The Apostle Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles

Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles; he was considered the most notable of the early Christian missionaries. According to the book of Acts, Paul had a vision of Jesus and became temporarily blind and that when he became a missionary. Paul was an amazing person who traveled the known world spreading the word of God through the inspiration of Jesus Christ. N.T. Wright, who wrote the book, probably wanted to veer away from the traditional study of Paul, but rather to show new Christians a fresh new look on the apostle Paul, and to shed new light of Paul, hence, Paul in Fresh Perspective. Wright even speaks about it in the preface: “My aim in these lectures…was to let some new shafts of light on Paul, even if that meant carving a notch through some of the traditional ways of studying him, and to observe closely how he goes about certain tasks, even if that meant employing for the purpose the hermeneutical equivalents of new telescopes.”

So looking at Paul in a new perspective the first question is asked: “In what ways is Jesus the Messiah in Paul and how does the apocalyptic work in Paul? How do the themes of creation and covenant on the one hand of Messiah and apocalyptic on the other hand belong together and reinforce each other?” In chapter 3, “Messiah and Apocalyptic,” the point Wright makes is to show that Paul’s understanding of Jesus as Messiah allowed him to use the areas of Jewish apocalypticism in a brand new way and at the same time to combine those categories like creation and covenant. According to Wright, Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ messiahship agrees with Second Temple Judaism. The Messiah acts not only on behalf of Israel but also as God’s representative; these elements can be found in Paul’s letters. Wright highlights the apocalyptic dimension of Paul’s thought in the idea of tension between continuity and newness. God remains faithful to God’s covenant, but this faithfulness is manifested in a new way. Paul’s theology is covenantal and apocalyptic. The covenant is fulfilled in a surprising manner, through the unveiling of God’s plan in the events of Jesus the Messiah. The Jewish themes are in Paul’s theology but reworked intensely.

The second question I have chosen is: “What does the problem of evil have to do with monotheism, election and eschatology? How does Paul redefine Jewish monotheism about Jesus the messiah and the spirit?” After having outlined the main themes of Paul’s theology, Wright tries to propose an outline Paul’s theology in chapters five, six, and seven. To organize Paul’s thought, Wright seeks to follow the shape of classic Jewish theology with God and God’s people, monotheism and election, respectively. A third theme to add is eschatology, or the future of God’s world. These three topics are reinterpreted by Paul through three other topics, which Wright does not talk about in detail in this book. Monotheism is the first topic that Wright takes up and centers on the problem posed by evil for a monotheistic religion. For Wright, the problem of evil in Jewish thought finds its solution in the themes of exile and restoration. It is also related to the critique of the pagan world, which embodies the failure of human beings to live as they were made to live. Wright says that Paul shows in many places a complete loyalty to this understanding of monotheism. It is, however, redefined first through Jesus. Paul understands the human being Jesus to be the same with one who from all eternity was equal with the creator God, and who gave fresh expression to what that equality meant by incarnation, humiliating suffering, and death. Paul redefines monotheism to equate God with Jesus, but Paul also redefines monotheism in his use of the Spirit. This redefined monotheism is bound with the three topics mentioned earlier. It indicates a new view with Scripture, denotes an opposition to the pagan world, and is worked out in daily work with the young communities. Redefining God also means redefining or reworking God’s people, which happens to be the topic of chapter 6. Wright says that reworking did not take place only in theory, but it was actually something that Paul did. Paul believed in Israel’s election, even when redefining it through Jesus and through the Spirit. Through Jesus, the people of God become one people, or as Wright puts it, “God has one family.” Justification is not about how someone becomes a Christian, but indicates who belongs to the people of God, and how you can tell that in the present. Election is also redefined through the Spirit and is connected to a renewed call to holiness. Election is redefined through Scriptures; wright wants to make the point that, even though election has been redefined. They are only temporarily parted from this family because of their disbelief. This reworking of election stands in sharp opposition to the Roman ideology. In chapter 7, Wright talks about eschatology. Wright mentions that Paul’s eschatology stay Jewish but is redefined through Christology. The change in the redefined eschatology is that God is concerned with Israel’s future and the future of the world, the pagan world, as well. Eschatology is reworked around the theme of the Messiah and around the theme of the Spirit. Jesus is the end of the exile and moves the story forward. Eschatology is also reworked around the Spirit. The covenant renewal mentioned earlier marks the inauguration of the eschatological state whereby Gentiles are brought in and Jews are renewed from within. Together they create the eschatological people of God. Here, too, the reworking of eschatology is made through dialogue with the Old Testament and with Second Temple readings of it.