|Mosaic of St Paul|
from the book's US Cover
However my lent reading has been Tom Wright's wonderful book Paul and the Faithfulness of God and I'm now on p 870 so a bit more than half way through. It's a wonderful book with an important message: that (at least in Paul's view) Jesus was the promised Messiah through whom God keeps his promise to Abraham that he will become the father of many nations and that through him all humankind will be blessed. Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile by ethnicity, are the children of Abraham and inheritors of the covenant. We are to be lights to the world and as "the body of the Messiah" and a "living temple" we are to bring God's blessing to the world and help His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. It's remarkable in a way that Tom has to argue for this, but there has been much completely wrong-headed Pauline "scholarship" over the years. Here are a few gems:
- Empires thrive on religious relativism; the more gods the better; since the more there are the less likely they are to challenge the ruling ideology.
- Paul knows the very practical meaning of monotheism: allegiance to the One God will mean persecution from the surrounding world.
- (quoting Baukham) the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity ... was central to the faith of the early church before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them.
- In his life and death and resurrection Jesus had accomplished the new Exodus, had done in person what Israel's God had said he would do in person... Jesus' first followers found themselves not only (as it were) permitted to use God-language for Jesus, but compelled to use Jesus-language for the One God.
- At the name of Jesus 'every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess' (the Septuagint of Isaiah 45.23 has 'shall confess God' exomologEsetai tw thew). But what they will now confess is 'that Jesus, Messiah, is kyrios': the last word in the sentence in the first in Greek, kyrios JEsous Christos. And... when Paul writes kyrios in relation to Jesus he means his readers to understand, as anyone familiar with the Septuagint would understand, the word YHWH.
- What marked Jesus out, what made the early Christians say 'he really was God's son' was not his death, but his resurrection...which...unveiled the identity he has possessed all along.
- None of this seems to have been a matter of controversy within the earliest church...what we think of as a 'high' christology was thoroughly established within, at most, 20 years of Jesus' resurrection.
- The Spirit enables God's people to keep the Shema...Shema...means 'hear and obey'
- Neither the average ancient pagan nor the average ancient Jew was...worrying about how their sould might get to a disembodied heaven after they had died.