Paul


I’ve just listened to N. T. Wright’s lecture on “Israel in Pauline Theology” from the HBU conference held a little over a week ago (see below). I’ve read Wright plenty before on this and related issues, so there were no real surprises here in his exegesis and overall reading of Paul. For Wright, Jesus Christ and the multi-ethnic church are the true Israel. Thus, Paul does not anticipate any yet-fulfilled mass conversion of Israelites prior to the second coming (as the scholarly majority seems to understand Rom 11:25-26 to predict).

I’m quite happy with the way Wright interprets many individual texts, though I disagree with him on at least a couple of significant issues in the lecture (esp. Rom 11:25-26), and ultimately with his final position. I won’t quibble with the content of his exegesis, since many capable scholars have already done this elsewhere (in addition to many mainline commentators, see, e.g., the recent article by my colleague Michael G. Vanlaningham, “An Evaluation of N. T. Wright’s View of Israel in Romans 11,” BibSac 170 (2013): 179-93). But there are a few things Wright says or does (methodologically) here that I think are just plain odd, even for him.

First, given the topic of Wright’s lecture, I was surprised by how quickly he asserted his position on the meaning of “Israel of God” in Gal 6:16 and then just moved on. Near the end of the 57th minute, he says, “[In] Galatians 6:16, he [Paul] calls the church ‘the Israel of God’; I think there is no doubt about that.” That’s it. No exegesis and no argument. This is unfortunate considering how much discussion that verse has received and how many scholars plainly disagree with Wright on this text (see, e.g.,  Susan Grove Eastman, “Israel and the Mercy of God: A Re-reading of Galatians 6.16 and Romans 9-11,” NTS 56 [2010]: 367-95; Bruce Longenecker, “Salvation History in Galatians and the Making of a Pauline Discourse,” JSPL 2 [2012]: 65-87, at 79-80).

To be sure, Wright warns at the beginning of the lecture that he will principally focus on passages that don’t use the term “Israel” at all. I suppose that’s fine. But it is astonishing that he then so quickly bypasses those that do while also maintaining how crucial they are for a coherent reading of Paul. What I mean is that, in my opinion, Wright terribly exagerates the significance of Gal 6:16 and Rom 11:25-26 in Pauline thought when, at the 59th minute, he says, “if those passages don’t refer to the church, then Paul has just unmade the whole theological structure he has so obviously got throbbing through his head and his heart.” Again, this is just asserted, not argued: it is as if he simply forces his entire pre-conceived ecclesiology onto the two passages. Exegetical debates aside, it is just baffingly to me that Wright would place so much significance on two texts he hardly discusses in this hour-long lecture, or to put it the other way around, that he would hardly discuss two texts he considers to be so important.

Finally, as a progressive dispensationalist, I was confused at the 12th minute when he responded to the claim of some dispensationalists (not me) that in Romans 11 Paul predicts the return of the Jews to the land. Wright says in response, “This would be odd [for Paul to predict], not least, because of course when Paul wrote Romans, they [Israel] had not left it [i.e., the land] in the first place,” a comment that sounds like it incited a great deal of laughter. But what does Wright mean about the Jews having not left the land? Had the Jewish Diaspora come to an end before 57 AD? There were obviously thousands upon thousands of Israelites still scattered across the Mediterannean. So I don’t get it. This is a very odd criticism, and one that too quickly won the audience’s approval.

Nonetheless, I appreciate Wright’s attempt to read ALL of Paul and to make his entire theological vision work together, even if I disagree with how he goes about it. I may have my summer school Romans class listen to this lecture (and maybe another one of Wright’s on justification), since it provides a good representation of Wright’s system and is generally quite easy to follow.

Plan to arrive at SBL a day early this year. On Friday 21st November starting at 12:30 some of the world’s top Pauline scholars will gather to discuss ‘Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination’. This special session, being organised by my co-bloggers Ben and John and myself, includes presentations from N.T. Wright, Martinus de Boer, Loren Stuckenbruck, Philip Ziegler, Michael Gorman, Edith Humphrey, Douglas Campbell, Beverly Gaventa, and John Barclay.

Here is the description:

Across various branches of biblical and theological study, there is a renewed interest in ‘apocalyptic’. This development is seen particularly in the study of Paul’s theology, where it is now widely agreed that Paul promotes an ‘apocalyptic theology’. However, there is little agreement on what this means. Scholars from different perspectives have, as a result, continued to talk past each other. This special session provides an opportunity for leading Pauline scholars from different perspectives to engage in discussion about the meaning of Paul as an apocalyptic thinker. Indeed, one of the strengths and aims of this event is that different and opposing views are set next to each other. The session will hopefully bring greater clarity to the ‘apocalyptic’ reading of Paul by providing much needed definition to central terms and interpretive approaches and by highlighting both their strengths and weaknesses.

 

N.T. Wright’s volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God was eagerly anticipated by many and broke the back of many mail carriers. For those looking for some help through the massive two-volumes, Larry Hurtado is posting on some key issues. After an introductory post, in which he comments on the length of the work, Hurtado focuses on Wright’s Christology. In the second post, he questions Wright’s claim that in Paul’s view Jesus is the personal return of YHWH. In the third post, he challenges Wright’s understanding of how Jesus’ messiahship functioned in Paul’s thought and its significance for Pauline theology. All three posts are very helpful for seeing the differences between these two leading scholars. Also, in the comments Richard Bauckham and Crispin Fletcher-Louis have weighed in.

The posts can be found here: “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”: Wright’s big Opus; “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”: 2nd Posting; and Messiah and Worship.

Paul and Judaism landscape

Let me invite you to a major event we’re hosting here at HBU next week. N.T. Wright, former bishop of Durham and now Professor at St Andrews University, will be giving two public lectures in Dunham Theater: Wednesday (3/19) at 11am and Thursday (3/20) at 7pm. All are welcome, and there is no cost to attend nor need for registration for the conference (see below) to come to Wright’s lectures. In addition to his very helpful For Everyone series, Wright has written numerous scholarly works that have helped shape the face of New Testament studies in the last several decades, not least his Christian Origins series. In fact, his very recent work on Paul in this series will be the source of his talks here: Paul and the Faithfulness of God. (If 1600 pages is too much, check out the short version in Paul: In Fresh Perspective.)

Concurrent with Dr Wright’s visit, we are hosting a conference on Paul and Judaism. Internationally respected Pauline scholars, Beverly Gaventa and Ross Wagner, will be our other plenary speakers, in addition to shorter paper sessions. If you want to push in a little deeper on Paul, we would love for you to join us for the conference.

We hope you invite friends to come hear these excellent scholars with you. For more details on any of these items, see the conference website: hbu.edu/theologyconference

Since I regularly teach book studies in the Pauline epistles to students who have no knowledge of Greek, and I generally dislike assigning lengthy commentaries as textbooks, I am always on the look out for non-/less-technical, affordable academic resources focusing on individual NT books. A good example of what I mean is Bruce W. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians (Abingdon, 1998). Although Longenecker’s volume provides a focused reading of Paul’s letter and engages various scholarly debates, the book itself is intended to be accessible to non-specialists and does a fine job of showing how one scholar interprets all/most of Galatians. Additional examples include Timothy Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (InterVarsity Press, 2010), and Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (InterVarsity, 2004). Similar, though in certain ways quite different, is Joseph Hellerman’s Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It Matters Today (Kregel, 2013), which, dispite its title, is really a distillation and more practically-oriented version of his SNTS volume Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Pudorum (CUP, 2005).

I’m seeking to identify additional titles belonging to this genre. If readers know of similar resources, please do share in the comments. Thanks!

Clement of Alexandria on who wrote Hebrews (via Eusebius):

He [Clement] says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language. Luke however, translated it carefully to make it available for the Greeks and for this reason the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 6.14.2)

John Frederick has a lenghty review of my thesis (Paul as an Administrator of God in 1 Corinthians, Cambridge, 2012) in the most recent issue of JETS (56.4, pp. 877-80). I appreciate that he read the entire monograph and that he has some very kinds things to say of the work. If ever we meet at SBL, drinks are on me!

Paul and the Faithfulness of GodLike so many SBL returnees, I’ve been in recent weeks reading through select portions of N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress, 2013). Everything, so far as I can tell, seems to be fairly straightforwardly Wrightian, both in viewpoint and style. In fact, I’ve just been reading his treatment on Romans 9-11 and have enjoyed (though respectfully disagreed with) his exegesis of 11:25-27, where he defends the view that “all Israel” refers to the multi-ethnic church. One particularly witty statement that made me laugh out loud, however, concerns his comparison of himself to Paul quoting Elijah (Rom 11:3-4):

That, I propose, is how we should read 11.26a; kai houtōs pas Israēl sōthēsetai, ‘and in this way “all Israel shall be saved”‘. At this point an exegete arguing my present case may well feel like Paul as he quotes Elijah; ‘I’m the only one left!’ It is not true, of course. There may not be seven thousand, but there might be seven or more out there who have not . . . well, perhaps we had better not complete that sentence. (p. 1239)

Glad you stopped where you did, Tom! But a well-played rhetorical move nevertheless :) I suppose therein lies definitive proof that one need not provide a full quotation in order to evoke a source’s entire context.

On another note, it is interesting how may chiasms Wright both detects in Paul and employs throughout this book. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of his back-and-forth, chiastic treatment of Romans 9-11. Even if Paul returns to numerous themes at various parts of the argument, I haven’t found Wright’s unique presentation of that material to be in anyway more effective than a generally linear, passage-by-passage commentary through the text. But maybe that’s due to my typically western way of thinking.

An interesting excerpt I thought I’d share from the final chapter of Brian Rosner’s recent Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God (InterVarsity Press, 2013), p. 208:

[T]he biggest task for students of Paul is to clarify the sense in which, and the extent to which, the apostle repudiates, replaces and reappropriates the Law of Moses.

With respect to the law, Paul is like the restaurant proprietor who fires a waitress, replaces her, and then hires her as the maitre d’ and as the sommelier. Her function of serving tables would end and someone else would perform that role. But she would then carry out two different functions in the restaurant, as hostess and as manager of the wine service. To get the full picture of the status of this particular woman one needs to take all three moves into account, namely her termination, substitution and rehiring.

The solution to the puzzle of Paul and the law is hermeneutical. Rather than asking which bits of the law Paul retains and which he rejects, a hermeneutical approach starts by acknowledging the unity of the law and asks instead, when Paul speaks positively or negatively about the law, in which capacity the law is functioning… Christ has abolished the law as law-covenant (Eph. 2:15), but faith in Christ upholds rather than abolishes the law as prophecy (Rom. 3:31); and Paul does not appeal to the commandment to obey’s one’s parents as law (Eph. 6:1-2), but as advice concerning how to walk in wisdom (cf. Eph. 5:15).

A very interesting analogy. Reactions?

The very latest issue of New Testament Studies is now available. It features the work of several Durham alumni (including me, Jonathan Linebaugh, Helen Bond, and Daniel Frayer-Griggs) and looks to be quite well rounded, with contributions focusing on NT history, exegesis, historical theology, onomastics, gnostic gospels, and textual criticism. My piece (“Sold under Sin: Echoes of Exile in Romans 7.14-25″) takes the baton from Marc Philonenko and others in arguing that Paul was influenced by his reading of Isaiah 49-50 in the latter part of Romans 7. Here is the abstract:

Although Romans has been heavily mined for scriptural allusions in recent years, the influence of Isaiah 49-50 on Rom 7.14-25 has gone largely unnoticed. Building on Philonenko’s work on the allusion to Isa 50.1 in the phrase ‘sold under sin’ (Rom 7.14), this study seeks to identify additional echoes from LXX Isa 49.24-50.2 in Rom 7.14-25 and to interpret Paul’s discourse in the light of the sin-exile-restoration paradigm implied by both the source’s original context and Paul’s own strategic use of Isaiah in his portrayal of the plight of ἐγώ. The identification of these echoes, it is suggested, aids in interpreting the story of ἐγώ by connecting the allusions to Israel’s early history in Rom 7.7-13 to images of the nation’s later history in 7.14-25, thus showing the speaker’s plight under sin to be analogous to Israel’s own experiences of deception, death, and exile.

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