NT Wright and John Barclay had a mini-debate about the role of politics in Paul, which was just the warm-up round for the major debate at SBL this fall. Wright’s basic thesis was that Paul directly challenged the imperial cult throughout his letters. (Wright mentioned reliance upon Bruce Winter’s work in progress). The imperial cult was a significant part of 1st century society, so citizens could not help to be influenced by it. So Paul would have had to respond to it, and this is seen in relation to Paul’s three main theological bases: monotheism, election, and eschatology. Barclay responded that there is no direct mention of the imperial cult in the letters and that Paul is not concerned with earthly powers but those spiritual powers in control of the earth. Paul responded to paganism and cults in general but not in particular to the imperial cult. Both noted the need for more discussion in the area, but Barclay thought much of it will be fruitless because there is little agreed upon methodology to verify these allusions people are seeing.

Justin Hardin, a good friend from my Ouachita days, finished his PhD at Cambridge last year working on the imperial cult and how it could possibly be read into Galatians 6.12. Barclay, his external examiner at his viva, remained unconvinced by Justin’s argument, but Wright definitely seemed interested in the idea.