Paul and the Faithfulness of GodBelieve it or not, I’m still (a year later) slogging through Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Fans of G.K. Beale may know that he “famously” read Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God while brushing his teeth. Well, I’m not at all competitive, but I’m reading PFG on my iPhone! I know this is sacrilege for bibliophiles, but it seems to be working for me right now. Basically, I squeeze in a few pages here and there.

Anyhow, I’m up to the heart of Paul’s theology, which Wright breaks down into three larger sections:

  • The One God of Israel, Freshly Revealed
  • The People of God, Freshly Reworked
  • God’s Future for the World, Freshly Imagined

I appreciate the simplicity in Wright’s structure here, and am curious to see how he “fits” Paul’s entire theology under these headings. Having just finished his section on Jesus, and being a lover of Christology, I thought I’d summarise his discussion in this post.

First, as a Jew, Paul was a staunch monotheist and there are no hints that he dropped that post-conversion. However, “he had redrawn this monotheism quite dramatically around Jesus himself.” (p644).

Wright proceeds to summarise the “high points” (p649) of recent research into Paul’s Christology, specifically the work of Larry Hurtado, Chris Tilling, and Richard Bauckham (Tilling was no doubt thrilled to find himself in that list). Wright finds himself in broad agreement with the three, but “there is one thing missing” (p653) in their proposals, namely, a focus on the coming of Jesus as the “long-awaited return of YHWH to Zion”  (p654). In other words, when Jesus comes, it is in fact YHWH’s coming. For Wright, this provides a larger framework for explaining early Christological belief.

Wright then views prominent Christological texts in Paul through this lens of new exodus. Beginning with Gal 4:1-11, I was glad to see Wright’s correct interpretation of “son of God” as recalling both Israel and her king. I am used to reading Gal 4:1-11 from a generic Greco-Roman slant and am unfamiliar with it referring to Israel’s exile, but Wright’s summary was compelling so I’ll have to do more digging! Wright then continues on with Rom 8:1-4, 1 Cor 8-10, Col 1:12-20, 2 Cor 3-4, and concluding with a lengthy and riveting treatment of Phil 2:6-11 that, despite its brilliance, sadly didn’t touch on how Jesus could be given “the name” and not somehow exalted higher than before. He even presented the best case for recognising hints of Adam in the text, a view that I had always dismissed as unlikely.

Next, Wright suggests “two reasons why Jesus’ first followers came to think of him as the embodiment of the returning YHWH” (p690). Here Wright nicely accounts for the Messianic “son of God” language taking on a fuller meaning. Paul recognised that this phrase could in fact transcend the purely messianic meaning and carry the weight of Jesus’ unique identity with YHWH. He does the same with “Lord” (kyrios), showing how Paul uses OT texts speaking of YHWH (kyrios in the LXX) as now speaking of Jesus the Lord. He then argues for Paul calling Jesus “God” (theos) in Rom 9:5.

I’m constantly impressed at how Wright can somehow avoid being bogged down in the exegetical nitty-gritty and be more compelling through conveying the big picture. This was one of the more enjoyable sections in the book, with each text feeling refreshingly conventional. Wright has a knack for taking much of what is already agreed upon, but threading it together into a surprising and familiar tapestry. It’s like taking a different road home.

I’ll finish on two great quotes from the section:

One might say that Messiahship turns out to have been a category designed for the personal use of Israel’s God himself (p695)

And in the context of 1 Cor 8:6 reworking the Shema (Deut 6:4) to incorporate Jesus:

“A small step for the language; a giant leap for the theology” p666)

[Many thanks to SPCK for providing a copy of this book for review. I was not required to give a positive review]