The dialectical conclusion of theonomy is the Talmud

What a mentality professes is important, but often more important is where it necessarily leads.

Sola scriptura (especially in its adherence to covenant theology) leads to theonomy, for if we assume the Old Testament is still binding except where modified by the New, and this is assumed when all Calvinists argue for infant baptism, they use some form of the theonomic hermeneutic, then it is difficult to see how they don’t espouse some form of theonomy.

If they are consistent they must then affirm the theonomic outlook.   At this point I would agree with Rushdoony and Doug Wilson that all law reflects one’s theos, and the theos that non-Theonomic Calvinists presuppose is the God of Scripture.

One of the few interesting points that the non-theonomic camp raised in the execrable Theonomy: A Reformed Critique is the multitude of contrary interpretations theonomy will create..   Tremper Longman said theonomy will eventually develop its own Mishnah.  What he meant was you simply can’t say “We hold to the Mosaic law.”  There are really not that many Mosaic laws, yet in the modern world there are myriads of situations not imagined by the Mosaic law.   Therefore, theonomy really isn’t saying we are ruled by the Mosaic law, but by interpretations of the Mosaic law.

Here is where it gets interesting.   Whose interpretation of the law is valid?  How will we know? The answer to that reasoning process will create yet more interpretations.   As any theonomist knows whose studied case laws–it’s not so simple just to say, “We follow the law of God.”

In where I differ with E. P. Sanders

I am currently reading E. P. Sanders’ Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People. It is his expansion on his earlier work on the Apostle Paul.  He tries to correct some of the caricatures of his thesis and expand on other points.   It’s an interesting read because it is still an early “New Perspective” text.  One can see moves that Wright and Dunn will later make, but clearly different from the conclusions Wright will later draw.   Even in some parts of the New Perspective, Sanders is seen as the “dark uncle.”  I disagree with a lot of his conclusions, and I am not particularly thrilled by his lower view of Scripture, but I don’t find him all that controversial.

In any case, Sanders insists on translating Romans 3:27 as “principle of works/principle of faith” rather than “law of works/law of faith.”  I think given his reading of “nomos”  he thinks it is not warranted to speak of a “law of faith,” and in this case he is consistent.  However, I think this also weakens part of his thesis.  He wants to (correctly) see the law as “Jewish ethnic markers” and an “entrance requirement,” and from this assumes that “law of faith” is nonsensical.

However, I think we can indeed speak of a law of faith and still keep Sanders’ gains.  Richard Hays notes that Paul’s reading of Torah inevitably subverts the function of Torah for the Christian community.  Since the law promises the Messiah and the future inclusion of gentiles into the worldwide people of God, the law (for the Christian) is now the narrative of promise.  Therefore, we can indeed speak of “a law of faith.”

Conversion of the Imagination: Paul’s Reading of Scripture (review)

Hays, Richard.  The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2005.

In this book Hays develops many of his thoughts from Echoes.  He addresses criticisms and expands upon previously vague thoughts and points.  This book is a collection of some of his more prominent essays.

Hays employs a key concept throughout his work: metalepsis.  Metalepsis is when one text alludes to another text and evokes resonances beyond those explicitly cited (2).[i] Hays then gives his criteria for employing and recognizing metalepsis, or “echoes.”   The text must have availability—it must have been extant to its original hearers and users (this is a fairly obvious point).  Volume is the second criterion—how loud is the echo?  This will vary from a faint allusion to an overt citation.  While this appears subjective, Hays gives several points on how to recognize loud echoes in Scripture.   Thirdly, is the echo recurring elsewhere in a writer’s corpus?

Hays’ first essay deals with eschatology in Corinth.  Hays asks whether the Corinthians should be seen as “performing Isaiah’s script.”  Through identification in Christ, the Corinthian Church (and by extension ourselves today) were to see Gentiles brought in (Isa. 49:23; 60:1-16).  Hays ties this in with Scripture by noting Scripture is a narrative in which the Corinthians sought identification.   They participated in Israel’s story (1 Corinthians 10: 1-13) and in doing so fulfilled Israel’s proper goal—to bring the Gentiles to the worship of God.

In his next essay, “How did Paul read Isaiah?”, Hays advances one of his more controversial claims: Paul’s reading of Isaiah is ecclesiocentric and not primarily Christocentric (26).  Paul did not primarily appeal to Isaiah to prove the deity of Christ (as many appeals to Isa. 53 assume).  Rather, his reading of Isaiah points to a final eschatological people of God in which the Gentiles are included[ii] (this is key to Hays’ next few arguments in other essays).

Hays hits gold in his next few essays dealing with “the righteousness of God.”  He builds upon Ernst Kasemann’s thesis that dikaiosune theou means “salvation-creating power,” though he rejects Kasemann’s apocalyptic overtones.  The heaviest use of the phrase dikaiosune theou occurs primarily in Romans 3.  Hays notes that Romans 3 is an extended discussion on Psalm 143.   God must be seen as faithful to the covenant despite human unfaithfulness.  When read in its entirety Psalm 143 is a psalm that anticipates a salvation effected by God’s own righteousness (e.g., his saving power).   In conclusion, Hays blunts any talk of construing “righteousness” as imputation, but sees it as salvation-creating power.

Hays then has an extended essay on Abraham and justification.  He says any discussion of Romans 4 must take the previous paragraphs into accounot (3:27-4:1).  Paul’s problem is not “how to find acceptance before a wrathful God,” but to work out the relation of Jew and Gentile in Christ (69).  This means God justifies the Gentiles in the same way as Jews.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE LAW, THEN?

Reformed theologians are partly correct in that the Law condemns, but that’s not the Law’s primary focus, nor does it condemn in the way they think it does.  Hays points out the Law serves to identify the people of God.   Hays follows Dunn’s reading of ergon tou theou as marking the identity of the people of God.  If this reading is correct, Paul’s argument in Romans 3 comes into focus.   While it is true that Paul would forbid boasting in our meritorious works, why then does he make the point, if the Reformed gloss is correct, using such out of the way arguments against circumcision and other identity markers (e.g., “receiving the oracles”, etc)?

True, the Law does pronounce condemnation, but here Paul “spins” the way we normally see it.  Paul’s quotes several Psalms in Romans 3 to that point, but where the Psalms speak of condemning Israel’s enemies—Paul uses them to condemn Israel!  On the other hand, Paul is not offering a systematic doctrine of the Law.  Rather, he is destabilizing an entrenched Jewish mindset.

Hays’ final point on the law warrants reflection.  Hays ties his discussion of the Law in with his earlier point about dikaiosune theou to make his conclusion:  if the Law speaks of dikaiosune theou, as all say it does, and if dikaiosune theou means “salvation-creating power,” as Hays has capably argued, then Torah announces that God’s saving power is for all the nations (95ff)!  Paul’s reading of the law has undergone a fundamental hermeneutical shift:  1) Torah is now seen as a narrative of promise; and 2) The promise expressed in Torah is primarily for the Church now.

Hays final essays show Christ as the paradigmatic figure in the Old Testament.   Hays examines how Christ prays the Psalms and how believers can find their identification in him.  Of some interest is Hays’ essay on Habbakuk 2:4 and ho dikaios, the Righteous One.   Hays surveys Old Testament texts speaking of ho dikaios and possible NT parallels in the non-Pauline corpus.

Hays then notes Paul’s use of the phrase.  Paul used Hab. 2:4 in Romans 1.  Given its context, we see a revelation of God’s faithfulness before the nations and a coming eschatological judgment.  This language echoes most of Isaiah where it is promised that when God acts to intervene on behalf of “Israel,” he will bring salvation to all the nations (137).  Obviously, this reading is superior and clearer than the usual post-Reformation gloss on Romans 1.  Paul is not saying that an inward human disposition (e.g., faith) is the new way in which God’s faithfulness is revealed (which would have been odd, since the Jews had “faith” in God).  Rather, it is a response to theodicy:  in both cases how can God be faithful to the covenant in the face of human wickedness?

CONCLUSION

Hays successfully stays with his thesis throughout the book, though not all chapters are equally strong.  I think his last chapter on Paul’s use of Scripture is weak.  He started out by saying that Paul did not view Scripture as a “didactic database from which to draw prooftexts.”  There is a truth to this point, and Hays starts out well, but it seems halfway through his essay he realized that Paul did indeed appeal to the Old Testament didactically (cf. 1 Cor. 9).

Elsewhere, I wished Hays would have expanded some of his thoughts on the Law.  I agree with his and Dunn’s reading of “works of the law” as ethnic identity markers, but it would have strengthened his case considerably had he spent a few extra paragraphs arguing and developing that point, rather than consigning it to a footnote.


[i] While Hays’ model is satisfactory and explains the evidence nicely, it is still only a model and it is doubtful whether it will be acceptable to conservative Evangelical scholars.

[ii] I don’t think Hays is as controversial as either he or his critics maintain.  Let’s go with Hays’ reading at the moment—nothing changes.   Is not the church the “body of Christ?”  And in participating in the church do we not also participate in Christ?  Therefore, to affirm the Church is to affirm Christ.

 

Is the Law-Gospel dialectic proto-liberalism?

I didn’t know whether to categorize it as “law-gospel” or “Republication of Covenant of Works,” or simply “Klinean theology.”  You get the idea.     The “law-gospel” divorce is much broader than the other two, but it includes them.  Truth be told, though, “Klineanism” is the more accurate term for the discussion below.

Many decades ago CH Dodd praised the apostle Paul for anticipating higher criticism (JEDP:  the vile heresy that there are multiple–and often conflicting–authors of Torah).   Paul, per Dodd’s gloss, saw different strands of Deuteronomic teaching.   Now, we all know Dodd is wrong and few Reformed authors would want to associate themselves with liberalism, but I have to ask:   are they also Doddians, too?

How far removed from Dodd and the Documentary Hypothesis is the Reformed view that Torah contains both a faith principle and a works principle?  It was not without reason that post-liberal William Willimon said today’s evangelicals are tomorrow’s liberals.  Indeed.

The Klinean–and the unwitting Calvinist who follows Kline–posits a dialectic within Scripture which will ultimately deconstruct his worldview.

I wish NT Wright would drop the Calvinist line

I don’t know what NT Wright seems to gain by insisting he is a Calvinist.   I know a lot of Federal Vision guys also take this stand.  True, NT Wright denies our works earn righteousness, and he wants to maintain a primary commitment to Scripture (I have problems with the directions he takes it, but I can go with that for now), but that doesn’t equal Calvinism.   Calvinism is dialectically construed and won’t survive the cumulative hammer blows from post-postmodern epistemology, current theological moves, and new players in the conversation (see David Bentley Hart).   Wright’s strengths will always be limited by staying with a label whose adherents despise him.   He can be far stronger elsewhere.

Anyway, he’s denied a few key tenets of Reformed theology:

  1. He rejects individual election (and more specifically, he rejects that Romans 9 speaks at all about individual election).
  2. While his view of justification isn’t Roman, it “un-narrates” the Reformed view.  I hope to outline that argument later.
  3. His reading of Scripture and narratival approach deconstruct the “WCF-or-death!” approach.  After you read his exegesis (which is like hearing a dozen anthems at once), and then you read the Confession’s use of Scripture and method of argument, you feel let down.

There still has yet to be serious reflection on whether the ecclesial view of justification negates the traditional Reformed view.  I want to say it does, but I have yet to see the hard evidence.

On why academic protestantism has no miracles

I am not talking about conservative Protestantism that actually believes the Bible. I am talking about mainline churches and “academic” Protestantism. (On the other hand, I have watched a conservative Federal Vision guy debunk the miracle stories of the holy fathers along similar lines).

Of course, there are always exceptions, but the general rule is that Protestantism is a religion of the word, not the miracle. Granted, the charismatics have abused (ruined?) the notion of miracles. And with our scientific hermeneutics (which Protestantism accepts, albeit inconsistently), there is no place for miracles.

Of course, the Protestant will retort that miracles do not prove the legitimacy of a movement and are often used by demons to deceive the faithful. Very true. However, if that standard is applied across the board, we have to rule out Jesus and the apostles.

Am I saying that Protestantism disbelieves in the miraculous? No (well, mainline Protestantism doesn’t believe in miracles, but that’s another story). I am saying that their worldview often does not have a place for them.

This is revealed in their scholarship. This morning I finished the biography of St Martin, written by Sulpicius Severus, a fantastic read full of the supernatural. The Protestant scholar who edited that volume (volume 11 of Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene series), no doubt an erudite man, was clearly embarrassed by Severus’s credulity (Severus, it must be noted, was very intelligent and classically trained in the Latin language). Now, to the passages in question.

In chapter 24 Severus relates how the devil appeared to St Martin in order to trick him. Martin resists the Devil and the Devil vanishes, leaving the smell of sulfur in the cell. Severus writes,

This event, as I have just related, took place in the way which I have stated, and my information regarding it was derived from the lips of Martin himself; therefore let no one regard it as fabulous.

Several things to note: 1) Severus was a very intelligent man and well-versed in classical and ecclesiastical literature, so he is likely one not easily fooled; 2) St Martin, as the editor admits, was a very godly and pious man, quite remarkable in many ways; godly people do not simply “make up stuff like this.” 3) While not eye-witness evidence on Severus’ part, it’s origin is clearly not “pious legend.” What does the editor, who claims the name of Christ (and I believe him), say of this?

In spite of the combined testimony of Martin and Sulpitius here referred to, few will have any doubts as to the real character of the narrative.

While this is definitely not normal happenings, it is clearly not uncommon if miracle stories have some truth. A similar remark is made at the end of the biography. Severus recounts, in a rather lucid manner, the level-headedness of St Martin, along with his piety. This clearly establishes St Martin as a credible witness. Severus writes (chapter 27),

I am conscious to myself that I have been induced by belief in the facts, and by the love of Christ, to write these things; and that, in doing so, I have set forth what is well known, and recorded what is true; and, as I trust, that man will have a reward prepared by God, not who shall read these things, but who shall believe them.

Indeed. What does the learned editor say?

It seems extremely difficult (to recur to the point once more), after reading this account of St. Martin by Sulpitius, to form any certain conclusion regarding it. The writer so frequently and solemnly assures us of his good faith, and there is such a verisimilitude about the style, that it appears impossible to accept the theory of willful deception on the part of the writer. And then, he was so intimately acquainted with the subject of his narrative, that he could hardly have accepted fictions for facts, or failed in his estimate of the friend he so much admired and loved. Altogether, thisLife of St. Martin seems to bring before us one of the puzzles of history. The saint himself must evidently have been a very extraordinary man, to impress one of the talents and learning of Sulpitius so remarkably as he did; but it is extremely hard to say how far the miraculous narratives, which enter so largely into the account before us, were due to pure invention, or unconscious hallucination. Milner remarks (Church History, II. 193), “I should be ashamed, as well as think the labor ill spent, to recite the stories at length which Sulpitius gives us.” See, on the other side, Cardinal Newman’s Essays on Miracles, p. 127, 209, &c.

Of course it seems difficult if you are stuck in Enlightenment Anglo-American hermeneutics. But if we apply this reasoning consistenly, will you be fair and disregard the miracle stories in the Bible? This is where Cardinal Henri de Lubac can help us out. How do we understand the interaction of the miraculous in history? De Lubac writes,

The supernatural is not a higher, more beautiful, or more fruitful nature…it is the irruption of a wholly different principle. The sudden opening of a kind of fourth dimension, without proportion of any kind to all the progress provided in the natural dimension (466).The Drama of Atheist Humanism.

For Medieval man, the cosmos was porous and the heavenly and created worlds interpenetrate one another. For Enlightenment modern, the cosmos and heaven are walled-off. They are not connected. Secularism rules the day. Miracles cannot happen because the Scientific and Academic Establishment says they cannot happen. Why are they correct? Because the Scientific and Academic Establishment says they are correct? (ad infinitum). Now, given the godly, consistent (and quite mentally respectable) life of St Martin and his awe-inspired reality over against Academic/Scientific Man, who is the more credible? I rest my case.

Church Father Shopping Without Liturgy

From Joseph Farrell’s God, History, and Dialectic. On page 586 Farrell gives an interesting account of the rise of modern Patristic studies (ala post-Reformation).   With the possible exception of the ocassional high-church Anglican, most Protestant appeals to Church Fathers were misleading, for the post-Reformers (pardon the neologism) had purged the Fathers’ writings from their liturgical context.  Therefore, when the Protestant quotes the Fathers she is not seeing them as a living body of witnesses but merely as ancient authorities for current Protestant practices (but only when they agree).

An aspect of political obedience not usually thought of

All sides of the debate over whether we should obey tyrants or not assume a key presupposition:  centralized, buerecratic government will always be a reality.   Yet human history generally says the opposite.

American statists (whether conservative or liberal) say we must obey govt always at all times (yes, I am oversimplifying it on purpose).  The clever person could respond, “Yeah, but what if the local govt decides not to carry out such and such order–think Arizona–and are at odds with the National govt, then what do you do?  For you will have to disobey one govt to obey the other.”

The statist really can’t answer that question adequately, and I used to throw it out a lot.  However, I can make the problem even more acute:

What if the government simply does not work anymore?  I am not talking about a revolution.  I am not even talking about political discontent.   What if the bloated, centralized apparatus simply dies?  This is a very reasonable assumption.    Surely no one thinks that printing more money to pay off the interest (alone!) of the national debt, along with (printing) more money to pay for state socialism–surely no one expects a government to function in the long run.   Look at California.

So what does one do then?  Can you even disobey a government that doesn’t exist?   At this point the evangelical statist’s worldview has evaporated.

Review of Peter Leithart’s Behind the Veil

Review of Behind the Veil

This is Peter Leithart’s long-awaited commentary on the epistles of John.  It follows the examples of the earlier commentaries (of admittedly unequal value) in the Through New Eyes series.  The series’ strength is seeing the rich and complex intertextual connections throughout Scripture (in other words, Leithart and Co., come to the obvious conclusion that each paragraph in the English translations of Scripture is not reducible to “3 points and a poem”).  The series’ weakness is its (often) flippant dismissal of those exegetes (almost always holy men and sometimes martyrs) who came before them.   (Jordan is particularly notorious on this point).

Leithart identifies the enemies against whom John is writing as a variant of Judaism.  He then gives a thorough discussion of the various nuances of post-apostolic Judaism(s) and Gnosticism(s).  He explains that scholars are divided on whether the enemies are Gnostics or Judaizers.   The problem is that the enemies display characteristics of both groups, but are not reducible to either.    John is writing before Gnosticism really became a problem, and the Judaizers seem to display anti-Jewish presuppositions.

Leithart is baffled by the Judaizers’ anti-material worldview.   Is this not fundamentally at odds with the rich, creation-oriented worldview of the Old Testament?   Leithart cannot really answer this question except to say the Jews were influenced by some Eastern proto-gnostic cults.   That’s a half-truth, though.   Leithart does not factor in the influence of the Talmud at all.   This remains a fatal weakness in the Federal Vision movement.  They note certain qualities of the Old Testament and read that into the worldview of “all Jews and all times.”  When this happens, as we see here, they cannot account for the anti-Christian character of the Jews in John’s time.

Nevertheless, Leithart is on to something.  His discussion points the reader to the interplay of Gnosticism and Judaism.   Leithart’s weakness, though, is that he keeps wanting to see Judaism as something good and Old Testament-ish.   After the Jews killed Christ, though, and in the book of acts began defining themselves as violently anti-Christian, it became a different creature.

The Strengths of the Book

At the beginning of each literary section in 1 John, Leithart gives a chiastic outline.  These outlines are usually straightforward.  They help the reader see literary patterns in John, and these literary patterns often suggest how the reader should interpret the book.

Leithart defines the “darkness” not so much as “evil,” but as the passing away of the Old Covenant order.   Darkness is the time before light, and those Christians who cling to the darkness—to the Old Covenant order that is passing away—are exposed (23).  Obviously, this has overtones with both Genesis and the Gospel of John.   Darkness isn’t bad, for it is part of God’s creation; however, it is bad to cling to the darkness after the light has come.   Thus, the enemies of the Churchin the Johannine epistles are Jews.  (Leithart weakens this someone by calling them Judaizers—that’s certainly true but that’s not the whole problem).

Continuing with his darkness/light theme, Leithart offers a somewhat new yet common-sense reading of “judgment:”  judgment is when the light exposes the darkness.  It is not necessarily bad; it is the shining of light on darkness.[i]

Leithart’s discussion on “propitiation” is worth the price of the book. He explains to the reader that liberals and evangelicals fought over the way to translate the verb “hilasmos” in the New Testament.  To make a long story short, neither propitiation nor expiation makes much sense in John.   Leithart takes us back to how the word is used in the LXX and the way the Hebrew equivalent was used:   instead of placating the wrath of an angry God, Jesus acts as the “cover” over creation (58ff).   Originally, it covers the ark, which was a microcosm of the cosmos.  Jesus is the “ark-cover” for the whole world and it is through Jesus that God views the world.

Conclusions and Criticism

{REDACTION}

Elsewhere, commenting on John 2:19ff, Leithart brings up the specific problem of apostasy.  This was one of Leithart’s key observations in The Baptized Body.  What Leithart didn’t resolve in The Baptized Body was how his discussion of apostasy doesn’t refute the P in TULIP.   Leithart brings the issue up in this book but dodges all the real questions.  He notes that “perseverance” doesn’t mean “let Go and let God,” (which is true), but that we truly endure to the end.   Fair enough, but that’s not the question.  The question is whether God causally and fully effects that perseverance.  If not, then apostasy is real.  If he does, then apostasy is not real.

My last criticism is the style of the book.  Leithart is a superb writer and I have sung his praises for seven years now.   This book, though, is written in a folksy, direct-to-you style.  That’s not bad, but one gets the impression he is trying to write to Sunday School teachers who haven’t much familiarity with theology.  That is perfectly legitimate, but then he footnotes Greek and Hebrew lexicons!   To be fair, that’s not a criticism of the content of the book but merely an observation.

ADDENDUM

The chapters dealing with 2nd and 3rd John were surprisingly good.  3rd John gives a brief meditation on biblical theology and the coming Apocalypse.


[i] Leithart gives a very good meditation on the interplay between God’s life and light.

Review of N. T. Wright’s Commentary on Romans

Modern theology in the academy is a diseased whore, and the less time one spends with it the better.  Unfortunately, this is the world and we live and the questions we face–we must face up to the fact and engage these questions.  Fortunately, men like Oliver O’Donovan and N. T. Wright offer some treatments to modern intelligentsia’s intellectual stds.   The following is some relief.

In many ways, this is not so much a commentary but a daring exercise in biblical theology.  And for that reason it will be reviewed, not as a commentary, but as a biblical theology textbook.  Many presuppositions are required in reading this commentary.  One has to believe that Paul was familiar with the Biblical story (indeed, that the Old Testament even has an overarching narrative, and even if it does, that Paul was concerned about it).  One has to believe that Paul saw the church as occupying a key space in God’s continuing narrative that began with Abraham (586).

Accordingly, I will not give a commentary on what Wright thought of each chapter.  That is certainly possible and worthwhile, but it misses the narratival thrust of what St Paul is trying to say.  Instead, I will highlight major themes and hermeneutical movements that Wright says Paul uses and see if they actually work.

The strength of NTW’s commentary is that his thesis tries to match up with what he deems St Paul’s thesis:  God’s righteousness is unveiled in the death and resurrection of his Son—and this is the “gospel.” The Gospel is the resurrection and Lordship of Jesus Christ.[1] Further, NTW shows how this theme controls the entire reading of Romans, as can be seen in the neat summary to the book found in chapter 15.

New Exodus, New Creation.

Wright suggests that chs. 3-8 of Romans form a narratival substructure.  St Paul is paralleling the Christian experience with that of YHWH redeeming the Hebrews from Egypt.  Wright notes, “Allowing for Paul’s new perspective, whereby the promise of the land has been redefined into the promise of inheriting the whole cosmos [4:13; 8:18-25], the pattern is exact” (511).  The Israelites were in slavery; God’s people have been redeemed from slave masters (Romans 3:24; 6:16).  Other verses could support the claim, and while Wright doesn’t spell out the argument here like in his earlier essay, it runs something like this:  chapter 6: sin as a slave master = Egypt; chapter 7: Giving of Torah (ala Exodus 20) = new discussion of Torah and the problem of Torah; end of chapter 7 to 8:11: Israelites in wilderness = Christians being led by the Spirit to their inheritance (same language is used of Spirit as was used of glory cloud in the wanderings).

What do we make of this argument?  Admittedly, it does have a remarkable unity to it.  It places the drama of redemption on a cosmic field.  It retells the Old Testament story but this time around the redemption won in Christ.  It implicitly draws upon the strong philosophical and hermeneutical resources of “narrative.”  But can we know for certain this is what Paul really meant?  Maybe, maybe not.  Can we know that Paul really meant us to read his letter like a scientific database to proof-text doctrines?  Accepting or not accepting Wright’s argument depends on one’s own hermeneutical allowances.

I think there is a lot to be said for this argument.   Israel was called to be the means through which God’s saving work was brought to the world.  Yet, Israel became the problem and in a sense, it became the microcosm of the problem.   Therefore, reading Romans as a narrative on Israel’s narrative makes sense.

Paul and Torah

Torah was God’s gift to Israel to be given to the world.  Yet Torah soon was intertwined with the problem.  Instead of dealing with sin, it highlighted the sin.   There was no way for Israel to escape the dialectic.  God’s son—God’s servant ala Isaiah 40-55—allowed Torah to reach a “critical point” on himself, focusing the world’s sins in one place, and dealing decisively with the sin problem once and for all through the death of the Messiah.

 

This helps us understand the “works of the law” debate.  If works of the law is rightly identified with the rites of ethnic Israel—the boundary markers—then what Paul is saying makes sense.   If salvation were through Torah, then the death and resurrection of the Messiah is meaningless.   If salvation were through Torah and “identity markers,” then we can’t relate to God through faith.  Later Protestant attempts to read “Roman Catholic merit theology” into the phrase “works of the law” destroys any meaning Paul gave to this passage.

 

Conclusion

This is one of those books that really deserves an extended commentary.  It is full of rich insights that cannot be exhausted in one review.   There are a few drawbacks, but that happens with any commentary.  While the format of the NIB is generally good, the editors’ decision to use the two worst translations on the market (the NIV and the NRSV) as the translations in the text mar a lot of the work.

One other point:  It would be interesting for someone to note the similarities and contrasts of Wright’s reading of Romans and justification with that of the ancient church’s tradition.   Of course, semi-literate groups have condemned Wright as a Roman Catholic, but serious scholarship hasn’t pursued this necessary point in sufficient detail.  I would especially like to see how Wright’s reading of Romans compares with Eastern Orthodoxy’s.

Notwithstanding, this is a fine commentary.


[1] While it is certainly true that we relate to God through Christ by “faith,” we can be sure that St Paul did not have later “faith alone” controversies in mind.   The evidence against reading Luther’s view into Romans is overwhelming:  1) it is absent in the Church, by and large and 2) the structure of Romans itself is against reading “faith alone” as a controlling variable.