c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: More on NT Wright

Sunday, January 27, 2013

More on NT Wright

Thoughts in Response to NT Wright's
4QMMT and Paul: Justification, ‘Works,’ and Eschatology
Wright is, as are most of us evangelical-types, entirely too bound to the Calvinist-Reformed doctrine of SOLA FIDE.  It clouds nearly everything that we do, say, think, or feel.  We exhibit all the qualities of being brainwashed by nearly 500 years of anti-Catholic rhetoric and propaganda.  It blinds us to a true grammatical-historical assessment of the New Testament record.  To counter that pervasive bias I want to make several observations, couched in terms of what Wright has written about 4QMMT.
First, in 14 sources of Pauline thought (13 undisputed letters and Acts) there are only 4 that deal briefly with justification by faith … and those have fallen victim to poor translation, bad exegesis, and over-use.
Second, Paul never wrote, to our knowledge, the words “faith alone.”  They cannot be found in the Pauline letters that we have.  The one place they occur in Scripture says, “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  Would the Holy Spirit inspire diametrically opposed views?
Third, his “deep Jewishness,” as Wright spoke of it, would have never allowed Paul to preach an anti-nomian message.
Fourth, I mostly agree with Wright’s excellent analysis that the Qumran document provides the Jewish covenantal/eschatological sectarian framework for understanding “justification by faith” in Paul.   But I do not agree that it substitutes belief for an appropriate halakhah.  I contend that the “justification by faith” formula of “reckoned as righteous” was early thinking in a pre-70 historical context and eventually disappeared when Judaism lost credibility due to events.  The absence of “justification by faith” in so many of his letters reflects a diminishing threat post-70.  “Faith reckoned,” does not represent systematic and mature thought but a reaction to Judaizing teachers accompanied by calling them dogs and wishing they would cut off the whole of their genitalia!  His loftiest and most affectionate thought is contained in letters from Rome after the Jewish threat was resolved by Titus in fulfillment of prophecy, to which I Thessalonians 2:16 alludes, for instance, which is probably of a later date than popularly assumed.  But while Pharisaic and sectarian forms of Judaism remained viable a Q4MMT-type argument of “reckoned righteousness” within a Jewish context would have had great polemical power for Paul.  His Jewish opponents would have known exactly what he meant.  But previously I said that I “mostly” agree with this analysis.  There is no doubt that Paul’s use of Abraham believing the word of God and thereby being deemed as “righteous” has historical parallel to his own experience of many Gentile converts entering covenant relationship in their initial response to the Gospel.  He was a missionary on the front lines of new spiritual territory.
Fifth and finally, how might belief in the Resurrection provide reckoned righteousness when there is no mention of it in Paul’s most extensive discussion in I Corinthians 15?  Wright observes no textual link with the moral code (despite Romans 8:4).  It would seem that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  But what might resolve the issue?  Two thoughts:
1.       Paul’s insistence on his own apostolic authority does the opposite of what Wright claims.  He rules in several cases of church discipline, instructs successors and emissaries, and writes many ethical passages asserting the rule of a distinctly Christian halakhah in the world.  In that way he is remarkable for the lack of any significant departure from Jewish moralism given his necessarily independent nature, philosophical leanings, and suffering at the hands of the Jews.  In Paul’s personal knowledge of the apostolic tradition (spending two weeks with Peter, attending the Jerusalem Council, and no doubt knowing what Luke had researched) he was thoroughly informed of the Christian moral code handed down by Jesus himself.  He may well have seen the gospels of Matthew, which contains the Sermon on the Mount.  He likewise followed the hermeneutical method of Hellenistic rabbis, Jesus, and the apostles: converting Jewish legal and cultic tradition into universal categories provided by Greek cosmic, moral, and philosophical dualism, especially in references to carnal vs. spiritual living, which is much more prominent in his work than justification by belief.  In Galatians, for instance, the so-called Magna Charta of Christian Liberty, he syncretizes the flesh vs. Spirit principle with arête behavioral lists made famous in Greek moral philosophy.  Walking uprightly in the Spirit (holiness theology) forms the new “righteousness from God,” or the uniquely Christian halakhah that justifies Gentiles to whom he is sent as the chief apostle, identifying them as part of the new man that God has created in Christ Jesus for good works that we should walk in them.

2.       The so-called “doctrinal chapters” of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians, in which Paul presents  justification by the Faith for Gentile converts, are followed by a corollary, introduced by therefore.  The implication of moral code, exhortation to good works, discipline, warning, encouragement, and behavioral expectation follows the story as night follows day.
In the end I agree with Wright that trusting Jesus points to the covenant community preparing for the end of the world.  Faith is indeed evidence of grace justifying the believing Gentiles as citizens of heaven.  But I do not agree that faith alone is its mark.  An expanded definition of what it means to believe would rightly include characteristic works of the Christian.  This view makes better use of the Q4MMT document than Wright employed.

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