Reconfigure, Revise, Reimagine

Reconfigure, Revise, Reimagine October 31, 2013

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?


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