Apocalyptic and Salvation-History in Galatians

Apocalyptic and Salvation-History in Galatians December 18, 2011

Further evidence that apocalypticism and salvation history cannot be played off against each other in Paul’s letters, this time from N.T. Wright on Galatians:

“There is a current fashion in Pauline studies of playing off ‘covenantal’ categories against ‘apocalyptic’ ones. Since I have myself stressed the importance of ‘covenant’ in Paul, let it be said here, and back up by the argument of this essay, that I believe in the essential apocalyptic nature of Paul’s covenantal theology, and vice versa. ‘Apocalyptic’, rightly understood, is not about the destruction of everything that happened before Jesus and the ushering in of a totally new world. it is about the new creation breaking into the old. Paul speaks at the start of Galatians about the rue god ‘rescuing us from the present evil age’ (1.4), and at the close of the letter about thew ‘new creation’ which was the only thing that mattered, over against the questions of circumcision and uncircumcision (6.15). This cosmic and apocalyptic vision, however, is in no way antithetical to covenant theology rightly understood, or at least Paulinely understood … the real ‘apocalypse has taken place in the resurrection of the Messiah Jesus (compare Gal 1.13); but that event can only be understood, and its significance elaborated, thorugh an exploration of the Abrahamic covenant (Galatians 3-4). What has been left behind in the revelatio nof the new world thorugh the gospel is not covenant theology itself, but the restriction of covenant membership to ‘those of the Torah’. ”

N.T. Wright, “Gospel and Theology in Galatians,” in Gospel in Paul: Studies on Corinthians, Galatians and Romans for Richard N. Longenecker, eds. L. Ann Jervis and P. Richardson (JSNTSup 108; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 237.

“[F]or Paul, ‘apocalyptic’, the sudden, dramatic and shocking unveiling of secret truths, the sudden shining of brightly heavenly light on a dark and unsuspecting world, is after all what God had always intended. One of the central tensions in Paul’s thought, giving it again and again its creative edge, is the clash between the fact that God always intended what has in fact happened and the fact that not even the most devout Israelite had dream it would happen like this. We cannot expound Paul’s covenantal theology in such a way as to make it a smooth, steady progress of historical fulfillment; but nor can we propose a kind of ‘apocalyptic’ view in which nothing happened before Jesus is of any value even as preparation. In the messianic events of Jesus’ death and resurrection Paul believes both that the covenant promises were at last fulfilled and that this constituted a massive and dramatic irruption into the processes of world history unlike anything before or since. And at the heart of both parts this tension stands the cross of the Messiah, at once the long-awaited fulfillment and the slap in the face for all human pride. Unless we hold on to both parts of this truth we are missing something absolutely central to Paul.”
Paul: Fresh Perspectives (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 54.

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