argues that being in Christ is the center of Paul’s thought. To understand Paul, one must co-ordinate the themes of righteousness by faith, incorporative Christology, and ethics. Wright says the Schweitzerian analysis re-emerges in Sanders who also says being in Christ is the main thing and justification a subsidiary crater having to do with Gentile admission into God’s people. Douglas Campbell agrees participation is central and tries to eliminate justification altogether. Bultmann thinks Paul has simply left Judaism behind, and so Paul is not interpreted in light of the OT, and Bultmann takes Rom. 10.4 to mean Christ is the end or termination of the Law, which was given by God to entice people to try and keep it, and so commit the sin of pride.

On pp. 44ff. Wright suggests that the new perspective on Paul was in part a retrieval of Schweitzer and his recognition that Paul’s thought was Jewish and eschatological, while the apocalyptic approach to Paul is a continuation of the Kasemann (and Bultmann filtered through Kasemann) approach.
The existentialist approach focuses on the individual and individual salvation and rejects any cosmic notion is involved in salvation or the fixing of the human dilemma.

A quote from p. 53 will give you a sense of the argument in this chapter—-

“The effect is that Paul can be situated against ‘Jewish Christians’, with their insistence on law and covenant, on the one hand, and against ‘enthusiasts’ on the other hand. And the weapon
Käsemann’s Paul employs against both is ‘apocalyptic’ itself: the radical
inbreaking of God which declares that there can be no ‘steady state’ or ‘evolutionary
development’ in ‘salvation history’, and which declares that, since
the hope remains in the future, one cannot become an ‘enthusiast’ and
imagine that one already possesses all God’s promises.85 In other words,
‘apocalyptic’ as reconstructed by Käsemann (or at least reimagined; there is
not much sign that he was actually studying ‘apocalyptic’ texts and coming
up with a careful historical construct) is what the apostle needs in order to
be located exactly at the point where Martin Luther himself had stood, facing
the legalistic Roman Catholics on the one hand and the dangerously
radical ‘enthusiasts’ on the other. For Käsemann, these opponents could
easily be transformed into the comfortable bourgeois churchgoers on the
one hand and the charismatics or fundamentalists (as he would see them)
on the other.”

It is telling that Wright spends considerable time commending Cranfield’s Romans and Ridderbos’ Pauline Theology, as examples of useful pushback against the Lutheran/apocalyptic/non-Jewish readings of Paul. The battle is joined properly in the third chapter when Tom begins to talk about ‘the New Perspective on Paul’.

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