Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Justification and New Perspective 12

NTWright.jpg The issue in the debate about the new perspective is how best to read the apostle Paul’s theology in its historical context, and one of the more important debates is how to read Galatians … and we finish the 5th chp today of Tom Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision
where he discusses how to read Galatians.


What is the point of having the Torah after all? Wright about Galatians 4: “This is perhaps the fiercest thing he ever says about Torah: that because it was God’s gift to Israel for the time of slavery … it functioned for Israel as the tutelary deities of the nations had functioned, to keep them in check prior to the coming full disclosure of God’s purpose and nature” (137). And the agitators were tempting the Galatians to treat the Torah now as an ethinc tutelary deity! Strong stuff, indeed.

When one normally hears Paul speak of “slavery,” how is that understood? Is it not most often understood as personal shackles to our sinful nature? How does Paul speak here of slavery? Wright has some ideas…


Galatians 4:1-7, and here Wright shows the significance of reading
terms in the narrative context of the whole Bible, gives the Galatians
two options: return to the slavery of Egypt or move forward into
freedom. The slavery of Egypt is to return to the Torah’s badges and,
at the same time, to reject Christ as the representative Israelite. (I
don’t think enough appreciate the profound christological centrality of
this view of Wright’s, and it fits in very nicely with the early
Christian theory of recapitulation.)

Further, in Galatians 5:5-6
Paul speaks of the hope of righteousness because, for Paul,
justification was an eschatological reality. In the meantime — between
now and then — we are to be known by “faith working through love.”

Comments read comments(8)
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david yates

posted May 29, 2009 at 4:23 am

Jesus is said by Wright to be able to be our substitute because he was the Messiah of Israel and was thereby qualified to be our representative. But ‘representative’ is no more explanatory than ‘substitute’. Abraham was chosen ‘arbitrarily’, as Israel was, and there would be no difficulty in Christ being chosen saviour without any apparatus of Israel to supposedly qualify him for the task. If Christ needed to save Israel, it was because they were sinners, their ‘curse’ being no more a problem than any sin. Jesus didn’t need to be Israel’s Messiah to be able to redeem their national sins, it is not explanatory to say that’s how it was done.

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posted May 29, 2009 at 6:34 am

There’s a very interesting and relevant issue here about how to interpret the Spirit / flesh contrast in Gal 5. The traditional individual approach of a struggle of will between the two opposing natures within a Christian? Or as Gordon Fee proposes (convincingly to my mind) that Paul has in mind the eschatological contrast between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ creation and for Paul the utter impossibility of a ‘new creation’ believer living as if they belonged to the ‘old age’ = going back to slavery. This I think has huge implications for reading Galatians ..

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Scot McKnight

posted May 29, 2009 at 7:21 am

David Yates,
Frankly, you’re carrying on a conversation with yourself here with so many thinks left unsaid that most of us will not know what you are saying. As I see it you are making four criticisms of Wright:
1. That the word “substitute” is better than “representative”. Why?
2. That the word “arbitrary” means Christ could have been chosen arbitrarily too … and your point here is that …?
3. That bearing Israel’s “curse” means only that he was bearing their “sin” — and that suggests the ontological rather than historical explanation?
4. That last sentence is opaque even to me and I do read up on this new perspective stuff…
David, remember, this is a public blog and not a chat over coffee with a bunch of specialists who specialize in critique of the new perspective.

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John W Frye

posted May 29, 2009 at 8:21 am

Scot, I don’t think enough weight is given to Gal 4:3 and 9, where Paul equates Torah-markers with “the principles of the world” which puts Torah-markers in the same category as pagan religious markers. The radical newness of “new creation” in Jesus not only makes Torah-markers obsolete; it renders them (demonically) pagan. This from Paul, a former Torah-marker champion!

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Scott W

posted May 29, 2009 at 1:01 pm

This is a compelling historical reading of Galations but it may not fully resonante with people, esp. Christians, who’ve been reared in a particular sociocultural context where,in practice,the regnant socioreligious stance is akin to that of the “Judaizers”.
I’m thinking of J. Kameron Carter’s ruminations in his book Race: A Theological Account on the ideological and theological convergence in the identification of European culture and Christianity in the modern era and the concomitant de-Judaization of Christianity and Jesus–a move towards “paganization” in terms of Wright’s scheme,I suppose. These transformations lead to the coopting of the broad, inclusive vision of the Kingdom of God to one of cultural/nationalist stamp,which we often see evidenced in the political discource of the Christian Right, even in the last presidential campaign. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

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posted May 29, 2009 at 2:19 pm

What is recapitulation? Sorry…

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david yates

posted May 29, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Scot (#3) Sorry. It’s hard to judge what can be said in a few words.
I was reacting to such things Wright says as: ‘the plan of God ha(s) an Israel-dimension, and … that remains central for Paul (and) is the only way fully and finally to understand Paul’s Christology and the meaning of the cross itself’ (p.74 GB). And so to your own: ‘Christ as the representative Israelite. (I don’t think enough appreciate the profound christological centrality of this view of Wright’s … )’.
Wright thinks that the system he distils (I think, wrongly) from Paul puts everything in order so that why everything happens as it does is explained. There are not really four points, they all come to the same thing: that I don’t think Wright’s scheme explains things.
John (#4): (p.115 GB) Wright talks not of Torah-markers, but of Torah.
Scott (#5) Wright’s ideas about the ‘people of god’ seem to be leading him in the way of advocating that Christians should all get together in one uniform group to engage in some visible, absolute, narrow, world-wide socio-political agenda.

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Travis Greene

posted May 30, 2009 at 1:15 pm

david, “Wright’s ideas about the ‘people of god’ seem to be leading him in the way of advocating that Christians should all get together in one uniform group to engage in some visible, absolute, narrow, world-wide socio-political agenda”
I’d remove “uniform” and quibble with “absolute” and “narrow”, but otherwise…what’s the problem with this? You don’t think the church is called to do something in the world? Even under very traditional North American evangelicalism, surely evangelism falls under that category…

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