Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Paul's Theology (Wright)

It's been a while since I posted on N.T. Wright's new book on Paul. (Previous posts here and here.) I'll admit that after a thousand pages, the reading is wearing on me. I'm ready for something different. (Larry Hurtado has also complained about the size of the book, and Nijay Gupta has also slowed down on his reading.) But I'm determined to get through it.

I'm especially a little tired of reading about election. I know, it's an important concept, but all of ch. 10 was on election, and that chapter is nearly 300 pages long. I'm now in ch. 11, on eschatology, and it was so very refreshing to change topics. But now I'm about to enter a section of ch. 11 that looks at "The Eschatological Challenge of Redefined Election," a section of 120 pages. So, before I jump back into election, I thought I would post some thoughts.

If you've read my previous post on this book, you'll know this is nothing like an actual review. Just some random thoughts stimulated by a reading of this book.

Chapter 9 is all about Paul's theology (in a strict sense: doctrine of God) and how he accommodated Christ and the Spirit within his monotheism. This is not a theme I really associate with Wright, more with people like Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado, and indeed Wright relies on these scholars (esp. Bauckham) and seeks to advance their work. Wright's "major new proposal" (p. 649) is that Jesus was seen as fulfilling the theme of the "return of Yhwh" to his temple. "The long-awaited return of YHWH to Zion is, I suggest, the hidden clue to the origin of christology" (p. 654). I'm not sure exactly how new this is; I'm not saying that Wright didn't come up with it, but I'm pretty sure I've read similar things in some of Wright's previous works, maybe in his previous book on Jesus. But maybe he hasn't emphasized it so much in the context of the development of christology. In any case, for more on Wright's work in this chapter, I suggest you read Gupta's take and especially the posts by Hurtado (here and here).

At the end of ch. 9, Wright deals with "The Dark Side of Revised Monotheism," that is, evil. And it is in this context that Wright addresses the familiar debate about which came first for Paul, plight or solution. I found this section helpful. Saul of Tarsus did recognize a problem in the world: a lot of bad things were happening in the world, God's people were dominated by Gentiles, and someday God would bring justice. After his encounter with Jesus, he recognized that the solution God offered meant that the problem was different and much worse than he had previously imagined.
Paul was like a man who, on the way to collect a prescribed medication, studies the doctor's note and concludes from the recommended remedy that his illness must be far more serious than he had supposed. (p. 751)
On ch. 10, dealing with Election, see Hurtado, here, and on ch. 11, on eschatology, see Hurtado here. In general, I benefited from ch. 10, but I got tired, like I said, and I very much appreciated the turn to eschatology, a discussion from which I learned a great deal.

The following comments, which often point out errors or inconsistencies, should not be interpreted as implying a negative judgment on the value of the book. I have learned a lot from it. These comments are various small matters I found interesting.

(1) There are some oddities, like when Wright, in one of his discussions of the 'righteousness of God', repeatedly gives the Hebrew of this phrase as tsedaqah elohim (pp. 1054, 1071). Of course, the first word should be in the construct state, so it should be tsidqat elohim.

(2) And then there is this footnote:
One theme, important in the second-Temple period, appears absent in the NT, namely the reassembly of the ten lost tribes: see e.g. Ezek. 37.15-28; Hos. 1.10f.; Zech. 10.6-12. Starling 2011 has explored the possibility that Paul does in fact work with this notion in e.g. Rom. 9.25f. where Hos. 1.10 and 2.23 are cited. (p. 1053 n. 44)
I was surprised and confused when I first read this a week or more ago, and I am still surprised and confused by it. How can Wright, of all people, assert that the theme of "the reassembly of the ten lost tribes" is "absent in the NT"? I suppose he sees distinctions in categories that I have not grasped, but I would have thought that the reassembly of the ten lost tribes--especially as worked out in Ezekiel 37 and Hosea 1--was pretty much the same theme as the restoration of "Israel", and that this was all over the NT, in Wright's reading most of all. I give you a statement from Wright's earlier book on Jesus in this same series:
The very existence of the twelve [apostles] speaks, of course, of the reconstitution of Israel; Israel had not had twelve visible tribes since the Assyrian invasion in 734 BC [sic], and for Jesus to give twelve followers a place of prominence, let alone to make comments about them sitting on thrones judging the twelve tribes, indicates pretty clearly that he was thinking in terms of the eschatological restoration of Israel. (p. 300)
That looks to me an awful lot like the theme of "the reassembly of the ten lost tribes." But, again, maybe Wright sees a distinction that is lost on me. 

(3) He says that Akiba was "the last great teacher of the stricter school of rabbinic thought" (p. 620). What does he mean by this, "stricter school of rabbinic thought"? Judging from his discussion on Judaism in ch. 2, I'd guess he means the Shammaites. But does Wright think that Akiba was a Shammaite? That's not the tradition as I remember it. I thought it pretty well-established that Akiba was a Hillelite.

(4) I love it when Wright talks about his lack of space in the present volume to talk about certain issues (e.g., pp. 645, 649). We can all be thankful he saw fit to shorten his discussion.

(5) He's got a note on the appearance of the Tetragrammaton in LXX manuscripts (p. 701 n. 255) that does not present completely accurate information. This is nitpicking, admittedly, but it is simply not correct to say that LXX mss feature the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, or PIPI, or IAO, "as often" as they have kyrios.

(6) I appreciated his attempt to redeem the Nicene Creed, esp. in light of his highlighting the inadequacy of the Creed in How God Became King (and see this video of Richard Hays at the 6:10 mark). In his new book on Paul, Wright says: "The Nicene and other creeds were thus a way, not of capitulating to Greek philosophy, but of resisting it, and reasserting, as best they could in the language available to them, the christological monotheism of the New Testament" (p. 652 n. 124; cf. pp. 709-10).

(7) There are some places where Wright signals that he has changed his mind: p. 901 n. 350; p. 1016 with n. 686. Of course, everyone changes his/her mind on numerous points. I highlight these instances only because Wright can sometimes come across as if he's the only one that sees the most obvious points in Paul's exposition and all other scholars are simply reading him with their eyes shut (which, as I was reminded of last night, is bad for your hat and makes your eyebrows get red hot).

(8) Wright points out (p. 855) that 'salvation' language is absent from Galatians, which speaks only of justification. I didn't realize that. See also p. 927 with n. 431.

(9) On pistis Christou in Gal. 2:16, whether the genitive is subjective or objective: "I do not see that much hinges on this here" (p. 967).

(10) I liked Wright's exposition of those passages where Paul describes believers in terms of a temple. Actually, Wright talks about these passages twice, once in ch. 9 (pp. 711-17) and once in ch. 11 (pp. 1074-75), but the second time he forgets about Eph 2:20-21.

(11) Wright thinks that Eph. 5:5 and Col. 3:5 are talking about "sexual greed" as idolatry (p. 1107 n. 268). Is this a typical view?

(12) He repeatedly talks about Christians fulfilling the law, but "a different sort of law-fulfillment" (p. 922; see pp. 937, 958, 1088-89, 1100, 1109-11, 1125). He's referring to passages like Rom. 2:13-14, 28-29; 3:27; 8:4-7; and 10:6-10. I haven't gotten to his discussion of that last passage yet.

I wonder what Brian Rosner would say about this. I'm slowly reading his new book on Paul and the Law, and he does not seem to think that Rom. 2:14-15 and 2:28-29 is talking about Christians, or, at least, I don't see it in his discussions about how Christians relate to the law. He does say, though, that Christians "fulfill" the law in some sense. Maybe he would be comfortable with the language employed by Wright, but would resist seeing Rom. 2 as describing Christian law-fulfillment. Wright does acknowledge a couple of scholars who don't think Rom 2 has Christians in view (p. 921 n. 409 [Bell, pp. 190-96] and p. 1088 n. 196 [Hultgren, p. 131]), but he dismisses them rather casually.

Since Paul's view of the law was one of the major themes that I was hoping to learn about from reading this book, I might have more to say about Wright's views in a later post. But maybe not. 

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