Believe it or not, I’m still (slowly!) working through N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Not a lot has grabbed me as ‘share-able’ recently, so I’ve been quiet on the book for a while, waiting for part 3 (Paul’s theology). However, here’s a little taste of Part 2: Paul’s worldview.
So what does Paul do with the many worlds he finds himself in? How does he make sense of them, and what aspects of each world does he keep, discard, or reconfigure?
A Bird in the Hand? The Symbolic Praxis of Paul’s World
This is a longer chapter at just over 100 pages, but my summary will be brief. The chapter is broken down into two larger sections, firstly Paul’s attitude towards the symbols of his world(s), and secondly his own unique worldview rearranged around Christ and His people.
In regards to the world of Judaism, Wright examines Paul’s attitude towards Temple, Torah, land, family, ‘zeal’, prayer, and scripture. There is too much here to summarize, but this was one of my favourite sections of Paul and the Faithfulness of God so far, primarily because it made sense of so much of Paul’s thought. At first I didn’t really get why Wright considered Paul’s worldview separate from his theology. What could there be to say? How could the two be separated? But in this chapter I saw topics that are often neglected in Pauline Theologies, but very dear to Paul’s own mind and heart.
As one example, Paul’s attitude toward food purity laws (excluding Gentiles and certain kinds of food) have been totally reconfigured. “[H]e reached his new position not because he had come to regard the previous one as unsatisfactory or wrong-headed in itself but because, so he believed, God’s new age had arrived through the crucified and risen Messiah and the gift of the spirit” (p359). The food and company was of no matter anymore; but that doesn’t mean that purity was suddenly unimportant, rather the purity of the community itself was the focus. Therefore, Gentiles were no longer excluded de facto; all are welcome in the community of Christ. However, false teachers and those who contradicted their faith with their practice were to not be part of table fellowship. Purity was still essential, but it had been reconfigured in light of Christ’s coming.