Reconfigure, Revise, Reimagine

It is said often that Paul has reconfigured Judaism around Christ . Perhaps this could be said to be Tom Wright’s major thesis in his new book on Paul according at least to Scot McKnight and Mike Bird (here at Euangelion) – Although I wouldn’t know. I’ve not been one of the privileged to have received a complementary per-publication copy. This is, I think, when you know you’ve made it as a NT scholar, which reveals I’ve not!  – when publishers send you complementary copies of new books just because! But I’m not bitter or anything . . .

Scot concludes after a section excerpting some long quotes illustrating Wright’s view of Paul’s “revising”:

Similar, and just as interesting, observations are made about circumcision and sabbath and prayer and land and zeal/the Battle (with the satan, et al) and Scripture itself. Supersessionism? No, I don’t think. Fulfillment? Certainly. Revision? That’s the key term here. Faith in Messiah turns the old inside out and makes the old new without abolishing it.

This morning, I was reading an essay by David Horrell in Narrative Dynamics in Paul, written in response to John Barclay’s essay in the same book. In the essay, Horrell says he likes the term “reconfigure” and credits Donaldson in Paul and the Gentiles for the phraseology.

I personally don’t find the term “reconfigured”, and it’s other siblings “revise” and “reimagine” useful when it comes to talking about Paul’s relationship to Judaism; it’s just too slippery a concept for my liking. It can be employed in support of such a wide variety of interpretations. More often than not, I think it is used to describe a replacement agenda (I’m one of those mentioned in Scot’s post who would say Wright’s Paul revises to a point that it’s can’t be named as Jewish anymore): it names the process by which Paul takes a Jewish idea transforming it into something that isn’t.

Here’s a question: When does it become impossible to continue referring to an idea as Jewish (and what is this category “more Jewish”)? How can a theology of land that no longer maintains the promise of land to biblical Israel, for example, be rightly called a Jewish theology of land, and this notwithstanding the universally expanded nature of the geographical borders of God’s earthly kingdom in the messianic age (cf. Psa 72)?

Let me say this straight: I do think Paul reconfigured his understanding of Judaism around the Messiah because of his Damascus road experience. But here’s my question: Is it really accurate to say that he reconfigured Judaism? Did he really reconfigure Judaism in the generic and abstract? And was it really a reconfiguration of Judaism around Christ and not Torah (e.g. Donaldson and Horrell)? This way of expressing it suggests to me the old Lutheran law-gospel antithesis, which I reject. In my opinion (and I know this is not universally held – e.g., Preston Sprinkle’s recent book), Paul does not pit the law against the gospel. If you think he did it will obviously be easier to see, at the very least, the reconfiguration of the whole of Judaism, if not its complete rejection (cf. Martyn and Barclay). But in a NP or a P-NP way of thinking, we certainly don’t have to see that way.

Furthermore, I would say that the evidence both of Paul’s ancient Jewish context and of Paul’s own statements in say Gal 1:10-14, Paul reconfigured his understanding of Judaism around Christ from a configuration of Judaism around the Pharisaic tradition.

Judaism in general wasn’t reconfigured for Paul, but Pharisaic Judaism in particular. Furthermore, the Torah has been reconfigured around the Messiah I will readily admit. But not in a general or absolute sense. And I would argue not without some lines of continuity with the Jewish Scriptures and  ancient Jewish tradition.

Let me ask this: Did anyone configure Judaism “correctly” before Jesus? Did Jesus configure it rightly?

 

  • scotmcknight

    Joel,
    Is Paul’s allegory in Gal 4:21-31 an example of reconfiguring OT figures — Mt Sinai, Sarah, Hagar, etc — into something they weren’t? Personally, I think the Moreh Zedek of Qumran “reconfigured” OT prophetic language into language about himself/community in a similar manner; Philo reconfigured Abraham and Moses into new frameworks — and Paul, Moreh Zedek, and Philo remain fully Jewish.
    Put differently, calling reconfiguring “replacement” (and therefore supersessionism”) is tricky. You have Paul reconfiguring Pharisaic Judaism so how is your reconfiguring any different? If reconfigure equals replacement is Paul’s reconfiguring around the Messiah replacement?

  • Patrick

    Here’s a question: When does it become impossible to continue referring to an idea as Jewish
    (and what is this category “more Jewish”)? How can a theology of land
    that no longer maintains the promise of land to biblical Israel, for
    example, be rightly called a Jewish theology of land, and this
    notwithstanding the universally expanded nature of the geographical
    borders of God’s earthly kingdom in the messianic age (cf. Psa 72)?

    Joel,

    The “theology of land” does maintain a promise of land to biblical Israel even now, it’s just not ethnic Israel that it accrues to.

    It belongs to Jews as defined by Paul.

    Paul repeated over and over an authentic Jew from God’s view was a believer in Jesus of Nazareth of Messiah, not an ethnic Jew unless they believed(Ephesians 2, Romans 2, Philippians 3). So, yes, the theology of Paul is Jewish as defined by Paul. Believers in Jesus as Messiah.

    • Joel Willitts

      I guess that solves it then. Thanks Patrick!

  • jwillitts

    I don’t think Gal 4 is a good example because it is an allegory. I’ve written on this. I think Paul is drawing an analogy, which doesn’t seem to be best labeled as revising or reconfiguring. Especially because he is explaining the eschatology of Isa 54. If he is reconfiguring, it is around Isa 54. If you want to say that it’s fine with me. I’m not rejecting the category of “reconfigure” and the like, but when this category is practiced to make something unrecognizable as Jewish in the first century I am suspect. I think the question I asked in the post is important : when is something so reconfigured it isn’t recognized as Jewish?

  • Jeff Martin

    Dr. Willitts,

    While Gal 1:10-14 certainly seems to refer to the added traditions of the Pharisees, the way Paul argues against it is not by directly attacking it, but by taking it even further to the law itself, so there is no wiggle room. Clearly Gal 3:17 is not talking about the traditions, but the law itself.

    • Joel Willitts

      Thanks Jeff for your thought. You make a good point. Paul does later in the body of the letter discuss the Mosaic Torah itself. But more precise it’s the Mosaic Torah in the time *before* the “coming of faith” (3:23). A point, by the way, that would be at issue with a Pharisee who maintained that God in Jesus the Messiah had not apocalyptically intervened to bring an end to the “present evil age”. So I take Paul’s argument in Gal 3 to be focused on the Mosaic Torah not in and of itself as you suggest, but the Mosaic Torah *before* the coming of the new age of faith. The function of the Torah as disciplinarian has ended. Torah now exists in the age of faith, the age of the Messiah (Messianic Torah). This is no less halakhic in nature, but it is not Pharisaic.


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