Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Justification and New Perspective 10

NTWright.jpg NT Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision
, has a very interesting format (in the American version I’m using — I had an English copy but gave it to my colleague): the first four chps are called “Introduction” and chps 5-8 are called “Exegesis” and have chps on Galatians, Interlude on Phil, Cor, Eph), Romans, and Conclusion. In other words, the debate about the new perspective is not the critical thing; the critical issue is how to read Paul!

Before I say another word: a huge, huge word of thanks to RJS for looking after this blog while we were in South Africa. RJS has made this blog a better space for all of us. Thanks RJS.

Now to NT Wright and Galatians…

If Tom Wright has a challenge to sum up Galatians in a few pages, I have a similar challenge: to sum up his chp in a few words. I highlight.

Wright has a suggestive idea for Galatians 2:11-21. What does justification mean in this context? (The text is at the bottom.) Here’s Wright’s observation:

First, it does not mean to be granted free forgiveness of your sins or to come into right relation with God… but, second, rather “to be reckoned by God to be a true member of his family, and hence with the right to share table fellowship” (116). The point is to be in the family of God and it has to do with the coming together of Jews and Gentiles. Notice how the terms of this passage shift when the table fellowship is given importance here.

What does “works of the law” mean? It means to live like a Jew and separating Jews from Gentiles (cf. 2:14, 15). They are not here about the moral good works that humans intent on proving themselves before God seem to like (in the Reformed tradition). Works of the law here connect to not eating with Gentiles.

And we are justified by “the faith of Jesus Christ” — is this faith in Christ or Jesus’ own faith? Justification then is triggered by the obedience/faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And Christians believe in this Messiah. The law never could promote justification … it reveals sin.

Point of emphasis: 2:16-21 is the Jewish experience with salvation and table fellowship in Christ through the lens of Peter’s and Paul’s life. The “I” of these verses — “I am crucified with Christ” — is the Jewish “I.”

11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before
certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when
they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the
Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the
circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I
said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a
Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to
follow Jewish customs?

 15“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16know
that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus
Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be
justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by
observing the law no one will be justified.

while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we
ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin?
Absolutely not! 18If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20I
have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives
in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

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posted May 25, 2009 at 7:50 am

I’m still grateful that I had a professor who ran us through the grammatical ambiguity of the faith in Christ/the faith of Christ/faithfulness in Christ/faithfulness of Christ. A few years later, when I finally got around to taking Greek myself, I realized that teaching Galatians honestly would always involve wrestling with that important turn on phrase.

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posted May 25, 2009 at 8:49 am

Wright’s interpretation fits so much better with the context of Galatians. It also has enormous implications for how we are in community with one another. Community is transformed. Union with Christ imaged in baptism through faith (the faithfulness of Christ and our response to that faithfulness) is the bottom line.
I think in Wright’s view… union with Christ has implications for a reconciled relationship with God, and reconciled community relations between Jews and Gentiles, Slaves and Free, Men and Women. We are brought together in Christ’s body. Imaged by Table.
Sometimes I think that this new perspective is too challenging in terms of reconciled relations in the community. It perhaps inhibits our thinking because we would have to change our ways of being in community together–affects our status–our places etc.

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david yates

posted May 25, 2009 at 9:15 am

Wright is not doing exegesis on Galatians in pp.91-101 (GB, some 20 pages later in American), he is banging his drum, or in his own words (p.92) he is “redress(ing) the implicit hermeneutical balance a little”. Where he says such things as “(in) context … we are forced to conclude” that ‘justified’ means to be a member of God’s family, it’s not, in fact, compelling.
In short, Wright says that Paul is saying God has instituted a different marker of who are his people. It used to be Torah, but it is now faith, so that Jews and Gentiles can come together.
What I think Paul is saying here, in short, is that we cannot be saved by Torah because under Torah we are unsaved sinners. We need to die to Torah in Christ, and be raised to new life.
I feel I should add that for Wright Torah ‘merely points to’ sin (p.101, GB).

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Scott Morizot

posted May 25, 2009 at 9:28 am

Yes, as the faithful Israel, Jesus fulfilled or completed the “works of the law” – that is the works of Torah. (The faithfulness or righteousness of Christ.) As such, the people of God are no longer marked by those works, but by and through their believing allegiance to Jesus. By falling backwards and refusing to share the table with his Gentile brothers, Peter was falling back into the old markers for the people of God and beginning to turn from the substantial union – body and spirit – we have with Christ and with each other. Thus Paul challenged him to his face and Peter repented. Peter was, after all, the first one to whom God directly revealed this new reality (Acts 10). Changing our identities and the markers of those identities where they conflict with our new identities in Christ as the people of God is never an easy task. In some ways, one could draw parallels to the past and present divisions in the American church over slavery and race. I think there are also parallels with the infiltration of nationalism into many American churches.

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Scott Morizot

posted May 25, 2009 at 9:34 am

David (#3), the problem with your statement is that Jews didn’t (and don’t for that matter) believe that adherence to Torah “saves” them (whatever you might mean by that term). God saved them, made them his people, made covenant with them, and then gave them Torah to keep. Keeping Torah is the response of a faithful Israel to the God who has saved them. You are imposing the interpretive framework of “natural law” on the text, which is exactly what the Reformers did. While Wright could be mistaken at any number of his points, it is clear that Paul is not writing from within that framework, so interpretation based upon it is, at best, suspect.

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John W Frye

posted May 25, 2009 at 9:34 am

I just don’t get how some people are clueless to the fact that Jews did not think they were saved by keeping Torah. They believed that they were saved by faith in and obedience to the One [YHWH] who gave them the Torah.
Scot, I was impressed by how Wright points out that the confrontation between Paul and Peter over table fellowship becomes the specific instance to unpack the meaning of justification. I think it is a refreshing and as Joanne comments above, challenging perspective.

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Steve S

posted May 25, 2009 at 9:50 am

that is the exact reason why people like to throw the ‘social gospel’ bomb at NT Wright. If they can get that to blow up, it just might create enough of a distraction to prevent them from actually having to look at the ways our world is structured; the way in which they (we) benefit from that structure at the expense of others; and the implications of the Lordship of Messiah for those structures…

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posted May 25, 2009 at 10:13 am

The body imagery and the Table imagery challenage us. As does Paul’s discussion on the Spirit. It’s not by the Flesh but by the Spirit. Such divisions are according to the flesh and part of the former system and way of being in the world. We now live in a new way according to the Spirit in which such divisions are overcome in Christ. We being united with Christ become the New Community, The New Man and all are brought together in Christ.
We can’t sit at separate tables or define one another according to the flesh because we have been brought together through the Spirit in Christ–because of his faithfulness as the true Israelite.

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posted May 25, 2009 at 10:16 am

I can get excited about sharing the gospel because it’s power is truly transformative of our world, communities, families. It is the ministry of reconciliation… between God and one another.

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Aslan Cheng

posted May 25, 2009 at 10:40 am

Can anyone tell me Wright in his other book suggested the translation of 1 Cor. 15:44 from “spiritual” to “future body” are correct?

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Scott Morizot

posted May 25, 2009 at 11:08 am

Aslan (#10), Lacking any particular insight beyond a broad general understanding, I decided to check and see if the OSB had anything interesting or relevant to add. I like its note on 1 Cor. 35-54. I think I’ll just share it.
“How will the dead rise? What is the resurrection body like? Paul’s most basic contrast is that between the natural (lit. ‘soulish'; Gr. psychikon) and the spiritual (Gr. pneumatikon, v. 44), that is, between the present body and the deified body. Other contrasts are corruption vs. incorruption (v.42), dishonor vs. glory (v. 43), weakness vs. power (v. 43), living ‘soul’ (literal translation) vs. life-giving spirit (v. 45), of the earth vs. from heaven (v. 47), of dust vs. heavenly (v. 48), the mortal vs. the immortal (v.54). This present body is only a seed (v. 38) of the body to come. The ‘spiritual’ body is not a pale shadow of the material world we now know; the opposite is true. The resurrection body is the fulfillment of what God intends for our present body. It is the material fulfilled, not dematerialized.”
So yes, I think Wright’s use of “future body” is one way of putting it. It certainly cannot be taken to mean “immaterial” which seems to be how some modern readers have attempted to interpret “spiritual body”. I gather Wright was pushing back against that particular misinterpretation.

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Michael DeFazio

posted May 25, 2009 at 12:06 pm

I’m with Scott 100%. Given the close connection in the NT worldview between the coming of the Spirit and the presence of God’s future kingdom/world, we’d do well to always think about the Spirit as “the future” and spiritual as having to do inescapable with the future, either as actual future or future-become-present. Good question.

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david yates

posted May 25, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Scott (#5) What I mean by ‘saved’ is what Paul means by it in Rom 10.1, where he says that Israel needs salvation.

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Michael Awbrey

posted May 25, 2009 at 5:39 pm

I’m enjoying this series Scott. Keep it up!

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Andie Piehl

posted May 26, 2009 at 5:48 pm

This part is hard get through when you haven’t read the book. I’ve been trying to follow along without doing that in hopes of keeping up until I could order a copy. ;) Sometimes that works; this time it isn’t.
Thanks for this discussion, Scot.
I second your kudos for RJS; she’s really added an interesting voice to the discussions.

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