Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Paul and his Jewish Context

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles by Valentin de Boulogne
Courtesy Wikipedia.
I'm still reading with great profit Tom Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Ch 15 is called "To know the place for the first time: Paul and his Jewish Context" and like the rest is full of gems.
  • Paul was simply not concerned very much with 'religion' a such, whether for or against... What mattered, rather, was the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was Israel's Messiah.  More precisely and importantly, that the crucified and rised Jesus of Nazareth was Israel's Messiah and the world's true Lord....The otherwise unthinkable notion of a crucified Messiah was forced on Paul and the other early Jesus-followers by Jesus' resurrection, which compelled them to take seriously the messianic claim which otherwise the crucifixion would have falsified.
  • His main message... was... that pagans should trun from idols to worship the true and living God. Anything he might have to say to his Jewish contemporaries who did not believe in Jesus he would say by way of reflex from that primary vocation... when Paul spoke to pagans, as he did most of the time, he spoke, not about justification, but about the One God and his son, Jesus.
  • For Paul it was dazzlingly clear. Either Jesus was Israel's Messiah or he was not... if Jesus really was Israels Messiah, then no first-century Jew could have supposed for a minute that following him was an option that one might take up or not.
  • What has happened, in short, is this. We have looked back through post-Enlightenment and post-Holocaust spectacles at teachers like Chrystostom... or indeed Luther... We have then looked at Paul in the light of them. Then we have tried to decide whether Paul was, or was not, guilty of the sins which the modern west has come to associate with 'the church' and its elbowing of'the Jews' out of the picture. This is not a recipe for doing history.
  • For Paul what mattered was not that he, Paul, had had a particular kind of 'experience' but that Israel's Messiah had been crucified and been raised.
  • For Paul, when a Jew believes in 'the one who raised from the dead Jesus our lord' (Romans 4.24) this constitutes an act of 'resurrection', whereas when a Gentile believes Paul sees that event as an act of 'new creation'.
  • Reducing Paul's compositional options to the limits of hypothetical reader-incompetence is an example of that left-brain rationalism, allied to a hermeneutic of suspicion, from which biblical studies has suffered for far too long.
  • Paul believes that it is a central part of Christian faith not only to be a reader of scripture, but one who is changed by that reading.
  • references to God's righteousness and human righteousness, far from cancelling one another out, belong firmly together. God is the righteous judge, the faithful covenant-maker: his people will be declared 'righteous', covenant members, at the last, and this is anticipated in the present.
Tom concludes so wonderfully I must quote it almost in full:
A Jew like no other. Yes, perhaps. An anomalous Jew: from one point of view, yes. A renegade Jew? Not if you believe that Jesus was Israel's Messiah. An Israelite indeed - though with enough rhetorical guile to harangue the Galatians one minute, tease the Corinthians the next, and set before the Romans a text like no other, a document only comprehensible as coming from the very heart of the Jewish world and yet opening up vistas never before imagined there or anywhere else.  Paul insisted that his primary self-identity was not, in fact, simply being Jewish. His primary self-identity was that he was a Messiah-man. He was en Christo, and conversely the Messiah lived in him, so that Paul and all other Messiah-people had 'the Messiah's mind'. These extraordinary claims, only comprehensible from within the Jewish world, nevertheless split that world open at the seams. They are those of a man who has burned his boats.
Wonderful!  Do buy and read the book.

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