Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Rarely do I sign up for Amazon's SEND-ME-THIS-BOOK-AS-SOON-AS-IT-COMES-OUT list. But with N. T. Wright's new book on Paul -- well, that's different. For those who don't know, Wright is a leading New Testament scholar. To get a feel for the breadth of his writing, check here. The book continues his ground-breaking work on Paul, offering fresh insight into the way in which his letters seek to form a people in the Way of the Messiah. Have you ever come across the phrase "the new perspective on Paul"? Most haven't, I'm sure. But here's a bit of a summary. The "old perspective" on Paul reflected the anxiety of Martin Luther over salvation. This view heavily impacted NT studies for centuries. It says that Paul was writing because of the problem of legalism: people trying to earn salvation by their works. So he writes about "the righteousness from God" that is given "by faith in Jesus." The "new perspective" goes a different direction, though--one that I think better reflects Paul's concern in his letters. This says that those concerns about legalism were Martin Luther's in the sixteenth century, but not Paul's in the first century. They involve a stereotype of Jewish religion that just doesn't fit. Of course every religion has some who seek to earn salvation, but that's not the view of the Old Testament nor of the best part of the Jewish heritage. What Paul was primarily dealing with wasn't legalism but inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God. His questions (especially in Romans/Galatians) were more like these: Has God been faithful to his promises to Israel? Will Israel's faithlessness nullify the promises? Can Gentiles be included? If they can, how can Jews and Gentiles be one? If the Jews have rejected the Messiah, is there any hope for them? Part of the problem comes in translations that reflect the Lutheran perspective (like the old NIV, though there are significant improvements in the Today's NIV). E.g., rather than translating a Greek phrase as "the righteousness from God" it should likely be "the righteousness of God"--referring not to the way people become Christians but to God's covenant faithfulness. And rather than translating another Greek phrase as "by faith in Jesus" it probably should be (at least most of the time) "by the faithfulness of Jesus." (A good place to see the difference this makes is in Romans 3:21-25.) I.e., the Messiah is the faithful one who has made it possible through his life and obedience to death for the promises of God to be kept. In other words, the central issue isn't, How does one become a Christian? (Answer: by faith rather than works.) Rather, the central theme is, How has God been faithful to his covenant in bringing together one people in the Messiah? Sorry, this is shorthand. The book is brilliant. If you haven't done much work in this area, it will be slow, slow sledding. But there are pay-offs on nearly every page. By the way the full title is Paul: A Fresh Perspective. I doubt that the subtitle is an accident. In other words, it isn't the "old perspective," for sure. But not exactly the "new perspective" (as led by Sanders and Dunn). This is a "fresh perspective" in which he points to the missional impact of what God has done to bring together a people, the restored "Israel," through the Messiah. There are great sections on the Spirit, on the place of Israel today and in the future, and on the eschatology of the Left Behind books. I hope to get to those later. But honestly -- isn't this more than you want to know already? Whatever happened to guacamole recipes and how to teach a kid to throw a curve?


  • Mike--
    I'm going to read this book. I've been doing the Disciple 2 Bible study this year. The idea that God is faithful to the covenant, generation after generation, is very important in that study. All through the Old Testament, isn't God pretty clear that he means his love to be for everybody, Gentiles included?

    I think it is only reasonable to believe God would carry on that same theme through Paul's letters. So I am lifted by this thought and can see already that it's true!

    I'm thankful for the way God spreads his word, his love, and his nature through your blog.

    Be blessed--Judy Callarman

    By Blogger Judy Callarman, at 12/13/2005 05:09:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Have you thought about starting a "book club" blog? Seriously! What you have written so far makes so much sense about Paul, especially Luther's influence on a Pauline perspective.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 12/13/2005 05:18:00 AM  

  • I think interesting books fit right in there with guacamole and curve balls. All important parts of life.

    I'm always thrilled when you talk about the books you're reading.

    By Blogger reJoyce, at 12/13/2005 05:48:00 AM  

  • I am a guacamoleholic, and cut my teeth on curve balls.....but give me these kinds of posts EVERY day!
    Just one person't opinion! :)


    By Blogger David U, at 12/13/2005 06:42:00 AM  

  • or maybe "person's". Sorry I was Sylvester the cat for a brief moment.


    By Blogger David U, at 12/13/2005 06:43:00 AM  

  • I am interested in reading this book as well. I am curious how it will be different than the covenant theology teaching that is prevalent in other denominations. I attend a PCA (presbyterian) church, and we get heavy doses of covenant theology influenced strongly by Calvinism. Some of what you quoted sounded like it could have come from my pastor. Coming from a CoC background, it has added an interesting emphasis and deepness to my understanding of God's relationship to us.

    By Blogger Will, at 12/13/2005 06:52:00 AM  

  • Not sure if I totally agree with wright's premise, and I'm only going off of what you've shared here, but legalism seems to be a major point of discussion in his letters, mainly Romans and Galatians, though I think he is right in the need to modify the translations a bit. The "righteousness of God" and the "faithfulness of Jesus" is the answer to legalism. On the surface, legalism may be about how to be saved or become a Christian (works vs. faith), but at its core, legalism is the battleground for answering the question, "whose work (or righteousness) do you trust". The "righteousness of God", not from God, is the resounding answer. Not only does it answer the legalism questions, but all others you mentioned in your post. Can Gentiles be included? Yes, because of the righteousness of God. Can Jews and Gentiles lives together? Yes, the work of Jesus broke down the "barrier of the dividing wall", bringing peace between the two. Has God been faithful? Yes, the righteousness of God demands it.

    I guess I am agreeing with him, though maybe in my mind legalism may be a bit more on center stage.

    This is good stuff. Thanks, Mike.

    By Blogger Brad, at 12/13/2005 07:40:00 AM  

  • We were introduced to most of this material (N.T. Wright, the old perspective, the new perspective, etc.) in NT Theology this semester with James Thompson.

    Wright forces us to think differently about Paul's theology by giving us different questions to consider while engaging Pauline literature. We have been heavily influenced by Luther's understanding and approach to Scripture. Legalism isn't what drives Paul's theology. Instead, the focal point of Paul’s theology is his belief in a corporate narrative in which Gentile churches have been brought into a story; final result—a transformed community. Their narrative comes to culmination in the death and resurrection of Christ.

    Some claim that “justification by faith” is the root of Paul’s theology. It (justification) is only an issue when it comes to the Gentiles as members of the family of God. It is a weapon of certain conflict.

    The questions to consider are "Who is invited to your table?" and "Who are the people that belong to the justified group?"
    These seem to be the overarching issues that hang over Romans, Galatians, and 1st and 2nd Corinthians.

    Thanks Mike for your words.

    By Blogger Josh Ross, at 12/13/2005 08:48:00 AM  

  • Thanks for making people aware of this book. Often it seems people look at Paul as the writer of "new" scripture that displaces the old, but it has always seemed to me that he is going to painstaking lengths to explain the "old". That explanation includes a discussion of why these gentiles, who have had no experience with the Law of God, can be in a covenant relationship with him. He at times even has to explain the converse in letting these free-wheeling gentiles know that there is a purpose for “The Law of Moses” and the nation of Israel. Thanks for your blogging efforts.

    By Blogger Keith Jones, at 12/13/2005 09:03:00 AM  

  • Mike, you do need to start a book review blog/what are you reading and what are others reading blog----this is a very good book, Will Rogers said, "You'll different tomorrow because of the books you read and the people you meet"
    Creation and Covenant---and how its all tied together in Paul's mind is well presented....Messianic Think is a shift, a good shift.

    By Blogger Homer, at 12/13/2005 09:12:00 AM  

  • Wright has had a huge influence on me. I sometimes think I'm following Wright as he follows Paul as he follows Christ.

    By Blogger Wade, at 12/13/2005 09:20:00 AM  

  • That's why this blog is my first read everyday...soe days we are into guacamole and others you are introducing Paul in a fresh perspective. Somehow it just all seems to fit together. Thanks Mike!

    By Blogger SG, at 12/13/2005 09:43:00 AM  

  • If you're telling me I have to rethink and restudy, then you have thrown a curveball!

    By Blogger eddy, at 12/13/2005 09:48:00 AM  

  • Thanks Mike. I am appreciative for folks like N.T. Wright. When I go to SBL it blows me away how far away many scholars are from believing that Jesus really rose from the grave and is the son of God. Even worse--Paul is heavily criticized. Many question whether 1/2 of the letters were actually written by him. I believe that any work on Paul is an attempt to either discredit or give respect to the Christian faith. N.T. Wright is one of those who has taken much of the liberal teachings head on. His work is fresh and thought provoking. I didn't get to hear him speak at the last SBL session in Philadelphia but I heard it was really good.

    I think I will put his book on my Christmas wish list.

    Thanks Mike for your last post.

    By Blogger KMiV, at 12/13/2005 10:22:00 AM  

  • For those who have already exceeded their guacamole and book budget, www.ntwrightpage.com is a good and free place to start. For those want to begin to track with Tom Wright, and have a bit of money, I would suggest beginning with "The Challenge of Jesus."

    By Blogger R U S S, at 12/13/2005 11:23:00 AM  

  • Some day, an ancient document will be discovered containing Paul's guacamole recipe in his own handwriting. (In LARGE letters, as per Gal. 6:11.) Then, at long last, will the two worlds be brought together.

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 12/13/2005 11:24:00 AM  

  • Mike, I know that you know about this translation but it's the introduction that is so helpful: David Stern's "Complete Jewish Bible". Stern started with a translation of the NT with assumption that it is a "Jewish book". He also translates the Greek phrase "by faith in Jesus Christ" as " through the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah." Our Jewish Messianic believers have always ignored Martin Luther's (and Augustine's) intense introspection and guilt and have seen Paul's letters as I believe they were intended and as I believe Wright offers "fresh insight":the grafting in of the gentiles to true branch. Seen from this perspective, Ephesians 2:13 is more powerful and wonderful to me - a gentile! "Oh the depth and the riches...." Bob Lollar (Tucson Az.)

    By Blogger Bob from Tucson, at 12/13/2005 03:06:00 PM  

  • NT Wright is brilliant and deep... and proof that God is still at work among the Anglicans despite the efforts of some of their leaders. God bless NT Wright.

    By Blogger PatrickMead, at 12/13/2005 05:17:00 PM  

  • Dear Mike,

    I would love to get your take on how this fresh perspective looks at Romans 11:26? I don't think that God is done with Israel yet. I have some orthodox Jewish friends who are convinced that if they can just rebuild the temple that the Messiah will come. I sense that they may be correct. They just don't know that his name is Yeshua and that he has been here once before. They have already imported the red bulls from Texas and I am told that all the instruments for temple worship have been created and are ready to be used by those who are "kohns". When they get ready to assemble a prefab temple in 3 days, it will really get interesting!

    By Blogger bradfordlstevens, at 12/13/2005 08:15:00 PM  

  • Mike,

    I was wondering why you removed your NY Times Article on Bush and Heaven?



    By Blogger Big Daddy, at 12/13/2005 08:35:00 PM  

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