N.T. Wright’s Galatians– Part Eleven

N.T. Wright’s Galatians– Part Eleven July 16, 2021

Q. While I take your point about Christos being a title, not really just a name for Jesus, in Paul’s writings, when you go on to say not merely that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah or representative, but in some sense Jesus is Israel, and if you are ‘in Him’ you are in Israel, this seems a leap. The problem with Jesus=Israel, is, so far as I can see, Paul uses the term Israel, for example in Rom. 9-11 to mean non-Christian Jews temporarily broken off from the people of God until Christ returns ‘and turns away the impiety of Jacob’ at the future resurrection. In other words, not only is Christ not Israel, neither does Paul call ‘the ‘ekklesia tou theou’ Israel. The issue is not that Gentiles need to become part of Israel to be part of the people of God, no, they need to be ‘in Christ’ and that is not the same thing, for as Gal. 3.28 says there is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ. I’ve changed my mind about what Israel means in Gal. 6 over time, though I suppose it is just barely possible that the term there refers to Jewish Christians with whom Paul disagrees like the agitators. Can you explain your view briefly about the term Israel and its relationship to Messiah Jesus, and perhaps answer why you think various persons have accused you of supersessionism?

A. The ‘s’ word gets thrown around unfortunately in today’s climate of low-grade ‘moral’ discourse where there are only a few fixed points and if you can associate someone you don’t like with one of the standard negative ideas then you can dismiss them with a sense of moral superiority. I have written about supersessionism in Paul and the Faithfulness of God, ch 15, and that would bear re-reading – including the long and careful discussion of ‘Israel’, ‘the Jew’ in Paul, etc. You need Rom 2.25-29 on the table, as also Philippians 3, and also a very careful reading of Romans 9-11, where Paul distinguishes the two meanings of ‘Israel’ in 9.6 and then returns to this towards the end of ch 11. Note that my reading of Rom 11 has at least convinced Richard Hays which is a good start! I do not think that Paul there refers to a last-minute large-scale conversion of presently unbelieving Jews, though for a while I did think that until a more careful reading of the passage . . . but Paul clearly sees all Jesus-following, spirit-led people as ‘Jew’ in Rom 2.25-29; and as I’ve argued in Gal 3 the word Christos, while definitely messianic, is also incorporative, as also in several passages in e.g. 1 Cor and Philemon. A long argument is needed of course to make all this clear but this is a start!


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