Varia on NTW’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God #4 (Gupta)

ntwright8I am a little embarrassed that it has been two months since I last did a varia post on N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (see here1, here2, and here3), but now I am ready to press on!

In the first three posts I worked through the first volume of Paul and the Faithfulness of God. The book is so rich and multi-faceted  – it powerfully pushes forward like a gigantic textual glacier – that I could only make random comments (hence, varia). I will continue to do so throughout volume 2, though when I have finished the book I plan on writing a 2000-word book review that will be published in Interpretation.

Quick summary: in volume 1, Wright treats the key aspects of Paul’s world (including Greek philosophy, religion, and the Roman empire), and he also discusses the “mindset” of Paul which involves key symbols as well as how Paul’s “storied worldview” was constructed.

In the second volume, Wright addresses the huge subject of Paul’s theology (chs. 9-11). Then he returns to reading Paul and his ministry in historical context (chs. 12-16).

When it comes to Paul’s theology, Wright handles it quite differently than Jimmy Dunn or Thomas Schreiner. Instead of working from one topic of “theology” to the next (Christology, eschatology, pneumatology, etc…), Wright focuses on a three-fold core: “The One God of Israel, Freshly Revealed; The People of God, Freshly Reworked; and “God’s Future of the World, Freshly Imagined.”

Today I am just going to jump into chapter 9 on “The One God of Israel.” Here are eight random ideas of interest.

#1: Wright does a great job of talking about how the “oneness” Jewish theology of God was about more than having a single deity. It pervaded their whole life and gave it a central focus and unity in terms of vocation and mission: “To affirm the ‘oneness’ of Israel’s God meant, in practical terms, a cheerful and guiltless partaking in and celebrating of the world as a good gift to humans, a world full of strange beauty, massive power and silent song. In particular, and following from the vocation of human beings to reflect God’s wise order into the world, this kind of monotheism included the vocation to humans in general to bring God’s justice to the world: justice is to human society what flourishing order is to the garden” (628); also “monotheism is not a bare belief, but an agenda” (734).

#2: Is there a discernible evolution in how the earliest Christians thought about Jesus’ status as divine (from low to high)? Wright thinks it unlikely. Paul never states anything like “How then can some of you be saying that Jesus was simply a wonderful human being and nothing more?” (p. 648)

#3: Chris Tilling gets a positive nod of approval from Wright (p, 651), though Wright finds most helpful Richard Bauckham’s notion of a “Christology of divine identity” (651ff.), especially where what is asserted of Jesus by the early Christians was traditionally a prerogative of only the one God – sole creator and sole judge of all things (651-652).

#4: Wright puts special emphasis on Paul’s eschatological monotheism – Jesus accomplished what the God of Israel promised to do in restoration and in his covenantal righteousness – return to Zion to reclaim his kingship and restore and fulfill the vocation of Israel (p. 681-683; see also 705).

#5: What made Paul rethink his understanding of monotheism? It is simple, yet profound: “the fact of Jesus – his messianic life and death, and particularly his resurrection and exaltation, without which, of course, his life and death would not have been seen as messianic in the first place” (685; on 693 Wright works this out more fully)

#6: On the subject of evil, Wright gets into the question of whether Paul saw a “problem” with Judaism before he met Christ. Wright says that Paul would have been concerned with a problem, but not the same one Luther argued for. Rather, “It was the problem generated by creational and covenantal monotheism: why is the world in such a mess, and why is Israel still unredeemed?” (p. 749). Paul would have received a special epiphany on the road to Damascus because it would be revealed to him that “[the problems] had all along been far worse than anyone had imagined” (749). Here is a great chart that depicts this:

pfg chart

#7: With this new revelation, Paul had to rethink salvation – not just salvation from enemies, but salvation from sin. Here, Wright wants to note that we are not back to Reformation categories. Wright accuses the “old perspective” view of Pauline soteriology as (1) individualistic and (2) gnostic (754).

#8: The people of God and the redemptive mission of God are connected in this chapter – already Wright is anxious to link God’s salvific plan with the vocation of the people of God. He asks why it is that only Jesus rose from the dead  – why not all God’s people instantly restored? Here is his answer (previewing more to come in the next two chapters): “The creator always intended to accomplish his purpose through human beings. But only through ‘the end’ somehow being brought forward into the present could that aim be fulfilled, could this renewed humanity be generated” (760).

NB: last semester we read a couple of works within the wider missional theology category and one of my students brought up the treatment of “sin” in these texts. If we can see sin from two perspectives, one where the person is the criminal (the conscious, willing, doer of wrong), and the other of person as victim (where sin is an infection, disease, or monster that corrupts or troubles the person), there is a tendency in missional literature to see sin almost exclusively as the latter (person as victim). I have to spend more time thinking about this, but I think that student was on to something. Even Wright doesn’t really map out in PFG (at least, not yet as far as I can tell) what “sin” actually is and how it works as both power and human choice. I am beginning to think we need someone to write a little book exploring and pondering Paul’s theology of sin in all its dimensions and features.


Doug Moo’s Galatians Commentary – Review Pt1 (Gupta)

Moo GalDouglas Moo, a top-notch conservative evangelical New Testament exegete, has recently published a major commentary on Galatians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series (~450 pp.; Baker, 2013).

I will spend the next six weeks or so working through this commentary as I teach an intensive Galatians course at Northeastern. In this first installment, I will only discuss the introduction (pp. 1-64).

The commentary commences with your standard preliminary issues: Paul is author, Moo prefers the South Galatia recipient theory but favors it only slightly, and he dates Galatians to about AD48, “just before the Apostolic Conference of Acts 15” (p. 18).

What is the occasion of Paul’s writing of Galatians? Moo argues that it was written to “combat people who are pressuring the Galatians to undergo circumcision and submit to the law of Moses as a means of completing their Christian experience” (19). Is the focal point the question of how one is saved? Moo thinks so, but with the qualification that it is not initial salvation that is in view, but rather “ultimate vindication in the judgment” (20).

From pp. 21-31, Moo explores how various interpreters have understood Paul’s argumentation in Galatians. He briefly surveys E.P. Sanders’ perspective and also includes James Dunn. In a footnote, Moo discusses N.T. Wright as well. Moo notes that he does not intend to argue extensively against the New Perspective in this commentary because he has done so elsewhere. But he makes three points on p. 24n. 32: (1) NPP is commended for trying to contextualize Paul’s theology within first-century environment; (2) Sanders’ covenantal nomism theory is contested as a theory – Moo thinks there is evidence of Jewish legalism; and (3) the “staying in” focus of covenantal nomism still points in the direction of works-righteousness.

I am not sure Moo’s two critical points are that harmful to the NPP since not everyone follows Sanders on covenantal nomism (e.g., Wright rarely uses this language). Also, Wright and Dunn fully recognize that final judgment is a judgment of works, yet neither of them think that Paul’s reinforcement/articulation of this is legalistic.

Moo also challenges readings of Galatians by John Barclay and Francis Watson. Moo lumps both of them together insofar as they both argue for readings of Paul’s Christ/Torah antithesis rooted in “specific and unrepeatable historical circumstances” (p 26). Moo casts both scholars as critical of “a long tradition of theological interpretation of the biblical text” (26). Moo characterizes Barclay as someone who denies that we should move to “abstraction” in Paul’s concerns in Galatians. I found this remark from Moo a bit baffling – I think Barclay is quite good and strong at thinking broadly and theologically about Paul’s concerns in this regard (e.g., see all of Barclay’s work on Paul in the last 8 years)! What seems to be Moo’s concern is not that Barclay or Watson do not make broader theological claims – they certainly do! Rather, Moo wants to read Paul’s concern in Galatians as a problem with “human ‘doing’ in general” (p. 27). So: “A distinction between human doing and human believing, while not the focus in the letter, does underlie the argument of Galatians” (31). But (and this is important, folks), Moo has to make his case for this with Galatians 1-4 primarily in mind. Even if this proved to be true, then he must qualify that this concern (doing vs. believing) underlies part of the letter. He simply cannot make this case for the letter as a whole, since “doing” is quite central to chs 5-6, as Barclay has argued.

For most of the remainder of the introduction, Moo treats (briefly, but sufficiently) several majordoug-moo1 themes.

Salvation History and Apocalyptic (31-32). Unlike Martyn, Moo does not seen Salv-Hist and Apoc as mutually exclusive. Moo (I think rightly) sees the “apocalyptic” tone appear in Galatians where we see the victorious and climactic work of Christ. Paul thinks the epochal work of Christ is far more “disruptive” to life than Paul’s opponents recognize (p. 31). But Moo thinks Martyn goes too far: Moo states “The OT is not just a negative foil for the gospel, but also prepares for it in certain central ways” (32).

The Gospel (pp. 32-33) – a helpful section.

Christ (33-33) – also good.

The Spirit (34-35) – fine.

The Law (35-37) Here is where Moo’s Luther-like sensibilities come through. Moo recognizes an eschatological dimension to Paul’s concern with Torah – its time is over. But the end of Torah is not arbitrary. Rather, Torah cannot make one right with God because it is a matter of doing and not believing (p. 35). I don’t feel like Moo really answers the why question – why is “doing” such a problem?

Another subject Moo treats here is the ongoing Christian use of the OT Law. Moo does emphasize that the OT is Scripture for all believers, but “The OT law has no direct authority over the believer but continues to be an indirect source (under the authority of NT teaching) for the moral life” (37). I think I know what Moo is trying to say, but I am wary of (1) using the word “indirect” and (2) setting the authority of the OT at one removed from the NT or, worse yet, under the authority of the NT! Does that mean the NT authorizes the OT as authority (and then what does it mean in practice that it is ‘indirect’)? Or does it mean that the NT only establishes as authoritative those parts of the OT that are clearly held as continuous for the moral life? This sounds to me like a pick-and-choose approach, which makes one wonder what it means to consider the entire OT authoritative for Christians? [sidenote: I think Brian Rosner is on much, much, much more secure ground in his new work, Paul and the Law where is sees Paul as re-characterizing Torah as ‘wisdom’ for the Christian, rather than law].

The Christian Life (37-38) – fine, but surprisingly short.

“The Faith of Christ” (38-48) – a nice overview and helpful reaffirmation of the “faith in Christ” view.

Justification/Righteousness (48-62) – probably the most useful section of the introduction. It  won’t surprise you to know Moo argues against Wright on the meaning of dik* language in Galatians. Moo thinks that it doesn’t mean covenant membership, but “right standing with God” (with a primary forensic sense). I think Moo is seeing the double-sided nature of the issue when he writes, “Membership in God’s people and justification are closely related, but they are not identical. One entails the other, but they are not the same” (p. 55) – I think this is about right. However, Moo goes on to say that Paul’s main focus is “status before God” (58) – I am not quite sure that is the main focus. (sidenote: on the question of the center of Paul’s theology, Moo says it is “union with Christ,” but justification “is a critical and important means of explicating his gospel”; see 57).

Before Moo concludes the introduction (with his textual outline), he gives a very brief discussion of rhetorical approaches to Galatians. I agree with Moo when he states that “Galatians does not appear to fit neatly into any of the major rhetorical categories” (63). Paul may have used some rhetorical conventions of his time, but finding a larger rhetorical framework is only of very limited value.

OK, that is the introduction. I was not surprised that I disagreed with Moo on the value of the work of James Dunn, N.T. Wright, John Barclay, and Francis Watson. I also did not find his introductory statements about Paul’s criticism of human doing (vs. human believing) convincing – but I will suspend my complete rejection of his view until I see all his exegetical comments!

Overall, though, I found the introduction pretty standard. His discussion of Pistis Christou is commendable and his extensive study of justification/righteousness is worth reading as well.

More to come! Stay tuned!