Is Wright Right? Part 4

Posted: June 1, 2009 in Uncategorized

Among the more disputed points set forth by N.T. Wright is the notion that 1st century Jews were not legalistic, works-righteous, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps, earn your way to heaven fundamentalists.

Wright argues that the Jewish leaders understood from the Hebrew Bible that they had been chosen by God not because they were a great nation but in spite of it and that the law was given to structure an already existing relationship not to earn one!

So, what was Paul arguing with his fellow rabbis about? The messiaship of Jesus!

So, what is the argument in Galatians, etc. all about? National boundary markers…huh?

Following New Testament scholar James Dunn (who was following E.P Sanders), Wright argues that the “works of the law” that Paul rails against is not the Torah, which he has a high view of, but of those portions of the law that set Israel apart from the nations and are no longer valid (i.e., sabbath regulations, kosher food rules, circumcision, etc.).

Wright argues that these prescriptions were given to set Israel apart from the pagan nations in order to form them into a nation of priests who were to bring the world to worship the one true God, not to exist as eternal boundary markers that kept the priests from reaching out to the parishioners (so to speak).

Is Wright right? If he is then Luther and many others were dead wrong.

Yet, even if Wright is right (and he makes a compelling case), Ligion Duncan has argued that one can grant all of these points and still argue that many 1st century Jews were legalistic and works focused. Ever been in a church that espoused grace but stressed self-righteous separation from the world?

Something to ponder.

  1. James says:

    I think its a fair bet that there were legalistic Jews at the time, just as there are legalistic Jews and Christians now.
    Wright, for the most part has set out to speak on the same points that Jesus spoke on. Jesus spoke on some points of the law and not others; usually when He wanted something clarified from a tradition, cleansed from a false teaching or taken back to its base. For instance, on divorce, Christ taught that once man and woman are joined that one should not ask for a bill of divorce – something that Moses allowed. Why? Moses allowed it to satisfy Israel’s immature spiritual stance, but Christ brings the full weight of love and responsibility back to the marriage license. Jesus puts the point back to the Sabbath, it is a day for God, and that means doing what is right for the His Name’s sake, not just for legalistic means. But He said nothing on, say, homosexuality – because what was said was sufficiently understood and hadn’t been corrupted (yet.)

    In the end, some have argued (perhaps rightly) that many Jews defined themselves in terms of Law because the Law was an ever present incarnation of God to them – not so much whether they were legalistic or not – but almost that they deified the Law and Christ wished to straighten that out. I don’t think Wright is making that case, in such a respect, because he knows full well that first-century Jews were not so shallow as to only define themselves by the Law, but that it had become muddled as to the point of the Law – ie, not as defining of Israel, but as defining of God and His people. Therefore Jesus redefines Israel in Himself. He takes the Temple, the Kingdom, the very Name and presence of God away from it’s supposed place and puts it back on Himself.

    Judaism has ever been the light of the world in that it encouraged introspection (perhaps more so than any other religion including, even Buddhism) but that the introspection should have outward effects. I may have misread Wright, but I grasped that he was making the case that Christ wasn’t so much disputing that those outward shows of Law were bad, nor that the inward growth that comes from the Law was non-existent, but that Christ wished that both inward and outward would shine past the individual, and specifically past the Temple, to all the world. Israel is to be the light of the world, and Christ took upon Himself to reconstitute Israel, the Temple and all that it meant in His Body, earthly and after the Resurrection and removed the walls that Israel had built around itself.

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