Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (2005)

N. T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (2005)

Ch. 1, “Paul’s World, Paul’s Legacy”: Paul lived in four adjoining worlds of thought: he was a Second-Temple Jew, he partook of the Hellenistic philosophical tradition, he was a Roman citizen, and he belonged to the nascent Christian ekklesia. Paul’s controlling narratives were mostly drawn from the Bible and contemporaneous biblical exegesis, especially Second-Temple Jewish (as opposed to pagan philosophical) monotheism.

Ch. 2, “Creation and Covenant”: Wright begins the chapter by outlining the themes of creation and covenant in a few passages from the Hebrew Bible that were central to Paul’s thought, then briefly exegetes Col 1:15–20, 1 Cor 15, and Rom 1-11, showing how the same themes are present in Paul’s thought. For Paul, Wright argues, sin is transgression against the covenant, and Jesus is the person who established the new covenant.

Ch. 3, “Messiah and Apocalyptic”: This chapter unpacks six facets of Paul’s messianism:

  • The Messiah will be a king, not a priest.
  • The Messiah will fight off the forces of paganism.
  • The Messiah will rebuild the Temple.
  • The Messiah will fulfill messianic prophecies.
  • The Messiah will act as God’s representative to Israel and the world.
  • The Messiah will act as Israel’s representative to God.

In addition, Wright argues, Paul sees Jesus’ death and resurrection as the revelation of God’s plan for the world; the Christ-event is thus the key to Paul’s (idiosyncratic) apocalypticism.

Ch. 4, “Gospel and Empire”: Here Wright summarizes the intersections between Roman ideology and Paul’s thought and where Paul, as a Second-Temple Jew, critiqued the Roman imperial ideology. For instance, the Romans deified Iustitia (Latin for “justice”), and Paul emphasizes dikaiosyne (Greek for “justice” and “righteousness”) in his letters. Augustus was called “Savior” for ending the Roman civil war, and the announcement of the end of the strife was a euangelion (“good news,” “gospel”); for Paul, Jesus is the true ruler of the world, and his gospel is that Jesus has rescued the world from strife with God.

Ch. 5, “Rethinking God”: This chapter, along with the next two, “offer an outline sketch of the shape of Paul’s theology” (83), following the traditional Jewish emphases on monotheism, election, and eschatology. Paul is firmly rooted in Second-Temple Jewish monotheism; however, his monotheism also includes Jesus, whom he equates with God. His monotheism is thus a Christological monotheism. Paul also expands his monotheism to include God’s Spirit, who guides God’s people. This redefined monotheism brought him into conflict with other Jews, but, as a polemic, its main target was pagan practice.

Ch. 6, “Reworking God’s People”: Despite the variety of beliefs among the different Second-Temple Jewish groups, all of them believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people. Paul both reaffirmed and redefined the concept of election—affirming that Israel still has primacy, but arguing that election is on the basis of faith and Jesus’ righteousness, not the possession of the Torah, and thus expanding election’s scope to include Gentile Christians. He maintains that God’s spirit guides the elect. He bases his concept of election on the story he perceives in the Hebrew Bible, namely that God has irrevocably elected Israel, but has expanded Israel’s election to the whole world through Jesus’ death.

Ch. 7, “Reimagining God’s Future”: As with his monotheism and idea of election, Paul reworked standard Second-Temple Jewish eschatology around Jesus, so that Jesus’ death and resurrection were the culmination of God’s plan for the world. They were also Paul’s lens for viewing Israel’s story; by his death and resurrection, Jesus led his people through a new Exodus and a new return from exile. Paul expected the climactic Day of the Lord—at which Jew and Gentile would be judged alike—to come within his lifetime, but did not expect it to mark the end of the world. The outpouring of the gifts of the spirit Spirit was another sign that God had apocalyptically broken into the world.

Ch. 8, “Jesus, Paul and the Task of the Church”: In this chapter, Wright argues that it is a mistake to set Jesus’ and Paul’s messages in opposition to each other, claiming that such a reading is a post-Enlightenment distortion of what Jesus and Paul were trying to do in their own contexts (Jesus preaching in a revolutionary Palestinian environment and Paul preaching in a philosophical Gentile environment). Wright also sketches out Paul’s self-image as an apostle, as recorded in the opening to Romans, namely that he understood his task to be unifying the church in their theology, understanding of election, and eschatology.

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