NT Wright and the Supersessionism Question: What did Paul do?

NT Wright and the Supersessionism Question: What did Paul do? October 15, 2013

One of the distinguishing discussions today in Pauline studies is whether or not Paul was a “supersessionist,” and the issue is Paul thought the church “replaced” Israel in such a way that now God no longer worked with Israel but with the church. To get ahold of this one means knowing how the whole Bible is to be read when we see that word “fulfillment.” At the ground level it has to do with how Torah observant “messianic Christians” are to be and how “Jewish” Christianity ought to be… it goes back and forth. N.T. Wright, in his magisterial Paul and the Faithfulness of God, as he opens the second part of the book by examining Paul’s worldview as it takes on and adapts and adjusts the worldviews of Judaism, paganism and empire, goes square at that issue without using the terms so many in the supersessionism debate use. He differs with those, like Bockmuehl and Nanos, who see the messianists carrying on their Judaism, or Paul continuing to be kosher as he had been as a Pharisee, but because this has all become a worldview issue and not simply a theology issue, the framework changes with Wright — he seems to be talking about the same issues but now from a new angle. He’s asking What did Paul do with Judaism when he saw the resurrected Jesus?

In brief, I see in Wright a kind of Christian fulfillment theory that some will see as replacement theology and others as supersessionism and yet others (like Wright himself) will see as nothing of the sort. It is the Jewish Paul being completely Jewish under the Messiahship of Jesus. When Jesus is Messiah, nothing and everything chances at the same time: he’s just as Jewish, perhaps more so, and yet different than what contemporaries, like Pharisees, saw as Jewish. His terms: everything gets reworked (monotheism, election, eschatology), everything gets revised, everything is taken on in new categories but it’s the same old covenant in a messianic worldview.

I once had a lengthy conversation with a Jewish scholar who told me I could not be Christian without being a supersessionist; sometimes one gets the impression the only way not to be supersessionist is to be a radical pluralist. Here are words NT Wright uses to describe how Paul revised the worldview of Judaism.

Like Temple:

The replacement of Temple with Jesus and, secondarily and derivatively, with his people remains one of Paul’s central worldview-revisions, unnoticed in an earlier generation that chose to forget the significance of the Temple within Paul’s ancestral symbolic universe. He developed it further: the Messiah’s people, and the tasks they perform ‘in the Messiah’, are described in terms which reflect the people at the centre of Jerusalem and the Temple and the tasks they performed there. They were priests, offering sacrifices, indeed offering themselves as sacrifices, or, in Paul’s case, bringing the gentiles themselves as a quasi-sacrificial offering, with a kind of heavy irony, to Jerusalem. And Jerusalem itself, the focus of the longed-for centripetal pilgrimage of the nations, has been replaced by Jerusalem as the centrifugal originating point of the world mission. The redeemer does not now come to Zion but from Zion, going out into all the world to ‘gather the nations’, not by their coming to the central symbol of ancient Judaism, but by their becoming the central symbol, as we shall see, of the transformed world- view” (358).

Like Torah and food laws:

In the light of this, and of Paul’s own insistence that he took what he calls the ‘strong’ position, I find myself in agreement with those who have maintained that Paul did not himself continue to keep the kosher laws, and did not propose to, or require of, other ‘Jewish Christians’ that they should, either (359).

Paul’s revising of the Jewish symbol of Torah in terms of food and table- fellowship, then, was clear, if necessarily complex. First, all those who belong to the Messiah, and are defined by Messiah-faithfulness and baptism, belong at the same table: this, as we shall see, is a constitutive part of his most central new positive symbol. Second, Messiah-followers are free to eat whatever they wish, with that freedom curtailed only (but strongly) when someone else’s ‘weak’ conscience is endangered. Third, Messiah-followers are free to eat ordinary meals with anyone they like, but not with someone who professes to be one of the family but whose behaviour indicates otherwise. Fourth (an extra but important point), Messiah-followers are not free to go into a pagan temple and eat there. To do so would be to stage a contest with the lord himself. All this is not just ‘ethics’. It is a matter of a freshly crafted symbolic universe (361).

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.

He turns then to briefer escapades into worldview and paganism and then worldview and empire, on the latter he opens with this reminder, something in need of saying because so many think anti-empire means anarchism too: “The answer to corrupt authorities is not anarchy” (381). But he returns to the implication of a confession by way of a denial:

Jesus is ‘son of God’; he is ‘lord of the world’; he is ‘saviour’; the worldwide revelation of his rule is ‘good news’, because through it ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ are brought to birth at last. He is the one who ‘rises to rule the nations’. The announcement of all this is the key source, for Paul, of ‘power’, and in Ephesians, which is either Paul’s greatest summary of his own teach- ing or the work of a careful and close colleague and imitator, he speaks eloquently about the power of the one God at work in the Messiah, a power which has raised him above all rule, authority, power and dominion, and above every name that is named, both in the present age and in the age to come. Anyone who had seen the Eagle at work, and had heard its names and claims, would know what was being said. We must advance this case more fully later on (383).

On countering the breathtaking power of the story at work in empire and Rome …

Paul does not mention this story explicitly, any more than he speaks of the imperial claim made by coins, statues and other obvious imagery. Yet we should not ignore the subversive nature of the retold Jewish story which undergirds so much of his writing. If this – the story of Adam, Abraham and Israel, climaxing in the Messiah! – is the grand narrative of the creator’s design for his world, then the grand narrative of Virgil, Horace and Livy, and the visual symbolism which went with those writings, cannot be true, or the ultimate truth. That is the dilemma which Paul posed to his readers. The extent to which they will have ‘heard’ that subversive note is a question to which we must return (383).

Put together then we are back to the anti-empire theme:

When Paul said, ‘Jesus is lord,’ a good many of his hearers must have known at once that this meant, ‘So Caesar isn’t.’ And that was the ‘good news’, the euangelion which Paul announced around the world. Was that a subversion of the symbolic world of the empire? How could it not be? How would that work out? (384)

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  • I just went through a coursebook for a class on eschatology that I’m taking through the AG. It is mind-boggling just how often this book throws around ‘replacement theology’ at any view that doesn’t line up with pretrib-premil. (More often than not, the type of views accused of replacement theology, are actually a view more like, or perhaps not quite as far-rearching as, Wright’s own view.)

    It’s used like a bogeyman-scapegoat. Don’t want your church members to study X view? The impression the coursebook gave me was, Just call X ‘replacement theology’ and your church members won’t stop hissing until all traces are out of sight, and don’t have to be faced with any seriousness.

  • JohnC

    One of the reasons I value the NPP is because it seems to frame rather abstract issues from the “old perspective” in more solid, covenantal terms. This is how the bible writers thought. Sometimes when you ask a theological question, asking it in a different way produces a different answer. So its often not the answers that are the root problem but the questions. Perhaps this is NPPs best contribution so far?

  • Dr Ben Witherington has a great series of interviews now with Wright that are helpful on this topic at his Patheos blog, Bible and Culture:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2013/10/15/n-t-wrights-pauline-perspectives-part-three/

    The New Perspective helps the Church most in three ways, imo. It cures her of a antinomialism, “I’m done with that Law stuff. I have Jesus. I don’t have any rules in my life…” Secondly, it reinvigorates our reading of the Old Testament, with Jesus as the fulfillment of it. We then see the literary types of Christ in the OT and the story of God’s work to bring Israel to Himself. Thirdly, I’ve liked the centripetal/centrifugal idea since I heard it and found it useful in explain the change, the “hinge” of Jesus. As Wright was quoted here:
    “And Jerusalem itself, the focus of the longed-for centripetal pilgrimage of the nations, has been replaced by Jerusalem as the centrifugal originating point of the world mission. The redeemer does not now come to Zion but from Zion, going out into all the world to ‘gather the nations’, not by their coming to the central symbol of ancient Judaism, but by their becoming the central symbol, as we shall see, of the transformed world- view.” This changes the Church from just another club based on “nationalism” to a club based on mission. Yes, the apostle Paul made revisions to Judaism in their incorrect views of what their longed-for Messiah would be and do.

  • Norman

    As long as people want to read the fulfillment in physical terms for the kingdom there is going to be a problem that continues to exist. Many simply cannot get their heads around the concept that Christ explicitly told the Jews that the Kingdom would be different than they want or anticipated. Those modern’s that still believe that physical Israel is still in view have missed the boat entirely and like Lot’s wife are looking backwards to what was left behind. The governance of Israel has moved beyond physical Jerusalem as it now resides on high and beyond the influence of humans to corrupt and rule God’s people of faith. Christ is the High Priest forever and resides in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

    If Paul’s interpretation of Christ the Messiah via the OT is not the correct way to interpret it then we just as well throw most of it away that projects messiah and use it simply as maxims for living.

    Paul’s interpretations was not the majority Jewish acceptance in the first century and even among Jewish Christians he gave them heart burn.

    Acts 21: 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

    1 Cor 9: 19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.

    According to the Hebrew writer the Old Covenant was indeed ready to pass away.

    Heb 8: 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

    Heb 12: 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken

  • Krista Dalton

    Part of the problem is the inaccurate portrayal of Paul separating himself from “Judaism.” Judean religion at the time of Paul is nothing like the Judaism that emerges in the 4th to 5th centuries and the Judaism that exists as a modern construct today. Paul reacts as a Judean in his religious context. However, to apply his notions of law, grace, and covenant to later iterations of Judaism is not only problematic, but perpetuates a supersessionist anti-Judaic worldview. Unfortunately, most modern believers today do not know the difference.

  • AlanCK

    The “Christian fulfillment theory” can only effectively avoid the charge of supersessionism if it is carried out with a thoroughgoing retrospective reading method (apocalyptic). But at times it seems that Wright’s salvation history reading is so prospective in manner that the Damascus Road incident seems forgotten. Hence the accusation.

  • Guest

    I think a major question to ponder that often gets ignored is how much of Paul’s contention of relaxation of Torah for Gentiles/”freedom in Christ” was intertwined with his belief in a very imminent parousia? Would he have been able to reconcile his statements with his Judaic identity knowing that the second coming would not be happening for thousands of years later (if at all)?

    I know most Christians would declare “of course!” but I’m not sure it’s so cut and dry. Concurrently, I don’t think the text can pinpoint a definitive answer in either direction (so it becomes an exercise in trying to psycho-analyze Paul that is kind of

  • scotmcknight

    Really not clear to me what you are saying.

  • In Romans 11, Paul talks about new branches being grafted into the tree and old branches being cut off (with the hope that they might be grafted in again). I’m no arborist, but this metaphor seems apt to this discussion. The trunk–God–hasn’t changed, but now we can be grafted in through faith in Christ instead of through Torah observance or worship at the Temple. The tree is the same, but some (most) of the branches are new, or as Paul put it, unnatural.

    So it’s not that the institution of the Church has replaced the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people, but that the Church has joined Israel in her vocation/belief. What Israel had by birthright, the Gentiles have gained through faith. The fact that many Jews in Paul’s day chose, like Esau, to reject this birthright because God revealed that it came through Jesus leaves us with the impression that the Church has replaced Israel. This isn’t the case because, if the metaphor holds, the tree is the same, and the introduction of new branches doesn’t necessitate the pruning off of the old.

  • For my part, I think Bockmuehl’s thesis retains its usefulness in at least helping us to better understand the transitional nature of the period between the coming of the messiah and the increasingly gentile church. I also think there’s something to his “borders of the Promised Land” principle.

  • Rory Tyer

    Scot, in your analysis above you differentiated between “supercessionism” and “fulfillment” – connecting this with the conversation you had with a Jewish scholar, it is difficult for me to see how these terms are ultimately really that different. The latter sounds nicer and doesn’t have anti-Semitic overtones, but in both cases the basic idea is that Judaism is, from a Christocentric perspective, not a closed system–it pointed ahead of itself, or was always meant to be fulfilled in Christ, or however you want to phrase it.

    My basic point is that on some level this seems just a basic consequence of taking Paul, and the other NT writers, seriously.

  • Hey, pal.

    Still, at the end of the day, we’re left with St. Paul’s constant refrain: “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Is this first merely a chronological reference?

    I am aiming this question mostly at Scot—does Wright unpack this theme of the apostle’s in this new work?

  • Norman

    I think Paul describes Israel as after the promise and not after the flesh. There is the idea that true Israel was being redeemed into the true image of God via the Spirit manifested in Christ (the promised seed). The church has always been Gods faithful from inception as Heb 11 illustrates. The story of the fall is the story of Israel after the fesh instead of after the spirit. The OT prophets recognized this thus their projection of a redeeming messiah first to the Jew and then to the Gentile.

  • Norman

    If Paul and the first Christians had a different concept of the Parousia then we do, then the dynamics of their expectations may not resonate with ours.
    Their idea of a coming/Parousia was OT driven, which would have envisioned a time of judgement as we see often in the OT.

  • The grid of replacement theology is so embedded in the minds of so many that it’s exceedingly difficult to extract fulfillment in Christ from it. When is Scot going to review Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Jesus”? Or did I miss that?


    Psalm 115:1

  • JohnC

    Frank, do you think this new monster by Wright (1700 pages!) is going to have a significant effect on the simplehouse church movement side of things? If not, why not? And if so, when are you going to man up and review it on your blog? 😉

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    I want to see what he says about Acts 21 and Paul planning to pay for Nazirite vows, which include animal sacrifices. I like Wright, but I do not think he goes far enough in the consequences of his insights, he always returns to being Anglican.

  • John C. I’m not part of the house church movement and I don’t think such a movement exists. I’ve written extensively on this subject in the past as well as on the difference between a “house church” and an “organic expression of the church” on my blog. You can check the archives if you’re interested in seeing my thinking on this. That said, I like Tom Wright personally and I resonate with much of his work. I interviewed him on my blog last year on “Simply Jesus,” but I’m not sure if I’ll review this new one. At 1700 pages, it will probably take me 17 years to finish it!! So perhaps I’m not “man enough” to tackle it while people are interested in it. 😉 The pub is sending me a copy soon and I’m sure it will come in handy if I have to stop a Mack truck someday. fv, Psalm 115:1

  • mark

    I’m gonna apologize up front because this is a very complicated topic, and what I’m appending are in the nature of schematic notes that I jotted down while reading Scot’s stimulating post. I think Scot really does get to the heart of the difficulties that Wright’s ideas lead to. In my view, Wright’s ideas, brilliant as his scholarship is, lead to a dead end for Christian faith. So …

    The real issue that is raised is the relationship of Christian faith to Israelite religion. Included in that is the issue of what authority Christian believers should accord to the OT, and what authority to the NT.

    Why were Jews scandalized by the good news of Jesus? Because it contradicted the “narrative” of the OT. As a former non-believer Paul understood that, which is why as a believer he staked his ground on the resurrected Jesus. Paul understood that, when push came to shove, Christian faith is not about fulfillment but about Jesus resurrected. Wright doesn’t seem to quite get that–he wants Christian faith to be about the “fulfillment” of a “narrative.” But for that to work, the Jews must be said to have misunderstood the OT narrative. Did they? I believe that they did not. But Wright’s contention is that Jesus “revised,” “reworked,” shoved into “new categories” the OT narrative. A revised, reworked and recategorized narrative is not “the same old covenant in a messianic worldview.” You can’t fulfill something by first changing it to mean something that it didn’t originally mean. Wright’s presentation of that narrative is in fact a highly selective, Christianized reading of the OT, which is especially apparent in his treatment of the prophets.

    “Faith in Messiah turns the old inside out and makes the old new without abolishing it.”

    In plain language, faith in Jesus Messiah doesn’t make the old new–faith in Jesus resurrected introduces a completely new element. For Jews the “old” remains what it always was–not old but ever the same. The “new” is different than the “old.” For starters, Jesus has a Father, and the two are in communion with the Spirit. And importantly, Jesus speaks with his own authority–he doesn’t need to appeal to the authority of scrolls of ancient Israelite writings.

    This brings us to a key issue: what is the nature of Paul’s writing? Is it God revealing the meaning of the good news, or is it Paul speculating, theologizing, framing rhetoric in Judaic terms in his effort to come to grips with that good news of Jesus resurrected? I say the latter–when push comes to shove Paul dispenses with theologizing and stakes his ground on Jesus resurrected.

    That means we have to look to Jesus, as presented in the Gospels. Of course, Wright has done that, or attempted to. The problem is this. Wright is saying that Jesus, by appropriating to himself Israelite symbols–Temple, Torah, etc.–is chaining himself to a “fulfillment” narrative. I say he’s not, and that Jesus’ listeners recognized that he was operating in total freedom–as one who claimed divine authority, authority higher than scripture, authority that even challenged that of scripture. That was the scandal of Jesus, that he claimed such authority and refused to work within the accepted “fulfillment” bounds. Paul was scandalized too, but it was his vision of Jesus resurrected that led him to faith.

    To make sense of this we need a new narrative that breaks free from the “fulfillment” narrative that Jesus never accepted–we need to look at Jesus with fresh eyes, a new perspective as it were. And essential part of that undertaking must be to come to an clearer understanding of Israelite religion within human history. Wright chooses to bypass modern OT scholarship and to treat “the Bible” and, indeed, Israel itself, as a completed narrative with no history. But modern scholarship has shown that Israelite religion has a real history and underwent a real development. It began from a typical West Semitic worldview, one that gave rise to the cosmic empires of the ancient world–akin to the Roman worldview. This is what Mircea Eliade has termed “archaic ontology.” But Israelite religion developed in a direction away from that worldview (cf. the work of Mark S. Smith), while nevertheless retaining (as Judaism still does retain) elements of that worldview. Wright is correct that Christian faith is opposed to the empire worldview, but that also means (as he acknowledges in his earlier work, “Climax of the Covenant”) that Christian faith–including Paul–rejects that Israelite worldview to the extent that it is assimilated to the empire worldview of what Mircea Eliade calls “archaic ontology.”

    The key to the worldview of Christian faith is the identity of God–the Father whom Jesus came to make known to us. The identity of God as revealed in Jesus sets the worldview of Christian faith apart from both the empire worldview of “archaic ontology” as well as from the partially developed worldview of Israelite religion. The significance of Israelite religion and its scriptures for Christian faith is this: by moving in the direction of true creative monotheism (achieved only shortly before the birth of Jesus), Israelite thought prepares mankind for God’s self revelation in Jesus. That is Christian faith–belief that in Jesus God reveals himself, as proved by the resurrection. Christian faith is not a matter of revising and reworking the Israelite scriptures and claiming that such revision is a fulfillment.

    The authority of both the early Christian writings and the Israelite scriptures–as well as their relationship–must be reevaluated in the light of that narrative.

  • JohnC

    Haha, i’m sure it COULD stop a truck! Yeah i’ve read some of your books/blog – really enjoyed your NTW interview btw. I guess I was playing a bit loose with my terms (sorry), I really meant to find out if you think Wrights book on Paul would have as much effect on ecclesiology as on theology and scholarship? I mean I haven’t really heard anyone speaking about the New Perspective’s influence (good or bad) on doing church more organically, but surely seeing Paul in a fresh way affects it somehow – and since its your kind of angle I thought I’d ask your thoughts…

  • mark

    Julie, good catch on the Witherington interview with Wright. In my longish, not optimally expressed or organized post below I referred to Wright’s earlier work, “Climax of the Covenant,” and Witherington brings that up. Here is what Wright says, in part:

    I became convinced that the only way to make sense of Romans and Galatians without postulating a major and problematic change of mind on Paul’s part was to see his fundamental charge against his Jewish contemporaries – including his own former self – not as legalistic works-righteousness, i.e. trying to earn justification or salvation by good moral works, but as what I loosely called ‘national righteousness’. By that I meant the attempt to confine grace to one race. This is clear in the reading of Rom 10.2-3 which I (like some others) proposed: ‘seeking to establish their own righteousness’ meant ‘a righteousness for Jews and Jews only’. This is why they didn’t submit to ‘God’s righteousness’, to the righteous covenant plan of God as set out in 9.6-29, resulting in their failure to attain covenant membership while the Gentiles had done so …

    I agree with Wright in this. However, my contention is that the early Jewish opponents of Christian faith–including Saul–rightly regarded their “national righteousness” narrative as the true narrative of the Israelite scriptures. Paul’s vision of Jesus resurrected convinced him that that couldn’t, after all, have been God’s plan, and Paul went on (especially in the first few chapters of Romans) to sketch out that plan as he now understood it. In that plan both Jews and Gentiles were equal, even though the plan was inaugurated “in Christ” through the Jews.

    Wright seems to maintain that Jesus simply “revised” or “reworked” that narrative of “national righteousness” and fulfilled the “revised” narrative, Paul then following Jesus. I contend that 1) Jesus was not preoccupied with fulfillment, and 2) Paul understood that fulfillment of ancient Israelite scrolls was not the key to Christian faith–rather, Jesus resurrected is the key.

    To claim that Jesus “fulfilled” the Israelite narrative by “revising” (i.e., totally changing) that narrative is, IMO, simply another way of stating that Jesus did not fulfill that narrative. Speaking and living with an authority on a par with that of God, Jesus created a new narrative, if you will. And Paul is fine with that–when push comes to shove Paul is determined to stake his all on Jesus Messiah, crucified and resurrection. No matter what the Israelite scriptures might say.

  • Thanks for the reply, Mark. I suspect we believe the same ideas but differ on the amount of “newness” and change to Judaism. I appreciate you taking the “contrarian” position—it helps me to think through these ideas more rigorously. So–

    Did Jesus fulfill the “national narrative,?” I’d say yes,
    not that he “revised” it first and then fulfilled that. He was faithful to the covenants where Israel was not. He was the faithful representative for Israel.

    But yes, Christianity was new and not just the old Judaism. Paul goes back to the part of the Abrahamic covenant and says that they missed the part about being a blessing to the nations. (Romans) Here’s a couple more half-cooked thoughts:

    Jesus actually intensified the Law for us– “…but I
    say to you…”–taking it internally. Also Matt 5:18: “For truly, I
    say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished…”And, Jesus was baptized by John: “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.” (Mt 3.15)

    Also, I’d have to look at the specific letters but it is
    interesting to see all of the direct and indirect references to the OT scriptures in the letters to the predominantly gentile churches. If it was all new, why risk the confusion in linking it to the old Jewish faith?

    Thirdly, Rome seemed to view Christianity as a sect of
    Judaism. There were several Jewish sects that had quite different praxis: this one just seemed to have found the Messiah.

    And then, Acts 15:5—“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.’” I’m just learning Greek and don’t have the time to consult
    commentaries, but it looks like they still considered themselves Pharisees but were now believers in Jesus. Luke doesn’t say “some believers who had belonged to the party of the Pharisees…”, right?

    Lastly, in Acts 23:6 Paul says to the Sanhedrin—“I am a
    Pharisee…” not, “I was a Pharisee…”

    And, how do you explain the whole image of the gentiles “grafted in” metaphor?

    But, of course, the key to Christian faith is Jesus resurrected, not whether Jesus fulfilled the Israelite narrative. I would say that He fulfilled the old narrative and then made all things new “in Him” and through Pentecost; hence my “hinge” analogy–fulfilled the old, and then inaugerated the new narrative in Himself.


    (Please don’t take it personally if I don’t respond again—just have stuff to do.)

  • mark

    Here’s a quote from Part 2 of Wright’s interview with Ben Witherington, and again it shows the limits of his thinking. As usual, he has a lot of good things to say, but then:

    I think what I have learned through much of this is that a good many Protestants have forgotten that the primary thing Luther and Calvin did was to study and teach the scriptures, deliberately trying to generate a church that would go on doing the same rather than make their teachings into a new formal tradition against which scripture itself would have to be measured.

    So, OK, I think I understand where he’s coming from, but here’s my problem. He seems to be saying we need to recover the Church as a Bible believing and preaching institution which holds “the Bible” as the measure of Christian truth. I have a fair amount of sympathy with that attitude, given that so much of our evidence for Christian faith comes from the early Christian writings. OTOH, not all of our evidence for Christian faith comes from those writings. Nor is it clear to me that that attitude reflects what Jesus himself did in his ministry. And, after all, the teaching Church existed well before there was ever a New Testament. As for “a new formal tradition against which scripture itself would have to be measured,” Paul used the Israelite scriptures in his preaching yet Paul himself submitted himself to tradition:

    Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.

    Finally, it does not appear to me that Wright has advanced a reliable standard for weighing the relative authority of the Israelite scriptures and the early Christian writings relative to Church teaching. IMO, his hermeneutic of a fulfillment of a “revised” and “reworked” narrative fails that test.

  • mark

    Well, one more quote from that same interview, which hits on the question of the relationship of Christian faith to the Israelite religion and its scriptures:

    That’s why, in much evangelicalism, the Old Testament is reduced to a book of types and patterns, lessons we can scoop up and transplant to our own day. It has thousands of those, of course, and we can learn from them. But the much bigger thing is the single story from Abraham to Jesus – NOT a smooth development or a steady crescendo but a dark and stormy passage with the sudden shaft of gospel light coming ‘when the time had fully come’ (Gal 4.4). All this needs a lot of spelling out still, but I hope I have pointed the way . . .

    I hope I’m not alone in recognizing that Wright is not a stupid guy. So when he says that “All this needs a lot of spelling out still,” I think we can take it that he’s not indulging in false modesty and that he means what he says: his new paradigm for Christian theology–for this is what it amounts to, cf. especially his outline of it in “How God Became King”–is not fully worked out.

    In particular, Wright consistently fails to integrate modern scholarship on the Israelite scriptures into his paradigm. “The single story from Abraham to Jesus?” That’s a Pauline story, perhaps, although exactly what weight we are to give it is debatable–I personally think that Paul’s more developed anthropology and theory of history is to be found at the beginning of Romans. But at any rate, if there’s one thing we know from modern scholarship it’s that the Israelite scriptures do not constitute a “single story” in a truly coherent sense. There are at least several stories going on, and not all of them are in agreement.

    As I said, Wright consistently fails to address this major issue, but I don’t for a moment imagine that he hasn’t reflected upon it. I feel sure that this is one area that he knows “needs a lot of spelling out still.”

  • Speaking as one (Anglican), whatever do you mean to be implying by this?

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    I think Wright has many good insights, but seems to fall short sometimes of reaching conclusions from them that might fall outside of historical Anglican and/or protestant thinging.

  • SpanishMN

    This is exactly how I see it. God in Jesus (and his remnant) is the only surviving “shoot” out of God’s forest. “In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel”….”And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.” (Isaiah 4:2,6:13 ESV)”The light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day. The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land the LORD will destroy, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away. The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few that a child can write them down. In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.” (Isaiah 10:17-21 ESV)