Tom Wright made a fascinating suggestion in chp two of his book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision
, that I did not mention in our previous summary. He suggested that Ephesians may have begun the new perspective.
Until you know what that kind of claim means you should be very careful about criticizing the new perspective. A brief on what he’s saying: what happens to Romans or Galatians if we read them through the lens of the theology of Ephesians? Instantaneously, Romans and Galatians would become more ecclesial. Why, Wright is asking, do so many critics of the new perspective have a theology that does not really make way for the ideas of Ephesians — like cosmic redemption and that God’s plan was to include Jews and Gentiles in the people of God and the powerful role of the Holy Spirit? Well, you get the picture. Of course, the reverse point is being made too: Ephesians has been read through the lens of Romans so much that many have treated Ephesians the way those who deny Pauline authorship have treated it: ignore it. (Wright is not saying that Ephesians should be skipped or that Romans should be too – no, he’s arguing we need both.)
In chp 3 of Wright’s fine book, a book noted for clarity, candor and courtesy — with no hyped-up accusations, Wright begins with a sketch of what Jews in the 1st Century were hoping for, and he makes his oft-made point: it was going to heaven when they died. The tide carrying everyone along was the “hope that Israel’s God would act once more and this time do it properly. Individual hope fits within that. If you want proof, close your computer screen and read the first two chps of Luke. (Then come back to finish this post.)
So what was at work in Judaism (the bulk, mind you, not for each person) at the time of Jesus and Paul?
1. They were living out a continuous narrative from Abraham to the consummation. They were part of it. They knew that because they knew what the Bible said. They were living in a world that knew God was true to his word and that had an ending that had not yet come.
2. Tom next says they were living in a world that thought like Daniel 9 — that the exile had not completely ended. Israel has come back to the Land but things are far from satisfactory — not only have some of the themes not been fulfilled (God returning to the Temple, for instance), but foreigners were in command in the Land. That’s enough right there to establish that for Jews at the time of Jesus and Paul there is still a sense of expectation. This is the controlling narrative at the time of Jesus and Paul. Too many today, Wright observes, would rather “settle back into the comfort of a non-historical soteriology the long and short of which is ‘my relationship with God’ rather than ‘what God is going to do to sort out his world and his people’” (61). This is the big issue at hand.
3. Wright then quotes at length from Daniel 9:4-19, which I’ve also included at the bottom below (read it). Righteousness here is connected to God’s covenant faithfulness and to Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness. Wright is suggesting this is the kind of text that reflects what was going on in Judaism and what was going on for Jesus and Paul. And it leads to his next section — the meaning of “the righteousness of God.”
Daniel 9:4″O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We
have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name
to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the
you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame–the men of
Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all
the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness
to you. 8 O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant
of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you.
have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by
bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has
ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand
and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have
sinned, we have done wrong. 16 O
Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and
your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the
iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object
of scorn to all those around us.
our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake,
O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give
ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city
that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are
righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 O
Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O
my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”