Varia on NTW’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God #1

I am 200 pages into N.T. Wright’s massive Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress, 2013). In due time, I will be doing an evaluative review for Interpretation. However, a 1500-word review can hardly do justice to a 1500+ page book of this complexity and depth (a 5000 word review would still seem inadequate!). Also, an evaluative review will, of necessity, focus on the flow and substance of Wright’s wider argumentation, but there are so many anecdotal, exegetical, and even random “goodies” in these many pages that are worthy of comment – many things that would never be noted in a review. Hence- varia. In several posts, I will interact with or just repeat some of the many comments in PFG that I found blog-worthy!

#1: Some may know about a kind of falling out between Wright and Richard Hays when the former expressed serious concern with the latter’s work in Seeking the Identity of Jesus. I think that time and conversation may have healed some of those wounds, but this came to mind when I read the dedication – “For Richard Hays, a prince among exegetes, a jewel among friends.” Perhaps there is no way for a scholar to say publicly “I value you” than in this way.

#2 (P. 9, passim): not sure why Wright does not capitalize “spirit” when referring sometimes to the Holy Spirit. I am sure he explains it in another book, but I didn’t see it here. I could guess as to why, but an explicit comment would have been helpful. (And sometimes he does capitalize it, see below)

#3: You may know that Wright begins with a case study – Philemon. How does Paul’s unique perspective come out in this ostensibly mundane letter? I think it is an interesting and unique way to commence his work, but I felt it carried on a bit too long. Still, I found his theological reflections helpful overall. For example, regarding Paul’s concern for reconciliation, he appeals to this as an outworking of Paul’s theology of the cross – “Philemon himself is part of [the] new creation, and so is Onesimus, so the question of their social status is radically outflanked. How has this happened? Through the Messiah’s cross” (18).

#4 (43): Wright’s big idea: “Paul remained a deeply Jewish theologian who had rethought and reworked every aspect of his native Jewish theology in the light of the Messiah and the Spirit, resulting in his own vocational self-understanding as the apostle to the pagans.”

#5 (56): Regarding whether he should include the so-called disputed Pauline epistles in his analysis of Paul, Wright expresses disappointment that Colossians and Ephesians (in particular) are demoted and even seen to be major distortions of Pauline theology by “the guild.” Wright states: “The prejudice against Ephesians Colossians has grown so strong in some circles that it has reached the point where young scholars are warned against using them in the study of Paul lest they be thought unscholarly.” Indeed – I was told to leave Eph/Col out of my dissertation study, and I took that advice out of the same fear Wright comments on. I have the same indignation towards this bias. Bravo to Frank Matera for stepping out and developing a Pauline theology that includes (cautiously) the whole Pauline corpus. In a footnote related to this discussion, Wright ends his note in this way: “Fashions come and go.” Here is Wright’s way forward for his study: Colossians will be taken as Pauline (no doubt), Ephesians & 2 Thess are “highly likely” to be Pauline; 2 Tim may be Pauline and will be used with caution; 1 Timothy and Titus will be used “in the opposite way to that in which a drunkard uses a lamppost, for illumination rather than support” (p. 58-59).

#6 (57): Related to the discussion of discipline-given assumptions (e.g., cannot talk about Pastorals), Wright cites Robert Morgan who (in a different context) proposed “let us put the chess pieces back on the board from time to time and restart the game.” A great metaphor for this desire to revisit long-held assumptions.

#7: Wright makes frequent appeal to NTPG, and does not add much to it except that he wish he had given more attention to the Greco-Roman world (see p. 75)

#8: Wright takes issue with the critique that Edward Adams has made of the way that Wright reads end-of-the-world cosmological imagery in Scripture.

Jesus really did use this end-of-the-world language to refer to a great cosmic event yet to come, but in line with many biblical and post-biblical writings this didn’t necessarily mean the actual physical end of the planet or the universe, since these writings often intended to speak instead either of a major transformation or of a destruction that would then be followed by remaking. (166)

Adams gets a very thorough response from Wright and I think we can expect Adams to counter-respond in some way in the future.

#9 (166): Wright points to Troels Engberg-Pedersen as someone who takes Adams’ side on end-of-the-world imagery. But listen to Wright’s words about Engberg-Pedersen: “I wonder if Adams is happy with this ringing endorsement from someone who clearly has little idea of what Judaism actually was or how it worked, and who uses the word ‘apocalyptic’ in a fairly unreconstructed, and certainly unhistorical, Bultmannian sense.” (footnote, 367). I have never heard or read Wright slam a scholar this hard…

#10 (220): Wright has a nice introduction to Greco-Roman philosophy. In his section on Seneca, he notes how Seneca had a habit of taking his rivals’ ideas and turning them against themselves. So, in his letters to Lucilius, Seneca uses the words of Epicurus to defend his own point. Anticipating Lucius’ concern with this method, Seneca replies: “quod verum est, meum est.” As Wright sums up Seneca’s justification: “If it’s true, it’s mine. The best ideas are common property. What does it matter who said it? He said it for everybody.” (p. 220; see Ep. Mor. 12.11; 14.17; cf. 8.8).

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9 thoughts on “Varia on NTW’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God #1

  1. Thanks for supplying NTW’s remark linking “unhistorical” with Bultmann. This explains why the non-Pauline letters are being rehabbed into pseudo a authentic letters – to dismiss Bultmann. This gambit inevitably results in skewed explication of Paul.

    • Terry – in the first 200 pages, not much but Wright has barely gotten past method and historical context. I assume he will talk more and more about modern interpreters of Paul later in the book.

      However, Wright wrote a separate book called Paul and His Recent Interpreters (not out yet). That book will surely engage with Campbell at length (I assume)!

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